At first glance, Doug TenNapel's latest book, Earthboy Jacobus, appears to be a harmless story of a boy who comes to earth and is looked after by an ex-Marine who becomes his father. It follows similar themes to his last graphic novel, the wonderful Tommysaurus Rex, but if you dig a little deeper, there is some darkness lurking underneath all the sweetness and happy endings.
A fine arts graduate, TenNapel's varied career has bounced from contributing to video games and television programs to doing album art for bands. "I think I was always really confident of my art skills and less confident with my writing skills," he says, "so the blending of the two art forms makes for a better story from me. I also enjoy being able to tell a giant epic all by myself. I work so much in other mediums that are collaborative, to say the least, that I think of comics as the pure Doug T. storytelling medium."
Growing up as an art-minded kid didn't sit well with TenNapel's father, which laid the foundation for many frustrations, as well as providing him with thematic material for his books. "In some ways, I think my dad didn't know what to do with me. He wasn't a Christian and I was. He was a blue-collar carpenter and I was an effeminate artist. He thought I should go to bed with women and I wanted to wait until I was married. Not the stereotype you've been programmed to expect. In a way, my father got me just like Jacobus is just presented to his father on Earth."
The titular little boy finds himself on Earth and is taken in by an ex-Marine named Chief. Jacobus represents TenNapel himself, but not in the way it first appears. On the surface, it looks like TenNapel wrote the book as a way of expressing his own unhappiness with his father; the truth is darker and more bleak.
"Earthboy Jacobus is not about me and my father, it is about me and my heavenly father. The young Jacobus represents my years as a young Christian; the rebellious teen Jacobus represents my post-college crisis of faith; and the adult Jacobus represents my return to Christianity through adult reason.
"There are a lot of symbols in the story that float to the surface the more you read it. You'll find images of Jonah and the whale, which is an ancient Bible story about a man who runs from God. There are also harmonies with Pinocchio who, like Jonah, ends up in the belly of a whale as the puppet accepts the mantle of being human, just as Jacobus believes he is an American boy though he is grafted into our bloodline. The puppet themes are developed in the holographic mother, who just wants to be real.' These philosophical themes are also reflected in the Chaplain who gets his body taken over by the insect disease we wonder if he is still a Christian, or is he now a monster in a Christian's body? Another model for the question of humanity is seen in the girl Brittany, who lives in a coma but can walk among the living in another universe. I don't want to give away the major story points by bringing up the other conflicts in the story but there's a lot more going on than just a father/son story."
Even the more mundane aspects of the father/son conflict presented are unusual. "My most recent works have focused on the father/son dilemma because I think a lot about my family and a lot about God. These aren't specific to my life with my father, but they are general. As I turn the corner from being a rebellious youth to being a responsible adult, I like to document those changes in comic form, primarily because I don't see these stories in the public sphere. Further, I see our rebellion against our fathers as a symbol to our rebellion against God. We hate authority figures. [Joseph] Campbell didn't go far enough when he said that every man wants to kill his father. I believe every man wants to kill his heavenly father. So these stories I tell are universal; they always have been and always will be true.
"I hold up some anti-heroes as great," TenNapel continues, "and I try to bring respect and tribute to man's ability to accomplish great things with enough faith, and if he's willing to fight. As a kid, Jacobus is a stuttering mess. He doesn't know how to fight, and fate needs him to be trained or seven worlds are going to fall. Fate chooses a washed up retired ex-Marine Police Chief to teach this boy how to make a fist. We need this lesson today. Especially today."
Whether you believe in God or not, the story is entrancing and the journey TenNapel takes you on is exhausting. That is, if you choose to look beneath the surface.
Biggest Dick in Comics
What began as a thread on a Transformers message board has become a community of people providing commentary on old school comic book covers. Focusing mainly on Superman and his DC buddies, www.superdickery.com has a knack for finding covers that are a showcase for Superman's dickness. Created by Michael Miksch, the website argues that Superman has always been a dick. Miksch explains, "Frankly, I've never been a terribly great fan of Superman, since he's so insanely over-powered it basically reduces everything he does to him taking on some other god-like space alien and pounding things into rubble. I think the fact that he is portrayed as such a do-gooder with no vulnerabilities or moral failings is what makes the site so successful."
And successful it certainly is. The site has expanded to include several sections, including "Seduction of the Innocent," which chronicles hilariously unwitting sexual innuendo. But what will happen to the website when there are no more covers to comment on?
"That's something I've been asking myself since the beginning," Miksch says. "Thankfully, bizarre comic covers are proving to be extraordinarily easy to come by. Originally it was just about Superman being a dick and a random catch-all category for everything else, now there are several sections that I keep finding enough material for that I could update them every week."
While it looks like Miksch is picking on DC, there is a valid reason for the absence of Marvel covers on his site. "A lot of the really choice stuff comes from a time before Marvel's truly iconic characters were established. By the time Spider-Man and X-Men came around, the industry as a whole had moved beyond using imaginary stories or having the hero get turned into a gorilla to generate sales."