by Hal Hickey
Let’s go back a few years, how’bout 60 or so years ago. Remember when there was no television? You got your information from radio, newspapers, posters, books, and if you could afford it, the movie theater (yes movie theaters showed newsreels). What you believed was what your parents told you or what you heard on the radio. What? I’ve lost most of you?
Ok, let’s go back a shorter time, let’s say before the internet and the creation of the World Wide Web. Back then you got your information from TV, newspapers, radio and books. Movie theaters had moved to exclusively entertainment, although some may argue that’s exactly where they gleamed useful information…yikes! What you believed was largely influenced by what you saw on TV, who said it, and to a lesser extent what you heard on the radio or newspaper. Have I got all of you now?
Ok, about half…good, that’s a start!
Let’s go back an even shorter time, before the invention of the smart phone or tablet. Back in those days that you got your information from TV, the internet, newspapers and radio. Books, well you had to read them in school… To access the internet, you had to sit down at a desktop or clunky laptop and surf the web. If you were away from home, or someone else in the family was using the computer, you had no access to information other than what you saw on the front page of a newspaper or cover of a news magazine…how did we survive? What you believed was now subject to influence from multiple sources with paradigm shifts in believable facts occurring on an increasingly rapid basis.
But I digress…
This IS about favorite all-time comic book covers. And, all the above will serve to stress the impact of the comic book cover to come!
Back in the 1940’s, the citizens of countries received information from very few sources, often only one, sometimes two. Your opinion was largely influenced by what you heard on the radio, who said it and what you saw in print. You had no other sources of information to enable you to question what you were being told so, you believed it!
When World War II was in full mode with all of the players, propaganda machines were running 24/7, even before the term “24/7” was invented! Every country involved had an office of wartime information. Their job was to convince the public that whatever the government wanted to do during the war, was the right thing to do. Major events, like the bombing of Pearl Harbor and other invasions, while terrifying to citizens, were major boosts to government’s propaganda machines.
This brings us to comic books. Comics were seen as a major source of information during World War II. Published for entertainment, they were seen by offices of wartime information as a vehicle to communicate information to the public, often by subversive means.
Comic book covers hung in newsstands all over North America, viewed by hundreds of thousands in their daily treks to work and the market. Comic book publishers were asked to display their patriotism by portraying images of the enemy in less than flattering terms. In fact, if they could be portrayed as something less than human, even better, as wartime destruction of something less than human, eliminated the potential for sympathies to sway the wrong way. Remember, there was no TV, so images of the faces of the enemy, the Japanese, the Germans, and for a while the Italians, were seldom seen by citizens of North America and often only during propaganda “newsreels” at the movie theater.
Here is a classic example of a wartime comic book cover, seen on newsstands by hundreds of thousands:
U. S. Marines #2 published in 1944, cover penciled by Creig Fessel.
I have this as an all-time favorite comic cover due to its historical role in wartime propaganda and the influence it had at the time. If this was the first time you had ever seen a picture of a Japanese citizen or soldier, what would you think….