Discover the importance of comic books during World War II – Kearney Hub

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Comic books played an important part in keeping up the morale during World War II. Historian James Kimble will talk about the role of the literature in a talk, “Comic Books, Superheroes & WWII,” at noon on Jan. 12 at Kearney Public Library. Admission to the event is free.
WWII veteran Dr. John Long talks about the great sacrifice made by Americans during World War II which made the United States “the greatest country in the world.”
KEARNEY – When most people think of cultural icons from World War II, they usually focus on middle-of-the-road images.
“We tend to think of Roosevelt and Rosie the Riveter,” said historian James Kimble. “We have these established myths, but we don’t think about comic books even though that was the golden era of comics.”
Regardless of perceptions, comic books played an important role on the home front during the war.
James Kimble
“I’ll talk about comic books and their propaganda value and how they might have influenced Americans – and not just kids but adults as well,” Kimble said in a conversation from his home in New Jersey.
The former Norfolk native will give a talk, “Comic Books, Superheroes & World War II” at noon on Jan. 12 at Kearney Public Library. Admission to the event, designed for patrons 18 and older, is free. Patrons are also invited to bring their lunch to the lecture.
What: “Comic Books, Superheroes & WWII,” a lecture by James Kimble
When: noon, Jan. 12
Where: Kearney Public Library at 2020 First Ave.
Admission: Free
Contact: 308-233-3282;
Kimble plans to explore the history of comic books during his presentation. He describes himself as a WWII propaganda historian. Kimble, who works as a professor of communication in the arts at Seton Hall University in New Jersey, has spent a great deal of time at the National Archives in Washington, D.C., immersing himself in the culture of the 1940s.
“During the war, they were a brand new medium,” Kimble said of comic books. “They emerged during the Depression in the 1930s. And because they are a brand new genre, they don’t have a lot of rigid, exclusionary policies yet. If you’re a refugee, particularly if you’re a Jewish refugee fleeing Hitler in Europe, you didn’t have as many options as you might have wished, but the comic book industry was wide open to you.”
In their stories, comic books foreshadowed the world-wide conflict.
“A lot of people writing, doing the artwork and the distribution of these comics knew very well what Hitler represented,” Kimble said. “At a very early point, long before the U.S. became directly involved in the war, the comic books were already at war.”
Educators appreciated the value of comic books because children spent time reading.

“They also worried that kids were reading way too much of the comic books,” Kimble said. “It was a double-edged sword. But, yes, they had great educational value. There were organizations that met with comic book producers who saw them as purely educational vehicles. They created historical comic books and biographical comic books.”
With fast deadlines and quick turnaround times, the quality of the artwork suffered.
“That’s true especially if you looked at more contemporary standards,” Kimble said. “If you look at graphic novels today, they are usually a lot better drawn and produced. A lot of these operations were – well, I won’t say they were fly-by-night but they operated on a pretty low margin and didn’t pay a lot. You didn’t necessarily get the top artists unless you were at the early equivalent of Marvel or of D.C.”
Officials had concerns about the graphic nature of some of the comic books. After the war, the option of censorship came up.
“People said we need to censor these comic books because they are so incredibly violent,” Kimble said. “They are probably harming our kids.”
In the 1940s, groups burned boxes of comics as a reaction to the violent content. In 1954, the Comics Magazine Association of America created the Comics Code Authority which set standards for censoring comic books.
“One of the images I’ll show toward the end of the lecture is of a photo from the United States, ironically just after the Nazis had been defeated, of parents burning comic books with a big bonfire,” Kimble said. “This movement really became very powerful.”
His own mother threw away his collection of comic books.
“I miss them dearly,” Kimble said. “I happen to think that they were an important part of my education. I know for sure that the word ‘stamina,’ in my vocabulary came from reading comic books because I remember looking up the meaning when I saw it.”
The historian only owns four comic books, something he uses as pass-arounds during his lectures.
During his research on propaganda of WWII, he found a compelling interest in editorial cartoons and comic books from the era.
Although he lives in New Jersey, Kimble still maintains strong ties to Nebraska. He is part of the Nebraska Humanities speakers bureau. In 2014 he wrote “Prairie Forge: The Extraordinary Story of the Nebraska Scrap Metal Drive of World War II,” a book-length history of scrap metal drives.
“If folks would like to bring in their own collection of golden age comic books to the lecture, that would be awesome,” Kimble said.
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During 2022 I was able to report several times on one of my favorite topics – cars – and the Fave 5 pick is an example of why I am interested in reporting on cars. I also enjoy reporting about people, and I feel I was extremely fortunate to interview heart transplant patient Roger Petersen and his family. They were open and honest about the experience, and they said it was humbling to think that the donor had lost their life in order for the organ transplant to occur.
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Comic books played an important part in keeping up the morale during World War II. Historian James Kimble will talk about the role of the literature in a talk, “Comic Books, Superheroes & WWII,” at noon on Jan. 12 at Kearney Public Library. Admission to the event is free.
James Kimble
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