This question was put forth on Reddit. Here’s my response:
OK, since the CCA was put in place as a self-censoring body by publishers we’ve got to wonder what other options they had. Let’s say they did the opposite and fought back against Wertham with all they had.
This was McCarthy era US. The Beat Movement was happening at the same time as all this was going down so a they could have likely gotten support there considering their common subversive streaks. I figure the publishers might skew more conservative in general, but the writers and artists, without a Code to keep them in check, would not only have continued to work in all genres, but eventually gone even more provocative. The medium might even embrace the Civil Rights and Anti-War causes when those topics came around, which might bring them to the attention of young readers.
Most publishers would likely drop the more provocative cartoonists, but they’d naturally begin self-publishing, beginning an underground comics movement with at least three major differences from ours:
1) It’d begin almost a decade earlier.
2) It’d be less aggresively adult. Our comix were like a rubber band snapping back against the push of super heroes and funny animals, whereas this timeline wouldn’t have those hyper family friendly genres to unite against.
3) The publisher-driven system we have would be replaced by a focus on celebrity cartoonists (like Crumb, Moebius, or Tezuka).
Decades down the line we’d likely have an enormous variety of comics available, with large numbers of them devoted to horror, politics, counter culture, and fantasy/science fiction. The juvenile stigma attached to the artform/industry for so long would likely not have existed and it would be seen as an artistic medium, just like theater, prose, film, etc.