Structure, form, and content of mythology - as found in comics. And related matters of interest.

Aug 15, 2017


The publishing date on FOOM #18 is June 1977, just before our focused time period. One of the most important excerpts I want to take from FOOM comes in this issue, however. It speaks directly to the power of myth in comics and provides an excellent example of the ways in which comic book narratives translate to us as myths. So, let’s take a look at a letter published in #18. A female writer from Ontario, Canada wrote a letter asking questions about the new X-Men team, but ended with a question about something else entirely. She asks, “Why does it seem that people like you and I (who can sympathize/empathize with our band of Homo Superior heroes) are so few and far between, while the narrow-minded bigot is so painfully common?”[i] Such a question wasn’t found in many comic books, but with the new X-Men a substantially growing number of readers were finding sympathy with and empathy for this new superhero team. These readers included many women, not common for superhero comic book readers, so this writer was exploring new territory with her question.

Writer Chris Claremont’s response is even more extraordinary and unlike anything I encountered through reading or anywhere else as a youth of eleven. And it most certainly is something I should have heard somewhere, whether in church, school, or at home. But it really does seem my best lessons were coming from comics, or in this case, from FOOM. Claremont replies:

Why are there people in the United States who think Adolf Hitler was the greatest man who ever lived and regret the fact that he never got a chance to finish what he started? Why do people love dogs and cats and hate niggers? Or wops? Or dagos? Or spics? Or kikes? Or wogs? Or honkies? Or anyone, as characters and as people; I would really flip if, one day, I woke up to discover that the men (note: the X-Men) were “real” people. I would love to meet them. By the same token, I like most people. I don’t think of myself as any sort of racist; I guess that makes me a liberal. But, at the same time, I’ll find myself on the street in New York and – out of the blue – something happening around me will provoke a racist thought. A thought is as far as the event gets, but maybe that’s enough. Maybe I’ve been fooling myself all these years and I’m really a closet bigot. Or maybe I’m just human and nobody but a canonized saint should expect themselves to feel, act, think the straight-and-narrow every instant of every day. Then again, maybe the difference lies in the fact that a bigot would think that racist thought and follow through with it, thought becoming action, whereas a non-bigot thinks the same flash-response thought and immediately realizes that it’s bullshit, that it has its origin in the psychic framework of a society that’s only just beginning to come to terms with the racist elements of its heritage. I honest-to-God don’t know.
            What it comes down to is that Dave Cockrum and I view our characters as people, not as black, white, Asians, Irish, African, Amerindian, German, Canadian, Russian, human, mutant, or whatever! People – first, last and always – in the probably vain hope that, sooner or later, everyone else in this screwed-up world of ours will start seeing things the same way.

I am not sure even a “canonized saint” would have written something like this.

Actually, I am sure – I never heard such a speech in my church. Not this direct. I never heard this in my school. Not this strong. I surely never heard it in my home. I got it from FOOM, from Chris Claremont, the writer of what was going to be, not surprisingly, the comic that showed comics a possible way to grow up, the new X-Men. And as I looked toward my next year, the one in which I was already being told I would need to think carefully about affirming my Catholic faith, and also preparing for the next steps in my education, and in becoming an adult, no words could have ever been more important to hear. I was writing this passage in this book just as the November 13, 2015 terrorist attacks on Paris were having an effect on what American politicians were saying. I would really like to send this little note from Chris Claremont to them. Sadly, I am sure most of them would ignore these words as the words of some “comic book writer.” Which, to use one of the words not present in Marvel Comics at the time, would be bullshit.

excerpt from my book - there's a link on the side if you're interested. 

[i] McMicking, Ellen, “FOOM Forum,” FOOM MAGAZINE #18, Marvel Comics Group, 1977, 18.

Jun 12, 2017

Wonder Woman as Myth

The premise of my book is the superhero stories we read – as children, but potentially at any age – like any stories we read – function as myths for us when we find them to hold great meaning for us. Any story can be a myth if we find such meaning in it.

I focus on the comics I read when I was eleven and twelve years old. Superhero comics – many, not all – are now written for an older age group, so many kids are experiencing superhero narratives in films. I write about kids discovering Thor and wondering whether they would be worthy to lift the hammer and about a kid at the end of The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (2014) bravely assuming the mantle of Spider-Man when the real one cannot be found.

Below is a twitter post shared by Patty Jenkins, the director of the new film, Wonder Woman. It is from a kindergarten teacher, detailing the immediate effect the film had on children in her class. It is obvious the film’s powerful narrative – not just of a female superhero, but of her message of how one should conduct one’s self in this world – has already become a myth for these kids, a story they can identify with and begin to copy in their own lives in positive ways.

May 26, 2017

This was originally going to be titled “The Destruction of Krypton and Climate Change Denial: Where is Superman When You Need Him?”…

Sometimes, the myth is the wrong myth.

I recently determined that even after writing about my early days reading Marvel Comics, I still had some work to do on superhero comics. Namely, I felt like I needed to understand Superman better. If he was not the first superhero, he was close. Superman is the iconic prototype of the superhero.

As a character, he can easily be taken for granted. His power is overwhelming and writers need to go to great lengths to make a threat to him believable to readers. But his personality traits and his ultimate goodness, often perceived, if not directly written, as an old-fashioned quality of values (“truth, justice, and the American way” when the meanings of these are all in flux in today’s world), are still held up as being a good example to follow in the general culture, if not necessarily in specific comics anymore. Making Superman dark, veering from his exemplar past, can make him appear to be someone else. This continues the mythical character, and I wanted to see what Superman meant to me. My past with the character is sketchy, but important in ways I had not thought much about. I had read Superman comics when I was young, but I don’t recall reading long runs or being too invested in his stories. I do clearly remember seeing the 1978 Superman film, though, and being entranced: seeing Action Comics #1 on the big screen at the very beginning made me think others would now think comics were OK. Finally! Not quite yet, though…

I quickly discovered I was planning two articles: one was about the early Superman and how different he was from my conception today. The second was an exploration into his origin, as the explosion of Krypton seemed it might have some relevance to the politics and reporting of the effects of climate change in our world, and our response or lack thereof. The former will be coming. The latter is this blog post, as the two only parallel each other in tangential ways.

Sometimes an idea doesn’t pan out with research. Sometimes, the myth is the wrong myth.

My expectation: seeing a comic’s narrative as a myth means finding a personal connection to it. That does not mean that story necessarily is, or can become, a myth for the masses. I wondered: does the Superman origin story, and specifically the events on Krypton leading up to Superman being rocketed off to Earth as Krypton is destroyed, convey any relevance to us and our views on climate change? Are there parallels? I thought perhaps there would be, but the historic progression doesn’t really bear this out. A few versions have some interesting details, but I find I’m unable to build any credible argument. By the time Kevin J. Anderson writes Last Days of Krypton in 2007, some details of these origin stories are interesting, but this seems more by chance, a tangential connection to today’s world rather than a myth that reflects on that world (at least as far as the current narrative of climate change).

In general, from comics to radio shows to film, the destruction of the planet Krypton is important as it begins most versions of the Superman myth I looked at. In consideration of how that story could be taken as myth in today’s world, the only points of intersection were the numerous occurrences of natural disaster in both worlds and the occasional depiction of influential scoffing by a Kryptonian council. These have direct parallels to current instances of mega-weather and our politics and the wider discussion of “belief” in the effects of climate change. The question, in the end, however, “Is there a solution to be found here, the kind of solution that myths usually offer: new ways to consider to move forward, whether positive or negative, that will offer some sort of results?”

My answer, I think not. Superman, as an infant, is jettisoned from the disaster of a dying world to become a hero on a new planet. He does not save Krypton. His father Jor-El failed to convince others, his arguments laughed at and ignored. The only parallel I find is the call by some to explore how we can move to Mars, which of course is not an actual solution to the situation on Earth.

So – I present here the relevant stories I looked at and admit there must be many more versions of the origin I did not. Perhaps some of those I did not consider offer some further ideas, but my guess is, not enough to find a deeper resonance on this issue.

An interesting tale is told of the original Superman proposal that Jerry Siegel first sent out. From Brad Ricca’s Super Boys (St. Martin’s Griffin, New York, 2013) a must read biography of Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster – and Superman – we find that giant cataclysms were shaking the future Earth, and the last man alive places his infant son into a time machine that brings him back to the year 1935 (p. 101-102). So there was certainly an idea equating Krypton with the Earth, as the first proposed tale actually used Earth and suggested our planet was doomed. Apparently the science fiction aspects of such a tale won out even further, as all future versions began on the non-Earth planet, Krypton.

In Superman’s first appearance, his extra-planetary origin is quickly presented in one panel, the first, depicting a small ship fleeing an exploding world: “As a distant planet was destroyed by old age, a scientist placed his infant son within a hastily devised space-ship, launching it toward Earth!” p. 8. (“Superman” from Action Comics #1, June 1938, Jerome Siegel and Joe Shuster, reprinted in “Superman: The Golden Age Volume One”, DC Comics, Burbank, CA, 2016, p. 7-20.) In this first story, the planet is simply succumbing to “old age.”

Old-age is removed from the next telling of the origin story in Superman #1, but the change in the reasoning might support a more direct reading for our purposes. Again, with one panel of a ship leaving the planet Krypton, we read, “Just before the doomed planet, Krypton, exploded to fragments, a scientist placed his infant son within an experimental rocket-ship, launching it toward Earth!” p.199. (“Superman” from Superman #1, July 1939, Jerome Siegel and Joe Shuster, reprinted in “Superman: The Golden Age Volume One”, DC Comics, Burbank, CA, 2016, p. 198-204.) The key word here is “doomed,” which may refer back to the old age of the planet, but also allows us to begin to wonder: is it doomed due to an inevitable breakdown because of age, or is the unfortunate and inescapable outcome that “doomed” defines something the Kryptonians have done to themselves and their world? There is not enough here to suggest the Kryptonians are at fault for their world’s demise.

However, in the next version of the story, there is direct negligence exhibited that already is tangentially similar to climate change deniers of today. This version comes from the first episode of “The Adventures of Supermanradio serial from February 12, 1940 titled “Escaping from Doomed Krypton.” A quick note as to mixing media – ordinarily I think it probably best to stay with one form. But when looking at the Superman myth, the myth was built across forms (i.e., though an early panel from the comics depicts Superman flying for the first time, this power only was permanently affixed to Superman from the Fleischer cartoon series). Examining an accreted mythology such as Superman has, allows for, I think, bringing in all versions. (Note on the radio show: this version apparently builds from the Superman daily newspaper strip that began in January 1939, but I have not been able to look at this version).

The radio program has so much more content than the previous versions in the comics, first establishing that Krypton is similar to Earth, though more advanced: “[…] the planet Krypton burns like a green star in the endless heavens. Here civilization is far advanced. It is brought forth a race of supermen. Men and women like ourselves, but advanced to the absolute peak of human perfection.”  We then meet Superman’s father in the “high walls and gleaming turrets…the magnificent temple of wisdom” where “Jor-El, Krypton’s foremost man of science, is about to address a meeting of the planet’s governing council.”

Since this is now a blog post, I thought I’d post the radio show transcript from here on (what I transcribed, which is most of the show) in case anyone else has a use for it.

Jor-El: “Members of the council. I have completed my solar calculations and much as I dread uttering these words, I have come to the conclusion, Krypton is doomed!”
There is an immediate uproar.
“Did I hear him right?”
Council Leader “Gentlemen, gentlemen! Gentlemen, hear him out!”
Jor-El “These internal quakes we’ve been experiencing, these volcanic eruptions, tidal waves, gas escaping form giant craters, all point to only one thing, gentlemen, Krypton is utterly and finally doomed.”
“Why the man is mad…” as noise erupts again.
Council Leader “One moment gentlemen, one moment.”
Another Council Member: “There is no cause for anxiety. I am certain Jor-El has made a mistake. True, we have had a few minor quakes and eruptions, but nothing may change. There must be some error in your calculations, Jor-El.”
Jor-El: “No, no, there is no error, O-Dun. I only wish there were. The sun is gradually drawing Krypton closer to it. Within a month, possibly only a week, the gravitational pull will be so tremendous that Krypton will not be able to weather the strain. And then, then our planet will explode like a giant bubble destroying every living thing on it!”
“Ha, ha, ha, ha..” The entire room erupts in laughter.
CL “Gentlemen!”
“Assuming for the moment Jor-El, that what you say is true, how are we to avoid it? What can we do to stop it?”
Jor-El: “There is only one way. As you all know, I have been working on a spaceship since I am for interplanetary travel. With time, and united effort, we might transport the entire population of Krypton to another world.”
Councilman: “Impossible! Where would we go?”
Jor-El: “To the Earth. My studies tell me the atmosphere of the Earth is very nearly the same as our own.”
“You have been working too hard, Jor-El. You need a rest. Believe me, we have the utmost respect for your knowledge and integrity, but this is carrying it too far! Planets as large as Krypton do not explode, Jor-El!”
Murmurs, and a noise…
Jor-El: “Wait, do you hear that gentlemen, it’s a forewarning of doom! Every moment is precious now. […[ like that, it sounds the death knell of Krypton. It will happen gentlemen and happen soon. When the last eruption comes-”
“When it comes, Jor-El, it shall find all of us ready. If Krypton is to die, we shall die with it. The parting would be much too severe!”
Laughter erupts, “ha, ha, ha, ha…”
“[Farewell], laugh if you like O-dan and you members of the council. I have no time to laugh. My wife Lara and my infant son are dear to me. It is not my wish to stand by and see them destroyed. Laugh all of you! But a time will come and that time is perhaps very close at hand. When you will wish you had heeded the words of Jor-El. Now, you think me a fool but remember what I have said gentlemen, when Krypton is shattered into a thousand million stars, when the glorious civilization we have built is no more. When you and your families are swept from the face of Krypton like dust!”
“Ha, ha, he’s mad, ha, ha, ha,” laughter erupts.
“Order, gentlemen! Order. You have heard Jor-El speak. Is it your wish that we devote time and money to the building of spaceships for the transportation of Krypton’s population to another planet?”
“NO! NO! NO! NO!”
“I am sorry Jor-El, the council has spoken.”
“Yes, and signed the death warrant of every living thing on Krypton. Well, I’ve done my best to convince you. Now all that remains for me is to proceed with my own means of salvation. My own spaceship to save the lives of those near and dear to me. And for the rest of you, may the gods have mercy on your souls!”
General eruption of murmuring, “…why, Jor-El is mad, absolutely mad…”
Later - …
LARA: “Are you coming in? It, it seemed to have gotten oppressively hot.”
Jor-El: “Yes, it, it has. I wonder… Lara, do you hear that?”
LARA: “Yes, Jor-El, what is it?”
Jor-El: “Subterranean explosions. Do you feel the ground trembling?”
LARA: “Yes, I do. Jor-El, do you think-“
Jor-El: “Lara… Lara, I’m afraid it’s come. Where is the boy, Kal-El?
Lara: What do you mean?
Jor-El: Get him quickly! This is the end!
Lara: Jor-El, what can we do?
Jor-El: Nothing! Nothing! I’m not ready! Oh, what a fool I’ve been to delay!
L: It isn’t your fault Jor-El. You did all you could.
J: If only this model were large enough, we could take a chance.
L: Jor-El, will it carry one of us safely to Earth?
J: Oh, I think so, but…, Lara, where are you going? Stay here with me!
L: I’m getting Kal-El. If one of us can be saved, Jor-El, it should be the boy.
Jor-El: No, no, Lara, come back, if one must go it should be you. Lara, I said come back. Come back!
An explosion is heard.
L: Here he is Jor-El, in a sleep. Goodbye, Kal-El.
J: Please, Lara-
L: No, Jor-El, listen to me. We both stay here. Kal-El goes in the spaceship. If there is a chance, Jor-El, if one little chance, I want it for my son.
J; Maybe you’re right, Lara.
L: Jor-El, look! The sky, it’s fiery red. The mountains, look, the mountains are falling in. Jor-El, what’s happening?
J: The end of Krypton, Lara, just as I foretold. This is the last great quake.
L: Jor-El, listen, explosions.
J: Here, quick, quick, give me the boy-
L: Kal-El! Kal-El! What are you doing Jor-El?
J: Opening the door, putting him inside.
L; Jor-El, the house is swaying. It’s breaking apart! Look, Jor-El!
J: There, there he’s safe inside. Now for the switch. Stand back Lara!
L: Oh, Jor-El, will he reach the Earth?
J: Only the gods know. But there’s a chance, the only chance! Stand back now Lara, I’m going to throw the switch.
L; Jor-El, it’s getting dark. I can’t see! What happened?
J: The fire-! Smoke from the center of the planet. Not much time now.
L: Hold me, Jor-El. Is the spaceship gone?
J: No, no, not yet. Waiting for pressure. We may have been too late. If it doesn’t work up soon- Wait! Lara, it’s off! It’s on its way!
L: Jor-El! Where are you?
J: Here, here. Beside you Lara! Listen, can you hear me? Our boy, Kal-El, our son Lara, he’s on his way. On his way to Earth!
L: Kal-El! Kal-Elllllllllllll-
Narrator: So the tiny rocketship roars into the uncharted heavens as the mighty planet of Krypton explodes into millions of glowing fragments, glittering stars to remain forever in the night sky. Jor-El and Lara, devoted parents of the tiny boy, perish in the giant quake that destroys Krypton.

And that is most of the show. I’ll only point out that it was the laughter and scoffing that the council directed at Jor-El that initially connected Krypton and impending climate change disaster for me. The scoffing of our own politicians and those who back them are only too easy to find. As Krypton gets “oppressively hot” and explodes, so might our own planet, though what will explode will probably be violence and humanitarian crises. The wealthy and powerful, as I envision the Kryptonian council to be made up of, who prefer to deny would probably be the last people affected.

The next version comes from Superboy’s first appearance in More Fun Comics #101 from 1945. The events seem to follow from the radio show (and newspaper strip, perhaps).

The relevant panels in full:

p.23, Panel 3 Jor-El: There is no time to rest, Lara. The lives of all Kryptonians may depend on the success of my experiments.
Panel 4 Lara: But your appointment with the council, Jor-El – you must hurry!
Jor-El: Yes, Lara – once again I must try to convince them that Krypton is – DOOMED!”
Panel 5: “But even as Jor-El Hastens toward the council chamber.”
“The ground – shaking again!” “And those deep rumblings beneath the surface of the ground!” “The sky – dark and foreboding!”
P.24: Panel 1 “But in spite of nature’s warnings, Krypton’s Supreme Council continues to turn a deaf ear to Jor-El’s impassioned pleadings…”
Jor-El: “I implore you - - build thousands of great space ships like my model! If the lives of all Kryptonians are to be saved, they must travel to the planet Earth - - for Krypton is doomed - - DOOMED!”
“We have had earthquakes and storms before – and our planet still exists!” “Your theory is fantastic, Jor-El!” “Leave Krypton? Never!”

Panel 2: “Filled with impotent fury, Jor-El hurries home - - and the shaking and rumbling of the planet increases!”
Jor-El: “Blind fools! They’ll die – all of them! But at least I may have time to save my family!”
Panel 3: Jor-El: “Quickly, Lara - - into the model space ship - - there’s just enough room for you and the babe!”
Lara: “No - - my place is here with you, my husband. But let our son have his chance for life!”
Panel 4: “Thus, moments later, the little craft sets off on its terrible adventure with a tiny human cargo..”
Jor-El: “Not a moment too soon!” Lara: “Farewell my son – farewell!”
Panel 5: “And moments later - - the great planet vanishes!”

And though it says vanishes, the art clearly depicts the planet vanishing because of an explosion that completely blows it apart.

(“Superboy” from More Fun Comics #101, 1945, reprinted in “Millennium Edition: More Fun Comics, No. 101, November, 2000, DC Comics, New York, NY, p. 22-26.)

As I said earlier, I have not looked at versions of Superman’s origin in the comics after 1945. Comics research can be made difficult by availability (and I didn’t intend a long research project necessitating thorough exploration of the necessary places to compile every origin story out there). Though many older comics are reprinted, they don’t always stay in print. These can also get expensive. Libraries are getting better, but none in reasonable distance have everything I would need to be authoritative on this angle.

However, I did read the novel Last Days of Krypton by Anderson, Kevin J., Harper Collins, New York, New York, 2007. This updated – and novel length – narrative of Krypton’s last year or so was rather interesting, with some passages seeming to directly suggest Krypton’s problems were both created by its people, and demonstrated the governing council’s complicity and unwillingness to do something even in the face of possibility and evidence. A few short excerpts:

Zor-El, Jor-El’s brother, surveys the damage after a large-scale natural disaster: “he was amazed to note the extent of the destruction. The titanic eruption had knocked down countless trees, flattening them like crushed straw for kilometers around. The ecological impact was incalculable. How many creatures had gone extinct in only a few days? And how many more would die in the coming months and years with the continent so devastated? Only the hardiest life-forms could possibly survive.”  Page 31

Later, Jor-El petitions General Zod (the villain who at this point is plotting to be a Kryptonian dictator),

“As you know, my brother discovered dangerous instabilities in the core of our planet. The Council refused to take any action until Zor-El provided them with extensive data.”  P.241
He continues,  “We’ve all experienced the increasingly severe quakes. More than one tidal wave has struck the coast, and massive volcanic eruptions continue in the southern continent. The core pressure is still growing-and now I do have a full set of data. The situation is precisely as bad as I feared. Trust me, Commissioner. The evidence is indisputable.” He could see Zod trying to decide how to respond. “Even if I accept your warning, what can we do about it?”  p.241

At least Zod is listening to him. No action is taken, however, once again leaving Jor-El on his own, inevitably leading to the survival of one infant Kryptonian.

In a passage that can sum up both the Kryptonian’s chance at surviving their planetary changes as well as our own, “Lara fought back tears. “It’s not your fault, Jor-El. The other members of the Council closed their eyes to the truth. They didn’t want to see it.”
“They feared my knowledge rather than respecting it. Tyr-Us and the others were so tied up in politics and alliances and feuds that they couldn’t imagine a man might speak the truth just because it’s the right thing to do. And now their willful ignorance will kill them.” P. 393.

Sadly, this could be a summary of what nature holds in store for us, as well as what our political and educational conversations tend to look like on this issue.

Not even Superman has an answer to this problem. And it doesn’t look like we have a way to send our own infant Kal-El away from the possible disasters we are ignoring.

Mar 13, 2017

A Short Review of Michael Tisserand’s “Krazy: George Herriman, A Life in Black and White”

It may have been officially published in December, 2016, but “Krazy: George Herriman, A Life in Black and White” by Michael Tisserand is already my book of the year for 2017. The importance of a fully researched biography of cartoonist George Herriman cannot be overestimated. Herriman is the genius behind the Krazy Kat comic strip, a strip I wrote about in my dissertation as an example of a complete (and endearing) mythology. Herriman’s “Krazy Kat” is a creation with few peers, an American comics treasure that should be exalted and hold a commanding place in our national consciousness. Which it does – but only for a few. Comic strips (i.e., “newspaper comic strips”) sadly seem hopelessly out of fashion, as are, apparently, newspapers. Herriman’s story, for the first time extensively researched, is lovingly presented by Tisserand. It is a story for our times.

The beginning of the book is astounding for its research into Herriman’s ancestry, called into question when his birth certificate was unearthed in 1971 identifying him as “colored.” Herriman had been passing as white, and the certificate offered some answers that unfortunately weren’t accepted by all. Tisserand removes any questions, producing as rich a portrait of Herriman’s history in New Orleans as any expectant fan could have hoped for. The first three chapters alone make the book important and necessary.

Herriman’s life in New Orleans was relatively short though, and he was in Los Angeles by the time he was ten. This leaves an even longer story to tell, and Herriman – a man who fully embraced life, even as he recognized its inherent sadness – is a joy to read about in so many ways. One of the revelations in the book is the ongoing portrait of the comic strip artist in general. In the early days of newspapers, they were well-known, often times reporting the news through their comics. There doesn’t seem to be a direct analogue for their role in today’s world. Their popularity was apparently so large that their own comings and goings were included as news items, or at least in society columns. Compared to today’s lack of respect for newspapers and the comics within, Herriman’s journalistic world and crew was fast-paced and rather adventuresome. It is amazing that he ever found time to create “Krazy Kat.”

Herriman’s lack of interest in the spotlight, combined with his great intellect, philosophical leanings, and a gentle yet honest approach to life produces a portrait of a man you wish you had known. And you yearn for his work, especially “Krazy Kat” with its expansive good nature and fully-rounded exploration of what makes a life – or life in general – good, to be not just better known, but known by all as a cornerstone of American comics, art, and culture.

Tisserand has suggested that his book was not written to provide answers. An evaluation of Herriman’s life and work can only come after the story is known. The author has done an excellent job in letting Herriman’s life story be known. It is now up to us to ask further questions. I wonder: what does a life of passing as a white man - which served Herriman well as it was the only way he could have been hired to work as a newspaper comics artist, a career in which he is one of the all-time greats - mean for our evaluation of his life and for his reception as an African American pioneer in comics and as one of the truly great American artists in any art form? I don’t know the personal evaluation that African Americans would use to judge those who passed. It does seem there could be a wide variety of reactions: from anger, to understanding, to a sadness at a loss of family connections, culture, and history.

I can say this: as we move forward I hope that our appreciation of all history and culture, and our appreciation of great art, whether high, low, somewhere in between, like the bubbling, thrilling mix of Herriman’s “Krazy Kat,” will be based on an honest evaluation of where we have been, where we are now, where we are going, and the never-ending need of all eras to have stories to think about, to emulate, and to love – not simply the qualities and chance of race.