Visitors to the "history" section of the Bradbury Science Museum in Los Alamos will find more than photos of early lab workers and atomic test explosions. They’ll also find comic books, including Learn How Dagwood Splits the Atom! Apparently, Dagwood, of the comic strip, Blondie, did more than snooze on the couch and run headlong into the mailman; he also shrank to subatomic size and taught children the intricacies of physics.
Head over to the Los Alamos Historical
Society museum, and you’ll find more cartoons. A back-room
display features comics such as Atoman, Atom Ant, Atomic Mouse,
even Atomic Bunny.
Titled "Zap, Zing, Zowee:
Six Decades of Atomic Comics," the exhibit features comics from the
collection of Dr. Ferenc Szasz, a history professor at the
University of New Mexico. Szasz, who has also written extensively
on the serious side of atomic weapons, says he "came of reading age
during the great years of comic books" and is a "lifelong devotee"
of the medium.
Szasz, who has more than 800
comics in his collection, says the "golden age" of atomic comics
was in the 1940s and 1950s. Characters like Atom Ant and Atomic
Bunny helped sell the public on the benefits of atomic energy, he
explains. "They were taking the fear level down, showing that
(nuclear weapons or energy) was not really something to be afraid
Even Donald Duck got caught up in the
nuclear frenzy: In 1947, Disney released Donald Duck’s Atomic
Bomb. Donald didn’t actually kill anyone with his bomb
— it only caused peoples’ hair to fall out — but
Disney pulled the comic from circulation anyway, Szasz
Cold War-era comics often emphasized
tensions between the United States and the Soviet Union or depicted
the apocalyptic powers of the bomb. And, in the 1960s through the
1980s, heroes and villains frequently developed their special
powers as a result of their exposure to radioactive materials
(think Spider-Man or the Hulk). Today, despite recent headlines
about nukes in North Korea and Iran, radioactive themes just
aren’t as popular as they used to be.
What’s next for comics? Dr. Szasz doesn’t know:
"Terrorism is hard to depict. It doesn’t have the
storytelling powers nuclear conflagration had in the 1950s and