During the 1950s, comic books were frequently denounced as corruptors of American youth. Ironically, comics were essential a decade earlier in exposing the hatred and horrors of the Holocaust to young readers.
The role played by this popular entertainment medium in fighting fascism is explored in the exhibit American Cartoonists: Nazi Germany and the Holocaust on display from February 1 - March 31, 2014, in the Guldner Gallery at the Central Library, 14 W 10th St.
The exhibit is on loan from the Harriet and Kenneth Kupferberg Holocaust Resource Center and Archives at New York's Queensborough Community College and is presented in partnership with the Midwest Center for Holocaust Education with funding from Jewish Leadership, Education, Action and Development at the Jewish Community Foundation of Greater Kansas City.
The cartoons on display - many by Jewish writers and artists - depicted comic book heroes such as Superman, Daredevil, Silver Streak, and Captain America doing battle with Hitler and his Nazis.
Sometimes comic book artists used metaphors and symbolism to make their points, as in a prewar Superman adventure in which reporters Clark Kent and Lois Lane cover a sports festival sponsored by "Dukalia," a fictional fascist country whose bombastic leader preaches racial superiority.
Once America found itself at war, comic book artists took the gloves off, depicting their fictional heroes fighting Adolf Hitler and his minions.
There's more to the exhibit than just classic comic books. Included is a panel by Theodor Geisel - better known as Dr. Seuss - who as an editorial cartoonist frequently attacked the Nazis. It's a shocking image: Depicted in Seuss's immediately recognizable style we see Hitler singing "Only God can make a tree to furnish sport for you and me!" Over his head, dozens of executed Jews dangle from the branches.
It took almost 40 years after the end of the war for cartoonists to again address the Holocaust. A major figure in this revival was the Classic X-Men character Magneto, a Holocaust survivor who uses his super powers to wreak vengeance on Nazi war criminals.
Among more recent Holocaust-related cartoons is the graphic novel Maus: A Survivor's Tale. In Art Spiegelman's Pulitzer Prize-winning work - based on his father's wartime experiences - Jews are depicted as mice and the Nazis as uniformed cats.
Another recent development is Yossel, April 19, 1943, a story of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising.Master cartoonist Joe Kubert, at age 80, was inspired to create the work after visiting the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington D.C.
Admission to the exhibit is free. Free parking is available at the Library District parking garage at 10th and Baltimore.