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  • Comics and the World Wars: A Cultural Record by Jane Chapman, et al.
  • Winifred Morgan (bio)
Comics and the World Wars: A Cultural Record. By Jane Chapman, Anna Hoyles, Andrew Kerr, and Adam Sherif. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2015. 224 pp.

Aimed at historians, Comics and the World Wars focuses on comics not as a mode of humor but as a means of recovering the facts and feelings of historical events. As the forward and preface emphasize, this text makes the case for the significant utility of wartime [End Page 233] comics to historians attempting to understand the past. To this end, the introduction lays out the authors' primary methodological influences and offers an outline of the following chapters. The second chapter proposes a theory and method of incorporating comics as a primary source. It also uses a short study of Wonder Woman to illustrate how this can be done. Further chapters provide a history of wartime comics, focusing especially on some important actors in their development, and illustrate the contributions of particular artists and agencies.

The succeeding chapters deal with the work and influence of William Kerridge Haselden, a staff cartoonist for the British Daily Mirror (chapter 3); comics produced by British and colonial non-coms and their role in molding a new notion of heroism during WWI (chapter 4); the conscious depiction in labor movement papers of men who ignore their own self-interest as gullible dupes (chapter 5); the US government's effective use of comics to support its total war effort during WWII (chapter 6); contrasting images of women as either sex objects/domestic goddesses or as civilian war workers/combatants (chapter 7); and the clear alignment of the Communist British Daily Worker with the stance of the Russian government, illustrated by striking contrasts between cartoons published before and those published after Russia switched sides to join the Allies during WWII (chapter 8). The conclusion iterates the book's central argument and theory. Except for several references to Henri Bergson, Comics and the World Wars contains nothing about humor theory and little about humor itself in wartime comics. Instead, the text spells out the purposes to which humor is put, for example, to mold attitudes. Although the material in chapters 3 through 8 is often fascinating in itself, Comics and the World Wars will probably be of limited interest to readers more intent on humor than history.

The research resulting in Comics and the World Wars was funded by a four-year grant from the British Arts and Humanities Research Council. The acknowledgments page names Jane Chapman as principal investigator and also mentions that Adam Sherif and Andrew Kerr received funding as researchers from this grant. Many of the challenges and limitations in this text can probably be traced to its origins.

Because the authors labor to claim validity above all for comics as historical sources, the first two chapters are heavily laden with linguistic and historical theory; the style of those chapters is replete with the language of [End Page 234] social sciences, poststructuralism, and semantics. The language resembles that of a grant proposal. A short excerpt in which the authors introduce the concept of a cultural trace illustrates their style:

In analysis of these sources, though, it will also be important to ascertain more specific contextual detail in order best to assess potential historical content. Before moving to outline the methodology here, it remains to highlight that the notion of subject location, as coupled with an understanding of processes of narrativity and the inevitable role of subjectivity therein, must produce a result in the work itself. Because the rendering of narrative invariably entails subjective action, including the mediation of the present, the position of the subject in space and time must invariably bear some influence. Whether mediated consciously or subconsciously, subject location, to use the language of post-structuralism, leaves a trace.


The text lacks any indication of which author wrote each chapter. However, chapters 3 and following drop most of the jargon, passive voice, and interminable sentences. Collectively, much of what the authors argue is interesting if not particularly relevant to the humor found in the wartime comics examined. The...