Sunday, March 19, 2017

Stories of Serious Heroes

The wave of movies based upon super heroes has been good for comic books, in many ways.  The source material for these movies, the books have for decades been more serious than the general public understood or believed.  Some of the reason that the comic books were not taken as seriously as the medium was, was that in the beginning comics were aimed at kids, both in terms of tone, and price point and target audience.  The comic book industry boomed at various points, but in particular during World War II and the Korean conflict.  The reason for the boom wasn't sales to children, it was US servicemen and women who had time, and money, when not in action.  But these were also considered throw away material.  10 cent paper magazines didn't fare well for long term collection, when in a bunker, or foxhole, or ship bay.  Along with the temporary nature of small paper magazines in war zones, the general trend was to share among friends.

While comics became more serious in the years beyond the war years, the comic book industry at various times suffered a lack of sales, loss of publishers, and contraction.  But during the 1960s the industry experienced rebirth.  However, it became less diverse in genres, and more focused upon super heroes as the genre and subject matter.  Some people do not read super hero comics, and prefer spies, romance, horror and more.  But the industry focused upon the sales they had, rather than support less saleworthy books.

As stories of super heroes are the most fantastic of genres, many people suggested that super hero comics were not serious, were not "art", and were not doing anything new. 

The arrival of serious stories in the comic book industry had roots in new artists and new writers using the previously established heroes and reimagining them.  Also, comics moved from kids comics, DC Comics and Marvel Comics and underground comix, to a wide proliferation of new publishers, and a new form of the market, called the direct market.  This led to an explosion of intelligent, different, and more adult works. 

It is certainly true that the comics published during the 1980s were either modern and intelligent, or artifacts of a previous era, childlike, amateurish, or out of step with the general market it had targeted. 

In the present there are many comics than people can pick up that are miles and miles away from the silly, quaint, childish books that existed before the 1980s.  The industry faced accusations of offering children adult content.  And there were arguments within the industry, trying to secure an area for the modern creative voice, among the industry that still wanted the sales from children. 

But children, in the 80s up to the present, have a vast number of other entertainment sources that can be more interactive, stood up to repeat viewings, or play, that occupied the niche comics formerly had.  Some critics think super heroes automatically placed comics, in general, in the ghetto of dismissive attitudes towards the medium, belief that comics remained for children, and that adult orientated stories using super heroes were wrongly aimed.

The truth, however, is that comic books are a medium, and just like television, radio, film, animation, there is no overarching judge to keep work from readers.  It follows that if a product is for sale, whoever buys it becomes the audience.  IF super heroes are childlike, foolish, unbelievable, they would appeal to children.  But the average reader is not a child, so that viewpoint becomes nullified.

What super heroes are, and can become, is stories.  They are stories using heroes in costume just as the people of the past used myth and legends as entertainment.  They are often written as allegories for modern problems, and can be seen as a means by which to explore issues. 

Whether the issue in the comic book story is the question of what is a hero, or who will defend the country or people, or how much trust do our heroes deserve, the stories can all be told in layered, intelligent work, that provides both entertainment and provocation of reflection.

The comic images shown here are to give offerings of serious super hero stories, that will be worth reading and gaining a respect for the works that treat themselves as being worthy of serious thought.

They can all be found upon Amazon, Ebay, or a local comics store.


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