Professor Jane Chapman (University of Lincoln) discusses the war in comics at The Conversation today.
In its new exhibition, the British Library celebrate the subversive history of the comic. As ever, such a complex heritage can hardly be covered in such a show. But it is a symptom of a more widespread movement: comics are starting to be recognised as far more than an ephemeral art form. They provide a rich source of cultural records of the past – a reflection, or projection of political and cultural feeling of the time.
This alternative cultural history provides particularly rich results in the case of World War I and II, which I have been researching in depth. Millions of people – children and adults – were avidly consuming comics at the time. Internal correspondence from The American Office of War Information (OWI) quotes Advertising Research foundation findings that approximate that 83% of Americans read at least one comic strip daily. And that:
Cartoons, advancing OWI campaigns, are distributed to an average of 1,000 newspapers weekly … Potential viewers are 60,000,000.
In situations of “total war” a range of organisations used comics to communicate with adults, not simply as a means of entertaining children. My research has searched for and recuperated thousands of different publications internationally, aimed at diverse audiences.