Monday, September 14, 2015

Show Me Arizona, Show Me Ourselves

“So why should I care about Spider-man?” she asked.
We were sitting outside of Trunk Space, waiting for Okilly Dokilly, the Phoenix-based Ned Flanders-inspired metal band, to start their first show ever.  I was drawing caricatures and selling my homemade comics at the pre-concert carnival.  In other words, it was the perfect place and time to pontificate superheroes.

I wasn’t stunned by the question, but I was struck by her choice of words.  She didn’t ask why she should like Spider-man.  That question is easy.  Spider-man can sling and swing on webs, crawl on buildings, and knock out a bad guy with the flick of a finger.  What’s not to like?

I had to explain why she should care.  Caring implies an emotional investment that lasts past a 22-page comic book adventure, or a two hour movie.  Indeed, I care about Spider-man, but I hadn’t wondered why in a long time.  I took a moment to think about it, then answered.

“When Spider-man was created in the early ‘60s, Stan Lee and his artists made him a teenager.  At the time, teenaged superheroes were still just sidekicks, so Spider-man was the first solo superhero whose private life mirrored his young readers’ lives.  He may have had to stop the Scorpion from robbing the bank, but he also had homework and chores.  That’s still his role in comics.  Superman is from another planet, and Batman is a millionaire, but how would any Average Joe deal with the chance to have powers or be a hero?  That costume covers him head to toe . . . anybody and everybody can be Spider-man!”

She nodded slowly and replied, “Oh, I get it now!”  We talked more about Batman (because who doesn’t want to talk more about Batman), and, when she left my table, I felt satisfied that I had shared some knowledge and spread my love of superheroes.  After all, I am the self-appointed Arizona’s Ambassador of Comics.

As a comic book artist and fan, I’m often asked to explain the importance of comics and superheroes as more than a pop culture trend.  Superhero comics are in fact a uniquely American medium and mythology, and, like all good stories, we’re introduced to them as children.  My hope is to remind folks of their continued importance in adulthood, as entertainment and allegory for reality.  To do so effectively, I’ve dubbed myself Arizona’s Ambassador of Comics.

In this completely imaginary role, I’ve discussed superhero comics at events like Ignite Phoenix and on shows like Good Morning, Arizona, and I’ve organized events like the Community Jam Comic and the recent Jack Kirby Birthday Celebration.

My latest opportunity was last Saturday, September 12, at the Arizona Capital Museum.  Editorial cartoonist Steve Benson and I discussed comics, politics, and Arizona at the opening of their latest exhibit, “Show Me Arizona: Illustrations of History.”  Why should you care?  You live in Arizona, don’t you?  Their exhibit is a great chance to see where we’ve been, so we can chart a course for where we should go.

Political cartoons are actually a lot like Spider-man.  They represent regular people with spectacular power.  In this case, those powers don’t include web-slinging or wall-crawling, but summarizing a feeling or opinion in a singular or short sequence of drawings.  As artists, this is how we show you what we think.  This is how we show you why we care.

Check out Fox 10's coverage of the gallery opening, including the gallery's hours so you can dig the exhibit soon, here:

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