Monday, April 30, 2007

abstract--Pre-Postmodern Heroes

In October I might be attending the Midwest Popular Culture Association/Midwest American Culture Association Conference in Kansas City, MO. I say "might" because my attendance is dependent on if the abstract I submitted today is approved or not.

I had originally not paid enough attention to the call for papers, and I planned on submitting the analysis of the conclusion of The Long Halloween which I posted here ages ago. However the call was for papers to be on a panel entitled "The Postmodern Comic Book Hero" and clearly my original topic would not work for that panel. so I scrambled this past weekend, came up with a new idea, and submitted it instead.

and here is the abstract I sent:

Plastic Man and the Spirit: Pre-Postmodern Heroes of the Golden Age

In the modern era of comics, the influence of postmodernism can be felt far and wide. Daniel Clowes, Charles Burns, or Kevin Huizenga spring to mind as obvious examples of indie comic artists that delve into the bizarre. More mainstream works inspired by postmodernism can easily be found in Alan Moore’s classic deconstruction of the superhero Watchmen or the metafiction of Grant Morrison’s Animal Man.

But postmodernism’s roots in comics stretch back all the way to the medium’s infancy. Even in the Golden Age as the genre of the superhero was still forming, it was already being deconstructed. Plastic Man, with his origins as a reformed criminal and his lighthearted attitude toward fighting crime, defied the conventions of the genre at the time. Meanwhile, The Spirit, a crimefighter whose “costume” consisted solely of a domino mask, seemed to refuse the categorization as a superhero not only in his appearance but in his approach towards his role as well.

Beyond the characters themselves, both comics and their creators were known for pushing the boundaries of what superhero comics could be. Eisner’s various experiments with form in the Spirit comics are well-documented, from his incorporation of the comics logo in his splash pages to his shifting the comic’s point of view from The Spirit to relatively minor characters. Jack Cole on the other hand experimented with his art style in his Plastic Man stories, coupling very realistic figure work with other characters who looked quite cartoonish.

Both Cole and Eisner then could be seen as the progenitors of postmodernism in comics. These artists paved the way for the experimentation with form prevalent in indie comics of the ‘60s and ‘70s, and their creations acted as predecessors and precursors to the eventual acceptance of postmodernism into the mainstream seen in the 1980s.

(Should the proposal be accepted, I intend to spend the summer reading Plastic Man and Spirit comics, so that I might actually know what I'm talking about come October.)