November 3, 2010 / 10:14 AM / 9 years ago

Jobless superhero battles economic forces

NEW YORK (Reuters Life!) - When 18th century philosopher Adam Smith coined the term “invisible hand” to describe self-regulating markets, he could scarcely have imagined his idea would one day star in a superhero comic book.

Yet the Invisible Hand, after a brutal recession, is now an evil force in a satirical work called “The Adventures of Unemployed Man.”

The witty, exhaustively-researched book, drawn in the style of classic comics like “Batman” and “Superman,” tells the story of a self-help guru who loses his job, rebels against an unjust economic system and leads superheroes against villains like The Human Resource, Nickel & Dime and the Toxic Debt Blob. The Invisible Hand is eventually tamed by collective action.

Authors Erich Origen and Gan Golan, who earlier published the presidential satire “Goodnight Bush,” are in talks to adapt “Unemployed Man” into a television show. They spoke with Reuters about what costumed superheroes can teach us about modern times.

Q: Why a comic book? Is it to make the point that the recession widened a gulf between the rich and everybody else?

Origen: “That’s certainly one of the points, made by people like (Paul) Krug-Man and Robert Reich. But with their writing you don’t get people encased in underwear. We have this accessible way of communicating similar ideas and allowing people a catharsis.”

Q: You work with complex ideas, like the invisible hand of capitalism and the corporate obsession with deregulation. Will this go over people’s heads? Who’s the target audience?

Origen: “People who know who Adam Smith was will get it. But even those who don’t, will get it. People feel that economic force and we’re making it visible for them. The audience is people who are into politics, into economics, or anyone who’s faced economic struggle — and unemployed comic book collectors.”

Q: Why use a retro graphic style?

Golan: “We wanted to tell a story with a wide emotional range, from comedy to poignancy, and it seemed like those old styles were better-suited — unlike modern comics which can be aggressive and dark and gritty. In the 50s and 60s, America had an idea of a common good, and that optimism was personified by superheroes. We wanted a style that took us back to that.”

Q: You’re saying American optimism needs to be reexamined?

Golan: “Yes, in the sense that we need to invest in the idea that our well-being is tied to the well-being of those around us. It’s not just every man for himself.”

Q: If you look at the popularity of Jon Stewart, Americans have an appetite for satire and ironic humor, but otherwise the economic crisis is mostly absent from popular entertainment.

Golan: “There is an absence of discussion of these issues in the mainstream media. Comedy provides an important healing effect for people experiencing hard times. Comics are great because they can take a complex idea and boil it down. It gives readers a chance to put a name and a face on many of these abstract forces.”

Q: Do you have a background in finance or economics?

Golan: “I actually went to grad school at MIT for urban planning. We tried to bring together academic analysis with the personal experience of what it’s like to be struggling against those force.”

Q: How did you go from MIT to “Goodnight Bush” and “Unemployed Man”?

Golan: “There’s a character in the book called the Master of Degrees. He’s a graduate student who’s over-educated for the workforce and could probably get paid a lot of money if he was willing to work for villains. I identify with him very strongly.”

Q: What sort of intellectual property issues come up in your work, such as with “Goodnight Bush,” which imitates “Goodnight Moon” page-for-page?

Golan: “One of the great things about this country is that parody is a time-honored form of free speech and fair use. You’re allowed to make fun of famous people in our culture. One of the heirs to the “Goodnight Moon” estate was a fan of ours on Facebook.”

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