Alexandria Digital Research Library

Pulp Empire: Comic Books, Culture, and U.S. Foreign Policy, 1941-1955

Hirsch, Paul S.
Degree Grantor:
University of California, Santa Barbara. History
Degree Supervisor:
Salim Yaqub
Place of Publication:
[Santa Barbara, Calif.]
University of California, Santa Barbara
Creation Date:
Issued Date:
History, United States and Mass Communications
Comic Book
Foreign Policy
Diplomatic History
Cold War
Cultural History
Cultural Cold War
Dissertations, Academic and Online resources
Ph.D.--University of California, Santa Barbara, 2013

From the early 1940s to the mid-1950s, millions of uncensored commercial and government-sanctioned American comic books flooded North America, Europe, Asia, and Latin America. Like popular music, modern art, and Hollywood films, comic books worked to define, for both domestic and global audiences, what it meant to be American during the mid-twentieth century. Invested with this power, comic books simultaneously presented American policymakers with an opportunity and a challenge. Inexpensive, portable, and comprehensible to a diverse readership, comic books provided government agencies with an excellent delivery system for propaganda. At home and abroad, they enabled American officials to mobilize support for a full-scale war against fascism and for a subsequent struggle against international communism.

But the comic book medium was not easily controlled. Until 1954, commercial American comic books were not subject to any formal censorship organization. Comic book creators, coarsened by the horrors of World War II, utilized this freedom to produce remarkably violent, racist, and sexual narratives. These unsanctioned, unfettered comic books sold in huge quantities to a global audience, often challenging rather than supporting the state-sanctioned image of the United States. To the dismay of officials, such materials generated powerful anti-American sentiment abroad, seemingly vindicating communist accusations of American depravity. The result was an international anti-comic book campaign, a transatlantic protest against American cultural hegemony.

Over the decade following World War II the American government met this challenge through a combination of repression and co-optation. At the local, state, and national levels, policymakers supported an American anti-comic book campaign that unfolded in parallel with the transatlantic effort. In 1954 the domestic campaign succeeded in compelling publishers to accept a censorship code. At the same time, the American government engaged in a policy of co-optation, appropriating the comic book medium in support of Cold War objectives. Domestically, federal agencies used comic books to promote Civil Defense through local organizations and public schools. Internationally, the State Department and the United States Information Agency made extensive use of anti-communist comic book propaganda, particularly in the decolonizing world. These measures transformed comic books into a tamer and more consensual medium.

Physical Description:
1 online resource (275 pages)
UCSB electronic theses and dissertations
Catalog System Number:
Inc.icon only.dark In Copyright
Copyright Holder:
Paul Hirsch
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