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The Sociology of Superheroes: Andi Ewington and 45

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Sunday, Dec 6, 2009

In his recent book Outliers, journalist Malcolm Gladwell investigates the phenomenon of the truly gifted who excel in their chosen fields and professions. What he finds is simply mind-boggling. Success it seems, is not so much rooted in talent, but relies on a vast and unseen network of lucky breaks that appears together with aptitude. The ‘self-made man’ is a myth, and ultimately one that proves dangerous to society.


In deference to this myth we fail to engineer opportunities that would allow for a proper meritocracy, Gladwell argues. We continue in the belief that hockey players are born rather than bred. Because of this we extend multiple opportunities to children born in the first three months of the year. These accumulated advantages create a vast ‘talent gap’ between children born in the first half of the year and their slightly younger counterparts. This is just one example, that when reengineered would prospectively double the pool of future hockey stars.


In 45 available this month from publisher Com.X, writer Andi Ewington treads a similar path to Gladwell. He makes use of long-form journalism as a tool for investigating the sociology of success. In a world populated by superheroes, a soon-to-be father attempts to structure his hopes and fears for his child by interviewing a series of super-powered humans. What could his child become in a world as wondrous as this one? Ewington’s fictional father undertakes a similar investigation to Gladwell in his preparation for Outliers.


But written during his wife’s pregnancy and by strange coincidence completed on the day of his son’s birth, 45 represents a very personal project for Ewington. With each ‘interview’ conducted in a unique graphic style, illustrated by a different artist, the book also represents a radical shift in comics storytelling.


The social realism of superheroes is a subgenre that stretches as far back as Denny o’ Neill and Neal Adams in the 1970s. It enters the popular imagination with Moore and Gibbons’ Watchmen in the mid-80s. Ewington reinvigorates this subgenre by reinventing it. Conceptually, he transcends even Moore and Gibbons’ offering. By offering a tale linked to the personal, by coordinating multiple visual styles in a single storyline, by presenting a journalism of the sociology of success, Ewington secures his own place in comics history.


This week’s Iconographies offers an in-depth profile of Andi Ewington and insight into his genre-defining debut work, 45.

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