I've always been a Bill Maher fan. I don't always agree with him, of course, but I've bought his books and watched his documentary, and catch his show "Real Time with Bill Maher" every week. I think he's an intelligent guy who can skewer many of the absurdities of world politics and society in general.
Stan Lee, the legendary comic book creator, responsible for some of the most iconic superheroes of all time, passed away last week at the age of 95. It was a sad week for comic fans everywhere, and even for casual fans who grew up with Spider-Man, The Fantastic Four, The Hulk and many others.
Bill Maher, in his usual curmudgeonly manner, wrote a blog post mocking those who mourned Stan Lee, saying the icon inspired people to "I don't know, watch a movie, I guess." He scolded adults who read comic books as refusing to "give up kid stuff" and even made the long leap to blaming such behaviour for the rise of U.S. President Donald Trump.
These characters are more than just cartoons for children.
"I don't think it's a huge stretch to suggest that Donald Trump could only get elected in a country that thinks comic books are important," Maher wrapped up his blog with a supposed mic drop, and then — understandably — proceeded to get raked over the coals all over the internet. The timing was bad, to say the least, but it's Maher's ignorance of both Lee and comic books in general that left so many people feeling Hulk-like rage at the guy.
Let's start with Stan Lee. He is not just a legend to comic book fans. He was a man who (along with many other artists and writers who got less credit than they deserved) gave us some of the most enduring and inspirational characters in history. Characters who are beloved around the world.
The Japanese Spider-Man TV show likely didn't come from the minds of angry rubes carrying Tiki torches in Tokyo. If loving comics is something only for childish Americans, why would Bulgaria be replacing its old Soviet monuments by painting them to look like American comic book heroes? These characters are more than just cartoons for children, they have stood as moral inspiration for people of all ages.
Maher fully admits he hasn't read comic books since he was a kid. So maybe he doesn't realize that Stan Lee and comics in general have always been a voice for the very liberalism he preaches to viewers every week on his TV show. Comic books have addressed everything from racism and discrimination to dealing with the tragedy of 9/11. Stan Lee was ahead of his time when it came to social issues. So are comic books.
Most comics haven't been for little kids for quite some time. They can be very graphic and some are feature far more violence than I'd want my kids reading. But, even if they were all about Spider-Man saving a cat stuck in a tree, where is the dumbing-down of society that comes from such entertainment? Never mind the fact that comic books are an excellent showcase of some of the greatest artists the world has ever known, they are also a place for people to learn to appreciate that art, even if they cannot themselves dream of doing it. Check out the average comic book cover and tell me that it doesn't showcase as much if not more talent than the average painting by Jackson Pollock or a soup can painted by Andy Warhol.
The writing in comic books is often very complex, touches on news of the day, and can inspire people to debate real issues between races and genders. Before it became a hit TV show, "The Walking Dead" was a hit comic. Hey, didn't you love the film "The Road To Perdition?" Also a comic. "A History of Violence?" Yep, also a comic. Fine examples of critically acclaimed movies based on graphic novels. It's absurd to diminish the writing due to these stories also having artwork. That's like saying "Doonesbury" is on par with "Popeye."
It's absurd to diminish the writing due to these stories also having artwork.
There have indeed been many hit action movies based on comic books. Maher knows this because he took a paycheque to appear in "Iron Man 3." It's easy to dismiss them as just big, dumb fun. But what's so wrong with escapism? Sure, these movies can be silly and light.
I mean, not every movie can be the cerebral classic that was the Bill Maher movie "Pizza Man." Ian McKellan has been in numerous comic book movies and also been nominated for two Oscar awards. And yet, Maher would sooner blame McKellan's fans for the rise of Donald Trump rather than his own work with Mr. T in the art-house mainstay "DC Cab."
It's odd to hear Maher take this stance on comic book readers because he's a comedian. Comedy can be brilliant and thought-provoking and intelligent. But it can also be jokes about flatulence. Neither is irrelevant because both achieve the goal of making people laugh and enjoy life a little better.
The escapism that people get from watching standup comedy isn't that different from what readers of comic books seek for themselves. Famous comedians die and we often talk about the impact they had on people. Why, then, would it be so crazy that someone like Stan Lee would also have an impact on people all over the world in much the same way?
More from HuffPost Canada:
Maher can look down on comic readers all he wants. But, honestly, it's hard to listen to someone telling adults they need to grow up and stop acting like kids when that same person is constantly talking about how much he loves smoking weed.
Ward Anderson is a comedian, author, TV and radio host. His two novels, clearly not bestsellers, are still somehow available wherever books are sold. His TV show is available on Amazon around the world.
Also on HuffPost: