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    Child’s Play

    by Andrew Avery

    When Frank Miller said that comics are getting too “gloomy” at this year’s New York City Comicon, you knew things must really be getting out of hand. The guy behind the noir-heavy “Sin City” and the apocalyptic “Dark Knight Returns” was asking for more smiles on his superheroes, and even if Millar isn’t the best spokesman for the jocular, he had a point.

    If Miller is looking to lighten the mood, perhaps his next project should feature Super Melto, a hero who uses his heat-vision to blast away snow in order to locate wayward skiers. Super Melto is snow plow operator George Boring by day but becomes Super Melto when he is needed to save others from avalanches or battle his nemesis, rock drummer Evil Rocky.

    Or maybe Miller can do a series with Ben, a superhero with a simple name but a complex list of powers that include the ability to eat anything, turn into a sea monster, shoot webs and see through solid objects. He gets this powers by eating spiros, a vegetable of his own creation.

    Super Melto and Ben are superheroes created by students between the ages of 6 and 9 who took part in a weekend workshop with 826NYC, the Brooklyn-based nonprofit aimed at enriching and educating kids. But in terms of how to inject innocence into comics, think of it as market research.

    The create-your-own-superhero class was the work of two 826NYC volunteers, Elaine Palucki and Lucas Anderson. The idea wasn’t much of a stretch – after all, the tutoring center is also a Superhero Supply Company. In an effort to make the tutoring center more enjoyable to visit, it also functions as one-stop shopping for local superheroes – offering everything from tights and capes to secret-identity kits.

    Palucki and Anderson originally thought about creating a sidekick calendar to commemorate the necessary yet overlooked superhero accessory. As they continued to brainstorm, the project evolved into a build-your-own superhero project with the final creations compiled into an encyclopedia of superheroes.

    First, the kids were asked for examples of superheroes. Instead of a comic book Mount Rushmore with some variation of Superman, Batman, Spider-Man and Wolverine, they named the Power Puff Girls, Captain Underpants, and the Incredibles. So it isn’t all superheroes who have become gloomy, just comic book heroes.

    The students then filled out questionnaires to define their superheroes. What is your superhero’s name? What are his or her powers? Any secret identity? What about a motto?

    Some characters were excessive. (The Shadow can transform into a dragon, a snake, a spider, a werewolf, a vampire, a sea monster or a ghost. Plus he has heat vision for good measure.) Some were excessively adorable (Princess Blossom with her ability to make flowers appear – aww). And some were nearly surreal. (Ever Boy’s headquarters are in the sun, which is why no one can see them – you can’t stare in the sun. Plus one of his powers allows him to turn into something so bad that Ever Boy’s creator couldn’t say what it was.)

    None of the superheroes created that day deal with drug addictions, failing marriages or any of the other pressures facing more famous comic book heroes.

    As a finishing touch the descriptions were given to Les Harper, Brian DeTagyos, Dustin Bolton and Emily Mann, animators from the Cartoon Network, who illustrated the superheroes.

    The 2006 edition of the Encyclopedia of Superheroes is a good read for anyone skeptical of comic books. It’s a reminder of the real reason comic book characters are so appealing and will always be appealing: They offer a template for a limitless imagination. It also might give Frank Miller some ideas for superheroes with something to smile about.

    For more information on upcoming events from 826NYC, check out www.826nyc.org.

    Posted by Tim Leong on April 30th, 2006 filed in Story Archive |

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