Democrat Senator Says Comic Books Are For Stupid People

In a move to help make sure teachers in Maryland keep their jobs (and of course scare up some votes for her reelection campaign), Senator Nancy King is running an ad showing what would happen if kids were left teacherless. Oh, and by the way, this ad make it seem like comics are only for the uneducated. Thank you Senator King.

As reported on Bleeding Cool, the good Senator’s ad features kids sitting around reading comics. It then goes on to say that this is the world we would live in if we had no teachers. My God the horror! Kids choosing to read on their own! And for fun! Wait, what’s that? Oh, sorry. I have just been informed by a representative of Senator King that comic books do not equal reading.

And that’s really where the problem lies, right? People don’t equate comic books with reading. Now I can kind of understand where they are coming from here. I do agree that kids should read some of the classics, the Moby Dicks and Tom Sawyers and the like. But what really gets my goat, what really does the goat getting here is that they assume that comics don’t have any of the features of good literature in them. That, my friends, is simply untrue.

Now I’m going to get into some spoilers here for the comics themselves, so if you don’t want to know anything, beware. Here there be spoilers.

First let’s tackle that X-Men comic the little boy is reading. Are the X-Men bad for kids? Huh. I thought a story that focuses heavily on racism and how we can all get along would be encouraged by teachers. Sure, there’s lots of laser zapping and bad guy punching and…well, have you seen Emma Frost’s wardrobe? But behind all that, always prevalent, is the theme of race, of how we should all be able to get along but just can’t. Way back in the beginning of the X-Men Professor X was obviously a Martin Luthor King Jr. type figure with Magneto representing Malcom X. They both want what’s best for mutant kind, but while the Professor believes that one day mutants and humans can live together in peace, Magneto sees that cause as hopeless. He is willing to protect the mutant race through any means necessary. Now wouldn’t reading comics like that help kids understand how race relations were in the 50′s and 60′s?

And this is before we even get into Magneto’s origins. Tell me, how often is it in any medium that a villain is written in such a way that you at times understand his motivations better than those of the heroes? Magneto is the classic tragic villain. He is like Frankenstein’s monster in a way. He only wants to be accepted, but because of his background (for the monster being abandoned, for Magneto the Holocaust) and simply because of what he is (the monster is composed of dead people, Magneto is a mutant) he finds himself being attacked by the so called civilized society. So he attacks back. He reciprocates the hatred tenfold. Magneto becomes the thing he hates in an effort to save his race. That is a tragic paradox that is much greater than simple comic book fluff, no?

Now let’s look at that Avengers comic the girl is reading. What the Avengers have been through in the last few years would fit into just about any Greek tragedy. Scarlet Witch goes insane and destroys the team. Just when they reform Stamford, Connecticut is destroyed by a super hero/super villain fight, causing passage of the Super Hero Registration Act. This causes the Marvel universe to engage in a civil war, pitting friend against friend, brother against brother. Captain America is killed, Tony Stark becomes a national hero for jailing his friends and everything is screwed up. Then the secret invasion of the Skrulls happens, which causes severe distrust in the super hero ranks to grow even further. You know, because Skrulls are shape shifters. When villain Norman Osborn, leader of the villains-turned-heroes group the Thunderbolts and ex-Green Goblin, takes out the Skrull queen and stops the invasion, he becomes the hero and takes over the defense of America. Suddenly villains are heroes, heroes are on the run and everything is more messed up than ever. Now really, tell me that doesn’t have all the stuff the classics have in it? Tragedy, heroism, plot twists, moral ambiguity, all wrapped up in super heroics.

Let’s look at one specific point in all of that. The destruction of the friendship of Iron Man and Captain America. Tony Stark, a.k.a. Iron Man, has been fighting to make sure super heroes have to register. He believes that, after so many mistakes made by untrained and undisciplined heroes, the community needs to be held to a higher responsibility. Sounds reasonable, right? But Captain America believes that heroes need to keep their identities secret in order to protect their lives and the lives of their families, and that no government should be able to force private citizens into registering with the government. Also sounds reasonable, right? And that’s the tragedy. These two champions of justice each believe that what they are doing is right. They’re both trying to protect innocent people. And they are both partially right. The super hero community does need to take responsibility for itself, but putting its heroes in the hands of the government just leads to tragedy. Hi Norman. And of course, all of this leads to the death of Captain America and one of the most tragic scenes in all of comic book history.

One man, sitting alone, grieving for the friend whose death he had a hand in. All for the “greater good.” And how, exactly, is this not intelligent reading?

Finally let’s deal with the Superman comic. More specifically, let’s talk about the latest Superman story arc. Its called Grounded and its written by the brilliant J. Michael Straczynski. It is about Superman, the most powerful being on the planet, reconnecting with those he has sworn to protect by walking across America. Its Forrest Gump in tights, one could say. Remember the part of that movie where Forrest just runs from coast to coast? Yeah, imagine Superman doing that. Now the really interesting thing going on here is that Superman will be confronting things beyond super villains. In the first issue of the Grounded story arc he saved a woman bent on committing suicide. In the second one he has to deal with child abuse. As Straczynski said, he wanted to present Superman with challenges that couldn’t just be punched away. There’s even going to be an issue later on where Superman walks through Arizona and has to deal with the new immigration law there. Who would have thought? Comic books that deal with contemporary issues in a way that isn’t pandering or insulting. Now correct me if I’m wrong, but isn’t that exactly what we should be encouraging kids to do?

So far we’ve only discussed super hero comics. We’re completely ignoring all the other types of comics out there. There are stories like Blankets, about the finding and loss of first love, or Fables, the story of fairy tales living in the real world, or Sandman, about the personification of dreaming hanging out with William Shakespeare and Satan. There are tons and tons of stories out there that would be considered classic literature if they weren’t done in pictures.

Well this has gone on a bit longer than I originally intended it to. Its just that I thought we were finally past this type of thinking. I thought that comics were getting taken seriously now. Hell, The Dark Knight was one of the best films of 2008. Not just the best super hero film. Not just the best comic book or sci-fi film. One of the best films period. It had fully fleshed out characters and an intriguing plot and intensity and drama and all of that. Yet still we get stuff like that ad from Senator King which treats comics like something dirty, like you should be ashamed to be reading them. Comics today are full of rich themes and intriguing characters and issues that teachers would want kids to talk about. Besides all that though, its still reading. It encourages reading. Does it really matter what the kid is reading? Isn’t the point to get kids to read? Then again, what do I know? I clearly didn’t have any good teachers. I enjoy comic books.

P.S.: One of the best teachers I ever had was an immigrant. He learned English partially through comic books. So there’s that.

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8 Responses to “Democrat Senator Says Comic Books Are For Stupid People”

  1. Ryan says:

    Loved this article so much. Sadly, I think a lot of the people most critical of comics are those who haven’t touched an actual comic book since the silver age and don’t understand how the medium has progressed over the last few decades into a respectable form of literature. Long gone are the days where comics recount stories of Batman headed to the mall to buy Superman a birthday present and other lighthearted fare… although I’m guessing if those same people knew what modern day comics were about, it would open up another, bigger can of worms. The reason I got into comics as a kid wasn’t because I was too lazy to read pages of just text, or that I couldn’t wrap my mind around the concepts contained in other books, but because comics spoke to me in a way that was different from other reading material and I became enamored with what are essentially these epic tales that serve as complex morality plays, where you encounter good vs. evil, but the lines are often blurred. And you know, I still think modern story lines like Civil War have more social relevance and intelligent story development, than most things geared toward kids.

    The NY Times Best Seller list has a section for “graphic books”. If one of the world’s most widely read and respected newspapers can acknowledge this as a legitimate literary category, I don’t see why anyone feels the need to freak out over children reading age appropriate comics. And if you really want to get into it, every week there are at least two “real” books at the top of best seller lists that should be considered unfit to be read by ANYBODY, and there’s no backlash against those.

  2. lindsey says:

    What a stupid lady. One would think this is something a Republican would say, but I digress…

    If children were left without teachers, I can guarantee that the last thing they would be doing is reading comic books. Now, that’s not to say that comic books aren’t amazing, and a fantastic form of entertainment, but think back to when you were a kid and it was the summer. What were you doing? Were you reading comics all the time? No. You were eating as much candy as you could, ran around the neighborhood with your friends playing, jamming on the NES (if you were of my generation), and covering your neighbors trees with toilet paper. Sure you might have read some comics during the summer, but that wasn’t what you were doing 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. God forbid that the children of America discover a love for reading. That is just terrible. I think they should pass a law making it to where children aren’t allowed to read at all, that way they can all be raised to be mindless sheep, and since they would be mindless sheep, they would be too stupid to read laws and find out how this country is really screwing them over.

    As a person who has some pretty liberal views, this is just asinine, especially from a Democrat. Comic books encourage imagination, dreaming, and that sense of wonder that no other medium out there can provide, except for video games, but you guys (and gals) get what I mean. Comic books were a huge part of my childhood, and I still love to read them now. I was always on the honor roll, was a huge fan of reading the classics by Dante, Chaucer, Shakespeare, and plenty of others. I even have encouraged my daughter to read comic books because I know it’s safe for her to read, and that having her read anything can only benefit her in the long run. Granted, I don’t have a fancy college degree or anything, but that was because extenuating circumstances got in the way, not because I was too stupid or inept. Seeing somebody claim that those who read comics automatically makes them have an IQ below 40 just sickens me.

    • chris says:

      To be fair, she doesn’t seem to specifically say that comic books are for stupid people, it’s just an unfortunate choice of props for the ad campaign. Her entire campaign is based on the importance of education, and if she is sincere in her desire for improved education, then I commend her. Education is a criminally underfunded, and under-appreciated ideal. And while comic books are far from stupid, and can impart excellent life lessons upon students, they can hardly be expected to teach students about mathematics, biology, chemistry, social science, literature, grammar, etc. I think, perhaps, that comic books were placed in the ad because it would be the easiest image possible to convey that point. She could have given them all Nintendo DSs, but they are smaller and less colorful, so there would be a higher chance for misinterpretation.

      • Kyle says:

        True, she wasn’t exactly saying that. But still, its frustrating to see that the immediate response to “No teachers means harmed children” is that the “harm” is reading comics. Comics aren’t for dummies and D&D doesn’t kill. Isn’t that where we are right now? I thought that was where we are right now

        Now maybe if they had them not reading at all, or maybe doing drugs and getting wasted, then the idea would be better communicated. And wouldn’t that send the message better? I don’t know any high school drop outs that spend most of their time reading comics. Most of their money goes into not so legal pursuits.

  3. Bob says:

    I actually have to agree. When I was young, the heroes always did right no matter how difficult. If there was a darkness in their heart, they struggled against it.

    Now they are killers, sleeping with each other like dogs in heat, and the homosexual characters have popped out right and left. A recent mag had two guys kiss on the page and then went to bed together. That’s supposed to be for our kids? Most of the bad guys now are Senators or ministers of some faith.

    We used to call bad bad, good good, and sin sin. Sadly, that era is gone in comics. That’s why I gave them up. Sad.

    • chris says:

      I disagree with your view. Comics reflect real issues; they always have. From race issues, drug abuse issues, political corruption, etc, comics have been an excellent way of presenting society’s faults visually. Who are our bad guys now? Corrupt politicians who only think of personal profit instead of truth and justice. Religious zealots who oppress or murder others for the simple crime of believing something different. Spiritual figures who abuse and rape children. This is not to say that all religion is corrupt, or bad, but religion is supposed to be a more pure industry, for lack of a better word, and the atrocities committed by religious figures and in the name of religion are heinous, made even worse by the fact that they come from such a supposedly pure source. In the 40s, the enemy was the Nazis. In the 50s, the enemy was the Communists. Comics reflect the enemy of the times they are written in, and our current enemy is human corruption.

      As for homosexuality, it exists. Children are going to know it exists. Instead of it being introduced to them by people harboring secret (and quite often not so secret) prejudices, I feel it’s better introduced in a more normal, integrating way. Oppressing people simply because of their sexuality is a terrible lesson to teach children.

      Comics have become more realistic in their representation of humanity. I think this is excellent, because it will open childrens’ eyes to the world they were brought in to, and it gives them the desire to change it at an early age, which can only lead to a better future for all of us.

  4. chris says:

    This is an excellent article on the importance and relevance of comic books to society. I think the original topic-starter was maybe taken a bit too literally, but the discussion it inadvertently created has been fascinating (I watched Star Trek again a couple of days ago).

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