I was a huge comic-book geek growing up. I learned a lot from comics. Sure, I read a lot of “real” books too, but many ethical and moral issues that many people suss out in literature, I got through comics.
Comics is a wonderful medium that, at its best, condenses good and evil into easily recognizable actions and personas. The best comics put the good guys into moral quandaries such as those oft-visited: “Do I save one person I love or sacrifice him/her for a large group of unknown people?”; “Am I becoming what I hate by fighting evil on their terms?”; “Do the laws of man supersede a higher moral authority?” and in a similar vein, “What gives me the right to ignore the law in lieu of my own moral authority?”
It can be pretty heady stuff. Again, at their best, comics delve into these issues and at their very best, don’t offer any real answers. The characters find solutions, or justifications that suit their needs, but it’s obvious to the reader that it’s not a universal answer. There is no panacea for soul-searing ambiguity.
I’ve been going through some of the comics of my past. My favorite comic when I was in the 11-13-year age range was The Badger – an independent comic by prolific comic writer Mike Baron. What I find great about the book is that is does not seek to answer any of the “best comics do this” kind of questions. The premise involves a mentally disturbed, multiple martial arts expert, Vietnam vet who dons a costume and whups up on wrong doers, animal abusers and guys named Larry.
It is a glorious celebration of fists to the face, spin kicks upside heads and multiple personalities appearing at the most inopportune times. The lack of any high-minded moral exposition accomplishes two things: it makes the book approachable and fun, and it leaves the reader to make his own high-minded moral exposition based on the events portrayed. It’s not that Badger doesn’t cover the same oft-tread ground other comics do, it just that it doesn’t patronize the reader by having the characters climb atop tall buildings for pages worth of thought-bubbled introspection. While Spiderman laments his great power and great responsibility, the Badger is downing a six-pack of Point and smacking some dude upside the head with a bo staff.
When I was first reading these books, I had friends that were into their own books. One pal was into an underground sci-fi book called Albedo Anthropomorphics. This was the beginning of the hey day of anthropomorphic comics and cartoons. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles was the most commercially accessible, but there were tons of books: Boris the Bear, Albedo, Usagi Yojimbo, etc. Anyway, my buddy who was into Albedo, was also trading letters with the creator, and I decided to drop the dude a note as well. I had attempted to write the creators of Badger, with limited success (artist Bill Reinhold wrote me back!). Anyway, I started a conversation with Albedo’s creator and talked to him about the Badger. As many people, he dismissed the book as childish, violent and inane. And that really ticked me off. I couldn’t quite verbalize it then, but in retrospect, to have a guy who wrote space operas involving anthropomorphized forest creatures call your favorite comic “childish” is kind of ironic, especially considering his particular brand of comic helped fuel the furry explosion.
There was going to be a point to all of this, but I lost it somewhere along the way. I’ve kind of gone and pissed myself off remembering the whole Albedo crap. How fucked is it to essentially call someone’s favorite book a piece of crap? Well fuck you Albedo creator dude who I’m too lazy to look up at the moment. Fuck you and your anthropomorphized world. Except for Boris the Bear. Cause he’s cool.