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

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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.”

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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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