Years ago, for many children, the first reading experience was a comic – usually, a strip cartoon in the “Funnies” section of a magazine, newspaper or supplement and they were not sold separately.
The 1930s began the age of standalone comics with colourful front covers and the appearance of super characters/heroes like Superman and Batman who of course are still around today – albeit as part of the DC world and not the MARVEL Universe which has Ironman, Captain America and The Hulk et al…
(In the pop culture circle woe betides anyone mixing up the origin of these characters and their worlds!)
Wonderwoman got her own comic too, but it is fair to say that comics were seen as the domain of boys up until the 60s when various subjects were explored, plus different genres and comics appeared ‘aimed at girls’.
In the Scotland of my childhood (the 50s, early 60s), no superheroes for my sister Cate, or me – she got a weekly dose of Bunty and I read all about Judy’s adventures.
Whether Britain was affected by Senate Hearings in the USA I don’t know, but a psychiatrist, Dr Wertham blamed comics for the rise in juvenile delinquency and his book Seduction of The Innocent forced the industry into censorship mode.
At least today, women who wrote and illustrated comics (and there have been many over the decades) are being recognised, plus more female protagonists are being included, storylines modernised – diversity and gender gaps rectified.
The first major comic book conventions began and gained popularity in the 60s and were primarily about promoting, buying, selling and swapping comics.
Today, San Diego and New York’s comic cons are huge events and are replicated in other countries, including Australia. Cosplay is also popular and I loved a comic-con I attended with my “geeky” daughter in Sydney four years ago.
It was the subject of one of my first blog posts about writing, different ways to tell stories, and moving out of my comfort zone.
Hollywood and the advances in moviemaking technology (CGI) have ensured comic cons are multimedia showcases with comics sidelined in favour of movies, video games, toys, cosplay, celebrity panels and special guests working in the pop culture industry.
An exhibition in Melbourne at the moment is a huge promotion for the next Marvel movie spectacular – Avengers: Infinity War – to be released this month too.
However, the love of characters created in comics extends through to adulthood and often becomes a family affair and true devotees still love reading comics and will decry Hollywood’s interference in changing storylines – much the same as classic text lovers hate their Dickens or Austen novels being altered for the screen.
WW2 produced Captain America but his adventures stopped in 1949 and he only became popular again when Marvel brought him back as a member of the Avengers in 1964 and it is the Avengers (specifically the movie ones) who are the focus of a new exhibition in Melbourne that has fans excited.
Avengers S.T.A.T.I.O.N. at Birrarung Marr
A huge interactive exhibition for fans to enter and explore takes the comic characters and their storylines to another level. This Avengers Science, Training and Tactical Intelligence Operative Network is set up as if you are training to be an agent for SHIELD – there is plenty of real science and technology added to the movie magic.
Read about Dr Bruce Banner’s science lab and his transformation into Hulk. Measure yourself against his size and strength, stand nearby and quake as he shows off his power and anger.
Captain America’s 1940s personnel file, his shield, motorbike and lots of documents pertaining to his backstory is the first ‘security area’ you are given a pass to – and his intelligent first love Agent Carter has her moments of glory too.
Practice moves with Captain America’s shield, climb aboard his motorbike and let your imagination chase bad guys!
You can also try to lift Thor’s hammer, but since only the son of Odin can lift Mjolnir, I’d save your energy (they’ve made it immovable!) and just enjoy being in an Asgardian astral observatory, reading about NASA’s exoplanets program as well as Thor’s mischief-making brother Loki.
There are lots of special effects to titillate your senses, especially sight and sound.
Tony Stark’s engineering bay comes with costumes, Iron Man VR flight simulators, and information on good guys and bad guys.
Powerful Women Exist Too
The evening the girls and I attended, most of the “security personnel” guiding us through the exhibition were lab-coat wearing women, Maria Hill, Deputy Director of SHIELD appears on the screen to welcome and farewell her “new agents,” and the costumes of Black Widow and Scarlet Witch are on display beside their stories.
A First For Melbourne
Melbourne is the first city to host the S.T.A.T.I.O.N’s newest exhibitions: Black Panther, The Wasp and Thanos. The replica movie props and costumes will certainly delight attendees but don’t stand still for too long as hundreds of clever scurrying ants are projected onto the floor in various formations.
The Marvel Cinematic Universe’s latest comic book superhero Black Panther is definitely a drawcard and you can read his story, see his mask, the powerful herb, and famous beads at close range. They embody the power and technological advancement of his particular African nation and you can learn about why.
The Importance of Black Panther the Movie
If you haven’t yet seen this amazing Marvel movie, please treat yourself.
It is powerful storytelling with a purpose, executed well, and for people of colour who have waited for generations to have a superhero they can be proud of and identify with I can only imagine how thrilling it must be as this article in Time explains.
If you are reading this and you are white, seeing people who look like you in mass media probably isn’t something you think about often. Every day, the culture reflects not only you but nearly infinite versions of you—executives, poets, garbage collectors, soldiers, nurses and so on. The world shows you that your possibilities are boundless. Now, after a brief respite, you again have a President.
Those of us who are not white have considerably more trouble not only finding representation of ourselves in mass media and other arenas of public life but also finding representation that indicates that our humanity is multifaceted. Relating to characters onscreen is necessary not merely for us to feel seen and understood, but also for others who need to see and understand us. When it doesn’t happen, we are all the poorer for it.
This is one of the many reasons Black Panther is significant. What seems like just another entry in an endless parade of superhero movies is actually something much bigger.
So get your security ID and know your enemy – Thanos – and write yourself into a piece of fan fiction or just enjoy the fantasy world and have some fun immersing yourself in the Marvel Universe.
We went early evening to miss the crowds that accompany school holidays and despite ridiculous claims and criticisms of “unsafe” Melbourne by rightwing politicians the precinct of Federation Square, the banks of the Yarra and Birrarung Marr Artplay glowed in the dark like precious jewels.
Take the time to appreciate your surroundings – we live in one of the nicest and safest cities in the world – voted the most liveable many times – and deservedly so. Birrarung Marr, on the Yarra River’s north bank next to Federation Square, is Melbourne’s newest major park. Opened in 2002, it frequently hosts events and festivals.
The art centre and play area are designed and designated for children and the pathway links to events held at the MCG or Melbourne Park. Birrarung Marr is terraced so that from several vantage points, you have wonderful views of the city and nearby icons.
The Birrarung Wilam installation celebrates the diversity of Victoria’s indigenous culture by interpreting stories through public artworks. A winding pathway acknowledges the significance of the eel as a traditional food source and a semicircle of metal shields represents each of the five groups of the Kulin Nation.
Other features of Birrarung Marr include Deborah Halpern’s two-headed Angel sculpture and the Federation Bells, ringing out three times daily with different compositions. The park’s William Barak pedestrian bridge leads directly to the Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG).
Comics and graphic novels are popular and shouldn’t be overlooked as a reading tool for reluctant or struggling readers.
Remembering A Reluctant Reader
I can testify to the usefulness of comics as a reading tool. When I worked as an au pair in Canada during the summer of 1976, I was employed by emigre Jewish doctors from Russia. They wanted me to teach their six-year-old son, Leon to read so that he could start school in Toronto.
Leon was precocious and clever, fluent in English, Russian and Yiddish but totally enamoured with television, cartoons and Superman. He refused to try and read the set English texts.
With his parent’s permission, I bought several comics and bargained with Leon – a comic story in the morning, and a school book in the afternoon. Progress also rewarded by a cartoon if he cooperated and tried.
The bribery worked and Leon discovered learning to read could be fun just like all the children through the ages who have been switched on to reading by newspaper cartoon strips and those earlier comics.
MARVEL has taken the stories, cartoon characters, myths and legends to a whole new level, it’s an evolving genre – visit the exhibition and enjoy!
This is fun for all regardless of age.