Friday, January 31, 2014
Before The Comic Code Authority Came The Horwitz Code Of Publishing Ethics
Everyone knows, and has seen, the Comics Code Authority which was established in the USA back in September 1954 and its workings. Entire books have been devoted to its formation and history and how it fits into the comic book industry as a whole. In a nutshell it was established as a direct result of the Senate Hearings of the 1950s and its function was to control what could be published under the guise of comics books – publishers either conformed to the Code or vanished. History would like us to believe that the Code was the first of its kind anywhere, but, as you’ll soon see, that history is wrong.
The furore surrounding comic books spread far and wide. The Senate hearings were big news in Australia and groups here were doing their own bit to get comic books off the shelves. Groups were formed in virtually every state with the aim of controlling what children read and with the ultimate goal of banning comic books completely in favour of more wholesome literature, such as books. Proper books. This wave against comics was aided by media reporting at the time which did saw comic books linked to virtually any and every example of juvenile crime imaginable, from a gun theft in 1953 (in Queensland, of all places) to more serious actions, such as sexual assault and murder. Nothing was exempt.
Boards were being formed in almost every state. South Australia was attempting to have amendments to its Police Offences Bill to deal with ‘objectionable literature’ in August, 1953 and New South Wales and Victoria were looking to follow suit. The state leading the way for outright banning was Queensland. Various mothers groups were calling for censorship of both comic books and film. In March, 1954, the Queensland Literature Board Of review was formed and duly announced. Its role was simple – to ban comic books in the state of Queensland. Once a comic book was banned in one state, other states would unofficially adopt the bans, thus preventing a title from being on sale, resulting in cancellations and publishers either going out of business or looking at other mediums to stay afloat. The Board was up and running and busily banning comic books before the year was out.
Horwitz, a long established publisher, saw the writing on the wall though and sought to pre-empt the banning move by issuing its own Code Of Publishing Ethics, in March 1954. Even though the Code was announced at the same time as the Queensland Board it received little attention in the mainstream media – nobody cared about self-censorship. The Code was issued to all of Horwitz’s artists, writers and editors and clearly set out the guidelines upon which product would be prepared. The Code clearly stated that all editors, artists and authors were to ‘eliminate all objectionable matter, which-
(a) Glorifies or condones reprehensible acts or characters.
(b) Is offensively “sexy”.
(c) Features illustrations which are offensively gruesome or “sexy”.
(d) Distorts facts or is in any way misleading.
The rest of the Code contained the guidelines upon which stories were to be written and drawn and each States relevant Act was highlighted. The idea behind the Code was to dumb down comic books and ensure that the material on sale was as harmless as could be. The Horwitz line, which focused on reprinting American material, thus fell under two Codes, their own and the American code. Despite this double dipping, the Queensland Board still found one Horwitz title, the reprint of T-Man, worthy of being banned and added it to its list in June, 1956.
The Code was to take effect from April, 1954, thus beating the American Code by several months. It wasn’t a moment too soon as the next month, May, 1954, saw the biggest scandal to hit Australian comic books – The Lone Avenger writer/artist Leonard Lawson was charged with multiple counts of rape and assault, actions that only aided in the banning of comic books as a whole.
Horwitz kept publishing reprint material for the next ten years, with a focus on the Marvel line of war and western, moving to a smattering of superhero comics towards the end of its comic book publishing history. In 1959 they began to publish John Dixon’s The Phantom Commando which was taken over by Maurice Bramley after three issues. The same year saw them publish Don Christy Of The RAN, written and drawn by REG, which lasted two years. Other than Bramley’s back up material in assorted titles, along with similar filler by REG, Horwitz focused on reprints, including Monty Wedd’s Captain Justice and Dixon’s Air Hawk. When they ceased publishing comic books, their inventory and contracts were taken over by Page Publications, an offshoot of the Yaffa Syndicate, which began to reprint the reprints, albeit with the same Horwitz covers but, presumably, without any additional payment to Bramley, but that’s a separate story. In the meantime, here, for possibly the first time since it was issued, is the Horwitz Publications Code of Publishing Ethics in its entirety.