Michael Turner, the former golden boy of Image Comics and Top Cow Comics, and more recently, Marvel Comics and DC Comics, died last month of cancer. Turner's style was as good as it gets by action comic book standards, but he'll be remembered most for successfully challenging the Comics Code Authority (CCA).
The CCA wielded gospel-like influence during the Red Scare, banning visual depictions of and references to drugs, sexuality, and violence. For almost 40 years, publishing houses had to go through the CCA if they wanted their titles to see the light of day. In response to artist complaints, the CCA liberalized its code in 1971 to allow references to drugs, and again in 1989 to allow representations of gays. By the late '80s, the CCA had fewer and fewer topics to go after, but big houses like Marvel Comics and DC Comics still made whatever artistic changes the CCA deemed necessary.
The rise of comic shops in the early 1990s meant that newsstand comics had a smaller market share. Artists and publishing houses who didn't want their work censored by the CCA had a new home. Image Comics was founded in 1992, and its earliest titles—Spawn and Gen13, as well as Turner's Witchblade—proved that a comic could draw fans without doing time on a newstand. Inspired by Image, Marvel and DC followed suit a few years later, creating smaller houses that would eventually foster titles popular with adult readers, such as Sin City.
Below are some highlights from the original Comics Code, published in 1954:
If crime is depicted it shall be as a sordid and unpleasant activity.
In every instance good shall triumph over evil and the criminal punished for his misdeeds. No comic magazine shall use the word horror or terror in its title.
Inclusion of stories dealing with evil shall be used or shall be published only where the intent is to illustrate a moral issue and in no case shall evil be presented alluringly, nor so as to injure the sensibilities of the reader.
Females shall be drawn realistically without exaggeration of any physical qualities.
Turner's work violated every nearly every rule in the 1954, 1972, and 1989 codes. Thanks in part to the path blazed by Witchblade, two of the four biggest comic publishing houses in the country—Image and Dark Horse—operate by their own in-house standards, free of the CCA's anti-comic moralizing.
Editor Brian Doherty hates on Image co-founder Rob Liefeld (for artistic reasons) here.