Bill Maher and Comics

I know this has already made its way through the inter-webs, but I am nothing if not topical. Plus, I recently watched the episode of Real Time with Bill Maher where he re-stated his objections. So, it’s on my mind and I wanted to get it out. Let’s go.

For anyone still reading but confused about what I am rambling about, shortly after the death of Stan Lee, when many fans were still taking to the internet to publicly mourn his passing, Bill Maher released a blog post essentially bemoaning that comic books were considered appropriate for adults and that the popularity of them and their movie versions are one of the problems with with the losers of today.

Naturally, there was some outcry. Recently, on the January 26th episode of Real Time with Bill Maher, Bill decided to double down and yet again cast aspersions at anyone who is both an adult and enjoys comics. I know there have been many people chiming into this fight, many of them far more well known than me. But here I go anyone.

First off, I’m a fan of Bill Maher. I enjoy his TV show and have for several years. I think he tries to provide a wide variety of voices on his show, and I do think he is able to approach a wide amount of subjects with a keen intellect. I also think that he can be very wrong about a great many thing. His opinions on religion in general and Islam in specific are head-shakingly ignorant at time and are far more damaging than his thoughts on comics. But, I am not equipped to argue religion, especially Islam, but I can speak about the worth of comics.

Where Bill makes his first mistake in his assumptions about comics, is that he forgets that comics are a medium, not a genre unto themselves. You can tell this is so because he paints all comics with a wide brush and declares all of them as being for kids. That, right away is tellingly ignorant.

Obviously there are more than one type of comics. Bill’s harping on the medium being as only for kids doesn’t take into account that there are great literary works down in comic form. Let’s just all stop and think about Maus for a moment. There is a reason that this work is the one often held up as proof that comics can be more than just simple heroics.

But, let me talk a step back from that last sentence. What is wrong with tales of super-heroics? This is my favorite genre in the medium of comics. (See, what I’m doing here?) When I want to read comics, there is a greater than even chance I’m going to be opening something with a super hero in it. And some of these are simple, fun. Escapism with costumes and super powers.

Some of these tales are simple and perfect for kids. And it seems Bill has no problem with that. It even seems that these can be great tools for reading and understanding. But Bill doesn’t think there is anything of merit for adults. To which all I can do is sigh. And think of any other genre of storytelling.

I think of film and how one of the most celebrated movies out there, Casablanca, is arguably an extension of film noir. Yep, this film has its start in pulpy detective stories, which were often described as so much fluff and disposable reading. And let’s not forget that Seven Samurai, another well studied and respected family, is also just another slash ’em up flick. So what if it also studies issues or war, classism, and survival?

These genres plus westerns, sci-fi, and fantasy can be ridiculed as being the most childish and escapism, but that also can be renowned for having so much to say about where we are it. And, granted, super-hero films are not quite there yet. They still are mostly filling the sits with well built escapism, at least if you ask me (and I’ve heard that a few of the films that haven’t come to my country are more than that.)

But comics, the printed paper stories that these movies are based on, have had almost 100 years of exploration being done. And in my over thirty years of reading comics, I know I have read stories that have resonated with me on a deeper level than almost any other medium.

Which begs the question. No one would argue that film is merely for children. Or that books are merely for children. Or that art is merely for children. So, why would you, Bill, make the argument that the medium that marries those storytelling elements must only be for children? I would say that, just like all mediums, there are going to be works that run the gamut in terms of style and substance.

But go ahead, Bill. Keep being ignorant. I’m still going to keep watching your show. But I’ll remember your ignorance next time you get thin-skinned about someone on your panel belittling comedians as simply telling jokes. That tends to happen a few times a year. I wonder why you get so defensive we someone, out of ignorance, dismisses your art form as something… childish.

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