Tuesday, September 4, 2012

The New Reprints: Part XI: When Comics had Influence

The comic book train has many stops. We don’t have to get off at each one, but it’s great to look out the window and see what’s out there.

The New Reprints: A Voyage of Discovery to the Golden Age of Comic Books

Part XI: When Comics had Influence: Public Service, Education & Promotion 

This project will be presented in twelve parts. Unfortunately, I can’t change the order, so later posts will appear first. Please try to check this out in order! And your comments are important. Please post how you became aware of comics and their history!

  1. Introduction/Comics in "real" books.
  2. 1960s: Reprints from the Comic Companies: 80 Page Giants & Marvel Tales!
  3. 1960s: The Great Comic Book Heroes
  4. 1960s: The Paperback Era
  5. 1970s: The Comic Strips AND the Comic Book Strips! 
  6. 1970s: DC from the 1930s and the Origins at Marvel Part I
  7. 1970s: DC from the 1930s and the Origins at Marvel Part II
  8. 1980s until Today: Horror We? How's Bayou! The EC Age of Comics
  9. 1990s until Today: The Archives and Masterworks
  10. How The West Was Lost
  11. When Comics Had Influence: Public Service, Education & Promotion
  12. Journeys End, What We Leave Behind: A Century of Comics
So let us continue our voyage to and from the 1960s and discover the world of comics once almost forgotten. Our expedition is mostly into the world of reprints that were available OUTSIDE the newsstands and comic book stores but we will have a few detours on the way.

When we think of the beginnings of the Golden Age of Comic Books, we think of Superman leaping over tall buildings in single bound and lifting automobiles. We don’t usually think of him mentioned on the cover of Look magazine.

But he was there. Fighting the Nazis!

Comics, throughout their first century, were used primarily for entertainment. However, the medium was also used for education, instruction and flat out propaganda.

Time out!

 The word “propaganda” usually refers to an organization or government trying to influence public opinion.  That doesn’t sound too bad. However growing up in the 1960s, in the middle of the cold war, propaganda was a dirty word meaning simply, “…lies the Russian government was telling!” We told the truth, always, of course, and they used propaganda. Here we will use it's original meaning, the government trying to influence us. We are going to touch a bit on political, governmental, social and religious issues in this chapter, but only in terms of how they were portrayed in comics. Don’t get you dandruff up if I seem to bypass political correctness.

When we entered World War II Milton Caniff created a second Terry and the Pirates strip for the military. Although it was completely different in content from his regular strips, his distributor felt it was in violation of their contract and copyrights. 

Caniff then created a “spin off” of Terry entitled “Male Call” to be put into military newspapers. It featured some very sexy women, especially Miss Lace, and generated some public outcry. But Caniff knew who he was writing for: the service men. 

During WW II, there was no such thing as political correctness when Caniff also produced this, which is offensive today, and should have been offensive then. How disgracefully America treated Japanese-American's was offensive. We also were fighting Germany and Italy, but the U.S. did not go after and mistreat German-Americans and Italian Americans like they did Japanese Americans.

 Hitler was famously on the cover of Captain America, Superman and Daredevil.

 As Americans rallied even The Spirit could be drafted (even though he was dead.).

Of course in later years, Russia became the enemy.

Government Issue: Comics for the People, 1940s” by Richard Graham” is a perfect place to start. Comics were once used to education and to promote public service. Famous artists, and
artists who would become famous were once used to create comic books distributed to children for many issues and adult for others. They included work by famous artists such as Joe Maneely, Al Avilson, Milton Caniff, Neal Adams and so many others. Graham divides the stories into four chapters, Military, Employment and Economics, Civil Defense and The American Way.

Comic Art Propaganda by Fredrik Stromberg Peter Kuper published in 2010 is a less successful book, but has some interesting, but small illustrations and essays. It is more about recent comics than that of the Golden Age.

                                                             AL Alison showed civic pride

And so did Joe Maneely, above, and Al Capp, below

Even in more current times, artists, including Neal Adams and Kurt Schaffenberger have produced comic art for important causes.

I learned the basics of Atomic energy form a comic book in Junior High School, similar to one below given away at Epcot.

Therein is the problem of promotion and propaganda. Note that the “Universe of Energy” is written by Exxon, something a youngster might not notice. In the 1960s we received in school free comics about the phone system by the Bell System. At that time, they had one huge monopoly, not the several companies we have today. Their comics “indoctrinated” us in the importance of keeping their monopoly.

Of course DuPont wanted you to take their medicines and enjoy it too. So they had their Super-Heroes give games and quizzes on how to do so. But that was NOT the most interesting part of this 1989 comic!

 It was the copyright notice:

"DC COMICS SUPER HEROES GOOD HEALTH AND ACTIVITY BOOK published by DC Comics Inc., 666 Fifth Avenue, New York, N.Y. 10103. Copyright 1989 by DC Comics Inc. All rights reserved. All characters, related indicia, and DC bullet are trademarks of DC Comics Inc. Super Heroes is a trademark jointly owned by DC Comics Inc. and Marvel Entertainment Group. The characters and incidents mentioned in this book are entirely fictional." 

Here it says that Marvel and DC own the term "super-Heroes." How they do that?

In the early 1960s African Americans were encouraged to vote by comics (created by Marvel) and distributed by the NAACP.  

Comics can be educational and inspiration. That was the goal of Treasure Chest Comics. This comic was distributed in Christian schools from 1946 to 1972.

While a reprint may pop of here and there, there seems to be no great demand for these comics, which millions of children loved. The stories were educational, inspirational, and religious and, yes there was propaganda. They were also the first truly integrated comics.

They were educational:

 Inspirational and religious:

I was fortunate to speak to Joe Sinnott about the biographies he did for Treasure Chest. He looked back at those stories with great affection. But, with the exception of a few being printed overseas, with no one getting residuals, they are gone.

And of course, they were about propaganda:

 In my house it was “communism”, here it is always “godless communism.”

The communists, of course were in every war comic of the 1950s. Marvel (Atlas) used the communists as the new Nazis: They were instantly evil and always plotting against us. Here is what Stan Lee said about this at James Madison Univerity in 1975:

"During World War II, we were told that we were the good guys, and the Nazis were the bad guys. I believed it, and I still believe it. And virtually every comic book we produced... well, I was away at the Army for a while, but before I went and when I came back and while I was gone, the books that the other guys did, all featured Nazi villains. You just couldn’t make it as a villain unless you were a Nazi.

A few years later, when the word came down from D.C., that the commies are the bad guys, I just acted like one of Pavlov’s dogs. Then came Viet Nam, then came student protesters, then came a whole change in the country. I think you’ll find that at that point we got off the kick."

 From the Atlas Heroes and Yellow Claw Marvel Masterworks

DC mostly stayed out of real world politics, but Khrushchev showed up every once in a while

 However, Khrushchev was apparently able to fly around the Marvel Universe at will and visit young girls.

                                                                  From Spy Thrillers #2, 1955

 In comics the “commies” were modeled after the Nazis, instant villains. Nazis always made the best villains because they were irredeemable. Until the Viet Nam conflict, our enemies were always portrayed as ethnic stereotypes in comics.  The Marvel Age of Comics was born during the cold war but, since 1967 has done its best to erase it. The Fantastic Four first travel to the moon to beat the Russians, Tony Stark built his suit to fight the Red Chinese and Bruce Banner got caught in a Gamma Bomb explosion, making bombs to fight the Russians. 

In 1967, Jim Steranko, writer and artist of Nick Fury, Agent of SHIELD, recreated Hydra as a powerful, universally evil, scientifically advanced organization, founded by Nazis. This was ingenious, it drove the cold war out of Marvel and truly helped create an independent Marvel Universe free from any real world political entanglements.

This plot line was immediately picked up by others, especially Gary Friedrich, who presented an origin in Captain Savage Comics #2 and 3. I spoke to Jim Steranko about this. He was very busy working on his own comics and did not realize, at the time, that his concepts was spreading throughout Marvel. Marvel took famous Russian villains, like the Red Ghost and the Unicorn and had them join Hydra. It seemed as if a gang of Russian and Maggia villains got on a bus at the Russian Embassy and traveled to Hydra headquarters.

This impact is still shown today and is part of the Captain America movie and the Avengers animated TV show and movie.

From Soldier Comics #5, 1952
There were some politicians who used kids as pawns during the cold war. They simply wanted to scare our parents by scaring us.  So we were being told that an atomic war was imminent and could happen at any time! But we were also told, foolishly, that we could survive it, if we just: ducked and covered. In New York schools, along with fire drills, we had “Shelter Drills” where we ducked and covered…really. It was not just in schools. Every once in a while, there would be city wide “Shelter Drills” and people were herded in “fallout shelters.”

For kids there were comics, cartoons and themes songs, most often with a talking Turtle. 

There was a turtle by the name of Bert
And Bert the Turtle was very alert
When danger threatened him he never got hurt
He knew just what to do
He'd duck and cover, duck and cover
He'd hide his head and tail and four little feet
He'd duck and cover!

 He hid beneath his little shell until the coast was clear
Then one by one his head and tail and legs would reappear
By acting calm and cool he proved he was a hero, too
For finding safety is the bravest wisest thing to do

And now his little friends are just like Bert
And every turtle is very alert
When danger threatens them they never get hurt
They know just what to do


And now his little friends are just like Bert
And every turtle is very alert
When danger threatens them they never get hurt
They know just what to do

They duck and cover, duck and cover
They hide their heads and tails and four little feet
They duck and cover!
They duck, duck, duck, duck, duck, and cover


So just in case you wondered where those teenaged mutant ninja turtles got their powers, I think I know! In one of these atomic blasts!

By the way, we weren't all dumb. we knew that in case of an atomic blast over New York City, we should duck and cover and kiss our asses good-bye!
Religion anywhere is a touchy subject, everywhere but in Peanuts.  Charles Schultz was a religious man and that often found its way into his strips, with no complaints because that was who he was. Christmas on TV is now filled with animated holiday specials, but A Charlie Brown Christmas was the first. What is interesting, to me at least, is that most Christmas specials are now generic, they don’t want to offend viewers so most things about Christianity are left out. Yet, A Charlie Brown’s Christmas is religious.

 Linus " For unto you is born this day in the City of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.' And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God, and saying, 'Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.' That's what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown."

In 1967, Robert Short wrote a book, The Gospel According to Peanuts. He would continue to write two more books about Peanuts and Christianity.

This sort of started a trend. There is now the "Gospel According to Superman," "According to Super-Heroes"," According to the World’s Greatest Heroes"; "According to the Simpsons" and "According to Scrooge (McDuck)". Well, Superman was written by Siegel and Shuster, and their editors and Publishers, Donnenfeld, Liebowitz, Weisinger, Schwartz, and Gaines (nee Ginzberg) were not Christian. So, there are now at least four books,” Disguised as Clark Kent” by Danny Fingeroth, “Up, Up, and Oy Vey!: by Simcha Weinstein, “Superman Is Jewish?”  by Harry Brod and “From Krakow to Krypton” by Arnie Kaplan reinforcing the Man of Steel’s religious background. It is very interesting that many of the Christian writers see Kal-El’s coming to Earth as a Christ like figure, while the Jewish authors tend to see his trip to Earth as a reference to Moses.

They are all good books, but my favorite book here, and if you want to read just one, is Danny Fingeroth's "Disguised As Clark Kent."  But a complete review, which is what this book deserves will come in a little while. (Full disclosure: I have not read this yet to be published Harry Brod book yet.)

Note that Danny's book about "Jews, Comics and the Creation of the Superhero" and the "Gospel According to Superheroes" both have forwards by Stan Lee. No matter who is running it, Stan is getting into heaven.

Rarely brought up in conversations of the Golden Age of Comic Books is Classics Illustrated. It was published from 1941 to 1971 for a total of 169 issues. The series created illustrated stories of great books such as Moby Dick, The Last of the Mohicans, and Ivanhoe, but is never brought up as being the “father” of the graphic novel. These were novels and they were certainly graphic. They also escaped MOST of the controversy of the Comics Code era. They contained art by famous artists including Jack Abel, Dik Browne, Lou Cameron, Reed Crandall, George Evans, Denis Gifford, Graham Ingels, Jack Kirby, Roy Krenkel, Gray Morrow, Joe Orlando, Norman Nodel, Norman Saunders, John Severin, Joe Sinnott, Angelo Torres, Al Williamson and George Woodbridge. But with little publicity.

But classics produced more than just graphic novels, they presented Graphic History. (Betcha you didn’t know that!)

So this era wasn’t just golden, it was classic!

There was the Red Menace, the Yellow Menace, but who could forget, Dennis the Menace. Here he is warning children about household poisons.

 Comics were once routinely used for important health, safety and social issues.

Well, maybe not so much public safety.

The ability for comics to attract attention did not get past promoters of many products including  restaurants, Buster Brown shoes and various breakfast cereals.  


 And, again, not so healthy products.

Well, if smoking once promoted drugs, lets go to 1991 when Captain America fought Drugs. I know its not Golden Age, but it fits here.  

Comic sections were used to promote movies stars.

Of course, comics promoted candy and Bubble Gum!


And Marvel’s Bubble Gum comics (OK, these are not Golden Age, but from the 1980s, but I wanted to find a place for them!).

Do you want to know a secret? Really?

The chapters “How the West Was Lost” and this one, “When Comics Had Influence” is the preface for the upcoming final chapter,
The Comic Book Century: What We have Left Behind.” 

But now it's time to say goodbye to all our company...
  Next up: We reach our Journey's End
 Till then...


  1. Barry,

    The splash panel of that Rick Davis story in Spy Thrillers #2 was by Joe Maneely in an otherwise all Joe Sinnott story!

    Doc V.

  2. Barry, have slowed down my comics ebay production work enough to finally begin to absorb your 12 chapter look-see at how you see the comics.AM enjoying it, have read Ch 12 and 11 so far. AM going back down the chapter numbers, then once I get to #1, will begin going back thru to 12. That way i will read em all twice, except #1 -:)
    Oh, this robot thing to prove not being a cyber war bot is really hard to see properly for these tired old eyes, but i will persevere for a while

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