Discovery Set: Comics on a Mission
Since their first appearance in the 1930s, comic books' strong appeal has been seen as both a danger and an opportunity. Comic books tell stories and, like novels and movies, convey ideas and values through those stories. As early as the 1940s, these inexpensive publications were recognized for their potential to educate, as well as entertain their readership.
Along with publishers' series such as "Real Life Comics" and "Classics Illustrated" titles, government agencies and public service groups used the medium of the comic arts in the hopes that the highly illustrated format would make their message enticing and memorable. Many, but not all, of these comic books and public service announcements were directed at young people.
In 1954, American psychiatrist Frederic Wertham published Seduction of the Innocent claiming that comic books were a destructive form of popular literature and a major cause of juvenile delinquency. In the face of public outcry and a U.S. Congressional inquiry, the Comics Code Authority was voluntarily established by publishers to self-censor comic books.
Despite the voices of disapproval, comic books continued to be seen as a useful platform for carrying important messages to the public. The range of topics covered by these "giveaway" or free public service comic books is quite broad. Safety, public health, patriotism and civic duty, economics, anti-war, anti-prejudice, and civil rights messages have all been published in comic book form. Most of these titles are single-issue collaborations; however, from August 1949 to July 1967, the National Social Welfare Assembly Comics Project published a series of more than 200 public service announcement pages in National (DC) comics.
Comic books and graphic novels continue to be used to share important information with the public. In 2011, a Center for Disease Control blog post presenting emergency preparedness as if preparing for a Zombie apocalypse went viral. The information was eventually transformed into a graphic novella, now available online as a PDF.
For further reading:
National Social Welfare Assembly Comics Project, Social Welfare History Image Portal
National Social Welfare Assembly Comics Project, Social Welfare History Project
Graham, Richard (2011). Government Issue : Comics for the People, 1940s-2000s. New York: Abrams ComicArts.
Preparedness 101: Zombie Pandemic (PDF). Center for Disease Control. U. S. Department for Health and Human Services