Comic Books and the Holocaust

Posted by admin on October 1, 2022 in Spotlight |

By Aaron Herman

How do you teach future generations about the holocaust. One of the key elements of connecting to future generations is connecting to them on their level. Comic books are a unique way to tell difficult stories through a lens that can connect to children through a unique lens. In a book called book called We Spoke Out: Comic Books and the Holocaust by legendary comic artist Neal Adams, Holocaust scholar Rafael Medoff and comics historian Craig Yoe (Yoe Books/IDW Publishing) documents that effort and gathers 18 of the landmark stories from the 1950s through the 1980s into a single collection. Unusually, the book includes reprints from both DC and Marvel, as well as a handful of other publishers, under the same cover.

“It’s an incredibly rare event when competitors DC and Marvel join forces–but then again, there has never before been a book like this!” said editor Craig Yoe, who spearheaded the project. “These top publishers saw their social responsibility and the unique opportunity to strongly and in unison speak out.” We Spoke Out also includes a Batman story from 1971 called “Night of the Reaper,” written by Denny O’Neil and drawn by Adams in his trademark realistic and dramatic style. It’s another tale of a Holocaust survivor seeking justice against the perpetrators, and it raises some difficult questions about lines that even victims should not cross.

Marvel also addressed the legacy of the Holocaust in many of its comics. “I take great pride in the role comic creators played in introducing this topic,” wrote Stan Lee in his introduction to We Spoke Out. Nazis turned up frequently as villains in Marvel comics during the 60s and 70s, but the company usually addressed the underlying issues of racism and fear through metaphor and subtext, as in the saga of the X-Men, a team of mutants irrationally despised for their difference from ordinary humans.

In one issue, Uncanny X-Men #161, the subtext became explicit when writer Chris Clarement filled in the backstory of the X-Men’s greatest foe, Magneto.

“I was trying to figure out what the most transfiguring event of our century that would tie in to the super-concept of the X-Men as persecuted outcasts,” said Claremont in an interview quoted in the book. “It had to be the Holocaust. One I found a point of departure for Magneto, all the rest fell into place, because it allowed me to turn him into a tragic figure who wants to save his people.”

We Spoke Out is an important, and unfortunately timely, reminder of how a popular artform dealt straightforwardly with troubling recent history: not by equivocating or shrinking from controversy, but by taking sides.

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