Art Spiegelman is getting a fresh lesson that superhero comic books are political terrain.
Spiegelman says he was told that his introduction was ultimately rejected, however, because Folio and Marvel Comics wanted the essay to remain “apolitical.”
The graphic novelist says it was a challenge to stay apolitical when writing about the rise of Timely Comics, Marvel’s precursor, in an era of fascism — as an industry was being launched largely by Jewish creators and publishers responding to world events. Prior to U.S. entry into World War II, Timely/Marvel even introduced Captain America with an iconic cover: the star-spangled Steve Rogers hitting Hitler with a haymaker.
Yet it was a reference to another Captain America villain that led to Spiegelman’s “land mine” passage that got his essay spiked, the cartoonist tells The Washington Post. “In today’s all too real world, Captain America’s most nefarious villain, the Red Skull, is alive on screen and an Orange Skull haunts America,” wrote Spiegelman, referencing President Trump.
Spiegelman says he was asked to remove the passage or else Folio Society and Marvel couldn’t publish the introduction.
“It was just one more wisecrack until it was called into question,” says Spiegelman, whose career portfolio includes provocative visual satire. “That part I just couldn’t abide by.” So he told the publisher he wouldn’t remove it — this after consenting, he says, to a minor change elsewhere in the essay. He notes that he was paid a kill fee for the work.
Neither Folio Society nor Marvel returned requests for comment on Spiegelman’s introduction.
Spiegelman, who had submitted the essay in June, eventually decided to publish it (with the headline “Golden age superheroes were shaped by the rise of fascism”) in the Guardian on Saturday. The cartoonist added a postscript that includes not only his account of the rejection but also his discovery last week that longtime Marvel Entertainment executive Isaac “Ike” Perlmutter has been a friend of Trump’s for decades, as well as a donor and member of his Mar-a-Lago circle.
“I like it better this way,” Spiegelman says of publishing his piece as an article. “It has more resonant meaning than it perhaps would have had if [it were] just an introduction.”
“Marvel: The Golden Age,” with an introduction by former Marvel editor in chief Roy Thomas, is scheduled to publish Sept. 25.