In the United States we actually take the time to celebrate the art and impact of comic books on our culture twice every year. The first Saturday in May, comic book stores around the country celebrate Free Comic Book Day. There are special events, special free comic books handed out only in person on that day, sales, and the like. The lines usually end up out the door and down the block throughout the day.
But then there is a second day. National Comic Book Day is September 25th each year. Like many holidays, there is a lot of debate about when they started, who started them. But the why is not that hard. Telling stories with drawn pictures is not new. It was our first way to tell stories as a species. The oldest known cave paintings were drawn over 64,000 years ago.
The first picture and word comic book as a prototype, “The Adventures of Obadiah Oldbuck” was released in 1842. But it was the 1930's when comic books took off. The first modern comic book was “Famous Funnies” and released in 1933. In 1938, Superman, one of the oldest, still published characters, made his debut.
In 2015, I took a free online class from the Smithsonian about the history of Superheroes and their impact on their culture. I couldn’t resist for many reasons, but the best was one of the instructors was the absolute legend of modern comic books and superheroes, Stan Lee. And believe me, it doesn’t get much better than to hear one of the people who made this form of entertainment a huge deal, with over One Billion Dollars ($1,000,000,000) per year of just book sales. That doesn’t include all of the merchandise, the movies, TV shows and even the impact they have on our culture.
Now, like my parents, I can tell you that academics were not so impressed with the thought of people studying this phenomena seriously. One of our instructors, Michael Uslan, was the first to get a college to offer credit for the study of the origins, mythology & historical foundation and sociological impact of them. He went to at dean at Indiana University to pitch his class idea, mind you he was a student at the time..
He tells a funny story of an academic panel, including the Dean meeting with him and saying, so young man, I hear you are the one who wants us to teach a class about silly, children’s comic books (yeah, Mom and Dad said something similar to me as a kid). Now Dr. Uslan, asked the Dean if he ever read and enjoyed them. The Dean admitted that like many, he loved the stories of Superman in print, old serial movies, and black and white TV shows. But that had nothing to do with history and mythology.
The young student, later professor, had his in. He asked the Dean why he didn’t think that Superman had a mythological and historical origin. The Dean scoffed. So he the Dean, who confessed that he had read many of those comics cover to cover as a kid. So Michael asked him first to not summarize Superman’s origin for those in the room who hadn’t, but to retell in a few sentences the Biblical story of Moses.
The Dean, not getting the setup, explained how an Egyptian Pharaoh had ordered that the first born of any Hebrew be put to death. To protect their child, Moses’ parents placed him in a wicker basket and sent it adrift on the Nile River. An Egyptian couple then found the basket and raised the child as their own. Moses eventually learned about his actual heritage and went on to become a hero to the Hebrews. And got him to admit that was not only religiously significant to the world’s three largest religions, but a mythological and literary work worthy of college study.
Student, now Dr. Uslan went in for the kill. He asked the Dean as succinctly as he did the Moses story, retell Superman’s origin and story arc. The Dean skeptically started that “The planet Krypton was about to explode, and a scientist and his wife placed their infant son into a little rocket ship and sent him to Earth where he was found by the Kents, who raised him as their own son. When he grew up and learned of his true…”, the Dean stopped, it finally hit him. And he quickly said if he could find a professor to teach such a class he would back it. And so the class came into being.
Now, for me, the appeal, I admit I’ve watched more TV shows and movies than read the books, was the old as time themes of good versus evil. But in the TV and Movie universe my favorite hero has no super powers. In the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) starting with Iron Man and going into the Avengers movie, as it had been in the comic books, SHIELD was an important part of the government dealing suddenly with aliens, super powered humans, etc.
For the movies SHIELD, the Strategic, Homeland Interdiction, Enforcement and Logistics Division (and if you watch Iron Man, Phil Coulson played by actor Clark Gregg, admits it’s a mouthful to say) is the secret (yeah, every vehicle they have has their logo on it, they have a huge headquarters that would make any US Government Agency green with envy, etc so very secret, agency that keeps the public safe and deals with the mess a bunch of super powered good and bad guys would create.
Phil Coulson is a top agent, one of Director Nick Furry’s top agents, most trusted deputies and former partner. But Phil has no super abilities. He’s just a really good guy, who like me lost a very brave Dad at a very young age. Coulson is willing to and does give his life to stop the villains and protect the every day people.
And you’re saying if you’ve lasted so far, so what does that have to do with being a lawyer who represents injured workers and disabled people Kurt? Well many years ago, a former paralegal came into my office, stared at my collection of pop culture items in my book cases and said, that’s a depressing collection of items, why do you have that in there. And I had my Michael Uslan and the Dean moment.
I asked her why she considered particular ones so depressing. I pointed out Rafiki, from the Lion King, the Battlestar Galactica, and Obi Wan Kenobi. Like me, she was a pop culture nut and said, yeah, the warrior, advisor who has to keep things together against long odds in the Lion King, the last space aircraft carrier battling impossible odds to keep the last remaining 50,000 humans in a rag tag fugitive fleet safe, against a more powerful enemy who wants to and should be able to wipe them out, and Obi-Wan Kenobi, one of the last Jedi, protecting the young children, who are the galaxy’s only hope to end an oppressive empire.
She said, yeah, everyone, and others, are the last ones standing. Standing up for people who would otherwise not be able to stand up for themselves, the ones who have to make impossible things happen to, . . . oh, crap, what we do. Bingo I said, and we got it easy helping out injured workers and disabled people in a state and country whose leaders consider them takers, a drain on profits and the rich.
So, yes, I am a proud geek, but in 2015, the whole team had fun helping out that online class. I had to create a new hero and their super villain arch enemy. Mind you my hero is a kind of Captain America knock off made out of a geeky high school teacher whose wife and young child are innocent bystanders who get killed in the first Avengers movie, Battle of New York but joins SHIELD to protect people. Even our Firm Administrator, Lisa got in on the act. I had to create a new hero, and their arch nemesis, using mythological figures. Lisa insisted she got to help design the nemesis, Electrica, based on the goddess Nemesis from Greek mythology, and when she heard she was the one who retaliated against those who commit crimes against the weak, and bring down the ego maniacs a peg or two, we had to name the character in her honor. The cheesy picture of Electrica (where was the new AI drawing programs then? See what 30 seconds on one can do in 2023 below my cheesy one from 2015) below with my certificate for completing the class with a familiar autograph as the bonus for getting that done.
So, join us in taking a break from standing up for those who can’t on Monday, September 25th and celebrate National Comic Book Day. You can check comics & graphic novels out from our amazing Toledo Lucas County Public Library, watch your favorite TV or Movie Superhero, or Super Villain. No judgement, I have a weird soft spot for the anti-heroes like Jack Sparrow, Deadpool, etc. Even though I’m too much of a boy scout, Chris Evans version of Captain America type.
Maybe drop us your favorite heroine, hero or villain in the comments. And until our next post, where we go back to real world stuff, Excelsior! or if you’re a Captain Marvel/Carrol Danvers movie fan - “Higher, further, faster, baby.”
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