There has to be a deeper meaning under all the spandex, the muscle and the power of superheroes; at least Richard Harrison seems to think so.
Harrison, 53, is the co-author of Secret Identity Reader: Essays on Sex, Death and the Superhero – basically a book on the philosophy of comic book superheroes and what goes on between the lines, or rather, between the panels, of comic books.
“It’s a book written by two guys that presents a really engaged discussion about how the superhero reflects our cultural treatments of sex, death and identity,” Harrison said. “The theme is how the secret identity plays itself out through all these things; the stories and sexual identity.”
Although many people see comics as something for children, something meant to be grown out of, or picture books meant for those who can’t read, Harrison along with his co-author, Lee Easton, challenge those ideas with their intellectual essays.
But don’t worry –Harrison reassures– this “is not necessarily a book for the academy, more for people like us, who like it and just want to think about it together.”
The most unique and interesting aspect of this book is not that it’s about one of the coolest subjects ever – comic books and comic book characters – but it’s the two opposing views that these Mount Royal English professors have, making for well-round theories.
Opposing views such as post modernism vs. modernism and gay vs. straight in how the comic book superhero is perceived.
“We think this is a really unusual book because here’s a gay man and a straight man both talking about the same object of desire, which doesn’t actually happen very often,” Harrison said with a laugh. “So how does the experience of a gay man, who was raised on comics and loves them, compare with the experience of a straight man who was raised on comics and loves them?”
This 10-year project all started when both Harrison and Lee began heatedly debating comic books during staff meetings amid their puzzled peers in the English department.
“It was inspired by the fact that we realized that we were creating this critical mass of essays and we were having this ongoing debate. We wanted to just pull the book together and see if there was in fact an argument we could make.”
As professors it was difficult to be taken seriously for liking comic books Harrison admits, “Both Lee and I have understood the closet experience, which is to say, you love something, but you can’t really declare it.”
However, now, with Hollywood taking advantage of the comic book industry, it’s easier to be open about their love for comics. Comics are also being treated more seriously in the academic world- finally being explored and studied.
Harrison and Lee are part of this academic world and they even teach courses at Mount Royal about comic books and graphic novels.
Their book, Secret Identity Reader: Essays on Sex, Death and the Superhero is out now and can be purchased from stores such as Chapters and Indigo, as well as available online at Amazon.ca.
Other than reading comic books all day long, Harrison enjoys drawing, raising his family and writing poetry – having written numerous poetry books such as Big Breath of a Wish and his most recent, Worthy of His Fall.
Harrison, originally from Toronto, moved to Calgary in 1995. He liked Calgary so much that he stayed and he began teaching at Mount Royal University in 1996.
In addition to teaching, Harrison runs a creative writing workshop outside of Mount Royal, which has been running for almost 10 years. Here he work with people long term on projects and books and helps with editing.
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