Concept maps have always been a struggle for me. To be honest, I just don't think in that way. Then, I was told by my professor to use a website to make a concept map. So I went on the website and was immediately confused by how it worked. So I just drew out a short and sweet concept map.
I hope that's ok Professor Meusing.
|Go ahead and make fun of my handwriting|
This was my first draft of my digital essay. It was good, but it was also written at midnight the day before it was due so there are some problems with it that I fixed in my final. It wouldn't be a proper first draft if it were perfect though.
What do you think of when you hear somebody talk about comic books? Do you think of geeky guys in some secluded storefront arguing about whether or not Superman is worthy of picking up Thor’s Hammer or some such hypothetical situation? Do you think of entertainment for little kids with no impact on the real world? Maybe you think of summer blockbusters that gross billions, but are . I ask this because I’m fairly certain that what’s furthest from your mind when you think of comic books is the culture of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. However, I’m here to tell you that since their invention, modern comic books have been reflective of their culture and have impacted culture in their own ways. Stop laughing, I’m serious. Comic books have left a tremendous impact on our culture. The best way to show this is to look at the various eras of comic books and examine how the comics reflect the events and attitudes of the time.
The beginning of comics is referred to as the Golden Age. Comics were anthologies. They didn’t tell one cohesive story throughout the book, but rather separate stories all published in one book. This was because comic books started out as compiled reprints of newspaper comic strips. In these nascent comic books, there were western stories, detective stories, horror stories, morality plays, funny animals, and other things like that. However, in 1938 a new type of character would show up in comics. That character was the super hero. He was faster than a speeding bullet, more powerful than a locomotive and able to leap tall buildings in a single bound. His name was Superman and he was the first super hero. Superman’s first appearances are an interesting look at culture in the late thirties for a few reasons. The first is that he was the brain child of two Jewish immigrants, Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster. Superman’s origin is the immigrant’s story. His homeland was in turmoil, so he was forced to leave it and go to a strange new place. He had to leave behind the old name of Kal-El (which almost sounds Semitic) and adopt the very American name of Clark Kent. The immigrant’s story was something many Americans could relate to, but another reason why Superman was so timely was his position as a power fantasy. In his first appearance, Superman beats up a corrupt business man. This was the perfect fantasy for everybody who had lost something in the depression. Superman stood for the people. He fought for social justice. He was the ultimate escape from the hardships of the Great Depression. However, another hero showed up soon after Superman. His story was another that was all too relatable, but he was something different entirely. He was Batman. Batman’s origin was yet another story that people knew all too well. He was orphaned by a random and desperate act of criminal violence. He was a darker power fantasy than Superman. He didn’t fight for any kind of social agenda. He fought crime. He fought to protect young boys in dark alleys. Both Batman and Superman proved to be wildly popular with readers, so more super heroes began to pop up. National Comics (later DC) had Batman and Superman. Timely Comics (Later Marvel) had The Sub-Mariner and The Human Torch. Fawcett had Captain Marvel. The list goes on and on. Comic book super heroes gave kids a way out of the dreary depression, but their focus was about to change as a real-world evil grew in prominence. In Europe, Hitler was becoming hard to ignore. Every other day it seemed like he took another country. War broke out in Europe in 1939, but America wasn’t in it just yet. That is, American troops weren’t in it yet. In the comics, heroes had already begun the fight against the Nazis. According to comic book legend Stan Lee, “We (the comic book industry) were fighting Hitler before our government was fighting Hitler…We could all just see what a menace Hitler was…It wasn’t just what he was doing to the Jews, it’s what he was doing to the whole world. He was gobbling up countries.” (Comic Book Super Heroes Unmasked).
The Sub-Mariner, an anti-hero king of the under-water nation of Atlantis who hated humanity, had begun waging a one-man war on the Nazis. In a Superman story published in look magazine, Superman took the fight directly to both Hitler and Joseph Stalin. Wonder Woman showed up at this time too and in her first appearance she fought against the Nazis. Most notably however, was Captain America, who debuted in 1940. The cover of his first appearance depicted him punching Hitler in the face. The Nazis were the primary enemy that Captain America fought against. Once America was in the war, the super heroes began to fight the Nazis with full force. Comics were sent to the GIs while they were fighting in Europe and the Pacific and they fell in love with the cartoonish depiction of the war and the fact that the good guys always won. These World War Two stories are mostly infamous for their very racist depiction of the Japanese and Germans. The Japanese soldiers were depicted with yellow skin, buck teeth or even fangs. Racism in these early comics was quite common. African Americans, Asians, and Native Americans were all depicted in very racist ways. Even the very diverse comic book industry, which was made up of largely Jewish, Italian and Irish immigrants, was not immune to the racial attitudes of the time.
Eventually, World War Two came to a conclusion and the Americans returned home victorious. However, many GIs who loved comics during the war were tired of the violence. They wanted humor books or romance books or western books. The violence had been too real for them during the war. They didn’t want to see some ludicrously powerful being solve all his problems with his fists. Comic books began to change to reflect these tastes. Many super heroes faded into obscurity, but things would only get worse as the Golden Age ended and the Silver Age began.
Post-war America was a fearful place. They had just witnessed the might and power of the atomic bomb. We also had a new enemy; communism. The fear that communists had infiltrated our country kept many people up at night and was propagated by the media and the government. Another fear that plagued America was the fear of juvenile delinquency. Kids were listening to rock and roll and rebelling and becoming loose with their morals. There were plenty of boogiemen to place the blame on. There was rock and roll, James Dean and even comic books. A psychiatrist named Frederick Wertham went hard after comics in particular. He had performed what turned out to be a very flawed study on juvenile inmates in prisons and determined that they were there because they read comics and published a book on the evils of comics entitled Seduction of the Innocent. This spawned massive parental outrage at comic books and even congressional hearings on the depictions of violence, crime, sex, and horror in comics. To avoid government censorship, the comic companies banded together to form the Comics Code Authority. The Comics Code was a strict set of guidelines that prevented comics from depicting graphic violence, horror, sex, or any immoral activity. It was a rigid code, but fear of censorship made companies willing to adhere to it. As a result, comic books became little more than children’s amusement when the Silver Age came around. At what was now DC Comics, many characters vanished except for the core characters of Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman who were all made over to be more in line with the code.
By the end of the fifties however, things began to look up for comics. Science fiction had proven popular in books and in film, so it soon found its way into comics. At DC, characters like The Flash, Green Lantern, Hawkman and The Atom who had been casualties of poor post-war sales all received science fiction make-overs. As the fifties became the sixties, Marvel (formerly Timely) had its own science fiction-themed heroes with The Incredible Hulk and The Fantastic Four who were products of the atomic age and the space race respectively. These characters also fell into another category at Marvel; they were real people with real problems. The Hulk became a giant, rampaging green monster when he got angry. The Fantastic Four were constantly quarreling and arguing. The Hulk and The Thing, a member of the Fantastic Four, both saw themselves not as heroes, but as monsters. Heroes had always been self-confident and powerful. Marvel had changed that. Marvel also did something revolutionary when they created the character of Spider-Man. He was not only a person with real problems and issues, but he was a teenager. Marvel also explored issues such as prejudice with The X-Men. In the sixties, Marvel immerged as the more mature, more thought-provoking company that addressed real issues in the world. They had their finger on the pulse of unrest and angst in the youth of the 60’s. They even incorporated the counter-culture into their books. Doctor Strange and Nick Fury: Agent of SHIELD both used psychedelic imagery and surrealism in their art. DC, however, was still stuck in the rut of telling silly stories for kids. This wouldn’t last forever though. Soon the sixties ended and the seventies would usher in the Bronze Age.
In the seventies, comics began to get their edge back. At DC, the young duo of Denny O’Neil and Neal Adams had brought Batman back to his dark roots after the campy days of Adam West’s TV series. They also brought social commentary into comics with Green Lantern/Green Arrow. In Green Lantern/Green Arrow, the two titular characters travel across the country and deal with issues of racism, religious persecution, and most powerfully, drugs. In the story, Green Arrow’s former sidekick ends up hooked on heroin and Green Arrow kicks him out. Both DC and Marvel took a hard look at the increasingly popular world of drugs with Marvel publishing a Spider-Man story about Peter Parker’s friend Harry Osborn overdosing on pills. Not only were comics becoming more aware of social issues, but characters were beginning to reflect the cynicism of the seventies. Both Wolverine and The Punisher were very much products of their time as far as their characters are concerned. They were angry, violent men of action who killed enemies. Comics were getting darker, but it would take the eighties and nineties to bring them fully into the dark modern age of comics.
Comics in the eighties were very much about one man standing against a mass of evil. To put it another way, they were a product of the Reagan era. Ronald Reagan very much presented himself as a tough-as-nails world leader who would defy the Soviet Union and comics took their cues from him. The Dark Knight Returns is a story about an aging Batman who fights against a new gang that has overtaken Gotham as well as old enemies and even old friends. He stands alone against insurmountable odds and doesn’t blink. At this time, however, other countries began to release comics, most notably the British reacting to the Thatcher era. Two British books which critique Thatcher and Reagan were released in the eighties by the same writer, Alan Moore. These books were V for Vendetta and Watchmen. V for Vendetta contrasted fascism and anarchism with one another while Watchmen was a straight up critique of Reagan and Thatcher. The heroes of Watchmen are highly flawed with some even being psychotic with the theme being that if you place your faith in a flawed human being, eventually he will let you down. By the nineties, pop culture had become all about flash and violence. The same went for comics. New topics like gun violence, gangs, homosexuality and AIDS were now commonplace in comics as well. Comics had come full circle and once again proved that they could be topical and relevant for more than just children’s entertainment. They had become intelligent pieces of art as well as mindless entertainment. They had become a record of culture and even had an impact on culture.
Today we see super heroes everywhere. They’ve become a part of our cultural DNA. The comic book is the Modern Greek myth. They inform us of our past and can even have an impact on our future. Maybe now you won’t see this summer’s big super hero blockbuster as more mindless fun. Maybe when you pass a comic book store, you’ll look inside and see if you can find a book that speaks to you. Maybe a book will grab you and inspire you to change things. That’s what they’ve done for almost eighty years after all.
Let's face it, I'm no man of steel. I had my fair share of doubts about this project. This was taken directly from my journal when I was struggling to make the infographic that you see on my Inquiry Topic page.
"...I'm really at a loss on this whole infographic thing. I'm not sure how to turn my topic into an infographic because my topic has no data to go with it. I could possibly make mine a timeline of events, but I just don't know. I'm having trouble with this one."
This was the bibliography I used for my inquiry topic with annotation. A lot of the stuff I read and watched was really interesting. I highly recommend all of it. I did have to sacrifice proper format to fit in on here though.
Comic Book Super Heroes Unmasked. Dir. Stephen Kroopnick. By James G. Goldin. Prod. Stephen Kroopnick. Perf. Keith David, Stan Lee, Jim Steranko, Denny O'Neil, Frank Miller, Kevin Smith, Peta Wilson. The History Channel, 2003. TV Special.
[This special put out by The History Channel was my primary source. I used it to line up the historical and cultural timeline with the one of comics. Basically, I wanted to see how the comics matched up with real world events. This is where a lot of my information actually comes from. The other sources are there for the sake of completion and to fill in any gaps. All in all, it's a well-made documentary that features interviews with a lot of the legends of the comic book industry. These interviews helped me get in the heads of the creators and find out exactly what inspired them to do the stories the way they did.]
Donovan, John. "Parody and Propaganda: Fighting American and the Battle against Crime and Communism in the 1950's." Comic Books and American Cultural History. New York: Bloomsbury Academic, 2012. 110-19. Print.
[This article talks about comic books as propaganda and also about Cold War paranoia in the 50's. Basically, from World War 2 until the 60's super heroes were extremely patriotic. Although, in the 50's they became so out of fear of government censorship more than anything else. This article gives a good look at the extreme patriotism of Fighting American, who was created by the same team responsible for Captain America. This article is an examination of that period which I cover in great detail in my essay.]
Lund, Martin. "American Golem: Reading America through Super-New Dealers and "The Melting Pot"" Comic Books and American Cultural History. New York: Bloomsbury Academic, 2012. 79-93. Print.
[This article is an interpretation of the early days of Superman as a product of both the New Deal and immigrant culture. It points out that Superman in his early days was a far cry from what he is today. This echoed the opinions voiced in both documentaries that in his early days, Superman fought for social justice and served as an immigrant story.]
Payne, Philip G., and Paul J. Spaeth. "Agent of Change: The Evolution and Enculturation of Nick Fury." Comic Books and American Cultural History. New York: Bloomsbury Academic, 2012. 184-201. Print.
[This article looks at America's view of government agents through the lens of the character Nick Fury. It goes in detail about his transition from World War 2 combat soldier to super spy to Patriot Act era analogue. It was interesting to me to view the character who is usually portrayed as the government incarnate in his appearances and see how popular perception of the government has changed and evolved throughout time. It's a fascinating read and it shows just how reflective comics are of culture.]
Superheroes: A Never-Ending Battle. Dir. Michael Kantor and Laurence Maslon. Prod. Michael Kantor. By Michael Kantor. Perf. Liev Schreiber, Stan Lee, Adam West, Joe Quesada, Mark Waid, Geoff Johns. PBS, 2013. TV Mini-series.
[This was a mini-series done by PBS a few years ago. Much like Comic Book Super Heroes Unmasked, it walks through the history of comics and ties what was going on in the world with what was going on in the comics. This also includes interviews with many of the legends of the comic book industry and even included interviews with creators who are now deceased. I used this source in much the same way I used the other film, that is to put comic books on a cultural and historical timeline to see how they match up with real world events and to get insight into the thought process of the creators.]