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