As David Hadju points out in his brilliant book The Ten-Cent Plague, the comic book was a huge mass-market medium to be reckoned with in the 1940s and early 1950s. In its heyday, the format reached more kids than television, radio or books.
Father Louis Gales was one of the people who recognized that the comic book format could be employed for storylines other than superheroes, crime and science fiction. Indeed, the no-nonsense priest understood that comic book art combined with a strong message could result in highly effective patriotic and religious propaganda. In 1942 he founded the Catechetical Guild Educational Society based in St. Paul, Minnesota and five years later his firm published a classic Cold War comic book.
Is This Tomorrow: America Under Communism, a 48-page Soviet America cautionary tale, presents a wonderfully over-the-top speculative narrative of just how easy it would be for the Communists to take over the United States. It starts, naturally, with a cabal of American Communists in New York City led by a man named “Jones.” Jones sports a Vandyke beard, so you know he’s pure evil (we later learn that he is also quite Cheney-esque).
The comic book opens with a textual hammer to the head (that most kids probably skipped to get to the arresting image of Americans fighting Soviet goons on the steps of the U.S. Capitol):
TO MAKE YOU THINK!
IS THIS TOMORROW is published for one purpose—TO MAKE YOU THINK!
To make you more alert to the menace of Communism.
Today, there are approximately 85,000 official members of the Communist Party in the United States. There are hundreds of additional members whose names are not carried on the Party roles because acting as disciplined fifth columnists of the Kremlin, they have wormed their way into key positions in government offices, and other positions of public trust.
Communists themselves claim that for every official Party member, there are ten others ready, willing and able to do the Party’s bidding.
These people are working day and night—laying the groundwork to overthrow YOUR GOVERNMENT!
The average American is prone to say, “It can’t happen here.” Millions of people in other countries used to say the same thing.
Today, they are dead—or living in Communist slavery. IT MUST NOT HAPPEN HERE!
Jones and his propaganda adviser “Brown” explain their manipulation of the American media as a precursor to their Moscow-approved take-over of the U.S.:
“We’ve been training writers and editors for years to follow the Party line. They will be ready to take complete control of radio and publishing once we get in.”
“Class conflict and the breakdown of bourgeois morals have been handled very well by our people in Hollywood.”
(Note: This panel depicts patrons filing into a theater showing a salacious film entitled “The Other Wife.” A post-take-over panel, later in the comic book, shows patrons outside a theater showing “Russia Today.”).
Jones and Party operatives have also manipulated strike leaders and have stoked racial and religious hatred to ease the skids for America’s conquering. And since this is a comic book published by Catholics and distributed to parochial schools, guess which religion gets the lion’s share of the Communist’s abuse? If you guessed Catholicism, you would be correct. The not-so-subtle subtext for the youthful Catholic reader here seems to be: pay attention to this story or the nun with the ruler will be the least of your worries…
Playing off of the paranoid Communist-infiltration-of-government canard, the writers of Is This Tomorrow have Jones hold sway over the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Ted Cline. This relationship comes in handy when the President and Vice-President (riding in an uncovered limo) are assassinated by hand grenade by a killer who looks remarkably like R. Crumb.
Helpful expository panels explain what happens next in the newly elevated President’s post-9/11-like expansion of Executive Branch powers:
“The only solution is to declare an unlimited emergency, and give me extraordinary powers!”
“A confused Congress readily accepts Ted Cline’s offer to solve the nation’s problems.”
Behind the scenes, of course, it is the Cheney-like Jones who calls the shots and informs the dupe President: “I’m taking things over from here!” Jones is named “Chief Advisor” and becomes the de facto Chief Executive.
Jones proceeds to rule by fiat with Communist henchmen as his enforcers. He has the Joint Chiefs of Staff machine gunned to death (“Get rid of those bodies tonight Comrades.”). He informs a stirring Congress that “there will be no investigation. There is no time to waste on such foolishness.” To back up his casual dismissal of the congressional body’s power of oversight, he brings armed guards to the floor of the House of Representatives.
If that wasn’t enough illustration of Jones’s incredible power over Democracy, there are many more examples offered in the comic book:
Food supply is manipulated by the State in order to gain control over the citizenry. Suburban food riots with women clutching carrots ensue.
When a minister questions the actions of the government, his church is blown up and the minister is executed by Commie goons.
Critical newspapers are denied newsprint paper until they tow the Party line.
The telephone system and radio networks are nationalized.
Communist teachers take over at elementary schools and universities and teach the long betrayed truth of the Party!
Banks are liquidated.
Gun rights for the masses are revoked and capital punishment is meted out to violators.
Catholic monks are forced to work for the Party.
In one memorable panel, a Communist guard is asked by a monk what his order is supposed to do now that the government has revoked freedom of religion. The swift and unforgiving response is: “Take off those petticoats and work for the State!”
American citizens are shipped off to camps in North Dakota and Alaska as punishment.
Elections are held, but the Communists are the only Party on the ballot. Opposition is dealt with brutally.
Book burnings take place with the ubiquitous Jones tossing the Bible into the flames with particular enthusiasm.
Of course, no Soviet America story would be complete without what the comic book describes as “The Crowning Achievement” of the Communist take-over: A brainwashed blonde boy informing on his parents: “My dad’s got a short-wave radio…And besides that my mom still has some religious junk.” “We’ll fix that,” the Soviet officer responds.
Is This Tomorrow concludes with the dictator Jones dying at a victory celebration as one of his henchmen vows to assume power. If this Communism-in-perpetuity lesson isn’t explicit enough, there is a textual postscript that, like the preamble to the comic book, most kids probably ignored:
Did our story seem incredible? It is unbelievable—that such a small group could ever dream of enforcing its will upon the majority. But remember that a group for smaller than the number of Communists living and working in America today seized control of Russia in 1917.
No one can refuse to believe what he knows to be true. And we do know that every method shown in this presentation has been used by the Communists in their rise to power in other countries. Starvation, murder, slavery, force—those are the tools the Communists use to carry out the doctrine of Communism.
The Communists are preparing to seize control of America in any crisis. This crisis, real or contrived—will be there signal to move in… and make their bid for power.
This crisis might begin with a flood in Pennsylvania—a drought in the Middle West. Or it might begin with a general strike in some of our large industrial cities—New York—Detroit—Chicago—San Francisco.
It happened in Poland, Hungary, Yugoslavia, and country after country, the world over.
WHERE DO YOU COME IN?
You are the one with whom the Communist is struggling right now. His aim is to make you hate your fellow man and keep you blind to the important things in life. He wants to make you forget the importance of your right to vote as you please—to say what you please—to go where you please—to worship as you please. The Communist really wants you to forget all your rights to individual freedom and liberty.
But you cannot assume your individual rights without assuming individual responsibility.
If you want to keep on living, you must know who the Communists are—and their methods of working. You must recognize the Communist Party line in action and separate Communist propaganda from the factual news of the day.
You are on the defensive in this battle. You owe it to yourself to know all about the invader. He knows more about you than you suspect.
IS THIS TOMORROW: AMERICA UNDER COMMUNISM
By an uncredited writer and artist
Distributed as a public service by the Catechetical Guild Educational Society
Printed in U.S.A.