The non-comic comic book is often cited as a phenomenon of these troubled times…These garish publications are marked by horror, violence and practically everything but humor. They have evoked nation-wide condemnation.
In recent years a far different kind of “unfunny comic” has made an appearance. It is a publication, drawn in newspaper strip form, prepared for and distributed by American business concerns…These little books are becoming an important tool in industrial public relations. They go to stockholders, employes, schools, civic organizations, and the general public. As a medium of goodwill, they have proved extremely effective.
– New York Times, Sept. 1956
The driving force behind these “industrial comics”? Mr M. Philip Copp, a commercial artist-turned-agent-turned-publisher, a Connecticut sailing man from the Ivy League (well, he attended both Princeton and Yale), who set out, quixotically, to win over the leaders of the American Establishment for the “juvenile delinquency”-inducing medium they were, at that very moment, condemning— comic books.
During the Forties, Copp repped Noel Sickles, whose cinematic chiaroscuro style influenced generations of comic artists. Copp apparently sought to leverage this powerful style for Larger Purposes than just entertainment. He comped up a “Life of Jesus” comic book, but neither the Lord nor his churches provided, and the project was shelved.
Stiffed by God, Copp turned to Caesar, then Mammon: in early 1950, the State Department bought over one million copies of “Eight Great Americans,” in eleven languages, for its worldwide propaganda war against the Soviet Union. Then in September, Copp flipped another million copies of “The Korea Story,” a comic booklet denouncing the communist North Korean June 25th invasion of South Korea. It was distributed in the Mid-East and Asia as part of the State Dept’s “Campaign of Truth.”
1952 was at least as busy for the M. Philip Copp Publishing Company. He made commemorative comics for utility companies, followed by a 50th anniversary book, “Flight,” which was purchased in large runs by the Aircraft Industries Association, Douglas Aircraft, Lockheed, IBM, and GM. Oddly, his probable classic, “Crime, Corruption & Communism,” went unmentioned in the Times puff piece which is the source for many of these details.
Copp took a Company Man view of his comic books, calling himself “a ‘catalyst: [I] furnish the basic idea, bring together artists, writers and researchers, and out comes the finished product.” It may have been an attempt to reconcile the comic art he had an eye for with the highly circumscribed, WASP-y world he lived in. Copp didn’t quite finish school; he ran a job shop, selling the Latest Thing to his classmates, neighbors, and yacht club slipmates; his boat was only a 14’ knockabout, but he was funny and, later on, wrote glowing profiles of his sailing friends for the Times.
Maybe I’m imagining (or projecting), but Copp’s eager desire to please his native tribe has kind of a sadness to it. The Atomic Revolution is remarkable in part because of the incongruity of powerful artwork and the patently hollow Military Industrial message it delivers. But it hints at what might have been, if Copp’d had been less concerned with his standing at the yacht club and more concerned about his place among artists.
Part 1: On M. Philip Copp, The Military Industrial Complex’s Goto Guy For “Unfunny Comics”
Finding The Atomic Revolution: Ladies and Gentlemen, we have a winner