This article from CJR's archives is presented as part of our 50th anniversary celebration.
Enough comic strips follow this line to make it worth noting. In attempting to circumvent red tape while hurrying to join Mary Perkins, her husband Pete Fletcher is detained by Communist guards for having illegally crossed the frontier. Subsequent events cause Mary to reflect that it is impossible “not [to] worry with Pete interned and he probably had his cameras they’ve held people for years with less reason than that.” Kerry Drake, while on vacation in Florida, becomes involved with a group headed by a bearded, cigar-smoking individual dressed in GI fatigues who is planning a phony invasion of a Caribbean island in order to arouse anti-American feeling. The Saint finds that his competitors in a treasure hunt are Eastern European Communists who had once been ardent Nazis.
Comment in the comics about the American establishment and its domestic and international policies is not limited to these strips. Lil’ Abner, Pogo and their like are frequently as topical as any of the cold-war comics. But in toto they are not as consistently propagandistic; there is editorializing but not continuous sermonizing. B.C. may comment ironically, even acidly sometimes, about the foibles of our time, but there is no likelihood in that strip of a statement such as that by a character in Terry and the Pirates that “the only good Red is a dead Red.”
In the past many American comics have been bellicose, but rarely did they comment so recognizably on the international scene.
One must ask whether the cold-war comics, directed at the least sophisticated part of the audience, and offering glib solutions to world problems and caricatures of contemporary personalities both East and West, do not actually do harm. A newspaper presents itself as a reporter of fact; these comic strips are misrepresentations of actuality. The cold-war comics raise questions of journalistic responsibility for newspapers and their editors.
The illustrations were selected from a survey of six New York newspapers from 1957 through 1963.
Winnie Winkle shows development of “actuality” in cold-war comics. When Winnie Winkle went to Paris in 1950, her antagonist was a fictional “Satellovian” whose actions resembled those of a Soviet delegate to the U.N. In 1962, she went to Moscow as part of a cultural exchange program and proved annoying to an unmistakably identified Kremlin ruler.
Cold-war comics comment freely on contemporary history. Dan Flagg reported the scene in Cuba; Captain Easy summarized the U-2 incident of 1960 within weeks.
Comic strip readers meet “the enemy” as the artist sees him—unsentimental and cruel in Buz Sawyer; arrogant and inhuman in Terry and Big Ben Bolt:
As always, Little Orphan Annie’s kindly acquaintances leave no room for doubt about their views:
Characters in the cold-war comics are often placed on the platform by their creators and allowed to lecture the reader. Buz Sawyer, Steve Canyon, and Smilin’ Jack have become idea salesmen as well as heroes.
Thanksgiving finds Joe Palooka and his friends in a mood far from the spirit of the day:
“News” overlaps art. In Buz Sawyer a Soviet submarine played hide-and-seek with the U.S. Navy for weeks before the story below appeared in the New York Journal-American, January 17, 1960: