Monday, 23 November 2015

Guest Post: Superman, Batman and er.. Nick O’Teen by Tim Collins (Author of Adventures of a Wimpy Superhero).

My new book Adventures of a Wimpy Superhero is about a boy who loves comics so much he decides to become a masked crime-fighter himself. But he discovers that making the world a better place while wearing tight-fitting Lycra is harder than it looks. 

Comics played a huge part in turning me into a reader, as they did for so many others of my generation. While I associated books with the classroom and learning, comics were part of the colourful world of play. 

My first encounter with superhero comics was very odd. In the early eighties Saatchi and Saatchi produced an anti-smoking campaign featuring Superman and a villain called Nick O’Teen, who gave cigarettes to kids. After viewing a TV ad, I sent away for a free comic in which superman pretty much murdered him for his crime. As far as I was aware, Nick O’Teen could have been the most important baddie of the DC Universe, outranking Lex Luthor and The Joker in the underworld hierarchy. 

Harsh as Superman’s treatment of Nick O’Teen may have been, it did the job. I never took up smoking, though I did get addicted to comics. I’m down to just a couple a day now. 

Batman was the best, of course (Yes, I know Superman could beat him in a fight, but that’s not the point). Away from the giddy camp of the sixties show, still repeating on Saturday morning ITV, the Caped Crusader was becoming the Dark Knight. It helped that my school was very near to Manchester’s best comic shop Odyssey 7. We were reading Frank Miller and Alan Moore while others had to make do with Action Force. 

Batman was no longer cast as the world’s greatest detective, which was just as well, as his detective skills mainly involved dangling henchmen off high buildings until they gave up the whereabouts of a supervillain. Instead he was a brooding, tortured anti-hero. Some of his adventures were even recommended for mature readers, though the middle-aged men who collected them didn’t look very mature to me. 

My love for superhero comics was sealed in 1986 with the launch of Watchmen. At the time, I could hardly have known that the comic I was sneaking out to buy was more complex and challenging than the stuff they wanted me to read in school. 

Though much of it swooshed over my head, Watchmen raises some very disturbing questions about the very idea of superheroes. Why would someone want to take the law into their own hands? What kind of a right-wing psycho would distrust society so much they took to dispensing instant vigilante justice? 

Though my book is light-hearted, I’ve tried to include some of this debunking spirit. At one point the hero Josh wonders if it would be better to let a bank robbery take place than to foil it. There would be a lot less damage to property and risk to civilians if they just let the robbery go ahead and left it to the big insurance companies to pay out. And is it really worth putting on your mask and tights to protect a bank? It’s not as if those institutions have ever done much for us. 

In real life, it can be very difficult to work out who the actual supervillains are.

Tim Collins is originally from Manchester, but now lives near London. At first he wrote non-fiction books for adults, but five years ago he began to publish children's fiction. He has now published over fifty books that have been translated into over forty languages. These include series fiction like Wimpy Vampire, Cosmic Colin, Dorkius Maximus and Monstrous Maud. All his books are very funny; they are exactly what children want. Check out this article What Kids Want in Books.

Tim has also written many stories for reluctant readers such as Troll, Joke Shop, The Locals, Mr Perfect and Dawn of the Daves. He has also won several awards such as Manchester Fiction City, The Lincolnshire Young People's Book Award and The Kalbacher Klapperschlange. 

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