Guest Speaker Jeet Heer (Bio and 3 Newspaper Articles)

Posted on May 11, 2010

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A Canadian cultural journalist, Jeet Heer has written for many publications including the National Post, Slate.com, the Boston Globe, The American Prospect, the Los Angeles Times, The Literary Review of Canada, the Virginia Quarterly Review and the Guardian of London. With Kent Worcester, His is co-editor of Arguing Comics: Literary Masters on a Popular Medium (Jackson: University of Mississippi Press, 2004) and A Cultural Studies Reader (Jackson: University of Mississippi Press, 2008), which won the Peter C. Rollins Book Award given annually to the best book in American Studies or Cultural Studies. With Chris Ware and Chris Oliveros, Heer is editing a series of volumes reprinting Frank King's Gasoline Alley, four volumes of which published under the umbrella title Walt and Skeezix. He has written introductions to many volumes reprinting such classic cartoonists as Winsor McCay, George Herriman, Gustave Verbeek, Clare Briggs, Milton Caniff, and Roy Crane.

 

(In groups of two) Find the 5W’s and H in these 3 articles.  Be prepared to share your findings with the class.

Article Number 1


Experts say they may never be able to predict earthquakes the way they do hurricanes. But we can be better prepared
Jeet Heer. The Globe and Mail. Toronto, Ont.: Jan 16, 2010. pg. F.7

 

Mathematician Florin Diacu is the author of Megadisasters: The Science of Predicting the Next Catastrophe . Born in Romania, Prof. Diacu “lived through several earthquakes” there, and now teaches at the University of Victoria: “I moved from one earthquake zone to another.”

What are some of the limits of prediction? You suggest that earthquakes are much harder to predict than most other types of disasters.
With hurricanes, we are doing quite well these days. But with earthquakes or tsunami, most of which are generated by earthquakes, we are not doing as well. The main reason for that is that we don’t really know the exact position of the tectonic plates. The global positioning system allows us to do better measurements. However, we are still far from understanding how the plates work.

The experts are divided about whether we’ll be able to predict earthquakes soon. Some think that we won’t ever be able to make precise predictions. Others think that the time may come.  Of course, what people want would be to know very clearly on that day at that time in that region when an earthquake of that magnitude will take place. Well, something like that we obviously cannot do and probably will never be able to do. But we can tell that during certain periods of time earthquakes will be more likely in certain regions.  Discussing the famous tsunami of 2004, you say: “The saddest part of the story is that most of the lives could have been saved.” How could people prepare for something so sudden?

There is story in the book about a 10-year-old English girl who recognized the signs of an incoming tsunami and alerted her parents. The parents talked to a lifeguard, who evacuated the beach. About 100 people were saved just because a little girl recognized the signs and did the right thing. You see, tsunamis don’t come all of the sudden. We have some warnings. Sometimes the warning is only a few minutes, sometimes half an hour. For instance, the water recedes or becomes bubbly and frothy, like on top of a beer. There are other signs: if the water stings the skin or the sea smells of rotten eggs or oil, or a boom is followed by a whistle or a jet-plane or helicopter-like noise. Once you have seen a documentary showing these signs, you recognize them.  But society can also prepare. In North America, we have a very well-established warning system. If a big earthquake that can generate a tsunami takes place near Japan, we would know on the West Coast right away. The same should have happened in the Indian Ocean in 2004. An earthquake took place off the coast of Indonesia, and people should have been warned. And that’s why I said most of those lives could have been saved.

Do you think the real message of the book is that prevention is the best medicine, not only for health but also for disasters?  Definitely. Earthquakes don’t kill people. The houses that collapse on people kill them. The first thing is to impose building codes in areas prone to earthquakes so that the risk is minimal. No place on Earth is safe from earthquakes; still, there are zones where they are more likely.  It’s not just about earthquakes. One example I wrote about regards collisions with asteroids or comets. Until now, we could not have defended ourselves from such a cosmic impact. What we can do these days is, when we find out an asteroid is likely to hit us one or two years from now, either destroy it with atomic weapons or use some other method to try to deviate [it]. Because, if you nudge it just a little bit now, a couple of years from now, it will move a lot on a different orbit and away from us.

All I’m saying is that we really need to look around, invest the money in the right science [and] make this a safer world.
Isn’t there a tendency in humanity to pooh-pooh danger?  Many more people die in car accidents every year than people die in tsunamis or in earthquakes. However, when such things happen, then you are sorry that you didn’t do anything to prevent it. So, of course, we can lie to ourselves and say we shouldn’t worry about these things. But I don’t think that’s the right approach. Even though these events are rare, when they come, they make a lot of damage and suffering. A lot of people die.
Isn’t there a danger in raising too much of an alarm too often, as in the boy who cried wolf?  Definitely. This is not a scientific problem. This is a media problem. With H1N1, the coverage of this issue was way out of proportion. But the vaccine had an impact in not allowing the disease to spread. We don’t know how things would have been, had we not been vaccinated.  So you’re advocating preparation and education.
It’s not difficult to get prepared. It’s not difficult to be aware. The 10-year-old English girl was a child and she was able to recognize something nobody else recognized. If we just present children with all the possible dangers and what to do about them, it is much better than if you don’t know anything about these things. It’s not difficult.
Jeet Heer is a freelance journalist in Toronto.
Article Number 2

The injustice of Superman

In 1933 two teenage boys came up with a billon-dollar idea: Superman, a character that would join the pop culture pantheon with Sherlock Holmes, Tarzan and Mickey Mouse. But instead of profiting from their brainstorm they ended up with a lifetime of legal bills, borderline poverty and soul-eating bitterness. They were two nerdy Cleveland kids, Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, geeks lacking in social skills and spending most of their adolescent spare time reading sci-fi pulps and comic strips. Their boyhood fantasies and reading habits led them to create the world’s most popular superhero.

 

For the entire article please click on the link

http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2008/apr/05/theinjusticeofsuperman

THE TEN-CENT PLAGUE  Review of a Graphic Novel

The Great Comic-Book Scare and How it Changed America

By David Hajdu

Farrar, Straus & Giroux,

400 pages, $32.95

Books, if Ray Bradbury is to be trusted, burn at a temperature of Fahrenheit 451; old comic books, printed as they were on cheap newsprint, are easier to kindle. In the late 1940s and early 1950s, thousands of American kids discovered just how flammable comic books could be. Egged on by parents, teachers and such guardians of piety and patriotism as the Catholic Church and the American Legion, countless children (sometimes willingly, but often reluctantly) participated in schoolyard re-enactments of the Bonfire of the Vanities, setting aflame horror and crime comic books that allegedly had the power to corrupt their young innocence and transform them into juvenile delinquents. (It is highly probable that among the comics burned were copies of the EC Comics series Weird Science-Fantasy, which, appropriately enough, published adaptations of Ray Bradbury stories.)

The postwar anti-comics movement, an astonishing outburst of media-induced hysteria, originated in the United States but had repercussions in many lands, including England, Mexico, Taiwan, the Philippines and Canada. In 1949, E. Davie Fulton, an up-and-coming Tory MP from British Columbia, got Parliament to pass a private member’s bill banning crime comics from our pristine dominion. Fulton’s efforts were loudly praised by a 10-year-old Baie Comeau boy named Brian Mulroney, who delivered an award-winning speech denouncing crime comics.

Mulroney’s fledgling, prepubescent foray into Conservative politics was a transparent and treasonous attempt to win brownie points from authority figures by condemning reading material that many of his age-mates loved. (Intriguingly, Fulton would later serve as a mentor to Mulroney.)

In 2008, it’s hard to believe that comic books could be the centre of heated political disputes, but in early days of the Cold War, comics were as controversial as communism. In his splendid new cultural history The Ten-Cent Plague , respected U.S. cultural critic David Hajdu vividly brings this half-remembered debate to life, showing that the fierce struggle over comics was an important battle in a cultural war over youth and freedom that continues to rage to this day.

Comic books were born in the Depression-era United States as a tawdry, plebian offshoot of the more respectable Sunday funnies which ran in newspapers. Initially, comic books merely reprinted and imitated such established comic strip stars as Buck Rogers and the Katzenjammer Kids, but in the late 1930s, the medium was seized by a cohort of very young would-be cartoonists, often just teenagers who had no other prospect open to them.

These cartoonists were a rag-tag collection of outsiders: Many were first- and second-generation immigrant Jews and Catholics; some were African-Americans; others artistically inclined young women who were hampered by sexism from working at ad agencies or newspapers. What united them was a Depression-fuelled desperation to turn their pulp-fiction-inspired dreams into bright, four-colour fantasies. Although they worked for fly-by-night publishers in sweatshop-like conditions, putting out garishly produced pamphlets that were sold for a dime to children, these pioneering cartoonists created a pantheon of heroes that would soon define U.S. culture: Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Captain America, Plastic Man and many others. It’s a world that is superbly recreated in Michael Chabon’s Pulitzer Prize-winning 2001 novel The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay .

The early comics were something new in youth culture: They were not only made for children, they were often made by children, or near-children. Jerry Siegel and Torontonian Joe Shuster were all of 19 when they created Superman, and actually a notch older than many of their comic-book peers. The rawness of adolescence defined the aesthetics of early comics, which were often crude, rowdy, disrespectful, violent and sexually provocative. In their early adventures, Batman used a gun to execute his enemies and Wonder Woman tied up her foes in S & M gear that any dominatrix would envy.

As cartoonists grew older, they didn’t necessarily mature. Comics flourished in the low-rent district of the mass media, far from the respectable precincts ruled by Time magazine and the Saturday Evening Post. Many of the early publishers also specialized in girlie magazines, dirty “joke” books and blood-and-guts pulps. In this environment, cartoonists remained natural outsiders: Ethnically, aesthetically, socially and economically, they had little in common with the cool, white-bread norms that would, stereotypically and falsely, define the early postwar years.

After the superheroes, the next big trend was crime comics, which overtly preached a message that “Crime does not pay” while covertly glamorizing gangsters for breaking all the rules, solidifying the reputation comics had as an outlaw art form. Even as politicians like Fulton and young master Mulroney were decrying crime comics, an even more controversial genre emerged. Under the madcap captaincy of William Gaines, EC Comics started publishing horror comics filled with grisly, viscerally potent stories filled with ax murderers, zombies and dismembered corpses. (Many famous writers and filmmakers – including Stephen King, George Lucas, Steven Spielberg and John Carpenter – grew up on these comics and have spent a lifetime drawing inspiration from their imaginative bloodiness and transgressive daring.)

EC’s line of horror comics, executed with stylish art and literate scripts, were the exact opposite of the stereotypical image of 1950s culture as an Ozzie and Harriet celebration of suburban blandness and conformity. Equally subversive was another EC title: Mad, an uproariously satirical comic book that evolved into a magazine to keep the censors at bay. As Hajdu suggests, the wildness of the early comics prefigured the later rebelliousness of rock music: “Elvis Presley and Chuck Berry added the soundtrack to a scene created in comic books.”

These early comics were genuinely offensive; many of them remain shocking to this day, and it’s not surprising that the forces of adulthood and responsibility launched a counteroffensive. The anti-comics movement brought together a remarkably diverse alliance: parental groups, police forces, churches, politicians and psychiatrists. Condemning comics was one area where conservatives and communists could get along (in Britain and France, Marxist parties spearheaded the push against comics).

The intellectual leader of the anti-comics crowd was the German-born psychiatrist Fredric Wertham. Like many of the early cartoonists, Wertham was an immigrant, but he didn’t come out of the ghettos of Eastern Europe or the tenements of New York. He was an avatar of European high culture, fearful that the barbarism of fascism could be reborn in the United States. Superman reminded Wertham of the Übermensch exalted by Nietzsche and appropriated by Hitler.

Based on clinical work he did in a charitable hospital in Harlem, Wertham argued that almost all comic books stultified the imagination of normal kids and inspired the more vulnerable to become criminals. In denigrating comic books, Wertham used language as bold and unrestrained as anything found in a Batman story. “I think Hitler was a beginner compared to the comic-book industry,” he once said.

Was Wertham right? He still has his defenders, notably Bart Beaty, a professor of communications at the University of Calgary, who champions Wertham as a progressive scholar who cared about the “the most defenseless portion of postwar American society, children.” Hajdu’s new book, brilliantly written and based on hundreds of interviews with cartoonists and comics readers, as well as book burners, serves as a powerful brief against Wertham and his allies. As Hajdu notices, the voices of children and cartoonists got lost into the cacophony of the anti-comics backlash.

Children loved most the very comics that Wertham and his ilk thought were especially harmful, in part because these comics possessed the true unruly spirit of youth. The childish imagination is nurtured not just by wholesome and didactic stories, but also by tales of bloodshed and vengeance, which bring good and evil vividly to life. Children need monsters and ghouls just as surely as they require parents and teachers.

Wertham titled his 1954 bestselling polemic Seduction of the Innocent . But the fact is that no child, no human, is fully innocent. The book burnings conducted by virtuous nuns and war vets were as traumatic as anything to be found in the worst comics.

The war between children and adults is as old as the human species. It’s a curious struggle that gets replicated generation after generation, always with ironic results. The kids who read horror comics in the 1950s are now approaching retirement. Some of them are aghast at video games and the Internet; others spend thousands of dollars hunting down the remaining copies of the comic books that were so cavalierly burned when they were young.

 

Regina-based writer Jeet Heer has edited many books reprinting old comics, including the Walt and Skeezix series and the forthcoming Complete Little Orphan Annie. His cultural essays can be found on the Sans Everything blog.

Article Number 3

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

THE TEN-CENT PLAGUE
The Great Comic-Book Scare and How it Changed America
By David Hajdu
Farrar, Straus & Giroux,
400 pages, $32.95

Books, if Ray Bradbury is to be trusted, burn at a temperature of Fahrenheit 451; old comic books, printed as they were on cheap newsprint, are easier to kindle. In the late 1940s and early 1950s, thousands of American kids discovered just how flammable comic books could be. Egged on by parents, teachers and such guardians of piety and patriotism as the Catholic Church and the American Legion, countless children (sometimes willingly, but often reluctantly) participated in schoolyard re-enactments of the Bonfire of the Vanities, setting aflame horror and crime comic books that allegedly had the power to corrupt their young innocence and transform them into juvenile delinquents. (It is highly probable that among the comics burned were copies of the EC Comics series Weird Science-Fantasy, which, appropriately enough, published adaptations of Ray Bradbury stories.)

The postwar anti-comics movement, an astonishing outburst of media-induced hysteria, originated in the United States but had repercussions in many lands, including England, Mexico, Taiwan, the Philippines and Canada. In 1949, E. Davie Fulton, an up-and-coming Tory MP from British Columbia, got Parliament to pass a private member’s bill banning crime comics from our pristine dominion. Fulton’s efforts were loudly praised by a 10-year-old Baie Comeau boy named Brian Mulroney, who delivered an award-winning speech denouncing crime comics.

Mulroney’s fledgling, prepubescent foray into Conservative politics was a transparent and treasonous attempt to win brownie points from authority figures by condemning reading material that many of his age-mates loved. (Intriguingly, Fulton would later serve as a mentor to Mulroney.)
In 2008, it’s hard to believe that comic books could be the centre of heated political disputes, but in early days of the Cold War, comics were as controversial as communism. In his splendid new cultural history The Ten-Cent Plague , respected U.S. cultural critic David Hajdu vividly brings this half-remembered debate to life, showing that the fierce struggle over comics was an important battle in a cultural war over youth and freedom that continues to rage to this day.

Comic books were born in the Depression-era United States as a tawdry, plebian offshoot of the more respectable Sunday funnies which ran in newspapers. Initially, comic books merely reprinted and imitated such established comic strip stars as Buck Rogers and the Katzenjammer Kids, but in the late 1930s, the medium was seized by a cohort of very young would-be cartoonists, often just teenagers who had no other prospect open to them.
These cartoonists were a rag-tag collection of outsiders: Many were first- and second-generation immigrant Jews and Catholics; some were African-Americans; others artistically inclined young women who were hampered by sexism from working at ad agencies or newspapers. What united them was a Depression-fuelled desperation to turn their pulp-fiction-inspired dreams into bright, four-colour fantasies. Although they worked for fly-by-night publishers in sweatshop-like conditions, putting out garishly produced pamphlets that were sold for a dime to children, these pioneering cartoonists created a pantheon of heroes that would soon define U.S. culture: Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Captain America, Plastic Man and many others. It’s a world that is superbly recreated in Michael Chabon’s Pulitzer Prize-winning 2001 novel The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay .
The early comics were something new in youth culture: They were not only made for children, they were often made by children, or near-children. Jerry Siegel and Torontonian Joe Shuster were all of 19 when they created Superman, and actually a notch older than many of their comic-book peers. The rawness of adolescence defined the aesthetics of early comics, which were often crude, rowdy, disrespectful, violent and sexually provocative. In their early adventures, Batman used a gun to execute his enemies and Wonder Woman tied up her foes in S & M gear that any dominatrix would envy.
As cartoonists grew older, they didn’t necessarily mature. Comics flourished in the low-rent district of the mass media, far from the respectable precincts ruled by Time magazine and the Saturday Evening Post. Many of the early publishers also specialized in girlie magazines, dirty “joke” books and blood-and-guts pulps. In this environment, cartoonists remained natural outsiders: Ethnically, aesthetically, socially and economically, they had little in common with the cool, white-bread norms that would, stereotypically and falsely, define the early postwar years.
After the superheroes, the next big trend was crime comics, which overtly preached a message that “Crime does not pay” while covertly glamorizing gangsters for breaking all the rules, solidifying the reputation comics had as an outlaw art form. Even as politicians like Fulton and young master Mulroney were decrying crime comics, an even more controversial genre emerged. Under the madcap captaincy of William Gaines, EC Comics started publishing horror comics filled with grisly, viscerally potent stories filled with ax murderers, zombies and dismembered corpses. (Many famous writers and filmmakers – including Stephen King, George Lucas, Steven Spielberg and John Carpenter – grew up on these comics and have spent a lifetime drawing inspiration from their imaginative bloodiness and transgressive daring.)
EC’s line of horror comics, executed with stylish art and literate scripts, were the exact opposite of the stereotypical image of 1950s culture as an Ozzie and Harriet celebration of suburban blandness and conformity. Equally subversive was another EC title: Mad, an uproariously satirical comic book that evolved into a magazine to keep the censors at bay. As Hajdu suggests, the wildness of the early comics prefigured the later rebelliousness of rock music: “Elvis Presley and Chuck Berry added the soundtrack to a scene created in comic books.”
These early comics were genuinely offensive; many of them remain shocking to this day, and it’s not surprising that the forces of adulthood and responsibility launched a counteroffensive. The anti-comics movement brought together a remarkably diverse alliance: parental groups, police forces, churches, politicians and psychiatrists. Condemning comics was one area where conservatives and communists could get along (in Britain and France, Marxist parties spearheaded the push against comics).
The intellectual leader of the anti-comics crowd was the German-born psychiatrist Fredric Wertham. Like many of the early cartoonists, Wertham was an immigrant, but he didn’t come out of the ghettos of Eastern Europe or the tenements of New York. He was an avatar of European high culture, fearful that the barbarism of fascism could be reborn in the United States. Superman reminded Wertham of the Übermensch exalted by Nietzsche and appropriated by Hitler.
Based on clinical work he did in a charitable hospital in Harlem, Wertham argued that almost all comic books stultified the imagination of normal kids and inspired the more vulnerable to become criminals. In denigrating comic books, Wertham used language as bold and unrestrained as anything found in a Batman story. “I think Hitler was a beginner compared to the comic-book industry,” he once said.
Was Wertham right? He still has his defenders, notably Bart Beaty, a professor of communications at the University of Calgary, who champions Wertham as a progressive scholar who cared about the “the most defenseless portion of postwar American society, children.” Hajdu’s new book, brilliantly written and based on hundreds of interviews with cartoonists and comics readers, as well as book burners, serves as a powerful brief against Wertham and his allies. As Hajdu notices, the voices of children and cartoonists got lost into the cacophony of the anti-comics backlash.
Children loved most the very comics that Wertham and his ilk thought were especially harmful, in part because these comics possessed the true unruly spirit of youth. The childish imagination is nurtured not just by wholesome and didactic stories, but also by tales of bloodshed and vengeance, which bring good and evil vividly to life. Children need monsters and ghouls just as surely as they require parents and teachers.  Wertham titled his 1954 bestselling polemic Seduction of the Innocent . But the fact is that no child, no human, is fully innocent. The book burnings conducted by virtuous nuns and war vets were as traumatic as anything to be found in the worst comics.

The war between children and adults is as old as the human species. It’s a curious struggle that gets replicated generation after generation, always with ironic results. The kids who read horror comics in the 1950s are now approaching retirement. Some of them are aghast at video games and the Internet; others spend thousands of dollars hunting down the remaining copies of the comic books that were so cavalierly burned when they were young.
Regina-based writer Jeet Heer has edited many books reprinting old comics, including the Walt and Skeezix series and the forthcoming Complete Little Orphan Annie. His cultural essays can be found on the Sans Everything blog.

 



 

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