Comic Books and Culture in the German Democratic Republic, 1955-1990: Between Constructions of Power and Childhood

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Eedy, Sean




In 1955, the East German Socialist Unity Party issued the Regulations for the Protection of Youth as a means of controlling publications for children and young people coming across the relatively open German-German border. At the same time, the regime authorized the creation of socialist comics in order to fill the gaps these regulations left in children’s entertainment. However, as socialist alternatives to the perceived trash and filth represented by western comics and American influence, these East German comics were employed as extensions of the regime’s education system, delivering the state’s ideology in its efforts to develop the socialist personality among youth and generate genuine enthusiasm for the construction of state-socialism. Just as these comics organized children’s activities and leisure time, they were taken up and read by East German children who made their own meanings of the publications’ contents. As much as these comics were meant to fulfill the state’s ideological agendas and foster the spirit of socialism within these readers, the children themselves understood comics in terms of the perceived freedoms they allowed. As such, children projected their own desires, interests, and tastes upon these publications. These expectations limited the range of actions available to the regime for drawing these readers into participation with socialism and the SED-state. This dissertation approaches the subject of comics in the German Democratic Republic as constructions of state power and, in keeping with Foucault’s governmentality thesis, as levers of power that allowed for the perpetuation of SED control. As children understood comics in ways different from the regime, comics are also examined in terms of Jürgen Habermas’ critical public sphere insofar as they provided space for child-readers to make their own sense of the SED-state and the society around them despite these constructions of power. To this end, this dissertation examines archival records of the GDR youth groups and issues of Verlag Junge Welt’s comics and children’s magazines. This study argues that GDR comics were constructions of the regime’s power at the same time that they provided fantasies of empowerment, escapism, and constructive of the experience of childhood under socialism.


European History
History - Modern




Carleton University

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