The Unknown Anti-War Comics

The Unknown Anti-War Comics

Slightly more than three dozen Charlton anti-war comics stories from mid-1950s and 1960s are collected here, beginning with four tales from Never Again Nos. 1 and 8, the first anti-war comic (which appeared in only two non=chronologically numbered issues). The work of 15 artists includes eight stories by Ditko, but Bill Molno drew the most, twelve, and Ross Andru, Charles Nicholas, and Rocco “Rocke” Mastroserio are also represented almost as often as Ditko.

In his eleven-page essay, Craig Yoe rehearses the history of war and anti-war comics, observing that while crime and horror comics were severely restricted by the Comics Code of 1954, war comics were not scrutinized, “yet there is nothing more horrific or criminal than war” and “war comics, with their de facto acceptance of conflict as a solution, were printed in droves, programming malleable minds that war is ‘exciting.’”

Yoe has been involved with anti-war efforts since 1969 when he and Paul Mavrides produced an underground newspaper when in high school. There, he started a school club called the War Resisters League, and while in college at the University of Akron, he organized anti-war protests.

In his essay, Yoe quotes approvingly former general Dwight D. Eisenhower, who, while president of the U.S., was promoting “space for all mankind” and “space for peace,” writing: “Let us this time, and in time, make the right choice, the peaceful choice.” Observing that powerful weapons were being developed for possible use in space “which will greatly increase the capacity of the human race to destroy itself,” he went on: “Can we not stop the production of such weapons? ... Should not outer space be dedicated to the peaceful uses of mankind and denied to the purposes of war?”

“I like Ike,” Yoe says, finishing this segment of his essay by intoning Eisenhower’s presidential campaign slogan.

The stories, set in medieval as well as modern times and the future in space, are ironic parables that advocate against war and for peace with O. Henry twist endings.

In Never Again, one story traces the history of Chief Joseph of the Nez Perce tribe, who sought in the 1900s to avoid war with invading white legions by leading his people into Canada. Ultimately, Joseph failed to reach this haven. Exhausted by the thousand-mile trek, Joseph surrendered, saying, memorably, “I will fight no more, forever.”

Another Never Again tale takes place during the notorious Hundred Years War between France and England, 1340-1450. At the battle of Crecy, the British won because they deployed, for the first time in battle, the long bow, which was powerful enough to send lethal arrows over the heads of advancing French infantry to destroy the horsemen behind them. A wounded English soldier is convinced that the long bow will prove invincible and therefore will end war forever.

In another story, an old veteran sailor explains that he kept re-enlisting after World War I because each successive conflict he thought would be the last. World War I is represented in a story about two pilots, a German and an Englishman, who meet in the skies, knowing only one will be victorious.

Most of the stories, however, are in the category of science fiction from such Charlton titles as Strange Suspense, Mysteries of Unexplained Worlds, Space Adventure, Out of This World, Unusual Tales, and the like. Each story proves the error of human ways over and over again, as representatives of Earth resort to violence: they think they are protecting their civilization but they’re unknowingly killing peaceful aliens.

In one story, humans build a wall around an alien space ship, thinking that by confining the aliens, Earth will be safe. A delusion that persists even today.

Pat Boyette draws the book's longest tale, a multi-part story about a doomsday machine, which, set to destroy Earth if any atomic activity is detected, is almost inadvertently set off when an atomic-powered space vehicle returns to Earth from a long deployment in space, looking for survivors on Earth.

Yoe offers a fragment of broader comics history when he reports that Charlton was formed by John Santangelo and Ed Levy, who met while serving time in jail for relatively innocuous crimes—copyright violation and “some white collar crime.”

The artwork in these usually overlooked books is excellent—sturdy, workmanlike visual storytelling by people who can draw well. And do, as we can tell from the sample pages posted herewith. Charlton may not have paid well, but some pretty good artists plied their trade in the paycheck cellar.