World Leaders Who Read Comics
President Ronald Reagan liked to read comic books.
I thought that was so cool when I first read it. For the life of me, I can’t find the original press story, but according to my memory it was made in passing to an Olympic athlete who had mentioned it first. Since then, I have discovered quite a few neat things that are related to this little trivia nugget. One, Stan Lee worked with Ronald Reagan on an educational initiative, and there are video copies of his introduction for Reagan on Youtube. Reagan started every morning reading Spider-Man comics, according to Stan Lee, and it was most likely the comic strip in the newspaper. Check out this archived interview with Mike Wallace:
Wallace: You read the comics in the morning?
Mr. Reagan: Yeah.
Wallace: Spiderman is your favorite - then the sports pages, and then you get to the serious stuff. True?
Mr. Reagan: No, it's really from the comics to the serious stuff without the sports pages in between. I haven't got time for those anymore. But I'm also a voracious reader, and never without a book, and to me the worst type of Hades that I could think of would be to be in a hotel room someplace for overnight and not have a book to read.
I notice that his preference was the same as mine is: when time gets short, you may have to give sports the short thrift, but you always make sure to read your comics! I wish I could find my original article, because it might have mentioned specific comic books he read. More trivia on Reagan in a minute. First, I want to focus your attention on Japan’s Prime Minister. He can’t even get to his comics any more!
Prime Minister Taro Aso was mentioning this in his very first speech, but not just for grins and giggles. His purpose in talking up his geek cred was to highlight comics as an export item, calling it a piece of Japan’s “subculture.” This is not the first time he has mentioned his love of manga and anime in his political career, either. He calls himself an otaku, a “nerd whose hobbies border on obsession,” so if people give you grief, just tell them that they are simply jealous because they are not an otaku like yourself. Then walk away smiling while they are confused.
It’s not that PM Aso can’t read any comics anymore, just that he can’t get to all of the ones in his usual stack. Who knows how many other world leaders are out there like this? The ones who know of this powerful force of literature but have been too ashamed to admit that they partake in its pleasures?
One day, comic books may hold a similar position in countries as chess does. Check out this executive order from the president of the Phillippines, who wants to encourage reading and math skills in children, and recognizes that people who learn to play chess tend to perform better in both math and reading. It is important enough for them to win a gold medal in the Olympics that the government will give training and financial support to those who exhibit skill, especially in boxing. If I have interpreted the text correctly, that training and money is also applicable to those who show a mastery of the game of chess. Would it be too far out to imagine a president who recommends a diet of comic books as a study aid for one element to improve reading levels in the public schools? Don’t worry parents; we won’t start them out on Watchmen or The Dark Knight. Honest.
Speaking of Watchmen, here’s a 1985 quote of Ronald Reagan’s:
"I couldn't help but say to [Mr. Gorbachev], just think how easy his task and mine might be in these meetings that we held if suddenly there was a threat to this world from another planet. [We'd] find out once and for all that we really are all human beings here on this earth together."
Now, Watchmen didn’t come out until 1986, so perhaps Reagan was thinking of the ending to that Outer Limits episode, “The Architects of Fear,’ which had the same plot ending. Anyone know if he ever got around to reading Watchmen? Regardless, that certainly sounds like something a comic fan would dream up.
Buck Rogers was also one of his favorites, and Murphy Anderson actually put out his pet theory that the 'ray gun' was actually named in honor of Reagan, since “Reagan played with the children of John Dille, president of the National Newspaper Service.” Too bad Murphy could never get confirmation. Was this the source of the ‘Star Wars’ missile defense idea? Or did that simply come from Star Wars itself? When I was doing research on this president, I found a ton of newspaper editorials making reference to the Buck Rogers-like ideas that Reagan was proposing.
Still think this is all meaningless coincidence, that comics didn’t have that big of an impact? Remember Reagan’s term for the Soviet Union? He called them the ‘evil empire.’ This was a harsh phrase at the time, and media commentators and his political opposition were shocked. Even some of his friends thought that the words he used were a little too far over the line. Not to Reagan, they weren’t. He called them like he saw them, and in his mind, it was pure black and white. Just like it used to be in the comic books we read in those days. Part of the reason it shocked people who heard him was because it put the two sides into such a stark contrast with each other. Everybody was so used to politicians being polite, a slightly less oppressive version of today’s political correctness, that to call the other side evil outright was unheard of. Except in the comics, where the good guys called out the evildoers on every page.
Oh yes, comics had an impact on Ronald Reagan. In their positions of power, who can say how much those comic stories had in influencing his beliefs and actions, and what effect that had on the direction of our country? Comics have also had an impact on Japan’s Prime Minister. What difference will this make for the future of Japan? Comics have been taking over the world for quite some time, but not many people have noticed. Shh! Let’s keep it our little secret
Epilogue: My tireless searching has borne fruit! The original article was taken down, and not even the Wayback archives have it, but I searched the e-mail in my older, virus-ridden computer, and found the reference, which helped me to find the same interview somewhere else. It was actually Dan Lurie, a bodybuilding champion, who had occasion to spend some time with President Reagan. Here’s the relevant part of the interview:
Q: What else do you remember about this occasion?
A: He said "Dan when I was a kid I used to read all of your ads in the comic books." I said, "Mr. President, what were you doing reading comic books." He said, "I still read them today." He was the president and he still read comic books. That was an amazing thing. He was a down to earth, warm guy.
Tpull is Travis Pullen. He started reading comics at 5 years old, and he can't seem to stop.