The CIA Comic Book Airdropped Over Grenada

Operation Urgent Fury, the controversial US-led invasion of Grenada, concluded with a decisive victory for the United States on 15 December 1983. The Reagan administration claimed that this action, the country’s first major military operation since the end of the Vietnam War, was launched in response to appeals for help by Grenada’s neighbouring islands. However, it has also been widely argued that the campaign was instead a ploy aimed at quashing Cuban and Soviet influence in the Caribbean.

In the aftermath of the invasion an aggressive piece of artistic propaganda appeared in support of the official line. GRENADA: Rescued from Rape and Slavery, a 14-page comic book, was printed in its thousands and airdropped over the island. The eye-catching, brightly-coloured pamphlet presented Operation Urgent Fury as a glorious defence of democracy by the United States, reimagining its military not as invaders but as liberators from “imminent totalitarian danger”.

The comic was ostensibly sponsored by the fictitious organisation V.O.I.C.E. (Victims Of International Communist Emissaries) … but it later transpired that the book had in fact been produced by the CIA. The agency had secretly commissioned Malcolm Ater of the Commercial Comics Company in Washington, DC to write the script, with illustrations provided by veteran comics artist Jack Sparling.

A PDF version of the full comic book is available for free download from the Government Comics Collection at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

Images: Front cover and detail from page 3 of GRENADA: Rescued from Rape and Slavery (New York: V.O.I.C.E., 1984).

Exhibitions of the Month: Students Curate Cold War Art

Boston College exhibitionAn innovative exhibition recently opened in the History Department of Boston College. Undergraduate students of the department’s ‘Making History Public’ course have joined forces with librarians to mount Revealing America’s History Through Comics, a display that chronicles changes in 20th-century American politics and culture through the lens of comic books. From Captain American’s response to the Watergate scandal and the assassination of JFK to the growth of anti-war activism, the Cold War is a recurring theme. The exhibits are selected from popular Marvel and DC titles ranging from the 1940s to the present day, with all items borrowed from the large collection of comic books held in the Edward J. Kane collection of Burns Library.

Revealing America’s History Through Comics. Department of History, 3rd Floor, Stokes Hall South, Boston College. Until August 2014.

Meanwhile, another student-created exhibition with links to the Cold War runs at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois. Work Print Protest Repeat is a single-room accompaniment to the excellent main gallery exhibition, The Left Front: Radical Art in the “Red Decade,” 1929–40. Undergraduate students in Northwestern’s History of Art department have juxtaposed prints created during the Great Depression with those of politically-engaged artists working later in the century.

Work Print Protest Repeat. Katz Gallery, Mary & Leigh Block Museum of Art, Northwestern University. Until 16 March 2014.

Saul Shicago Justus

Image: Peter Saul, Shicago Justus (Chicago Justice) from Conspiracy: The Artist as Witness, 1971. Lithograph. © 1971 Peter Saul