Controversial Comic Covers: To Collect or Not to Collect?

by Joseph Overaitis

091422C-1-1024x536 Controversial Comic Covers: To Collect or Not to Collect?Comic books serve as time capsules of society.  Things that were acceptable in one time frame may not be acceptable now.  The norms and knowledge of society evolve as time passes.  Doctors once used the practice of bleeding to treat many ailments.  Publishers, too, acted in the past as if they were in the dark ages. As a result, comic books have experienced some controversial practices and imagery, as seen on their covers.  Here are a few controversial comic covers that may have been acceptable in the past… but have not aged well.

Portrayal of an enemy

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Comic books featured characters that impressed upon children the need to urge their parents to support the war effort.  Supporting the troops meant buying war bonds.  Action Comics #58 is one of those war bond covers.  The cover has a patriotic image of Superman working a press. The controversy is in the paper that is coming off the press. The Japanese soldier is portrayed as a comic caricature.

People are easily offended now because of the negative image of the Japanese man. One has to remember that this issue was published in the middle of the U.S.A.’s involvement in WWII. This was a time when people were killing each other, the most inhuman way that people could treat each other.

This is a tamer version of comic book war propaganda.  Anytime a country is at war with a country the media displays the enemy in a non-flattering light. Movies, comic books, and television shows all use perceived enemies of the USA as villains in one form or another. The problem is that type of imagery may be difficult to explain as loyalties change.  Japan may have been an enemy at one time in the nation’s history but now they are a staunch ally.

No ifs, ands, or butts

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No one has ever said that comic books are afraid to use visual appeal to sell comics.  Extreme comic books sell.  Sometimes comic book artists can go too far. Milo Manara is a noted artist who has used graphic images of the female form before to sell books. Comic book publishers tend to know what they will get when they hire him. Apparently, Marvel Comics never anticipated the potential backlash they faced with his submitted cover art for Spider-Woman #1.

The original art featured Spider-woman in a provocative pose.  Her body was contorted and crouching in such an extreme way that it portrayed a very graphic view of her backside.  This pose was somehow deemed acceptable by the artist for the comic book audience, but the publisher faced a backlash for the rumored image. The solution was the strategic placement of the title to block the offending image. The hype over the image drove up interest in the issue and is that not what Marvel wanted. One still has to wonder what was Marvel expecting when they retained Minara to draw Spider-woman?

Politics invade comics

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Sometimes, comic book covers may not appear to be controversial based on the imagery. Politics can influence the way we view comic book covers. G.I. Combat #91 does not appear to display any controversial imagery at first glance.  A tank is shown on the cover shooting down a plane.  The reason this book has become controversial is because of the characters themselves.

G.I. Combat #91 is a key issue because it is the first Haunted Tank cover.  That is important because the Haunted Tank was the second-longest running war series for DC Comics. The non-superhero nature of this title makes it difficult to find. In addition, the color composition makes finding this issue in high grades problematic.  Those are usually important factors for key issues. The problem is that the tank was haunted by the spirit of Confederate General J.E.B. Stuart. Confederate historic characters have recently been looked on with disdain.  That makes this seemingly innocuous cover now problematic for some.  Others view it as a storytelling element and thus not controversial.

Stereotyping a cover

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Comic books are visual mediums.  Illustrations mixed with words to create the desired effect. Sometimes artists used stereotyped imagery of individuals in their work. Sometimes that may have been intentional. The problem is that other times the effect is not what the creative team intended.  Yellow Claw #1 is a comic book that is full of negative visuals.  The artist drew the title character in a very offensive stereotyped manner.  The name of the character can also be viewed as offensive. The question is if that is what the creative team wanted.

Stan Lee has a history of being a social warrior.  He once stated that “Bigotry and racism are among the deadliest social ills plaguing the world today.” Stan the Man used his platform as editor of Marvel Comics to fight social evils.  Yellow Claw #1 must have troubled him because the scriptwriter and editor of that comic must had ill will in their hearts when they created this issue. This was probably an example of one of those ills that plague society that he fought to overcome.

The problem is when you review the information provided by GoCollect on the issue. The scriptwriter and editor of that comic book was, in fact, Stan Lee himself.  His intent was not to be offensive because that was not in Stan Lee. Sadly, now this title is viewed unfavorably by many in the hobby and an example of racist views in comics.  The intent was never there to be offensive and yet that is the lasting impression about this issue.

Recently, this issue became important because of a character introduced in this issue. Collectors and investors seek out this book because it is a key that has the first appearance of Marvel and MCU character Jimmy Woo. Sometimes the intent may not have been there, but a controversial cover may become so after time passes. Does that matter to collectors and investors?

Should controversial covers sell?

Racist, sexist, and other offensive covers are common because of the long history of comics. Some say that these covers should be ignored because selling/buying them supports the negative aspect of the covers.  Others believe that dealing with controversial issues is not to be viewed as advocating for the negative aspect of the cover. Instead, hobbyists believe this is preserving history be it good or bad. The issues that have been mentioned are still sought after by collectors and investors in spite of the controversial covers, but is that market diminished because of the negative views given towards those books?

Understanding how people view investing/collecting controversial comic books is very important dealing in the comic book market.  One day, what was socially acceptable may become offensive to the masses. The views of people may also be different from one another. That is what is unique about collecting and investing in comic books; the people are as unique as the issues.

What do the GoCollect readers say on the topic of controversial comic book covers?  Keep the posts insightful and clean because knowledge is power and sometimes understanding the views of others is the most important result of articles.  Is it yeah or nay on buying/selling/collecting controversial comic book covers?

“If journalism is good, it is controversial, by its nature.”

Julian Assange

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*Any perceived investment advice is that of the freelance blogger and does not represent advice on behalf of GoCollect.

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12 comments

Sean September 19, 2022 - 1:12 pm

Please tell me how you define a “stereotypical manner.” Yellow Claw has no buck teeth or thick rimmed glasses on that cover, and yet you still say it’s ” very offensive.” Villains are normally depicted as ugly in old comics, regardless of race. And what makes you an authority on what a “stereotypical manner” is? Are you Asian? The Chinese woman on the cover looks perfectly fine to me. No “offensive stereotype” there. Maybe the problem is with you rather than the cover itself. If someone sees everything through the prism of race, always focusing on and noticing race all the time, rather than just seeing people as human beings and not different races to be always noticed, your problems with how you see “racial stereotypes” may greatly diminish.

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Joseph Overaitis September 20, 2022 - 6:12 pm

Sean

Things I find offensive are people who tip poorly to their waitstaff because I was a waiter. You are correct I am not asian and therefore for this piece I asked some hobbyists that were asian about the book. The first thing they found offensive and very stereotyped was the title character. If you look at the eyes they said you see no pupils or iris of the eyes. They found it stereotypical in nature because of a derogatory slang term prevalent during that time used to describe asians based upon their eye appearance. The character was not just old and ugly, but that feature made it offensive.

Sean you make an assumption based that this was my personal view. Most of my articles are researched. Yellow Claw 1 has the first appearance of Jimmy Woo. Many people wanted to add this but some were turned off because of the imagery of the villain. That required me to research it and find out what was turning people off of a MCU character that has now appeared in two different MCU properties. Sean you did not not see it but the asian people I ask did see the offensive imagery.

Your belief though that I was pointing it our because I do not see people as human beings was misguided. I have been called a left wing liberal and a right wing ultra mag conservative in private messages that do not get posted. I actually was called both of those for the same article LOL. All people are human beings and I love your view on that. The problem is that sometimes we do not know or see when we are hurting others regardless of race. It can be viewed as offensive to make fun of handicapped people but Johnny “Joey” Jones has it done to him all the time on Fox News. Jimmy Kimmel sees racism and sexism every where he looks and yet does not mention what was done on the Man Show.

The person in charge of that issue was Stan Lee. He is one of the least offensive people ever involved with comic books and he did exactly as you mentioned. He made the Heroic Jimmy Woo look good but in making the villain look evil he did so in a stereotypical way that asians find offensive. That was not his intent but now that is how people see the cover. That is the purpose of this article. Some things were meant to be offensive because of the times like war covers. Sexy covers always have been around but when do they cross the line to being offensive? The Haunted Tank was very popular but now because of one character is that book off limits based upon politics? And Yellow Claw had two characters of the same race displayed differently had one done in a way that many asians saw as offensive. Do we blame the artist and writers like Stan Lee? Do we collect it or not? There are many questions at play and thus the very purpose of the article. That is why I researched it and asked people. I truly value your post though Sean because again from my background I did not see some things but the books picked were by people who saw them as offensive, and I asked them why. Keep commenting because every comment makes us more educated on the way all consumers view the hobby.

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Steve September 19, 2022 - 2:13 pm

Just bought an inconsequential Mighty Marvel Western with a confederate flag on the cover. Said to my girlfriend, “ Yeah, that’s not likely to see a reprint…”

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Joseph Overaitis September 20, 2022 - 6:44 pm

Steve

Probably right. I wonder if it was one of the covers I researched because there were many to choose from for the list

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C. Uno September 20, 2022 - 12:29 pm

A note on Action Comics 58. It’s not the cartoon depiction of a Japanese soldier that’s controversial about the cover. It’s the phrase “slap a Jap.” “Jap” is the WWII version of the n-word and was very much derogitory. As a collector of Japanese heritage, I actually collect these to remember what my family had to deal with during WWII.

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Joseph Overaitis September 20, 2022 - 6:41 pm

C. Uno

Welcome to the boards and thank you for your input. I researched my article and asked people if they thought this and that cover was offensive. It was enlightening. I had one person who was of asian descent who viewed both the image and the phrase as offensive. That person was not as offended as they were of the image of Yellow Claw because they said there was a name that their relative was called that the image of the villain captured.

I value your comment on the way you collect it and thus I would love to know..how about other people. For me I love history and to remember the good, bad and ugly lest we forget. How do you view other people who collect those covers.

PS Great first comment..have to promise to bring more on all the topics!!!!

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An Zong September 21, 2022 - 10:55 am

Stereotypes go beyond physical characteristics. Yellow Claw, Fu Manchu and even Mandarin are symbols of what is known as yellow peril racism. They symbolically characterize a race, or ethnicity’s personality , which is even worse than a physical stereotype. Yellow Peril is conveniently omitted from most modern history lessons but is as and is still is a very real feeling in the Western world, the idea that the yellow race presents a global threat to the white race. Such feelings first came to the fore when the Japanese Army defeated Russia in 1905. This was shocking to Westerners that an army of East Asians could defeat an army of white people. It meant that colonialism and imperialism by white people, unoppossed, would be a thing of the past. Yellow peril soon became a common phrase found in newspaper articles, political speeches and political cartoons referring to Japan. But China was also quickly in the minds of theorists because of their vast population. The theory became that China only needed to right leader to command the vast Chinese armies to overwhelm the Western nations and repay them for imperialism. For the first time anti-yellow hatred became not about immigration of Asians but about the power of Asia to fight the white civilization, a fear that would soon find its way into mainstream novels like The Rising Tide of Color Against White World Supremacy hinted at in the book Great Gatsby.

This new civilizational fear led to the creation of a host of villian characters which stereotypical Asian features or names like Fu Manchu, Ming the Merciless, Romulans, Khan Noonish Singh etc.
Characters like yellow claw represent something far worse than ugliness. The represent a fear of the Eastern races, culture, and people. They essentially play in the stereotype that anyone of the yellow race is a potential threat to white civilization. In fact, this became so much of a fear that even the term yellow and mongoloid are viewed as derogatory though there is no identical word to replace it. (Asian is too broad a term to represent a race) What this fear led to is not often recognised, but two atomic bombs, various massacres in Korea and Vietnam – wars where fighting was often couched with racial terms, Concentration camps for Japanese Americans down to 1/16 blood quantum unless you were married to a white man and could prove you were not culturally japanese…

Of course we don’t need to look far to see that Yellow Peril as a racist trope never left the mainstream. We now simply use more civilised language to communicate the same racial fears, a point mentioned in The Yellow Peril, Dr. Fu Manchu and the Rise of Chinaphobia.

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Joseph Overaitis September 21, 2022 - 3:09 pm

An Zong

Welcome to the boards. Many people do not realize that most races and groups faced backlash in one way or another. Sometimes you will see old signs like Irish/Polish/Italians need not apply. One of the reason I chose this comic was because it involved Stan Lee who was the least likely person you would think would ever want to offend someone. The time frame of the issue was significant because of WWII, Korean and Vietnam Wars as you mentioned but also that the hero of the issue is also of asian descent.

The Villain was trying to help the Chinese take over the world because their invasion of Taiwan failed because of the US presence. The hero was trying to stop them. I ask you then An Zong based upon your knowledge of the topic…do you think this was meant to be more yellow peril directed to a race or to a nation? Technically if you took away the title and the character’s imagery, then the story could play out right now with the current world events. I dont think Stan Lee intended this to be offensive so maybe he did not understand how it was controversial. I like to think he made this about a nation and instead of going after the russians he used the chinese as the enemy in the US’s fight against communism during that era.

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An Zong September 21, 2022 - 4:44 pm

Yellow peril has always been about race. At various times different nations become the primary threat in the Western mind. China is always part of yellow peril racism because of their massive population size and historical influence in Asia. Even in the early 1900s , it was feared China would come under the control of Japan. When Russia became a Bolshevik nation, Russians became seen as partially racially yellow as well. It was feared that China and Russia combined would endanger the West as a racial threat. In 1945 General Patton said ”
“The difficulty in understanding the Russian is that we do not take cognizance of the fact that he is not a European, but an Asiatic, and therefore thinks deviously. We can no more understand a Russian than a Chinaman or a Japanese, and from what I have seen of them, I have no particular desire to understand them, except to ascertain how much lead or iron it takes to kill them. In addition to his other Asiatic characteristics, the Russian has no regard for human life and is an all out son of bitch, barbarian, and chronic drunk”

This racial threat was illustrated from the start with Kaiser Wilhelm I’s drawing on Yellow Peril. In this drawing we see Japan and China combined represented by Buddha and a Dragon. It was Kaiser Wilhelm who did much to spread the idea of civilizational Yellow Peril.

Yellow Peril has been purposely hidden from the mainstream at the behest of American sometime allies and subordinates like China during WW2 and Japan after WW2. China petitioned the US govt about Fu Manchu and the character faded out of the mainstream. Before WW2 USA barred the racial equality act from the Versailles Treaty but when Bolshevism became the primary enemy, the overt nature of Yellow Peril had to be hidden to not alienate Asian allies and push them towards Bolshevism. Therefore, racial animosity had came to be expressed using political terms, directed towards nations that endangered Western supremacy and Western geopolitical interests, like Japan in the 90s and China in the 2010s.

Yellow Peril is a foundational aspect of Western views that evolved from Orientalism. It is never about nation, but about race, race that its not White can never be allowed to grow more powerful than the West. Just as anti blackness is being explored in mainstream society, Yellow Peril just be explored in further detail to understand now it influences politics today. And just as it influences politics , it influences cultural creations like comics and movies. Just a few years ago, the head of Marvel production said that no one cares about Asians. He them referenced their mass murder by Blade in the movies. Yellow peril is still with us because at the end of the day ” all Asians look the same ” in the eyes of the Westerner when push comes to shove. It is a subject intentionally under-explored.

The idea that “positive” Asian stereotypes exist like Shang Chi are just part of the dichotomy called Racist Love. Shang Chi fought against his father.

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Joseph Overaitis September 21, 2022 - 5:36 pm

An Zong

I love the comment boards because we can always talk without getting into crazy fights. I always liked Shang Chi. I viewed it as more a tale of nature vs nurture. I deal with a lot of children who come from bad homes or who were raised by abusive parents. I like to think that they can choose to do good. That is what I loved about his story. He was born and raised to be a tool of evil and instead he chose to do good. His story could have had him be african american, caucasian, hispanic, muslim, or whatever. That is what I took from his stories.

Again that is why though I asked about yellow claw 1. For me it is not about the group but rather about the individual. I always get all those bad lawyer jokes and yet i always wish they viewed us as individuals instead of lumping into a group. The Tom Brady commercial where he says do not strive to be the next Tom Brady, but rather be the best you. I like that because it forces us to see people as individuals instead of putting people in boxes of groups..

Promise me though you will keep posting. I want to get people on these boards to actually have an open dialogue and to talk. We will never agree on everything because we are all unique, but we can at least talk to each other. So keep posting and let us know what you think.

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Matt A. September 22, 2022 - 8:27 pm

I mean, for real… if he is “Yellow Claw” then his hands must be yellow, he must have yellow skin, and that is never anything but an overt slur on people of Asian descent. And he is not a regular person anyway, he is a cartoon super-villain, emphasis on the cartoonish depiction of the aforementioned “Yellow Peril” syndrome (the banner even describes him as possibly NOT HUMAN, an important element of the Yellow Peril mythos). Sax Rohmer knew what that was and it sold him a whole lot of pulp novels. As to whether or not the comic is collectible, it absolutely would be for me. The colors and layout of the Joe Maneely cover are stunning…and Jimmy Woo! But it feels more like an “artifact” than a collectible. And I’m not giving up my collection of one of my favorite books of the Seventies, Shang-Chi: Master of Kung Fu… (whose father was Fu Manchu and for whom Yellow Claw is an obvious substitute) but I sure hope they never depict him that way again.

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Sean September 26, 2022 - 12:48 pm

You all are entitled to your opinions, but just remember they’re just opinions. There’s nothing objectively racist about that Yellow Claw cover. The Chinese man and woman on the cover look perfectly fine. And like I said, villains are depicted as ugly because they’re villains. And if there was a “yellow scare”, I’d say after Pearl Harbor got destroyed by the Japanese kamikaze pilots and the Japanese almost took over America, if not for the newly invented nuclear bomb saving America from a total takeover, such a worry was perfectly justified. Yes, there was racist depictions in comics, but seeing racism in everything lessens the actual meaning of real racism

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