Friday, August 04, 2006

Ian Gordon on The Superhero

Ian Lewis Gordon (author of the important book Comic Strips and Consumer Culture and co-editor of Comics & Ideology) also was interviewed for the That's Beijing! article on superhereoes (see my post on July 25). Unfortunately, he wasn't quoted in the final article. Fortunately, after seeing that I had already posted my interview responses, he has allowed me to publish his answers below. (I've taken the opportunity to add several weblinks throughout his replies.) Read on for another perspective on superheroes and culture. Thanks for this, Ian!
What’s the connection between World War II and the emergence and popularity of the Superman character?

Before WWII Superman had gained much popularity among comic book readers. But WWII turned the character in to an American icon. In part this was because many American servicemen read comics, particularly Superman comics. Superman comics during WWII were most about domestic things with very little mention made of the war. The covers of the comics often had war themes but the stories had no relation to the covers and showed everyday scenes from American life. In a sense Superman comics probably helped remind American servicemen what they were fighting for.

Why does Superman continue to appeal to Americans?

Probably because in the different versions of Superman - comic books, comic strips, radio series, television series in the 1950s, 1990s, and currently (Smallville), the films from the early 1980s, and the forthcoming new film - many Americans can find something to relate to. That is there are so many aspects to Superman that he stands for all of America in all its messy complexity. The 1950s television show introduced Superman as "fighting for truth, justice, and the American way." The latest movie has the following line in the trailer "does he still stand for truth, justice, all that stuff." Many Americans will hear this and know "all that stuff" is "the American way," but others will just hear "all that stuff."

Is America the only country that really celebrates cartoon book superheroes? (If so, why?)

Not really but off hand I can not think of an outstanding comic book superhero from another country. Maybe El Santo from Mexico.

Why are "super powers" so often part of the American conception of (super) heroism, but are absent from the Chinese one?

Is this really true. From the Chinese movies and television shows I have seen many heroic figures have powers that are super. The ability to leap great heights and seemingly float in the air seem similar to Superman's powers in the late 1930s when he could only "leap tall buildings in a single bound" and not fly as such.

Why do you think Chinese superheroes are historical (eg. Song Dynasty's Yue Fei) or are figures from legends (eg. Sun Wukong from Journey to the West), while American superheroes from the 40s and 50s come from science fiction or fantasy?

Americans have many heroes from the past including Washington, Jefferson and other fictional or semi-fictional figures like cowboys. Cowboys were just as popular as the science fiction and fantasy heroes from the 1940s to the 1960s.

How do you think the cult of Mao has influenced conceptions of heroism in China?

Sorry I really do not know. Probably.
Updated Image: Ian Gordon, courtesy hizownself.


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