An Art of Authority: Self-Censorship and the Comics Code 1954-2011
In the early 1950s, American social critics argued without evidence that children were being harmed by reading violent “True Crime” and “Detective” comic books. The resulting public hysteria led to Senate Hearings concerning the supposed antisocial effects of comics. In response, industry publishers organized a self-censorship regime under the Comics Code Authority.
Designed to head off threatened government regulation, the Authority enforced its Seal of Approval, a set of self-imposed guidelines used to judge comics as appropriate for all ages. Publishers and distributors followed the code for over 50 years for fear of losing sales and going out of business. Archie Comics was the last remaining subscriber to the code and stopped using it in 2011, ending this period of censorship and regulation.
The Washington University Libraries acquired the Archie Comics Collection in 2022. The Archie Comics Collection features materials related to the franchise’s creation and its inventor, John Goldwater, who was also instrumental in creating and enforcing the Comics Code Authority. This exhibition highlights materials from the Archie Comics Collection and examples of other pre-code comics in our collections that inspired the backlash, including Superman and books published by EC Comics.
Professor Douglas B. Dowd and Dowd Illustration Research Archive Curator Skye Lacerte curated An Art of Authority exhibition.
Header Image Credit: Archie’s Girls Betty & Veronica #138 (June 1967)