Welcome to comics THORsday! Today we’re going to give a look at modern Myths & Archetypes. Modern mythology does exist, specially in American comics. From times immemorial, different societies have expressed their beliefs, cultural values and fears through myths and legends. They have tried to explain the world around them, and personality types through myths and heroes. From this perspective, we can see that a myth is a statement that a certain society does about itself. Myths also work as a way of having hope when there are dark times ahead, or when a society is living in a hard time.
Myths can take different forms, like poetry or narrative. In recent times, we can find myths in media: comic books and movies. In different types of art we find not only how a certain society explains its models of beauty or behavior, we also find which sex roles there are, and what is considered good and evil.
Myths are the messengers which bring culture to members of society, and are also the agents that keep or change tradition. In this sense, the power of a myth, whether its roots are totally metaphorical or based on reality, is greater than one might think at first sight. And since we do find myths within the world of comic books, specially within the Superhero genre, we must take a serious look at them.
Today, we find myths all over popular culture, disguised as simple stories, fairy tales for kids and adults, and comic books in which different heavily stereotyped characters are presented as archetypes. These myths and archetypes are designed by media for mass consumption, and this means that it will express the view of those in power, or the view of the vast majority of the public.
Comics have taken inspiration in Mythology themselves to create a new American Mythology: from the Norse Gods (Thor, Marvel), to the Greek Gods (the Flash, DC). However, all these have been modified to current times to accommodate, in every history period, the perfect archetype. An archetype is a cultural ideal for a certain society in a certain period of time. For example, let’s take a look at Superman. He is an alien who ends up in United States, has incredible power, and only Kryptonite can make him weak. In a time when most americans felt unable to do much (think that Superman appeared in 1938), he represented the ideal american realizing the american dream: someone who comes from abroad, and, literally, gets bid in the US. In short, a myth about the immigrant experience.
Myths are cultural myths, and as such they express a society belief system. But these beliefs do not need to be true. They can be just what we want to be true. What’s more, the audience will only buy the cultural myths that are most connected with it. So, as culture changes, so its myths, and in turn, media will reflect those changes and present to the audience the changes within culture, society and the myths themselves.
Comic books also reflect cultural attitudes toward certain groups through stories and myths. But not only that: they can also change cultural attitudes, beliefs, and myths; or can also reinforce them, while promoting the dominant set of views of the culture: ideology. This also provokes a tendency for heavy stereotyping. Comic books do use stereotypes to convey information easily to the reader. Think about how would you explain a character’s personality into a first issue, of only 30 pages. Stereotypes are extremely simple depictions of people, groups of people or events. (Silverblatt) Though they are useful tools of associating ideas, and easing the process of sharing them, they can lead easily to prejudice.
Will Eisner describes comics as sequential art, but comics can be more than that: they are the means where myths, beliefs, fears, stereotypes and cultural cues are transmitted to its audiences. As art, these can also be interpreted according to the eyes of those who appreciate them. Through comics, authors can convey messages, or introduce high culture elements into the narrative. According to Richard Raynolds, both Stan Lee and Roy Thomas have been the figures who have been introducing high culture elements in a greater degree into the Marvel’s superhero stories from the sixties.
So, not only we find that comic books are introducing high culture into pop culture into its pages, we can also find that ideas conveyed in comic books are being exported worldwide. We can all agree that part of the american mythology is contained in Superhero comic books and movies which are being consumed worldwide by different types of audiences. In spite of audiences making different closures according to their own cultures and personal experiences, the ideas that the myth conveys are traveling worldwide in a blink of an eye, thanks to technology.
Thus, comic books are not just simple stories with which we can have a good time. They also contain myths that are shared and cherished by audiences from the same, and even different, cultures. We must take a closer eye when reading a book, from a literary point of view, so that we can see much more than awesome art and an entertaining story.
Nowadays heroes are Superheroes. Nowadays medium by which myths arrive to audiences, are comic books, TV shows and movies.
Sources and recommended readings:
- Scott McCloud, “Understanding Comics, the Invisible Art,” William Morrow Paperbacks 1994.
- Middleton J. Introduction. In Myth and Cosmos: Readings in Mythology and Symbolism, ed. John Middleton,. Garden City, NY: Natural History Press 1967, (pp. ix–xi.) In Conrad Phillip Kottak, “Mirror for Humanity: A Concise Introduction to Cultural Anthropology,” Mc.Graw Hill 2013.
- B. Nye Russel, “Notes on a Rationale for Popular Culture,” A Popular Culture Reader. Edited by Jack Nachbar, Deborah Weiser, and John L. Wright. Bowling Green University Popular Press 1978. In Silverblatt, “Art, Media Literacy. Keys to Interpreting Media Messages, 4th Edition.” Praeger, 2014.
- Richard Reynolds, “Super Heroes: a modern mythology,” University Press of Mississippi, 1992.
Copyright: Images on this post (C) depepi.com (C) Disney (C) Marvel (C) DC Comics