Superheroes in the Depression Era

The second week of class reviewed the young comic book industry and how it blossomed during the Great Depression. Our assignment was to explain why comics thrived during that era of history.

When looking at the depression era, many Americans view the 1930s through distorted lenses of revisionist history. We have romanticized the existence of mobsters, speakeasies, and bootlegged liquor. This Hollywood version of the Great Depression does not reflect the harsh reality many Americans faced during those years; the trials of the average citizen inspired and helped spur the proliferation of the earliest comic books.

The consumers of that day were facing rough times. Banks were failing, construction work slowed, wages plummeted, and farmers faced severe drought. The number of unemployed workers ranged from 13 to 15 million, many of whom became homeless. Due to prohibition laws, the criminal element in cities flourished. They took advantage of tough economic times and preyed on those all ready devastated by financial downturn. But these were not the idols we see in film; they were the most wanted by law enforcement. Many people were harassed, violated, and intimidated by the mafia. People feared them and believed that there was nothing the police could do to control the mob.

Comic books provided these people the possibility that a hero could exist to fight for them and stand against these violent criminals that controlled their communities. In poverty, Americans found comic books readily accessible; the comics were cheap and distributed through newsstands. Kids who were not old enough to work understood the struggles their parents faced and comic books gave them the perfect method to escape and hope for something better than their current circumstances.

photo courtesy of The History Rat

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