Stars and Stripes: Comics That Remind Us of What the American Dream Ought to Be

From Captain America #4 by Brubaker, Epting, Lark, D'Armata | Marvel Comics

Our Canadian Assistant Editor, Wendy B., prompted us to share great moments in comic history that represent the best of the American Dream. The ideal of the American Dream versus its realities, however, cannot be disregarded. Significant societal and cultural damage has been and continues to be caused for the never ending quest for the American Dream. Who has achieved the American dream at the expense of others? What makes the American dream so particularly American? How might we reinterpret the American Dream to be more than the achievement of capitalist prosperity? Maybe some of these moments in comic history can show us alternatives.

Ginnis Tonik:

“But it’s hard sometimes, to be a black kid carrying a name like ‘Patriot.’ I remember talking to Captain America about that before he died and he explained what patriotism meant to him … It wasn’t about blindly supporting your government. It was about knowing what your country could be, what it should be … and trying to lead it there through your example. And holding it accountable when it failed.” The Death of Captain America, Vol. 1

Captain America: The Death of Captain America, Vol. 1: The Death of the Dream (Captain America vol. 5 #6) by Ed Brubaker, Steve Epting (Illustrator), Mike Perkins (Illustrator)
The Death of Captain America Volume 1

Katriel Paige: I don’t know if a comic explored it, but as a military “brat” (child of a parent who was/is in the military) and the fact we moved around the US made Independence Day a mix of feelings for me. The entire US was my home, but I also saw the costs of what it took: alcoholism, veterans left without care, blind bigotry and xenophobia. I was a perpetual outsider in my own nation, and I was considered by others to be a lucky oneI was white, well educated, and well traveledbut the “outsider” status still remains (military brat upbringing, moves since then, plus my LGBT and poor status). On Independence Day, I remember the outsiders, the veterans, the geeks, the poor, the people without homes, the people who cannot go outside and have a barbecue, the people who do not have families or cannot go back to them for whatever reason. The strangers in a strange land are a part of the nation too, and we must tell their stories and keep their memories alive. If I could draw, I’d draw a comic about that, but I can’t. The closest one is The Doll’s House volume of the Sandman (Neil Gaiman) that I can think of.

Kelly Kanayama: Hitman #34, written by Garth Ennis, drawn by John McCrea (two Northern Irish guys)and yet this sums up some of the best for me.

Hitman #34 by Garth Ennis and John McCrae | DC Comics
Hitman #34

“If you knew how you were loved…”

Also, everything in Astro City. Everything ever.

Romona Williams: I didn’t come from a family with a traditional Fourth of July celebration. I don’t think I’ve ever even spent it in the same place more than once. I’ve always been jealous of people that drive up north to go camping every year. You really never know what we’ll be up to. Will we grill? Will we go to a parade? Will we get out of town? Nobody knows! I don’t even look forward to the Fourth outside of it being a day off work. It comes with all sorts of pressure to do some sort of fun thing, not unlike New Year’s Eve.

Ghost World by Daniel ClowesThe only two constants are family and fireworks. Whether we’re lighting things off in our backyard, going to a fireworks show, or being terrible and watching the Macy’s fireworks on TV. And every year I get a little emotional by the grand finale. “Stars and Stripes Forever” is playing, everyone is looking up dreamily, it’s usually a starry night, and then there’s hundreds of fireworks going off. It gets me every time.

A graphic novel that screams American Dream to me is Daniel Clowes’ Ghost World. It’s a multi-threaded story, one of those threads being about how a change in physical location can remedy an internal funk. Having the freedom and opportunities available to leave your present circumstances and explore a different style of living, plus living in a country so large and accessible that you can road trip for weeks without crossing the border are a couple of the good things about the U.S. When Enid gets on that bus to go anywhere else at the end, that ability to pick up and go is very “America” to me.

There’s also Tim Sale and Jeph Loeb’s Superman For All Seasons, which paints a Norman Rockwellian depiction of the American small town. And last but not least, X-Men’s Jubilee always reminded me of the Fourth.

X-Men (1990s) | Marvel Entertainment Group | Saban

Melinda Pierce: My dad has always worked in the agricultural community, and that meant most holidays he worked. But we could always count on the Fourth of July being one of his few guaranteed days off. For me, this day means a celebration of family. It doesn’t matter how it’s spent as long as we are all together. I know what the term American Dream is supposed to mean or what my school books taught. Prosperity. Opportunity. But that’s not what I want to teach my children. I’d prefer the term “American Dream” to mean tolerance, kindness, and the willingness to make change even when everyone else around you tells you it’s wrong. I don’t know which comic books or comic strips illustrate this, but someday I hope they all do.

Ginnis Tonik

Ginnis Tonik

Smashing the patriarchy with glitter, pink lipstick, and cowboy boots. You can follow her on Instagram @ginnistonik