I was thinking about this the other day, a couple of asks sent out anonymously (one of which went to gingerhaze on tumblr, actually, I think more than just one, but anyway) stating that comics were made for men, escapism for men.
I think it’s obvious that the people who say and believe that, have their heads firmly planted in their assholes.
Comics never had the intention of being marketed to one gender or another. As a matter of fact, during the 1950s, more comics were read by women than men. It was about 55% women, and 45% men. But comics had a very interesting beginning.
The first comics were political satire that were printed in newspapers dating back to the 1700s (and earlier in some regions). They would poke fun at politicians and slam their political views. In some cases, those political views would turn out to be something that was pretty good. But those were the first comics to be seen until the late 1800s when the Yellow Kid appeared.
The Yellow Kid first appeared in 1895 in New York World and the New York Journal, a couple of magazines in the Big Apple. He was a character in the cartoon strip Hogan’s Alley. The strip ran for three years in those publications and was full of satire. The reason why the Yellow Kid is considered the first comic strip is because the publishers and creator (Richard F. Outcault) saw the potential for merchandising the character’s likeness. There was already a popularity with the Yellow Kid and Hogan’s Alley, and they saw another avenue to potentially exploit.
Comics also developed years later thanks in part to pulp fiction. Pulp fiction was fast, easy to read, and thoroughly entertaining. The serialized books brought readers back again and again. These pulps had dime novels and penny dreadfuls to thank for that, because those books and magazines brought out a great deal of interest in serialized stories. Comics would follow this aspect to keep people coming back for more.
The biggest push for comics wasn’t that they were for men. Publishers, and the government saw comics as a way to get public opinion on their side. That’s right, what we deem the modern age of comics originated as propaganda. As the Second World War progressed, there was pressure against the United States to enter the war in Europe. But the people, and the government, wanted to remain neutral and peaceful. They didn’t want to be dragged into the war as what had happened in World War I.
There were some in government, military and even publishing, that saw a gold mine of a way to get people interested and behind the States going to war in Europe. The first was through movies. Canada had already backed Britain and had sent troops off to Europe in support of the Allied armies. In the United States, they used the advancement of Canadian ground forces and airmen as a way to get the American public behind the war in Europe. One such movie was called Captains of the Clouds, starring James Cagney.
Brian MacLean (James Cagney), Johnny Dutton (Dennis Morgan), “Tiny” Murphy (Alan Hale, Sr.), “Blimp” Lebec (George Tobias), and “Scrounger” Harris (Reginald Gardiner) are Waco-flying bush pilots competing for business in rugged Northern Ontario, Canada in 1939, as the Second World War is beginning. Dutton flies by the book but MacLean is a seat-of-the-pants kind of pilot, mirroring the differences in their personalities.
When Dutton saves MacLean’s life by transporting a doctor under dangerous flying conditions, MacLean is grateful. He steals and marries Dutton’s badly-behaved girlfriend Emily Foster (Brenda Marshall) in order to save him from a life of misery. Dutton, however, does not understand that MacLean’s actions are an act of kindness, and so he abruptly ends their friendship. Depressed, Dutton gives his savings to charity and enlists in the Royal Canadian Air Force.
Later, after hearing Winston Churchill‘s “We shall fight on the beaches” speech on the radio, MacLean and the other bush pilots attempt to enlist in the air force, only to discover that they are too old for combat. They reluctantly agree to train as flight instructors for the Commonwealth Air Training Plan. Their superior officer is none other than Dutton. MacLean’s brash and fiercely independent nature clashes with the military way of doing things, and he inevitably washes out. For revenge, he and “Tiny” buzz the airfield in their bush planes when renowned Canadian First World War ace Air Marshal William “Billy” Bishop (playing himself) is speaking during the group’s graduation ceremony. During the buzzing,”Tiny” suffers a blackout (loss of vision due to g-forces), crashes the plane and dies.
When two transport aircraft crash, killing all 44 ferry pilots aboard, there is a desperate call for pilots to transport a group of unarmed Lockheed Hudson bombers from Newfoundland to Britain. MacLean pretends to be Murphy and volunteers to fly one. He finds himself commanded by Dutton, who recognizes him, but nonetheless permits him to fly. Near the coast of the British Isles, the bombers are attacked ruthlessly by a single German fighter plane, a Messerschmitt Bf 109. “Blimp” Lebec’s plane is shot down, and it becomes clear that the Messerschmitt intends to pick off the bombers one by one. After MacLean’s British navigator “Scrounger” is killed by the German pilot’s machine gun fire, MacLean uses his superb flying skills to crash his unwieldy bomber into the nimble fighter plane, sacrificing himself to save the remainder of the group.
Comics were used effectively in this effort. Characters such as Captain America, Superman, Wonder Woman and the Justice Society fought against the Nazis and even Adolph Hitler himself. Readers ate it up. Men and women. They’d come back each month to see how Captain America or Superman would defeat the Nazis.
And comics were far from escapism. They mirrored real life in those early years. They depicted a war torn Europe, or Nazis sympathizers in the States. They took current events that were happening as they were writing these stories, and flavoured the scenes with the characters they’d created. It was far from escapism. It was more akin to hope that the greatest good could defeat the most horrifying evil. And the American public still hadn’t yet learned of the concentration camps where millions of Jews, Romani, gay, lesbian, and others that Hitler and the Nazis had killed.
Even today, comics mirror real life. They take current events and twist them into the story fabrics that these characters exist in. Saying they are an escape, a total escape from real life, is incredibly naive. Sure, they do allow for an escape. An escape of the individuals life. That’s just one person. But, comics mirrored life that we all live in, and continue to do so today.
So saying comics were made for men, just shows how ignorant a person is about the history of comics.