Home » Features

Comics and Politics: Graphic Narratives in the Political Realm

Submitted by on March 1, 2010 – 9:58 pmNo Comment

In 2001 Former Mayor of New York, Rudolph Giuliani wrote the following epitaph;

“I think we all now realise that we do not have to read fiction to find examples of heroism. The real heroes in American life have been with us all along. Our firefighters, police officers and other rescue workers put their lives on the line every day to protect the rest of us from danger.”

These words were not chiselled into a memorial at Ground Zero or preached to an audience of grieving New Yorkers. They were written as an introduction for a comic book.

Comic books were (and are still) generally seen as light entertainment. But like any good piece of entertainment, the best comics have hidden and subtle depths often missed by non-readers, blinded by the misconception that comics are just for kids, fan boys or nerds.

On September 11, 2001 the comic book world seemed to explode from the confines of the page and onto the streets of New York City. American Airlines Flight 11 and United Airlines Flight 175 crashed into the Twin Towers with such ferocity that the ensuing cloud of dust and rubble would not have looked out of place in a Superman comic.

In the aftermath, the comic Giuliani was eulogising was Heroes, produced by Marvel Comics in response to the terrorist attacks.

Marvel released three books focusing on Ground Zero in New York City; the aforementioned Heroes, The Amazing Spider-Man #36 and A Moment of Silence. The three books brought in over $1 million in profit, which was given to 9/11 based charities.

The books are a tribute to the men and women of the NYPD and the NYFD, indeed, the cover line of Heroes reads: ‘The world’s greatest super hero creators honor the world’s greatest heroes 9.11.2001′. Throughout the reader sees classic Marvel superheroes working side by side with the heroes of New York.

In one instance a superhero is overcome with grief, but at the point of despair he is reinvigorated with a pat on the back from a police officer and a fire-fighter. This is a powerful message to comic book fans – that the reality of heroism exists in the world; comics simply work on hyperbole and fantasy to stretch and accentuate the seeming mundane nature of reality.

The cover of Heroes depicts a fire-fighter carrying a lifeless body from the rubble of Ground Zero. It is reminiscent of another image of heroism, one drawn nearly seventy years ago.

The image depicts two central figures locked in combat. Their muscled bodies are rendered in high motion. Action lines indicate a supreme amount of speed and force, captured in a freeze frame. The clenched fist of the costumed hero strikes the moustachioed face of Adolf Hitler, buckling the knees of the Nazi leader.

It is 1941; the U.S.A has yet to enter World War II, Europe is at war and the holocaust in its first terrifying stages. Two young Jewish American comic book artists decide to enter the fray the only way they know how. By drawing, and writing. Creating a character seemingly draped in a skin tight suit of the American flag itself, a bodysuit of stars and stripes.

His name is Captain America. And to those two young artists he represented a cathartic release of all the anger and frustration they felt over the mass genocide of their European counterparts.

When Joe Simon and Jack Kirby created the iconic star spangled hero, they began a trend which continues to influence the writers and audiences of comic books today. Taking the old metonymic adage “the pen is mightier than the sword”, Simon and Kirby struck a blow to the Nazi leader.

Politics and its subsidiaries – war, conflict and famine – have been in the realm of comics ever since. Other examples include the Incredible Hulk, an allegory for nuclear science and radiation gone wrong during the Cold War and its arms race and the recent Civil War story arc, which appeared in all the major Marvel titles, which saw the implementation of a “Superhero Registration Act”, an analogue of the U.S.A Patriot Act and Superman’s arch nemesis Lex Luthor becoming the President of the United States.

Surprisingly Lex wasn’t the only candidate recently vying for the Oval office in comic book format.

During the 2008 United States presidential campaign a milestone achievement was created by the little known independent publishing company Idea + Design Works (IDW) Publishing. IDW published Presidential Material, a two-book release covering the lives and policies of presidential candidates Barack Obama and John McCain. The accounts are non-partisan, well researched and written, drawn and inked by professional comic book artists.

These comics represent an exciting new direction for comic books that could potentially help politicians reconnect with an increasingly disengaged youth. By presenting the facts and figures in a form that is easily decoded and digested by its audience, political comic books can cut through the jargon, the invisible barrier of language which separates politicians and their constituents.

Ron Richards is one of the troika responsible for ifanboy.com, a website dedicated to all things comic books. Mr Richards agrees that Presidential Material is a bold step toward the re-engagement of America’s youth.

“I hope these got into high schools, because these are the kind of things I would have eaten up.” He said. Ever eloquent, Mr Richards was happy to see a call to arms for young readers to vote in the front cover of the two books, “I was glad they pushed the voting stuff.”

Richards and fellow ifanboy founders Josh Flanagan and Conor Kilpatrick agree that Presidential Material is a piece of social responsibility comic book making, upon which an opinion (with further research of course) can be formed to decide on which candidate to support.

Presidential Material represents a new direction for an old and fruitful relationship between politics and comics. Comics have always been capable of provoking a reaction from their readerships. Presidential Material has taken a step toward broadening the appeal of comic books beyond spandex and capes. It represents a literal approach to political commentary with which even the most direct of allegories cannot compete.

Original publication date 30 July 2009.

Liam Kinkead

Image credits:

Captain America is Dead image by Telstar Logistics on Flickr. Used in accordance with a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 2.0 Generic License.

Leave a comment!

Add your comment below, or trackback from your own site. You can also Comments Feed via RSS.

Be nice. Keep it clean. Stay on topic. No spam.

You can use these tags:
<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>

This is a Gravatar-enabled weblog. To get your own globally-recognized-avatar, please register at Gravatar.

CISSP   , 642-996   , N10-006   , 350-050   , 101   , 070-462   , 210-451   , 400-351   , 300-075   , 70-332   , NS0-157   , 3002   , 642-998   , 70-534   , 70-463   , 200-125   , 600-455   , 300-085   , JN0-360   , C2010-595   , 700-260   , 1z0-808   , M70-101   , 3I0-012   , 300-208   , 102-400   , 500-260   , PMI-100   , 350-001   , 70-177   , 74-678   , CAS-002   , 70-417   , 200-105   , 350-029   , 300-115   , 70-410   , 000-105   , c2010-657   , 70-346   , 1Z0-808   , JN0-102   , CBAP   , 210-260   , 700-505   , 640-916   , 70-243   , 350-080   , CISA   , 350-030   , 070-466   , PK0-003   , ICBB   , 117-202   , 70-411   , 70-246   , MB6-702   , 000-106   , 642-999   , 400-201   , CAP   , 1Z0-060   , CQE   , 70-462   , 070-483   , 070-410   , 210-065   , 700-501   , 70-347   , 070-461   , OG0-093   , 1Z0-804   , 74-343   , 070-487   , 1Z0-067   , API-580   , 700-037   , MB2-707   , LX0-104   , 70-533   , 640-692   , 1Z0-144   , 70-480   , 9L0-012   , 70-270   , 117-201   , MB2-704   , 000-080   , 1Z0-051   , 350-060   , HP0-S41   , 1Z0-062   , AX0-100   , 1Z0-061   , 1V0-601   , 599-01   , EX200   , JN0-633   , EX300   , 1K0-001   , 70-466   , 220-802   , CISM   , 70-461   , LX0-103   , 98-365   , 400-101   , VCP550   , 2V0-620   , 70-532   , 300-209   , CCA-500   , 70-697   , 640-911   , 2V0-621D   , c2010-652   , 400-051   , JN0-343   , 70-488   , PMI-001   , MB5-705   , 2V0-621   , 810-403   , 600-199   , 220-801   , 70-494   , MB6-703   , 300-070   , 350-018   , 300-320   , OG0-091   , 70-981   , HP0-S42   , 70-680   , 352-001   , 300-135   , 70-178   , SSCP   , AND-401   , 200-310   , ICGB   , 000-089   , 300-080   , 070-331   , 98-364   , JN0-332   , 000-017   , SY0-401   , 1Y0-201   , 600-460   , ADM-201   , 70-483   , 642-732   , 000-104   , 101-400   , 640-875   , 100-105   , 642-997   , 70-413   , 300-101   , 70-980   , 9A0-385   , MB2-708   , 1Z0-803   , CRISC   , 70-487   , 70-412   , 210-060   , JK0-022   , 300-206   , 70-486   , CCA-500   , 200-105 , C2010-595 , 070-331 , 70-177 , 210-260 , C_TERP10_66 , 70-532   , PK0-003   , 70-462   , 100-105   , 350-080 , MB6-703 | 70-461 , MB2-704 , 070-462 , 300-101 , 350-029 , 1Z0-144   , 200-105   , 70-347 , 350-060 , 70-346 , 1Z0-061   , 70-480   , 1Z0-051   , 070-483   , 220-801 , 640-875 , 70-346   , JN0-102 | 70-488 , EX300 , 2V0-620 , 350-001   , 70-413   , 70-347   , 220-801 | MB2-702 | JK0-022   , 200-105 , 300-080 , LX0-104 , LX0-104   , 1V0-601   , 640-692 , 300-075 | 000-104   , 070-331 , C4040-252 | 2V0-620 , 600-199 , c2010-652 , 2V0-621D   , 1Z0-803   , 600-455 , 350-029   , 70-410   , LX0-103 , 640-875