Let Chuck Dixon define “sub-literate.”
Chuck Dixon writes action-packed, non-pretentious, supremely entertaining comic books. Some would call him mediocre; those people are full of it. He writes comic books that are satisfying, consistent, and he doesn’t approach writing with a “how will I top this one?” philosophy.
He wrote the following* in response to a question of “what does ‘sub-literate’ mean?” and to correct a misconception on lunchbox heroes and profanity.**
Sub-literates are not illiterate. In fact, most sub-literates read more than the average person. Because of this they consider themselves well-read and that their opinion is more valid than yours. But they read within a very narrow range of literature and shape their worldview around it. They take what they read very personally and are dismissive and intolerant of anything outside of the tiny area of their interests. These are the people who become upset when a favorite book or group or movie gains mass appeal. Why? Because now it is no longer exclusively “theirs.”
You will find them working behind the counters of college bookstores. Or waiting in line at the multiplex explaining to someone why the Aeon Flux cartoons were better than the movie. Or writing fan fiction on their laptop at Starbucks praying that someone asks them what they’re writing. Unfortunately, they also provide most of the opinion makers in comics that the companies foolishly listen to.
On to comic book profanity.
Superman and Spider-man should never talk like “real” people. They aren’t real people. They are fictional contrivances. In addition to that, most of the folks writing comics don’t ever talk to “real” people and have no idea what they talk like. Uh…you know? “Real” dialogue in comics these days means that the writer has written as close to the patois of a Quentin Tarentino movie as his talents will allow. It means that he has watched enough episodes of Buffy to get the characters speech patterns down.
Also, Superman and Spider-man should never use foul language no matter how many warning stickers you place on their publications. They should never be shown urinating or having sexual relations. They should never be diagnosed with cancer or be treated for AIDS. They should never learn that they were molested as a child. They should never have many of the things happen to them that happen to real people every day.
I grew up reading comics and was attracted to them precisely because I will never fight Dr. Octopus or fly to another planet to rescue a civilization from destruction. While being thrilled and amazed by the adventures of the heroes I loved and admired, I also learned lessons about courage, loyalty and kindness. My heroes did not have feet of clay. They were icons. Towers of virtue. They had human flaws but were not flawed humans. They had runs of bad luck and misfortune but came out the other side of them a stronger, more determined hero.
Superheroes are escapist fiction for children. You may like them and read their adventures as an adult but recall that their primary audience is children. Those millions of kids playing with action figures (actually removing them from their blister cards and playing with them on the living room carpet and in the backyard dirt) and watching cartoons and snuggling under Ninja Turtles comforters.
And I am NOT putting superheroes down in any sense of the word. I still read comics. I WRITE the darned things and get a kick out of scripting masked guys and gals doing crazy, crazy stuff.
As much as anyone might want to hold on to their childhood fantasies by having their favorite superheroes grow up along with them, it is wrong to want it to be so. If Spider-man uses foul language then it becomes a part of him and can never be taken away or ret-conned out of existance. And there cannot be two Spider-Mans; one for the sub-litertates and one the rest of the world enjoys. There is not an adult version of Donald Duck just to keep his longtime fans happy (not that they wouldn’t be outraged by the very idea). These characters have very long lives, longer than any of us will be alive. They must be maintained and carefully watched over.
It is possible to continue to have compelling adventures of your favorite characters that satisfy both the mass-appeal younger audience and the older devotee of the medium. But it requires skilled writing and long term planning and storylines far more sophisticated than the “stunt” storylines we see so often these days. Which is the more “mature” recent movie dealing in universal themes? Hostel? Or the latest Harry Potter?
* source IP:220.127.116.11 Posted on April 28, 2006 at 10:34:22
** An individual who won’t be named except with permission stated on April 28, 2006 at 08:23:17 that “There’s a place for Superman and Spider-man as well as any other super that talks the way regular folks do. Just warn the readers what they’re getting into.” source IP:18.104.22.168
I have limited permission to reprint Chuck Dixon’s words for posterity proveided I edit for spelling and grammar errors. There were, as always, very few of each.