Chicago Spanking Review

The Effects of the Comics Code on Spanking in Comics, Part 4:  1980 - 2011

---> Articles Section

By Web-Ed


1980 - 1989 1
1990 - 1999 9 (projected, includes data not yet in CSDB)
2000 - 2009 2

The numbers during these three decades show some strange variation: only one spanking during the 80's, suddenly increasing to 9 during the 90's, and then back down to 2 during the 2000's. Before trying to explain this variation, we must acknowledge that there is a good possibility that these numbers are less reliable, especially from 2000 on, than those from earlier decades and there could certainly be a few more spankings lurking out there. But even taking them at face value, could the Code really have been responsible for two separate crackdowns with a strangely tolerant period in between? It seems to me far more likely that the Code was no longer a significant impediment to comic-book spankings after 1980, and that other factors came to the forefront.

Taking one decade at a time, let's begin with 1980-89. Leonard Darvin remained as Code Administrator until well into the 80's (I haven't been able to acertain the exact date of his retirement), and there is no reason to suppose he had suddenly become less tolerant of spankings. But the comics market itself was changing in several ways. First, the advent of direct distribution from the publisher to comics specialty stores reduced the Code's influence on content since the books distributed solely by this route did not have to go through the Code (of course, if the same book was to be distributed through both channels it had to be submitted to the Code). With only DC, Marvel, and Archie using newsstand distribution, the Code's effect on content, while still considerable, was less than it had ever been (Charlton was all-reprint, Gold Key stopped going through newsstands in 1981, and Harvey shut down in 1984).

thing spanks moondragon in marvel two-in-one

Marvel Two-In-One #62 (April 1980). The spanking of the decade - literally! This is the only known adult M/F spanking from 1980-89. © Marvel Characters, Inc.

DC's editorial direction was taking it away from spankings (as mentioned in Part 3), leaving only Archie and Marvel as potential spanking sources. At Archie, perhaps changing social mores in the 80's made it seem less likely that teen-age girls like Betty and Veronica would get spanked at home, while at Marvel the superhero was king, and they did give us the one spanking of the decade (Thing/Moondragon in 1980). But this scene aroused some feminism-inspired protests, so perhaps Marvel's editors were reluctant to risk any further controversy for a while. The fact that it appeared at all strongly suggests the Code hadn't suddenly become anti-spanking.

Second, the 80's were a bad time for comics publishers. What happened to Charlton and Harvey was mentioned above, while DC had undergone what become known as "The DC Implosion" in 1978. The smaller number of titles alone surely explains some of the reduction in spankings from 70's levels. Among the losses were the relatively spanking-rich romance genre, which almost guaranteed the spanking total would decline even absent any other factors. Independents like Fantagraphics (1976) and Eclipse (1978) and were just beginning to rise, and in any case they bypassed the Code. Therefore, I don't think we can blame the spanking dry spell we endured during this decade on the Code.


stargrazers spanking cover

© Innovation Corporation.

The same conditions that produced only one spanking during the entire 1980's from Marvel, DC, and Archie combined continued to obtain during the 90's, when these three companies between them could not muster a single M/F scene. But independent companies continued their rise and took up the slack: AC (formerly Americomics) founded in 1982, Innovation in 1988, Eros (1990), and Friendly (c. 1990) were all active during at least part of the decade, and all published at least one spanking scene (AC and Eros are still around in 2012, as a matter of fact). None of these companies wanted or needed to submit their books to the Code Office (and Eros and Friendly, being pornographic, couldn't have gotten anything approved anyway).

At left: Legends of the Stargrazers #6 (June, 1990). New, independent companies led the way when it came to spanking in the 1990's. Note the absence of the Code's seal on the book's cover.


tomorrow stories spanking cover

Tomorrow Stories (April 2002). The Code would probably have approved this cover, but it didn't have to. © America's Best Comics.

DC managed to get back in the spanking game during this decade with the Joker/Mask mini-series, although Dark Horse co-published it and should probably get most of the credit. America's Best Comics gave us the delightful Greyshirt/Cobweb spanking, and again, neither of these books went through the Code. That doesn't prove, of course, that the Code Office didn't disapprove some spanking panel that was submitted to it, but that is extremely unlikely for all the reasons listed earlier, and one more: since the last revision of the Code in 1989, their primary concern had been the rising levels of sex and violence, which made simple spanking look pretty tame by comparison.


cover of spider-man #96 with no code seal

Cover art by Gil Kane. Click to increase in size. © Marvel Characters Inc.

After 1980, publishers subscribing to the Code were in the minority, but among them were the biggest players: Marvel, DC, and Archie (Bongo Comics subscribed at one time also, but I was unable to find the exact dates either on their website or by examining cover scans). Their size and visibility meant that they were still subject to greater public scrutiny than the tiny independents, but even so their creative personnel and editorial staffs sometimes chafed against the Code restrictions.

This had been a problem from the beginning (except perhaps at Archie with its extremely tame content), but until 1984, the only mainstream comic books that had gone so far as to bypass the code were The Amazing Spider-Man #96-98, which had featured the problem of drug abuse. Lee left the Code's seal off the book for those three issues, making history in the process, but after that the Code was revised to allow some mention of drugs and things settled down again. For a long time afterward, no mainstream company published anything that was not Code-approved.

At left: The Amazing Spider-Man #96 (May 1971). The Code's seal failed to appear on the book's cover - the first time this had occurred with a mainstream title since 1955. Even though the Federal Department of Health, Education, and Welfare wanted Marvel to put this book out, the Code would not approve it.

cover of swamp thing #29

Saga Of The Swamp-Thing #29 (Oct. 1984) contained nudity, incest, necrophilia, and rotting zombies, but except for that, no problems. The Code's seal certainly does not appear! © DC Comics Inc.

Then in October 1984, the Code Office took a good hard look at Swamp Thing #29. Swamp Thing (the second series) had quickly become one of the seminal comics of the 80's once Alan Moore, Stephen Bissette, and John Totleben were installed as the creative team. Their work was excellent as well as groundbreaking, but issue #29 featured rotting zombies, nudity, incest, and (implied) necrophilia, causing the Code Office to reject it in no uncertain terms. A looming deadline left DC no time to "fix" it (not that they could have done so without destroying the story), so they decided to run the book without the Code's Seal of Approval. The following month, issue #30 was submitted to the Code and approved, but it was clear due to the nature of Moore's stories there was going to be more trouble with the Code in the future. Therefore, with issue #31, DC dropped the seal from the title permanently, and perhaps to compensate they put "Sophisticated Suspense" on the cover as a sort of warning label - if anyone could figure out what it was supposed to mean.

Swamp Thing continued to be controversial, but the fact is that a mainstream comics title was bypassing the Code and getting away with it. Once that happened, I think the Code was doomed. Given corporate timidity, it took a while: it wasn't until 2001 that Marvel dropped the Code, and ten years later that DC and Archie finally followed suit. The April 2011 Archie books were probably the last comics ever to carry the Code's seal on their front covers.

comics code brochure with healthy-looking children

With the Code now gone for a year (as of April 2012), it's time to look back - and ahead. There are those who say that the Code was probably necessary at a time when the comics industry was in crisis. I disagree - I think EC's editor Al Feldstein had it right when he said that the comics industry had castrated itself. While Fredric Wertham and other hysterics wanted censorship, it is highly doubtful that the U.S. Congress would have attempted this, and even more doubtful that a Federal censorship act would have been upheld as constitutional by the courts. Local ordinances might have been enacted, perhaps in New York and other cities, but these too could and should have been challenged. In other words, the industry should have fought for its rights. I think in time the crisis would have passed, and while it would not have left the publishers unchanged, they would at least have been able to offer more interesting comics than they did for the next twenty-five years.

These remarks are perhaps too general to be of much interest to most spankos, so let's return to the more restrictive question of the Code's effect on spanking. We have seen that even two years before the Code, a publisher removed two spankings from a reprinted jungle adventure, apparently to avoid criticism. We have also seen that during the ten-year administration of Mrs. Guy Percy Trulock, only one M/F, non-parental, non-robot spanking was permitted. She may have meant well, but Mrs. Trulock and her Code Ladies deprived us of quite a few spankings, especially (we may surmise) in the Romance genre, not to mention the Ben Grimm/Sue Storm scene that would have emerged as one of the better superhero spankings of all time. In fact, it would have been one of only two in which a hero actually took a heroine and not a villainess over his knee! (In a way, it still was, but the changes demanded by the Code Ladies did everything possible to obscure this fact).

legion girls begging to be spanked

With the Code out of the way, creators and editors need to show some guts and bring spanking back into comics. Here is a facetious suggestion on one approach to the problem of how to do this.

We have seen that after Mrs. Trulock's time, spanking returned to comics, and that factors other than the Code seem responsible for any spanking shortage. Going forward, the primary impediments to more spanking in comics would seem to be feminism, political correctness, the decreased acceptance of spanking as a means of home discipline, and general corporate cowardice and timidity - this last being one of the main reasons we got stuck with the Code in the first place back in 1954. Let's hope that comics creators understand how much a spanking can add to a good story if done right, and that publishers have the guts to put their books out.

  1. Seduction of the Innocent by Fredric Wertham (1954) - the book that caused us all so much trouble. Spanking is only specifically mentioned in one paragraph, though, as I remember it. You can still find copies floating around.
  2. Seduction of the - All about Wertham, his crusade, what comics he took his examples from, and more.
  3. Alter-Ego #105 (October 2011) (op. cit.) - this issue of the comics fanzine featured a 52-page article on the Comics Code, with many illustrated examples, some in color! It specifically mentions the Ben/Sue spanking from Fantastic Four. The article itself contains many other valuable references. You might be able to pick up a back issue in a comics specialty store, or else you can order it online from TwoMorrows. Unless it changes, here is the ordering page.
  4. The Comics Journal (various back issues) - Difficult to find, but worthwhile if you're extremely interested in contemporary news involving the Comics Code. I didn't consult my own library of back issues while writing this article, but as I remember it the Journal did cover news stories like the Code's rejection of Swamp Thing #29 in more detail than I had the space to relate here. Your best bet for the relevant back issues at this point is probably the publisher, Fantagraphics, although comics specialty stores may still have a few.

return to articles page button Back to ARTICLES page
return to home page button Back to HOME page