Sunday, March 27, 2005

The Drug Of Choice

Dorothy Parker had to wrestle with many demons in her life. Depression and alcoholism were just two of them. From an article in the Toronto Star, we hear this confession:

"For a bulky segment of a century, I have been an avid follower of comic strips — all comic strips," Parker wrote. "This is a statement made with approximately the same amount of pride with which one would say, `I've been shooting cocaine into my arm for the past 25 years.'"

The article reveals that she wasn't alone in her guilty -- perhaps criminal -- affection for comics. "Writing in The New Republic in 1948, Marya Mannes referred to the form as 'intellectual marijuana.'

'Every hour spent in reading comics," she asserted, "is an hour in which all inner growth has stopped.'"

What I find interesting is the similarity between the knee-jerk loathing of comics and the reflex others feel when condeming drugs. Comics, alcohol, marijuana -- they all have their benefits, and they all can be abused (for some of us, comics are the most potent drug, consuming us whole.) But none can be dismissed with a single thought or witticism.

The article goes on to show that many who first despised the comic form, be it strip or book or animated cartoon -- Marshall McLuhan "suggested that Superman was a potential dictator" -- came to respect and savor the cartoon on closer inspection, just as beer can be an agreeable diversion when you're not cracking Prohibition-era kegs like bad eggs and flooding the gutters with ale.

The writers Jeet Heer and Kent Worcester are the editors of Arguing Comics: Literary Masters on a Popular Medium.