To DeWitt Emery [Letter 326]

Item Reference Code: 139_E4x_001_001

Date(s) of creation

February 14, 1948


DeWitt Emery


[Page 1]
10,000 Tampa Avenue
Chatsworth, California
February 14, 1948 

Mr. DeWitt Emery
National Small Business Men’s Assoc.
39 South La Salle Street
Chicago 3, Illinois

Dear DeWitt: 

Thank you for the comic-strip booklet, THE MAN FROM MARS, which you sent me. Since you ask for the frank opinions of your readers, I would like to give you a detailed review of it. 

The basic fault of the strip is that it is simply political propaganda, which has not been dramatized at all. The politics are in almost every speech, and they are merely tacked on to the pictures. The characters talk about politics, they don’t act. All that happens in the strip—as far as the story is concerned—is that a man from Mars arrives on Earth, takes an automobile ride and hears a lot of talk about politics from an Earthman. He does not get involved in any action that would illustrate the state of things which the Earthman describes. 

This is an extremely bad mistake which inexperienced writers who attempt to deal in propaganda usually make, and it is the reason why they fail. The artist who did the drawings for you is very good, but your writer is no dramatist and that is the crucial flaw in the whole scheme. As the strip stands now, it falls between two intentions: since its political ideas are presented only in speeches and not in the action of a story, the drawings are entirely wasted and irrelevant in relation to the message. The speeches are merely editorials which might as well be printed as an editorial. If your purpose is to convey political ideas in dramatic form, then it is the story that must illustrate and dramatize the points you wish to make. It is not a matter of just placing speeches into pictures. 

I can best make myself clear by giving you a brief example of what I mean by dramatization. Taking the same material as you have in this strip, your story should

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Mr. DeWitt Emery
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February 14, 1948

have had some such pattern as: The man from Mars arrives on Earth. He sees a beautiful girl and falls in love with her, but doesn’t know how to approach her. He sells his airplane to an Earthman for a thousand dollars and sets out in pursuit of the girl. He has to buy himself an automobile; he has to buy suitable clothes; he has to stop at hotels, travel on trains, etc. At every point, he clashes with the state of our economy on Earth and finds that his thousand dollars will not buy him anything. He is promised an automobile, but cannot get it because there is a strike in the automobile factory. He gets into a train wreck because the railroads cannot get proper equipment, etc. All this is built around the suspense of his anxiety to catch up with the girl, and his being frustrated at every step. Thus you make your political points in specific story terms that the reader would understand. You bring home to him what it actually means to have money but no goods to purchase with it when one needs them most. 

This is just a very crude example and I don’t mean to say that this is the story you should use, but I am citing it only as an illustration of how to present any abstract idea, political or economic, in fiction form. A comic strip is fiction, it is a variation of stage or movie technique, and therefore, to be successful, it has to be dramatized; it has to hold the reader primarily as a story. Otherwise, it is a complete waste. 

As your strip stands now, I do not know what audience it is intended to reach. It is certainly too political, and therefore would be dull, for school children. It is too childish, and therefore would be unconvincing, for adults. 

Now as to the content of your strip, there are several points to which I would object most vehemently: (1) I cannot say that the idea of a man from Mars coming to Earth is good. It is such an obvious and old one. It’s too trite. 

(2) The social and economic system on Mars is presented so vaguely that it is bewildering and suggests some very bad implications. In the first two pictures, where you have men voting and a man holding a veto, etc., you suggest some sort of economic regimentation, yet later we are told that the system on Mars is a good one and much superior to the system on Earth. But what you have on Mars is certainly not free enterprise—so what did you intend to suggest? Such a title as “Head Man” implies a dictator, so if your setup on Mars means anything at all, it vaguely suggests Fascism—and, God forbid, that is not what you want to preach. 

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Mr. DeWitt Emery
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February 14, 1948

(3) The sequence where your Earthman is given a treatment on Mars to cure him of his wrong thinking is, philosophically, most vicious. I believe that your author intended it only as a joke about “loose screws” and probably thought it was very funny to talk about such things as screws, short circuits and burnt out tubes in a man’s brain, but do you realize the real implications of this sequence? It is nothing less than the Marxist, materialistic, deterministic idea that a man’s thinking is conditioned by physical factors, that his body will make him think right or wrong according to its condition, and that there is no such thing as an intellectual process. Look up Point 8 of my SCREEN GUIDE FOR AMERICANS, for the details of my reasons why this issue is a Marxist one. The speech in one of your pictures, “The Head Man has ordered us to tighten some of the loose screws in this guy’s thinking machine!,” is nothing less than the ghastliest communist or fascist idea—the idea that a leader can order a man’s thinking to be straightened out and, of all things, by means of a physical operation. Just think of all the implications and connotations of such a speech. What I see in it are the German gas chambers, the German experiments on living human beings, and the Soviet concentration camps for people whose thinking is wrong according to the Soviet Head Man.

Believe me, I am a good propagandist as you know, and I know how propaganda works. Your readers may not be able to analyze all this in words, but they will get all the implications which I described, and that is certainly not what you want to preach. 

(4) I object to your use of the words “sharing” and “dividing” when you speak of wages or incomes. In one of your pictures, the Martian Head Man says, “We finally found out that the more we produce, the easier it is to share the rewards and the more everybody gets.” In your last picture, the Earthman says, “Now lets get to work because the more goods we can produce, the more we have to divide in exchange for our dollars.” Since you argued so well with Leonard Read about the proper use of the terms “freedom of opportunity” or “equality of opportunity,” you understand the importance of using exact terms in politics, and I am surprised that you let this one get past you. Whenever we speak of incomes as “sharing” or “dividing,” we merely drive in the collectivist idea of the national income being there for the purpose of being shared. I know that you use these words figuratively, but you can see what they mean literally. I think it will be a great step forward when conservatives overhaul their vocabulary most carefully and discard from it, once and

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Mr. DeWitt Emery
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February 14, 1948

for all, all the words smuggled into it by collectivists. National wealth is not there to be shared. An employer does not share the income of his factory with his workers. That income is his. He pays the workers what he has agreed to pay for their services through voluntary negotiations, and the basis of the agreement is the law of supply and demand. He does not pay on the basis of the income of his factory. This last is the vicious idea which was being advocated, as you will remember, a couple of years ago by labor unions who demanded wage raises according to manufacturers’ incomes. The writer of your comic strip has added his two cents’ worth to this idea. It is true that an employer can pay more only if he produces more; but that is not sharing

I think you will see from the above that an undertaking such as your comic strip will not only fail, but will be actually detrimental to your own cause—UNLESS your writer is both a trained dramatist and a clear, consistent thinker on politics, a man whose thinking has no loose screws or contradictions. I do not know how to impress upon you strongly enough that it is particularly in fiction, more than in any other form of writing, that the confusion of a man’s thinking comes across most disastrously. So there is only one practical suggestion which I have to offer you, and I would like to urge it most strongly: Get yourself a real writer, if you intend to continue with this comic strip. It breaks my heart to think of the money and the effort which you are putting into this undertaking and which will be wasted, if not worse, unless your writer knows what he is doing. 

If you agree with me, but do not have anyone in mind who can do the job for you, I can suggest one or two writers here in Hollywood who might be good for just this sort of thing. If you are interested, let me know what the conditions are, how much you would pay, how long you intend to continue this strip, and I will try to find a suitable man for you, that is, someone who is both good politically and a trained dramatist. 

Now as to the notes on political movies which I promised you, I am afraid it is just not possible for me to write any articles at present, so I am sending you the April 1947 issue of PLAIN TALK, which contains an excellent political review of the picture, THE BEST YEARS OF OUR LIVES. I suggest that you read it and if it fits your purpose, you might ask PLAIN TALK’s permission to reprint it. I think they would probably be glad to let you do it. You might use this article as a test, and then start your

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Mr. DeWitt Emery
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February 14, 1948

own department of movie and radio criticism in your bulletin, as we discussed. The time is certainly right for it. 

What has been the follow-up of your correspondence with the radio people?  

As you see, I am still very interested in your fight, and I would like to help you with it, if I can. Let me hear from you about this. 

With best regards,  



Ayn Rand