Chabon on Defensive Over Kavalier

Michael Chabon is on the defensive after a column in Slate criticized his portrayal of Fredric Wertham, a psychiatrist whose writings helped fuel criticism of comic books in the 1950s as overly violent and innappropriate for children.

In Chabon’s The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay, Chabon describes Wertham as “a child pyschiatrist with unimpeachable credentials and a well-earned sense of outrage” who “had for several years been trying to persuade the partents and legislators of America that the minds of American children were being deeply damaged by the reading of comic books.” Congressional hearings that followed the publication of Wertham’s book Seducation of the Innocent are credited with bringing about the end of EC Comics and the birth of the Comics Code Authority, a self-censorship body.

In a column on Slate earlier this month, Jeet Heer, co-editor of Arguing Comics, writes that while Wertham’s criticisms were off, such as of the supposed homoerotic themes in Batman and Robin comics, his principle concen about the violence, misogyny, and racism in comics of the time “wasn’t wrong.”

“Many of the comics now nostalgically celebrated by Hajdu and Chabon were extremely unsavory in their social attitudes,” Heer writes.

Heer calls Chabon’s portrayal of Wertham in Kavalier “unsympathetic” and notes Wertham’s defenders call Chabon’s view point “pure calumny.”

And to that, Chabon took issue. In a reply posted April 8, Chabon calls Heer’s description of his portrayal of Werthem “seems simpleminded, or at least awfully lazy” and says Heer must have “failed to read the novel, or at least to have read it carefully or recently.”

“In fact my personal view of Wertham, reflected in the novel itself, had progressed beyond the simplistic condemnation … or demonization that Heer suggests well before I actually wrote the relevant scenes in the novel itself,” Chabon writes. “No one who does even the most rudimentary research into Wertham’s career and accomplishments can fail to admire him for his compassion, his intelligence, his desire to help children, and his fairly snappy prose style. He was not wrong about the meretriciousness or offensiveness of many of the comics he condemned, though he was wrong about a lot of them; nor was he wrong when he argued that many of the stories featured inappropriate material for young children.”

Chabon continues: “It was Wertham’s boneheaded inferences about the direct causal connection between, say, ‘headlight’ comics and ‘deviance’ in children, not to mention the hysteria his inferences helped to foster (along with a counter-hysteria among comics fans) that have tarnished his admirable legacy.”

Chabon also took issue with Heer’s claim that Kavalier “nostalgically celebrated” the “extremely unsavory” social attitudes in the comics of those days. But Heer, in his own reply, sticks by his argument. “Surely any good reader of Kavalier & Clay would acknowledge that the novel is suffused with a nostalgic appreciation of the early comic books,” Heer says.

To read up on the entire literary dust-up, click here.

Chabon’s Spidey 2 Script Online

More than three years after the release of Spider-Man 2, McSweeney’s has posted online the never-before-published script Michael Chabon wrote for the film.

McSweeney’s released the script in honor of the publication of Maps and Legends, Chabon’s first nonfiction book.

“Chabon was the third of four screenwriters assigned to the project; he ultimately received shared ‘screen story’ credit,” McSweeney’s Web site says. “As far as we know, this script hasn’t been seen anywhere else, and it won’t be seen here for long.”

To read the entire 252-page script, click here.

Chabon on Superhero Costumes

The newest issue of The New Yorker contains an essay by Michael Chabon examining superhero costumes.

“Now the time has come to propose, or confront, a fundamental truth: like the being who wears it, the superhero costume is, by definition, an impossible object,” he writes. “It cannot exist.”

To read the entire essay, click here.

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Chabon Discusses Lone Ranger

Michael Chabon was featured Monday in a piece about the Lone Ranger on Monday’s “All Things Considered” on NPR.

“There’s something about the mask and the hat and the horse and the silver bullets and the faithful Indian friend — there’s something really powerful there in that character,” Chabon says. “There’s some reason why the Lone Ranger continues to endure, even though he’s far less visible now than he was.”

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Chabon to Write About Superhero Fashion

It’s been a while since Chabon wrote anything superhero related. These days, quasi-genre fiction seems to be more his thing.

But for those of you who got into reading Chabon because of a certain novel’s comic book ties, you might want to pick up Superheroes: Fashion and Fantasy, which carries an introduction by Chabon. (The news was first reported by Artnet News and Fashion Week Daily.)

The book is being released in limited distribution as part of the Metropolitan Museum of Art Costume Institute in New York presents a summer-long show on the same subject. The show will feature around 70 ensembles and promises “to reveal how the superhero serves as the ultimate metaphor for fashion and its ability to empower and transform the human body.”

The show is scheduled to run May 7 to Sept. 1, 2008.