Mark’s Remarks – West Coast Avengers #32 (May 1988)

One of the more interesting things I’ve gotten to do since being promoted to Executive Editor (I trust everyone read the Bullpen Bulletins item about it some months back) is accompany Editor in Chief Tom DeFalco to meetings of the Comics Magazine Association of America, better known as the Comics Code Authority. As you all probably know, the Comics Code is a set of guidelines which spell out what is acceptable material for general audiences that comic books in America traditionally have had. Membership in the Association is voluntary, and the Comics Code is a form of self-regulation. Originally drafted in 1954 to deflect the heavy criticism that comic books were then under (as being cited as a major cause of juvenile delinquency), the Code guidelines remained unchanged until 1971 when the member-publishers got together to update the document to reflect more contemporary standards of morality.

Well, the time has come for the Code’s guidelines to be revised again in order to reflect today’s standards, and I have the good fortune of being in on the rewriting process. Seeing as how the work is still in progress, this is not the place to comment on any specific revisions that are being made, but I would like to make a few general statements on my philosophy about the Comics Code. (Here I go again, inviting controversy.)

First, I believe in the spirit of the Comics Code. Self-regulation is always preferable to outside regulation. Second, I believe that the Code ought to be revised a little more often than once every 15 or so years in order to keep contemporary. Third, I believe that great stories can be done within the self-imposed restrictions of the Code; one can still do intense, interesting, dramatic stories within its guidelines (though admittedly, you can be intenser and more graphically explicit without them). Fourth, I believe that comics characters who were created as Code-abiding characters should never have non-Code-approved adventures, because it is both misleading to the general public’s perception of the nature of the character (“is he fit for the general public or not?”) and it is disruptive to the integrity of the character’s own history (“Oh, that? That happened in an adventure that you’re not allowed to read yet”). Fifth, I believe that the Code should be more specific, and less open to interpretation, so that is a severed finger is wrong to depict in one context, it is wrong to every context. When the guidelines are too flexible, what guidance is there in them? Sixth, I’m glad there are non-Code-approved outlets for creators who want to create work for specialized audiences (our Epic line, for instance). Now if a writer conceives a story inappropriate for a general audience, s/he can still do it (provided it does not involve a Code character).

So now you know my views. Tell me yours.

–Mark Gruenwald