Vietnam War Pop-Culture and Memory Through Comics

This Project is an attempt to analyze the reactions to the Vietnam War through the comic books being published during and after the war. 

Perceptions of events in popular media have long been a fascination of cultural and social historians. An understanding of the zeitgeist can help scholars understand how the perception of events in history have changed over time. Understanding of popular culture is critical for recognizing how American’s perceived, and reacted to major historical events in the media. In the case of the Vietnam War, public opinion dramatically influenced media perceptions, but popular media has often been used to change national opinions or views on key issues throughout American history. There is a complicated relationship between popular culture and war. Media can influence ideas of society through movies, television, and print media like comics, reflect not only the opinions of the creators but also can echo the feelings of the entire nation. The legacy of this phenomenon is evident today emergence of terrorism and the threat of future attacks after September 11, 2001. The United States was changed forever and transformed the narratives of events and ideas in pop-culture also mimicked these changes. The attacks on 9/11 changed the face of American media as well. Television shows like Homeland, and 24 followed the new American paranoia of the terrorist attack. Comics reflects a similar change in their substance, the transition of comics to film allowed for a reworking of classic characters like Ironman and Batman that now reflected worries about terrorism coming from Arab Nations. This trend reflects what happened with comics during earlier periods of American history. Similar changes occurred during and following the Vietnam War. Perceptions of the government, soldiers, and America’s role in the world changed, and the creators of popular culture reflected these changes in their work.

Comic books have had to overcome a stigma as children’s literature. Similar to cartoons in the early days of media the artists working on these material have had the ability to make content that was acceptable as children and young adult media while also having the ability to approach some larger topics in their subjects. Scott A. Cord summarizes this special relationship that comics have with their audience,

“as long as they are considered a children’s medium (and subsequently at least partially directed toward them), the comic book will serve as an active way of teaching them. It remains to be seen whether this is for the betterment of mankind. Even adult comic book readers still wish to indulge their childhood feelings but read about adult themes at the same time.”[1]

This ability of comics to approach deeper subject matter in very discrete ways and also having a wide reach in terms of audience gives them a very important place in popular culture in America. Comics have created some of the most recognizable symbol and myths in America and in the world such as batman or superman. The wide reach of these characters is a huge testament to the cultural impact of comics. The cultural impact that comics have had on American culture is undeniable today. Movies and television frequently incorporate material, stories, and symbols from comics and graphic novels. The emerging popularity of the comic and graphic novel during the 1960s and 70s produced a powerful medium for changing ideas about the war in Vietnam. According to Marc Di Paolo, comics and their unique serialization provided not only a great place for artists to reflect on the world as it was changing but the nature of the comics industry allowed the same artists to venture into political waters and grapple with complex political and social issues through their story telling.[2] Historian Lisa M. Mundey in her work American Militarism and Anti-Militarism in Popular Media, 1945-1970, claims that “It is comic books that had the most consistent coverage of the Vietnam War.”[3]

This site will follow the evolution of the media throughout the war. It will document the comics that were considered for and against the war during the actual era. It will also look at the publications that emerged after the war to influence the national memory, and the legacy of the Vietnam War in comics today. The way authors use the war in their comics and their depictions of veterans and the native people can tell us alot about the reactions to the war and the way this information was protrayed to the readers of these comics. 

[1] Cord A Scott, “Comics and Conflict: War and Patriotically Themed Comics in American Cultural History From World War Ii Through the Iraq War,” n.d., 13.

[2] Marc Di Paolo, War, Politics and Superheroes: Ethics and Propaganda in Comics and Film (Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland & Co., Publishers, 2011), 27.

[3] Lisa M. Mundey, American Militarism and Anti-Militarism in Popular Media, 1945-1970 (Jefferson, UNITED STATES: McFarland & Company, Incorporated Publishers, 2012), 159,


Evan Preissler