I’m not sure when I gave up my love for the comics. I suppose it was around thirteen or fourteen when I became far more interested in reading books for young boys, mostly in series like Bomba the Jungle Boy, The Boy Allies, the Hardy Boys, Tom Swift and others.
I would haunt the Stone Avenue Library in Brownsville, Brooklyn and walk home with as many books the library allowed, gobbling up the stories like popcorn. I suppose I still read the comics but with declining interest. Perhaps I preferred to imagine the characters instead of seeing them laid out for me with little balloons of dialogue.
The comics or, as they were called in those days, the “funnies” were always the first things I read usually stretched out on the floor of our Brooklyn living room. I reveled in the adventures of Dick Tracy, Gasoline Alley, Smilin Jack, Terry and the Pirates and others, and was thrilled by getting a future update when I took guided tours of the editorial offices of the New York Daily News, which carried them daily, specifically for the purpose of getting an update before they were published.
Then came “Big Little Books,” little square bound books of comics and finally, the big splashy comic books where Superman and Batman and many other super heroes were born. Comics were fun, easy to read, perfect for young boys and girls. Reading them was one of the joys of childhood.
Then I grew up. Life became far more complicated and required more mature reading material, not only to purely entertain, but to provide insight into how one could navigate the shoals of adulthood. Literature, works of the imagination, both reading and creating them became my life’s work.
And here we are. Comics are back. The superhero, both male and female, has returned and now attracts hordes of not only young children and teenagers, but adults of all ages. In fact, it appears to be dominating the film offerings this summer and gaining traction in books marketed as adult novels and is now a staple of live stages.
Yes, there are lots of people who take great pleasure in returning to their childhood and the simplicity of these cartoon figures in their latest incarnation. It has become a dominant and profitable aspect of the popular culture. Who can blame them? To escape from the horrors of our present reality is not a shabby idea and, above all, profitable. Adults longing to return to childhood have become big business.
This is not meant to be a putdown. People who indulge in these pursuits and a thousand others that new technology has spawned should not be criticized for these predilections. They are passionate about their involvement and will argue that what they do is significant and fulfilling. We all live in a cocoon of finite time and everyone is free to spend it as they wish.
But what about us, adults who choose to cope with the reality of living in this complicated and scary world, we determined questors who seek deeper understanding, insight and search for meaning into the human condition. We thirst for greater knowledge of our plight on this planet through art, literature, philosophy and science. There is great excitement in “knowing” and “coping” with the challenges we face as human beings. You won’t find this in the comics in whatever incarnation.
Perhaps to some I am skirting the bounds of intellectual snobbery, but I must confess that the so-called popular culture is not relevant to many of us. It is too easy to dismiss our complaint as a function of age as if we were hopelessly lost in mores of an older generation, but the fact is that there are young people too who have become alienated by the popular culture.
There are lots of us who are not in the least interested in zombies, vampires, super heroes, rap music, cartoon films and mindless violence, or, heaven forbid, even Harry Potter. We understand we are not the target audience for such fare.
Unfortunately, there are fewer films for us to view, fewer serious books for us to read, fewer musical compositions for us to savor, fewer plays for us to see, fewer options available for us in the popular culture. It is not because fewer works are being created, but fewer are getting noticed, promoted, marketed and disseminated. Competition for recognition is fierce and choices are narrowing in a largely unfiltered environment fostered by technology.
Like the principles behind computers we, us, you know who I mean, are fractionalized, a small slice of a vast watermelon type culture. There are thousands of subcultures with devoted adherents who follow their inclinations with great passion and singleness of purpose.
America is less of a cohesive culture than it used to be. We used to be a circumscribed family with far more common interests. Technology changed all that. Our culture is chopped up in little pieces, hence my watermelon analogy.
Some say we are going through a phase that will sort itself out. I hope so, but I doubt it. But wouldn’t it be nice to have a greater choice of adult films this summer?
Warren Adler is the author of 32 novels and short story collections published in numerous languages. Films adapted from his books include “The War of the Roses”, “Random Hearts” and the PBS trilogy “The Sunset Gang.” He is a pioneer in digital publishing.