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- "The whole furshlugginer operation" : the Jewish comic book industry, 1933-1954
- Mercier, Sebastian T.
- Electronic Theses & Dissertations
Over the course of the twentieth century, the comic book industry evolved from an amateur operation into a major institution of American popular culture. Comic books, once considered mere cultural ephemera or quite simply “junk,” became a major commodity business.The comic book industry emerged out of the pulp magazine industry. According to industry circulation data, new comic book releases increased from 22 in 1939 to 1125 titles by the end of 1945. Comic book scholars have yet to...
Show moreOver the course of the twentieth century, the comic book industry evolved from an amateur operation into a major institution of American popular culture. Comic books, once considered mere cultural ephemera or quite simply “junk,” became a major commodity business.The comic book industry emerged out of the pulp magazine industry. According to industry circulation data, new comic book releases increased from 22 in 1939 to 1125 titles by the end of 1945. Comic book scholars have yet to adequately explain the roots of this historical phenomenon, particularly its distinctly Jewish composition. Between the years of 1933 and 1954, the comic book industry operated as a successful distinct Jewish industry. The comic book industry emerged from the pulp magazine trade. Economic necessity, more than any other factor, attracted Jewish writers and artists to the nascent industry. Jewish publishers adopted many of the same business practices they inherited from the pulps. As second-generation Jews, these young men shared similar experiences growing up in New York City. Other creative industries actively practiced anti-Semitic hiring procedures. Many Jewish artists came to comic book work with very little professional experience in cartooning and scripting. The comic book industry allowed one to learn on the job. The cultural world comic books emerged out of was crucially important to the industry’s development. Comic strips, pulps, movies, and science fiction all inspired Jewish writers and artists. An exploration of the comic book industry’s working environment reveals how Jewish comic book writers, artists, editors, and publishers simultaneously created a space for themselves as Jews while developing successful comic book titles and characters. While many of them created an environment suitable to workplace camaraderie and collaboration, there were several areas of conflict. An investigation of these areas of conflict show how Jews responded to workplace disagreements, management exploitation, and battles over artistic credit. In particular, the practice of ghosting art remains a particularly contentious issue. Jewish writers and artists in the comic book industry did not form or join a labor union in order to protect their rights and interests. A consideration of this development shows that they stood in stark contrast to other industries with a large Jewish workforce. Finally, the examination of World War II through the comic book industry’s internal development provides a variety of different ways to unearth how the Jewish writers, artists, editors, and publishers shed their amateur roots and became a professionalized industry. This professional turn brought increased sales and increasingly mature content for an older readership. Many Jewish writers and artists feared being drafted into the military. However, those that were drafted came away from their experiences with a sense of pride and accomplishment. They could not foresee that their industry was coming under attack. Many comic book historians place the roots for the comic book industry’s cultural downfall in the 1950s. However, primary sources from the 1940s reveal that social critics and parents were already concerned about mature comic book content in the 1940s. Comic book publishers were slow to respond or outright ignored complaints from social critics and concerned parents.