Relationships Seattle Therapy

Superheroes and Psychology

Next week, I am attending Comic Con International for the first time. For those of you unfamiliar to Comic Con, it is a festival that has evolved to include an entire world of film, games, comics, art, photography, and technology related to the world of comics, science fiction, and fantasy. Instead of escape, I believe comic books can help us understand psychology through the eyes of both likely and unlikely superheroes.

Comics can be a source of psychological education.

Did you notice how many films and summer blockbusters are about superheroes? Other than filmmakers in a certain age group dusting off their superheroes for a profitable story to sell to the masses, there may be more to our current fascination with comics and superheroes than a quick escape from reality. In fact, superhero stories may give us a glimpse into today’s psyche from an angle that exposes our understanding of reality instead of running from it. This blog post is an opinion piece exploring the connection between superheroes we find in comics and their bearing on our understanding of psychology.

What is it about our fascination for superheroes and comics

Do you remember the first comic book you ever read? My first comic book was one of the Peanuts Gang by Charles Schulz. I remember reading an interview about Schulz, whereby he admitted he created a varietal world of characters where each character held a bit of himself. Likewise, it is possible for readers to see themselves in each of the characters, projecting upon them the disperate yet humanizing elements of ourselves. Even Snoopy, the beloved and loyal canine of Charlie Brown, is available to us like a mirror, showing us the best and worst of our responses to joy, laughter, embarrassment, loneliness, fear, and contempt.

Whizzing past comic strips and books, it wasn’t until college that I truly discovered comic books and the world of superheroes. Sure, I had watched the television series, “Wonder Woman” with relish, and I wished, as perhaps other children wished, to turn their common dolls into this super hero with an invisible plane and a golden lasso. But I found her so ridiculously infatuated with Major Trevor, and while still negotiating the age when girls thought boys had germs, I dumped the show for something with more psychological depth. I found that depth in the Dark Knight series, the volumes of comics dedicated to revealing the history of the rise and fall of Batman. It was the perfect compliment to my studies as a nursing student, wishing to heal the world, yet aware of my own fragility in a broken world.

Can reading comic books help you in your own psychological journey? With the sophistication (and sometimes sarcasm and satire) of today’s comic book writers and illustrators, I think reading excellent comic books shares similar elements to reading good fiction, but with an important caveat: you must read with the desire to question and learn.

I learn from my clients, and in eleven years of practice, I’m talking about the extraordinary experience of a first-hand education from hundreds of hours of people talking about the intimate details of their lives. Now, imagine a psychologically-minded comic book writer and illustrator putting similar stories into your hands without breaking confidentiality or HIPPA compliancy. If you read comic books with the kind of questions I come to my client sessions with, you will enter a rich opportunity to question everything: your values, morals, behavior, communication skills, body language, etc., all in the safety of your own home.

While any comic book reader will encounter illustrations that appear to trumpet the obsession of mutant human musculaturefreakish human architecture and sexual organs breast and penis size, don’t be surprised if you come across comic books underlining just the opposite. Maybe your fav indie comic for hipsters will be lil’Depressed Boy. I recently finished Part 1 in the Alias series, and as expected, I found it difficult to put down. Alias is being adapted for TV in a series to air in Fall 2011. Who wouldn’t find the storyline of a superhero who didn’t want to be a superhero compelling? The stories are perfectly primed for our projections, cheers, thumbs-down, and confliction.

In a generation less likely to name any real-life heroes, there is a reason we are turning to books, film, and even comics. And I’m guessing it’s not so that we can create another convention (“con”) around a theme and throw money at it. I’m guessing it has something to do with reading with a psychological bent, and rediscovering that we do not wish to be alone with our thoughts for too long, even if we are superheroes at heart.

Note: ComicCon runs July 21-24, 2011 in San Diego, CA. The event page states all badges have been sold out. Seattle Direct Counseling will be closed during that time.