THE UNKNOWN ANTI-WAR COMICS edited by Craig Yoe featuring art by Steve Ditko
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Charcterization
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Summary
Craig Yoe's collection of anti-war comics sheds light on the medium's ability to craft powerful social critiques. The comics, featuring the iconic artwork of Steve Ditko, draw from Cold War-era fears but present timeless visions of a peaceful future.
97 %
Powerful

War memorials dedicated to honoring those lost in conflict are sadly all too common. While they pay important tribute to thousands of lives, war memorials have the burden of honoring the deceased and reminding the living of the cost of war. But war memorials have a less common cousin: peace monuments. Peace monuments cast a hopeful look forward to a more peaceful future. Balancing the ideal of peace and the reality of war in artwork is particularly difficult. How does a society dedicate itself to peace when humans are so prone to violence? These are exactly the challenging questions posed in THE UNKNOWN ANTI-WAR COMICS, a historically significant collection edited by Craig Yoe featuring the artwork of famed SPIDER-MAN illustrator Steve Ditko.

THE UNKNOWN ANTI-WAR COMICS
Image courtesy of IDW Publishing.

Comics & Cold War History

THE UNKNOWN ANTI-WAR COMICS provides a nuanced and beautifully introspective look at comics’ relationship with narratives. The collection opens with a series of introductions starting with a comic by Nate Powell. Powell’s comic sets the context for the collection, specifically Cold War-era comics. Moreover, he discusses the importance of comics in critiquing conflict. Powell states, “Comics are uniquely suited to communicate the overarching themes featured here — doubt. Dissent. Horror. Hope. Other possibilities.” Powell’s assertion is apt. Comics appeal to many readers and address topics that other media avoids. However, as is true for many art forms, the history is more complicated.

That’s where Noel Paul Stookey (of Peter, Paul and Mary fame) and writer Craig Yoe come in. Both provide unique insight into the importance of the collection. In Yoe’s editor’s note, he points out that not only do comics portray violence and war, comics played an important role in entertaining the U.S. Armed Forces in WWII. Not all comics were uplifting, however. Yoe adds that many wartime and post-war comics were either extremist (i.e. ATOMIC WAR! or WAR STORIES) or problematic in other ways (i.e. the misogynistic elements of G.I. JANE series or the racist aspects of the BLACKHAWK series).

As a result of this careful curation, THE UNKNOWN ANTI-WAR COMICS helps make sense of comics’ use of war as a tool to engage readers. Importantly, Yoe captures why the once forgotten anti-war comics give readers a deeper understanding of the American war ethos and pop aesthetic.

THE UNKNOWN ANTI-WAR COMICS
Image courtesy of IDW Publishing.

Critical Sci-Fi: The Legacy of Steve Ditko

Although there are surely examples from other creators, THE UNKNOWN ANTI-WAR COMICS exclusively features the artwork of Steve Ditko. Ditko’s iconic artwork definitively captures the style of 1960s comics. The artist behind SPIDER-MAN and DR. STRANGE, Ditko has a knack for expressive faces and intense action. In THE UNKNOWN ANTI-WAR COMICS, Ditko’s imagination runs wild, capturing everything from WWII soldiers to Robin Hood-esque knights to strange aliens. The collection brings Ditko’s talent to the center stage, helping readers feel surrounded by the historical importance of the forgotten comics.

The Cold War was an interesting time for science fiction. And THE UNKNOWN ANTI-WAR COMICS proves that fear of atomic warfare and dreams of a more peaceful time were central in American culture. Occasionally didactic, the comics are overwhelmingly detailed. However, the works bear witness to the social attitudes about war and give readers a clearer vision of comics’ interaction with war as a theme.

THE UNKNOWN ANTI-WAR COMICS
Image courtesy of IDW Publishing

THE UNKNOWN ANTI-WAR COMICS: Politically Pointed

Readers should not be surprised that the anti-war comics are entrenched in war and violence. It is indeed through the violent scenes that the lesson on the tragedy of war becomes so profound. Although we may reasonably wonder if there could be a different way to condemn war and celebrate peace, the collection achieves its mission of being resoundingly anti-war.

The variety is astounding. Among the more lighthearted is a story of aliens who travel to earth only to discover that humans are terrible but dogs are worth saving (SPACE ADVENTURES #24, July 1958). However, a more troubling story predicts the arrival of peaceful aliens seeking refuge on earth. Earth’s humans immediately decide to build a wall around the visitors before trying to make them leave. Luckily, by the end of the story, the humans realize their cruelty and help the strangers (STRANGE SUSPENSE STORIES #66, August 1963).

Yoe masterfully highlights the ways comics speak to the fears of atomic warfare and plead for a more peaceful time. Although these comics evolved in the Cold War-era culture, they remain informative and timely for today’s readers. While some are dark and others are a bit kitschy, the comics emphasize love and the hope for a shared and peaceful future.

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