beamjockey (beamjockey) wrote,

Cold War Swipesmanship

Recently I contributed to a discussion on the Restricted Data blog, and decided I should expand upon it here.

Wikipedia tells us, "Swipe is a comics term that refers to the intentional copying of a cover, panel, or page from an earlier comic book or graphic novel without crediting the original artist."

Photographs can be "swiped," too. And we may expect that, in the heyday of Henry Luce's illustrated magazine Life, its superb photos and graphics might commonly have been found in any comics artist’s reference files. Let me show you an interesting example.

In Issue 1 of the 1958 revival of the war comic book Atom Age Combat, we find a feature entitled “I, SAGE…” The Semi-Automatic Ground Environment, robot sentry of the Cold War skies, narrates. It’s pretty effective non-fiction.

(SAGE is interesting to students of computer science as an early example of a complex system using computers to process real-time information. Some SAGE consoles are preserved at such places as the Computer History Museum.)

Question: How many of Andreas Feininger's photos in Life‘s six-page spread in the February 11, 1957 issue, namely “Pushbutton Defense for Air War,” have been swiped by the artist drawing “I, SAGE…?”

Answer: All of them, save one.

The uncredited artist even lifts some elements, like a radar dome, from the Life diagram of SAGE prepared by Matt Greene and Jerry Cooke.

One wonders how many of the other panels in the story were also swipes from sources we have not detected.

It seem strange that the artist did not swipe J.R. Eyerman's spectacular photo of an F-102 Delta Dagger unleashing fiery missiles-- one can imagine a young George W. Bush at the controls-- given that the SAGE story includes several panels of F-102s in combat. In addition, there is a single-page profile of the F-102 later in the book.

Tags: comics, computers, history, life

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April 23 2013, 23:35:30 UTC 8 years ago Edited:  April 24 2013, 00:56:41 UTC

How closely does a drawing have to follow a reference photo to become a swipe? These definitely appears to cross the line.
I don't know. I'm sure comics fans and pros discuss such questions constantly. I'm only a dabbler.

Google up "comics swipe" or a similar string and find sites which collect swipes in the wild.
SAGE eventually became a Hollywood star:
As a Sixties TV watcher, I loved nothing (except for miniature effects involving spaceships or submarines) better than blinking lights. So I have noticed some of those components recurring across various series.

Still I had no idea those were parts of SAGE!

I'm going to have fun exploring that site.

The AN/FSQ-7 appears to be the Model T or DC-3 of TV computer props! I wonder how some components wound up on TV as early as 1966, while their sisters were presumably still protecting the nation from Soviet bombers.
By 1963, SAGE installations were starting to be decommissioned, and it was pretty much gone entirely by the end of the decade. (Part of the USAF's gradual, and largely unremarked, drawdown of it's continental air defense system.) So presumably those bits were surplused as in light of diminishing requirements.

The oddest thing I ever saw as set dressing was a submarine TDC in a 2008 episode of Dr Who... One of these days I've got to dig around and see when the Brits abandoned the TDC.


April 24 2013, 11:37:45 UTC 8 years ago

Actually, the last of the SAGE installations weren't deactivated until near the end of 1983. I worked on the McChord AFB SAGE from January to August 1983, when it was finally turned off.
The thing that tickles me is that these ancient computer parts have continued to represent high technology and futurism up to the present.
I have noticed of late that we are passing OUT of the age of using tape drives as set dressing to say "Computer!". Some productions are just using terminals, others are stuck in the minicomputer era of 10 linear feet or so of head high cabinets, mostly without lights.


8 years ago

This was an illuminating post, though I seldom read graphic novels / comix these days. Too difficult to see.

Love, C.
I remember one illustration in "Galaxy" (not long before it folded) was swiped from a drawing in "The Joy of Sex".

Clothing had been added, however.
I don't know if I'd apply the "swipe" concept to non-fiction. Of course the artist worked from source photos -- the only alternative would be if the artist made first-hand observations. How many comic artists could have arranged a tour of the SAGE facilities in person? It would have been nice if the photographers received credit, but then the artist didn't get credited either. Is there a writer credit?

How did this feature wind up in a comic in the first place? Was this a whim of the editor, or the result of a government PR campaign?


April 25 2013, 23:00:18 UTC 8 years ago Edited:  April 25 2013, 23:02:03 UTC

How many comic artists could have arranged a tour of the SAGE facilities in person?

In my opinion, there's a difference between "using magazine photos as a reference" and "slavishly duplicating the exact composition of six photos" with a side order of "copying another artist's graphic of a radome, complete with shading." Do you agree?

Is there a writer credit?

Not that I have found.

How did this feature wind up in a comic in the first place?

Atom Age Combat was a war comic devoted to World War III. The first feature in the book (pages 1 to 3, or 4 to 6 of the scanned pages, right after the ad for Uncle Milton's Ant Farm) is essentially an editorial prospectus:
In keeping with this realistic approach, we, the editors, feel we are performing a significant service by presenting dramatic stories of limited thermonuclear battle!

These stories will be reassuing insofar as they will demonstrate how amazing powerful and fantastically ingenious our country's atomic defenses are!

And by giving an insight into these weapons' terrifying potential, the stories will reinforce your fervent desire to help prevent an all-out war in the atom age!


In practice, this meant World-War-II-type stories, with more helicopters, more missiles, and more mushroom clouds.

It's interesting to see the editors' strict stipulation of limited thermonuclear battle, as though they were running a think tank.

Also note: Whoever lettered page 3 could spell "ingenious;" whoever lettered page 24 could not.

I don't know why so many of the comic's pages are didactic. There is a one-page feature about the DEW Line on page 31, as well as the aforementioned SAGE and F-102 pieces.

I have one more thing to say about atomic-combat comics, but I'll communicate it to you by e-mail.
OK, so it's a swipe (or a bunch of swipes). I do think the editor might have required the artist to stick close to the original photos for "authenticity" although it is equally likely that deadlines and low pay did not allow the artist time or inclination to do anything original.

I hope someday I can write an introduction that includes the phrase "KA-VOOOOM!" Maybe I can work it into the SCADA cyber security brochure open in my neglected word processor window as I type this. Hey, it's only Draft #1, why not?

I remember Uncle Milton's Ant Farm. Did they ever offer a model with mushroom clouds on the horizon? That'd be keen.

e_m_b is commenting over my shoulder. He'll probably weigh in tonight, after we go out and buy cat litter. Atomic wars may come and go, but cat litter remains.
This sure sounds like something that had some kind of government encouragement going on behind the scenes.
To his fabulous SAGE site, Mike Loewen has added a link to this blog entry.