Comic Book Escapist medium: To Escape or not to Escape?
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The Amazing adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon is a historical fiction novel deemed a narrative masterpiece by reviewers everywhere since its release in the year 2000. The book in its artistic glory depicts many themes that indulge the readers’ fantasies and whimsical ideas. It discusses ideas of homophobia and anti-Nazi sentiments. The book, set before, during and a bit after World War Two encompasses the journey of two cousins who navigate the world available to them through their artistic sensibilities. In the period which this masterpiece is set, is one of the most instrumental ages now known to have been born in a genre of literature and art fused; the comic book. This time is known as the Golden age of Comic books. The Golden age of Comic books which began in the early thirties and ended in the mid to late fifties saw the bursting of the superhero archetype in brightly drawn sheaves of paper. The book appropriately incorporates this into its historical genes aside from drawing on other historically important people like the great Salvador Dali and Houdini. Comic books and strips became a staple of American society and was used in many ways for all manner of things from advertisements to boosting public morale. The Amazing adventures of Kavalier and Clay provides a critical and realistic meta-narrative of the comic books industry and genre. The book, depicts the powerful medium that is comic books. To understand this, this presentation will focus on the three forms of an outlet that comic books provide. That is the imaginative outlet, the political outlet, and the societal ideological outlet which it provides.
And so it begins:
Firstly, to talk to some extent about the power of the medium shown in the book, the area of the imagination being an outlet is important. Comic books like most literature set the imagination free in ways. Reality sucks. Sometimes there is liberation from the hum drum droll life that surrounds a person and this can be found in literature including comic books. Either by letting the reader into a pre- created whole new world or to imagine the characters in a world the reader creates, comic books give us like literature the means to escape the everyday life. According to research “comic books pandered to and still do to the kind of introverted child generally boys who are gifted with imaginations that often place them in roles like St. George, Neil Armstrong and of course Batman and Superman” (Wolf-Meyer). This idea research taps into, reiterates the point of comic books letting the imagination fly. The book shows this in many different forms since as part of the themes the book displays the idea of escapism is relevant. Now the setting free of one’s imaginations is captured in many ways. The character “The Lady of the Night” who is a moth person says to her new protégé words that sum up comic books and the influence they have on the mind: “There is no force more powerful than an unbridled imagination” (272). In the book following the creation of the Luna Moth the character, the authors create a character that they defend as not being racy saying she is not “showing anything any kid can’t see at Jones Beach” (277) This is just to further the imaginations of children who may or may not have been to Jones Beach. A much better example of freedom through imagination in the book is during the creation of the character The Swift. During this creation process Sammy realises that his character Mayflower may be something that he imagines himself to have in his subconscious. Davy in the book gives the rationale for his guy flying as something that he has always wanted to do. Frank goes on before that to explain that the heroes are wishful figments which include things that people wish they can do but cannot. (145/146). The imagination is a powerful outlet which can be attained in comic books. In the novel of Kavalier and Clay imagination is played on by the creators to give a way for little children to let their weird imaginations fly. It is also a way for the creators and illustrators to give way to their flights of fancy.
Hang in there please:
The second area of examination is that of the political outlet that comic books provide that the book discusses. As this book is set during a trying time for Jews in history there is no proper way to write the novel without some political grievances aired. One of such instances is in the first issue of the Escapist which Josef draws a most controversial cover for the book. This cover is something that Joe finds much relief of some of his pent-up anger. The reader is made to know that every stroke he puts into drawing Hitler getting his jaw punched, fills him with some sort of relief and he hopes that if Hitler does get to see it he checks his teeth to be sure they are in his mouth. This anti-Nazi sentiment is normal at the time since not a lot of people liked Hitler much for his exploits over in Europe. This distaste is carried out by Joe and resounded by some of the readers of his art. Comic books are known to have a political message. Per research, “much as the political leanings of traditional superheroes are hidden within the comics, it is obvious which side of the political spectrum they prefer.” (Růžička). This simply means that a superhero made will create and have its own political affiliations and this will be evident in the content. For the Escapist which Joe drew in the novel, the general distaste for Nazi’s which Joe has, transcends into his character which gets obvious from the get go as research states. The Escapist is anti Nazi and this lets itself out to be shared by Jews with the same sentiments in the novel although unmentioned. This could influence political leanings and agendas and create new ones to be supported since a superhero has its own leanings and readers get to live through them.
The third area is that of the societal ideological outlet. This point plays into the last one of political choices made by superheroes. Here a societal ideological outlet summed up, is just how certain ideologies of the times are demonstrated in comic books. Basically, this just says that an accepted idea can be reinforced in comic books. Comic books can also shape a new ideology that may want some adoption in society. Christina Blanch, a graduate student of anthropology and gender studies at the Ball State University in Indiana describes a startling reality of the depiction of Lois Lane and the time she shows up in in an article to Forbes. She says that around the 30’s Lois Lane was an independent and professional woman accepted into society normally since at the time the women were accepted into the workplace as the men were at war. In contrast a round the end of the war Lois Lane was depicted as a weak female helpless to the attack of male villains. This suggests a need again for the strong males in her life. Blanch says that comics have always paralleled what is happening in society. This as previously seen by the political ideology is true. Modern comic book characters such as Wonder woman and the Gotham city Sirens are powerful female roles that mimic the strong independent woman. Unlike Lois though some of these characters do not change their strength to weakness for men. Comic books reflect the dominant idea of society and the ideology of what is acceptable and this is seen with Lois Lane and in the book by the characters like Luna Moth and Ms. Terror. Although somewhat a weak point a look at comic books from the 60’s and 50’s will show ideas that are outdated and offensive now because ideas then do not go well now.
Conclusion: The end is nigh
The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay is a novel loosely based on the authors of Superman that discusses the powerful outlet that comic books are. First is comic books an imaginative outlet wherein people live their wildest fantasies through the characters. In the novel, this would be the desire of Sammy found in Tom Mayflower and the longing of Davy O’Dowd to fly which he puts in the character The Swift. The second is through the political outlet comic books provide. The superhero is said to show its political affiliations through its series and be it subtle or obvious it shall surface. This is exemplified in the displeasure of Joe for Hitler shown by The Escapist punching Hitler so hard that he would feel it if he saw the picture. Comic books show the dominant ideology of the time. Although the novel doesn’t explicitly say this the reader is a bit aware of it from the changes the characters face personally. Comic books are like the dynamic characters read about in a novel such as that they evolve to suit the time and if you look at any earlier publications the ideology may be a few not expressed in our current time. The amazing adventures of Kavalier and Clay deals with many themes, escapism being one of them. Escapism here through comic books is achieved for the cousins who can vent their frustrations out through their art to the world. The novel also gives a terrible waking up to the life of an artist especially a commercial one of the time. The cousins whom were getting cheated by Anapol and Ashkenazy is a warning to be careful of what you sign and who you work for. Something the cousins did not look much into. The book talks about the art of writing through comic books and gives a bit of an insight into the genre as a medium of escape.
Question: Is the artistic medium of Comic books underrated or overrated both as an artistic medium and a platform for propaganda based on what you know, what the book has shown you and what the presentation eluded to ?
Works Cited: Who’s work did i learn from?
Blanch, Christina. “What Do Comic Books Teach Us About Gender Attitudes?” Forbes. Forbes
Magazine, 23 Jan. 2013. Web. 20 Feb. 2017.
Chabon, Michael. The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay: A Novel. New York: Random
House, 2012. Print.
Růžička, Jiří. “American Superheroes and the Politics of Good and Evil.” Political and Cultural
Quarterly (2010): 46-48. Print.
Wolf-Meyer, Matthew. “The World Ozymandias Made: Utopias in the Superhero Comic,
Subculture, and the Conservation of Difference.” The Journal of Popular Culture 36.3
(2003): 497-517. Web.