This book presents us with one of the most interesting looks at comic book culture in the United States: the ones the government produced. Yes, from even when comic books were on trial by Congress, till today when the new future and frontier of comics are being sought, the United States government has funded the production of comic books to promote various things from the military, how the government and its programs work, American ethics, and so forth. Sometimes they feel very educational and manual-like, sometimes they feel fun or have famous characters in them, like the Teen Titans or Blondie, and sometimes you wonder what the governments at Federal and State levels were thinking. Richard Graham has produced a fine book here looking at the American government’s gamut they have run with producing comics over the years, giving a ton of intriguing information, cover and art samples, and some comics reproduced in full in this brilliant 300 page book, that is really unlike anything else on the topic.
As the foreword by Sid Jacobson (creator of Richie-Rich, worked at Harvey Comics for many years) notes, every comic book company, from even Marvel to DC, got into the game and took on federal contracts to produce these comics for various agencies. It not only helped the government spread which ever message they wanted to, it also helped give companies boosts of money to produce them, helping keep comics going through dry periods. Graham breaks government issued comics down into four types – “military,” “employment and economics,” “Civil Defense, Saftey and Health,” and “Landscapes and Lifestyles” – and gives a brief history of each along with plenty of examples.
Now, all the material in these pages was produced with a message in mind, so sometimes they seem laughable in their PSA-quality, and other times are quite fascinating or lovable. Some real coolness lies within these pages, including some Milton Caniff (Terry and the Pirates) work. I personally enjoyed the oddity of the comic Danny And The Demoncycle, where a young boy is taken on a near death ride seemingly bound for hell on a Satan-designed bike, all to promote bicycle safety, of course. The humor in the pages of one of the most famous government produced comics, Dennis the Menace Takes a Poke at Poison, is hysterical as well as educational. And lastly, who could forget when some new immigrants to the country learn the hard way the importance of applying for a social security number when their car stalls on tracks and leads to a huge deadly crash with a train in Smash-Up at Big Rock.
Of course, aside from those, tons of other tales are shown, from Joe Kubert drawing a Harry Potter-parody, to famed Army comic PS Magazine, to the history of States, there is so much of interest documented in these pages. If you are even a little interested in this topic, there is not a better quality book produced for you. A fantastic job from Abrams Books, from content to page quality.
This wonderful book is being released in just a few weeks in November, so make sure to check it out! In a similar topic, Abrams also recently released PS Magazine: The Best of Preventive Maintenance Monthly, which is a wonderful collection of all of Will Eisner’s work for the government produced PS Magazine, so check that out, too!