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On Comics

Interesting article about society's attitude toward comics. For the first half of the century, the article says comics were condemned as “intellectual marijuana” and contributors to juvenile delinquency. In the last half of the century, they were accepted, thanks in large part to Marshall McLuhan and Walter Ong. Here are two excerpts:

“The careers of two Catholic intellectuals, Marshall McLuhan and Father Walter Ong, illustrate how comics re-won respect in the post-war era. In the 1940s, long before his fame as a media guru, McLuhan was exciting the imagination of bright, young students by confidently linking together disparate phenomena, from modernist art to medieval theology, into a single worldview. He gathered around him a circle of fledging scholars, including a young priest named Walter Ong, who were eager to join in his quest to make sense of the modern techno-communication landscape – what we now call, thanks in part to McLuhan, the media.

”In their early work, the McLuhan circle tended to be critical of mass culture. Ong, for example, attacked Mickey Mouse in 1941 as 'Mr. Disney's West-Coast rodent,' while McLuhan in 1951 suggested that Superman was a potential dictator.

”Yet as they immersed themselves in the subject, they quickly became more appreciative of popular culture, finding possibilities for creativity and even liturgical beauty in art aimed at a broad audience.

”In 1951, Ong was openly praising Walt Kelley's Pogo for displaying a linguistic playfulness reminiscent of James Joyce and Gertrude Stein. McLuhan, meanwhile, came to cherish L'il Abner and Mad magazine as evidence that sophisticated satire could be appreciated by both young and old. And he was critical of society's kneejerk reaction to comics in general.”

”In their shifting attitude toward popular culture, the McLuhan circle was a harbinger of change.”