corporate comics

by Art Chantry (

when i was a little kid, i collected marvel comics. this was during the late 1960′s (i quit collecting comics in about 1969), so i had a really great collection, too. comics were still easy and cheap to come by (12ยข new) and i was able to assemble complete runs of all the early “silver age” marvel comics. i had ALL the “issue #1′s” of those famous titles (spiderman, hulk, iron man, daredevil, fantastic four, xmen, avengers, even all the way back into early early 50′s stuff like strange tales, and tales of suspense). it was a pretty impressive collection, even if i do say so myself.

don’t even ask about what happened to them. it’s the old story. i sold them – the whole lot – for $80 to an unscrupulous dealer (needed beer money). if i just still had even my spiderman #1 today (unread condition), i could have retired on what i could have sold it for in the heyday of spidermania. so it goes.

AC:this stuff is all around us. it's there, but you have to adjust your vision to see it. we've trained ourselves to just not see this crap. but, trust me, it's all around us.

being a nerdy little twerp, i also had an obsession for corporate comics. these were comic books that businesses and organizations put out to inform (indoctrinate) the young with their particular message (think religion, only secular). there all sorts of anti-this, anti-that comics, god comics, smokey bear comics, famous comic characters selling stuff (archie wants you to buy insurance!) some of them got extremely weird and esoteric like odd crackpot philosophies and religions that were trying to recruit you. i remember having one from the john birch society and one from some ‘flying saucers /freindly alien’ church. great stuff.

what was so fascinating to me was three fold – 1) nobody else collected them. their desirability factor was beyond “0″, down into the negative range (you would toss them out immediately before it would pollute your other comics.) 2) they were often drawn by famous (and often favorite) comic artists, freelancing to make a buck. these guys were paid so little, that doing a corporate comic now and then was a big payday for most of these guys. guys like wally wood would knock one out and pocket the cash. they usually wouldn’t sign the work. so, you had to be savvy enough to spot the artists’ style. and finally, 3) they were hilarious. the copy and dialog was almost always written by some lame ad guy (or better yet, a true believer) trying to sound like a comic book. the result was unintentionally stiff and long-winded verbose dialog going on and on about technical dribble you couldn’t understand or care about – all held together by some sort of moral code intended to steer todays’ youth into the ‘desired’ path in life.

these comics became a play ground for those great comic book artists of the era. they jam-packed them with humor that the clients were too dorky to catch. comic book guys were beyond the hippest – the created what was hip. so, these comics are packed with visual gags and exaggerated poses and peculiar expressions and gestures and postures. the backdrops are off-the-deep-end. in short these things are often a visual delight. the artist also slopped them out fast, so they are usually sloppy, shabby efforts. these were blow-offs. so, the humor was often subtle but definitely always there. they’re usually chock full of twisted homo-erotic references, drug references, cornball straight culture ridicule. i love this stuff.

what’s best of all about them is that they have become extremely rare. nobody wanted these things around, so they tossed them out. when you find one, you may have the only existing sample of it left in the entire planet. when the corporations, etc. published them, they gave them away and then the bulk of them went into the garbage. they wrote the expenditure off their taxes in their ad budget. everybody pulls a paycheck and they move onto the next project. so, these things are an extremely exotic window into a lost world of social criticism and visual mayhem. i try to still pick these things up when i find them. they never disappoint. and nobody else collects them!

this comic i found in a file labeled, “industry, iron & coal.” it was published in 1967 by “the iron and steel institute” – an obvious lobbying industry promotion arm. the thing is cheap beyond cheap (newsprint cover) and it’s incredibly well drawn. i can’t spot the artist, but i know someone who can. there is a second edition next to this in the file, and it is from 1972 and deals with the environmental efforts to keep the world green BY the steel industry!!! that’s a laff riot, in itself.

the ‘hero’ is a vaguely homo-erotic muscle-dude with a tidy little cape and a tight-muscle T. he sports the ‘sparkle’ logo of U.S. Steel on his chest and he takes a young extremely straight lost young boy into a dreamscape to show him the importance of the manly world of steel-making (lotsa fire and sweat and popping biceps.) it’s a friggin’ riot. as you can see on the cover, this dreamworld is pretty spacey and jetsons moderne, and little jimmy is bowled over by the glitter and lights and wonder – just like the first time he walked into a disco! in the end, it turns out that

le jimmy wakes up from his daydream (it was during a field trip to the museum) shouting out Mark Steel’s name, thanking him for showing him “the way.” all his pals laugh at him.

the last panel has his teacher, miss moore, grading little jimmy’s report on the filed trip and in a thought balloon thinks, “i didn’t notice jimmy very much on our museum trip, but this report of his on american industry is excellent!”


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