Paul Hirsch (Independent Scholar)
April 6, 2023
Today, comic book superheroes represent safe, family entertainment. Movie adaptations of comic books generate billions of dollars for corporations. At the same time, graphic novels win literary awards and receive reviews in major newspapers. But in the 1930s and 1940s, the perception of comic books was totally different. Comics were viewed as crude, lowbrow entertainment for children or unsophisticated adults. The government took an interest in comic books for two primary reasons. First, they offered a covert means of spreading propaganda to an enormous audience. Nearly half of all servicemen identified as regular comic book readers, and millions of civilians around the world also consumed American comics. Second, because comics were uncensored, propagandists could use levels of violence, racism, and sexuality unthinkable in more official types of propaganda. This session explores the role of comic books in World War II–and how they changed American culture afterwards.