Saturday, March 10, 2012

Citizen Conn

by Michael Chabon

Bless Michael Chabon for using his fiction writing to address historical wrongs in the comic book industry.  His excellent novel, The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay examined the injustices heaped on Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster through the lens of Kavalier and Clay, a pair of Jewish boys who created The Escapist, the world's best-known superhero.  They were cheated out of their rights to the character, just as were Superman's creators. 

Now, in Citizen Conn, a short story published in the New Yorker a couple of weeks ago (I've fallen horribly behind in my magazine reading), Chabon turns his gaze on Stan Lee and Jack Kirby.

The story is narrated by the female rabbi at Zion Pointe, an assisted living centre for 'independent' seniors.  Resident in the complex, and suffering from incurable bone cancer, is Mort Feather, an elderly artist.  The rabbi doesn't know who Feather is, but her husband, a man who has never abandoned his love for old comics, does.  Feather is the creator of a number of Golden Age characters who he then, with his partner Artie Conn, revived in the Silver Age to great success and acclaim. 

Conn continues to visit Feather, who refuses to see him.  Slowly we learn that after Conn signed away rights to their characters in exchange for a pay-out in the late 60s, the partnership between the two began to fail, with Feather eventually being fired from Nova Publications, and Conn being recognized sole creator of much of their joint work.  Sound familiar?

The story follows Conn's attempts to reconcile with Feather before his disease takes him, and is quite touching.  It's a shame that the person Conn was based on never made the same attempt. 

Chabon is an excellent writer, and I appreciate his work in dramatizing the stories of an industry I dislike as strongly as I appreciate some of the work it has produced.  I would love to know what Stan Lee thought, if he read this.

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