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Joel Grineau
by: Joel V. Grineau
Socially Conscious Comic Books

In the last 20 years socially conscious comic books have appeared which champion a cause. For example, in 1983 DC comics released a "New Teen Titans" comic, which was a part of "The President's Drug Awareness Campaign". It was a give-away comic book, which quickly rose in price to a dollar on the collectors market. Inside of it was an open letter by Nancy Reagan, to the youth of America to "Just say No" to drugs. (Of course, I'm still upset that Robin did not appear in the comic, because of contractual and copyright problems.)

A couple of years later, DC produced "Heroes against Hunger" (1986). The proceeds from the sales of this comic were donated to the Ethiopian Famine Relief fund.

As DC's premier hero, Superman was of course involved in "Heroes Against Hunger". He went on to star in "Superman: for Earth" (1991). This comic of course espoused the environmentalist/ green/ tree-hugger paradigm.

Not that long ago Vertigo got involved, when it released the non code-approved "Death Talks about Life" (1994). The message was that safe sex was the only sane way to have sex. It actually depicted the proper way to put on a condom (on a banana).

Marvel of course has also done a number of these socially conscious comic books. Spider-Man, being Marvel's most recognizable hero, has done the majority of them. First there was "Spider-Man vs. the Prodigy" (1976), which was about the importance of Sex Education. Then there was "Spider-Man, Storm and Powerman" (1982), the proceeds of which went to the American Cancer Society. Then Spider-Man did two comic books which dealt with the prevention of child abuse: "Spider-Man and Powerpack (1984)" and "Spider-Man and the New Mutants featuring Skids". Spider-Man returned to his anti-drug message with "Skating on Thin Ice" (1990). This comic was noteworthy in that the Canadian edition was set in Winnipeg, and it had been done by THE Spider-Man artist/writer of the time, Todd McFarlane.

Even the smaller companies have gotten involved. Malibu's Ultraverse did a benefit comic book for the floods of 1994. (Of course, there was no "Spawn" flood relief comic for Winnipeg, was there McFarlane?).

What I find most interesting about these socially conscious comic books is their subversive nature. How so you ask? Well look at the medium. As I have so often said, the majority of comic books are bought and read by preteens and teenagers. These cause-conscious comic books, are obviously trying to impart a message. The subversiveness then is that they are depicting morals: or morality, a moral code, a moral philosophy- take your pick. Such moral codes are embedded in the catch phrases: 'say no to drugs', 'be environmentally friendly', 'use a condom', 'if someone touches you . . .'.

Ironically, the "teaching" of values and morals must be handled with extreme care, if at all, in Canadian and U.S. schools, and yet, there they are in your local 7-11 comic book rack.

Joel Grineau is a former Writer/Contributing Editor for "Chaos" Magazine. "Iron Man" 146 (purchased in the spring of 1981) was his first comic book, and time has not worn down his enjoyment of them. Joel holds a BA from the University of Guelph and an MA from the University of Saskatchewan. He is currently an officer with the Canadian Forces.

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Text © Joel V. Grineau, 1997,1998.
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