When the United States went to war against Germany and Japan, the whole country stood behind the armed forces. Joining the cause and promoting the interests of the U.S. were the comic books. In The 10 Cent War: Comic Books, Propaganda, and World War II, editors Trischa Goodnow and James Kimble have gathered a collection of articles which discuss the role of comic books in backing the war. The comic book industry had grown tremendously in the years before the war. Comics became a natural vehicle for propaganda during the war.
Comic books didn't have any trouble rallying against Hitler. Since many leading figures in comic book publishing were Jewish, they naturally raised their voices against the Nazis. They naturally rallied to the cause of the war, even without control or connection to the government or military. "The unofficial campaign was as vigilant and patriotic as any government-sponsored poster. . . ." Comic books even beat official U.S. policy to the punch so to speak: "Months before the nation officially entered the war, the cover of the first volume of Captain America showed Steve Rogers (Captain America's alter ego) punching Adolf Hitler."
Several of the authors pointed out that typical comic books from the era were "often violent, overly polarized, frequently repetitive, invariable sexist, occasionally distorted, and routinely racist." Well, yeah. None of this seems surprising. It's actually sort of refreshing. Today's comics tend toward more political correctness than relishing in the black and white nature of comic book conflict. Sure, WW2-era comics exaggerated racial stereotypes of the Japanese and Germans, but hey, they were the enemy. Thus, propaganda.
These essays, written by a variety of academics, read much more like academic papers than like anything written for a general audience. They tend to be rather ponderous and jargon-filled. Not to sound like an illiterate boob, but the analytical language tended to sap the fun and wonder out of the subject matter. Including more examples of the comics would have helped. Even better, they should work on an anthology of exemplary propaganda comics from the era. Even without an accompanying volume of war comics, the descriptions and analysis of the comics in The 10 Cent War inspired me to hunt down some of these now-classic comics and read them with the context of the war in mind.
Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for the complimentary electronic review copy!