American comic books: diving into propaganda

Comic books have a rich history in North America. One could say they are a cousin to graphic design, because of their marriage of text and imagery. Despite this, they are not considered in the textbook Graphic Design: A New History, by Eskilson (2019). 

For a kind of graphic design devoured by many a kid, teen, and adult since the 1940’s, comics have had an impressive influence throughout society. In fact, they were used as a vehicle for propaganda during World War II (Scott 57). Captain America comics were introduced in 1941, and in the first issue’s cover the character Captain America is seen punching Adolf Hitler in the face (see figure 1). Issue 58 of Superman toted a cover with a banner stating how war bonds and stamps can help the war effort in America (see figure 2). The patriotic themes and heroism of these comic book characters — those who protect and serve the people of America — were a perfect companion for American propaganda, providing the youth a visceral but appropriate understanding of what a ‘good American’ was, and who their enemies were (Scott 57). 

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Figure 1. Captain America seen here in his first issue, punching Hitler in the face as a good American would.

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Figure 2. Superman shown helping to print out posters about how any American can help the war effort.

The slogans seen in the Superman and Batman comics were a way to encourage average Americans that they too could support the war effort of their people (see figure 2 & 3). These covers denote superheros fighting hard against their enemies or in the war, suggesting that if you were to do as these characters say (buy war bonds and stamps), you would be fighting the war too.

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Figure 3. Batman and Robin on adventures to show Americans how they are helping out their soldiers.

But what if you couldn’t or wouldn’t do these things? Like the posters created to swell patriotic pride for World War I that guilted men into signing up for global fights, these comics provided the dark understanding that if you do not do what these superheroes do, you are unpatriotic and not at all like the beloved superheroes that help out as an American should (see figure 4) (Eskilson 115).

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Figure 4. Savile Lumley’s WWI poster (1915). – Daddy, what did you do in the war?

Comics also disseminated the face of the ugly enemy in a more modern format for youthful readers(Scott 54). Unlike the serious and/or horrifying appearances illustrated for past wartime posters, here were bumbling fools and comically drawn ghouls. Different but similar, the purpose of creating negative (and racist) appearances of enemies was done for the exact same reason it was done in any other way — to sow the concept of good versus evil (ibid.) (see figure 5).

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Figure 5. The Fighting Yank‘s cover depicting racist caricatures of the Japanese army.

In particular, the concept of a patriotically-dressed comic book character was an American invention, providing a way for readers to connect with their country and its ideal beliefs (Scott 56). In line with this, Captain America toted an American flag themed shield and wore an American flag themed body suit (see figure 1). Another hero dressed similarly was Wonder Woman with her red, white, and blue costume with a bald eagle as a chest emblem (see figure 6). To wear the flag would be a clear signal that these characters lived and breathed American values. The bald eagle was yet another signal to viewers of this, and characters would be seen holding one or even, riding one (see figures 6 & 7)!

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Figure 6. Wonder Woman lasso-ing enemies.

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Figure 7. Batman and Robin seen riding a bald eagle – a symbol of American pride and patriotism.

Delving into American comics and their impact on society would be a boon to the textbook. There is a rich history that dips into war-time propaganda specifically aimed at the American youth, as well as a demonstration of patriotic imagery that resounded to the people of the time. Looking into these comics would provide our class another view into the way propaganda was disseminated into different times, that varied from the usual posters and flyers see typically shown in class.

Cord, Scott A.  Comics and ConflictNaval Institute Press, 2014.

Eskilson, Stephen J. Graphic Design: A New History. Yale University Press, 2019.

“Patriotism.” Word War II: Comics and Propaganda,
sites.google.com/site/worldwar2comicbookpropaganda/–patriotism.

 

Horror film posters of the 80’s – Blog Post 1 – Hwa-jin Jun

The 80’s brought North America some iconic horror films still watched today. They employed heavy use of traditional illustration, simple typography, and high contrast colour to instil unease and curiosity. A few classic examples include The Shining (1980), Evil Dead (1981), Re-Animator (1985), The Thing (1982), and The Fly (1986) (see fig 1)

 

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Figure 1. Posters for The Shining (Kubrick and Bass), Evil Dead (Humphreys), Re-Animator (n/a), The Thing (Struzan), and The Fly (Mahon).

Illustrations are composed of stylized realism with traditional mediums like paint and ink. Colour palettes vary, but enjoy the use of bright colours used in stark contrast to abundant black. The Shining for example, uses black text on blaring yellow, while the Re-Animator employs the use of primary colour detail on black background. Together with the use of high contrast lighting similar to chiaroscuro, the illustrations take on a sense of volume to create the illusion that objects are coming out from the depths of the shadows. For Richard Mahon who illustrated The Fly poster, these characteristics are pretty typical of his other compositions, though general film posters of that time show that it was a well-regarded trend (see fig 2).

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Figure 2. Mahon’s illustration for the film Naked Tango (Mahon).

The subjects of illustration are of frightening suggestion, like the flash of an inhuman being or fearful gaze. The unease one feels when looking at these is due to the implied understanding that something eerie is to happen. When examining The Fly, it is the question of who — or what — might be appearing. Why is there a boy’s face frozen in a gasp of horror in The Shining? Fear of the unknown is a phenomena that holds many of us.

All capital letters are typically used for titles, though this is common to films outside the genre, including the use of sans-serif typefaces. Simply styled and easy to read, the titles have only the simple task of naming the film at hand. For the most part, they typically have little indication that they are tied to the horror genre.This does not detract from the mood the poster exudes. Instead, the emotionless, cold text starkly contrasts the dynamic background illustrations, and seems to further emphasize the horror the illustrations present. 

When you compare the evolution of horror posters from the early century until the 1980’s it is interesting to note that similarities arise in the use of black background and sparing uses of colour to create dark moods (see fig. 3) (Dainis). The use of large scale portraits and multi-person collages are thrown out in favour of busts and minimal compositions housing single figures or objects. Typography also becomes less visible; the amount of compositional copy has increased, though most of it has decreased in size to leave only a title and optional header easily visible to viewers. Title position has also changed — from being situated anywhere in the composition, they become aligned to the vertical axis and are also much less obnoxious in size and style.

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Figure 3. The posters for The Bride of Frankenstein (n/a), White Zombie (n/a), Dracula (n/a), and Frankenstein (n/a).

 

 

Works cited

Dainis. “Evolution of Horror Movie Poster Designs: 1922 – 2009.” Hongkiat,
www.hongkiat.com/blog/evolution-of-horror-movie-poster-designs-1922-2009/.

Humphreys, Graham. The Thing. Digital file, 1981.

Kubrick, Stanley, and Saul Bass. The Shining. Digital file, 1978.

Mahon, Rich. “The Art of Rich Mahon.” Rich Machon, richmahon.com/
The_Art_of_Rich_Mahon.html.

Struzan, Drew. The Thing. Digital file, 1982.

N/a. Bride of Frankenstein. Digital file, 1935.*

N/a. Dracula. Digital file, 1931.*

N/a. Frankenstein. Digital file, 1931.*

N/a. Re-Animator. Digital file, 1985.*

N/a. White Zombie. Digital file, 1932.*

 

*It seems the illustrators and designers have been lost, or are incredibly difficult to find. There was no information available as to who the artists maight be.

(Also the category of blog post 1 was not available?)