MARTHA THOMASES: More fun
In her book No Idle Hands: The Social History of American Kniting, Anne Macdonald describes the Puritan roots of our country and how getting together to knit, quilt or sew was one of the few ways colonial women could get together to socialize. The only way they could justify the pleasure they took in each other’s company was to do some “productive” work.
In other words, our culture hates pleasure.
This might seem to be a strange thing to say when everything from beer to detergent is being sold with sexy commercials. But, see, that’s the point. Pleasure is being used to sell. It’s not being celebrated for its own sake.
Which brings us to comics and the lack of respect they get in our modern world. Comics are fun. Denny O’Neil says that comics are one of the few media that engage both halves of the brain, providing a buzz unavailable from movies or books. Even if that didn’t happen, comics are uniquely joyous. Anything can happen in the pages of a comic. Dogs can talk. Pigs can fly. The universe can be compressed into a ball, or be the staging ground for an epic battle. The battle can be between Galactus and the Avengers, or talking dogs and flying pigs.
Comics don’t have to be silly to be a pleasure. I’ve had a fine time reading Frank Miller’s Sin City, Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home, and Will Eisner’s A Contract with God, to name just a few, disparate titles. The pleasure comes from the books ability to get me to leave my own head and get into someone else’s, to try on another life and walk around.
Which brings us back to politics.
Back in the day (and by that, I mean the 1960s and 1970s), we thought that sex and drugs and rock’n’roll could change the world. We thought that if we showed how much fun there was in the counter-culture, no one would want to go to war.
We were right.
Comics were a major part of the counter-culture. Robert Crumb, Trina Robbins, Howard Cruse, S. Clay Wilson, Skip Williamson, Spain Rodriguez and many others blew away the straight world’s idea of what comics were about. They made comics about motorcycle demons, stoner cats, fabulous furry freak brothers, girl fights and lots of other stuff that wasn’t superheroes or expanded newspaper strips. They told silly stories that ridiculed the power structure and celebrated pleasure.
The war in Vietnam ended for a lot of reasons. Public opinion turned against it, and the troops came home. Comics helped.
There’s another war on now, and yet there are remarkably few comics that offer an alternative vision. We need them. We need more fun.