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Author Topic: Do Comic Books Make us Smarter?  (Read 6113 times)
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TELLE
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« on: August 01, 2007, 11:06:39 AM »

Just reading parts of Everything Bad is Good For Us, a book about how modern tv makes us smarter.  I wonder, are their comic book equivalents to the book's fave tv examples, Seinfeld, Simpsons and 24?

Are things like 52, Invisibles, Criminal, etc hyper-complex narratives that demand more from the reader?  Is Kurt Busiek better than Roy Thomas or Steve Englehart?



http://www.amazon.com/Everything-Bad-Good-Steven-Johnson/dp/1594481946
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« Reply #1 on: August 01, 2007, 01:28:31 PM »

I can't imagine how modern comics could make anyone smarter.  For one thing, the stories and characters exist in a sort of parrallel reality that bears little resemblance to our own.  So much of modern comics revolves around complex, even byzantine continuity stretching back for decades that they're completely "inbred," for lack of a better word.  You could fill your head with tons and tons of trivia about modern comics and still know nothing at all about the real world.

In contrast (Warning: Old Geezer Rant Ahead), old school comics taught me a lot.  Vocabulary for one.  Between Dr Doom, Reed Richards and Thor I learned all kinds of high falutin words.  I was calling my playground rivals "witless cretins" when everyone else my age was saying "Doo-doo Head."  Plus from a vintage All-Star tale I learned that wet rawhide shrinks as it dries (making it a great tool for strangling Caped Crusaders).  From Batman I learned that the Telegraph Bird makes a sound very much like a rattlesnake (allowing the Penguin to effect an escape) and that you can swim out of quicksand if you keep your cool.  I learned about undersea life from Aquaman, physics and astronomy from the Atom and Green Lantern, and so on.  Through Kid Eternity and time-travels by Superman, Batman and others I met historical characters like Billy the Kid, Attila the Hun, Julius Ceasar, Socrates and DaVinci for the first time.

Most of all, comics got me hooked on reading.  They led me to Science Fiction, mysteries, historical fiction, biographies, Westerns and thrillers.  So yes, comics did make me smarter growing up.  But I seriously doubt reading them today, at my age, would add much to my knowledge.  I'm guessing the author of this book likes Seinfeld and the Simpsons because of the irony, the cultural references, the meta-textual whatchamacallits.  Even here modern comics aren't that smart, in my opinion, because as I said above all the references and in-jokes simply lead back to other comics.  They aren't what I'd call pithy commentaries on modern times, more just an escape from reality.  Not that there's anything wrong with that, as Jerry would say, but that kind of escapism is a break from learning, not a furthering of it.
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« Reply #2 on: August 01, 2007, 02:22:48 PM »

Iron Age comics may not make your smarter but they will make you dumber and if you read enough of them they might make you completely insane.

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« Reply #3 on: August 01, 2007, 03:57:47 PM »

In contrast (Warning: Old Geezer Rant Ahead), old school comics taught me a lot.  Vocabulary for one.  Between Dr Doom, Reed Richards and Thor I learned all kinds of high falutin words.  I was calling my playground rivals "witless cretins" when everyone else my age was saying "Doo-doo Head."
In the Powerpuff Girls, Mojo Jojo had it with Bubbles saucy mouth after being called "doo-doo head" (or something along those lines).  While the pejorative is silly, the notion of Bubbles having a saucy mouth is hardly the sort of thing that most kids would get. 

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Plus from a vintage All-Star tale I learned that wet rawhide shrinks as it dries (making it a great tool for strangling Caped Crusaders).  From Batman I learned that the Telegraph Bird makes a sound very much like a rattlesnake (allowing the Penguin to effect an escape) and that you can swim out of quicksand if you keep your cool.  I learned about undersea life from Aquaman, physics and astronomy from the Atom and Green Lantern, and so on.
Did you learn that it was easy to shoot laser beams at missles and sell a national defense strategy on such a thing?  What did you learn about women (only half the world, give or take), apart from their being united in a desire to discover Superman's secret identity?

I was recently reading Doctor Solar, Man Of The Atom (the overpriced Dark Horse anthologies that are sporadically available through my library -- yes, I could download the mess illegally, but books are more readily readable in bed).  The science in those books amounted to "because it's atomic..." and quickly turns even sillier than Superfriends physics. 

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Through Kid Eternity and time-travels by Superman, Batman and others I met historical characters like Billy the Kid, Attila the Hun, Julius Ceasar, Socrates and DaVinci for the first time.
But did you ever question why such luminaries spoke conversational English, or how our heroes ever spoke their dead tongues? 

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Most of all, comics got me hooked on reading.  They led me to Science Fiction, mysteries, historical fiction, biographies, Westerns and thrillers.  So yes, comics did make me smarter growing up.
I first saw the word "quantum" in a comic book, and that led me to finding out what it was really about.   I'm amazed at some of the little things that I can trace back to Maggin's Superman novels, but I wouldn't have tackled them without having read Superman as a comic book first.

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But I seriously doubt reading them today, at my age, would add much to my knowledge.  I'm guessing the author of this book likes Seinfeld and the Simpsons because of the irony, the cultural references, the meta-textual whatchamacallits.  Even here modern comics aren't that smart, in my opinion, because as I said above all the references and in-jokes simply lead back to other comics.  They aren't what I'd call pithy commentaries on modern times, more just an escape from reality.  Not that there's anything wrong with that, as Jerry would say, but that kind of escapism is a break from learning, not a furthering of it.
It depends on the comic, of course.  Warren Ellis' Orbiter is nothing more or less than science fiction put to art. 
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« Reply #4 on: August 01, 2007, 06:16:38 PM »

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Did you learn that it was easy to shoot laser beams at missles and sell a national defense strategy on such a thing?  What did you learn about women (only half the world, give or take), apart from their being united in a desire to discover Superman's secret identity?

I suspect Reagan's SDI was more inspired by movies than comics, hence the "Star Wars" appellation.  I will say I was bright enough to know that comic book physics were not the same as real-world physics.  For example, that it would probably not be possible for me to trip on the sidewalk and deliver a two-paragraph soliloquy about my predicament before hitting the ground, as Flash Thompson once did. (Actually I think what happened was that he threw a punch intended for Peter, or someone, and suddenly found Dr Strange in the way.  "Look out, mister! I can't stop my punch" and so on and so on.  I think this inspired the "Radioactive Man" comic where a character finds himself under a plummeting piece of heavy equipment and says, "No time to move!  Only time to talk about it!"  Cheesy )

As for women, I think it's fair to say I didn't learn anything from comics.  But then I figure that's a good thing.  The modern fanbase is full of guys who learned all they know about women from reading comics.  Which is why the most action they're ever likely to get will be fondling the upcoming 13-inch Power Girl action figure.

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I was recently reading Doctor Solar, Man Of The Atom (the overpriced Dark Horse anthologies that are sporadically available through my library -- yes, I could download the mess illegally, but books are more readily readable in bed).  The science in those books amounted to "because it's atomic..." and quickly turns even sillier than Superfriends physics.

My favorite from cartoons and cheap live-action sci-fi was "reversing the polarity."  Every problem in the universe could be resolved by reversing polarity.  I swear I remember the Six Million Dollar Man even using this principle to rise up out of a bed of quicksand (!!!!).

But anyway I did learn neat tid-bits about the speed of light and how to measure a light year, what a black hole was and all that stuff.  Not the kind of "facts" I'd want to use on an exam, mind you, but at least it opened the door to more learning...

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But did you ever question why such luminaries spoke conversational English, or how our heroes ever spoke their dead tongues?

Nope.  I guess I always assumed Superman, for one, could speak any language ever, with his super-brain.  And I always knew the versions of those historical figures in the comics weren't the real deal, any more than Errol Flynn gave an accurate portrayal of Colonel Custer or Oliver Stone got anything right in JFK.  I mean, I had enough sense to know Aaron Burr really was Jefferson's VP, but probably did not actually meet Hal Jordan.  The point is thanks to comics I at least had heard of some of those figures, which I couldn't say for a lot of my friends. 

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I'm amazed at some of the little things that I can trace back to Maggin's Superman novels, but I wouldn't have tackled them without having read Superman as a comic book first.

Well, there ya go.  Comics made you smarter, if indirectly.

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« Reply #5 on: August 01, 2007, 06:28:28 PM »

My 2nd grade teacher was amazed I not only knew how to spell 'disintegrate' but knew what it meant.

She obviously hadn't tried to enlarge Kandor. Wink
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« Reply #6 on: August 01, 2007, 09:13:00 PM »

Bah, that's nothing. I learned from McGuyver that it is quite possible to construct an orbital death ray from nothing but some shoe string, a couple of paper clips, and a mirror. Unfortunately my attempts to recreate his device have so far been in vain.
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TELLE
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« Reply #7 on: August 02, 2007, 08:02:49 AM »

Comics occasionally cause me to crave a good stiff drink...

The point of the book, and the reason I referenced the comics I did (ie, comics without tons of continuity, with the exception of 52) is that the modern narratives that we follow, be they Sopranos, Survivor, Prison Break, Heroes, 24, etc. are more complicated and concern more relations between individuals and groups and demand more of an audience.  This is what DC continuity does, in a way, if you see the entire monthly output of the company as one "series".  But I don't read enough modern superhero comics to know if they are even half as complicated (?) as tv or some video games.


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