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To see complete versions of more than 200 titles that the U.S. Government Printing Office, the U.S. Department of Labor, and countless other federal and state agencies have published over the years, see the online collection at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s website.
Here are 5 notable titles the government published during the Wertham era.
1. The Life of Franklin D. Roosevelt, 32nd President of the United States
Date published: 1943
Government agency: Office of War Information, U.S. Government Printing Office
“It’s time for us to stop bureaucratic organizations from using public funds in such a way,” charged Congressman John Taber (R-NY) in 1943 when, in the midst of World War II, the Office of War Information issued this 16-page cartoon biography of President Franklin Roosevelt.
Accurately noting the publication’s lack of information that would be useful to soldiers on a fighting front, Taber characterized the effort as “purely political propaganda…designed entirely to promote a fourth term and dictatorship.” According to him, it looked as if it were created by the artist “who gets up Tarzan for the funny papers.”
Certainly it presents Roosevelt, who in addition to being paralyzed from the waist down, was then suffering from high blood pressure, coronary artery disease, and a range of other ailments, with Tarzan-like vigor. Kicking off with a panel that illustrates Roosevelt’s shooting prowess as a young lad, the comic book presents Roosevelt as a rugged and dynamic presence, playing football at Harvard, sailing the high seas, restoring American prosperity with giant public works projects, and earlier in his life, sort of licking some mysterious malady that left him unable to be depicted standing up: “Roosevelt’s determined fight amazed physicians. His recovery became almost complete…”
On November 7, 1944, President Roosevelt convincingly won his fourth presidential election. Score one for Wertham?
2. United States Marines #3: A Leatherneck Flamethrower
Artist: Mart Bailey, Wood Cowan, Ogden Whitney, Ray McGill
Writer: Milburn McCarty
Date published: 1944
Publisher: Government Enterprises
This commercial title, available at newsstands alongside the crime and horror comics that would cause such a national uproar during the late 1940s and early 1950s, was intermittently published by a private corporation but reviewed and cleared by the U.S. Marine Corp. Unlike government titles charged with turning sewage treatment processes or Social Security benefits into the stuff of page-turning drama, this title featured government work in all its two-fisted, action-packed glory, with page after page of machine-gun strafing, saber disembowelings, and other vividly rendered war-time carnage. Issues like this one also featured dozens of actual black-and-white photographs of Marines in combat—hanging out in foxholes, poking enemy dead with bayonets, carrying their wounded brethren on stretchers.
In Government Issue, Richard Graham notes that while many commercial newspaper comic strips featured content depicting the war, including depictions of “Nazis as Teutonic buffoons and the Japanese as blood-drooling torturers,” the Office of War Information worried that such depictions were “too simplistic and could lead to over overconfidence” because they portrayed “the enemy as lazy and posing little threat.”
Perhaps that’s why on the cover of this Marine-approved comic, Prime Minister Tojo is depicted as a lively eight-legged sea-monster.