Life & Culture

When Captain Marvel fought antisemitism

In the 1940s, Jewish cartoonists joined the fight against rising antisemitism


What’s the best way to combat hatred? In the 1940s in America the country’s top cartoonists joined forces to battle antisemitism.

It was the brainchild of advertising executive Richard J Rothschild, backed by the American Jewish Committee. Anti Jewish sentiment was on the rise in an isolationist United States of America. Prominent figures like industrialist Henry Ford were espousing the toxic propaganda screed The Protocols of the Elders Of Zion and US-based Nazis were a part of the country’s political makeup during the war. Rothschild’s aim was to call out the bigots as being worse than racists, dubbing them publically as figures who were actually against US democracy publicly.

A set of six one-panel cartoons created back in 1944 was picked up and run in 478 US newspapers, reaching an audience of 1.3 million readers. Artists and cartoonists including Captain Marvel artist Mac Raboy and MAD cartoonist Dave Berg took part, as did multiple Pulitzer Prize winners Bill Mauldin and Vaughn Shoemaker; New Yorker cartoonists Carl Rose, Mischa Richter, and Frank Hanley; sports cartoonist Willard Mullin and Eric Godal, who escaped from Nazi Germany and became a leading cartoonist in the American press.

With antisemitism again showing its ugly face in the US, it was sadly appropriate for US comic book publisher Dark Horse, best known for titles like Mike Mignola’s Hellboy and Frank Miller’s Sin City and 300, to publish Craig Yoe and Holocaust historian Rafael Medoff’s Cartoonists Against Racism: The Secret Jewish War on Bigotry .

Medoff recalled how this subject came to their notice: “This remarkable story lay buried for decades in the archives of the American Jewish Committee, in New York City. The committee’s brilliant librarian and archivist, Charlotte Bonelli, knowing of our many previous books related to comics and editorial cartoons, called it to our attention.”

Medoff sees the fact that him and Yoe come from different backgrounds as a unique way of joining forces on projects like this: “We bring different strengths to the table, which is what makes our collaborations so interesting and fruitful. I'm a Jewish historian; Craig is a comics historian as well as a Christian who is a retired minister. We share the hope that this book can help combat bigotry in an effective way.”

For his collaborator Yoe, this is a subject that very much still needs to have a spotlight on it in the wake of 7th October and the world’s attitude to it: “Here we are, 80 years after the Holocaust, and antisemitism and racism are still very much alive.”

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