Comics and Conflict

Patriotism and Propaganda from WWII through Operation Iraqi Freedom

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Illustration has been an integral part of human history. Particularly before the advent of media such as photography, film, television, and now the Internet, illustrations in all their variety had been the primary visual way to convey history. The comic book, which emerged in its modern form in the 1930s, was another form of visual entertainment that gave readers, especially children, a form of escape.
As World War II began, however, comic books became a part of propaganda as well, providing information and education for both children and adults. This book looks at how specific comic books of the war genre have been used to display patriotism, adventure through war stories, and eventually to tell of the horrors of combat—from World War II through the current conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan in the first decade of the twenty-first century.

This book also examines how war-and patriotically-themed comics evolved from soldier-drawn reflections of society, eventually developing along with the broader comic book medium into a mirror of American society during times of conflict. These comic books generally reflected patriotic fervor, but sometimes they advanced a specific cause. As war comic books evolved along with American society, many also served as a form of protest against United States foreign and military policy. During the country’s most recent wars, however, patriotism has made a comeback, at the same time that the grim realities of combat are depicted more realistically than ever before.

The focus of the book is not only on the development of the comic book medium, but also as a bell-weather of society at the same time. How did they approach the news of the war? Were people in favor or against the fighting? Did the writers of comics promote a perception of combat or did they try to convey the horrors of war? All of these questions were important to the research, and serve as a focal point for what has been researched only in limited form previously.

The conclusions of the book show that comic books are more than mere forms of entertainment. Comic books were also a way of political protest against war, or what the writers felt were wider examples of governmental abuse. In the post 9/11 era, the comic books have returned to their propagandistic/patriotic roots.

About the Author

Editorial Reviews

“Cord Scott's finely-researched analysis of war propaganda and patriotic war-themed comic books argues that these domains were (and are) mutually constitutive. He argues that comic books are ‘a delivery system that can disseminate a message to the relatively uninformed and unformed’ citizenry (xii), as comics have tended to march in lock-step with the development of the United States as a military superpower post-1938. Comics and Conflict is a welcome foundation for an underserved area.”—International Journal of Comic Art
“The Naval Institute Press excels at publishing books covering obscure yet important and fascinating aspects of military history. This new work continues that tradition, providing a look at how comics, now widely considered an art form, have developed through the coverage and depiction of war. No doubt many readers grew up reading war comics, feeding their fledgling interests in military history. Now the reader can discover how those comics related to larger issues they likely were unaware of previously.”—Military Heritage
"War has been a popular theme of comic books from their beginning, yet the topic has not received adequate attention from comics researchers. Historian Scott (independent scholar) helps remedy that with his history of comic books from WW II through the Iraqi wars. Comics and Conflict is neatly organized around major wars and civilian eras, but the author discusses a variety of narrower periods and themes, such as racism, gender, patriotism, children, violence, social issues and comics, the Comics Code, and pro—and anti-war comics, and ties in with other forms of popular culture, particularly film. Scott samples a diverse range of books, reporting their content, discussing their creators, and interpreting, in a fair and balanced manner, plots and characters in the context of existing military and governmental foreign policy and societal thinking. He provides many new insights, supporting them with keen knowledge of military and comics history. All this is backed up by exhaustive notes and a bibliography that includes out-of-the-ordinary sources. Comics and Conflict is a superb chronological history of US war comics."—Choice: Current Reviews for Academic Libraries
Comics and Conflict is a superb chronological survey of American comic book depictions of both real and imagined war and quasi-war campaigns, amazing in scope and detail. Scott’s insights into the relationship between the comics and their audience in different eras are impressive, reflecting the public’s increasing apprehensions about how and why the nation’s military was being deployed. The work indicates an author very much at home with his subject matter.”—Peter Karsten, editor in chief of Encyclopedia of War and American Society
“By combining cultural history and military history, Cord Scott provides us with fresh insights into both. Readers interested in how the American public used cultural media to interpret war will learn much from this book.”—Michael S. Neiberg, author of The Blood of Free Men: The Liberation of Paris, 1944
“Wars are won by both the ‘hard power’ of the state and the ‘soft power’ of its culture. In this fascinating study of the role of American military-themed comic books Cord Scott explores the way popular illustrated stories have simultaneously buttressed and critiqued the nation’s military conflicts. This unique and accessible study will appeal to the layman and professional alike and is well suited for classroom adoption for survey and specialized classes.” —Theodore J. Karamanski, professor of history, Loyola University Chicago
“Cord Scott's Comics and Conflict demonstrates the powerful role that comic books have played in American wars from World War II through Iraqi Freedom and the central place that wars have played in American society and culture in the twentieth century.”—Lewis A. Erenberg, professor emeritus, Loyola University Chicago