Many years ago, I listened to a lot of punk and I took karate. While I could probably write several (extremely boring) anthologies about my experiences, the only relevant thing here is that during that time, I was taught how to throw a punch by professionals. There are subtleties and nuances involved, sure, but the main advice given has to do with targeting. Put simply, you do not target what you are going to hit. You target behind the thing you want to hit. The follow through, as it were, is where the damage happens. Is this a foreshadow? You bet.If you are reading this page, on this site, you likely have heard of the Comic Code Authority (CCA) and the Comic Magazine Association of America (CMAA). You likely know the details of Stan Lee’s Spider Man striking it down and believe that you live in a world free of its tyranny. As far as I know, you would be right on all accounts. What I love about the history of these bestial series of events is how wonderfully it details an effective rebellion. How it draws out the philosophic idea that a valid authority becoming unjust becomes un-authoritative, regardless of validity (I know what you are thinking and, its cool, you can use that line in your research papers). It teaches the importance of a proper punch. Let me explain…
Quick history for those newbie nerds. The CMAA was formed in 1954 as a response to the growing outrage of the extreme right over what it viewed was comics “seducing the innocent”. But, come on, its the midst of the second Red Scare! America was freaked out that, without proper upbringing, American youths would grow up into Commie scum saluting a red and yellow flag, worshiping Marx or praying directly to Satan himself, if they were proper Communist Protestants. The CMAA was tasked with making sure this children’s toy known as “comics” would not pry open their tiny skulls and vomit sin all over their hearts and minds. So, this group, which should be noted was formed of comic book publishers, drafted and passed its Code, which limited comics in all the best ways: violence, language, sex, drugs, and attitudes towards authority figures. There’s even a clause about the use of slang and colloquialisms. Seriously, you should take the time to read the thing and see what it was like for comic book writers “back in the day”.
Now, with that wholly unbiased setting (*snicker, snicker) let us look at the fallout. First was William Gaines of EC Comics. He was called to the carpet defend a “CRIME: SuspenStories” comic, and specifically the now infamous cover by Johnny Craig of issue #22 which features a man holding a bloody ax in one hand and a decapitated head in the other. It might be fair to say that these groups had it out for Gaines. This line of comics was called “CRIME” after all and the Code would go on to actually put in its provisions that the word “Crime” cannot exist on the cover of any comic book. Any how, after being beat on for a while, he was pressured into joining the CMAA despite his disgust and despite his attempts to rally support to just ignore or fight back against them. And so it was, Gaines found himself working within the confines of the CCA for the same reasons most everyone else was; it was the only way to get published. The way the CCA maintained authority was by convincing wholesalers not to distribute any comic books that did not have the Seal on them, creating a sweet little de facto censorship. Gaines lasted a year, then, after a ridiculous clash about an outer space comic, he left it all together to make a magazine called Mad. Yes, that Mad magazine. Since this was not a comic book it did not have to adhere to the same regulations to be distributed.
A few years passed and it is now 1970. Enter Stan “The Man” Lee, stage right. After spending 15 years or so writing under the CCA, Lee did not really have a problem with its oppression. None of his motivations or creativity took him out of the space it created. Then, one legendary day, he received a letter from the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare asking him to write a comic about the dangers of drugs. So Spider Man 96, 97, and 98 did just that. The CCA denied it the Seal saying it dealt with drugs and drugs are bad. His publisher, being a cool guy, published it anyway. The comics came out and did amazingly. Parents loved them, teachers loved them, pretty much everyone the CCA looked to comfort and protect loved them. DC comics did not, though, at least at first. They thought there should be some repercussion for the blatant disregard for the authority they all signed up for. That is, until they saw there really was not going to be. Then, mere weeks later, they published their Speedy on Heroin comic, which went on to win all kinds of awards. This was late 1970. In early 1971, the first revision of the CCA went into effect.
After that, the CCA’s power and reason began to show its weakness. Sure, there were still comics that abided by their sanctions, but only when convenient. By ’82, most comic industries thought them out of date. By ’89, DC comics threatened to leave if it did not revise again, so it did. 2001 saw Marvel leave the CCA behind for a rating system they made. Then, in 2011, DC and Archie comics left. There were no more people involved in the CCA, and, as such, it was gone. That was it. Annihilated. Barely a whisper in the end. Seriously, most people my age know where they were when they heard Superman died, but do you even remembering hearing that the CCA was gone? Or that it actually existed all the way to 2011?
There is so much about this event to say, but all I want to point out this time is this: Gaines saw the CCA as an oppressive system that had it out for him directly and he fought it as best he could. There was no way he could win, though. The populace needed to feel safe and Gaines only wanted to give them severed heads. There was no great calling. There was no great purpose. Just a punch to the face in defiance. On the other hand, Lee did not have a direct problem with the CCA. Instead, he had a reason. His calling came from on high (or however high you place the government), his actions looked beyond his obstacle. He aimed for the back of the head. On his way, he crushed a face.
Proper and successful rebellion is not fighting against an enemy. It is fighting through an enemy towards a better target. America was not formed when they threw tea over a boat. It happened when they agreed on plans for a better government. In that case, there was a war. In most cases, successful rebellions have no satisfying resolve with a loser forced to sign a paper and publicly acknowledge its loss. It is simply that better people have moved on and the bad system quietly atrophies into nothingness.
I love rebels. I like rebellion. America thrives on it. It thrives because of it. If you find a thing to rebel against, though, keep this mind: destruction for its own sake is weak. Destruction for the sake of creation is unstoppable. If you throw a punch, aim for the back of the target and follow through. Also, I think you are supposed to yell “Ki-Ya!”.