In 1954, the Comics Magazine Association of America formed the Comics Code Authority (CCA), an alternative system to government regulation that allowed comic book publishers to self-regulate the content of their comic books in the U.S. The code was commonly called “the Comics Code,” it was widely used until the early 2000s. Comic publishing companies would submit their comics to the CCA, who would then screen the works to make sure they adhered to the code, if the books were found to be in compliance they would authorize the use of the seal on the cover of the comic book.
In the early 2000s, newer publishers began to bypass the CCA and Marvel Comics abandoned it all together in 2001. only three major publishers still adhered to the code in 2010: DC Comics, Archie Comics, and Bongo Comics. In 2010, Bongo broke with the CCA. The Code was rendered obsolete in January 2011 when DC and Archie broke away from the system.
Marvel‘s rating system after the CCA‘s consisted of four categories:
- ALL AGES
- PG (Parental Guidance)
- PARENTAL ADVISORY/EXPLICIT CONTENT
The company then switched to a new system when the Motion Picture Association of America filed a complaint against Marvel for using the trademarked classifications PG and PG-13. The PG and PG-13 ratings were changed to:
- PSR (Parental Supervision Recommended)
Beginning in June 2005, Marvel switched to yet another system that the company still uses today:
- ALL AGES
- T – Appropriate for most readers, parents advised to read before/with younger children.
- T+ TEENS AND UP – Appropriate for teens 13 and above.
- PARENTAL ADVISORY – Appropriate for older teens and adult readers, features more mature themes and/or more graphic imagery.
- MAX: EXPLICIT CONTENT – 18+ years old, created specifically for mature content titles, designed to appear distinct from mainline Marvel titles, labelled very prominently/displayed on the cover, not sold at newsstands or to younger readers.
Bongo Comics switched to a simple ALL AGES label:
The only difference being the replacement of the Comics Code seal with the words ‘ALL AGES’.
DC Comics‘ rating system is split into four categories:
- E – EVERYONE: Appropriate for all ages; may contain cartoon violence and/or some comic mischief.
- T – TEEN: Appropriate for ages 12 and up; may contain mild violence, language and/or suggestive themes.
- T+ – TEEN PLUS: Appropriate for ages 15 and up; may contain moderate violence, mild profanity, graphic imagery and/or suggestive themes.
- M – MATURE: Appropriate for ages 17 and up; may contain intense violence, extensive profanity, nudity, sexual themes and other content suitable for older readers.
Archie Comics was the last major comic book publishing company to drop the use of the Comics Code seal:
The company removed the seal and didn’t replace it with a rating system, they simply promised to continue to produce family-friendly, entertaining and relevant stories.
Because the Comics Code Authority was a censor system in practice only for the U.S. comic book industry and not enforced by the law, when it was dropped by the major comic book publishing companies the seal lost its influence and power. For Archie President Mike Pellerito the decision was simple, “We have a great deal of respect for what the Comics Code Authority has stood for over the years, but at the end of the day, the final judge of our content is our readership.”