John F. Kennedy was president of the United States from his inauguration on January 20, 1961, through his assassination 50 years ago today on November 22, 1963. During his short time as president, JFK was quite popular, and even 50 years after his death, he’s still a frequently referenced figure in popular culture.
Thus, I thought I’d look at a few of Kennedy’s appearances/references in cartoons. Interestingly, animated cartoons of the early 60s (theatrical or television) didn’t seem to make any references to Kennedy that I could find; thus the examples below are mostly era-specific comics or animated references from years later.
Superman (and Superboy)
President Kennedy made a fair number of appearances for a sitting president in the pages of Superman comics during the early 60s. However, his most famous appearance was in the story “Superman’s Mission For President Kennedy.” The story was being worked on just as the president was assassinated. With later permission from the Johnson administration and the Kennedy family, DC finally published the story in “Superman” #170 (July 1964).
The story focuses on Superman working with President Kennedy to improve the nation’s physical fitness among youth. “Dial B For Blog” has a summary of the story’s history, including some panels; meanwhile, this blog sums up the various appearances of JFK in Silver Age stories.
Recently, the artwork for this story’s hit the news, as it turned up at an auction—despite supposedly having been donated to Kennedy’s presidential museum. The story’s artist, Al Plastino (who drew various late Golden Age and Silver Age Superman stories), is still alive at age 91, and isn’t pleased at hearing the artwork’s apparently never actually made it to a museum. (The auctioneer says the seller bought the artwork at a Sotheby’s auction back in 1993.)
Meanwhile, with DC’s characters on a sliding timeline, by the 1980s, the story was rewritten as “Superboy’s Mission For President Kennedy” in “New Adventures of Superboy” #26-27 (February-March 1982). There, besides a now-grade-school-aged Superboy replacing the adult Superman, the purpose of Clark’s mission has changed: he’s now saving a Project Mercury spaceflight from Russian saboteurs. (Cartoonist Fred Hembeck sums up the whole timeline situation in an amusing cartoon.) JFK also appeared several issues earlier in a flashback story showing how Clark invented his “signal lamp” (as a means of being contacted by the President, Smallville police chief Douglas Parker, or by Lana Lang’s father, Professor Lang).
Of course, these days, a 29-year-old Superman would probably be deemed a Millennial, and thus at this point wasn’t even born yet when Kennedy was president. If he were still in continuity, the earliest president Superboy could’ve done a mission for at the time of this writing is Bush Sr. (during the last year of his term).
The Mayor of Springfield, “Diamond” Joe Quimby, is a parody of Kennedy, including his speaking voice and lesser qualities (various affairs, etc.). Similar to the Kennedy family, Quimby’s family seems influential in Springfield, as well.
President Kennedy himself once appeared in the series, during a flashback to Homer’s early childhood (when he was watching JFK on TV) in the sixth season episode “Grampa vs. Sexual Inadequacy.”
The newspaper comic strip “Doonesbury” ran a storyline during the early 1990s about conspiracy theories (of which there’s a metric ton) about the Kennedy assassination. Uncle Duke is shown to have headed a few scams in the 60s related to such, and is delighted that he can recycle them for a new batch of “Tiny Toons” (as he described the conspiracy theorists) who believe such theories. A later storyline has the cast break the fourth wall to give possible conspiracy theories of their own. (As fourth-wall-breaker Mark Slackmeyer summed it up: “So which version took place on Earth? You be the judge. See you at the 35th!”) The storyline’s reprinted in the compilation book “In Search of Cigarette Holder Man.”
Kennedy was portrayed in an episode of “Histeria” set during the early 60s, where he attempts to deliver a speech to the United Nations (which the Histeria Kids’ Chorus inadvertently sabotages, to disastrous results).
Marvel Comics didn’t seem to refer to President Kennedy as often during his term in office, though there were a few references. The alternate-universe set Ultimate line of comics had its own version of JFK’s assassination, portrayed in the line’s usual style, or rather lack thereof…