Having very little interest in comic books, you’ll rarely find me writing about them. However, I came upon an article in, of all places, the Daily Worker (a communist newspaper), that comic book historians should find of interest. I reproduce it here under the assumption that not many people are trolling about in the archives of the Daily Worker seeking comic book history information, and with the hope that it will find its way to those whose interest lies in that closely related field. The story appeared in the May 21, 1944 issue.
COMICS GO TO WAR
This Negro Artist’s Drawings Are Fighting Our Enemies
by Eugene Gordon
Elmer C. Stoner agrees when you say there’s little that’s comic in the comic magazines. His opinion is worth something, for he draws comic continuities for a living.
Not only are they not funny; they’re not supposed to be — especially since Pearl Harbor. He says a growing bloc of progressive publishers is bringing enlightenment to the youngsters through the comic books.
But the fact behind that fact is that the artists who draw the comics have themselves gone to war. Not literally, in all cases, but in the sense that they are using all their talents in explaining the meaning of the war — how to win it.
Everybody who has seen War Heroes, with its stories of Douglas MacArthur, General Patton, and outstanding heroes of the merchant marine, has seen Elmer Stoner’s way of going to war. For these personages in War Heroes are Stoner’s creations. Millions of American kids — and many of their elders — see these comics every month. Millions are published for the armed services.
These came under the general head of True Comics. Even his Phantasmo, however, an imaginary figure of the Superman type, fights fascism — as does Superman. Comics like Stoner’s Phantasmo and Gang Busters perform stunts that are literally out of this world. These stunts, just the same, are usually demonstrations against wrongs and injustices and are, therefore, demonstrations in moral behavior.
Stoner’s Blue Beetle today holds very much the same kind of place that Phantasmo had. Stoner is working right now on a 30-page volume of the Blue Beetle continuity. This renowned counter-spy is known to our troops on all battlefronts, and, being the practical anti-fascist that he is, Stoner sees to it that the Blue Beetle carries a practical lesson.
Stoner’s True Stories continuities on Colin Kelly, Mayer Levin, General Doolittle’s Tokio bombing and the Red Army are as carefully prepared and drawn — with respect to facts — as any feature writer’s story. That is why the best of these comics have educative value. Parents Magazine learned that long ago, and Stoner has done some excellent work for it. The Methodist Book Concern now issues Bible stories in comic form.
Stoner loves illustrating for children. One of his most popular works was Seeing The World’s Fair, a child’s book that was equally popular with parents because of the maturity and attractiveness of the drawings and accuracy of the information.
Right now, in between doing his Blue Beetle continuities and painting portraits, he shows up regularly at USO centers to draw for servicemen and sevicewomen. One of the USO centers is Harlem’s, where, also, he teaches the soldiers to sketch. He occasionally gives art lectures as a means of improving Negro-white relations.
“With all this commercial stuff I am doing,” he says, ” I still like to paint. I still hope, some day, to work in fine arts.”
Winning the war is the most important immediate task, he insists. That is why he has turned the full battery of his genius and skill against fascism.
PS: the article included a photo of Stoner at his drawing board, but the microfilm was so badly underexposed I could not get a copy good enough to reproduce.
PPS: A web search on Elmer Stoner reveals that he apparently designed the Planters peanut man!