G a n z e e r ' s



The Case for Sly Escapism

Nothing better highlights the merits of escapist fiction more than Michael Chabon’s Pulitzer Prize winning novel, THE AMAZING ADVENTURES OF KAVALIER & CLAY. The story follows two Jewish cousins, Czech-born Joe Kavalier and Brooklyn-born Sammy Clay, who is a big fan of the superhero adventure stories appearing in a 10 Cent publication titled ACTION COMICS. The most prominent of these stories is, of course, SUPERMAN. After Joe, a student in the faculty of Fine Arts, manages to escape the Nazis in Eastern Europe and make his way to his cousin’s dwelling in New York, Sammy is very much taken by Joe’s drawing skills and persuades him to start a comic book magazine together. They convince the owner of a small novelty products company, Sheldon Anapol, to back them. Motivated by Superman’s recent success and the need to have a venue to promote his novelty goods, Sheldon agrees, but much to his dismay Joe Kavalier insists on not altering the cover art for the very first issue, which shows their lead superhero, The Escapist, punching Hitler in the face.
Concept footage by Jamie Caliri for abandoned film adaptation of THE AMAZING ADVENTURES OF KAVALIER & CLAY by Michael Chabon.
This, of course, is intentionally akin to Jack Kirby’s cover art for Captain America #1 released in March 1941, a full year before the United States even entered the war, which made the comic book relatively scandalous. This wasn’t fair game propaganda. The United States was keen on preserving diplomatic relations with Germany and wasn’t at all enthusiastic about entering the war, nor was –as a matter of fact– the general public. This Captain America cover by Kirby is one of the first bursts of publicly expression that helped steer the United States into a direction before it ever intended to.
A glorious case of magic, of art influencing reality. Not just any art, but cheap, disposable “escapist” art.

Make no mistake, this was a really ballsy move on Kirby’s and Simon’s part. As Joe Simon recalls:

"We were inundated with a torrent of raging hate mail and vicious, obscene telephone calls. The theme was “death to the Jews.” At first we were inclined to laugh off their threats, but then, people in the office reported seeing menacing-looking groups of strange men in front of the building on Forty Second Street and some of the employees were fearful of leaving the office for lunch."

In 1946, SUPERMAN took on the KKK in a radio series called CLAN OF THE FIERY CROSS. Nineteen Forty Six. Public bathrooms were still divided into for whites and coloreds. To do something like that was enormously ballsy and progressive for the time. And again, this was that era’s version of “escapist” fiction. It wasn’t the highbrow literary fiction you would read in the New Yorker. This is a story about a superhuman alien from space working as an undercover journalist. Fighting the KKK. On radio.

Escapism is said to have its origin in the pulp magazines of America’s Depression Era. Everyone needs some form of entertainment, and it was in the pulps that America’s struggling working class was able to get its share of otherworldly thrill for as little as 25 cents. Today’s equivalent of $3.50, which would get you about 100 pages of the most imaginative “scientifiction”, if you were buying AMAZING STORIES.

Historians often cite the popularity of the pulps at the time due to the need for Americans to escape the mundane routine of their miserable lives, and commentators today are drawing comparisons between that era and today’s rise of superhero movies, which seems to have spiked starting 2008, the year of the greatest financial crisis since the Great Depression.
Fair, but somewhat flawed analysis.
"Because it lost a fortune and it happened in 2008 when, y'know, the economy tanked. And the movie business changed, completely instantly, into... superhero... garbage."

– Charlie Kaufman on the box office failure of his movie, SYNACDOUCHE, NEW YORK (which is the most self indulgent drivel I've ever seen).
The appeal of those Depression Era stories was not solely for their imagination and their ability to transport you to completely different worlds, but for reasons far more profound in my opinion. Johnston McCulley’s story, THE CURSE OF CAPISTRANO, which was serialized in ALL STORY WEEKLY –later recollected as THE MARK OF ZORRO– is the story of a masked “highwayman” who protects the oppressed natives of California, which pits him against the despicable lawman, Sergeant Pedro Gonzales. It’s the story of doing what’s right in the face of an oppressive state.
Lester Dent’s “Man of Bronze”, DOC SAVAGE, a man of extraordinary strength and intelligence, is the story of a man who –together with his team of 5 extraordinary individuals– captured criminals and sent them to his special prison where they underwent state-of-the-art surgery and conditioning before being re-introduced back into society. While rather creepy by today’s standards, one must remember that this was 1930’s America, the decade that saw more executions than any other in American history.
And before those pulps, there were the “escapist” dime novels that inspired them, such as Jules Verne’s 20,000 LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA, a story that is essentially about an enigmatic scientist and seaman, Captain Nemo, who has fled the restrictive confinements of governments above to the depths of a world untainted by man below. Not just that, but much like Zorro, Nemo fancied himself a champion of the oppressed by aiding the rebellions of conquered peoples around the globe.

These stories, like any story worth a reader’s time, were never just silly escapist thrills. They were about much more than that, albeit slyly disguised within the webbing of action, drama, and excitement. Which is way more than can be said for the bulk of superhero vomit on screen today, or the monthlies that are inspiring them.
Another important factor worthy of note is that these things when they came out were new! They were really new and fresh! No matter how much they might have been inspired by what came before them, there was enough newness to these creations to make them truly thrilling, exciting, and fresh. Yes, it’s true that both SUPERMAN and DOC SAVAGE shared a “Fortress of Solitude” in the Arctic, but Superman was an alien from space! Raised by couple of farmers in Kansas!
In the famous 1928 serialized novella, ARMAGEDDON 2419 A.D by Philip Francis Nowlan, before becoming known as Buck Rogers, Anthony Rogers gets trapped in a deep mine where he is exposed to a radioactive gas that puts him in a state of suspended animation for 492 years. He awakes to a world in which Americans can basically fly.
These ideas were really out there, and they were completely developed by the authors who created them. It wasn’t a case of Magical Mammoth Enterprises asking Ian Fleming to write what is essentially fan fiction for an outdated character they had purchased over 70 years ago.

In conclusion, there’s nothing wrong with escapism. But escapism doesn’t mean writing fantastical adventure stories about absolutely nothing. Nor does it mean getting a little pocket change from multimillion-dollar companies in a desperate attempt to keep Flying-Rat Man in fashion.
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Revisiting The Solar Grid

So I've been away from THE SOLAR GRID for close to 4 months now, a result of traveling, moving, and honoring other obligations. In prepping myself to get back into it, I re-read all 3 chapters put out till now, and holy shit do they read differently than when I initially wrote/drew them. Take these bits for example:

"Fear of the other", not really being American because "you weren't born here", and environmentalists becoming something of an outlawed group are all becoming increasingly plausible things, aren't they?

THE SOLAR GRID is not meant to be a field guide, fellas.


by Walter Simonson

Warren Ellis insisted I read this after noticing stylistic similarities in my work on THE SOLAR GRID. I'll admit, this isn't something I would've necessarily been attracted to, not at first glance, as I tend to lean more towards science fiction that has its roots more in science rather than fantasy, but it only took me the first few pages of understanding why Warren would recommend this. STAR SLAMMERS is a masterclass in comicbook storytelling.
Now, for the B-movie appreciators, it might disappoint you to know that this has nothing whatsoever to do with the movie STAR SLAMMER: THE ESCAPE (previously released as PRISON SHIP), but I guarantee you it is much better.

It blows my mind that this is Simonsons' first ever comix work, because it has all the hallmarks of a seasons professional, one who knows the medium like the back of his hand. Although, with enough enthusiasm for it to bend the rules from time to time and experiment with storytelling techniques. One of my favorite parts in the book is when Senator Krellik (the bad guy) asks the delegates of his planet to vote on whether or not to eradicate the Slammers, effectively an act of genocide. Monolithic holograms take form behind him, a rose for life, a skull for death. The votes are cast, and it's as if the skull awakes.

Now what's interesting is that this warmongering democracy is not brought to its knees by way of a lone warrior, but rather a collaborative tactic that requires a level of elevated spirituality. Sure, it isn't the most groundbreaking story, but it's beautiful stuff. And it feels like a full fledged movie, told almost effortlessly in just 64 pages. I find myself referring to it over and over again just to learn how to pull that off (once I bring THE SOLAR GRID to a close, I don't think I'll be able to handle a project of the same scope for quite a while).
"Genre-bending" is the new buzz word de jour, but STAR SLAMMERS, first published in the WSFA Journal in the early 70's, and later reprinted in 1983 by Marvel, has its fair share of it with elements drawn from sci-fi, fantasy, westerns, and samurai cinema.
While the story will hardly blow anyone away, especially not today, the book is an exemplar manual in conscious and powerful graphic storytelling, not to mention illustration in general.
STAR SLAMMERS is available used on Amazon for as low as $0.99

In 2014, IDW released a poorly marketed re-release of STAR SLAMMERS, complete with a sequel that, once upon a time, was partially released by Malibu Comics in 1994. Based on the previews, this new collected edition seems to have been "re-mastered" with 90's era digital coloring that I just can't swallow. But do pick it up if that's more your jam.
My website is I also have a webshop where I sell my original art.
Tumbling at My graphic novel, THE SOLAR GRID, is being serialized at
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