Using Comic Books to Illustrate Political News

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Some say that “Captain America” and “Superman” were little more than symbols of American patriotism, calling citizens to accept the call of duty for their country and do something larger than life. Superman fought the Japanese during WWI and Captain America punched Hitler in the face during WWII. However, today’s political news resounds through the comic graphic novels world in an entirely different way now. Some dark comics came out of the Reagan years, but superheroes have been plunged into all-out civil warfare against their own governments.

On October 8th, 2008, just before the November elections, John McCain and Barack Obama starred in their own comic books published by IDW Publishing, only it was nothing like you would think. Even though “Savage Dragon” publicly endorsed Barack Obama in a recent issue, the IDW publications were presented as objective, illustrated, political news biographies of the two nominees. It has been described as “heavy on the facts, light on opinion.” The McCain book featured art by Stephen Thompson and writing by Andy Helfer (who also did “Road to Perdition” and “A History of Violence”) and the Obama book was illustrated by Tom Morgan and written by Jeff Mariotte (who has done Superman, Spider-Man and Star Trek comic book series).

“We didn’t do anything that is sensational here,” said Scott Dunbier from IDW. “We’re stuck to the facts.” Dunbier added that graphic novels have proven extremely effective in reaching and educating people. “We’re not in the business of doing textbooks,” he clarified, “But I think comic books really do have the great potential to inform and teach and do more than just standard superhero comics.” Fans can pre-order the books through their website or visit Uclick to view the comics over their cell phones.

Political news isn’t always so directly reported through comic book art, though. Sometimes, events in modern life are paralleled through events in the comic book heroes universe. For example, Marvel Comic’s “Civil War,” released in 2007, introduces an epic battle following the passage of “the Superhuman Registration Act” (much like the Patriot Act in our world), which asks that people trade in some of their liberties for security.

The Registration, more specifically, requires all costumed heroes to be licensed and trained, disclosing their secret identities to the government. While some characters in the DC Universe, like Fantastic Four’s Reed Richards and Iron Man support the registration, others like Captain America develop an underground resistance. Spiderman initially supports the idea so much he unmasks himself on live television, but later recants when he sees the Abu Ghraib-like prisons. Whether these obtuse allegories are an effective way of making a political statement or not remains to be seen.

There are also political news people like K. Thor Jensen and Jenny Gonzalez who focus on war stories. In “House of Twelve Goes To War,” the depictions focus on little-known aspects of the War on Terrorism. “Some sad, some action-packed, some unfathomable, but I promise you each and every one is 100% true,” the website declares. “Team 12 was drafted by the government and forced into working towards its war effort. When we returned, we decided the truth must be told in the most effective way possible; auto-bio comics! These are our stories of our experiences during the Great War.”

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