National Social Welfare Assembly Comics Project
by Linnea M. Anderson, Archivist, Social Welfare History Archives, University of Minnesota
May 18, 2017
The National Social Welfare Assembly’s Comics Project was a collaboration between The National Social Welfare Assembly and National Comics, the company which became DC Comics. A committee of experts from social agencies developed the concepts, messages, and scripts. Then, editors and artists at National Comics created and printed the comic pages.
When the project was conceived, comics were both an extremely popular medium and under attack as negative influence on youth. They were blamed as a cause of numerous social problems from juvenile delinquency to mental illness and even vision problems. The project leaders, who included members of the National Assembly, experts from other youth and social service agencies, and representatives from National Comics, hoped to positively influence the large comics reading audience. National Comics also hoped that the project would improve the comic industry’s negative public image.
The project was proposed in 1949 by Vernon Pope of National Comics public relations. National Comics approached the NSWA, requesting that they cooperate on a social messaging comics project. At meetings held in February and March of 1949, the NSWA agreed to participate, and their youth division established a subcommittee to work on the project. A May 1949 report on the proposed project recommended that the project proceed (NSWA records).
Jack Schiff, best known for his work as editor of various Batman series, became the primary editor of the NSWA public service comics. This was Schiff’s second foray into informational and social commentary comics. From 1944 to 1947, Schiff created a public service series called “Johnny Everyman,” produced in cooperation with Pearl S. Buck and The East and West Association. Schiff’s “Johnny Everyman” series included 19 stories (Grost, n.d.).
The National Social Welfare Assembly Comics Project lasted from August, 1949 to July, 1967 and produced over 200 comic pages promoting citizenship and social values. The one-page social message comics appeared in 10 million magazines a month with an estimated readership of 40 million. Reprints of selected pages were also distributed to teachers, counselors, librarians, social agencies, and civic groups and used as stand-alone teaching tools.
Over the life of the project, the comics promoted a range of social messages including fair play, racial and religious understanding and equality, a democratic vision of U.S. history, international relations and America’s role in the postwar world, personal values, health and safety, and citizenship. Superman and Superboy appeared in these wholesome stories, along with other characters such as Peter Porkchops, Buzzy, and Binky.
In May of 1967, Jack Schiff announced that he would soon retire from the company then known as National Periodical Publications (and colloquially DC Comics). Jack Liebowitz, president of NPP felt that the costly project could not continue without Schiff. A letter from Vernon Pope at this time stated that it is “Virtually impossible to carry on the project without him” and called Schiff a “vital cog in the operation.” (NSWA records, B 49 F2 2/15/67 letter ).
Schiff, Elma Philipson Cole of the National Assembly, and Vernon Pope (who no longer worked at NPP, but remained connected to the project) met to discuss the future. The NSWA Committee rallied, soliciting support letters from project constituents, and seeking other sources of funding, but the effort was ultimately unsuccessful. Liebowitz, citing the financial bottom line and a potential income loss, proposed that the project be discontinued, and the National Social Welfare Assembly Comics Project ended soon after Jack Schiff retired. (NWSA records; Schiff & Reed, 1983)
Grand Comics Database. (n.d.). The grand comics database (GCD). Grand Comics Database. Retrieved from https://www.comics.org/
Grost, M. E. (n.d.). Johnny Everyman. Classic Comic Books. Retrieved from http://mikegrost.com/everyman.htm
National Social Welfare Assembly (NSWA) records, (B 48, B 49). Social Welfare History Archive, University of Minnesota Libraries. Retrieved from http://archives.lib.umn.edu/repositories/11/resources/735
Schiff, J & Reed, G. (1983). Reminiscence of a comic book editor. The Comic Book Price Guide, 13. Cleveland, TN: Overstreet Publications.
To view a selection of NSWA comics pages, visit the Social Welfare History Image Portal.
To research writers and artists associated with any particular comic, or to learn in which comic books a particular page appeared, consult the Grand Comics Database.
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How to Cite this Article (APA Format): Anderson, L. M. (2017). National Social Welfare Assembly comics project. Social Welfare History Project. Retrieved from https://socialwelfare.library.vcu.edu/organizations/national-social-welfare-assembly-comics-project/