With the Comics Code finally rendered inactive, people are starting to wonder about what went on in that abandoned-looking mansion up on the hill. Vaneta Rogers made like an actual reporter and called people and put things together to reveal that after some snooping around, it looked like the Code hadn’t really been around for over a year:
But Newsarama hasn’t been able to locate any evidence that the organization was functioning since 2009. And Archie Comics has indicated that it wasn’t actually submitting comics for approval to the Comics Magazine Association of America, which oversaw the Code.
Retailer Joe Field suggests that the last few publishers who used to Code seal – Archie and DC — just put it on the cover because they were up on their dues:
“It used to be that everything had to go through the Code, be stamped and sealed, and then could be sent off to the printer,” Field said. “I think that, over the last number of years — and it’s kind of obvious, because there were things that wound up with a Code seal that would have never gotten through the code — if a company was up on their dues, they could put the Code on their book.”
Rogers tracked down the last person who seemed to know anything about running the Code, Holly Munter Koenig, who worked for the Kellen Company, a trade organization management firm which had been handling the business of the Comics Magazine Association of America, the organization which functioned to administer the Code and, supposedly, render other services to the comics industry. Koenig said all Code matters should be referred to DC Comics; a DC spokesperson said:
A spokesperson for DC, although not offering a statement on the record, confirmed that its dues were paid to the CMAA through December 2010 and that comics were submitted until that time. DC uses the Code approval logo on comics like Tiny Titans, Superman, and Batman, with the seal appearing on the covers of those titles published as recently as December 2010. At the time of this article, the publisher had not fulfilled a request for information on how those comics were submitted and to whom.
Which brings us up to another matter? If the CMAA had quietly faded away over the last few years, what happened to their archives, a treasure trove of information on the history of comics? We received an alarmed letter from reader Sean Howe who lamented the potential loss of this material:
Unfortunately, as the Comic Magazine Association of America quietly dissolves, it also carries its own history down the drain. Last year, in the course of researching a book, I tried without success to locate the files of the CMAA, which had been maintained since 1948 and were accessible as of the 1990s. Representatives at DC, Archie, and Marvel were unable to answer my questions about where the files might have ended up, although I did receive a response from a former CMAA representative. In regard to my question of who might now be safeguarding the documents, she wrote,
“There really is no one. Legally, none of the old documents of the organization had to be kept. Much of it was kept in Michael Silberkleit’s office up in Archie, but as you now know, sadly, he passed on. Not sure what they would have done with the old files.”
The records of Josette Frank and the Child Study Association of America—which had challenged the comic-book scare of the late 1940—had been donated to the CMAA years ago. Now they have vanished, along with detailed notes on industry-wide meetings throughout the 1950s, 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s among Jack Liebowitz, Stan Lee, Carmine Infantino, John Goldwater, and others.
It seems very possible that these traces of history will soon (if they haven’t already) wind up in the dumpsters of corporate offices of Time Warner or Disney. The industry’s lack of interest in its own heritage is distressing. Do you suppose anything can be done?
So who has these papers…if they even still exist? Today, Mark Seifert dug a bit more into the Code’s history, with a look at their tax returns (it was a non-profit organization) and a brief exchange with Koenig, who writes:
I’ll say something personal–there were a lot of long time, hard working supporters of the association. It wasn’t just about the Code. Many of these remarkable people are now retired or have passed away. The CMAA was fortunate to have Ski (Marvel) amongst its leadership for years… and Paul Levitz, who very respectfully kept the organization together long after its founders passed away.
The Association belonged to the industry, not Kellen, but we definitely cared a lot about its existence.
And then, the money quote for Howe’s question:
Koenig says that the CMAA’s historical records and documentation have been forwarded to DC’s legal department. Given the important role the CMAA has played in our business, one hopes that DC’s lawyers will eventually allow historians access to what must be a fascinating look at our industry’s history.
She says that the records have been in storage and are just now being shipped to DC. While Paul Levitz–the person we imagine would be most concerned with these archives at DC — is no longer running DC, one hopes that someone there has an idea of how valuable these archives could be. Another one of our correspondents suggesting donating them to the Ohio State University comics archives. Or will we end up with….
Heidi MacDonald is the founder and editor in chief of The Beat. In the past, she worked for Disney, DC Comics, Fox and Publishers Weekly. She can be heard regularly on the More To Come Podcast. She likes coffee, cats and noble struggle.