Welcome to the four hundred and twenty-sixth in a series of examinations of comic book legends and whether they are true or false. Click here for an archive of the previous four hundred and twenty-five. This week, did Superman comics inadvertently lead to kids in Bosnia intentionally entering minefields? Were the Dreadnoks originally going to be anthropomorphic BEARS?!? Was a comic book story reprinted twice times in ten years...with a different lead character each time?!
NOTE: The column is on three pages, a page for each legend. There's a little "next" button on the top of the page and the bottom of the page to take you to the next page (and you can navigate between each page by just clicking on the little 1, 2 and 3 on the top and the bottom, as well).
COMIC LEGEND: Superman comic books about the dangers of landmines inadvertently led to children in Bosnia going into minefields because they wanted to meet Superman.
STATUS: I'm Going With False
Reader Jonathan S. wrote in with this suggestion based on a recent piece he saw on reddit that cited the following:
An unfortunate outcome of this apparently well-thought-out production was that some Bosnian children actually entered a minefield because they wanted to see Superman come rescue them.
The discussion here is related to the 1996 Superman giveaway comic book Superman: Deadly Legacy, about the dangers of landmines.
It was given out in Bosnia. A few of the sample comics (especially those given to UN peacekeepers there) were in English, but the vast majority of the giveaways were in the two main languages of the area. Here are some samples from the comic in English (the book was written by Louise Simonson and was drawn by Kieron Dwyer)...
Now, the effects of these comics have been studied over the years, but a major problem with the studies (admitted in the studies) that it is pretty difficult to gauge the effectiveness of these materials in places like Bosnia where the population was constantly being spread about. There was not enough manpower to accurately test these things. However, the Geneva International Centre for Humanitarian Demining (GICHD) DID do a study on the effectiveness of propaganda tools (including comics) in the cases of Cambodia, Nicaragua and Kosovo. Kosovo used basically the same comic that was used in Bosnia, just with slight alterations. Nicaragua used a different comic book starring Superman and Wonder Woman.
In the Nicaragua study, they noted that:
Group participants who had used [the Superman and Wonder Woman comic book] to give talks or classes to children affirmed that their students’ comprehension of the messages was often mistaken, precisely because of the intervention of the comic book characters in the narrated story. In almost every case, children said that they would try to find minefields so as to be rescued and to meet the superheroes. The participants complained that this interpretation had caused significant problems, and its clarification cost them much time and effort.
So that would be on point. However, note that they said that children just SAID that they would try to do it (before being dissuaded). Nowhere do they specifically note that children DID go into minefields. Similarly, there have been no proof that any such instance took place in Bosnia, either. There have certainly been talk to that effect, but I've read a number of general studies on the effects of the comics in Bosnia and none of them have mentioned anything about children going into minefields. I have seen some criticism that suggests that PERHAPS children WOULD be willing to go into minefields to meet Superman and that was a criticism of the use of the comics (and a reason why most studies have shown that these comics are best used for children 10-up, as they fear that younger children COULD become confused and believe that Superman and Wonder Woman are real and that they could meet them if they went into minefields) but not that it actually happened. In addition, a whole lot of these studies have been critical of the comic, so they're not exactly trying to sugarcoat things in favor of the comics, so if they ever had instances of this happening, it would certainly be something they'd report on.
Now COULD it have happened? I would not be shocked, but I think such an occurrence would have gotten more attention and would have been featured in one of the many studies of the effects of these comics. So I am going to go with a false for this one.
Thanks to Jonathan for the suggestion! And thanks in particular to Delmont Stephens (who was actually in Bosnia as a UN peacekeeper back in the 1990s), who wrote a great paper back in 2011 sort of coalescing all the various studies on the use of comics (and other propaganda) in landmine education into one thoughtful paper.
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