I've recently contributed to some art shows in the Phoenix/Mesa, and each contribution has been accompanied with a historical and/or autobiographical explanation of the piece's significance. Although the work is depicted here, I'm proud of the writing, too, so I thought I'd compile it here. Incidentally, the themes of the shows have been "Fertility & Prosperity" (currently at the Klang Gallery in Phoenix), "Bunnies," and "Star Wars," respectively as they're listed here. Two are false, and one is true. Can you tell which?
The High Price of Prosperity in Toon Town
In 1954, German psychiatrist Fredric Wertham’s book Seduction of the Innocent criticized comic books as violent, hyper-sexual, negative influences on youth. The Comics Code Authority was established to regulate comic book content and still exists today. One of Wertham’s lesser critiques was the medium’s abundance of wealthy characters; to quote:
“Superheroes like Batman (more pointedly his billionaire alter ego Bruce Wayne) and anthropomorphic protagonists like Disney’s Scrooge McDuck glamorize the pursuit of riches to the point of demoralizing one’s fellow man. The implication that Bruce Wayne could not fight crime as effectively were he not with upper class means, or that ‘Richie Rich’ would not have had as exciting a childhood were he not well-to-do, expresses to impressionable youth that greed and materialism are the keys to successful and meaningful lifestyles.”
When comic book artists were tasked with making their prosperous characters less likable to children, these test designs and story prompts were the result. Naturally, editors quickly dismissed them, and these illustrations were lost in publishers’ deep storage until today. They expose one of the most controversial, and ironically hilarious, periods in comic book history.
An AutoBunnyography, a Collection of Tell-Tail Toys
I suppose there were always the bunnies.
Since I was born in December, I assume I was conceived under the watch of the March Hare, just before Easter. Did my parents make love like bunnies that night, just three months into their marriage, and eleven years before it would end? Shortly after we moved from Connecticut to Arizona, my parents went on a road trip to Las Vegas. When they returned, they told stories of seedy hotel rooms and dodging highway patrolmen, and I’ve always imagined it was their last great time together.
Who Framed Roger Rabbit? had just hit theaters, so Mom and Dad brought me back some Roger Rabbit figurines from Nevada. I began obsessively collecting PVC figurines and fast food kids meal toys of my favorite cartoon characters so I could have a little Toon Town of my own. Between the surreal worlds of my mom’s new boyfriends and my dad’s depression, Toon Town seemed like the most stable place to be, falling anvils and all.
Soon, a love of cartoons became a love of comic books, too, and they both shared a penchant for anthropomorphism. As an adolescent hiding in my own shell, my liking the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles just came naturally, along with their friend, Usagi Yojimbo. Bucky O’Hare was a fun franchise, too. I still have all ten original action figures. In fact, I still have almost every toy I ever had. My parents never sold them, never threw them away. They’ve moved with me to California, from dorm rooms to my own failed marriage to apartments with girlfriends to bachelor pads, and finally back to Arizona.
I recently moved to downtown Phoenix, and lugging twenty years’ worth of comic book collecting made me wonder if the hobby is worth the effort. Then I remembered an Easter in Connecticut (1986, maybe?), when I had woken up early to spy what the Easter Bunny had left us. I hid when I heard my father descend the stairs, because I didn’t want to get in trouble. He approached the decorated baskets carefully, then crouched to look under the dinner table. I wonder now, did he even know I had made a noise . . . or was he looking for the Easter Bunny?
Did my father believe in the Easter Bunny? My parents never threw these toys away. Now I know why.
I suppose there will always be the bunnies.
Hey, Star Wars Fans!
Did you know shortly after George Lucas wrote the treatment for the Star Wars saga, he performed the whole story for friends and family with paper bag puppets? It's true! Of course, many of George's friends laughed at his amateur ventriloquism, so he quickly discarded most of the puppets he had made. Only three, Yoda, Jaba the Hut, and Darth Maul, still exist, perhaps because they were used as references to produce the likenesses of these characters as we know them today. These puppets remain among the most sought after Star Wars memorabilia of all time, because they serve as a reminder that one of cinema's most enduring franchises began with a dream, and a young man that decided not to pack his lunch so that dream could come true.