Comic Books and the Cold War, 1946–1962

Essays on Graphic Treatment of Communism, the Code and Social Concerns

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About the Book

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.

About the Author(s)

Chris York has taught English at Pine Technical College in Pine City, Minnesota. He has been an active participant in the Comics and Comic Art Area at the National Popular Culture Association Conference for nearly a decade, and his comics scholarship has appeared in the International Journal of Comic Art.

Rafiel York is a teacher in Jackson, Minnesota.

Bibliographic Details

Edited by Chris York and Rafiel York

Format: softcover (6 x 9)
Pages: 232
Bibliographic Info: 36 photos, notes, bibliographies, index
Copyright Date: 2012
pISBN: 978-0-7864-4981-1
eISBN: 978-0-7864-8947-3
Imprint: McFarland

Table of Contents

Preface      1
Introduction: Frederic Wertham, Containment, and Comic Books
CHRIS YORK and RAFIEL YORK      5

PART I : CONTAINING COMMUNISM, CONTROLLING THE ATOM
1. Lights, Camera, Action 101: A Brief Lesson on How to See an Atomic Bomb
NATHAN ATKINSON      19
2. Decrypting Espionage Comic Books in 1950s America
PETER LEE      30
3. “He Was a Living Breathing Human Being”: Harvey Kurtzman’s War Comics and the “Yellow Peril” in 1950s Containment Culture
CHRISTOPHER B. FIELD      45
4. “I Can Pass Right Through Solid Matter!”: How the Flash Upheld American Values While Breaking the Speed Limit
FREDERICK A. WRIGHT      55
5. Jack Kirby’s Challengers of the Unknown: Establishing Order in an Age of Anxiety
PHILLIP PAYNE and PAUL J. SPAETH      68
6. Red Menace on the Moon: Containment in Space as Depicted in Comics of the 1950s
JOHN DONOVAN      79

PART II: CONTAINING SEXUALITY IN THE COLD WAR
7. Girls Who Sinned in Secret and Paid in Public: Romance Comics, 1949–1954
JEANNE GARDNER      92
8. Rebellion in Riverdale
RAFIEL YORK      103
9. The Amazon Mystique: Subverting Cold War Domesticity in Wonder Woman Comics, 1948–1965
RUTH MCCLELLAND-NUGENT      115
10. The Girls in White: Nurse Images in Early Cold War Era Romance and War Comics
CHRISTOPHER J. HAYTON and SHEILA HAYTON      129
11. Horror Camp: Homoerotic Subtext in EC Comics
DIANA GREEN      146

PART III: THE PROBLEM OF CONSENSUS
12. “Dedicated to the Youth of America”: Deviant Narration in Crime Does Not Pay
CHRIS YORK      156
13. MAD’s Guest Writers
LAWRENCE RODMAN      169
14. Beyond the Frontier: Turok, Son of Stone and the Native American in Cold War America
CHRIS YORK      179
15. East Europeans in the Cold War Comic This Godless Communism
ALEXANDER MAXWELL      190
16. The Fantastic Four: A Mirror of Cold War America
RAFIEL YORK      204

About the Contributors      217
Index      219

Book Reviews & Awards

  • Winner, Ray and Pat Browne Award—Popular Culture Association
  • “insightful, well-researched…outstanding…recommended”—Choice
  • “a great and entertaining collection of essays for comic collectors and anybody interested in the social aspects of life in 1950’s America”—PopCultureShelf
  • “examines the history of the comic book in relation to global US-Soviet relations and explores the ways in which the medium was influential in structuring narratives surrounding political and social difference in the mid-twentieth century. Chapters include numerous reproductions of relevant comic panels”—Reference & Research Book News