Propaganda uses of Comic Books
Comic books and cartoon strips have a history of having been used for propaganda and psychological warfare operations.
Chile: Early 1970s
Ariel Dorfman and Armand Mattelart describe and analyze how the nature of the popular cartoons changed before the impending coup in Chile in 1973. (section will be expanded) How to read Donald Duck
Guatemala: late 1970s through 1980
At the height of the repression in Guatemala in the 1980s cartoon booklets were distributed among the indigenous population in several languages. The cartoons were produced in a way that the words weren't essential to convey the message, after all, a large proportion of the population were illiterate. The message of the cartoon was to warn people against "troublemakers", urge reporting these people, and join the village leagues (paramilitary groups). The back page of the booklet contained a portrait (in cartoon form) of a local person sought by the military – the portrait resembled the cards of wanted people that were distributed in the villages. NB: these cards were also the calling card of death squads. Several American Christian (Evangelical) Groups which were allied to the Guatemalan government also distributed the cartoon books.
(copy of booklet will soon be posted here).
Nicaragua: late 1980s through 1990
In the late 1980s the CIA created/funded/directed Contras and their political allies distributed a serialized cartoon version of Orwell's Animal Farm throughout most of Nicaragua; some of the anti-government newspapers also published this. The defining aspect of the cartoons was the resemblance of some of the cartoon characters to some of the government principals. The cartoon strip was primarily meant to spread cynicism among the target population.
In Juigalpa, Nicaragua, in 1990 (before the elections), some of the cartoon characters of the Animal Farm cartoon strip were painted on the walls by a professional artist who was not a resident of the city. The cartoons had been very well distributed and were easily recognizable by many Nicaraguans. Painting them on a wall next to the electoral slogans/billboards sought to instill cynicism among the population.
The CIA also produced and distributed a "sabotage manual" in cartoon form. Although initially denied, it was eventually published in the United States showing the nature of its operations in Nicaragua. The booklet contained instructions on sabotaging power lines, roads, fuel, … and two pages of the booklet were dedicated to sabotaging public toilets.
Middle East: 2005
US Agencies, including the US Army Psychological warfare unit, have been scouring for artistic talent to produce comic books/cartoons for 25 countries in the Middle East. In particular,
- The US military is planning to win the hearts of young people in the Middle East by publishing a new comic.
An advertisement on the US government's Federal Business Opportunities website is inviting applications for someone to develop an "original comic book series". "In order to achieve long-term peace and stability in the Middle East, the youth need to be reached," the ad says. "A series of comic books provides the opportunity for youth to learn lessons, develop role models and improve their education."
The comic is to be a collaborative effort with the US Army, which says it has already done initial character and plot development.
To see how the US Special Forces put out a tender for comic books, see this document: Combine Solicitation (NB: pages of this source change and are taken down – this should be cached. Available April 3, 2005)
In 2008, the US Navy hired two Japanese manga artists to produce a 200 page cartoon book to suggest that nuclear powered ships were safe. The US Navy distributed 26,000 copies of the cartoons to allay the fears of the residents of Yokosuka where some nuclear powered/armed ships will be based.
- Ariel Dorfman and Armand Mattelart, How To Read Donald Duck: Imperialist Ideology in the Disney Comic, 1971.
- Ariel Dorfman, The Empire's Old Clothes: what the Lone Ranger, Babar, the Reader's Digest, and other false friends do to our minds (Pantheon Books, New York, 1983; paperback, Pantheon Books, 1984; new paperback, Penguin, 1996).
- BBC staff, US army to produce Mid-East comic", BBC Online, March 31, 2005.