Thursday, December 31, 2009

Kavalier & Clay & The Escapists

A few years ago I started reading The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay and for whatever dumb reason, didn't stick with it (I probably only read about 50 of its 639 pages). So early this past November when I was at the Miami International Book Fair I saw a copy there and told myself I was going to buy my own copy and commit to reading the whole book - after all it was a work of fiction paralleling the roots of the American comic book industry and it won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 2001.

So I just finished The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay yesterday morning and yes it is very much AMAZING and of course totally worthy of having won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction. A part of me is still very surprised that a novel set in the early days of the comic book medium in the U.S. won over all of the other fiction novels of the year 2000 (and I'm sure it didn't win because it was a slow year for fiction) as the comic book medium (especially superhero comics) is usually regarded as being the "red-headed stepchild" of the art world. Certainly this perspective is changing and has largely, gradually, since Moore & Gibbon's Watchmen and Spiegleman's Maus (which has been the only graphic novel to date that has won the Pulitzer Prize), and this has not been truer this past decade as there has never been a period with so many literary and artistic comic book creations as in this past decade. Until I started this blog entry today, I hadn't looked at when The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay was published and I was surprised it was as long ago as the year 2000, but I think this fact supports the fact that the comic book medium has gotten out of being regarded as just an escapist (no pun intended) genre in full force this past decade (and ironic that my last blog post of the decade is about a novel that came out in the first year of this decade!).

Before I get into some of my impressions of The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay, I want to offer two apologies: the first to my friend Joel (who first loaned me his copy years ago that I never finished), for not sticking with this great book upon his recommendation in the first place, and secondly and most importantly, to the novel's author, Michael Chabon, for not trusting in his obvious love for the comic book medium and its creators, specifically the founding fathers of the U.S. comic book industry.

I'm thinking that the main reason I didn't stick with The Amazing Adventures of Kavlier & Clay was because I had read and know so much about the origins of the U.S. comic book industry circa the mid / late 1930's, and I just thought what could I get out of this book that I didn't already get elsewhere, in numerous books I'd read. Well of course I couldn't be more wrong, because while The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay is very much about the genesis of the U.S. comic book industry (with Joe Kavalier and Sam Clay being the fictional counterparts of Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, the creators of Superman), anyone who reads this book, will find out in short order that The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay is about so much more. The other three themes present throughout The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay are: the Jewish immigration to the United States (or attempted immigration before and during World War II), the "secret identities" we all have, and escape, both in the physical sense, but more importantly in the mental sense, which we all look for in varying degrees.

While The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay has as its setting and center the birth of the U.S. comic industry, (often called the Golden Age of the medium), prior knowledge of that era (up through the Senate investigations into comic book content and its role in juvenile delinquency) is not essential to one's enjoyment of this book. Having said that though, I can't stress enough how I feel that The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay is essential reading for anyone who loves the comic book medium, especially superhero comic books. While reading the beginning of this novel, I was thinking that Michael Chabon probably could have reduced the page count by some 300 pages, but the more one reads The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay, the realization sets in that Chabon has introduced seemingly unrelated plot developments that are VERY important to the book's entirety (after all Chabon didn't just win the Pulitzer Prize for being able to write a 639 page novel - grin). Actually the title of Chabon's The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay (the central characters and the two words preceding their names) is also significant and something that I wasn't aware of until I got about three-fourths of the way through the novel (I have been known to be a little slow at times). I couldn't be happier to have read The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay and of course give it my HIGHEST recommendations.
A few Years after The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay novel was published, Dark Horse got the rights to make comics based on this novel. There are three trade paperbacks that collect short stories set in the Kavalier & Clay "world" by a who's who of some of the best comic book writers and artists of today, but for my money and recommendation, I want to give a huge shout out to Brian K. Vaughan's The Escapists (drawn by Steve Rolston, Jason Shawn Alexander, Philip Bond, and Eduardo Barreto), which is a fantastic extension of sorts to Chabon's novel. Just as Michael Chabon's The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay is his love letter to the comic book medium, its creators, and origins, so too is The Escapists, Brian K. Vaughan's love letter to this medium and makes a wonderful companion to Chabon's novel (but a person could read The Escapists unto itself as I first did years ago and enjoy it without having read Chabon's novel, but seriously don't short change yourself in this fashion!). I'm surprised that no one had taken away my comic store retailer license for not having read The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay until just now!

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Happy New Comics Wednesday 7/18/18 - Life of Captain Marvel, Magic Order #2 (we still have #1 too!), conclusion of Infinity Countdown, Justice League edition!

 Hope all of my friends going to the San Diego Comic-Con this week have a GREAT time!