In January 2011, Archie Comics became the final comics publisher to stop submitting their comics to the Comics Code Authority.
This was a Good Thing. The Code was done. Dead. An onerous, despicable document worded by cowardly, opportunistic publishers to put probably the best comics company ever out of business. It was an embarassing stain on the history of the medium, wheezing on in some kind of archaic form mainly to convince the sort of mouth breathing idiots who believed that seeing pictures of Dick Grayson’s naked thighs could turn their children into homosexuals that comics were ‘safe’now and Little Jimmy could be certain not to transform into a Pinko Juvie after reading this month’s issue of Fantastic Four no matter how many times he read it.
‘Safe’ in that patronising, snobby way that explains that while I, an intelluctual, could easily be exposed to the entire output of Guido Crepax and still never have sex again, it’s those OTHER people you have to protect. The people so utterly stupid that just LOOKING at a comic featuring a bottle of vodka could lead to Little Jimmy becoming Tovarisch Jacme overnight, throwing molotovs at The White House, glaring at flags while stroking his beard and listening solely to T.A.T.U.
While no confirmed data exists of anyone tying a towel around their neck and jumping off a roof to see if they could fly like Superman but dying instead, you never know with people, right? Other people need protecting by the likes of us.
Since Jan 2011, no body or committee or such has stepped in to fill the void left by the death of the CCA. I’ll repeat this because it’s quite an important thing to be aware of at the moment.
No independent body has any governance over the content of comics published in the West. There’s no universal rating system. Nothing like the Hayes Code or Pegi. So if someone were to, I dunno, tweet that a certain cover was ‘unacceptable’, it wouldn’t mean anything because there’s not actually anyone to accept the cover or not in the first place. Not anyone with the authority to veto it’s publication, anyway. But in the case of some random publisher like, say. Image, they’re just working essentially as a packager/profile raiser for a series of works.
Again, nobody’s in charge.
Publishers commission comics from comic creators and then send solicitation information to Diamond. Retailers get a Previews Catalogue made up of said solicitation information from Diamond. Do you want some or all of these comics Y/N? Retailers buy in comics. Customers do you want to buy these comics we have ordered Y/N?
No Code. No Regulatory Body to govern content except the editorial staff at the publishers.
I can’t shake the feeling that nature is abhorring the fuck out of this particular vacuum.
As it stands, anyone is free to put out roughly any kind of material that regular society would permit through the comics industry. It’s very rare that someone as heavy as HM Customs & Excise would intervene and luckily we have the Comic Book Legal Defence Fund to fight the sort of people who would object to something as reasonable as a positive portrayal of homosexuals (Which happens a lot more than you might think, by the way. Bear that frequent spurt of ‘How dare you put a comic with well spoken lesbians in the library of my child’s university?’ and similar delusional nonsense in mind as we go on.)
To my mind, as someone who at this point is more than sick of trying to protect the idiot mind of Little Jimmy and really just wish we’d shanked the walking contradiction to Darwin’s Theory Of Evolution in Bill Gaines’s office before the poor sod had to testify to Congress, I’m quite happy to be living in a codeless era. We gritted our teeth and pretended to be happy that an entire medium was subjugated to the standards of some prudes whose job appeared to be to make sure we couldn’t see too much of Veronica Lodge’s cleavage.
Now, in theory, we’d cast off those baby wheels and could get over the idea of an industry of entertainment that could cater to anyone who could either read or at least appreciate some storytelling. Whole worlds and genres could be pushed onto the general public! So much work that had to hide behind the respectable and safe veneer of a Batman or Spider-Man thing with a spine pretending to be a graphic novel.
It’s been a Codeless era for a few years and essentially one in the direct market for decades. We’ve enjoyed the freedoms to explore formats, techniques, genres and I honestly don’t think we’ve come close to the potential on offer. Anyone bored by comics in 2017 isn’t paying attention.
No one’s in charge but it does seem like many people would like someone to be. Some Authority Figure to be invoked and threatened with in a kind of ‘Wait til your Father gets home!’ manner. Did you draw a nude print of a character you own to promote your new book at a comic convention? Wait til Daddy hears about THAT! You drew Spider-Woman HOW? The Retailers are daring to still stock a comic that features a scene that I personally don’t agree with? DC aren’t pushing this particular character this year? WAIT TIL DADDY HEARS AND THEN YOU’LL BE SORRY!
But nobody is Daddy. Sometimes the desired effect takes place if the guilty (Sure.) party decides to go along with the charge brought against them. Most of the time, since these charges and this court only really has ‘I don’t approve of this and I don’t want you to do it.’ to work with, it’s a lot of nothing and grumbling until the next case comes along.
I’m as guilty of this as anyone. I read news stories in utter shock at the sheer idiocy and short term greed of publishers and assume, like a fool, that this particular instance will be the straw on the proverbial customer’s camel that leads everyone to hit said publisher in the only link in the chain worth hurting: The sales counter. No amount of bad press over, say, Secret Empire will carry the weight to Marvel that looking at their sales figures will. If I were running Marvel, 2018 would see Aunt May join Isis so customers could buy comics in order to be mad at them.
Comics 101. If you want a publisher to stop doing a thing you don’t like, say ‘Feature female leads’ just don’t buy the comics where they do that thing. It’s literally the only data they tend to respond to. If you want them to keep on doing the thing you like, buy the comics where they do the thing you like. ISBN codes don’t understand irony or ‘trying to be properly educated on a subject.’ They register Sale = Approval. Whatever you may have intended at time of purchase.
So, considering just how frequently we have outbreaks of ‘This instance that has occurred is a very bad thing and someone ought to do something!’ in the Comics Industry….I’m relucantly forced to concede that maybe we’re just incapable of handling this degree of freedom. That while we might advocate it in pursuit of things we and our friends who are also very good people happen to like, it’s a terrible abuse of that power and responsibilty the artiste welds when it depicts things we’re not fond of. The person who creates work we’d like to think we would have created ourselves is obviously a fragile genius who we’re lucky to have here while the ungrateful shit who dares to do things not communally approved of is probably also some kind of bitter, cynical hack and anyway, I’ve never heard of them til now so really how important can they be. It doesn’t really matter if their work is pulled from publication because it’s my subjective opinion that the work isn’t very good anyway, which is totally how that should work.
Maybe we really can’t handle it and we do need a Code of some sort. Not a return to the notions of decency the Blue Rinse Brigade and Modern Day Mary Whitehouses would inflict upon us, because we seem to be back to ‘Depiction Equals Glorification’ as an argument and I thought we’d left that behind around the same time cinemas full of people went to see the remake of ‘Scarface’ and didn’t all become cocaine dealers with interesting taste in shirts.
No, more that we need some kind of regulation to anticipate what, exactly, is the future of this business as a whole. The bubble of the Big Two Perpetual Crossover has well and truly burst now, so more than ever we need to be attracting children with intelligent comics that tell a complete story as a whole. We need to recognise that some characters that we have also exist in other, more popular media and sync up with the versions in the real world. There ought to be some kind of mandatory customer service course that anyone working in comic publishing as a recognisable face should take because on the whole, being a smartarse superior dick to people who are giving you money for entertainment purposes is a good way to cut off that cashflow very quickly.
But more than anything, I’m aware that most of the ‘Someone Needs To Do Something Oh God Think Of The Children’ incidents have a habit of starting on Twitter, and I can’t think of a worse platform than there to try and intelligently discuss something given the format. Twitter’s fine if you’re trying to do one-liners, practice memes or applying to write fortune cookies, but it does appear to be populated with the sort of people who’re very annoyed that Diamond have the exclusive on most comics publishers within North America and Europe, but wouldn’t be interested in working out how that happenstance came about in the first place. As we’re dealing with very truncated conversational possiblites, the temptation is to class one side as ‘Goody’, the other as ‘Baddy’ and the rest is trying to shout out the best zinger in order to get their friends to retweet them. Which is ok if you’re arguing with Alex Jones or Flat Earthers, but cannot intelligently be the place where precedents to do with the future of publishing comics are set.
Which, for everything else anyone would like to say on the matter of the United States Of Hysteria, is what happened on Saturday night. Enough kerfuffle was made on Twitter that Image felt compelled to pull a cover from publication entirely and I think a precedent might have been set here. I would rather publishers have the courage of their own judgement rather than feel a need to acquiese to what ‘Twitter’ might think before they’ve even done a potentially offending thing in the first place.
Ultimately, that’s what pains me to the point where I suggest that we ought to start thinking of a Code Of Content And Practices. Preferably governed by people who work in the business. Please note that at no point am i suggesting any form of censorship or even an attempt to guide what material ought to be published but perhaps more thought on how these works are displayed in retailers across the board. So some kind of shelving system where height governs what you can access rather than the alphabet, that way Sex Criminals doesn’t end up next to Spider-Man. It’s a fledgling notion, but I’d prefer we start to think about sorting ourselves out before all kinds of irrevocable decisions are made on our behalf by the sort of people who’re making points on the desire to appear to be on message rather than thinking through the ramifications of their words.
Because once we say ‘This cannot be published because my values.’ is a real practice we abide by now, then any group with similar intensity of belief is free to start demanding the removal of a Stuck Rubber Baby, Kevin Keller, Nat Turner, Fun Home or a Charlie Hebdo because of their values.
Presumably by any means they see fit.