As long-time readers of this site will recall (hi, kids!), Eric Davies is an old friend to guttergeek, contributing some comics, like "Adventures in Comic Book Stores," back in the good old days when we were young and full of hope in the future. Ah, 2009…
In his day job Eric is an Emmy-nominated editor for The Daily Show and other geek faves like Bill Moyers; but all of that is just a cover for his work as creator of an awesome comic for creative kids: The Hero Machine. Issue #2 just premiered at MOCCA a couple of weeks ago, and it is even more fun than the first (which was, to be clear, a blast). Some comics—the good ones—make you want to go back and read them again as soon as you finish them. Davies' The Hero Machine is the first comics I have read since I was still in short-pants that made me go back to read it again with a pencil in hand.
Davies' goal here is a simple one: to remind us that comics are meant to be read and made! When Superman himself was launched in 1938 in Action Comics #1, the inside cover reminded us of this fundamental fact of comics:
Unlike movies or novels, comics was from the start storytelling everyone could make and share. Today, mainstream superhero comics rarely offer such invitations to young readers (leaving aside the fact that so few mainstream comics today offer stories young people want to read, or, if they do, which their parents would be eager for them to read). Digitally-mediated at every turn, the hand of the artist polished to invisibility, today's superhero comics seem to convey with every panel (as their corporate overlords at Disney and TimeWarner very much want them to say): look, but don't touch!
Of course, the lack of invitation is made clear in other respects as well: long, convoluted story-arcs that leave any dream of completism and the sense of ownership that comes with it always out of reach; multiverses and parallel universes that leave young readers new to comics always afraid to say anything lest they get it "wrong." It is no wonder the comics reader is aging, nor any wonder that young people prefer—if they are going to be kept at arm's length from their heroes anyway—to consume them in manageable movie and tv series. If I were their age, I would as well.
The Hero Machine gets back to basics: the pure fun of making up superheroes, drawing them, and sending them into narrative battle. And since young folk like gadgets, Davies and his young heroes even offer a simple machine you can make yourself (all you need is a pair of scissors, some pushpins, and some cardboard) to get the fun started. Issue #1 introduced the central characters and their marvelous machine for creating new heroes, but it is in #2 that things truly take off—as an alien somewhat suspiciously named “Yug Dab" to get our young artists and their creations to help save his planet. I won’t give away the end, but suffice it to say that if our artists are smart enough to invent a hero machine they are smart enough to spell “Yug Dab” backwards before it is too late.
Comics were about participatory culture a good century before the interwebs came along and took credit for the whole idea. Davies is part of a growing movement (James Sturm's Adventures in Cartooning series being perhaps the most high-profile member) to give back to kids the power of cartooning and the freedom to make comics in an industry that often seems to have forgotten they exist. But even if Davies' intended audience is a few decades younger than me, it is a reminder comics readers of any age need to hear. Thanks, Eric!