“Magic and Sadism” — George Orwell on Comic Books, July 21, 1945

January 11, 2010

Recently a friend of mine in America sent me a batch of ten-cent illustrated papers of the kind that are known generically as “comics” and consist entirely of coloured strip cartoons. Although bearing such titles as Marvel Comics or Famous Funnies, they are, in fact, mainly given over to “scientifiction” — that is, steel robots, invisible men, prehistoric monsters, death rays, invasions from Mars, and such-like.

Seen in the mass these things are very disquieting. Quite obviously they tend to stimulate fantasies of power, and in the last resort their subject matter boils down to magic and sadism. You can hardly look at a page without seeing somebody flying through the air (a surprising number of the characters are able to fly), or somebody socking somebody else on the jaw, or an under-clad young woman fighting for her honour — and her ravisher is just as likely to be a steel robot or a fifty-foot dinosaur as a human being. The whole thing is just a riot of nonsensical sensationalism, with none of the genuine scientific interest of the H.G. Wells stories from which this class of fiction originally sprang.

Who reads these papers is uncertain. Evidently they are intended primarily for children, but the advertisements and the ever-present sex appeal suggest that they are read by adults as well.

— George Orwell, July 21, 1945, Leader Magazine


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