This is the eightieth in a series of examinations of comic book urban legends and whether they are true or false. Click here for an archive of the previous seventy-nine. Click here for a similar archive, only arranged by subject.
COMIC URBAN LEGEND: Milton Caniff produced a comic book for the US Army titled “How to Spot a Jap.”
Milton Caniff is one of the most popular comic strip creators of all time, mostly due to the huge success of his comic strip, Terry and the Pirates, which he worked on from 1934-1946.
After he left Terry, Caniff was one of the very few comic strip creators to create a SECOND successful comic strip, this time wholly owned by Caniff himself, Steve Canyon, which he would work on for the next four decades, until his death in 1988.
While working on Terry, though, in 1942, Caniff (who always had a strong connection to the military throughout his career, even doing a second comic strip for the military only during World War II) produced a comic book insert on the behalf of the United States Army that would accompany troops bound for the Pacific Theater. The insert was part of a larger book that was titled “Pocket Guide to China,” and Caniff’s 11 page insert was devoted to “educating” the troops on the differences between the Chinese (the “good guys”) and the Japanese (the “bad guys”).
The insert had the unfortunate title: How to Spot a Jap.
Noted comic historian Ethan Persoff provides the scans of the comic I am using.
The book starred Terry and his friends as they explained to the reader the differences between the Chinese and the Japanese, and the lessons are fairly grim, in retrospect.
Here is an example (you can visit Persoff’s site to see a full version of the comic):
Not exactly our finest hour, in terms of cultural sensitivity, but certainly not one we can pin on Caniff, especially when Life Magazine, the previous year, was running articles like the following (click article to enlarge):
The inserts were removed from the pocket guides a few years later.
COMIC URBAN LEGEND: Comic books were used by both sides of the issue to sway public opinion surrounding the United States Supreme Court’s decision in Roe v. Wade.
As controversial and politically charged as the Supreme Court’s 1973 decision in Roe v. Wade is TODAY, more than thirty years later, you can only imagine how charged the issue was back in 1973, when the issue was just being decided.
Interestingly enough, comic books were used to sway the public, and by BOTH sides of the issue!
The first, courtesy of the then-two-month-old organization, Right to Life, was, at the time, the largest anti-abortion handout ever, is titled “Who Killed Junior?”
I will leave you to click on the link above if you want to see the actual comic, but a quick description is that it opens with a summary of the development of a fetus and then with the various methods of aborting the fetus. It is fairly graphic.
Here is a basic sample of what the pages are inside…
The counterpoint comic book, Abortion Eve, was an independent comic produced by Chin Lyvely and Joyce Sutton…
It involved various debates over the issue as well as tips on what you can expect during an abortion.
Here is a sample page (again, always feel free to visit Persoff’s site to see the full book):
Pretty heady stuff, eh?
Thanks, again, to Ethan Persoff, for his work finding these historical comic book oddities.
COMIC URBAN LEGEND: Uncle Ben tells Peter “With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility” in Spider-Man’s origin.
It has been memorialized in the first Spider-Man film, and it has been bandied about many times over the years (and in fact, if someone could ever prove to me who came up with the phrase, I’d give them seven cool points and I’d run it as an Urban Legends pieces of its own!), and yet, “With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility” was NOT said by Uncle Ben to Peter in Amazing Fantasy #15.
In fact, the phrase is not said to Peter by ANYone in the famous debut issue of Spider-Man!
Here is the only appearance of the phrase, at the very end of the issue…in a CAPTION box!!!
Note that the phrase is not even the same as we now remember it – “With great power, there must also come great responsibility”!!
Thanks to reader John McDonagh for recommending this one.
Okay, that’s it for this week!
Feel free to drop off any urban legends you’d like to see featured!