Those who’ve been keeping score might have noticed a recent Microkhan obsession with visual communication—particularly the way in which simple illustrated material can be used to convey complex messages. This is an interest that dates back to my first exposure to Chick tracts, and has now ramped up with all the energy I’ve been pouring into evaluating the efficacy of wartime propaganda.
My latest discovery on this front raises a different, more philosophical issue: how some people are able to divorce their personal beliefs from their business, and some are not. Comic-book creator Malcolm Ater certainly fits into the former category. His Commercial Comics Company seemed perfectly willing to create tales for any paying customer, from the American Gas Association to the Congress of Industrial Organizations to George Wallace (above). The story of how the Illinois-bred Ater eagerly spread Wallace’s odious message is recounted here:
In 1960 Ater traveled to Alabama to meet with George Wallace, who was running for governor. By Malcolm’s retelling, Wallace leaned across his desk and stated “I don’t see how a damn Yankee like you can come down here to Alabama and help me get elected.” Ater replied “Well, Judge, if you’ll recall, I came down here a few years ago and worked for John Patterson and helped defeat you!” Wallace and he became friends and the result was the comic Alabama Needs the Little Judge, George Wallace for the Big Job. This book is pro segragationist and in it Wallace promises to send “back north every freedom rider, sit-in, and every other troublemaker” sent by NAACP.
There is no hint anywhere in Ater’s biography that he harbored political views that were anything like Wallace’s—if they were, I very much doubt he would have volunteered his services to Madonna in the mid-1980s. And so I find myself wondering whether there was ever a moment’s doubt in Ater’s mind as to whether he should take the Wallace gig, or if there really is a breed of human who can banish all personal thoughts in the service of commerce.
In a sense, Ater reminds me of the late Lee Atwater, who reportedly only became a Republican in order to rebel against the fact that he was surrounded by Democrats while growing up in South Carolina. The story goes that Atwater didn’t care a whit about the issues his candidates espoused—he only cared about winning elections, much as Ater only cared about getting paid to create comics. Is there something quintessentially American about that approach to business?
Another classic (and notorious) Ater comic here. If I had been a schoolkid in Grenada in 1984, I would’ve been damn terrified of those Cuban monsters.