Daily Archives: April 20, 2012

My Day at Webb

As part of my visit to Los Angeles, yesterday I went to my high school Alma Mater, the Webb Schools of California, to talk to the students and to give a reading. Webb, for those of you not aware, is a boarding school in nestled in the foothills of Claremont, California; among my classmates there is Josh Marshall of TalkingPointsMemo.

It was really nice to be back. Unlike a fair number of the Geek Nation, I actually had a positive high school experience, so stepping back onto the campus is always a nice thing to do. Enough time has passed that I no longer feel I should be heading to a class (unless I’m teaching), but it’s still nice to wander about with the memories of being there.

My visit had two parts. For the first part I met with two classes of students for an hour. They were studying the idea of the artist in society, and so we had a good discussion of that particular concept, looking at how (and why, and if) artists provoke, tech and provide a frame for their time. Webb always has had excellent teachers teaching generally smart kids, and both were in evidence with the crowd I was talking to — the kids were sharp and the conversation was as good as some I’ve had with adults.

The second part was me doing a reading and Q&A, which was attended by students, teachers and alumni, including some very good friends of mine from my own class. It was definitely a little weird to be doing my Author Thing at my high school, but it was also very satisfying. I started writing in earnest in high school; I wrote my very first short stories there and was encouraged onto the writing path there. This was the place where I first knew what I wanted to be when I grew up, and to come back being that person — being a writer and author — did feel like coming full circle. I was happy I came.

When I was done at Webb I had the extra fun of hanging out with my very dear friends Natasha Kordus and Rob Lawrence in Claremont. We caught up and I bought Natasha a ukulele and taught her a couple of songs  on it. The Ukulele Nation has one more citizen! I feel so proud. But mostly it was just a wonderful time with people I care for, in a place that I was happy to be in again.

In all, an almost perfect day. I’m glad I got to have it.

The Big Idea: Justin Jordan

I was a 98-pound weakling — until I read this Big Idea by Justin Jordan about his comic book, The Strange Talent of Luther Strode! And just look at me now!

JUSTIN JORDAN:

You can blame The Strange Talent of Luther Strode on Charles Atlas.

Despite what my joints tell me when I get up in the morning, I am not actually all that old. But I am just at the age where I can remember when comic books were a quarter and actually did have advertisements for X Ray specs, sea monkeys and UFO’s that you could build yourself. And, of course, the Charles Atlas ads.

There were a bunch of different ads that ran over the course of decades, but the one that’s really resonated is the Hero of the Beach ad. I’d be willing to bet that even if you’ve never actually seen an Atlas ad, you probably know this one: a skinny young nerd gets sand kicked in his face by a burly bully, does the Atlas workout, comes back, punches out the bully and gets the girl, who is apparently only attracted to violent thugs.

It’s an idea that has resonated in pop culture, I think, because it speaks to something a lot of people, including but not limited to teenage boys, feel; the feeling of powerless, of feeling like you are at the mercy of things you can’t fight. And the ad promises to give you enough strength and power to be able to fight back. To be the one in control.

Which I thought was an interesting thing. What if something like the Charles Atlas course worked? I mean, really worked, and made you so strong and so powerful that you could never get sand kicked in your face again. How would a person handle having that much power handed to them?

Power is a tricky business, especially when your power is basically the ability to beat the snot out of anyone you want to. Punching out the bully might be satisfying, but then what? Do you go on punching out bullies? And do you really want a girl who is only attracted to you because you can pummel people into submission? Do you start trying to fight criminals Batman style? Where do you find them?

That was the idea that was the genesis of The Strange Talent of Luther Strode, where our hero orders an exercise course from the back of an old comic and finds that it gives him superpowers. And while Luther is a good kid, he’s still just a kid, and the story is about him trying to use those powers in a way that helps people rather than hurts them.

Of course, it’s also about ancient murder cults, hyperviolence, getting the girl of your dreams and the difficulty of being a costumed vigilante, but it all started with the ads in the back of comic books. So if you like the book or hate it, well, blame Charles Atlas.

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The Strange Talent of Luther Strode: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell‘s|Image Comics (digital download)

Read a preview. Visit the comic book’s Web site. Follow Jordan on Twitter.