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Comics & Politics:

Reading Between The Panels

To accompany Catherine Nixey’s cover-featured lead article about the goals and controversies surrounding the Islamic superhero team The 99, as featured in The Times’ Arts Section on Friday April 10th 2015 (cover and spread above), I was commissioned to pick out five significant previous examples of politically significant comics and graphic novels for a sidebar. Here are the ones The Times chose…

Tintin in the Land of the Soviets (1929)

The ginger-quiffed reporter’s first assignment with his dog Snowy sent him undercover to expose the Soviet Union’s ‘Red Paradise’ as a sham. In one scene, visiting English Marxists are shown a productive factory, smoke pouring from its chimneys, but Tintin discovers inside that the Bolsheviks are merely burning bundles of straw (page below). Tintin’s creator Hergé devised this story as anti-Communist propaganda in a weekly children’s supplement, Le Petit Vingtième which he edited for a far-right Catholic newspaper in Belgium.

Captain America (1941)

To stir their fellow Americans against Germany, Jewish comic-book creators Joe Simon and Jack Kirby invented a patriotic super-soldier dressed in the stars-and-stripes and armed with a shield. Released more than ten months before the attack on Pearl Harbour brought America into World War II, the cover of Captain America’s first issue showed him socking Hitler on the jaw. After pro-Fascist supporters harassed Simon and Kirby, New York’s Mayor La Guardia arranged police protection for them.

The Eternaut (1957)

When extraterrestrials invade Buenos Aires, a band of humans struggle to fight back. Faced with deadly alien snow that kills on contact, Juan Salvo protects himself by wearing a scuba diving suit. This fantasy by left-wing writer Héctor Oesterheld became a potent allegory for popular resistance against Argentina’s military dictatorships. So much so that he and members of his family were ‘disappeared’ and The Eternaut in diving gear remains a symbol used in street art and protests today. [At long last, Fantagraphics Books are releasing the first volume of an English-language edition this summer.]

V for Vendetta (1982)

Angry at the injustices of Thatcherism, Alan Moore and David Lloyd envisaged in Warrior magazine [cover by Garry Leach, above] a nightmare Fascist Britain where individual liberties have been obliterated. The only threat to the ‘Big Brother’-style regime is V, a faceless terrorist or freedom-fighter, who blows up the Houses of Parliament dressed in a Guy Fawkes mask. On the strength of the graphic novel and its movie adaptation, this grinning mask has spread worldwide as a symbol of anonymous solidarity and dissent. 

Persepolis (2000)

Iranian Marjane Satrapi recalls how her childhood in a politicised family in Tehran was transformed after the final troubled years of the Shah by the Islamic revolution. As a girl, she was her uncle’s last visitor in prison before his execution (page below). Satrapi kept her promise to him that “I will never forget” years later by crafting her best-selling autobiographical comic. Persepolis has been taught at America’s West Point Military Academy to familiarise servicemen with the region and in 2011 Islamists in Tunisia attacked a television station for broadcasting the animated adaptation co-directed by Satrapi.

Posted: April 14, 2015

This Article originally appeared in The Times, April 10th 2015.


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1001 Comics  You Must Read Before You Die edited by Paul Gravett

Comics Art by Paul Gravett from Tate Publishing

Comics Unmasked by Paul Gravett and John Harris Dunning from The British Library