Released in the month before the presidential election, Voting Is Your Super Power! (Yoe Books/Clover Press) collects a series of didactic promotional giveaway comics from the fifties and sixties whose core message is “Get Out and Vote, Dammit!” Produced for such civic-minded groups as the American Heritage Foundation (not to be confused with the ultra-right Heritage Foundation), the League of Women Voters and the NAACP, these comics provide a fascinating lens into American voting that, in many cases, still proves relevant today.
The earliest entries in the book (“Your Vote Is Vital!,” produced by a pair of Harvey Comics creators, and “An American Family Gets Out to Vote,” for instance) chide non-voting adult citizens by bringing up the spectra of communist totalitarianism and crooked politicos. In a one-page comic done for Boys’ Life in 1952, for instance, a young Boy Scout from Czechoslovakia schools a suburban white guy on the importance of keeping our democratic practices alive. In more than one pamphlet, non-voters attempt to rationalize their inaction by asserting, “I’m just one vote,” only to shot down by the reasonable observation that the less people vote, the more a minority of special interest voters can control the government. Looking at our last big national election, where close to 50% of the voting age population didn’t bother to do it, you can see these comics’ point.
Where the earliest comics in this collection focus on white middle class non-voters, by the 1960’s, the comic book landscape grows less monochromatic. After marching and striving for equal voting rights, the NAACP began distributing its own series of Get Out the Vote books, including a Marvel Comics 15-pager drawn by Stan Lee’s brother Larry Lieber entitled “Your Future Rests . . . In Your Hands.” (The author of this piece isn’t credited, though Voting editor Craig Yoe posits that it might have been Stan the Man.) Basic message of the civil rights era booklets also remains relevant: the best way to get elected officials to pay attention to you and your needs is to vote as a bloc. As the 1968 four-page “Adventures of Voteman” (which Yoe identifies as featuring the first Black superhero in his own comic book title) asserts, “People in government listen to people who vote!”
Reading these pieces chronologically, you can also see some significant shifts in American voting regs. Where 1960’s “The Street Where You Live” notes the number of states that still had a poll tax (adopted by many southern states after the Civil War as a way to suppress Black and poor White voters), by 1964 and the Marvel Comics entry, poll taxes had been eliminated by the 24th Amendment (though, inevitably, it’d take two more years before the courts would rule on this amendment in practice). You can’t help wondering what these booklets would make of more current attempts to Tamp Down the Vote.
Where most of the book’s selections are straightforwardly informative and “realistically” rendered – with articulate symbols like that Czech Boy Scout and Uncle Sam lecturing the reader on the necessity for an engaged electorate – 1952’s “The Man Who Stole Your Vote!” provides a slightly more humorous take. Featuring a cartoonish hooded figure who shows up at a non-voter’s home to take his house because the guy didn’t vote, the piece has the feel of a Ludwig Von Drake educational cartoon from Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color. The core message remains the same, however: “Get Out and Vote, Dammit!” Our non-voting White Guy gets the message, thankfully – and good for him!