The weekly magazines published in the World War II Kaiser shipyards — Fore ‘n’ Aft for the Richmond, California, yards and The Bo’s’n’s Whistle for the Portland, Oregon, area yards — offer a remarkable trove of material on home front working culture. And what’s working culture without cartoons?
Labor has always used cartoon art as part of its communications arsenal. From acerbic cartoons of the Industrial Workers of the World, to Fred Wright’s iconic art in United Electrical, Radio, and Machine Workers of America publications, to the “SuperScrubs!” comic in Kaiser Permanente’s own Labor Management Partnership magazine HANK, the cartoon/comic genre has always been a popular medium.
Between September 8, 1944, and March 30, 1945, a comic strip named Supermac ran in Fore ‘n’ Aft. The “super” concept character had already permeated popular culture — the iconic Superman first appeared in Action Comics in 1938 — but this Supermac fella was…different.
He was small and scrawny, and struggled to find privacy in a big public yard when changing into his super persona. Over the short span of 26 cartoons strips he fearlessly fought German saboteurs and industrial mishaps. He was the empowered spirit of the home front workforce, appearing in an employee magazine with a circulation of 80,000 copies.
The strip was cryptically credited to “P.T.C.”, which turns out to have been a collaborative effort. We know that one of the contributors was artist Emmy Lou Packard — the “P” — but the identities of the other two creative talents remain a mystery. Based on publication credits, “T” might have been either Rose Thompson or Virginia Thompson; the “C” could have been Mary Chapman, Stan Champion, Mary Lou Clark, or Jack Cook.
Presented here are the first seven strips. The next set can be seen here.
[Disambiguation alert — a subsequent, unrelated cartoon figure also named Supermac appeared in the British press in 1958, skewering British Prime Minister Harold Macmillan (1957 to 1963.)]
These images are from the digital collection of Fore ‘n’ Afts collaboratively produced by Kaiser Permanente Heritage Resources and the Richmond Museum of History.