Former Congressman Alan Grayson Chats With Graphic Policy

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Alan GraysonFormer Florida Congressman Alan Grayson made headlines in the comic book world when he sent out an email reflecting upon an old issue of Green Lantern in a discussion about race and politics.  This came after he used to same topic in a speech before liberal activists at Netroots Nation 2011.  Grayson was kind enough to take some time out of his busy schedule to chat about the email and his interest in comic books.

In between meetings the former Congressman was friendly and very engaging on a long range of topics including the origin of the email, his comic book reading habit as well as politics in general.  The email definitely put a smile on my face.  It’s great to see use of a shared cultural moment in politics, but also something a bit geeky.  Grayson was happy I enjoyed it, especially since there’s been “not too much smiling on the left.”  As a teenager he was a DC comics fan, sticking mostly with Green Lantern and Green Arrow, but also dabbling in the Avengers, Justice League and the Legion of Superheroes.

But Green Lantern #76 really stuck with him.  While comics had often dealt with right and wrong, Denny O’Neil‘s comic was a fundamental shift in his eyes.  It’s use of the real world was something entirely new.  This wasn’t an allegory like Star Trek used to discuss modern social issues, this was in your face, there wasn’t a need for cultural allusions.  This wasn’t the first time Grayson used a cultural reference though.  References to Joni Mitchell and Bob Dylan have been scattered throughout his speeches and writing in the past and has he put it, “it’s better than quoting Charlemagne.”

The infamous panel struck a chord with the Congressman, even after over 30 years.  As a whole, he sees political leaders distracted from doing good things and the panel is as relevant to our times as it was when it was first published in 1970.  Just as Green Lantern was confronted with, Grayson feels that today’s political leaders act like “they work for someone else, and not us.”  After reciting stats on how many Americans are uninsured, without a job and how many homes are worth less than their mortgages, Grayson feels that politicians need to pay attention to the people counting on them, and that they’re “not doing enough for their constituents.”

The reaction to the email was overwhelmingly positive, which is great for Grayson who wrote the email himself.  There was a connection as many remembered the comic book themselves.  An outpouring of comments on Facebook and popular political website DailyKos followed a blog post with the same content.  This further shows that issue is today still relevant and a landmark issue.  After it’s publication the series dealt with real world issues more and more including overpopulation.  Denny O’Neil forsook metaphor, leading to an “evolution of the medium.”  This culminated with Speedy becoming a junky which caused all sorts of issues with the Comics Code which regulated content in comic books.

Today, the Former Congressman is enjoying comic books in a different form, the movies and animated shows that he’s been watching with his family through Netflix.  It’s something both he and his children enjoy.  After seeing V for Vendetta and Watchmen he decided to check out their comic book form as well as other works by Alan Moore.  He appreciates the sophistication of the work which only makes Grayson look that more fondly on O’Neil’s Green Lantern run.

As a whole Grayson looks at the email as a good example of the general phenomenon of communication that comes from the inside.  People appreciate the honest discussion more, and it shows more of who you are as a politician as well as the things you believe in.  The email revealed Grayson is an authentic person, he’s just not saying things to get the job or keep it, he really believes in what he discusses, it’s who he is, something that’s been brewing for over 30 years with a little help from Denny O’Neil and Green Lantern.