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How Stan Lee's Defiance Changed the Comics Code Forever

I will continue to celebrate Stan Lee's legacy in comic books (and more) with this series, The Life and Times of Stan Lee.

Last time out, I wrote about Stan Lee's recurring defense of Marvel Comics and comics in general from the attacks on the medium from Fredric Wertham, a psychiatrist who believed that comic books had a negative effect on juveniles. The hysteria created by Wertham ultimately led to the creation of the Comics Code Authority. Lee continued to speak out for what he believed in, though, which led to a major overhaul of the Comics Code after Lee boldly chose to forgo Code Approval on a comic book storyline in 1971.

RELATED: When Stan Lee Protested Fredric Wertham's Anti-Comics Viewpoint

In general, Lee found the views of Wertham and the people out there that agreed with Wertham to be quite contemptible. In his auto-biography, Lee noted:

To me, Wertham was a fanatic, pure and simple. I used to debate with him, which was fun because I usually won - but that was rarely publicized. He once claimed he did a survey that demonstrated that most of the kids in reform schools were comicbook readers. So I said to him, "If you do another survey, you'll find that most of the kids who drink milk are comicbook readers. Should we ban milk?" His arguments were patently sophistic, and there I'm being charitable but he was a psychiatrist so people listened.

However, the fact of the matter was that the general public...if not AGREED with Wertham, exactly, at least believed that there was enough smoke around the situation to believe that there likely was some sort of fire.

Thus, in 1954, The Comics Code Authority was created and most of the major comic book publishers of the time joined up as members of the group. Their books would be subjected to review by the CCA and then, if they were approved, their books would carry the infamous Comics Code Seal of Approval...

Generally speaking, if you wanted to be distributed nationally as a comic book, you had to have that code on your cover. Of course, there was a major exception in that Dell, one of the biggest companies around, who had their own distribution company, avoided joining the CCA by essentially stating that their books were so clean that they didn't even need to adhere to some outside code and since Dell mostly did Disney comic books, the general public was cool with that approach ("Yeah, I'm thinking this Donald Duck comic book probably isn't going to be objectionable for little kids").

Here's the interesting thing about the original Code. There actually isn't a provision in there that bans the depiction of drugs.

Said banning was handled under the general clause here:

All elements or techniques not specifically mentioned herein, but which are contrary to the spirit and intent of the code, and are considered violations of good taste or decency, shall be prohibited.

Of course, though, drugs WERE shown in Comics Code approved comic books, like the first appearance of Deadman in Strange Adventures #205, where the bad guys are drug dealers. However, that is a far cry from doing a comic book specifically ABOUT drugs. It was clear that that was not going to cut it with the Comics Code.

This irritated Stan Lee. In 1968, he noted, "What bothers me is that I wanted to very desperately do a story about drugs. We can't even mention drugs and I said to the Code, 'Look, I'm not going to do a story saying the whole world should become drug-oriented, I just want to mention them, base a story on them." They wouldn't allow it.

But then a funny thing happened in 1970...the Nixon Administration made their move!

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