Any time I see a kid wearing a superhero t-shirt, I feel a little bit of hope. In the right conditions, comics will be a way for this kid to learn acceptance of others by observing a universe inhabited by Stan Lee’s heroic mutants and weirdos. Marvel Comics don’t come with the saccharine message that all people are created equal, but actually spend a lot of time discussing these inequalities. Mutant-destroying Sentinels are just as much awesome robots as they are a commentary on how forcing sameness will never work. Anyone who has spent any time immersed in comic book worlds will hopefully come away with the idea that anyone can make a positive contribution to the world – even if they can’t blast concussive eye beams or lift cars.
As a denizen of the suburbs of the nerd world, it’s really hard to ignore the remorseless vitriol that many older comic fans project at one another for even the most inconsequential reasons. Someone’s Beast costume isn’t the right shade of blue, so that person must be a worthless human being. The new Spider-Man is Latino, so comics are ruined forever and anyone who doesn’t think so is a godless animal fornicator. Impotent threats are made, women are disrespected, and eventually, everyone forgets whatever comment thread started the whole thing.
Maybe there’s still hope for young nerds. It’s critical to remember, every so often, that comics and toys are for kids, too.
So, Edge Home Products makes a very non-traditional kind of superhero “poster” for kids. Their “Foam Wall Decorations” and “Froomies” are die-cut images of superheroes, either using Marvel’s standard control art, or a bizarre kind of minimalist Pop Art interpretation of said control art.
This “Spider-Sense” Spider-Man Froomies, if I were to give it a whole lot of credit, is Spider-Man by way of Lichtenstein, mass produced by Warhol.
Take the die-cut form of Spidey in black. Assemble partially-printed Spider-Man foam shapes on top of this foam, using the negative space as (what would traditionally be) inked lines. It creates a very subtly three-dimensional presence, which you then slap up on your wall using the double-stick tape spots on the back. It’s neat.
It’s a minimalist treatment of Spidey, from an artistic perspective. In true screenprinted style, lines and colors slip off their registration. The choice to print some lines while leave other areas undetailed, while probably not done for some grand creative statement on the visual treatment of heroic superbeings, is curious – but these solid colors are akin to classic comics, in ways that the intended audience for this object wouldn’t generally be aware. As an old man of thirtysomething, I appreciate this. It’s a dynamic pose, and Spider-Man is kicking you in the face with his copyright information, dominantly and brightly displayed on the sole of his foot.
“I am Spider-Man. Do not copy under penalty of law. This is so serious, guys. SO serious that I couldn’t have possibly put this information on the back or a removable label. For real – I’m owned by Disney now and those guys will CRUSH YOU.”
Maybe every superhero should have a copyright notice carved into the tread of their super-shoes, leaving legal notices in the dust behind them and maybe the gasping throats of their vanquished enemies. Justice comes in many forms, guys, and one of those forms is copyright litigation. It’s still a little unfortunate that a symbol of hope and imagination is carrying such a large reminder of structure and oppression. We know that Spider-Man is yours, guys. Good job on that.
Assembling a bunch of Avengers in this style would probably make a pretty neat display, and you can choose from Thor, Iron Man and Hulk, if you’re so inclined. I’m an Iron Man kind of guy.
Alternately, Edge Home Products also makes a fully-printed set of heroes in slightly smaller dimensions. These depict the ultra-smooth, incredibly and undeniably digital renditions of Marvel’s heroes that they lend out to licensed products, or the big windows at Midtown Comics.
An aside: I walked past Midtown Comics’ Times Square location every day for a year on my way to work, and every day I felt significantly disappointed that their big superhero poster display, enormous and across ten windows, used Marvel’s bland control art instead of a cross-section of the amazing comic artists who are drawing these characters today. These are the images that Marvel uses to inexpensively, generically an inoffensively represent their characters to people who might not be into comics, but these images are also at least a decade old, if not two. There’s a folder on a computer somewhere which contains a whole bunch of digital Marvel art which lacks the real personality of comics, and I hope that particular computer suffers some kind of critical failure, and maybe Marvel can start over with new control art. This time, with feeling and technique. Technique beyond “look what this Photoshop smoothing tool can do”. Why are you afraid of showing people inked art, Marvel? Embrace the fantastic hyperbole of the medium which you pioneered.
But I digress. These things have a place, and while kids probably won’t have these assertions to make about comic art, it’s also important to expose them to things (including room decor) which challenge them and invoke thought. Keep a superhero around. Talk about the ideas of heroism in a fantastic setting, and hope that these things set in. Pray that your thirteen-year-old niece won’t get a tongue piercing and engage in substance abuse because you taught her about superheroes when she was very young. Get a text at 4 AM with a picture of a pierced tongue. Realize that superheroes can’t solve all of your problems, but in the right context, they can help.
Will slapping some superheroes around a lightswitch help to reinforce these ideals? Are these the “Hang In There” kitty posters of a slightly more jaded generation?
I don’t know, but it’s worth a shot.
C. David is a writer and artist living in the Hudson Valley, NY. He loves pinball, Wazmo Nariz, Rem Lezar, MODOK, pogs, Ultra Monsters, 80s horror, and is secretly very enthusiastic about everything else not listed here.