January 9, 2024

Graham talks government comics in Fast Company

Nebraska Headliners

Richard Graham, Associate Professor of University Libraries, sits in his office overflowing with comic culture
Craig Chandler | University Communication and Marketing

Craig Chandler | University Communication and Marketing
Richard Graham, professor of University Libraries, sits in his office overflowing with comic culture.

Richard Graham, professor of University Libraries and courtesy professor of English, was featured in a Jan. 8 Fast Company article on government comic books. He has collected the unique comics since childhood and is the author of a collection titled “Government Issue: Comics for the People 1940s-2000s.”

Government comic books have been used to teach Americans everything from how to prevent forest fires and how to survive a nuclear blast to how to avoid common scams and how inflation works, according to the article. They have been an important medium for government communication, including both wartime and domestic propaganda campaigns.

Graham recalled receiving a comic called the “Gama Goat,” illustrated by the legendary Will Eisner, as a child when his father was stationed in Germany with the U.S. Army.

“It was a maintenance manual,” he said. “It was sort of a way to placate me as a little kid when I was at this Army base in Germany.”

Graham also recalled his father explaining the Army’s strategy of making comics to train the troops.

“There’s a diversity of literacy rates (in the military) …” he said. “So the government learned early on that visual communication, coupled with an economy of text, is a good way to deliver a message.”

“Government Issue” features a wide variety of government comics, including some that reflect policies and initiatives that might now be considered cringe-worthy. For example, in 2001, the U.S. Army published a comic titled “Dignity and Respect: A Training Guide on Homosexual Conduct Policy,” which was meant to help soldiers apply the Clinton administration’s tortuous “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy.

Graham said that his collection is still growing as new government comics are released, and he continues to learn about older ones.

“A lot of people are dying and these collections are getting thrown away and getting donated,” he said. “And some of them are really valuable.”

Nebraska Headliners highlights Husker faculty and staff featured in major news outlets. If you see a possible Nebraska Headliner, submit the story or URL via email to nebraskatoday@unl.edu.