Friday, July 3, 2009

Interpreting the News

Interpreting the News
By Joseph MacSween
Lethbridge Herald, May 23 1962.

It was probably inevitable that the trend of United States comic strips would eventually draw a blast from Soviet officials. Some “funnies” have already caused uneasy comment at home.

For Vyacheslav N. Bounine, first secretary of the Russian embassy in Tokyo, it was just too much that a pig starring in the current episode of Pogo looks curiously like Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev.

Bounine wasn’t comforted when the cartoon character – instead of confining himself to oink-oinks – began spouting proverbs in the manner of Khrushchev.

Chatting with a well-bearded goat who bears a striking resemblance to Premier Fidel Castro of shortage-ridden Cuba, the talkative porker declaims:

“You forget prominent proverb! Very funny in Russian: The shortage will be divided among the peasants.”

Pogo artist Walt Kelly has used satire against figures of both left and right in the political field. He depicted the late senator Joseph McCarthy as Simple J. Malarkey and recently published a collection of strips dealing with the Jack Acid Society, aiming at the rightist John Birch Society.

But at least one magazine -- the New Republic – has carried criticism of a new trend in U.S. so-called comics, naming of all people, Little Orphan Annie as the chief offender -- “presenting real political situations at home and abroad, often with extremist right-wing solutions.”

Ben H. Bandikian wrote in the New Republic that “the old pow! zock! blooey! school of humor in the next-to-last page of the paper is becoming illustrated political propaganda.”

Things had changed since 1947 when author Coulton Waugh was able to speak in his book The Comics of a not-so-unwritten law that comics syndicates kept out of politics.

Even loveable old Maw Green – inspired no doubt by foreign aid debate in Washington – recently told a tax-collector: “Try an’ give my money to some really nice country, eh?”

Bagdikian is intrigued by the way little Orphan Annie, who is really 37 years old although ever a little girl, toppled Castro as Mustachio Toro, dictator of Tributo.

The writer once counted 75 men killed or maimed in Annie’s strip in 3 months, “all done in with patriotic righteousness.” Other un-comic examples:

A high-busted lady in the aviation strip Smilin’ Jack was recruited as a double agent against a spy ring at Cape Canaveral.

Terry Lee of Terry and the Pirates, having foiled a Russian attempt to cover up a man-in-space failure in the Pacific, flew to Berlin where one of his men became entangled with a ballerina who was really working for her maid, a soviet spy, a ringer for Mrs. Khrushchev.

Joe Palooka rescued an American scientist from Communist agents in Austria.

Buz Sawyer marshaled the South Vietnamese to fight Red guerrillas from North Vietnam.

*See also Comic Strips, Cold War and Vietnam HERE

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