Too often, the general public misapprehends the lonely work of the comics scholar. It's not always about trying to decode the semiotics of the sweat bead or the ironic off-panel flop. We do not all toil in the aesthetic dead-ends of autobiography, realistic fiction, comics journalism, or graphic novels about funny animals who exterminate each other in death camps. To better reflect the totality of comics scholarship—and, if I may, its intellectual peak—I present the following transcript of a lecture I delivered at a special session held at the annual conference of the Popular Culture Association on April 6, 2007:
Ladies and gentlemen, comics scholarship stands at a crossroads. Since the infamous “culture wars” of the early 90s, comics studies has shown an increasing tendency to accept scholarly work on embarrassingly demotic subjects. The consequences may have seemed innocuous enough at first—a paper on Deathlok here, an article on Ultron there, a critical exegesis on the Biblical significance of the Living Monolith—but soon, the gates were thrown wide open to research on HERBIE the Robot, or Arnim Zola, the Bio-Fanatic, or, of course, MODOK. Enough is enough, gentlemen—we will have no more of your MODOKery. If comics studies is to remain the respectable field it has become, it must continue to focus on the finest stories, the simple, moving, human stories about a man who has replaced the lower half of his body with a cybernetic dreidel.
I refer, of course, to Korvac. The Institute for Korvac Studies is long overdue for a return to the text itself, to the Korvac canon, and it must take up the challenge it has so far avoided, the challenge too many Korvacologists are afraid even to mention: the question of Korvac’s authorship.
Since a work of literature’s meaning is completely determined by its author, we cannot understand the Korvac saga without first knowing who that author is.
For decades, readers and scholars have been content to accept the conventional Pittsburghian narrative in which the Korvac saga is written by a Pennsylvania native named Jim Shooter. Since the early 1980s, however, a countertradition in Korvac studies has sought to question this narrowminded orthodoxy, uncovering copious reasons to question Shooter’s authorship or, indeed, his very existence.
The anti-Pittsburghian thesis is based on upon the simple observation of a strange confluence of improbabilities. The Korvac saga bears a mysterious abundance of authors, scripters, and artists, but one name stands out among the crowd. Jim Shooter, supposedly a humble Marvel Comics author, is also listed as the series editor and then, suddenly, as Marvel’s Editor-in-Chief. Is it possible that this scheming executive, ascending the corporate ranks with Machiavellian upward mobility, could also have the time to write a masterpiece of the comics form? Or is it more likely that he simply stamped his name on the work of a toadying underling—a young English boy, perhaps, eager to break into the world of Marvel Comics?
Or is it still more likely that “Jim Shooter” was not an author at all, but rather a composite identity shared by some of comics’ most famous talents? Why does Shooter—or should I say, “Shooter”—bear such a striking resemblance to character actor Carlos Jacott, best known as “Ramon the Pool Boy” from TV’s Seinfeld?
And how are we to account for “Shooter”’s lengthy career working for DC, Marvel, Valiant, Defiant, and Broadway over a thirty-year period? Given the scant biographical information available on him, this resumé means “Shooter” would have had to start writing comics at age 14—a clear impossibility! Could a 14 year old have experienced enough life to imagine the nobility of Ferro Lad sacrificing himself by flying into the Sun-Eater? Could a mere teenager have imagined the unrequited love of Duo Damsel? Could he have felt the betrayal of Superboy being kicked in the groin by his own super-pet?
I think not. The adventures of the Legion of Super-Heroes, to say nothing of the Korvac saga, are the work of a mature artistic sensibility and could not possibly be the work of some plebian teenager from the wilds of western Pennsylvania, and those who say otherwise are elitists who simply cannot accept that all great art is produced by the social elite.
Also calling Shooter’s authorship into question are the almost folkloric tales of his tremendous height.
According to Marvel writer and artist Bob Layton, Shooter was “meaner than a work for hire contract and taller than a stack of stolen art,” an “ornery polecat” who “used a giant redwood to scratch his ass.” However, this account is not completely reliable as Layton was himself a quasi-legendary figure, reputed to be radioactive.
If Jim Shooter did not exist, then which of the authors who adopted his name wrote the Korvac saga? Theories range from Steve Gerber to Alan Moore to Francis Bacon. But I believe only one author has attained the wisdom, the depth of experience, the insight, and the immaculate pedigree to be considered the creator of Korvac.
As every comics scholar agrees, comics can achieve dignity only if we consider them as a modern mythology. Neil Gaiman writes the best mythological comics, and the Korvac saga is the best comic bar none: therefore Gaiman wrote the Korvac saga. QED.
Some commentators, most notably “Doctor” Gene Kannenberg, Jr.—
seen here abusing some poor piece of innocent comic art, no doubt—have suggested that Gaiman cannot be the author because he was only 18 when the Korvac saga was published. To that my response is threefold:
First, as a boy of Jewish origins raised by Scientologists and sent to Anglican schools, Gaiman would have had the life experience necessary to explore the themes of anti-Semitism I have already elucidated in my almost-award-winning essay, “Dreidel, Dreidel, Dreidel, I Made You Out of Hate: Korvac as Self-Loathing Jew.” Secondly, Gaiman writes comics about Shakespeare and is therefore smarter and better than everybody else. Finally, as an Englishman and a lineal descendant of Edward de Vere, the Earl of Oxford, Gaiman is the only comics author with the breeding and, therefore, the intellectual and emotional range to create a work of such sublime, subtle beauty as the battle between the Collector and Korvac.
But we cannot leave this subject without considering a final possibility: that the author of the Korvac saga is none other than the machine-god himself, Michael Korvac, reaching into our reality to inspire an 18 year old Neil Gaiman to chronicle his story under the pseudonym “Jim Shooter.” As no evidence has yet been offered to disprove this thesis, I think we can say it is as valid as any other and deserves equal consideration in the field of Korvac authorship studies.
This does raise, of course, a profound theological question: can Korvac write a story in which Korvac dies? One thing is certain—our world has become filled with so much tragedy and hatred since 1978, clear proof that Korvac is dead. But as the great Voltaire once said, Si Korvac n'existait pas, il faudrait l'inventer:
“If Korvac did not exist, it would be necessary to invent him.” Of course, he said that while working on an early draft of the Korvac saga. Thank you.