Saturday, June 06, 2009

Comic Books - I

In a minor contribution to the ongoing discussion of graphic "art," I thought I throw out a memory I have of a Superman Comic from the 1940's. I can't find the exact issue, but in one of Superman's adventures an adversary planted dragon's teeth which then grew into soldiers (what appeared to be Roman soldiers to my innocent eye.) Now, all of you vastly erudite folks out there will have immediately recognized this as a reference to an old myth:
In Greek myth, dragon's teeth feature prominently in the legends of the Phoenician prince Cadmus and Jason's quest for the Golden Fleece. In each case, the dragon's teeth, once planted, would grow into fully armed warriors.


Cadmus is show sowing the teeth in the Maxfield Parrish graphic above.(1)

This retained memory is interesting to me for a number of reasons. First, of course, is why did I retain it? I couldn't have possibly of known the classical connection at that tender age. Secondly, is this not like the tendency of much literature, including, and in particular, English literature, to scatter references to classical themes? I would venture that this is particularly prominent in authors schooled in the "Tom Brown" era of English public schooling (maybe still is). On the other hand, one of the most prominent use of classical references that comes to my mind is Montaigne. One would need to have read all of the classical Roman authors to even begin to recognize the quotes he scatters with frequency in his works.

One could go on meandering about this for hours. What the point of this is, and it is a meme that I hope to explore, is how this exposure in childhood to graphic or literary concepts informs our later decision making, especially those who are in power. This will be especially true for the exposure of children in the 1940's-50's to comic books such as, you guessed it, Superman. (And, Wonder Woman, etc., etc.)

Every person, man and woman, has a childhood. Most people in power in the 21st century were not extremely privileged (i.e. lived in a palace with individual tutors). This is especially true for someone like Barack Obama. In fact, one could make an observation that a defining difference between Obama and GW Bush is their upbringing. What books did Obama read in Indonesia (2)? (I suspect this is in his Audacity of Hope). The fact that Obama was able to give a speech directed at a Muslim audience in Egypt whereas Bush would have totally incapable of the same thing speaks volumes.

It is also true that Bush (b.1946) grew up a generation earlier than Obama (b. 1961). The same generation as Clinton (b. 1946),(and, of course, Dr. C.; I did not know Clinton at Georgetown, but he was there). Other birth dates of note are Gordon Brown (b. 1951), Sarkozy (b. 1955), Merkel (b. 1954) and Putin (b. 1952).

(1) The classical legends of Cadmus and Jason have given rise to the phrase "to sow dragon's teeth." This is used as a metaphor to refer to doing something that has the effect of fomenting disputes, rather akin to the law of unintended consequences.

(2) From ages six to ten, Obama attended local schools in Jakarta, including Besuki Public School and St. Francis of Assisi School.

2 comments:

Poor Pothecary said...

What the point of this is, and it is a meme that I hope to explore, is how this exposure in childhood to graphic or literary concepts informs our later decision making, especially those who are in power. This will be especially true for the exposure of children in the 1940's-50's to comic books such as, you guessed it, Superman.

Difficult territory. The immediate problem for me is, to what extent is that exposure shaped, chosen even, by personality factors and interests already present? The comics I remember from childhood (early 1960s) had various styles. Some had a macho flavour, with a twin focus on WWII and football. Some were simply comic: picaresque adventures of quirky characters (Bash Street Kids, Desperate Dan, etc). I wasn't terribly interested in any of these, but went for other comics that tended toward science-fictional.

It's tempting to link American mindset to superhero comics - as people like Alan Moore has done. Jewett and Lawrence argued much the same point in The American Monomyth - but presumably there was a similar spread of styles in US comics? The Archie Andrews series springs to mind as a very popular series launched in that time slot that wasn't about superheroes.

Dr. C said...

PP, All points well taken. See Unreal nature today, as always, but I think I can respond in another post.