Although the Comics Code Authority hasn't really operated since 2009, one woman's dedication kept the defunct organization going as long as possible. And this month, her efforts have come to an end.
The Code is no more.
The Comics Code Authority seal of approval was once present on almost every comic book published in America. But in February, DC and Archie Comics — the last two publishers to use the logo on their comics — officially discontinued use of the stamp, marking the end of the Code.
As Newsarama reported last month, the Comics Magazine Association of America, which oversaw the Code, has been essentially inoperative since 2009. The Kellen Company, the trade organization management firm that managed the CMAA, has not officially represented the group for over a year.
And nobody else ever took it over.
Holly Munter Koenig, who managed the CMAA for Kellen until 2009, said the end of the CMAA "happened quickly" after the death of Richard Goldwater and Michael Silberkleit, Archie Comics executives who died in 2007 and 2008, respectively.
Koenig said the last industry representative to oversee the CMAA was Paul Levitz, until he stepped down from being DC publisher in 2009. "Paul kept it together," Koenig told Newsarama. "Then Steve Rotterdam [formerly of DC's marketing department] tried.
"I was communicating with Steve Rotterdam saying, 'An association is "owned" by the industry, not Kellen,'" Koenig said, emphasizing that the CMAA didn't have to stop functioning. "Its mission could be whatever the industry wants it to be. The CMAA could have easily changed a name, mission, objectives, etc. It's not so simple to create a non-profit these days. Here's one, already existing, so meet with the industry and see if there's a need.
"Certainly the reason why the CMAA was created in the first place was no longer. But thousands of associations exist today because of need," she said.
That need and interest from publishers never materialized, and Koenig's hopes for the future of the CMAA were dashed, particularly once Rotterdam ended up leaving DC too.
Of course, another mystery remains. If the CMAA was inoperative since 2009, how was the Code used on comics in 2010 and even in January and February 2011?
Last month, Archie Comics President Mike Pellerito told Newsarama his company had not been submitting comics for approval for more than a year, but simply kept using the Code seal because they had never gotten notes on any of their comics.
Yet DC Comics told Newsarama the publisher had been submitting comics to the CMAA. In fact, DC Co-Publisher Dan DiDio was reached for comment last week and stated that he knows they were submitted because his own assistant mailed the comics for approval to an address in Westbury, N.Y., as recently as December 2010.
"Any comic that featured the Code label on it was submitted to them," he emphasized. "Any book we had with the Comics Code label on, we were submitting to the CMAA, and we were paying a fee per book. That is something we were doing until the end of 2010. There was a set of parameters we adhered to. I don't remember the last time we received notes from them, but we did receive notes on occasion from them for things they thought were too violent or too bloody. I know we had notes from them on a Teen Titans project a year or so back.
"Our contract with the CMAA ended, I think, in either June or July of 2010," DiDio said. "And what we were doing was one-month renewals until we had a new plan in place. And then we decided just to renew through the end of the year."
But if the CMAA hasn't existed since 2009, to whom was DC submitting its comics in Westbury, N.Y.?
Koenig had the answer:
"Without Kellen getting paid, I personally read and responded to the books DC was submitting," Koenig confirmed to Newsarama on Monday. "Westbury is where I live. I was having them send it to my home. Or if it came into the office, I would bring it home and respond from my personal email."
And where was the money going that DC was paying for each book?
"No money was being exchanged between DC and me personally. I was just doing it because of the passion I had for what the CMAA stood for — an association of comic book publishers," said Koenig, who now serves as a vice president at Kellen.
It turns out the CMAA was so far behind on its fees to Kellen that the money DC paid in 2010 went to cover 2009 expenses. The costs to maintain the CMAA included tax filings, mailing inquiries, monthly financials, bank accounts and other requirements of running a non-profit.
"In 2009, not enough money came in to pay Kellen's fee, which hadn't changed in years and years," Koenig explained. "Only DC kept up with their payments."
On January 1, 2010, Kellen officially ended its management of the CMAA and stopped charging fees, but continued to maintain the non-profit's bank account so that the monies owed Kellen in 2009 could be paid.
But that didn't stop Koenig from continuing to help out from her home.
"All Kellen is, is a third party — a professional services company with expertise in running non-profits," Koenig said. "But since CMAA was under our roof for so long, we cared. And I cared. So I was reading the books that DC and Bongo submitted. Without Kellen getting paid in 2010."
Now that no publisher is paying any fees, and no comic is carrying the Code stamp of approval, Koenig has sent the CMAA's historical records and documentation to Jay Kogan, the lead attorney at DC Comics. Although she had hoped the CMAA could be salvaged into a different type of trade organization for publishers, Koenig said she has lost hope now.
"The publishers are not interested," she said. "They could have been."
In fact, she said that even if someone now wanted to revive the CMAA, it "could be too late." She said DC's legal department has taken responsibility to close it.
The Comics Magazine Association of America was once an organization run by the top publishers in the business. The industry united to create the "Comics Code Authority" approval stamp in 1954 to counteract the public's fear of violent and sexual messages in comics.
The CMAA probably saved the comics industry by creating the stamp, which assured parents that comic books were safe for kids, although more mature-content publishers like EC Comics went under because of the effort. The stamp was required on all comics sold by newsstands and grocery stores.
But over the last 10 years, the stamp has been losing its power, particularly after Marvel Comics stopped using it in 2001. And this month, the Code's approval stamp was published on its final comic, as both DC and Archie Comics have discontinued use of the logo.
"This is something we've wanted to do for a long period of time," DiDio told Newsarama last week. "We were using the CCA seal as an identifier for product that we were putting out to the newsstand, so it was clear that it went through a different process than the other books that went direct market only.
"Ultimately what happened was that, as other major publishers walked away from the CMAA, we found that the newsstand business was accepting products without that Code," he said. "So we began to question whether or not that system was really beneficial to us, in regards to making sure we had as wide an appeal as possible and as wide a reach as possible."
After looking at the DC line, DiDio said the company realized it could better serve its customers by having a rating system that could identify all products, no matter where they were sold. DiDio said the company actually utilized the existing rating system that had been used on DC's CMX line, which was the company's manga imprint.
"Because of the amount of product we put out, and the different types of books, we didn't want to limit the types of stories we tell," DiDio said. "So we decided it would be better to adopt a rating system similar to what they did in movies, similar to what they did in video games and other areas."
DC Comics will now carry an "E" for "everyone," a "T" for "teen," a "teen-plus" for readers 16 and older, and an "M" for mature audiences 18 and over. Marvel has a similar rating system. Bongo and Archie Comics, which also recently dropped the Code from their comics, will have no rating system for their "all-ages" titles, although Pellerito said they would label comics that might warrant a rating.
DiDio said DC has set up a third party within the company to review all comics for rating adherence, so editorial decisions will not be involved in rating judgments. "We set up a rating for each book and we stay within the parameters for that rating," DiDio said. "Then we have someone else review them. And in particular cases, we might change a rating for a certain book, but it will be more an exception than a rule. It would be issue-specific and story-content specific, but we really want to adhere to it.
"We really do that anyway. We have our own set of guidelines and our own understanding of what each book should be," DiDio said. "But if we feel something is crossing a line, or if we feel we want to push something further, we now have a system in place where we can call that out to the attention of the retailers, and also any other place that book might be collected or sold."
But even DiDio recognized the nostalgia that comes into play as the Code disappears from comics this month. "As we were instituting the rating system at DC Comics and bringing our relationship to close with the CMAA, we realized that was actually the close of a very important piece of history within comics," DiDio said. "But I feel, moving forward, what we've created is actually stronger and better for where we are now."Also on Newsarama:
- The Comics Code Authority - DEFUNCT Since 2009?
- ARCHIE Dropping COMICS CODE AUTHORITY Seal in February
- DC Replaces Comics Code Approval with Own Rating System