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For the past forty years the content of comic books has been governed by an industry self-regulatory code adopted by publishers in 1954 in response to public and governmental pressure. This book examines why comic books were the subject of controversy, beginning with objections that surfaced shortly after the introduction of modern comic books in the mid-1930s, when parent For the past forty years the content of comic books has been governed by an industry self-regulatory code adopted by publishers in 1954 in response to public and governmental pressure. This book examines why comic books were the subject of controversy, beginning with objections that surfaced shortly after the introduction of modern comic books in the mid-1930s, when parents and teachers accused comic books of contaminating children's culture and luring children away from more appropriate reading material. It traces how, in the years following World War II, the criticism of comic books shifted to their content, and the reading of comic books became linked with the rise of juvenile delinquency. This resulted in attempts at the local, state, and national level to ban or license comic book sales. A major figure in the crusade against comic books was the psychiatrist Dr. Fredric Wertham. While he played a significant role in the postwar attack on comics, his accusations against the comic book industry have been misunderstood by comic book fans and media scholars alike. They have accused him of being a naive social scientist who saw direct causal links between the reading of comic books and delinquency. In fact, Seal of Approval shows that Wertham's work is much better understood in the intellectual tradition of media criticism of the Frankfurt school and their critique of mass culture. The negative publicity aroused by the controversy, coupled with fears that the government would pass censorship legislation, led publishers to adopt the self-regulatory code. It has been changed only twice, once in 1971 and again in 1989. The legacy of the comics code is that it continues to define the comic book medium as essentially juvenile literature. While the code offers protection against those who attack the media (and not just comic books), it also reaffirms the public perception of comic books as children's fare. As a result, the comic book has yet to achieve legitimation as a unique form of expression that blends words and pictures in a way that no other medium can duplicate. In tracing the evolution of the controversy and the resulting code Seal of Approval examines important issues about children, media effects, and censorship. It is the first booklength scholarly study of this period of comic book history. Amy Kiste Nyberg is a professor in the Department of Communication at Seton Hall University.


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For the past forty years the content of comic books has been governed by an industry self-regulatory code adopted by publishers in 1954 in response to public and governmental pressure. This book examines why comic books were the subject of controversy, beginning with objections that surfaced shortly after the introduction of modern comic books in the mid-1930s, when parent For the past forty years the content of comic books has been governed by an industry self-regulatory code adopted by publishers in 1954 in response to public and governmental pressure. This book examines why comic books were the subject of controversy, beginning with objections that surfaced shortly after the introduction of modern comic books in the mid-1930s, when parents and teachers accused comic books of contaminating children's culture and luring children away from more appropriate reading material. It traces how, in the years following World War II, the criticism of comic books shifted to their content, and the reading of comic books became linked with the rise of juvenile delinquency. This resulted in attempts at the local, state, and national level to ban or license comic book sales. A major figure in the crusade against comic books was the psychiatrist Dr. Fredric Wertham. While he played a significant role in the postwar attack on comics, his accusations against the comic book industry have been misunderstood by comic book fans and media scholars alike. They have accused him of being a naive social scientist who saw direct causal links between the reading of comic books and delinquency. In fact, Seal of Approval shows that Wertham's work is much better understood in the intellectual tradition of media criticism of the Frankfurt school and their critique of mass culture. The negative publicity aroused by the controversy, coupled with fears that the government would pass censorship legislation, led publishers to adopt the self-regulatory code. It has been changed only twice, once in 1971 and again in 1989. The legacy of the comics code is that it continues to define the comic book medium as essentially juvenile literature. While the code offers protection against those who attack the media (and not just comic books), it also reaffirms the public perception of comic books as children's fare. As a result, the comic book has yet to achieve legitimation as a unique form of expression that blends words and pictures in a way that no other medium can duplicate. In tracing the evolution of the controversy and the resulting code Seal of Approval examines important issues about children, media effects, and censorship. It is the first booklength scholarly study of this period of comic book history. Amy Kiste Nyberg is a professor in the Department of Communication at Seton Hall University.

30 review for Seal of Approval: The History of the Comics Code

  1. 4 out of 5

    Tom

    "Seal of Approval" is a dryly academic book about a colorful and contentious topic, the sort of thing you get when your passion project has to make it past a review board or a thesis adviser. It is nevertheless a deeply researched and informative book, and worth reading if you are serious about learning more about the history of the Comics Code. The book covers the controversies that lead to the creation of the original Comics Code and then its various revisions through the decades. Unfortunately "Seal of Approval" is a dryly academic book about a colorful and contentious topic, the sort of thing you get when your passion project has to make it past a review board or a thesis adviser. It is nevertheless a deeply researched and informative book, and worth reading if you are serious about learning more about the history of the Comics Code. The book covers the controversies that lead to the creation of the original Comics Code and then its various revisions through the decades. Unfortunately it is now out of date, as shortly after this book was published Marvel Comics withdrew from the Comics Code Authority. A few years later, DC Comics and Archie Comics also withdrew from the CCA, leaving the Code after sixty plus years entirely defunct. I would like to know Nyberg's thoughts on these developments. It is in fact not entirely clear what she thinks of the code overall. While she bemoans the way its restrictions stymied innovation in comics for decades, she also appears to wag her finger at those who insist we can get along without it. But maybe I'm misinterpreting her. Nyberg also mounts a defense of sorts of Frederic Wertham, the psychologist who was responsible for so much of the panic about comics. Wertham is often criticized for his sloppy or simplistic linkages between comics and juvenile delinquency, most popularly presented in his book Seduction of the Innocents. Nyberg argues that Wertham wasn't trying to build a scientific case against comics per se, but that he was advocating for a holistic, radical program of limiting kids' exposure to mass media of any kind. Seduction wasn't supposed to be science, it was propaganda. It's hard to see how that makes it better. Or in any way excuses Wertham. In a work this copiously researched and footnoted, what doesn't get said can be quite deceiving. Nyberg is quick to dismiss certain viewpoints but doesn't really back up her dismissals by digging into them, so it is hard to know how valid they are. Was the Comics Code a major factor in the near-collapse of the comics publishing industry in the late fifties? Nyberg says "No," but doesn't bother to delve into this much. Since you could undoubtedly make a strong counter-argument, it would have behooved her to grapple with this in greater depth or at least to admit the ambiguities. At any rate, there is a lot of valuable material here for a student of comic book history. Just expect it to be a little dry.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Alenka

    I'm not going to write a big review on this because I wrote a huge paper on it, but this is a thorough and fascinating look at how the industry was essentially bullied into developing the Comics Code by several forces that were somewhat unique to the era. It's particularly interested how the Senate subcommittee and Wertham were able to put such pressure on comics because it was viewed as a medium uniquely aimed at kids; this book helps expose how attitudes toward children and childhood can enabl I'm not going to write a big review on this because I wrote a huge paper on it, but this is a thorough and fascinating look at how the industry was essentially bullied into developing the Comics Code by several forces that were somewhat unique to the era. It's particularly interested how the Senate subcommittee and Wertham were able to put such pressure on comics because it was viewed as a medium uniquely aimed at kids; this book helps expose how attitudes toward children and childhood can enable various adult authorities to leverage control over others. I also appreciated Nyberg's complicated look at Wertham's research, career, and ideas about media's influence on childrens' psyche.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Bekki Suorez

    I tried. Honest, I did. I believe that nonfiction and academic texts can be intriguing. This book, however, is not amongst the interesting ones. I made it approximately one third of the way through the book before I just couldn't take it. Worst part? I still don't know quite why I can't finish it. I just find my attention sliding everywhere else after less than a minute of reading. Perhaps something to try again in a year or two. I tried. Honest, I did. I believe that nonfiction and academic texts can be intriguing. This book, however, is not amongst the interesting ones. I made it approximately one third of the way through the book before I just couldn't take it. Worst part? I still don't know quite why I can't finish it. I just find my attention sliding everywhere else after less than a minute of reading. Perhaps something to try again in a year or two.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Kristen Chew

    An interesting scholarly assessment of the history of the Comics Code and the Comics Code Authority, with some reevaluation (if not exoneration) of Frederic Wertham. This short book focuses more on industry reaction than effects on readers (although that is certainly discussed), making it a good companion to David Hadju's The Ten-Cent Plague: The Comic Book Scare and How It Changed America (written for a mainstream audience). An interesting scholarly assessment of the history of the Comics Code and the Comics Code Authority, with some reevaluation (if not exoneration) of Frederic Wertham. This short book focuses more on industry reaction than effects on readers (although that is certainly discussed), making it a good companion to David Hadju's The Ten-Cent Plague: The Comic Book Scare and How It Changed America (written for a mainstream audience).

  5. 4 out of 5

    James Howard

    One of the most organized history books I have ever read. I do have to say I was not entirely interested in the topic but the way Nyberg presents the history is amazing.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Simeon Berry

  7. 5 out of 5

    Jason

  8. 4 out of 5

    Christy

  9. 4 out of 5

    Tim Jennen

  10. 4 out of 5

    Alan Stevenson

  11. 4 out of 5

    Kara_dz

  12. 5 out of 5

    Sammi-Jo Phillips

  13. 4 out of 5

    Hans Staats

  14. 4 out of 5

    Martin

  15. 5 out of 5

    William Grant

  16. 4 out of 5

    Steven Seelig

  17. 5 out of 5

    Dan Egan

  18. 4 out of 5

    Carla Molinari

  19. 4 out of 5

    Jeff Morganteen

  20. 5 out of 5

    Angie

  21. 4 out of 5

    Jonathan Hoyle

  22. 5 out of 5

    Mary

  23. 4 out of 5

    Nico Meyering

  24. 5 out of 5

    Platypus Jones

  25. 4 out of 5

    Derek Royal

  26. 4 out of 5

    Jason Hale

  27. 5 out of 5

    Yehudith Valentine

  28. 4 out of 5

    Will

  29. 4 out of 5

    Miriam Puente

  30. 4 out of 5

    Milan

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