Commission Intermission: “Approved by the Comics Code Authority”

Dr. Frederick Wertham, a German psychologist, is a well-known figure in the history of comic books. His lack of appreciation of scientific evidence to advance an idea is infamous: because 95% of kids in reform schools in the late 1940s read comic books, comic books are a prime cause of juvenile delinquency. And the eventual release of his primary materials for study, in 2010, also presents a case for him manufacturing and distorting the evidence he actually had. Wertham’s positions: The horror and war genres promoted violence, drug use was rampant in the comics, the shameful representation of women and sexual innuendo promoted promiscuity, and everyone “wink-wink” knew that Batman and Robin were gay and that Wonder Woman, filled with strength and independence, was clearly a lesbian. Wertham’s 1954 book, The Seduction of the Innocent, lays out his case.  Wertham’s credentials made him a star witness at Senator Kefauver’s 1953-54 Subcommittee on Juvenile Delinquency.

There are documented examples of comic book burnings and for legal ordinances being passed to ban comics that contained objectionable content.

The Comics Code Authority (CCA) was created in September 1954 to allow comic publishers to self-regulate content in lieu of government regulations. Comic pages were submitted to the CCA for scrutiny, needed edits, and finally the stamp of approval on the back of the pages (an actual stamp). Comics that were approved prominently displayed the CCA “stamp” logo on their covers once the issue was in compliance, and mom and dad could rest assured that this funny book was safe and would not land little Jimmy in juvie court.

As I posted elsewhere, the margin notes on this original art page intrigued me because the changes suggested in those notes looked like CCA intervention. In this case, there are four changes that were made (by inspecting the penciled in margin notes and the white out): (1) panel 2: a “Bang!” sound effect of the gun is replaced by an exclamation point; (2) panel 3: the body is gone, completely, although its feet reappear in panel 4; (3) panel 6: too much accentuation of the left breast; (4) panel 7: too much leg (?) showing with a skirt, perhaps.

Dick Tracy #89 p 29 (July, 1955)
by Tom Hickey (1910-1984)
13 x 20 in., ink on board
Coppola Collection

Dick Tracy #89 (July 1955) is a code-approved book (see the cover).

While I was researching the background of this page, I discovered a notation that the appearance of this “Girl Friday” episode in the code-approved issue #89 (July 1955) is actually a reprint of the page, and it originally ran in issue #61 (March 1953)… pre-code. From 1953, the cover of issue #61 does not bear the code stamp, of course. I immediate hopped over to eBay and bought these copies of the two issues.

And, yes, indeed: the suggested changes were not part of the original 1953 printing, but came later for the 1955 reprint.

I am not sure how many examples of pre-code/post-code publication reprints there are; it would be a nice thesis for someone studying popular culture.

panel #2: the margin note says to change the “Bang” to an exclamation point “!”


panel #3: the margin note says to get rid of the body, which makes the panel idiotic

panel #6: no margin note, but the shadow under the left breast is eliminated

panel #7: no margin note; perhaps the tucks and folds of the dress are too suggestive?

Wow. I feel so much safer while reading that second version, don’t you?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *