My response to Howard Chaykin’s discussion on the “absurdity” of super-heroes

One of Howard Chaykin's most inspired creations
One of Howard Chaykin’s most inspired creations


Recently, renowned comic book writer/artist Howard Chaykin conducted a well-attended panel discussion on the “Absurdity of Super-Heroes” at Special Edition: NYC, where he proved himself as opinionated on these subjects as I am! Yes, really! I didn’t attend, but I read many excerpts on his discussion as recorded in this article on Comic Book Resources. I felt compelled to respond to some of his strong opinions with strong opinions of my own, of course. Read them and wince, if you may:


An eleven year-old boy asked the next question: “People are encouraging more censorship. What are your views on making more censored books?”

“I believe that superhero comics are by nature children’s fiction,” Chaykin said. “the idea of a man or woman dressing up in these goofy outfits and going out and fighting crime is absurd.”


He went on to explain that he is “astonished” by the way that some creators have made superheroes into “adult affairs.”

Acknowledging that his own resume has a significant amount of superhero material, the artist defended his choices by saying, “That’s what they gave me! We do the work we get.”


The eventual maturation of  super-hero stories hardly seems “astonishing” to me despite the seeming absurdity of the “costume thing” Howard points out, because the root of these fantasies lie in adulthood as well as childhood. Adults crave power on a large scale no less than children do, and in today’s adult-dominated society older folks are able to actually realize it far more often. Superhuman beings in general are glorified metaphors for our deep desires to have power over our own lives, and become a force to be reckoned with in the world; the ability to do something about many of our concerns – both personal and global – that matter to us.


That’s the reason why superhuman beings were so popular in world mythology and folklore. Those old tales weren’t compiled and told/read solely for or to children, respectively. They contain many archetypal elements that heavily motivate adults, albeit in elaborately grandiose and sensational fashion. Super-beings serve as figures that people of all ages hope to be, even if expressed on the pages as colorful beings who represent the real world only in a strictly metaphorical sense. Such stories abound in the legends of Heracles/Hercules, Theseus, and Odysseus in Greco-Roman mythology; King Arthur Pendragon in Celtic mythology; the stories of David and Samson in the Bible; and the likes of Pecos Bill in American folklore (and these are just a few examples in each).


As for the “absurd” and undeniably gaudy costumes: They were designed to get our attention. And that they have done. Characters who represent the same archetypes function quite well without them, including Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Dirty Harry Callahan. Captain America’s gaudy uniform has obvious symbolic connotations to it, as does Wonder Woman’s. They represent something on a deep psychic level beyond their apparent absurdity.


Regarding Chaykin’s noting how Batman acted as an adult based on the infamous “bad day” he had at age eight:  We often tend to carry on our psychic baggage picked up in childhood well into our middle age, and even beyond. Batman simply expressed this notion in pure grand metaphorical fashion that all mediums of fantastic fiction provide a platform for.  As my close friend Amy once saliently noted: “Childhood… it takes our entire adulthood to get over it.” Hence, is it any surprise that the super-hero genre began exploring more “mature” issues once it became clear it wasn’t only children who were reading them?


Hands were creatively tied regarding the content one could explore in comic books during the Golden Age and Silver Age of Comics, much as was the case with mediums like film and television during the same general era.


The next fan asked Chaykin about his thoughts on digital comics. “When I hear digital, I hear ‘pirate,'” adding that he doesn’t draw with digitization in mind. “It has nothing to do with what I do.”

 When I hear digital, I hear “wave of the future, like it or not.” As I noted elsewhere, and will deal with in more detail in a future blog, piracy can be minimized by something the comic book industry – both offline and online – hasn’t been too keen on respecting since the 1990s to the present: Reasonable pricing that readers on a budget can be expected to afford, especially when all comic book companies seem to bank on producing and selling a huge amount of material per month. When you make your written material too expensive for many fans to afford, that’s what happens. Even in the days before digital, treeware comic books were commonly borrowed between friends; or loaned freely from libraries (that’s where I got my copy of Stephen King’s comic book adaptation of his film Creepshow!); or even having the pages xeroxed and stapled together, all due to their expense.
 And let’s not even get into the actual effect on trees that over-reliance on the print medium results in, eh?

 Just my two cents as a life-long fan of comic books, and as a published author working in the digital medium!

Author: godofthunder85

I'm a published author and freelance editor who has a strong opinion on just about anything I have an opinion on... which is just about everything! I'm very non-PC, heavily into progressive politics, and stand up for what I believe in no matter what the cost or level of popularity. My published work is in the genres of horror, sci-fi, and pulp adventure. I'm a life-long comic book fan and a researcher of the paranormal.

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