January 20, 2022

Inspired by imagination

Artists, fans find super-parallels in mythology, comics

Todd R. McAdam/managing editor

Maddie McGregor, 12, of Cortland chats Saturday with artist Emily Swan at a comic convention at Heroes and Villains in the Cortland Corset Building on East Court Street. Modern comics have much in common with classical mythology. In fact, a number of mythological figures have been updated to modern superheroes

Superman has kryptonite; Achilles has his heel.

Batman was, shall we say, morally ambiguous. Zeus was, well, Zeus.

As the artists and fans mingled Saturday at a comic convention at Heroes and Villains comic store at the Cortland Corset Co. building on East Court Street in Cortland, they had to concede that today’s superheroes and comic books really are a modern telling of ancient mythology.

“I’m a big fan of any goddess of death,” said artist Emily Swann. “I’m a big fan of a woman who doesn’t take any crap.”

But for that matter, she added, mythological figures are more complex than simple icons. Persephone, for example, was both the goddess of the harvest and the underworld. Rather like Poison Ivy, one of Batman’s many nemesis.

“Ooh, I’ll have to draw that,” said Swan, who teaches a summer camp on mythology.

Stephen Vincent, co-owner of Heroes and Villains, said the event was an opportunity to get original art as a gift for any number of loved ones. But, dressed as the season’s greatest superhero — the one who can travel the world in a night and has an amazing penchant for squeezing down chimneys — he concedes today’s superheroes, like the mythological heroes of yore, inspire people.

“The basics are still there. We all admire people who can do things we can’t,” Vincent said. “And we admire them more when they do it for good.”

His favorite? Superman, who has the speed of Hermes (or would that be the Flash?) and the strength of Hercules. Finally, Vincent likens him to Zeus, without all the moral failings.

Twelve-year-old Maddie McGregor of Cortland likes Manga more than traditional comics, but even then, has her favorite characters, Ken Kaneki of Tokyo Ghoul, a series about a half-ghoul character who must hide his supernatural side from his friends, even while coming to grips with it — Gilgamesh and Cu Chulainn probably had that problem as teens.

It’s the art that attracts her, McGregor said, “but it’s story based.”

Her father, Brandon McGregor, is a fan of the classics: Batman.

“It’s the way they build the characters up in the storyline,” he said. “He spends his own money to try to help people.” And the vigilante streak does provide some excitement.

“A lot of people who see these stories have a bit of vigilantism in them,” McGregor said.

For artist James Q. Nguyen of Syracuse, the creator of the Alpha Red comic series, mythology isn’t his strong suit.

“I was never a big reader,” he said, but he was big into art. “Comic books were just a natural thing to me.”

The drive behind both mythology and comic is the same, he said: imagination. “Everyone has an imagination, and it needs to be filled. This is my mythology.”