ANDY FISH is a comic book artist

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Bullying and Comics-- There is a Close Connection

Comedian Harold Lloyd was the visual inspiration for Clark Kent
Bullying is a serious issue.
A recent government study found that 43% of all kids are bullied at some time in their lives and 17% have bullied someone.

Like most government provided information those statistics are completely wrong.  What they don't take into account is those numbers reflect the kids who ADMITTED to either being bullied or being the bully themselves.

The bullied kid often feels shame-- thinking that somehow they brought it on themself, or that they are a coward for not standing up for themselves, or that they are the first person in the history of the world to be bullied.

The bullying kid often doesn't even realize they are being a bully.  I'm not talking about the kid that tosses the smaller kid up against the chain link schoolyard fence and threatens to beat that kid up if he doesn't hand over his milk money-- that kid certainly knows what he's doing; I'm talking about the fairly popular kid who happens to have a quick wit and makes a joke about someone, never meaning anything about it, but at the same time not realizing what they said really hurt that other person.

I know of what I speak because I've been both.

In grade school up until middle school I had various bouts with being bullied.  Yes, the abject horror of bullying is that even if you stand up to one bully, due to the fact that you often change schools as you advance, you may very well need to stand up to the next one too-- and that next one might be even bigger-- or in my case-- twins.

In 4th grade I was bullied by a kid who decided he was no longer my friend and found it easier to push the rest of us around-- he was much bigger than us.  It took a good Ralphie vs Scott Fargus beating in the school yard to get him to see the error of his ways.

Freedom from bullying lasted three years for me, and those were good years.  Then I started at middle school, and the bullying started again.  This time it was even worse.  This time it was personal.  I was small for my age, had a really dopey haircut and had ended up due to our neighborhood boundries in school with very few of my friends from Elementary School-- I also came from a tiny school to a school with hundreds of students in the same class.  It was my first encounter with kids using drugs, and since I refused I was considered a "sissy".  Too small for sports I was not accepted by the jocks.  There was virtually no art program at this point so that wouldn't be able to save me, and worst of all, a "friend" had told someone a completely false rumor about me and as I soon learned Middle School is the worst time of your life.

I dealt with it by skipping school.  Missing so many days that I got in serious trouble, but I never admitted to the bullying, feeling simply that it was my fault.

During the summer I got my first "real" haircut and grew about three inches, we also moved out of that neighborhood to a new one and I ended up in Grade Eight at a different school.  This time I fit in, I still was looked down on by the stoners because I refused to participate-- I hate smoking of any kind-- and the idea of ingesting toxins into my lungs just didn't appeal to me.

Walking home one day I was jumped by a pair of particularly angry twins who were both stoner fans and felt I thought I was too good for them.  I fought back, hurting one, but the other one got the best of me.   The one I had clobbered became a friend, the one I hadn't continued hating on me.  Awkward because I was never sure what twin I was talking to.

I read comics and found a lot of characters I could identify with.

As an adult comics creator-- I can see the correlation now.  Many of the artists and writers of these characters had been the victims of bullying themselves, and they lived through their creations as a way to escape the pain they had felt.

Many people who have few friends end up as creative types-- we tend to stay inside and write and draw.

Clark Kent was a bullying victim
Superman was quite a milquetoast-- a mild mannered guy who got pushed around by everyone from his boss to his wanna be girlfriend Lois Lane.  It's ironic in this case that Clark is actually the disguise and Superman the real person.  Perhaps as a strange visitor to Earth Superman felt more like Clark who was just trying to fit in?

The Creators of Superman were both slight men, neither of whom could have been called 'worldly'-- and certainly candidates for bullying.

Peter Parker, better known as Spider-Man was the ultimate bullying victim, despite often fighting back-- even before he gained super powers Peter would try to fight back, but like the kid in the ad in the back of the comic book getting sand kicked on him by a muscle bound hack-- he was unable to have any impact.

Spider-Man creator Steve Ditko
Spidey creator Steve Ditko looked more like Woody Allen than he did Robert Redford, and is well known for being extremely introverted-- definitely symbolic of someone who experienced bullying as a child.

Spider-Man, like all the other heroes is the embodiment of the bullying victim responding in a way that they only wish they could.

Peter Parker gets no respect
While one could argue Bruce Wayne certainly does not fit the bill, with both his movie star good looks and his billions of dollars it's hard to think of anyone bullying him-- and that might owe a bit more to the life of his creator Bob Kane.

Kane had movie star good looks and the foresight to negotiate an unprecedented deal with DC Comics in which he retained part ownership of the Batman character which made him a real life millionaire.  But as a boy, Kane told stories of being attacked by gangs and pushed around by bigger kids.  Which could explain Bruce Wayne's rough boyhood.

Bruce Wayne faced the penultimate bully-- an armed gunmen who took his parents lives, but rather than spending his life in sorrow and grief, he devoted it to becoming the best he could at the sciences, criminology and in physical perfection-- a route that is often advocated to bullying victims to build up their own self esteem.

The Bullied often become bullies later in life, gaining confidence in themselves they find it hard to understand why someone else finds it so hard to do the same.

Comics can be a great tool to help teach kids to overcome their own personal demons, demonstrated by the action of characters they may already be familiar with.