Saturday, November 24, 2012

Seal of Approval: The History of the Comics Code by Amy Kiste Nyberg, reviewed by BL Kennedy

University of Mississippi Press
Jackson, Mississippi
206 pgs
ISBN: 0-87805-975-X

The comic code seal of approval bears the message “Approved by the comics code authority” and first appeared on the covers of comic books in the mid-1950s. The comics code is a sets regulatory guidelines primarily concerned with sex, violence, and language drawn up by publishers and enforced by the “code authority”, a euphemism for the censor employed by the publishers. Comic books passing the pre-publication review process are entitled to carry the seal of approval. This study of the origins and history of the comics code examines how and why such a code came into being and the code’s significance both historically and to comic book publishing today.

It’s no secret that I am a comic book geek. That’s right, you’re reading it right, I said that B.L Kennedy is a comic book geek. You see, comic books were my introduction to reading. If not for Superman, Batman, and the Spirit, I would be the book reviewer I am today.

Therefore, it is my pleasure to introduce this incredible title Seal of Approval: The History of the Comics Code. You see, kids it goes like this. In the Beginning, comic book writers and artists let their imaginations go wild. This culminated in lawsuit after lawsuit by concerned parents, which lead to a famous psychiatrist whose name will not be mentioned here, who concluded that comic books were a detriment to the American Youth. Believe it or not, this actually went as far as congress. Then, the Supreme Court, resulting in that square white box that you see on most comic books which says seal of approval. This battle to create a comic book code went on until 1959 or 1960, when it was solidified that all comic books should carry this seal of approval.

Of course, there were comic book companies that did not go with this jive. Bill Gaines, for example, did not agree to the code, and his E.C. publications did not bear the seal. As a result, original copies of E.C. Comic books, which would also include Mad Magazine, disappeared from the marketplace. To find original copies of any E.C. comics today is a very costly pursuit. So there, you have a brief history of what this book is about. Basically, it is the invention and implication of censorship in comic books.

Amy Kiste Nyberg has written a very informative book about a very important, but little chronicled, part of American history. I highly recommend this book on several levels. For example, psychologists will find it a very interesting text to use a tool with some clients. Sociologists will find it important to learn about an American subculture and its censorship. So, do I recommend this book? Hell yes. It has something for everybody.

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