As a young boy growing up in Akron, Ohio I had my own gods and goddesses, my own Roman and Greek mythology, to inspire hero worship.
My cultural heroes were the super-powered comic book characters that Stan Lee and his renegade Marvel comic book artists unleashed in the â€˜60s. Spiderman, The Fantastic Four, The Silver Surfer, Captain America, The Hulk, et al. These were the heros my younger brother David and I would impersonate as we battled evil and the neighborhood bullies.
Comic book culture has grown up with my peers, just like rock and roll music has. No longer are comic books just for kids. From adult areas in comic book stores to sophisticated narratives in the graphic novels (This History of Violence, Sin City, The Dark Knight, Watchmen, etc.) that get co-opted by Hollywood, the comic book world has crossed over into our world at a fevered pitch.
Just this past week I was inundated with comic book pop and sub-culture invitations and requests.
On Saturday evening I attended an opening reception and exhibition curated by comic book "herstorian" and artist Trina Robbins entitled She Draws Comics: MoCCA (Museum of Comic and Cartoon Art) Celebrates a Century of Americaâ€™s Women Cartoonists, an exhibition by the women of the comic book world. Being honored were the founding female talents in this typically male dominated profession. The exhibit features over 50 artists and 100 artworks, making it the largest retrospective of womenâ€™s work in comic and cartoon art ever mounted. From pioneering cartoonists such as Nell Brinkley to Brenda Starr creator Dale Messick to Ms. Robbins herself, this is a celebration of talented women in a male-dominated industry.
Two days later, on Monday afternoon, I was in Vertical offices interviewing the Sudoku puzzle masters Tetsuya Nishio and Kenji Onishi from Japan and happened upon their Buddha graphic novel series by Osamu Tezuka, with eye-popping book covers by New York's very own book jacket guru/artist Chipp Kidd. This collision of design, art, and graphic novel synergy is extraordinary and just another example of the mutation of the comic book world with design and art.
And speaking of mutants, later Monday night I attended a press screening of X-Men: The Last Stand, the third installment from yet another blue chip comic book franchise from Mr. Lee's universe. Itâ€™s the biggest, brashest popcorn-chomping tentpole movie from 20th Century Fox in this early box office sweepstakes that Hollywood's major movie studios chase every summer. From Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) to Jean Grey (Famke Janssen), Cyclops (James Mardsen) to The Beast (Kelsey Grammer), Storm (Halle Berry), Magneto (Ian McKellen), Dr. Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart), they're all here and plenty of new evil and good mutants, too. The action is first-rate, the acting is top-notch (no doubt that big paychecks help attract top-notch actors), and the narrative is just adult enough to keep even the most cynical moviegoer entertained.
Anime, computer-generated animation, Magna, web-based cartoons and comics, even Saturday morning cartoons (Sponge Bob) are just as adult-friendly as they are kid-friendly. The world of comic book icons has never seen such widespread acceptance and infusion into our daily pop culture. From T-shirts to CD covers to collectible vinyl sculptures and anything else a marketer will brand, our world and the world of the comic book has never been so seamless. And yet, it seems as though we've only just begun to accept the comic book hero as part of our own modern mythology. I know I can still disappear in a Captain America comic book or get excited by a new Batman or Superman movie.
How about you? Who are your heroes?
Mr. Wright is the former editor-in-chief of Creem and Prince's New Power Generation magazines as well as a writer of films, fiction, and music. He is also a singer/songwriter who has released 3 solo CDs and a member of the folk-rock quartet GIANTfingers. And before all of this he was an agent at the William Morris Agency!