A (not so) Forgotten War: The Korean Conflict as a Turning Point in the History of the War Comics Genre
Keywords:Comics studies, Korean War, war literature, propaganda, counter-narrative
The Korean War did not leave a long-lasting mark in cultural memory, and it is usually described as the “Forgotten War.” This (partial) oblivion might be attributed to the fact that this war did not represent either a victory or a loss, but a ‘tie.’ The Korean War did not inspire as many novels or movies as the Second World War or the Vietnam War did (Rosso 2003). In sharp contrast to other media, in the 1950s, comic book publishers created a noticeable number of titles addressing the American military involvement in Korea (Rifas 2021). In this paper, I would like to address the cultural importance of these comics showing how they anticipated some of the themes (and fracture) that would emerge within America during the Vietnam War thanks to the Civil Rights Movement and the counterculture. Indeed, one can already observe the existence of two conflictual narratives.
On one hand, building up on the medium tradition (as a propaganda tool), war comics tried to reaffirm the values of patriotism and duty, embodied by white masculine men fighting the Red (racialized) menace overseas, recirculating the same anti-Asian stereotypes used against Japanese during World War II. At the same time, their casting of women in traditional gendered roles foreshadows an important theme of the 1980s revisionist narrations of the Vietnam War, the “remasculinization of America” (Jeffords 1989).
On the other hand, EC (War) comics started to question authority and official narratives, giving a more realistic portrayal of the war. They did not hesitate to describe its degrading aspects and moral contradiction. These comics were socially relevant as they provided the medium with models of dissent, which would be further developed during the Vietnam era.
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