My hairdresser, who is in her late thirties, asked me the other day if there were any other time during my memory when the American public was as nervous about world events as they are today. Yes, we’re nervous today. We have our own economic woes, Europe’s economic woes, continuing conflicts and catastrophe in the Middle East, tensions with China and Russia. Oh yes, Russia. Again. During my childhood, there was the Cold War. The American public panicked over Sputnik in space and then there was the Cuban Missile Crisis under President John F. Kennedy’s watch. During that Crisis, which occurred from October 14 to October 28, 1962 (with our Naval blockade of Cuba ending on November 20 of that year), I was in elementary school. We really did have drills to go under our desks (that is, the infamous and completely inadequate “duck and cover” drills) in case of the possibility that the Cuban nuclear missiles would strike as far as New York City. Nikita Khrushchev and Fidel Castro teamed up to retaliate against the C.I.A.’s (unsuccessful) 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba and the American nuclear missiles in Turkey and Italy. Ultimately, the Soviet Union withdrew its missiles in Cuba, we withdrew ours in Turkey, and a hotline between the U.S. and the Soviet Union was established. Out of those nervous years, came the humor of the comic strip Spy vs. Spy, which appeared in Mad Magazine, beginning in January, 1961.
Spy vs. Spy was by the prolific Cuban cartoonist Antonio Prohías. He was a political satirist and came to the United States on May 1, 1960, which was three days before Castro nationalized the press (Prohías was blacklisted by Castro’s regime). Prohías did 241 strips for Mad Magazine, with the last one in 1987. However, the strip has continued and gone into color. There are also video games, a board game, animated pieces, TV commercials, and lots of merchandise that feature the spies. The humor is that they are both alike – only Black Spy is black and White Spy is white – in their looks, outlook, and intent on destroying the other through deceit, deception, and the occasional bomb. Sometimes one would win, and sometimes the other would win. Occasionally, there was Grey Spy, a female spy. Prohías said that she represented neutrality, and she would favor one over the other to provide balance. What wonderful insight Prohías had into geopolitics and human nature.
If you would like more information about this comic strip and its author, please consider Spy vs. Spy: The Complete Casebook by Antonio Prohías.