Richard Young

Richard Young (PhD in History, 2022) ‘Dragging History Through the Gutters: War Comic Books, Civic Duty & American Popular Memory, 1952–1993′

The Cold War era (1945–1991) coincided with both the emergence and height of war comic books in the United States. Despite significant social, political, and comic industry shifts during this period, war comics remained a consistent presence in American culture. In this thesis, I examine the reasons for war comics’ continued success despite periods during the Cold War when comics were censored for their excessive violence and when military-themed culture declined. I also examine the ways in which these comics’ memorialisation of war contributed to contemporary debates about national identity and civic duty. From the late 1960s, comic creators and readers increasingly debated key issues about war, civic responsibility, and public protest. During this period, I argue that war comics promoted a populist anti-statist rhetoric that maintained the heroic ideal of the American soldier while at the same time reflecting public distrust of government institutions. In contrast to past studies of American war comics that predominantly portray these media as a form of unofficial government propaganda, I contend that war comics offered a space to contest the traditional American war story and ideas about civic duty. In doing so, war comics opened opportunities for seemingly polarised groups in American society, including Vietnam veterans and draft resisters, to form and share new narratives about war that transcended the conservative-liberal political divide of the post-Vietnam War period.

Supervisor: Professor David Goodman, Professor Antonia Finnane