Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Comic Book Worlds - Fiction vs Reality

Over the years the imaginations of writers has lead to the creation of hundreds of fictional worlds across various mediums including television, film, radio, computer games and literature. These worlds are developed from existing realities and altered to fit the theme and plot of the story being told. By creating a fictional place the author is able to wield greater control and isn’t necessarily restricted by the geography of the world we know.

Comics are one such medium which has provided the world with many fictional locations, worlds and universes including Duckberg, Krypton, Marlinspike Hall and Gotham City.
Each of these places has varying levels of association with reality, some almost total fantasy while others incorporate real locations into their fictional stories. Real people and events in history can be placed or described in the fictional stories of comics as well.

The vast popularity of some comics has led to some of the artificial worlds described in the stories infiltrating real worlds. Comics can also generate a perceived picture of how things (lifestyle, culture, etc.) are in the real world with comics like Ginger Meggs which reflect on Australian culture.

Adopting fictional worlds in comics and indeed any medium, enhances the story being told by freeing the imagination of the reader from the impossibilities in the real world while the links to the realities of the real world (whether historical or current) helps add context for reader.

The Adventures of Asterix

Created by French writer René Goscinny and illustrator Albert Uderzo, The Asterix comic series was produced during the 1960’s and 70’s and then continued by Uderzo after Goscinny’s death in 1977. The humorous comics became a highly popular series globally and have been translated in over 20 different languages[1] and made into a range of films (animated and non-animated) and games.

The story itself is set around 50 BC in various European, and more recently non-Euporean countries. It revolves around characters Asterix, his friend Obelix and the villagers of Gaul who are refusing to surrender to the Roman occupation.
Asterix is able to draw superhuman
Main characters Asterix (left) and Obelix (Right)
Source: http://www.understandfrance.org/Images/AsterixObelix.jpg

strength from a potion brewed by the village’s druid and aided by Obelix, uses this power to defy the might of the Julius Caesar and Roman Empire.[2]
The humor is developed through a series of puns, mocking stereotypes and knocking the Roman Empire and despite the fictional characters and stories, there is a great deal of real history incorporated and this underpins the tales and possibly the success of Goscinny and Uderzo. These realities include places, people, artworks and cultures. For example, Asterix is from Gaul which was a region of Western Europe which existed before and during the Roman period but Goscinny didn’t just borrow from ancient history but from the 20th century as well.

A layout of the Village of Gaul, where Asterix and many other characters live. Notice the main villagers homes have been labelled, giving locations within the fictional place.

A map showing where the Village of Gaul, can be found. There is some historical realities applied to this map as Gaul a region, located in Western Europe
Source: http://perso.orange.fr/i-magesdemarc/Images/lagaule.gif

Cultural portrayal of various European countries is made when Asterix visits other regions and uses more recent history to show the people of these countries. In the edition Asterix and the Goths, the Goths are early Germans and are depicted as militarised, clearly taken from their involvement in the two World Wars. Other countries include Britain, shown as polite and restrained and Spain which is a place in which those from the north can holiday and where locals are short-tempered and proud.[3]

[1] http://www.roman-empire.net/asterix/asterix.html
[2] http://www.roman-empire.net/asterix/asterix.html
[3] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Asterix

The Adventures of Tintin

The Tintin comics were created in 1929 by Belgian writer and artist Georges Prosper Remi, better known as Hergé. Publications of the comic have spanned over 50 years and like The Adventures of Asterix comics have been published in a large number of different languages. They also have found their way onto other mediums including film, television and theatre. The stories combines and crosses a number of genres including adventure and science fiction with the regular use of slapstick humor as their hero, Tin Tin, a Belgian investigative reporter, gets involved in adventure.[1]

Like Goscinny and Uderzo, Hergé also mixes fictional and real worlds in his stories creating imaginary countries like
Belgian investigative reporter Tintin and his
dog Snowy.
Source: http://www.pierretristam.com/images/122106-tintin-et-milou.jpg

Syldavia and Borduria and lands within South America including San Theodoros, San Paolo and Nuevo Rico. Along with these fictional places there are many setting used which do exist and can be mapped on the Earth (or in one story the Moon). Other locations include United States, Soviet Union, Congo, Japan, Belgium, Egypt, India, Sahara Desert, Germany, Switzerland, Scotland, England, Peru, Tibet and China.[2]

World map of Tintin settings.
Source: http://tintin.francetv.fr/uk/

Captain Haddock’s (Tintin’s best friend) home, Marlinspike Hall, is the starting place for many of the stories and was inspired by the Château de Cheverny, in France.[3]

Marlinspike Hall in the stories...
Source: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/a/a3/Marlinspike.jpg

And the real life Château de Cheverny, in France. The central section of the building has been replicated in the comic.

Despite the fictional nature of the stories, Hergé made real life political and social commentaries in many of the comics, often unintentionally and many of his early stories were criticised for being racist and fascist. Most notably was depiction of fictional character Mr. Blumenstein, an American villian, who with a strong Jewish name and was said to stereotype Jews in a negative light. After becoming aware of the concerns Hergé changed the name to Bohlwinkel which unfortunately he later discovered to also be traditionally Jewish.[4] The disapproval about the context of some of his stories the great popularity of comics was unaffected and they remain a favourite with many, especially throughout Europe.

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Adventures_of_Tintin
[2] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Adventures_of_Tintin
[3] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marlinspike_Hall
[4] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Adventures_of_Tintin

DC Comics - Superman & Batman

Published by DC Comics, both Superman and Batman are fictional superheroes recognised globally. Superman was created by American writer Jerry Siegel and Canadian artist Joe Shuster in 1930’s and has since been applied to almost every medium possible.[1]
The story is about a baby (Superman) from the planet Krypton, who is sent to Earth and raised by the Kent family in the town of Smallvillle as Clark Kent. Once grown up with superpowers (flight, x-ray vision, superstrength, etc.) that those of his planet possess, Superman works at the newspaper the Daily Planet in Metropolis disguised as Clark Kent but when trouble arises, dons his Superman costume to save the day.

Superman is principally set in America however the locations of Metropolis and Smallville are fictional. This hasn’t stopped people from mapping places from the comics with imaginary maps and images of Smallville, Metropolis and even the planet Krypton being created.

Source: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/7/72/Superman.jpg

Metropolis as percieved in the recent Superman game.
The creative imagination of both of the writers and readers has formed the development of not only maps of Krypton but information about the civilisation, fauna and flora, language and government.[2]
Depiction of Krypton, sketch and 1979 movie.

The comic’s popularity has led to it infiltrating the real world with the town of Metropolis, Illinois claimed to be the home of the fictional superhero, using the name to increase tourism. Among other things, the local paper was been called The Planet, there is a Superman theme park, a museum and a large statue of Superman in the town.[3]

Superman statue in Metropolis, Illinois

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Superman
[2] http://fortress.supermanthrutheages.com/Krypton/map/
[3] http://www.roadsideamerica.com/attract/ILMETsuper.html

Batman is another superhero which lives in a fictional location which is based in America. Created by writer Bill Finger and artist Bob Kane, Batman also first appeared in comics in the 1930’s and has found its way onto film, television, books and radio.

Batman (like Superman) lives a double life, using the public identity of Bruce Wayne, a wealthy businessman in Gotham City who spurred on by the murder of his parents as a child decides to fight crime, corruption (for which the city is rife) and various villains as Batman. The major difference between Batman and other famous superheroes is he doesn’t have any superpowers but instead relies on technological devices, athletic fitness, intelligence and intimidation.[1]

Virtually the whole comic series is set in and around Gotham City which has been modeled on New York City, with the exaggeration of both the geography and character of New York. One look at a map of New York and the fictional city of Gotham and the geographic link are
evident and the city’s character reflects a
more gothic and gloomy New York. Gotham has been mapped onto both real east coastlines of America and totally fictional ones.[2] Since its creation, the fictional city has now developed its own landmarks and locations in which events of the stories take place.
Fictional map of Gotham City showing locations and landmarks.

Gotham City portrayed in Batman movie (1989) Source: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/2/23/Gotham_skyline.JPG

Batman and Superman are linked in comics by characters and stories, and the two cities of Gotham and Metropolis have been described and drawn as geographic neighbours further developing the fictional world. Artists and people with varying creative interpretations have made maps of the region showing the spatial relationship between not only these cities but Smallville and other towns mentioned in the comics. Some have even been mapped on real world maps while leaving real world locations.

Real map with the fictional locations of Metropolis and Gotham mapped Source: http://paratime.ca/dclegends/pics/dcl/dcu_atlas.jpg

Rival comic company Marvel, who are the creators of Spiderman and Fanastic Four amongst others, have directly used New York City as the setting for many of their stories and many of the fictional events and locations have been mapped on a real world map of New York.

[1] en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Batman
[2] en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gotham_City

Scrooge McDuck

Developed as a supporting character of the Donald Duck comic series and createdby Carl Banks, Scrooge McDuck first appeared in 1947, became a popular character and was given his own comic series and since appeared on television, video games and films.
The Scottish born Scrooge is an extremely wealthy but greedy and stingy character lives in Duckburg with Donald Duck, Daisy Duck and his three nephews. While the stories are set in Duckberg, there is mention of real locations like Glasgow and the United States and fictional places, where other ducks, which rival him in wealth, live.

Duckburg, the home of Scrooge McDuck

Source: http:// upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/5/55/Duckburg.jpg

The series introduces younger readers to some morals and beliefs, using Scrooge as an example of the negative impacts of wealth.[1]
Famous real life people (mostly from the late 19th and early 20th centuries) have been cast as themselves in the some of the comics, including Butch Cassidy, Jesse James and Theodore Roosevelt.[2]

[1] en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scrooge_mcduck

Ginger Meggs

A long running Australian comic strip first seen in the 1920’s, Ginger was originally created and drawn by Jimmy Bancks and later a series of other artists. Revolving around Ginger, a young, red haired boy who regularly found trouble and mischief, the comic was published in over 20 countries across 120 papers.[1]

This is significant as despite the stories being fictional, they do involve a number of true to life reflections on Australian culture, including mateship, good fun, larrikinism and a slight disrespect for authority.[2]

[1] en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ginger_Meggs
[2] http://www.davidspicer.com/ginger.htm


Comic books are one of the early forms on media for storytelling and the extensive use of the many of the comic’s tales across over newer mediums is a testament to the success of the stories. Storytelling using either real or fictional worlds has benefits but as some of the most popular comics books show, combining the two can be the best approach, both for the creative development of the story by the writer/artist and enjoyment (and in some cases the learning) of the reader.