Government Issue: Comics for the People, 1940s – 2000s

Richard L. Graham, an academic librarian, has been researching government-published comics, and here he shares a selection of them, grouped into several major categories.

The first section is dedicated to the military. This isn’t surprising, since many readers will be most familiar with those types of public interest comics, having perhaps heard of Will Eisner’s work on PS. According to Graham, from the historical overview he provides as an introduction, the majority of government comics are produced by the Department of Defense as either illustrated manuals or for propaganda purposes.

In this chapter, there’s not just wartime training work or indoctrination images, there’s also recruitment brochures and a more modern publication on how to handle the now-repealed “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” military policy. The covers and page selections are annotated by Graham to provide additional context.

Additional chapters include economic subjects, including how Social Security works; health and safety, with an odd piece in which Sally from Peanuts gets an eyepatch to treat “lazy eye”; and “the American way”, covering politics and regions. Famous cartoonists with work here include Eisner, of course, along with Milt Caniff, Walt Disney, Dr. Seuss, Neal Adams, Denis Kitchen, and Dan DeCarlo. Blondie and Dagwood (promoting mental health), Dennis the Menace (warning against poison), Supergirl (telling kids to wear car safety belts), Mark Trail (for safe water), Smokey Bear, Pogo (teaching parents how to have their kids watch TV wisely), and Li’l Abner also make appearances.

The book overall is like sitting down with a friend with an interesting hobby, where he shows you all the cool things he’s been finding. It’s a wonderful grab bag, fun to flip through, and full of forgotten trivia. My favorite pieces are the two enlistment comics aimed at getting women to join the WAF or the WAVES, because patronizing as they can be, it’s still neat to see comics aimed at convincing women to get an education and travel the world to improve their abilities and confidence.

Purchasers of the book will find a code to a website that provides full versions of a few of the comics that are only excerpted here. As always with an Abrams publication, I’m impressed by the quality and value. This substantial, 300-page book has thick paper and solid binding, so that even though it’s a paperback, it feels sturdy, easy to read without damaging the book. (The publisher provided a review copy.)

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