January 13, 2004
Ever notice how the word "escapism" is almost never used except in a
derogatory way? I have. And it really steams me up. I
started thinking about this topic when I read our recent Graphic Novel
Review of the Trade Paperback, Adam Strange:
The Man of Two Worlds. I hope the author of that review, His
Orcishness "Drooling" D.K. Latta, will forgive me if I give too much
away, but, in D.K.'s distinctive words, it seemed as if the authors
of The Man of Two Worlds
had decided to "kick the franchise in the teeth and see what got spat
out." The philosophy behind this effort apparently being that the
whole Adam Strange concept was escapist fantasy drivel made to appeal
to arrested adolescents. The authors set out, not to celebrate
Adam Strange, but to bury him. And good riddance. Ptui!
I've never read Adam Strange but the
basic premise of this science fiction comic book hero was this.
time to time, Adam found himself whisked away to a distant planet named
Rann by an alien energy beam. On earth, Adam Strange was just
plain Adam Strange, regular guy. But on Rann -- he was Adam
Strange, hero of a world! With his rocket pack and cool Jetson's
get-up, he combatted all manner of alien threats, including giant
robots and bug-eyed monsters. And, unlike, say, the X-Men who at
a problematic relationship with the public they protected, Adam was
virtually worshipped by the adoring people of Rann.
Of course, it was a fantasy. What kid wouldn't dream of being
whisked away to another world, there to fight alien menaces and be
worshipped by all and sundry? No homework. No school.
No bedroom to clean or parents to yell at you. It was escapism in
the purest meaning of the word, since Adam Strange physically "escaped"
the mundane reality of his earth life for the exciting fantasy of Rann.
And that's okay if you're a kid reading the Adam Strange comics by
flashlight under your bedsheets. But what about later, when
you're older? Shouldn't you put aside "childish" things and get
on with the serious business of growing up? Shouldn't you grow
out of it? If you
don't, if you are still reading Adam Strange long after you've found
yourself shopping for reading glasses at Wal-mart, isn't there
something wrong with you?
At least, that's what a good many detractors will tell you.
They will say that escapism is "denial". It is an unwillingness
to face the real world and its challenges and a retreat into a comfy,
of self-delusion. It is a sickness that needs to be cured.
Caught in this drag-net of
"childish-things-best-put-aside-when-you-grow-up" is, of course, the
entire oeuvre of Pulp fiction. Which is where we come in.
The Pulps were all about escapism. They offered an escape from
the mundane and sometimes unbearable hardships of the real world into a
fictional Neverland of manly, unstoppable heroes and beautiful, readily
available women. And though they offered their own hardships, in
the form of sneering, power-mad villains, those hardships (like the
beautiful women) were easily conquered.
I agree with all that. But my question is, what's wrong with
that? Is there really anything "sick" about a little escapist
self-delusion now and again?
I know that probably seems like a silly question, given the
readership of this e-zine. I'm preaching to the choir. Of
course, since our faithful readers are fans of Pulp fiction, they would
answer: Hell no! There's nothing wrong with escapism!
And, yet, I find even fans of comic books or Pulp fiction, or
escapism in whatever form deep down feel a certain embarrassment in
their chosen fandom. It is a "guilty pleasure". They are
enthusiastic, yes. But still they shuffle their feet and drop
their eyes and bashfully admit that, uh huh, they read Doc Savage -- as
if admitting they have a drinking problem but, don't worry, they're
It is virtually a truism that fans of escapist literature in
whatever form had unhappy childhoods, lonely childhoods spent
friendless, often with a prolonged period of illness during which they
"discovered" Pulp fiction (or whatever) and it became their
"friend". It allowed them to cope. When they were older
they didn't get laid enough. They turned to escapist literature as an
When I say this stereotype is a truism, I mean it isn't just
detractors who say it. It is the fans themselves who sometimes
seem to revel in this stereotype. And I wouldn't dispute
I suspect the majority of Pulp fans probably do fit this profile.
What I would dispute is the implied reverse side to the coin -- that
people who do not care for
escapist literature had well rounded,
exciting childhoods. That they didn't "need" the self-delusion it
The fact of the matter is, nobody
had a perfect childhood. No one ever had enough friends. No
one ever felt they were handsome enough, or fast enough, or smart
enough. And as for getting laid...come on, people! What I
am saying is that everyone could do with a little escapism because no
one is truly content with their lot in life. (You show me someone
who says they're content and I'll show you a ticking timebomb.)
But only a
few of us discover a way to escape that life, at least for a few
So how do I explain the stereotype? Why do so many fans of
escapist literature fit the lonely-childhood, period-of-illness
profile? Simple. They were the ones with time on their
hands -- time during which they had nothing better to do than pick up a
book or a comic book and read.
It wasn't that they "needed" escapist literature more than other kids,
it was just that they had the opportunity denied to other kids.
The other kids never knew what they were missing.
But what about when the kid grows up? First off, I will still
insist that nobody is truly content with their lot in life.
Everyone could do with a planet Rann to escape to now and again.
Nonetheless, I will admit that some of us need it more than
others. In Don Hutchison's The Great Pulp Heroes, he
quotes a letter which appeared in the final issue of the Pulp magazine
If the paper shortage becomes so acute that you must cease publication...may I suggest that you hang on to CAPTAIN FUTURE until the very last? I do the work of four or five people every day. I have an invalid father and an ailing mother to care for and it's up to me to look after everything as well as performing heavy manual labour every day six days a week on my railroad job. I'm so tired and exhausted that I almost collapse. So, occasionally, when I have an hour or so to spare, I treat myself to the super treat of treats--CAPTAIN FUTURE! That gives me the lift necessary to carry on. But without CAPTAIN FUTURE, my life would be dreary, gloomy and lonely indeed.
Was the letter writer an arrested adolescent? Was there
something wrong with him that he wanted a little escapism now and
again? Was his problem that he didn't get laid enough? Or
was he a working Joe with a tough job who just wanted a chance to
forget his troubles once in a while?
Is there any harm in a little self-delusion now and again? I
don't know. I do know that when they go through the personal
effects of some lunatic who finally snapped and went on a killing
spree, he's more likely to have been reading Catcher in the Rye than
Make of that what you will.
Jeffrey Blair Latta, co-editor and Supreme Plasmate
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