On the other hand, it were exactly the fascistic movements in Europe that gave rise to the superhero as a peculiar comic branch in the United States. The American president Franklin D. Roosevelt picked up the image of the superhero as means of propaganda during World War II, coining the term popaganda, although he considered propaganda “manipulative and undemocratic” (Magnussen and Christiansen, 2000, p. 141).
In his opinion, the comic strip was considered an element of the popular mass-culture with regard to the increased (mass-)production of newspapers, the radio and cinema available due to technological progress in the years before the war (Magnussen and Christiansen, 2000, p. 141). As already earlier, comics were used again in advertisements and next to popagandistic Hollywood movies and animated cartoons they “carried messages that supported the war effort” (Magnussen and Christiansen, 2000, p. 141). The Germans as well as Japanese were illustrated as the ‘bad guys’ and the American troops as the ‘good guys’. One of the well-known World War II comic heroes was Captain America, easily distinguishable as American in his ‘stars-and-stripes-suit’4.
It seems as if the ‘McDonaldization’ thesis holds for the comic industry from the 1950s onwards, since the European market of the 1950s was mainly supplied by comics like Walt Disney’s Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck, etc. and Peanuts which came up with the decline of the superhero comics after the Second World War and offered much more peaceful contents (cf. Encarta, 2002). In the 1960s, the superhero comics experienced a revival. But in contrast to the earlier American trend, now “the hero … became modernized or newly-created” (Fuchs, 1972, p. 138) in so far that his task was mainly helping citizens in metropolis’, acting similar to the police. This branch of comics as well flooded the European market and enjoyed great popularity (cf. Fuchs, 1972, p. 192).
Nevertheless at the same time – particularly in France and Belgium – comic series with distinctive features, free from American influence came into being. First, many early European comics which influenced later versions, had main characters who were not heroes, but naï¿½ve or even silly persons, as in comics like Bretoin Bï¿½cassine or Bonaventura (Fuchs, 1972, pp. 220-222), who do good deeds by coincidence and get rewarded for that. This stands in harsh contrast to the pattern according to which the superhero acts: He “carries out his duty and leaves without demanding thanks” (Fuchs, 1972, p. 192).
Second, adventure comics like Tintin or Spirou are concentrated on a protagonist, but this main character is surrounded by “a group of regularly appearing persons” (Fuchs, 1972, p. 238) who have distinctive characteristics. These persons are not inferior to the main character but can have equally important functions whereas in the American comic, the hero has a dominating character and only he can solve the conflict (cf. Fuchs, 1972, p. 190).
Another example for European distinctiveness are the Smurfs, which look and act like a family. Every member of their “society” is equal, “this image is further strengthened by their clothes, white trousers and caps” (Fuchs, 1972, p. 242). Nevertheless they have individual characters. These attributes of equality and brotherhood are hard to find in American comics. In this respect one could consider the Duck family from Walt Disney, where a kind of hierarchy is apparent: the rich Dagobert Duck at the top versus Donald living under modest conditions.
Third, it is hard to find an equivalent in the United States to the French Asterix, which has a strong satirical character. In this comic, the manners of the different European nations are parodied out of the point of view of the French, who also “parody their own society by delightful allusions” (Fuchs, 1972, p. 245). Furthermore this comic works up the experiences of the French during the Second World War not through heroes fighting against the Nazis like the typical American war comics did, but through the metaphor of the permanent fight of one small gallon village resisting the Romans. Here you can also see the concept of brotherhood (like in the Smurfs comic) as a typical feature of European comics.
In the beginning of the history of comics, at the end of the nineteenth century, European comics culture exported its ideas to the United States. American artists developed out of these more popular and appealing methods, while in Europe comic drawers continued to use traditional ones. This “new” American trend started to be used by European artists in the 1920s but they could not devise an own peculiar kind of comic art out of this because of the disruptions of the Second World War. That is why in a way the cultural trends of the postwar years can be considered as an Americanization of the European comic market. Still, the examples of Asterix, Tintin or the Smurfs show that there has as well been a European comic culture, which had distinctive features and was not directly influenced by trends from the United States of America.
Benton, M. (1989) The Comic Book in America: AnIllustrated History. Taylor Publishing Company, Dallas/Texas Encarta (2002). Comics. Microsoft(r) Encarta(r) Enzyklopï¿½die 2002. (c) 1993-2001 Microsoft Corporation. All Rights Reserved. Encarta (2004).Comics. Microsoft(r) Encarta(r) Online Encyclopedia 2004, http://encarta.msn.com (c) 1997-2004 Microsoft Corporation. All Rights Reserved. Retrieved from the Internet on May 6th 2004: http://encarta.msn.com/encyclopedia_761570388/Comics.html