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New Yorker Delves into Comic Books

photos by Albert Ferreira for Startraks / click to enlarge

Late in the proceedings at the New Yorker festival’s panel on superheroes, Jonathan Lethem (far left) acknowledged that the previous hour’s emphasis on costumed crimefighters wasn’t necessarily reflective of everything that’s going on in comics—it was as if, he suggested, everybody’s idea of film was the western, with only occasional acknowledgments that you could make a film in another genre. For the most part, however, the assembled experts were happy to talk about their superpowered creations, from Mike Mignola‘s recounting of the origins of Hellboy), to Grant Morrison‘s vision of his superhero stories as “stories about what it is to be human, but on a cosmic scale,” to Lethem’s re-imagining of the 1970s Marvel comic Omega the Unknown, which debuted last week. Heroes executive producer Tim Kring (far right) didn’t have a comics background, but his thoughts about characters drawn to their destinies, like Biblical prophets, and playing out the archetypal hero’s journey fit into the conversation perfectly.

Some might say that the event, moderated by New Yorker editor Ben Greenman, drew the most fanboyish crowd of the festival weekend—but, honestly, surrounded with the classical music fans that flocked to the Alex Ross and Oliver Sacks events, I’m not 100% convinced. In fact, most of the questions from comics fans were incisive, probing the relationship between comic books and Hollywood, for example, or questioning the diversity of representations in the books. And that previously-alluded-to observation by one audience member about how comics are so much more than superheroes, which prompted Morrison to counter, “I found that superhero comics were more like my real life.” Having re-immersed myself in Morrisonia the week before, including‘s Grant Morrison: The Early Years and a chapter from Douglas Wolk‘s Reading Comics, I knew he wasn’t kidding. In many cases, the stories come straight out of his autobiography; he told the audience about one Justice League story arc where the cosmic menace was basically an externalized form of his own depression that he plopped into the comic for Superman, Batman, and company to overcome in their role as personality archetypes.

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