Sunday, August 07, 2005

Comic Book PSA: Make War No More

In the late 60's to the early 70's DC comics inserted into the stories of their successful line of war titles this Make War No More tag. Obviously, a response to the prevailing public sentiment about the Vietnam conflict.

As PSA's for comics go these are probably the ones I am most cynical about for a few reasons. The first being that the tags only showed up in the combat titles full of gleeful mayhem and nazi-smiting. I have not yet seen these in any other DC books of the era. The other reason is that everything I have read about Robert Khaniger is that he leans way to the right. So the addition of the MWNM tag only seems a shallow attempt, as a marketing ploy, to blunt the pro-war message the books had.

Also, the tag often would interfere or disturb the layout of the art, though this was mostly solved a few years later as editorial policy changed.

Great Joe Kubert panel, made claustrophobic by the addition of the tag to open sky

Less intrusive than many

The Unknown Soldier is wearing a protest button?

In reading the war titles during the Vietnam era I've been left with the impression they were allegory (like the film Aliens) of the Vietnam or Korean wars. In the early 70's many of the stories dealt with "reluctant soldiers" or "cowards" who nonetheless came through for their buddies or the mission. This was probably the best theme the writer could push through, having to balance the tone of the book with the effect of public opinion on the market. The reluctant hero aspect of many of the stories and anti-war tag would have satisfied those parents who bothered to check the content of their children's entertainment. Parents that were pro-conflict or didn't care would be satisfied by the exploding Nazi tanks.

After a few years of the tag being present in the final panel of stories it was exiled to the letters page.

Excerpt from a 1973 issue of Star Spangled War Stories, Bob Rozakis letter

By 1973 the United States had begun to pull out of the Vietnam conflict and soon after the MWNM tag was no longer included in the books. Many of the war titles also were eventually cancelled as interest in the subject material waned. Soon, the Star Spangled War title had covers that included a horror element in the title bar, and the letters page featured a ghoul on the header (the Unkown Soldier's true, ravaged face, apparently). This may not have been too unusual since that title also previously featured the classic War That Time Forgot "Tank vs Dinosaur" stories and The Haunted Tank, but it was more likely an attempt to boost sales by attracting the growing horror comic market by superficially resembling the Weird War Tales book also published by DC.

For those of you who can't get enough of Joe Kubert's combat-themed art, be sure to check out PS Magazine (a military preventive maintenance magazine originally founded by Will Eisner). Joe has been illustrating it for years.

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