Recently, I had the chance to sit down with noted comic book expert/historian T. Andrew Wahl for a feature story for the Bainbridge Island Review, in preparation for his upcoming public presentation at the Bainbridge Island Museum of Art.
It was a really fun interview and a most timely topic, as Wahl’s talk will primarily focus on the cultural implications and origins of superheroes.
* Originally published in the Bainbridge Island Review
The X-Men are actually just a symbolic representation of civil rights when you really think about it.
That is, if you’re the kind of person who thinks about that kind of thing.
T. Andrew Wahl is the kind of person who thinks about that kind of thing a lot — and lately he has had a lot to think about.
These are strange times we’re living in. “The Seduction of the Innocent” has become fun for the whole family; characters once passionately obsessed over by only the most awkward social outcasts and reality-ducking adolescents are cultural icons in this, the latest dramatic development in the ongoing saga that is the story of comic books and their effect on culture in America, the history of which Wahl, a reporter and journalism professor by trade, is a dedicated keeper.
Since the modern origin of the form way back in 1933 — and especially the debut of Superman in Action Comics in 1938 — the U.S. has had a storied and mercurial relationship with comic books. They’ve been beloved, despised, ignored, censored, and are now big blockbuster business in Tinseltown. Barely a season goes by in which we don’t see a new offering from Marvel or DC (or, technically, from the Walt Disney Company or Warner Brothers) and at the same time creators are putting more heterogeneous visions on the page (or e-Reader screen) than ever before.
“You’ve definitely seen a growing sense of diversity,” Wahl said. “When I was a kid, if you went to a comic book convention … it was probably 95 percent white men in the room. If a woman walked in the room it was actually like a unicorn coming in, we’d all kind of stop and stare. And now if you go to Emerald City [Comic Con] in Seattle it’s about 50-50 in terms of the gender mix; people from all walks of life, all different kinds of sexual identity backgrounds, race and ethnicity backgrounds. It’s just a much more encompassing community now and all of that has been reflected in the stories themselves.”
Wahl is a journalist, editor and comic book historian. He’s a lifelong aficionado of the medium, and actually studied comic books as a part of his master of arts degree in the humanities at Fort Hays State University. He currently teaches journalism at Everett Community College, when he’s not traveling as a Humanities Washington speaker to talk about his true love.