Frontier Psychiatrist

Our Dreams are Corporate Owned

Posted on: January 4, 2012

In 2009, Marvel Comics was aquired by Disney.  DC Comics has been owned by Time-Warner since 1967.  In other words, Superman is a corporate trademark.  As is Batman, Wonder Woman, Spiderman, Wolverine and practically any other superhero the average person can bring to mind.  It is fitting, perhaps.  Comic Books are a uniquely American invention, along with jazz, rock n roll and, you guessed it, the corporation.  Of course our Gods would be owned by them.

And make no mistake, the superheroes are American Gods.  No matter what Rick Perry and the red states say, we have been a secular, urban nation for over a century now and it shows no signs of changing.  The old Gods didn’t make their way from Europe so immigrant kids from New York had to make up new ones.  What are Batman and Superman if not 2 different sides of The Messiah?  Is Iron Man not America’s dream of itself?  Who are the X-Men if not the marginlized made strong through talent?  If myths are the stories we tell ourselves so we might understand what it means to be human, in our particular time and place, then superheroes are most assuredly modern American myths.

And now, these myths have merged with corporate synergy to create a super-church which doubles as a 3-D IMAX.  2011 saw the realease of several major superhero films and 2012 looks to add even more.  The Comic-Con in San Diego has become THE major media event of the strange new world of Geek Chic culture.  TV Guide devotes an issue to it.  The movie studios jockey to premiere their trailers.  Major film stars take pictures with chubby men in Aquaman costumes.  In a very confusing and extremely secular time, superheroes provide the stories which America uses to make sense of itself.  By intermixing the demi-gods of the 40 foot screen with the myths of the 4 color page, all with the stamp of approval from the Corporate-Media apparatus, a new set of dreams are taking shape in the collective unconscious.  A decade ago, the average person could have named 2, possibly 3 superheroes.  Now, it would number in the dozens.  Which is beautiful, in a way, that a trash medium long derided for lack of literacy, importance or aesthetic intelligence would end up as the birth place of the American pantheon.  And with all this media attention on comics’ brightly colored children, I’d love to tell you the graphic medium is engaged in a renaissance; that the spillover from all these people who’ve lined up to see Thor or Captain America in the cineplex have helped to elevate the comic book, as a form, to new heights.  I’d love to tell you that.

But those same people who could now name 12 superheroes off the top of their head have most likely never seriously read a comic.  Today, even the most popular comics are experiencing dwindling sales.  The few publishing houses which have been valiantly attempting to bring NON-superhero comics to bookstores (Fantagraphic, Drawn & Quarterly, Humanoid) are holding steady, only occassionally breaking out of their graphic ghetto.  The dream of comics in America being a serious medium, the way it is in Europe or Japan, still seems distant and unlikely.  To the common person, comic books still means Batman, Superman and Wolverine.

But, there is hope on the horizon.  In November of 2011, Amazon announced the adaptation of 100 + seminal graphic novels now available on their Kindle Fire.  DC has started releasing every issue for digital download the same day it comes out in print.  Already, there are scores of independent comic artists who are creating work specifically for the tablets, eschewing print all together.  For someone like me, who loves the feel of paper in my hand, there is a mournful quality to this development but perhaps the Kindle marketplace is our version of the newstand.  Once upon a time, comics were widely available.  Any convenience store, any newspaper rack, any gas station would have dozens, if not hundreds, of comics for sale.  They were purchased by the purveyors with the understanding they could return any copies not sold.  This lopsided arrangement, combined with the extreme competition for the nickles and dimes of the comic reading audience, forced the publishers, artists and creators to constantly push the envelope, to give the people something new, something exciting, something which would fire their imagination and keep them coming back.  Thus were superheroes born.  The world of the Ebook isn’t so drastically different.

Perhaps graphic novels will grow up and out the same way music has in the last decade;  with artists taking greater control of their production, skipping over the Corporate gateways altogether for a more direct interaction with the audience.  We might not be far from the day when people on their way to work read graphic novels on their Kindles or iPads; graphic novels of all types, styles and content.  We should only hope.

The alternative is distressing.  At this stage in our culture, comic books are the only narrative medium where independent distribution is at all likely or possible.  Corporations own the movies.  They own television.  They own the books and the bookstores.  If there is to be a medium where people tell stories to people, without the Sky-Father of Corporate Media instructing from the rear, then it will be comics.

In the 20th century, comics lived in the margins.  No one cared.  No one paid attention.  And, it gave birth to Gods.  Now those Gods have taken their place on our equivalent of Olympus and we must ask ourselves, what’s next?  For the answer to that, I’ll turn to Grant Morrison, magician and comic book auteur:

“Corporate entities are worth studying.  They and other ghosts like them rule our world.  So…figure out why the Coca-Cola spirit is stronger than the Dr. Pepper spirit (what great complex of ideas, longings and deficiencies has the Coke logo succeeded in condensing into two words, two colours, taking Orwell’s 1984 concept of Newspeak to its logical conclusion?).  Watch their habits, track their movements over time, monitor their repeated behaviours and watch how they react to change and novelty.  Learn how to imitate them, steal their successful strategies and use them as your own.  Create your own brand, your own logo and see how quickly you can make it spread.  Build your own God and set it loose.”

Jared Thomas is an author and scriptwriter living in Brooklyn. His works include The Street Dreams of Electric Youth, The Last Amesha, and Gre & The Devil. His column “Words & Pictures (for sub-literates)” appears regularly on Frontier PsychiatristHe can be reached for correspondence at jtlovesyou@gmail.com.

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