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The Wednesday Waffle - Issue Six: A bit of Politics.

Politics in comics has become a bit of a "hot button" issue. "Keep politics out of comics!" cries one side, "Comics never used to be political!" "Nonsense!" Cries the other, "Comics have always been political!" Logic dictates both sides can't be right, so let's take a look, shall we?

Of course there is also some disagreement about what counts as "politics in comics". I have, for example, seen some negative online comment about the Heroes in Crisis series which features a mental health facility for superheroes along the lines of "As if Batman needs a safe space - why is DC pushing this political agenda?" and confess it baffled me because I genuinely don't see what the "political agenda" would be there.

And I guess that's the point. One reader's perfectly sensible plot point is another reader's source of political outrage. For the purposes of this discussion, we'll define "political" as "stories that comment on controversial issues of the day".

Now, one of the things people will point to when they argue that comics have always taken a political stance is stuff like this:

And this: which Captain America punches Hitler, while over at DC Batman, Robin and Superman exhorted readers to "sink the Japanazis" by buying war bonds and stamps.

Is this really "political" in the way the term is used in discussions about comics today though? I would say not. While government propaganda aimed to appeal to patriotism in time of war is most certainly political, it's not the kind of tribal politics we're dealing with today.

Back in the nineteen forties, as the Second World War raged, it seems to me unlikely that anyone would have complained about anti-Axis* bias, so while there is a political motivation behind these covers it would not have been seen as "political" or even controversial at the time.

So what would I class as politics in comics?

I'm glad you asked!

This whole post was inspired by an exchange I saw on Twitter between a well respected comics writer, and an individual who identified themselves as a "comicsgater".** The comics writer had written something that the "comicsgater" felt was political, and with which they disagreed. They suggested that the creator should concentrate on creating good stories and abandon what they described as "tribalism" and "identity politics". They also suggested that bringing politics into comics was a new phenomenon - a claim I have seen made online rather a lot over the past year or so.

And you see, the thing is, whatever the merits of the political arguments and standpoints you see in comics today it simply isn't true to claim that comics have never discussed controversial political issues through their stories in the past. I can't claim that the comics I was reading in the eighties were hotbeds of dissent, but one example immediately sprang to mind, so we'll take it as a case study.

This example: