I had intended this to be a sarcastic piece – calling for comics to follow the old Comics Code Authority (CCA) rules of 1954. While outlining I started to think of arguments for the CCA and found one I want to address seriously.
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The CCA was self-regulation by the comic book industry to prevent government regulation. This was during the time of Seduction of the Innocent and the blaming of comics, especially horror comics, on corrupting youth and causing juvenile delinquency. The rules were strict but started to lose power in the 1970’s when changes were made. Without these changes works as Watchmen or The Dark Knight Returns would never have been published. In 2011 the CCA was officially dissolved — with many publishers adopting their own rating criteria years prior.
Some of the old rules are now ridiculous. The originals did not allow sympathizing with evil or misdeeds — no portraying law and its enforcers negatively — could not use the words horror or terror — etc. One of my favorites is no use of vampires or werewolfs. Once allowed they had to relate to the classics read in school systems. This is why when Marvel wanted to include vampires they simply used Dracula and many other early vampires were modeled after him.
What got me thinking was the seal of the CCA. Every approved issue would have the seal on the top left or right corner. Parents trusted the seal. It was a sign their children could read the issue and not be mentally scarred or turn delinquent. It was the rating. It was standard across all publishers. It was constant.
As time went the seal no longer meant safe for children as the changing rules took into account adult readers. Publishers stopped caring about the CCA and started to implement their own rating system, if one was implemented at all.
Here lies the problem, not everyone had a rating system. One of my favorite ongoing series is Invincible published by Image Comics. It is classified as SUPERHERO and early issues are child friendly. The covers are brightly colored and it tells the story of a teenager discovering his superpowers and learning to be a hero. Everything about these early issues scream My child can read this and wants to.
Then in issue #7 there are guts and decapitations. In issue #10 we see the hero’s father rip a man in half and in issue #12 thousands die. With each new issue the violence builds. Not very child friendly. The violence in this series rivals that of The Walking Dead or 30 Days of Night – often being more graphic and gruesome. Ratings were implemented after pressure from retailers for issue #81 – eight years after initial publication — but were hidden on the back cover. It is the same case with The Walking Dead – the series is classified as Mature (18+) but initially was not rated.
I looked through my collection and found numerous instances of no ratings. Even trade paperbacks with issues from the CCA era gave no indication of acceptable reading age. In these collections cover pages are also omitted, removing the seal from the issue and the inherent trust. Publishers cannot assume readers or buyers know all comics released during specific years followed the CCA.
In the digital market place the ratings are not listed as they are with films and parents or children buy based on the cover image and the few sentence blurbs. How are they to know the rating of the book? How are they to know a brightly colored Superhero book is misleading?
Even in stores hardcovers and collected editions often come sealed. One cannot flip through them to see if they are appropriate. The rating should help give an idea but they are hidden or missing from many books. Ratings also have a bad habit of changing and vary between the publishers.
Did you know DC collected editions do not have any ratings? Did you know most Marvel comics are rated T+? Did you know Invincible switched ratings from Teen to Teen Plus?
To provide a better understanding here are the ratings for a few publishers:
Everyone (E) – All ages
Teen (T) – 12 and older
Teen Plus (T+) – 15 and older
Mature (M) – 17 and older
A – 9 and older
T+ – teens and up (once suggested as 13)
Parental Advisory – Intended for adults only
Max: Explicit Content – ONLY ADULTS
Image Ratings (based on DC ratings)
Everyone (E) – All ages
Teen (T) – 12 and older
Teen Plus (T+) — 16 and older
Mature (M) – 18 and older
There is no consistency in ages – leading to confusion. Some of the Marvel ones don’t even give ages and instead generalize.
I don’t like a rating system for comic books. I was hardly aware there was one until this week. A rating system can be a good guide and I can see why someone would want it. The problem is it is all over the place. If one follows the rating and uses it to judge appropriateness then it is confusing, for all publishers have their own system and have trouble following it.
The CCA was not a great moment in comic book history but it provided a unified rating system. Films and television shows have standard ratings so why not comics?