When a Comic Book Artist Ran Afoul of the FBI
Though comic books had existed for a few years, they are considered “born” in 1938 when Superman debuted in Action Comics #1. And when World War II broke out the following year, the comic book industry was quick to go to war as well, in 52-page all in color for a dime issues. Following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, that plunged America into war, the comic book industry went on a war footing of its own, releasing a wide range of war themed titles from the fictional, to biographies, battlefield accounts, and titles that focused on a specific military branch. One of the most popular heroes was the mysterious fighter pilot Blackhawk, leader of the international Blackhawk Squadron.
Debuting in Military Comics in August 1941, Blackhawk adventures were limited only by the imaginations of its writers and artists. At its peak during the 1940s, it outsold all other comics but those starring Superman.
Reed Crandall was the series’ artist during the war. One day he found a pair of FBI agents at the door of his Long Island studio. It turned out that the airplane he was drawing in his Blackhawk adventures bore a suspiciously accurate resemblance to Grumman’s XF5F-1 Skyrocket, an experimental naval fighter. The agents wanted to know how he was able to be so accurate in his drawings, particularly from their many angles.
At one point during the meeting, the three heard the engine roar of a low-flying aircraft. Looking out the studio’s window, they saw a Skyrocket from Grumman’s nearby airfield performing aerial stunts as it conducted a test flight over Long Island Sound. The agents politely excused themselves.