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‘The Unknown Anti-War Comics!’ (review)

Written and Illustrated by Various
Edited by Craig Yoe
Introduction by Nate Powell
Foreword by Noel Paul Stookey
Published by IDW Publishing/Yoe Books

 

In art, there are many ways to express a thought, an emotion, or an opinion. It can be as subtle as a gentle breeze or as aggressive as a rock through a window.

Conveying anti-war sentiments can go from one extreme to the other, often being misunderstood as sarcasm or even naivety.

In any case, the seed of the message is planted and it is up to the receiver to let it wither and die or to let it prosper and grow.

While newspapers gave us facts and figures, television painted a different picture of war.

Thanks to news broadcasts, we learned that war was never pretty. When ‘art’ and creativity stepped in, shows like Hogan’s Heroes and M.A.S.H. showed us that that there was a very sympathetic human side to war. These shows featured characters that had to deal with the atrocities of war, albeit with a sense of humor. War was and is NOT funny, but the strength of the human spirit can protect us from the anguish that we would normally feel if we were caught in a situation that we didn’t choose to be in.

While TV may or may not have been an accurate portrayal of real people, the message was clear – war is a very bad and unfortunate by-product of humanity’s inability to get their shit together.

Unsurprisingly, while nobody was paying attention, there were many messages buried inside Cold-War era comic books that we often didn’t fully comprehend until they started sprouting in our minds, spurred on by maturity and our interactions with the real world. Most comic books throughout the years have embraced the basic concept of war as ‘good vs. evil’. However, there are two sides to every story. Not all comics endorsed and exploited the concept of war.

Case in point: The Unknown Anti-War Comics! (published by Yoe Books/IDW, the same company that gave us the emotionally powerful We Spoke Out: Comic Books and the Holocaust). Inside these pages, you’ll find an array of largely obscure stories taken from the pages of long-forgotten (and out-of-print) comic books like Never Again, Space War, Children of Doom, and other titles, originally published by the scrappy underdog publisher Charlton Comics. You’ll find storylines that travel back in time (to the 100 Years War and WWI) and a series of stories set in the not-too-distant future (2055, to be exact). You’ll encounter struggles, heartache, and (spoiler alert) victories for pacifism scattered throughout the pages of this beautifully packaged hardcover book. There’s no iconic ‘superheroes’ appearing in these pages, we are introduced to characters much like ourselves. Real people. Heroes without super powers or capes.

One story in in particular is eerily prescient. “No Common Ground” is about aliens, ”people of peace” from a dying planet seeking refuge. The earth leader says, “we will build a wall… an impenetrable wallop steel-like substance” to contain the aliens and threatens to “bring our armed forces in play.” I’ll leave you to read the dramatic and heartwarming ending involving earth and alien children, but suffice it to say as the comic book story concludes, we discover that “a little child shall lead them.”

With artwork by many legends including Steve Ditko (Spider-Man and Doctor Strange) and stories penned by the likes of Joseph P. Gill, this book reprints powerful tales that, on first glance, may not all seem to convey the same message but once you settle in to read The Unknown Anti-War Comics!, they all make sense. From the trenches of known world wars to outer space, these stories convey thoughts of hope, understanding, and peace. Each story is a four-colored protest song printed on paper – let your imagination construct the melody.

Speaking of protest songs, the foreword is written by none other than Noel Paul Stookey of Peter, Paul, And Mary fame. This is a man who knows about the travesties of war, yet he knows so much about the glory of love as well. He did write the enormously popular and powerful “The Wedding Song (There Is Love)”, you know. There are few artists out there who could successfully convey the feelings peace and love in a time of war like Noel Paul Stookey. The comics style introduction of the book was written and drawn by National Book Award winner Nate Powell (of the civil rights book MARCH fame), a respected voice in the comic book industry. The Unknown Anti-War Comics! is a release that is lovingly compiled and there is a clear and definite message of hope here within these pages. And like our realities, hope is what keeps us moving forward.

 

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