Ed Catto: Look Who’s Talking … or Who Should Be
It can be a pretty disappointing world out there. So often, our real word heroes stumble and reveal they are less than what they appeared to be. We see it all the time with politicians in whom we had once believed, celebrities we had once admired and even with high profile people who may have not even been on our radar until their fall from grace. “He really tweeted that?” “I can’t believe she said that to a parking attendant!” “Didn’t she know there was a camera recording it all?” These are just a few sentences we’ve recently uttered in exasperation around our household.
On the other hand, one of the cool things about fictional characters is that it’s unlikely that they’ll misbehave. It’s no secret in advertising that using a fictional spokesperson relieves a marketer of the fears of using a real-life spokesperson. When was the last time Tony the Tiger was caught in a compromising position by the paparazzi? I can’t imagine the Lone Ranger getting into drunken brawls. Of course, one of the actors who played him did. But another actor, Clayton Moore, took the role so seriously that in public he always made efforts to present his best self, understanding that he was representing the heroic ideals of honesty, kindness and selflessness exemplified by the Lone Ranger.
But I’m not going to simply go on about how most superheroes are depictions of good people and provide good role models. Like Geico always tells us, everyone knows that. Superman is a good fella and we should all strive to be honest like him. But there’s a bigger idea here.
Now that we’re in graduation season, when many of us will be listening to impressive graduation speeches (I just heard General Major Charles F. Bolden, Jr. of NASA speak at Gettysburg), a wry thought came to mind.
I’m realizing that one of the greatest strengths of 21st century heroic fiction found in so many comics and geek-focused movies is that not only do the heroes do the right things, but that they do things. They are doers. They are purposeful. I’m thinking of so many of protagonists (and antagonists) and realizing they have a baked-in entrepreneurial spirit and a clear sense of purpose. Nobody tells a superhero to create a brand, sew a costume and go on nightly patrol, but they do. There’s no corporation telling the Avengers they have to avenge, the Defenders they have to defend or the Teen Titans that they have to ..umm..Titan. But they do.
Looking beyond the traditional superhero formula from the big companies, we can see similar themes. Mark Millar’s Chrononauts are self-motivated and ambitious. Ed Brubaker and Steven Epting’s character Velvet is smart, canny and self-directed with an urgent sense of purpose. Valiant’s Kay McHenry is a courageous woman who’s ready to step into a bigger job.
And taking it a step further, what about the creative folks behind it all? Fast Company voted Kelly Sue DeConnick of Ms. Marvel and Bitch Planet as one of the most creative people in business. Mike Pellerito, the president of Archie Comics, seems to be always looing at the toys in his toy box and asking, “What if we did something different?” A guy like IDW’s Dirk Wood brings an off-the-chart level of personal passion and impish mischievousness to his publisher’s efforts and to the industry in general. CBLDF’s super-intelligent Alex Cox educates while fighting for the right of creative expression. Retailer Marc Hammond, of Skokie’s Aw Yeah Comics, puts it all on the line every day by creating an immensely enjoyable retail experience for hard-core fans, casual first timers and kids of all ages. And these folks are just the tip of the iceberg.
These great characters, both the real ones and the fictional ones, all have a personal passion. And more than that – they all share the very best qualities of entrepreneurship: persistence, adaptability, strong work ethic and the abilities to communicate and inspire. As I’m thinking about what kind of stuff to fill my head with, I’d argue that comic heroes and their creators’ messages are the healthiest “foods for your mind” in all of pop culture. Better than politicians. Better than celebrities. Better than movie stars. There’s innovative creativity to be sure, but it’s wrapped in the classic can-do attitude that’s at the heart of it and is at the heart of American business.
You know, the luminaries of geek culture can provide great ideas to next year’s graduation planners about the very best types of role models…and doers.