This blog has been created as an assignment for the University of Alberta course LIS 518 on comics and graphic novels. My blog posts explore the mutual influence and development of 19th century and 20th century wartime propaganda and the comics industry (Chapman, 2014), beginning just before the American Civil War (1861-1865) and ending just after WWII (1939-1945) prior to the Cold War era (1947-1991).
Early illustrations and cartoons in mass media — largely single-panel works, but which began to explore visual narrative through multi-panel sequential art that developed into contemporary comics form — established design elements, symbols and archetypes that have become comics tradition, developing out of specific sociohistorical contexts that have stamped lasting meaning on these within cultural memory (Chapman, 2014; Knopf, 2015; McCloud, 1994; Welch, 2013; Wilcott, 2013). Importantly, I consider how these early propaganda materials represent translations of high art forms, including painting and engraving, adapted in response to new mass media inventions as well as the dynamics of population growth and public demand for information (Blinkovitz, 2012; Knopf, 2015; McCloud, 1994; Thomson, 1962). Indeed, many artists employed as wartime propagandists were painters and engravers. Notice also the consistency in the presence of specific illustrated publications through the conflicts examined, from (before) the Civil War through WWII (with a few still in circulation today).
Illustrations, engravings, cartoons, comic strips and comic books… All were utilized in print media for common purposes and to disseminate common messaging during wartime. Typical themes included:
- Public morale
- Soldier morale
- Civilians doing their part
- Training (i.e. manuals, sometimes for largely illiterate audiences) (Scott, 2011)
- Enemy satire
- Critique of domestic politics
- Reconciliation and healing
(Chapman, 2014; Knopf, 2015; Scott, 2011; Welch, 2013; Wilcott, 2013)
My long-term objective is to continue adding content to this blog, but for the purpose of my LIS 518 course assignment my first eight blog posts focus on a handful of historical periods and contexts selected because they enabled comprehensive consideration and demonstration of common themes and an overview of how visual narratives developed in wartime propaganda as a continuum cross-culturally.
‘War’ is defined broadly, and includes major conflicts between/amongst nation states, domestic civil conflicts (military and non-military), as well as ‘cold war’ comprising proxy wars but no major conflicts between opposing factions. I also intend to add in the future an analysis of the role of mass media in wartime propaganda, through a SCOT (social construction of technology) lens à la Wiebe Bijker and Trevor Pinch.
While I had to choose and end-point for the sake of encapsulating this assignment (and to prevent myself from writing a dissertation-length work, which is always a risk for me!), my intent is for future posts to explore subsequent conflicts including the Cold War, Korean War, Cuban Revolution, Vietnam War, Gulf War and the Iraq War, as well as terrorist movements around the world, plus internal/domestic conflicts including the American Civil Rights Movement, the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa, the Iranian Revolution, and the Bosnian War, to name a few.
For now, my first eight blog posts examine some of the major conflicts of the late 19th century and early 20th century.
So, for my conclusions…
What insights do I take away from my exploration and analyses? In addition to the observations above about the link between mass media cartoons and comics mediating and translating high art forms into popular cultural mediums, I have also come to the conclusion that wartime cartoons and comics embodied and expressed experiences and themes that were common cross-culturally and had/have the effect of blurring boundaries between the opposing sides of conflicts, especially within ‘trench comics’ created by soldiers at the front, and also within the context of retrospective examinations and new interpretations (MacCallum-Stewart, 2003; Shinn, 2015).
And that’s all, folks!
Binkovitz, L. (2012, November 16). At American art: A new look on how artists recorded the Civil War. Smithsonian Online. Retrieved from http://www.smithsonianmag.com/smithsonian-institution/at-american-art-a-new-look-on-how-artists-recorded-the-civil-war-131916472/?no-ist
Chapman, J. (2014, May 7). Comics tap into the real emotions of the world wars. The Conversation. Retrieved from http://theconversation.com/comics-tap-into-the-real-emotions-of-the-world-wars-26018
Knopf, C. M. (2015). The comic art of war: A critical study of military cartoons, 1805-2014, with a Guide to Artists. McFarland. Retrieved from https://books.google.ca/books?hl=en&lr=&id=aANJCgAAQBAJ&oi=fnd&pg=PP1&dq=The+Comic+Art+of+War:+A+Critical+Study+of+Military+Cartoons,&ots=bndmEFH3dR&sig=fCYCS-6pXWrYG_v36qwAmWk8wRs#v=onepage&q=The%20Comic%20Art%20of%20War%3A%20A%20Critical%20Study%20of%20Military%20Cartoons%2C&f=false
MacCallum-Stewart, E. (2003). The First World War and British comics. University of Sussex Journal of Contemporary History, 6: 1-18. Retrieved from https://www.sussex.ac.uk/webteam/gateway/file.php?name=ems&site=15
McCloud, S. (1994). Understanding comics: The invisible art. New York: HarperPerennial.
Shinn, M. (2015, February 9). The front-line funnies: cartoons and comic strips in the First World War. Beyond the Trenches. Retrieved from http://beyondthetrenches.co.uk/tag/comics/
Thomson, W. F., Jr. (1962). Pictorial propaganda and the Civil War. The Wisconsin Magazine of History, 46(1), 21-31. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/4633807
Welch, D. (2013). World War One: Propaganda for patriotism and nationalism. The British Library. Retrieved from http://www.bl.uk/world-war-one/articles/patriotism-and-nationalism
Wilcott, J. M. (2013). Wartime art: A study of political propaganda and individual expression in American commercial and combat art during World War II. History Theses.Paper 17. Retrieved from http://digitalcommons.buffalostate.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1017&context=history_theses