Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Behind The Mask

Weird, or Not Weird, - That Is The Question.

Characters such as Superman, Batman and Spiderman have been around for decades and have become a part of our collective consciousness, but what about characters such as Super Shamou, Badman or La Donna Ragna? Unless you lived and grew up in Canada, Mexico or Italy, you probably wouldn’t know that these are all imitations of the above icons. If someone gave you a comic book called Hansi, the Girl Who Loved the Swatiska or The Two Faces of Communism or even Chaplains at War, would you be offended or intrigued? These are just some of the questions raised in the book Holy Sh*t, The World’s Weirdest Comic Books by Paul Gravett and Peter Stanbury. Unusual or “different” comics have been around for decades, but were these books simply weird, or were they trying to say something more?

From their inception, comics and comic book characters have been a reflection of society and the cultural and political mores of generation upon generation. Characters such as Captain America and The Invaders were created as propaganda tools to help garner support for the United States during World War II. The Incredible Hulk was a response to the Cold War as well as the military buildup going on between the United States and the Soviet Union. It goes to reason that writers and artists from other countries would create their own heroes or heroines to speak out against the happenings and injustices that they were seeing around them.

One such example was Octobriana by Czech writer Petr Sadecky. The character Octobriana, was essentially, a Mongol version of Wonder Woman. Sadecky created this Amazon as a tool to criticize the Soviet Union and create anti-Soviet propaganda. In The Great Society comic book, created by D.J. Arneson and Tony Tallarico, President Lyndon Johnson becomes Super LBJ and fights supervillains such Gaullefinger (based on France’s Charles DeGaulle) and Dr. Nyet (based on the Soviet Union’s Nikita Kruschev). Fighting alongside Super LBJ were Colonel America (Barry Goldwater) and Captain Marvelous (Hubert Humphrey).

Yes, some of the ideas and concepts from the comics listed in The World’s Weirdest Comic Books are definitely weird, but the reason why many of these comics received the label of being “out there”, was the fact that the writers of these comics were addressing ideas and subject matter that was thought of as “taboo” or being a part of the counter-culture at the time. Ideas such as, animal cruelty, the dangers of smoking, bondage or other alternative sexual lifestyles, racial stereotyping and even global warming were tackled back in eras where the general population was either not ready, or not mature enough, to embrace them.

While many of the above comics where quite shocking back in the days when they first came out, some of these same comics seem strange if looked at from a more “modern” perspective. One comic in particular, Just Married that came out in 1973, dealt with the dicey subject of inter-faith relationships. Oh, the horror!

Ultimately, what’s "weird" to one person, group or country may be commonplace to another. The World’s Weirdest Comic Books shows us that although — in some cases — we as a people and a society have evolved politically, sociologically, emotionally, and spiritually, there’s still more work to be done. And because of that, there will never be an absence of comics that shock, scare and jolt our collective psyches.

"Holy Sh*t! The World's Weirdest Comic Books" image courtesy of BarnesandNoble.com

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