How comic books played a major role in Cold War propaganda


Robert A. Cohn, Editor-in-Chief Emeritus

In this vivid, lurid new book, Paul S.  Hirsch, a visiting history scholar at the University of Texas, compellingly explores the surprising extent to which the once lowly comic book industry was exploited by both sides of the Iron Curtain during the Cold War.

Hirsch’s newly released tome, “Pulp Empire: The Secret History of Comic Book Imperialism,” picks up the narrative where other comics scholars have largely left off — after World War II ended by 1945 with the unconditional surrender of the Axis Powers: Fascist Italy, Nazi Germany, and militarist Japan. The dominance of Jews among the story writers and illustrators at DC, Marvel and Fawcett assured the enthusiasm with which comic creators used their medium to target the antisemitic Nazis and their Axis Allies.

Hirsch points out cover stories in which Captain America and Superman deck Adolf Hitler.  A 1942 DC cover depicts Superman holding Hitler and Japanese Premier Hedeki Tojo aloft. The DC, Marvel and Fawcett superheroes were firmly loyal to the United States. Even characters like Dagwood Bumstead and Donald Duck were enlisted on the side of the Allies from Pearl Harbor, to D-Day, and the horrific atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

In Hirsch’s book we are reminded of how chillingly “accepting” Americans were of nuclear weapons. Walt Disney ran a pro-nuke 1947 Donald Duck cartoon strip that depicted Donald selling fake hair-growing medicine to residents of Duckburg whose hair fell out after an atomic attack. And who can forget the idiotic “Duck and Cover” cartoons in which an animated turtle urged kids to duck under their desks in an atomic or H-bomb attack.


Comic books like “Two-Fisted Tales” continued to support American wars through the Korean War, but the strong anti-war movement during the Vietnam War essentially ended that support.

The actual use of atomic weapons since 1945 has been unthinkable until recently when Russian President Vladimir Putin placed his nuclear assets on high alert.

“Pulp Empire” is an important addition to the growing library of books that are “serious” about comics. Hirsch also includes hundreds of eye-catching covers and comic strips. A must read for both scholars and fans.