Discussing the Politicization of Comics Requires Additional Context


 

Newsy’s written about comicdom’s history of social-political commentaries, predictably, without making any proper distinctions between what beliefs and ideologies earlier writers were dealing with. It begins:

 

Graphic novels have been the target for some book bans across the country, and some point to the works’ political commentary as the reason.

 

If the writers looked under a magnifying glass, they’d see it’s anything but a case like that, if the writers in question are leftist, or even LGBT/Muslim. Of course, there are leftists who’re getting thrown under the bus by their own, and little is said in their defense by these sources, and they certainly don’t make convincing efforts to prove they don’t want them censored to suit a narrative. Yet what’s this exactly about bans on GNs for politics? As it so happens, they’ve experienced anything but bans for politics per se. Rather, it’s because the writers/artists in question could be conservative, which in the view of the left automatically justifies blacklisting. Some, like Aaron Lopresti, Mike Baron and Ethan Van Sciver have fallen victim to this, and are now almost completely blacklisted themselves.

 

If you’re a fan, you probably go see those movies or read the original comics as an escape from the world, from politics and from some of the more contentious debates over social issues.

But when you look a little closer, comic books and graphic novels have historically been action-packed with deep political and social commentary, and that might be why they’ve been caught up in recent debates over what schoolchildren can and can’t read.

 

As I’ve noted before, the contentious issues are leftist-influenced, and there’s alarming double-standards at work in these decisions at schools, which cartoonist Art Spiegelman doesn’t seem to have pointed out himself, because tragically doesn’t want to rock the liberal boat. His notable GN comes up in discussion here:

 

In Texas, a legislator who proposed banning over 800 books from school libraries included a graphic novel version of Shirley Jackson’s short story “The Lottery” on the ban list.

Parents and legislators cite a range of reasons for proposing the bans in the state or local school districts, but books like “The Lottery” and the graphic novel version of the books “The Handmaid’s Tale” and “Speak,” which is about a high school student’s sexual assault, delve into societal issues like gender and tradition.

And in Tennessee, the McMinn County school board voted to remove “Maus” from the 8th grade curriculum.

 

Depending on how the subject of sexual assault is handled – specifically, if it’s meant to educate how rape is a tragically existent problem that can happen to anyone – then it shouldn’t be banned just like that. On the other hand, if the subject of “gender and tradition” alludes to transsexuality being normalized, as has become a sad staple over the past decade, then it’s no wonder most sane parents would want it prohibited in schools if it turns out they’re presenting it all as something literally acceptable. But these being leftist news sources themselves, it’s unlikely they’ll ever admit why anybody has a problem with it.

 

They raised issues over some language and nudity, but the work is a deep allegory about the Holocaust and has been used in curriculum across the country to teach Holocaust history.

Christina Knopf is a professor at the State University of New York at Cortland whose work analyzes what pop culture says about history and politics. She says graphic novels can be targeted for bans more often because of a common misconception.

“I often encounter a lot of people who are like ‘Comics? Those are kids’ books.’ Well, not really. If you read them, they’re not. And I think that conception is part of why, whether it’s ‘Maus’ or anything else, gets a much stronger reaction.”

 

Not just comics. Even animation’s long been dismissed by such close-minded people for the same reasons. But there is a point to be made that those who shun comicdom as nothing more than children’s fare do it because that’s all they want it to be, and the worst part today is that, as has become the case with animation, comicdom’s now exploited for pushing LGBT propaganda. The same people who dismiss comics as kiddie fare, if they’re leftists, are unlikely to be the least bit worried about comics serving political purposes for pushing their ideologies directly on the children they say these stories are for. In which case, it’s not so much that liberal adults don’t want to read them, so much as they do want children to, for the goal of indoctrination, not education.

 

Now, you may not have heard of a graphic novel like “Maus” before. But it has more in common with iconic superhero comics than just paneled illustrations. As die-hard fans know, comics, including comics read by kids worldwide for decades, have a long history of deep political and social commentary.

Superman has waded into political issues several times throughout the years. Some of the earliest issues of the comics feature him fighting against powerful interests in the community, including slum landlords and corrupt orphanage administrators.

Your friendly neighborhood Spider-Man has long been a working-class hero, with Peter Parker often bouncing between jobs as a delivery man and part-time photographer while hanging on at the margins of society when he’s not rocking the Spider-Man suit.

Captain America was created by two Jewish artists in the lead-up to the U.S. entry into World War II, at a time when U.S. opposition to Nazi Germany wasn’t a sure thing. Antisemitism and Nazism had considerable support in the U.S.

The first issue of the “Captain America” series, published in March of 1941, made a clear political statement, showing Cap punching Adolf Hitler. Co-creator Joe Simon said he was physically threatened after the issue was published.

 

Well if Captain America were created today, if it were possible to at all, and Kirby/Simon wanted to depict Steve Rogers battling Islamic terrorism, not only are threats of violence and death quite likely, the worst part is that they’d get no backing whatsoever from the leftists running the store. Even the news site itself wouldn’t defend their positions. I notice they failed to mention Simon was a conservative/Republican. Isn’t that significant? Nor do they acknowledge that decades before, neither Superman nor most other superheroes were put in stories normalizing homosexuality and glorifying abortion like you see today in the entertainment industry.

 

 

No less disturbing is the horrific amounts of PC mentality that have devastated much of mainstream showbiz, comics included, considering most publishers will not even consider a story about fighting against Islamo-fascism, and they don’t even defend Mexican journalists who’ve been murdered for doing news coverage about drug cartels. Not even police officials who’ve fallen victim to the same horrors. What does that say about liberal artmakers in the USA as a whole if they won’t tackle what happen to be political issues, the very topic they’re defending for focus in comicdom? Failure to admit they have a problem with selectivity is precisely why they’re a joke.

 

Captain America jumped right into the political debate, and as Anthony Lioi, a professor at the Juilliard School studying the relationship between American literature and other forms of media, points out, it even left its mark on more recent films.

“There’s this very vibrant memory, right, particularly among comics creators, but also among comics readers, right of the overtly political nature of Captain America,” Lioi said. “And of course, that continues into movies like ‘Captain America: The Winter Soldier,’ which is about, you know, obviously the discovery that the American security state has been infiltrated by fascists.”

 

And what if those infiltrators are metaphors for conservatives? It certainly seemed to be the case when Geoff Johns wrote an Avengers story in 2003 where the Red Skull infiltrated the USA government under the guise of Dell Rusk (same initials as Donald Rumsfeld). Years ago, most liberal writers kept their politics to a minimum, and didn’t go miles out of their way to made divisive commentaries that could alienate audience they did want to have. Today, even some of the veteran writers are willing to go this route full force, and demonize the right-wing in every way imaginable, making no distinctions between politicians and voters, to the point where they dampen the impact of their earlier work.

 

The character has also been used as a way of tackling issues of race and identity. In 2003, Marvel released a comic series about a Black Captain America, Isaiah Bradley, who was experimented on in ways that paralleled the Tuskegee Syphilis Study that infected Black Americans with the disease.

The recent Marvel TV series “The Falcon and the Winter Soldier” also deals head on with questions about race. Anthony Mackie, the actor who plays Falcon, has said the character reflects on the burden of using Captain America’’s shield and grappling with “whether a Black man can represent a country that doesn’t represent him.”

 

Well gee, isn’t this divisive as can be? “The Truth: Red, White & Black” was a story building on very awkward data, not to mention startlingly stereotypical artwork, and they have the nerve to sugarcoat that? Alas. And then they compound the damage by refusing to question whether it’s in good taste to depict the USA as inherently racist as the Falcon/Winter Soldier TV show runs the gauntlet of doing. This isn’t a history commentary so much as it’s apologia for depicting USA in negative terms without asking how it can be improved for real.

 

All the while, one of the largest comic book producers has been trying to get out of politics.

In 2019, the author of “Maus,” Art Spiegelman, said Marvel brought him in to write an introduction to a compilation book it was releasing. He said Marvel rejected his introduction because the company was trying to remain apolitical. Spiegelman had compared then-President Donald Trump to Captain America’s openly fascist villain Red Skull.

And considering the long political history of comics and graphic novels, Marvel’s effort to keep political issues out of comics might have been an outlier.

Even if partisan politics are out of bounds in some cases, there’s still room for political and social commentary in comics and their adaptations.

 

But should liberal writers be vilifying conservatives in every way, shape and form? Or, why won’t they tackle serious issues like Islamic terrorism and sexual assault? What good does it do to argue in favor of political issues if they won’t make clear suggestions based on challenging subjects? Unmentioned is that even now, Marvel still has revolting wokeness occurring in its output, the above case with Spiegelman notwithstanding. Considering how bad they’ve become, and DC’s hot on their heels, the whole notion you can’t at least make a bold recommendation for what issues could be focused upon is exactly why this puff piece falls flat.

 

 

If Newsy’s editorial made a case for confronting the most challenging issues of the moment, including Russia’s invasion of Ukraine this week, they’d be getting somewhere significant. Instead, they’re just prolonging a farcical approach by not making any distinctions between good or bad taste, and whether an approach to a specific topic makes sense. Hence, it all comes across as apologia for failure, a prime problem with today’s entertainment industry.

 

Originally published here.


Avi Green

Avi Green was born in Pennsylvania in 1974, and moved to Israel in 1983. He enjoyed reading comics when he was young, the first being Fantastic Four. He maintains a strong belief in the public's right to knowledge and accuracy of facts. He considers himself a conservative-style version of Clark Kent. Follow him on his blog at Four Color Media Monitor or on Twitter at @avigreen1

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