This 1947 comic book produced by the Catholic Catechetical Guild Educational Society was part of a “Red Scare” in the U.S. that raised fears about the horrors of a communist takeover.
With over four million copies sold and even more given away, this 50-page comic book represents every sensationalist view of what terrors a Communist government could bring.
The stated purpose of the comic book was “to make you think!” about the allegedly 85,000 members of the Communist Party USA plus others who serve “as disciplined fifth columnists of the Kremlin” working “day and night–laying the groundwork to overthrow YOUR GOVERNMENT!” and reduce Americans to “Communist slavery.”
The second page of the book proclaims:
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, trade unions, 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!
The process of America’s fall into communism in Is This Tomorrow focuses on these very positions of trust. A Dust Bowl-style agricultural failure (which the comic describes with the delightfully archaic term “drouth“) opens the door for the push to full-on collectivist madness.
The revolution is coached by a mysterious “Mr. Jones,” who wears a suspiciously-devilish Trotsky-like mustache and beard. The conspirators use a combination of tactics.
Top-down approaches include co-opting a Himmler-like communist sympathizer Senator (this combination of left-wing and right-wing totalitarian visual signifiers reappear throughout the comic).
But there are also bottom-up, grassroots efforts, as the communist subversives operate through varied “front” groups dedicated “to oppose fascism or intolerance or something else that is unpopular.”
Labor unions provide a venue for the manipulation of American workers: “our strategically placed leaders can paralyze certain industries anytime you give the word.”
The comic is very careful to state that workers themselves are not predisposed to communism; it is the union leaders who are to blame. The entertainment industry and mass media are also considered a useful ally of the communists.
The communists also actively foster racial, ethnic, and religious hatred and strife in key organizations to help tear apart the social fabric of America—as if the America of 1947 needed any help in such efforts.
In fact, the entire comic seems to suggest that communists lie in wait to take advantage of existing American class and racial strife, as well as the possible failure of capitalism to deliver peace, prosperity, and material security.
Food anxiety was rampant globally in the years immediately following World War II and American memories of the Dust Bowl were only a decade old.
This tacit admission that America is riven with these pre-conditions and tensions for revolution, social problems that communism is meant to alleviate and erase is a curious one.
One of the “Ten Commandments of Citizenship” on the back cover of the comic encourages individual action as the only way to fight these social ills: “Be tolerant of other races, religions, and nationalities.”
No solutions for the systemic root causes of such strife are offered by the comic, of course: only the raw fear that they might be exploited by the left to the end of establishing a Stalinist dictatorship in America.
And in the course of events, Catholics—innocent parishioners and clergy alike—suffer pointedly under the transitional government, which blames fascists and religious conspirators for hoarding and destroying food stores during a time of famine.
Clergy of all stripes are eliminated for sounding the alarm bells about the communist takeover. Schools and universities are nationalized, the free press outlawed.
A Catholic tries to stop a book-burning headed by the diabolical “Jones” (who hilariously foils the assassination attempt with an expertly flung Bible into the assassin’s face), and a vast anti-Catholic persecution (tied together very closely with a confiscation of Americans’ firearms) begins using this would-be Papist assassin as an excuse.
This has to be a cultural echo of the famous Gunpowder Plot of Guy Fawkes, one of Western history’s most foundational anti-Catholic conspiracy theories.
Eventually, famine stalks the land, labor literally becomes state slavery (complete with a whipping scene obviously meant to evoke the American legacy of chattel slavery of Africans), and the communist takeover is complete.
Some other facts:
- In January 1948, Woody Guthrie wrote a magazine article about the comic book that went unpublished, called “Comics that ain’t funny.”
- In 1991-1992, the title was revived as Is This Tomorrow? in Florida Flambeau, a student-run newspaper affiliated with Florida State University and Florida A&M in Tallahassee, FL. In 2003-2005, it became a webcomic.
- The comic book’s cover forms the basis of the cover of the 2001 book Red Scared!: The Commie Menace in Propaganda and Popular Culture.
- Is This Tomorrow remains in print in the 2000s.
- The comic book includes some of the first published comic drawings by Minneapolis-born Charles M. Schulz, creator of Peanuts.
(Photo credit: lcamtuf.coredump.cx: THE FULL COMIC BOOKE HERE / wearethemutants.com / National Geographic / Wikimedia Commons).