With the release of "The Unknown Anti-War Comics," Yoe Books publisher Craig Yoe has once again proved that comics can and do attempt every topic under the sun — and that he is going to bring them to us.
"Unknown Anti-War Comics" assembles a generous collection of comics that are, yes, antiwar and are generally unknown because they were published by lowly Charlton Comics during the late '50s and early '60s, a full decade before the Vietnam protests.
How did such a book come to be?
"The origin of the project was my own active involvement in the antiwar movement during Vietnam," Yoe said in an interview. "I was a comics fan back then, too, and passing out leaflets I cobbled together, composed of powerful World War I-era antiwar political cartoons, to pass out on my college campus. About five years ago I stumbled across some decidedly antiwar stories in some obscure comic books and dug in and was amazed to find many more — enough for a book, anyway!"
Included in the book are the only two issues of "Never Again" (1955-56), an oddball, short-lived series that shows the futility and downside of war from the Battle of Crecy, to the pursuit of Chief Joseph, to the world wars and more. "Two Men in the Sky," a story about aviators in World War I, will bring a lump to even the most resistant of throats and is probably better written than almost anything in EC's "Aces High" or DC's "Enemy Ace."
The bulk of the book's art is carried by journeymen artists, but fan favorites Steve Ditko, Dick Giordano and Carmine Infantino also contribute. The final story, "Doomsday Machine," is by the underappreciated Pat Boyette, and may be the finest work of his career.
"The quality of art is always a prime consideration," Yoe said of his selection process. "You have a comic book master, Steve Ditko, at the height of his powers, in his lushest period. And the other artists in this compendium produced strong journeyman fare."
While war comics as a whole are rare these days, they do exist. Joe Sacco's "Palestine" and Joe Kubert's "Fax From Sarajevo" would make fine companions for "The Unknown Anti-War Comics." While those books are too current for Yoe's time frame, he is four-square behind the effort.
"Bravo to the writers, the artists and the publishers," he said. "I think there have been some moving antiwar graphic novels in the last 10 years, and am thrilled that those creators are making their voices heard in the small way we all can."
Despite the stories in "Unknown Anti-War Comics" being more than a half-century old, they still apply to today's world. There is even a story about refugees from outer space landing on Earth that may sound familiar. "We seek refuge," says a sad-faced alien in "No Common Ground." "We have brought our women and children. We need help! Surely you can find a place where we can live!"
The Earth government's response? Build a wall around them. This story was written in 1963.