When I was studying sociology and anthropology in college, my area of focus naturally gravitated toward looking at popular entertainment as a way to understand culture. Berger and Luckmann's The Social Construction of Reality and mythology scholar Joseph Campbell were my guides. Although comics have been a life-long passion, I seemed to restrict myself to works by Japanese artists in order to better understand Japan. Frederik Schodt's books and translations were valuable resources, and I'm happy to say that I eventually met Fred, who kindly visits my classes annually to share his expertise. But what about American comics? We have seen a lot of imagery in the last ten years, especially around the anniversary of Superman and the popularity of Michael Chabon's The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay, which have drawn attention to the Jewish experience and perspective of the 1930s and 1940s. I'm sure many readers have seen vintage panels of superheroes landing punches to Hitler's jaw (POW!). With our interest in spies and Cold War culture here on Spy Vibe, I'm excited when materials like those below appear on my radar.
Comic Books and the Cold War 1946-1962 by Chris and Rafael York.
From Amazon: "Conventional wisdom holds that comic books of the post-World War II era are poorly drawn and poorly written publications, notable only for the furor they raised. Contributors to this thoughtful collection, however, demonstrate that these comics constitute complex cultural documents that create a dialogue between mainstream values and alternative beliefs that question or complicate the grand narratives of the era. Close analysis of individual titles, including EC comics, Superman, romance comics, and other, more obscure works, reveals the ways Cold War culture--from atomic anxieties and the nuclear family to communist hysteria and social inequalities--manifests itself in the comic books of the era. By illuminating the complexities of mid-century graphic novels, this study demonstrates that postwar popular culture was far from monolithic in its representation of American values and beliefs." Available in print and Kindle editions. Info at Amazon and McFarland Books. Additional images from "Cold War Comics" by Daniel Leab at Columbia Journalism Review.
Atomic Comics: Cartoonists Confront the Nuclear World by Ferenc Morton Szasz
From Amazon: "The advent of the Atomic Age challenged purveyors of popular culture to explain to the general public the complex scientific and social issues of atomic power. Atomic Comics examines how comic books, comic strips, and other cartoon media represented the Atomic Age from the early 1920s to the present. Through the exploits of superhero figures such as Atomic Man and Spiderman, as well as an array of nuclear adversaries and atomic-themed adventures, the public acquired a new scientific vocabulary and discovered the major controversies surrounding nuclear science. Ferenc Morton Szasz’s thoughtful analysis of the themes, content, and imagery of scores of comics that appeared largely in the United States and Japan offers a fascinating perspective on the way popular culture shaped American comprehension of the fissioned atom for more than three generations."
Trinity: A Graphic History of the First Atomic Bomb by Jonathan Fetter-Vorm
From Amazon: "Trinity, the debut graphic book by Jonathan Fetter-Vorm, depicts the dramatic history of the race to build and the decision to drop the first atomic bomb in World War Two. This sweeping historical narrative traces the spark of invention from the laboratories of nineteenth-century Europe to the massive industrial and scientific efforts of the Manhattan Project, and even transports the reader into a nuclear reaction—into the splitting atoms themselves. The power of the atom was harnessed in a top-secret government compound in Los Alamos, New Mexico, by a group of brilliant scientists led by the enigmatic wunderkind J. Robert Oppenheimer. Focused from the start on the monumentally difficult task of building an atomic weapon, these men and women soon began to wrestle with the moral implications of actually succeeding. When they detonated the first bomb at a test site code-named Trinity, they recognized that they had irreversibly thrust the world into a new and terrifying age. With powerful renderings of the catastrophic events at Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Fetter-Vorm unflinchingly chronicles the far-reaching political, environmental, and psychological effects of this new invention. Informative and thought-provoking, Trinity is the ideal introduction to one of the most significant events in history."
Secret Identity Crisis by Matthew Costello
From Amazon: "What Cold War-era superheroes reveal about American society and foreign policy. Physicist Bruce Banner, caught in the nuclear explosion of his experimental gamma bomb, is transformed into the rampaging green monster, the Hulk. High school student Peter Parker, bitten by an irradiated spider, gains its powers and becomes Spiderman. Reed Richards and his friends are caught in a belt of cosmic radiation while orbiting the Earth in a spacecraft and are transformed into the Fantastic Four. While Stan Lee suggests he clung to the hackneyed idea of radioactivity in creating Marvel's stable of superheroes because of his limited imagination, radiation and the bomb are nonetheless the big bang that spawned the Marvel universe. The Marvel superheroes that came to dominate the comic book industry for most of the last five decades were born under the mushroom cloud of potential nuclear war that was a cornerstone of the four-decade bipolar division of the world between the US and USSR. These stories were consciously set in this world and reflect the changing culture of Cold War (and post-cold War) America. Like other forms of popular entertainment, comic books tend to be very receptive to cultural trends, reflect them, comment on them, and sometimes inaugurate them. Secret Identity Crisis follows the trajectory of the breakdown of the cold War consensus after 1960 through the lens of superhero comic books. Those developed by Marvel, because of their conscious setting in the contemporary world, and because of attempts to maintain a continuous story line across and within books, constitute a system of signs that reflect, comment upon, and interact with the American political economy. This groundbreaking new study focuses on a handful of titles and signs that specifically involve political economic codes, including Captain America, the Invincible Iron Man, Nick Fury, Agent of SHIELD, the Incredible Hulk to reveal how the American self was transformed and/or reproduced during the late Cold War and after."
Barefoot Gen by Keiji Nakazawa
From Amazon: "This harrowing story of Hiroshima was one of the original Japanese manga series. New and unabridged, this is an all-new translation of the author's first-person experiences of Hiroshima and its aftermath, is a reminder of the suffering war brings to innocent people. Its emotions and experiences speak to children and adults everywhere. Volume one of this ten-part series details the events leading up to and immediately following the atomic bombing of Hiroshima." Multi-volume classic Manga series.
If An A-Bomb Falls was an 8-page Instructional comic published in 1951 (see comic pages below). It is in the public domain and can also be viewed on-line at various sites like Archive.org. Summary from My Comic Shop: "If an A Bomb Falls... Will You Know What to Do? (1951), published by Commercial Comics. 8 pages, full color, standard comic book dimensions, all newsprint, no cover price. This promotional educational giveaway comic book describes what to do in the event of an atomic blast. Includes: 1) How important it is to know the signals of an impending atomic attack; 2) The meaning of the different tones of air raid sirens; 3) What to do if you are attacked without warning ; 4) How to react to the brilliant flash of an atomic explosion; 5) How to find the safest place in your home; 6) The equipment you need for a home safety and emergency kit; 7) How to store a good supply of canned goods and water for extended sheltering; 8) How to prepare for an attack if you have advance warning How to seek protection from an impending attack; 9) Remembering to keep calm to stifle panic during an attack ; 10) How people caught outdoors will suffer the greatest casualties; 11) What to do if you are on a car, bus, or train during an attack; 12) How the worst danger from atomic attack is radiation in the air and water; and 13) How to decontaminate yourself if you think you have been exposed to radioactive dust or mist. The back cover features a chart showing the number of deaths and the number of injured people that can be projected if an A-bomb explodes in a populated area." Additional pages below from Ethan Persoff.
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