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Why Weren't Comic Book Magazines Subject to the Comics Code Authority?

Comic Book Questions Answered – where I answer whatever questions you folks might have about comic books (feel free to e-mail questions to me at brianc@cbr.com).

In a recent article about Warren Publishing's Vampirella, my pal Avash asked me what the difference was between a comic book and a comic book magazine like Vampirella. Why were magazines exempt from the Comics Code Authority?

As you all likely know, the comic book industry was a lot different in the late 1940s/early 1950s. In general, comic books were aimed at a young audience, but that wasn't a constant. As a result, there were some comic books that were probably a bit too violent for a generic young audience.

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The problem is that a mass hysteria was kicked up in the public about, "Oh no! Think of the children!"

So the comic book industry decided to deal with this problem by coming together and forming the Comics Code Authority, a group that would assure the public that comic books that had Comics Code approval were good for anyone.

Here's the thing, though. This was a VOLUNTARY organization. So how would you enforce such a Code? The answer came at the wholesaler level. The companies that sold comic books to the distributors would not carry comic books that were not Code approved (with notable exceptions being those comics that were considered above approach at the time, like Dell and their Disney comics and Classics Illustrated).

Those same wholesellers, of course, had a whole different standard when it came to magazines. After all, Playboy was distributed to newsstands all over the country and there were nude models in that magazine!

The approach really came down to racking. Magazines and comic books were racked in different spots in the newsstand, so there was little worry over a fan of Little Lotta suddenly seeing a whole lotta nude women by mistake.

1955 saw an important test case, of sorts, when EC Comics, which was giving the Comics Code a shot (after first trying, to no avail, to put out their books without Code approval), turned Mad into a magazine. It was published without Code approval, but EC's comics were submitted through the Code.

Now that that exception was established, EC tried to take advantage of it by launching a line of pulp fiction-esque horror and crime magazines to go along with Mad, like Shock Illustrated...

They did not go over well and the line folded quickly. Thanks to my pal, Lou Mougin, for writing in about EC's Picto-Fiction line!

Jim Warren was the first person to really succeed in pushing the envelope by releasing a line of black and white horror magazines in the style of EC Comics....

These comics weren't, like, porn, but they definitely pushed things well beyond the Comics Code.

Eventually, Marvel followed suit and launched non- Code approved black and white magazines.

So that's the gist of it, Avash!

Thanks for the question, Avash! If anyone else has a question about comic books, just drop me a line at brianc@cbr.com!

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