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The American Civil War & Comic Books Part I: Racism, War & Comic Books

Written by John Lewis on Tuesday, June 30 2015 and posted in Columns
Tags:
Comics

The American Civil War & Comic Books Part I: Racism, War & Comic Books

In the first part of The American Civil War & Comic Books, The Outhouse will discuss racism and war in comic books.



On June 18th 2015, a young racist walked into a predominantly African-American church in Charleston, South Carolina and proceeded to shoot the churchgoers with the intention of starting a race war. He ended up killing eight victims with a ninth dying in a local hospital. The tragic events were a reminder that in the 21st century where we have small devices that can fit in our pockets and communicate with people across the globe, racism is still alive and well.

Now, The Outhouse is a comic book web site and not exactly the one with the most journalistic integrity, but we do try to maintain a certain amount of integrity. We try to speak with our hearts in the right place but it is difficult to make our usual cheap jokes with what happened in Charleston. Part of that is due to comic books having a long history of racism with many early depictions of African-Americans being offensive caricatures. Examples such as the Spirit’s sidekick Ebony White, who resembles a stereotypical pickaninny and was an Uncle Tom stereotype as well, have not been helpful with the depictions of African-Americans in comics. Even present-day racism exists, as it’s not too hard to find comic book fans who are aghast at the idea of an African-American Spider-Man whether Peter Parker or the half-black, half-Hispanic Miles Morales a.k.a. the former Ultimate Spider-Man. However, this is not about racism and comic books. That is too broad of a subject. The focus of this is more on the impact the American Civil War has had on American comics and usage of the Confederate States of America in comics.

Comic books have had an interest in war, specifically World War II and the Vietnam War, since the genre was created. Wars have been tied to the origins of superheroes such as Captain America, the Justice Society of America, Iron Man, the Punisher, and the X-Men’s Sunfire. There have been many comic book series that dealt with war, with either the series taking place during the war (Captain America and Phantom Eagle), the series being created long after the war (Sgt. Rock and Enemy Ace), and series with a more imaginative story than just superheroes battling supervillains (The War that Time Forgot and Army@Love). In tough times when there may not be many heroes or evil may be too powerful, it is always comforting to be able to read comic books with heroes fighting through impossible odds.

That said, comic books about the American Civil War are quite limited. Comics, as we know them, did not really exist until the 20th century so the Civil War was long over by then. Furthermore, when DC Comics, Marvel Comics (then Timely Comics), and their former competitors started up during the Golden Age of comic books, most of their writers and artists were European immigrants or the sons of immigrants who did not have a personal investment in the Civil War. Still, the Civil War did manage to creep its way into comic books.

The American Civil War & Comic Books is a five-part article that will focus on the impact of the American Civil War on comic books with the focus being on four comic book characters with ties to the war. The first character is the DC bounty hunter Jonah Hex and that article will be published tomorrow.





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