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Monday, March 14, 2022 

Some history of a Catholic comic

The National Catholic Reporter wrote of the history of Treasure Chest of Fun & Fact, a comic that was distributed mostly at Catholic schools between 1946-72. It does, however, suggest the editors of the comic didn't have a high opinion of other comics that weren't meant to represent a religious consumer base:
As Lent began in 1946, students in American Catholic schools were treated to a new publication

A comic book called "Treasure Chest of Fun & Fact" extolled the value of Lent, showed how salt was made and detailed the founding of the state Maryland — the most Catholic-friendly of the 13 original colonies. It also told stories of the Robinson family turning their basement into a "rumpus room," Navy salvage diver Skee Barry and Chuck White, who moved with his father to a new town and tried to stay on the straight and narrow.

The end of the issue promised a new comic every two weeks, continuing the serialized stories of the Robinsons, Skee Barry and Chuck White, while delivering other information and helping to keep students on their Lenten path.

"Treasure Chest is not just another substitute for the objectionable comic publication," an editor's note at the end stated. "It stands on its own merits as a quality magazine which children — and adults — will enjoy and profit by."
Good grief, did those in charge really think most science fiction fare and superhero tales during the Golden Age were "objectionable"? That really isn't a good way to go about promoting the comic, by making it sound like it's literally better than everything else just because of whom it's meant to be aimed at. Like it weren't bad enough Bill Jemas belittled many other publishers at the time he was Marvel's CEO. Still, the article does have some important reminders of how things got bad for comicdom, no thanks to a certain Wertham:
"'Treasure Chest' was intended to be a more wholesome version of that popular cultural artifact,” Mazzenga said. “Pflaum, already a Catholic publisher, was a logical house to publish the comic book, which went to thousands of parochial schools throughout the U.S.”

By the time the comic book finally debuted in 1946, the war had changed what comics were popular. “Superhero comics went into decline,” said Charles Coletta, a professor of popular culture at Bowling Green State University in Ohio. “They seemed like a fad from the World War II era that had run its course. After the war, you start to see most of the titles get canceled or morph into something else: Westerns, military comics, romance comics, humor. Horror comics also became very popular.”

And that became a problem. Psychiatrist Fredric Wertham claimed in the 1950s that all comics were horror comics, and the violence and sexual themes of them promoted juvenile delinquency. Coletta said that comic strips were far more adult-oriented, but because they were in an adult-oriented medium, i.e., newspapers, they were not viewed as a threat like comic books, which were geared toward preteens.
Yes, isn't that ironic? For all we know, there's doubtless some newspaper comic strips today that could be promoting the kind of punk subculture perversions that're demoralizing society, but the difference is that the kind of people who might've seemingly objected to the content Wertham did have since turned around, and see it as perfectly acceptable to use comicdom as a means for indoctrination. Of course, most comic strips of the 1950s like Peanuts were usually family friendly, and rarely viewed as a bad influence, so it's not like Wertham's bunch could've complained so easily about them.

But how many copies were printed every month or so of Treasure Chest? According to the following:
"Treasure Chest" was presented as a wholesome alternative (it was distributed mostly in Catholic schools, so how bad could it be?), with the ongoing saga of Chuck White and other serial fiction, along with stories teaching about Catholic doctrine and famous figures, from Allan Pinkerton to Babe Ruth (who, it should be noted, started on the path to fame and fortune when a monk, Brother Matthias, encouraged him to play baseball while at a Catholic reform school).

The comic was also able to capitalize on the baby boom generation. By 1964, it had a circulation over 400,000, making it the fourth most popular comic book in the United States. That year was also when the comic presented its best-remembered story: The idea of a Black man running for president — in 1976.
Which is perfectly fine, and it's a shame that in real life, Barack Obama led such awful policies that made him such a disappointment, thus not matching up to what Treasure Chest envisioned. Of course, why do only USA policitians matter, and not foreign, like those in south African countries such as Kenya and Cameroon, or even Mexico's 2nd president, Vicente Guerrero, who was born of a Black father and Indian mother, and went on to abolish slavery in 1829, much earlier than the USA did? Why is it these sources never seem to focus on much earlier examples from outside the USA proper? They too can make for important history education.

But 400,000 copies in circulation is hardly any different from most mainstream comics, and if it really saw that much in print, it further confirms its mainstream counterparts weren't selling much higher on monthly average, and rarely saw over a million in circulation themselves. Again, we have information reminding us we can't assume the past was rosier than modern times in terms of sales figures.
Gradually, the baby boomers aged out of comics. Coletta said one result of Wertham's allegations, the Comics Code Authority, [RG1] was that it really "ghettoized" comics as a child's medium. "Treasure Chest" slowly became a relic — even more so, Mazzenga said, after the Second Vatican Council.

"Many Catholic schools closed, the content wasn't as in demand in the post-Vatican II era and school reorganized their curricula to be more in line with public schools, with which they began to compete,” she said.
Not just comicdom was ghettoized. Animation was too in much the same way. Today, it's become ghettoized in a much different way, if you consider any and all cases where only POC are allowed to write mainstream comics starring Black/Latino/Asian protagonists, making a farce out of how entire shared universe creations are handled. And woke conglomerates are part of the problem.

All that aside, it is interesting to learn the history of a comic specially prepared for religious education institutions. And good the paper thought to remind everyone about the notoriety of censorship that continues to plague entertainment today, yet a shame no one wants to recognize it's still as serious a problem as ever in an era flooded with PC.

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About me

  • I'm Avi Green
  • From Jerusalem, Israel
  • I was born in Pennsylvania in 1974, and moved to Israel in 1983. I also enjoyed reading a lot of comics when I was young, the first being Fantastic Four. I maintain a strong belief in the public's right to knowledge and accuracy in facts. I like to think of myself as a conservative-style version of Clark Kent. I don't expect to be perfect at the job, but I do my best.
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