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Comic Books and Social Change - A Historical Perspective.

@shannonl5 made the statement in her post about Captain America and his evolution through the years - that he was created by two Jewish men on the eve of the USA's entry into WWII when most US citizens were oblivious or indifferent to the atrocities of Nazi Germany.
This is a mind-blowing idea to me in this day and age of instant information and media coverage of everything (even though there are some atrocities that should be covered in greater detail that are swept under the news carpet for favor of substantially less important and frivolous "news"). But that aside, it's an amazing thing to think that there has in many cases throughout the past 100 years been a consistent theme in the writing and creation of comic strips (first in newspapers) and then in individually published comic books to specifically address complex and controversial contemporary social issues.
I want to use the birth of perhaps my all-time favorite comic book super-hero - the ultimate underdog given amazing abilities to do right and bring justice - Captain America - to illustrate what I am talking about.
I think it is human nature that we can read about historical events and without any modern context from which we can apply our own experiences and emotions in an empathetic/sympathetic manner; they are simply words on pages that lack any sense of emotional impact (on a personal level). There have been many times that our societies (given geographical, geo-political, and socioeconomic leanings) have accepted behaviors in the majority that seem alien and unbelievable in our current social constructs. There was a time not to long ago that many Jews took names that were less "Jewish" sounding so they'd have a better chance at being treated fairly. In the 1930s and 1940s - young men with big dreams of telling stories that would make the world face ugly truths and hopefully inspire new generations to live and think with minds that were more open and accepting of others were among these people who took "non-ethnic sounding names". Young Jewish writers like Stanley Martin Lieber - who changed his name to "Stan Lee" and artists like Jacob Kurtzberg - who changed his name to "Jack Kirby" - wanted their art to speak for itself and their ethnicity to be a non-issue. BTW - if you are unfamiliar with what a "Jew" is - and what it means to be a Jew - most people assume that Jews are members of a religion. And this is true. But the truth is that being a Jew is so much more than any religious philosophy or belief; it is more than being born into a culture or ethnicity. The bottom line is that Jews belong to the same family. It is a FAMILY - which is why I think the theme of "family" is a constant in the stories created by Stan Lee. Jews are the descendants of Abraham through his son Isaac. It is a widely held belief by many Muslims that they are the descendants of Ismael - Isaac's brother, also a son of Abraham. This means that in reality or in tradition/belief - Jews and Muslims are blood relatives - they are cousins descended from two brothers. It's an interesting thing how closely related Judaism, Christianity, and Islam are. For they all share history and even certain beliefs and in the case of Jews and Muslims, a common blood tie. It's no big secret that Jesus Christ himself was a Jew. The "Last Super" was a Passover Seder... Not trying to be controversial. Just stating facts.
A little background on me that I think will be helpful. I have a biological father whom I have not had a relationship with since I was a child. Other than sharing whatever genetic - biological traits he passed onto me; he is merely a stranger that I have never known.
My "Dad" - the man who raised me as his own... the man who was there for me as a teenager and young adult is my step-father. He is a 2nd generation American-born German Jew. He lost family, distant cousins, aunts, uncles, etc... in the Holocaust. He was born the same year that the USA entered into WWII... 1941. He is lucky for his grandparents fled Germany during the first World War and settled in the USA. Because of this he and his immediate family survived. Of the family that chose to stay in Germany; none survived.
I am not Jewish - although I was raised in a Jewish household and I experienced all of the many different cultural, religious, and social aspects of Judaism. I can say that my adopted family treated me with love and fairness; I was never made to feel separate or an outsider.
I know for I have seen first hand - the purely ignorant bias born of centuries of unfair persecution and mistrust that Jews have experienced and continue to experience. I've seen my Dad's frustration and hurt when strangers hear his last name and immediately their attitude changes to one of coldness and distrust. I've been there and seen it first hand and have felt it myself because I have chosen to stand beside this kind, good man who gave me a far better childhood than my own father would have... Racism and Bigotry exist in many forms. This is WHY I think that men such as Stan Lee have been able to bring so much emotion and visceral - tangible pain at the injustices of the world to their characters and writing.
This next section is taken from online and it comes with a bibliography and noted resources. It's pretty amazing and I'll talk about it in my own words later in this card.
For me, someone born 25 years after the end of WWII... or for those of you born in the New Millennium, 55 years or more after the war's end - those years of separation can seem like many lifetimes ago but try to imagine the events described below as if they were happening today.
Simon said Captain America was a consciously political creation; he and Kirby were morally repulsed by the actions of Nazi Germany in the years leading up to the United States' involvement in World War II and felt war was inevitable: "The opponents to the war were all quite well organized. We wanted to have our say too."[1]
Captain America Comics #1 โ€” cover-dated March 1941[2] and on sale December 20, 1940,[3][4] a year before the attack on Pearl Harbor, but a full year into World War II โ€” showed the protagonist punching Nazi leader Adolf Hitler; it sold nearly one million copies.[5]
While most readers responded favorably to the comic, some took objection. Simon noted, "When the first issue came out we got a lot of ... threatening letters and hate mail. Some people really opposed what Cap stood for."[1]
The threats, which included menacing groups of people loitering out on the street outside of the offices, proved so serious that police protection was posted with New York Mayor Fiorello La Guardia personally contacting Simon and Kirby to give his support.[6]
Though preceded as a "patriotically themed superhero" by MLJ's The Shield, Captain America immediately became the most prominent and enduring of that wave of superheroes introduced in American comic books prior to and during World War II,[7] as evidenced by the unusual move at the time of premiering the character in his own title instead of an anthology title first.
This popularity drew the attention and a complaint from MLJ that the character's triangular shield too closely resembled the chest symbol of their Shield character. In response, Goodman had Simon and Kirby create a distinctive round shield for issue 2, which went on to become an iconic element of the character.[8]
With his sidekick Bucky, Captain America faced Nazis, Japanese, and other threats to wartime America and the Allies. Stanley Lieber, now better known as Stan Lee, contributed to the character in issue #3 in the filler text story "Captain America Foils the Traitor's Revenge", which introduced the character's use of his shield as a returning throwing weapon.[9]
Captain America soon became Timely's most popular character and even had a fan-club called the "Sentinels of Liberty".[1]
[1] Wright, Bradford W. (2001). Comic Book Nation: The Transformation of Youth Culture in America. Johns Hopkins University Press. p. 36. ISBN 978-0-8018-7450-5.
[2] Captain America Comics #1 at the Grand Comics Database
[3] Evanier, Mark (2008). Kirby: King of Comics. Abrams Books. p. 50. ISBN 978-0-8109-9447-8.
[4] Thomas, Roy; Sanderson, Peter (2007). The Marvel Vault: A Museum-in-a-Book with Rare Collectibles from the World of Marvel. Running Press. p. 21. ISBN 978-0-7624-2844-1. "Captain America Comics #1 went on sale around the end of 1940, with a March 1941 cover date."
[5] Fromm, Keif (June 2005). "The Privacy Act Of Carl Burgos". Alter Ego (TwoMorrows Publishing) 3 (49): 4.
[6] Cronin, Brian (2009). Was Superman a Spy?: And Other Comic Book Legends Revealed. Plume. pp. 135โ€“136. ISBN 978-0-452-29532-2.
[7] Sanderson, Peter; Gilbert, Laura, ed. (2008). "1940s". Marvel Chronicle A Year by Year History. Dorling Kindersley. p. 18. ISBN 978-0756641238. "Cap was not the first patriotically themed super hero, but he would become the most enduring. He was Timely's most popular hero with nearly a million copies of his comic sold per month."
[8]Cronin, p. 134
[9] Thomas, Roy (2006). Stan Lee's Amazing Marvel Universe. New York: Sterling Publishing. p. 11. ISBN 978-1-4027-4225-5. "The line reads: "With the speed of thought, he sent his shield spinning through the air to the other end of the tent, where it smacked the knife out of Haines' hand!" It became a convention starting the following issue, in which the art in a Simon and Kirby comics story illustrates the following caption: "Captain America's speed of thought and action save Bucky's life โ€” as he hurls his shield across the room."
So above - you read that Captain America was created to shed light on the horrors of Nazi Germany and to confront the American population with the injustice of standing on the sidelines and not engaging Germany (and Imperial Japan who was engaged in an ethnic war against many other countries in Asia) to stand up for those being murdered and abused.
I think it's also AMAZING that there was such opposition to Captain America that the MAYOR OF NEW YORK CITY had to post police protection to keep angry mobs away from their offices. WOW. Read that again and tell me that comic books are merely fantasy stories meant for children. The truth is that in the past 100 years as the birth of modern broadcast media has grown into a ubiquitous aspect of everyday life - historically the only SAFE way to share opinions that were radical for their opposition to the majority or status-quo was to put them into comics. And from the story above even that wasn't "safe" - just as the journalists and illustrators who created a cartoon depicting The Prophet Mohamed who where targeted by Muslim extremists and gunned down in their offices in France in recent years learned; engaging the public to inspire social change in any format can be extremely dangerous.
Reading about the continual challenges that men like Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, and Joe Simon faced as they engaged society through their stories and their art - to call out those who would perpetrate great social and moral injustices - I have nothing but a deep sense of awe and gratitude for what they accomplished. Throughout the history of modern comics there has been the continual theme of using fantasy and science fiction coupled with illustration - to pursue subjects that many consider taboo or controversial.
What I find most inspiring is that these men never hesitated to ask the hard questions and point out the harsh, ugly realities of the outcomes our choices (both on an individual and on a greater societal level) bring to the world around us.
And now Marvel Comics has become one of the greatest wells for Hollywood and the Entertainment Industry to dip into for fresh content/subject matter. Along with these amazing stories of incredible deeds born of alternate universes, alien societies, and our own historical folly come the same adherence to pointing out the inequities of our current societal constructs.
I say "good for you all" to these men and women for they've accomplished creating a venue for the discussion of morality, ethics, and social justice/injustice on an unprecedented scale.
So tell me - What do you all think about this and if you are moved, angered, inspired, or otherwise emotionally affected by the stories you've read in comics; what is it about these stories that touched you and in doing so has helped you see the world differently?
I want to thank everyone for the overwhelming support and appreciation of this card. I am so happy that we have such an amazing group of open-minded, supportive, and kind people in this community. It is indeed a very special thing in the digital world. @ComicGeek94 @DanRodriguez @AshelyJewell @shantalcamara @LAVONYORK @shannonl5 @JustinHubble @mchlyang @Luci546 - thank you all so much for your comments. @DanRodriguez - your comment really affected me in particular. I'm so sorry that you've experienced racism - I grew up in the Deep South where racism, bigotry, misogyny, and a general resistance to change were everyday experiences. I was a 1/2 Native American fatherless kid growing up in a Jewish household with a mother who struggled with substance abuse. Life was not easy. I found solace in the words of books and my mind was set free through the universes brought to life by Frank Herbert, Marion Zimmer Bradley, and Arthur C. Clark. I learned that suffering is relative and the taunts of my classmates or strangers on the street were nothing compared to the pain that others had experienced... I started reading historical biographies - stories by Irving Stone about the life and times of the great impressionist artists - Camile Pissarro, Vincent Van Gogh, and many others. Reading has always been a form of escape and education for me. I'm glad you had the X-Men and you were able to relate to them. The most important thing that I took away from my childhood experiences was that there might not be anything I could do to open the eyes and/or minds of those who embrace blind hatred and fear as their main interface for life; but I didn't have to let their narrow views change my sense of hope and optimism that tomorrow can be a better day if I choose for it to be. For any of you who have been hurt by the careless fear/anger/resentment of a stranger who is only focused on the way you look; pity them. For the true measure of anyone's real value as a person is in their heart and in their mind - as expressed through their words, actions/deeds, and treatment of those around them. Hold your head high and forgive them their ignorance and their loss - for they are blind to the best part of living and being around other people.
wow. this is such a great article. I knew it was created during the war and by Jews but I never knew the impact of it during the world war. this is so nice so great details. I am so glad you tagged me cause I don't think I would have gotten the true story behind it
I always love seeing how the power of words and creation can affect our world c: You wrote a great card, with a lot of information I never heard before!
Great read! Thank you!
@JustinHubble seconded, thank you @JonPatrickHyde :D
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