Friday, February 3, 2012

Wasn't Everyone Happy With the Relaxation of the Comics Code Authority?

Doug: Last week, while preparing our review of Thor #222, I paused for a few minutes to read the letter column. I don't always do that when writing for the blog, but the yellow box in the top left corner caught my eye. As I read, the tone of it dragged me right in. Check it out for yourself (clicking on the image will get you a larger size -- all the better for our readers' middle-aged eyeballs!), and we'd invite your reflections in our comments section. Thanks!


david_b said...

Wow, what a extraordinary find in Mr. Jetta's letter, Doug. This is a BIG reason why I have to invest in the Marvel DVDs, since I've always loved reading the Letters Page every issue. It's probably one of the MAIN building blocks of my eventual love for the House of Ideas. Some readers got into such panel detail, that it would drive you nuts back in the days where you couldn't find back issues in midwest farming communities..

(My older brother once retorted.., "Watched 'Green Acres'..?" "We lived it..")

Despite applauding the Bronze Explosion and how it launched so many varied titles and subject matter, if I place myself back into my late Silver Age-mode, I'd find myself agreeing with Mr. Jetter's observations on too many titles. I was never much a fan of anything outside superheroing and space stuff, but when 'Spectacular Spiderman' was added, I just felt like 'Couldn't they just beef up the existing titles'..? Of course it was purely for more sales.

The comments in response were even cooler and very prophetic, leaving me ponder who wrote them..? Roy Thomas..?

Doug said...

Agreed on all points, David. I was truly struck, though, by the terse response to Del S. in the first letter. Wow -- if it was Roy writing those replies, he was more than a bit crabby that day!


ChrisPV said...

What I love is how we're having the same argument today.

"ANOTHER Wolverine book? Man!"

William said...

Boy, I loved those old letters pages with the cool comic booky lettering in the heading and the accompanying promo text. "Big Things Coming for MARVEL, watch for 'em... Nuff Said!" That's just the kind of fun stuff that I miss in today's comics.

I will agree that whoever was answering the letters got unnecessarily rude (especially with the first response). He really seemed to have a problem with the way it was addressed and the subject matter as well. So much so, that it led me to wonder why they even bothered to print it. Maybe Thor only got those two letters that month, so they had no choice.

As for the Comic's Code, that's a tricky question. You see, I am very anti-censorship in almost every way. But I personally think comics have suffered greatly from the total elimination of the Code. They were just more fun to read when they were less dark, bloody and ultra-violent. Now, it seems every book is like Wolverine or the Punisher.

It would appear that when they "relaxed" the Code back in the 70's, it seems that some people felt that it hurt the quality of the comics then as well. I agree that Marvel got a little carried away with all the monster stuff back then. The same way they've gotten carried away with all the blood, violence and "mature" themes in todays books.

giantsizegeek said...

Great letter! As I read it, I also thought about what the modern day equivalent would be, and immediately thought of Wolverine appearing in way too many monthly books. The ultimate overdo, especially when he is on 2 Avengers teams and 2 X-Men teams and 2 solo books.

During the 70s Marvel had Spider-Man guest starring everywhere. I bet when Conan became popular they wished they could have had him guest starring everywhere but luckily he was isolated in his own universe.

Edo Bosnar said...

That letter is an interesting perspective, one that obviously puzzles most of the people who frequent this blog, given that for us the '70s were a golden glorious era of comic-book creativity. I have to wonder if Mr. Jetta stuck with comics, and what he thought, or thinks, of the changes that came even later...
As for the Code, I have to say I agree with William - it is a tricky question. I know most creators at the time chafed under its strictures (or claimed they did anyway), but they still produced great work. And in the case of some writers/artists, I think it was while working largely in compliance with the Code that they produced by far their best work (*cough* Frank Miller *cough*).

david_b said...

Edo, et all: Great perspectives, everyone..

It's hard to measure, other than subjectively, whether comics quality 'improved' since the Code was whittered away. Most latter-day writers saw it as a chance to explore previously-verbotten ideas, but actually 'improving' story-telling..? Discretion's always the better part of valor, as is true with story-telling.

Count the classics in the Silver Age, such as the Kirby FF run.., against the latter-day stories written with newly-aloud creative freedom. Obviously, the argument is perspective-driven (ie, folks who didn't start collecting until post-Bronze vs. us older folk), but as what's been echoed in these columns many times over, the tales of Asgard and Galactus hold up well because they were 'good stories', cleverly and stylishly told.

Incidentally, one of the few shows my wife and I both enjoy are the nightly reruns of Jack Webb's Dragnet '67-'70. Solid story structure, poignant drama and a slice of humor courtesy of ol' Harry Morgan.

Doug said...

David_b --

Kudos for the inspiration for a new post idea. Look for it next week.

Many thanks,


david_b said...

Ouch.. Sorry everyone, "newly-aloud" was supposed to be "newly-allowed".

Ok, sometimes I DON'T multi-task well.. :)

Sharper13x said...

@David B - I wasn't sure if newly-aloud was a typo or not because it's a great play on words considering the point you were making.

@Doug - I loved the letters pages back in the day. You should post more of them from time to time. "Stan Soap Box" or "Bullpen Bulletins" too. Even random ones would be cool.

re: The comics code - not advocating censorship at all, but one of the things that has been lost is the forced discipline for the creators when they have to work within a set of occasionally constricting rules.

For instance, if I asked you to look out your window and tell me what you see, anything might come, and much of it might be kind of dull. But if I asked you to describe what you see in the form of a Haiku...? You'd have to work harder, and the result is going to be a little more artful.

I'm not even saying new comics are bad or lacking (I don't read them enough anymore to judge). But, as a general rule, when creators don't need to work as hard to convey... lets say the ugliness of real violence... then the portrayals begin to get lazy, less artful, and deliver less impact each time you see it.

Weird WWII said...

Great read! In addition, you should do a piece about your reader's letter submissions in their favorite comics over the years. I've been printed a couple times and its always a trip to see it and read the response by the comic's talent (Captain America 18 & Wolverine 45). It would be cool to see who was in what and what they had to say.

I use to love reading letters pages as a kid to see where they came from especially the guys in the service. I read alot of DC war titles and the GIs over in Nam would always write in about how much they love Sgt. Rock and Easy or wish there were some Nam books during the day. I also loved when Marvel gave out their "No Prize" prize to those sharp readers who catch them making a mistake. To bad we don't see those pages anymore in our favorite books now. With company forums, fan blogs and such, we lose the chance to be part of comic history by being that geek who wrote in and got published by showing how much more geeky they were then the book's talent.

Great post,

Fred W. Hill said...

The letters pages were one of my favorite features of comics too, particularly when they involved a real dialogue between the readers and whoever wrote the responses (Roy? Steve Gerber?). In this case, Mr. Jetta has some points but, as the response indicated, he made several wild assumptions too. If this particular issue of Thor, for example, had a lot of elements that were similar to those found in Conan, that was more likely because that was what John Buscema wanted to draw than due to editorial dictates, which in this era were relatively loose. And from interviews with Gene Colan, it's clear that he loved drawing Dracula and (later) Howard the Duck, but he, like Buscema, wasn't particularly enthusiastic about superheroes. Of course, by now we all know at least the gist of why Kirby left Marvel -- mainly that he felt he wasn't getting adequate compensations for his work and that he wasn't being allowed to tell his stories the way he wanted to tell them, none of which anyone writing responses for Marvel would go into in a letters page even if he knew the particulars.
Still, I thought the response was honest, seriously taking into account Mr. Jetta's observations, agreeing with some and setting the record straight on others. As a reader, I much preferred that to either no response at all or very short, terse replies that didn't address the writers' concerns.

Rip Jagger said...

While we love'em from a nostalgic point of view, the sad truth is that a lot of what was created during the Bronze Age was ultimately a failure from a publishing point of view.

While Dracula found a niche and a lengthy run, only Werewolf by Night put out half as many issues. All the other monsters disappeared quickly after a smattering of appearances. Ghost Rider, who straddled the genres would have to be judged the most successful.

The Cat, Skull the Slayer, Shanna the She-Devil, Black Goliath, all were dumped onto the market and all tanked. Of the superheroes only Power Man and Iron Fist put together a lengthy run and they had to work together to do it. Only the new X-Men really rocked the world from this post-Stan era, and that was a revision of course.

So there's quite a bit of truth to the letter, and in the late 70's the broad catalog of Marvel offerings was clearly more than they could handle editorially because the "Dreaded Deadline Doom" became almost a monthly feature somewhere or other.

There were a lot of great concepts and ideas during the Bronze Age, but frankly relatively few successful long term series.

Rip Off

Fred W. Hill said...

Master of Kung Fu had a very good run, largely, I feel, due to nearly consistantly good writing and art, despite being the starting point of a martial arts niche that started off strong but eventually fell to nothing. But excepting what became the mutants niche within the superhero mainstream, there weren't any new super-heroes from either Marvel or DC introduced in the Bronze Age that really had the consistantly lasting status of those introduced in the Silver Age. And even among the mutants, Wolverine's been the only really big name. Nova was just one example of an attempt to create a Silver Age style superhero that ultimately fizzled out.

Anonymous said...

I agree with William and Edo. It's a tricky question. I am actually sorry to see the Code go. I am not for censorship, but I think the CCA symbol could have been retained as a seal of approval for kids' comics. Those comics intended for adults could still be published without the CCA seal, maybe with a "for mature readers" label. The Comics Code Authority served a purpose as an objective third party to evaluate comics. (The problem with self-censorship is that DC's idea of what is OK "for all ages" might be different from Marvel's.) Of course, any ratings board or authority would need to have clear and reasonable rules and standards, applied fairly and consistently.

Anonymous said...

I love letters pages. I am astonished that no one on here picked up the most fun thing about them: finding letters from the likes of Dave Cockrum, Kurt Busiek, David Michelinie. Ralph Macchio and other fans who would become employees. Also, I’ve found other creative types ( like one from Frank Darabont).
I really did find the response to Del S objectionable, given that quite often letterers and colourists got their names abbreviated in EXACTLY the same way in the bloody credits of the comic, so how do you justify demanding more information from your readers than you’re willing to specify TO them about your own staff?
Ref. the code, I think relaxing it was good. When you consider the test case ( the Spidey drugs issues) you can’t really argue that it wasn’t important to address those issues specifically to kids ! Of course, once the door is opened....
Dracula really surprised me for its time. You expect a few throats discreetly torn out, but the first time he meets his wife, she’s being burnt alive on an inverted crucifix by Satanists. (“Will you buy me this comic, Mummy?”)

Bruce said...

I'm late to this party, but add me to the list of folks who think the Comics Code wasn't the worst thing in the world.

Sure, some of it was dumb (no zombies & vampires, for example). But working under a set of standards forced artists and writers to rely on storytelling and creativity, rather than shock value. We see far too much of the latter, and not nearly as much of the former, in today's comics, in my opinion.

It's the same reason Jerry Seinfeld says he doesn't use profanity in his stand-up routine. Seinfeld says anyone can get a cheap laugh with a few four-letter words, but it takes a skilled performer to make an audience laugh at a "clean" routine.

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