Obligation to Entertain

“True comics are a popular art, and yes, I believe their primary obligation is to entertain, but comics can go beyond that, and when they do, they move from silliness to significance.”

~Bill Watterson

Click on image for source

Truth be told, I was teased and bullied through most of my childhood due to the fact that I was a geek. I was and still am into comic books, science-fiction, video games, and the world of fantasy. Whether I was singled out for these interests or I escaped into this world of geekdom as a result of my peers targeting me in such a negative way is uncertain. What came first; the awkward comic-book nerd or the social outcast of the public school systems I attended? Regardless, comic-books helped me cope with my less-than desirable social status in the hierarchy created by the powers that be in grade school and middle school—kids are cruel.

Comic books are meant to entertain, but Bill Watterson said it best in the above quotation. Sure, those that have not taken the time to read the “silly picture books” may not realize, in fact, that they are so much more. Since their inception, comic books have been seen as a lesser form of literature. However, comic books have tackled serious societal issues long before mainstream media depicted such issues because they were deemed taboo. Comic books mimic social reality;   readers can often relate with the characters and are encouraged to find the superhero within themselves.

Danny Fingeroth (2004) expands upon this analysis suggesting Superman uses his secret identity to assimilate into Earth’s culture; more specifically, he assimilates into the American culture in order to blend in and avoid standing out. Fingeroth states:

“Superman’s story is not unlike that of the kid who at home speaks the language of his parents’ immigrant roots, but outside adopts the identity of the mainstream, attempting to blend in and become one with the adopted homeland…The immigrant wants to excel but  stay anonymous. He wants to make his parents proud―but not make them ashamed of who they themselves are, though he may, himself, be ashamed of them in certain profound ways.”

Click Image for Source

Many readers can easily relate with Superman’s struggle to maintain his secret identity in order to fit in, with the understanding that this alter ego is merely a sham to conceal the true persona within. Although authors wrote the Superman mythology with the American immigration experience in mind, the theme that emerges from the use of visual images depicting Clark’s transformation from the meek salary man into the confident powerful Superman with a quick visit to the nearest phone booth and the deeper meaning beneath the surface of the narrative is applicable to a significant scope of the audience regardless of the demographic that each audience member may or may not belong to. Interpretation of metaphor within the visual imagery and text can encourage readers to become more critical about the subject matter and present themes that, in turn, helps readers make sense of one’s own identity by situating oneself in the themes and metaphors that emerge in the narrative.

While the predominant obligation of many comic book writers may be to entertain, my hats go off to those writers who consider their obligation to offer critical commentary on the societal issues most tend to shy away from. The writers who write for the readers who could stand to realize they are not alone in their experiences and tribulations. The writers who encourage readers to believe that they share more in common with heroes than they had ever thought.

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2 thoughts on “Obligation to Entertain

  1. Thanks G!

    Thanks so much for the comment and sharing your comic book experiences! Brilliant! I’ve always been a pretty avid DC fan. X-Men are definitely my favorite from Marvel though. I never really thought about how great an effect comics have even beyond its readers, but you’re absolutely right!

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  2. great post, z!

    i’m a noob when it comes to comic books, but i can remember having some experiences with comics growing up … for example, i recall sneaking into my aunt’s old bedroom at my grandparents’ house and reading her ‘little lulu’ & ‘casper’ comics as well as her ‘archie’ funny books … at the time, there were certainly far superior comic books available in stores, but i didn’t know that … to me, these were taboo to look at because she strictly forbade me to go into her room, and i think she might have even mentioned the comics specifically as off limits, so being the little devil that i was, i would always be so careful to open her drawer slowly, pull out the comics one at a time and slowly turn the pages of these near pristine magazines–for lack of a better word–so there would be no evidence … that was my first experience ever with comics …

    years later, after listening to my friend, vin nguyen, talk animatedly about what was new in the marvel universe, i was able to read my very first ‘x-men’ comic (i think it was when jean grey was phoenixing out). i was completely blown away by the art, the story; the sheer brutality of the characters involved and i wanted to start collecting. *gameshow buzzer* … being in the 4th or 5th grade, i obviously didn’t have much of an income and my father refused to give me more allowance than i already was getting and so my little spark of comic fascination fizzled out … but i do remember that at the time i thought ‘marvel’ was the only comic book company out there …

    … until recently–and many, many years after my dying comic fascination–with the release of the DCUO MMORPG. since the release of this game, my comic book fascination has rekindled quite a bit and i’ve started developing a taste for DC comics. while i’m not actively purchasing and reading comic books, i’m definitely enjoying reading up on the characters’ origins, etc, on wikis and other internet resources …

    sorry for the extremely long comment, but i guess my long-winded purpose of this comment is to say that the DC universe–as well as the other companies (of which i cannot name lol)–is so filled with entertainment and, as you and others have stated, social commentary, that comic books are, and will always be, relevant … even to people like me who don’t actively read them.

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