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#563862 - 01/05/10 05:54 PM Re: Superman as American Icon by Gary Groth [Re: IvanJim]
Joe Lee Offline
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Damn hippies.

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#563863 - 01/05/10 05:54 PM Re: Superman as American Icon by Gary Groth [Re: IvanJim]
Dean R Milburn Offline
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This made me laugh

"This assessment will be roundly ignored because the prose style isn't dazzling or bloated, merely sober and succinct; the observation lacks hyperbole and the critical faculties have not fallen prey to nostalgic or sentiment or popular attitudinizing; and it's not filled with the obligatory gesticulation and platitudinous banalities that turn otherwise intelligent men into simpering mouthpieces for good old American junk."



The good ol' preemptive strike against potential critics. "And if you disagree with me, you are clearly an idiot" Yeah, no bloat and hypebole in that essay.

Frankly, I think the essay is fairly inchoherent. I think Charles is being generous when he attributes this thesis to Groth "the way adults interpret a popular sign and what it says about the culture." Groth's all over the place

1. The role of Superman in comic book history
2. Arguing that popularity does not equal artistry
3. Beating on Harlan Ellison
4. Asserting (without support IMO) that Superman is juvenile
5. Superman as a commodity

I think there's a reason why he concludes with the Williams quote, there is absolutely nothing that can be reasonably concluded from Groth's screed.

What Charles, IvanJim and Lawson have written here is far more interesting than that article.

I think it's wise to step back and look at the man behind the curtain sometimes. Charles, as usual, is on point with his observations that we are so part of our capitalist system, that we sometimes forget to question the impact that immersion has on our ways of perceiving things. At the same time, I think ideas have power that goes beyond the system that delivers them. I can go to a bookstore and buy a copy of The Communist Manifesto. The fact that a series of capitalist enterprises brings those ideas to me, doesn't change the nature of those ideas.

Time Warner absolutely uses Superman to sell a juvenile representation of truth, justice and the American way to people (maybe not so much in the comic books anymore). I don't think there is much of anything wrong with that.


What really fascinates me is that Groth somehow convinced the for profit publisher of a magazine dedicated to those "perfect American commodit[ies]" called super-heroes, a magazine that finds its likely reader to be sympathetic to (if not one of )the " simpering mouthpieces for good old American junk", a magazine with a title that Groth would surely believe to be twice false, focusing on commercial properties that are neither amazing, nor heroic, to publish his piece on Superman. Why on earth would Groth, publisher of The Comics Journal an obvious outlet for his writing, even feel the need to associated himself with those who would sell, market and merchandize pop mythology?












Edited by Dean R Milburn (01/05/10 05:56 PM)

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#563867 - 01/05/10 08:08 PM Re: Superman as American Icon by Gary Groth [Re: Lawson]
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Originally Posted By: Lawson
No, if Groth had refused to laugh at one of my jokes, I just would have set him on fire. I take a humorless view of people who fail to appreciate my humor.


That's not funny.
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#563877 - 01/05/10 10:14 PM Re: Superman as American Icon by Gary Groth [Re: ChrisW]
ChrisW Online   content
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Ok, let's go through Groth's essay and [Wilson] fisk it:

My only interest in Superman, marginal at that, stems from his continuing presence as a symbol of banality and infantilism in the history of the American comic book.

Not the character that turned comics from a ghetto market into a part of pop culture, who still commands attention 50 or 70 years later. Just as a symbol of banality and infantilism. That's all Superman is to Groth. Nothing more. Don't even think of anything else he might mean to people. Just stop thinking about it. Stop it! Groth says so!!!

The character has emerged, after 50 years of relentless marketing and hype, as a legitimate literary creation. Fuzzy-minded liberals confer literary status upon the character because of the economic injustice perpetuated against its creators, Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster (an injustice for which DC Comics should be rightly castrated); conservatives adore the character as a patriotic manifestation, as American as mom, apple pie and selling arms to the Contras; the usual gang of academic lintheads and popcult apologists display their usual confusion of values by mistaking something of social interest for something of artistic significance. But the American mind, forever in a state of self-induced hysteria and blissful deceit, must infer Greatness from commercial success. Hence, even a mind as agile as Harlan Ellison's can be seduced into making one of the most foolish and excessive statements of his career when he tells us that Superman is a creation of literary greatness because "one of the unarguable criteria for literary greatness is universal recognition ..." And McDonalds is haute cuisine because it's sold more than 8 billion hamburgers.

Fuzzy minded liberals confer an awful lot of status on an awful lot of things without knowing what they're doing. Remember when the New York Times won a Pulizer Prize for writing about what wonderful things Stalin was doing in the Ukraine? They still have that prize. Heck, remember when Obama promised to put healthcare reform on C-SPAN? And that he'd take out pork from whatever bills he signed? And that he'd withdraw from Iraq and send more troops to Afghanistan? Superman is still popular. Injustice to Siegal and Shuster isn't even remotely part of why he remains popular.

Aside from bashing Harlan Ellison, this paragraph is the work of a fuzzy-minded liberal who thinks he knows better what people like and why. Comic books aren't hamburgers from Mickey Dees, and neither is Superman. 'Don't compare them' would seem to be the message to be learned.

Superman emerged immediately. Barely a year after he first appeared, he had his own title in the nascent comics market. Army chaplains in WWII worried that Superman was surpassing Jesus Christ in popularity. That was seventy years ago, and Superman is still popular today. Blaming his popularity on "the usual gang" is pathetic at best, and an outright lie at worst. Maybe Groth doesn't actually know who likes Superman. At least his ignorance doesn't stop him.

In Superman at Fifty, Dennis Dooley writes a history of the creative composition of Superman, chronicling in torturous detail Siegel and Shuster's creative period in high school; it is dominated with minutia of no conceivable interest to anyone except, God help us, a Superman scholar. But however much Dooley tries, he cannot disguise the essentially banal and adolescent conception of the character. It is the story of two enthusiastic kids engaging in amateurish acts of exuberant creativity; certainly this is not to be sneered at, but since it is relevant only because of their character's subsequent commercial success and not because of the intrinsic brilliance of creative genesis itself, neither should it be bloated into the kind of high creative that it in fact is not; Dooley's suggestion that Superman is representative of and equal to the philosophical principles espoused by Socrates is too fatuous even to discuss.

And so is Groth's dismissal of what Superman means to his fans, but that doesn't stop Groth. His interest in Superman is marginal, as he said right away. Why is he relevant? I like dogs, but my interest in poodle breeding is marginal. I must be as qualified as Gary Groth to comment. Moreso even, because I like Superman too. I'd bet he'd find the day-to-day details of Los Bros. fascinating, and they haven't created anybody remotely as popular as Superman.

Similarly preposterous is Ellison's statement that Superman is the "20th century archetype of mankind at its finest; he is courage and humanity, steadfastness and decency, responsibility and ethic." This is a schoolboy's perception of a comic book character, and, indeed, it is not surprising that it was written by a 55-year-old schoolboy.

This attack on Harlan Ellison is brought to you by the letters "A", "F" and the number "3". Jesus, Gary, if you want to complain about Harlan Ellison, could you have the decency not to drag Superman into it? He's better than that.

The "Mark Fearing" SupermanSuperman, quite apart from reflecting Socratic thought or Greek mythology, is the perfect American commodity, representing nothing so much

This is why Groth loses readers. First of all, who the hell is he to decide what the "perfect American commodity" is? Second of all, what standard is he following to let us know whether his judgement is correct in whatever he's talking about now? Third of all, how the fuck does he dare to decide what Superman represents to everybody who likes Superman? There's a lot more to Superman than that, and I will invite you to buy a copy of "Maximortal" from our esteemed Veitchmonster host if you don't believe me. There's more to Superman than that. Groth doesn't recognize this, it's his problem. Not Superman's.

as the 20th century triumph of market engineering, of image over substance, of visceral perception over the concrete understand of coherent values.

As I say, this is why I stopped reading TCJ. One can only take so much of blaming a fictional character for the failures of real life human beings. Did Obama ever stop saying that the Christmas Bomber was an "isolated extremist", as he did several days after Christmas when everybody knew that the truth was otherwise, and he looks bad for sticking with the visceral perception over concrete understanding of coherent values?

On a fictional level, we can rely on Superman to protect us. He took Hitler and Stalin to trial at the League of Nations, didn't he?

When the public wearies of one Superman, the corporation that owns him, controls him, promotes him, and benefits most from his success, hires new marketing surrogates to satisfy the transient appetites of a new generation of consumers. After all, which Superman is revered as a literary icon and successor to the Greek myths? Is it Siegel and Shuster's Superman? Wayne Boring's Superman? Republic Serials' Superman? George Reeve's Superman? Mort Weisinger's Superman? Kurt Schaffenburger's Superman? Denny O'Neil's Superman? Curt Swan's Superman? Neal Adams' Superman? Christopher Reeve's Superman? John Byrne's Superman? Or the countless other Supermen that DC has commissioned over the years?

Or Ian Fleming's James Bond, Sean Connery's James Bond, Timothy Dalton's James Bond, Alan Moore's James Bond, not to mention all the other James Bonds the public has seen. Maybe James Bond matters more to the public than whoever is doing Bond at the moment. Jus' saying...

Is Mel Brooks' Frahnkensteen (spelled phonetically) better or worse than Mary Shelley's? Because it sure looks like Frankenstein (and his monster) are more popular with the audience over long periods of time than any given iteration of the concept. Seriously, Groth is doing a really bad job of demonstrating that he knows who will be popular and why. When the public wearies of Superman, Superman fades from public view, just like every other long-running fictional character. Zorro, the Lone Ranger, the Three Musketeers, Robin Hood, they'll be back. Maybe they too can someday be "the perfect American commodity", as Groth defines it.

Superman is an American Symbol, though; notwithstanding his humble beginnings at the hands of Siegel and Shuster, Superman was sold to the American public by a company who couldn't care less for "courage and humility," and stands as the successful marketing of pop mythology, and like a political candidate who offers image, bombast, and demagoguery over substance and ideals,

Can't resist, you mean like our current President?

Superman has come to stand for values he never consistently realized as a creation. He's the ultimate America icon -- he can be sold, marketed, and merchandised, whose image can be replicated on everything from pillowcases to beach balls to underwear.

Again, this is forcing Superman into a viewpoint that, well, one has to hate Superman to see him in. He stands for Truth, Justice and the American Way. Whether or not you agree with that, and whatever your viewpoint is on T,J + AW, that is what he stands for. Groth doesn't know shit about that, and you have only to spend a few minutes with a 4-year old who goes gaga when he sees Superman to notice it.

Martin Williams put Superman's place in literary history in perspect in the Smithsonian Book of Comic Books:

Superman is one version of the hero with a thousand faces -- to employ the title of Joseph Cambell's excellent book on the subject -- and his appeal should therefore not surprise us. But Superman is a crude version of the hero; if you will, an elementary one. Unlike his more developed analogues in all the world's great religions, Superman does not offer love or goodwill, self-knowledge or contemplation as keys to man's salvation. He offers his own physical powers.

This assessment will be roundly ignored because the prose style isn't dazzling or bloated, merely sober and succinct; the observation lacks hyperbole and the critical faculties have not fallen prey to nostalgic or sentiment or popular attitudinizing; and it's not filled with the obligatory gesticulation and platitudinous banalities that turn otherwise intelligent men into simpering mouthpieces for good old American junk.


And it cites what someone else said in some old book that doesn't have the lasting power of Superman (unless you count the "Star Wars" movies). People who've never read heard of Joseph Campbell, much less read his book, still like Superman.

Excuse me, I mean what someone quoted Joseph Campbell as saying in a book, I should have read that more clearly. So, um, in Groth's quoting of someone who's read Joseph Campbell, what is the proper version of the hero in Groth's eyes? And why doesn't he resemble Superman in any way? Sure, Groth can tear down Superman, but he doesn't do a worse job than all those Swanderson books from the 70's, so why is he bothering?

Sure, there's bad things to say about Superman (Rick Veitch and Dave Sim have the market cornered there) but a Gary Groth essay is nothing. Literally, nothing.
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#563878 - 01/05/10 10:35 PM Re: Superman as American Icon by Gary Groth [Re: ChrisW]
ChrisW Online   content
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And, because I'm fair, let's fisk the Sim article too.

I've been dreading this.

Since around June of last year, I've been thinking "Someone's going to write to me and ask me to jot down some thoughts on Superman for his fiftieth anniversary."

But then I would think, "No. No one would really be that stupid."


Don't you ever think "it's not always about me?"

In the case of Amazing Heroes, it would appear my judgement was a tad hasty.

"Dear Artist/fan"

I swear I didn't notice this my first time through. What a wonderful salutation. Let's circle "artist" and move on, shall we?


Please do.

"On February 29, 1988, one of the greatest symbols of American imagination celebrates his 50th birthday. Superman - hero and ideal"

I really can't get past this, 1938 WAS NOT A LEAP YEAR!!!

Man. Right on, I'm thinking. I have a number of early Action Comics. The non-stop movement. Punchy one and two-word word balloons. Nine panels to the page. Superman gives the corrupt union boss one up'long side his head. Superman clears the little guy of trumped-up charges. Superman traps a corrupt capitalist in one of his shoddy buildings and scares shit out of him, saving him only at the last possible second.

"Jerry Siegel is still the only Superman scripter to understand that the story only moves at super-speed if you use short, declarative sentences that are all verb and object. Ditching subject! Moving faster now!" -- Latter Days, page 474. How's that banality and "perfect American commodity" working when Superman's creator is in charge?

"Who, from the humblest beginnings has become one of the world's best known characters."

And I'm going, like, what is this shit? Humble? Superman didn't have any humble beginnings. Superman ate fire and shit ice from the git-go. Superman was bigger than anything before or since. Comic strips are just newspaper ghetto features, like the horoscope or weather report. Superman kicked his way onto newstands and made the whole world notice. "Humble beginnings." Asshole Californian probably means Cleveland or some shit.

"In tribute"


I don't have the actual Cerebus issue this was printed in, but when I looked this up years and years ago, the word was "trubute", which I think was Sim's point. Don't quote me on this, but it's what my reference says.

I swear I am not making this up. You know those science fiction movies where the robot suddenly gets a hitch in his git-along and for a second the tape loops inside and a word comes out funny and that's when you cop to the fact that you're dealing with a robot and not a human being? I rest my case.

"Amazing Heroes - The award-winning national magazine of the comics medium"

In case this has somehow slipped any of our artist/fan minds.

"will devote an entire issue to the Man of Steel"

This is a tribute on par with being included in the Reader's Digest Sweepstakes mailing. I mean, come on. They publish a hundred and five of these stupid things a year (and I know I promised myself I'd never get into this because Amazing Heroes does help finance a lot of worthwhile Fantagraphics stuff), and every one of them the content is zero, zip, nada, empty, click, nil. I flip through the things when they come in, I put them down, I see them a while later and I say "Mm. I haven't looked through that yet, have I?" And I pick it up and look through it and I think "Oh, Lord. I did look through it". And I drift off and I'm through it and I don't remember what I saw the second time.


Damn, Fantagraphics? Aren't they the people who published that Groth essay at about the same time? You mean they devoted time and energy to good old American junk that they could have spent on a porn line? Or Dan Clowes?

"We'd be honoured if you would join us.. ."

You are too kind to all us artist/fans.


Especially you, Dave.

"If you would take a moment to put down your feelings on Superman, what he means to you, to children, to the world"

Superman, as originally conceived, as a force for the common man, as an answer to the mindless tyranny with which his name (as a term) had come to be identified, as a foe of corruption and injustice, as the embodiment of FDR-style liberalism and the epitome of the notion that one individual can, should and must, of necessity, make a difference; in all this Superman ... Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster's Superman... the only true Superman... stands as a beacon of freedom shining as brightly for an adult who holds the ideals of the character sacred as he does for a child seeing him and learning them for the first time. As a symbol of the nearly limitless power of imagination, he has inspired creators for five decades to take up pen and brush in pursuit of excellence, to weave our tapestry once more. To aspire; that one day we might know a tenth... a hundredth of the greatness implied in knowing you are Jerry Siegel. You are Joe Shuster. You are the creators of Superman. And that no monumental and tragic injustice can strip you of that mantle. As comic book creators, this is our greatest heritage...and our greatest debt.


Could you say that a little quieter, Gary Groth is convinced that the only reason fuzzy-headed liberals like you give a damn about Superman is because of the injustice perpetrated on Superman's creators. You don't want to prove Groth wrong, do you? Not to the extent of suggesting that Superman means something to people for seven decades regardless of how Superman's creators were treated.

"If you would grace us with a drawing of any kind, we would be over-whelmed."

How about if I just take your word for it and save myself the drawing time.


Dave, you're banal and infantile. Just draw the stupid picture like Groth says you'll do.

"We can pay but a minimum amount (and gladly any postage), but"

A moment frozen in time. hard to believe it possible in a letter a mere half-page in length. But true, for all of that.

"think of all the delights the character has given you and others"

There is really altogether too much of this going on, but I had come to the point where I hoped everyone was having the common decency not to infect my mail-box with it.


You're going to hate the internet era. Oh wait, you do. smile

Sure. I'll do a picture of Superman and get Gerhard to put the Fortress of Solitude behind him. We'll make money. And we can send it to Kevin Dooley. And he can print it and he can make money. Then we'll send copies to the distributors right, Kev? And they can make money. Then we'll get the distributors to send them to the shops and they can make money. And the Beast 666 Fifth Avenue gets free advertising for whatever the latest crop of Jerry Siegel ghost-writers and Joe Shuster ghost-artists are churning out.

Kevin, if I thought seriously of all the delight I've gotten from the original Superman, the real Superman, I would probably go mad from the injustice that has done to Siegel and Shuster all of their lives. The millions that would be theirs today had they been dealing with honourable people instead of scum who aren't fit to breathe the same air as them. That any creative person would be a party to praising an injustice compounded year upon year, decade upon decade is an example of vile hypocrisy and insidious and destructive self-loathing on the part of comic book creators.


Yessir, Superman is the "perfect American commodity." Even Canadians can't help but be swept up in his banality.

"I thank you. Superman thanks you. Clark thanks you".

Render unto me a fucking break, Dooley.


Thanks, Dave.
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#563890 - 01/06/10 01:59 AM Re: Superman as American Icon by Gary Groth [Re: Dean R Milburn]
Charles Reece Offline
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Quote:
Why on earth would Groth, publisher of The Comics Journal an obvious outlet for his writing, even feel the need to associated himself with those who would sell, market and merchandize pop mythology?

It was written for Amazing Heroes, FBI's mainstream comics mag back in the 80s.
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#563900 - 01/06/10 10:00 AM Re: Superman as American Icon by Gary Groth [Re: Charles Reece]
Dean R Milburn Offline
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Registered: 07/06/99
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Loc: Indianapolis
Originally Posted By: Charles Reece
Quote:
Why on earth would Groth, publisher of The Comics Journal an obvious outlet for his writing, even feel the need to associated himself with those who would sell, market and merchandize pop mythology?

It was written for Amazing Heroes, FBI's mainstream comics mag back in the 80s.


I know. It was an attempt at humor.

I disagree with most of the attempts to paint Groth as a hypocrite, but it seems a bit hypocritical for Groth to bemoan "50 years of relentless marketing and hype" and "the 20th century triumph of market engineering, of image over substance, of visceral perception over the concrete understand of coherent values" while publishing a magazine that existed because of and perpetuated those very things.

Granted, I have a recollection of Kim Thompson writing (probably here or on the TCJ message board) that he was the guy responsible for Amazing Heroes, not Groth.

In any case, hypocrisy or even a mere "bite the hand that feeds you" thing, would not be enough to invalidate Groth's point. My problem is that I can't figure out what his point really is.

It did just occur to me though, I'm not 100% certain that the entirety of Groth's comments were reprinted in that article, if not, perhaps it's more coherent as a whole.

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#563902 - 01/06/10 10:16 AM Re: Superman as American Icon by Gary Groth [Re: Charles Reece]
Lawson Offline
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Originally Posted By: Charles Reece
It was written for Amazing Heroes, FBI's mainstream comics mag back in the 80s.


I don't think I knew that Groth published AMAZING HEROES. He must have done it through gritted teeth.

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#563904 - 01/06/10 11:03 AM Re: Superman as American Icon by Gary Groth [Re: Lawson]
Dean R Milburn Offline
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Registered: 07/06/99
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Loc: Indianapolis
Originally Posted By: Lawson
Originally Posted By: Charles Reece
It was written for Amazing Heroes, FBI's mainstream comics mag back in the 80s.


I don't think I knew that Groth published AMAZING HEROES. He must have done it through gritted teeth.


Have no idea how accurate this is, but according to wikipedia, the first few issues used "Zam, Inc." as the publisher, rather than Fantagraphics.

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#563905 - 01/06/10 11:14 AM Re: Superman as American Icon by Gary Groth [Re: Lawson]
IvanJim Offline
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Somehow I glossed over the fact that the Groth comments were made over 20 years ago. So when Groth is described as "a creepy old guy lurking in the kids' treehouse", we're actually talking about someone who wrote these words when he was relatively young, and hasn't been proselytizing those opinions for over 22 years.

Being a little fairer, he should at most be described as folks wanting to savage those opinions as a "creepy youngish guy in the bloom of youth who was lurking in the kids' treehouse for a few moments over two decades ago...."

That way we avoid ageism.

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