Immigration And Comics. It’s Our History.
A version of this originally ran January 2016.
You’d have to have been living under a rock to have avoided the refugee and, to a lesser extent, the immigration discussions occurring this past week due to the executive order signed by President Donald Trump.
As an immigrant myself, it’s a discussion that I’ve been paying some attention too.
First things first, though, is that I should clarify that my situation in no way resembled the plight of those from Syria or other war-torn regions. As a white man immigrating from the United Kingdom it would be offensive to those refugees to say that I know what they’re going through. I don’t.
I genuinely hope that I never will.
Indeed, I have been present in my new country when people start talking about “the immigrants” taking their jobs because they didn’t consider me an immigrant. This was shortly after asking about my accent. I may be a white guy, but my accent sure isn’t from this side of the pond. That’s about as much prejudice as I have ever encountered on my end, directly, and while I found it exasperatingly funny at the time, it does go to show the general sense that a (very) few have toward immigrants (at least in my experience, but as I said, mine is not the same as the Syrian refugees. Not even close). Even comparing a refugee to an immigrant is a slippery slope; while some immigrants such as myself arrive in a new country of their own volition, some undoubtedly feel forced out of their homes, due to escalating conflicts or tensions at home. But either way, the immigrant has a little more freedom to make the decision. A refugee has no choice in the matter; they just want their family to feel safe.
And the type of safety that the Syrian refugees are currently seeking, and the scale of the horror’s they are running from is something that many of us have no personal experience with. Hopefully we never will, but that doesn’t preclude us from having some empathy for them, either.
My family have lived in England for as long as I am aware (my Aunt traced my grandfather’s line back to around the 1700’s, give or take), so I can’t knowingly claim that there is any immigration within my family’s past (myself aside), but that’s not necessarily true of people living on this side of the pond.
There are millions of people in North American who can trace their families back across the years and the oceans to other countries, when their ancestors left their home lands for fear of persecution or simply to hope for a better life.
This is especially true when it comes to some of the early and/or influential members of the comic book community.
Indeed, many of the greatest names in American comics are often the first generation born in the new country, such as Art Speigelman (the author of Maus), Bill Finger (co-creator of Batman, Green Lantern, and many many others), Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster (the men who created Superman). Even Bob Kane‘s (Batman‘s other co-creator) parents were of Eastern European Jewish descent. The point I am attempting to make here is that the sons of Jewish immigrants created some of our biggest super heroes, and some of our greatest stories.
And what of their creations?
Superman is an alien from another planet who’s family sought refuge for their only child from the end of their world. He is far from native to any country on Earth, yet he has chosen to make the planet his home. Far beyond just simply moving from country to country, Superman is an interplanetary immigrant that kick started the modern superhero comic.
And he’s not the only immigrant in comics, either; Supergirl, the Martian Manhunter are but two of the early inter-planetary examples, X-O Manowar is both a geographical and chronological immigrant (it sounds confusing when typing it like that, but the character is as rich and deep as any other on this list). Howard the Duck has been trapped in a world that he’s slowly become accustomed to, but was never his own; and Thor Odinson has been protecting our world for centuries – and even without his hammer he continues to do so. The idea of a hero from the stars come to save humanity (or in the case of Howard the Duck to simply work amongst us) is an idea that as comic book fans we’re all enamored with , and in many cases these interplanetary immigrants have become some of the most beloved, and powerful, characters in the comic book reading world.
In terms of the more traditional Earthbound type of immigration, the of moving between countries, look at almost the entire second team of X-Men; Banshee, Colossus, Nightcrawler, Sunfire, Storm and Wolverine are all from countries other than the US. You know what that makes them, eh?
If these characters were ignored because they were immigrants, both of the interplanetary and Earthbound nature, would comics, nay, popular culture, even have the same face? The Superman symbol is an internationally recognized symbol of truth, justice, and the American Way, and Wolverine is arguably one of the most popular characters to ever appear in a comic book. What if the parents of the previously mentioned creators, and the numerous others I haven’t named who are also descended from immigrants, were trying to escape their living conditions to provide a better life for their families today? Would we still want to turn them away?
If it wasn’t for the sons and daughters of refugees and immigrants the comic book landscape, and perhaps even our way of life would be drastically different than what we’re used too. Before you add your voice to those who say we should close up our borders, take a long hard look at your family history, at the characters you love, and tell me where you would be if the country you call home had refused to admit any new immigrants at any point in the past two or three hundred years.
Would you still be sat here reading this, if your ancestors hadn’t had the opportunity to live a new life in North America?