From the UK Daily Telegraph comes the news that Obama collects Spider-Man and Conan the Barbarian comic books.
For me the issue is not just how reliable the “collects” might be, perhaps he just read them when younger, but if even remotely true was he a fan of the Barry Windsor-Smith pretty boy Conan or the Frank Frazetta style rough as guts Conan?
And to be more obvious does Arnold know?
Addition November 23.
Such is the interest in Obama that my very small post here about his interest in comics has generated a lot of hits. Perhaps there are things to be learned from the comics Obama apparently enjoyed; mostly I suspect those are very simple things such as the sorts of escapism he sought at a younger age. Spider-Man is an obvious choice for any young male. All that teenage angst and super powers too. And of course Peter Parker’s motivation for do-gooding: the realisation that seeing wrong and doing nothing to stop it eventually results in consequences for oneself. For the non comic book readers and non film goers: he does not stop the thief and as a result Uncle Ben dies. Peter Parker then sets out to fight crime.
Conan the Barbarian is somewhat of another case, at least on the surface. A wild youth with a penchant for combat Conan roams the mythical Hyborian Age earth. Marvel Comics and writer Roy Thomas based the 1970s comic book version Obama probably read on pulp stories from the 1930s by Robert E. Howard. The stories fit a Sword and Sorcery genre. Conan is somewhat of a scallywag: a thief, pirate, and general all round miscreant. But one with a code of honour and a direct manner that contained more honesty than found among rulers and their satraps. Mostly these are generic conventions. What sets Conan apart is how well Howard, and later Thomas, brought to life a character with “gigantic melancholies and gigantic mirth.” If Obama was reading these comic books in the 1970s then he may well have read the various Howard stories on which they were based and the black and white Savage Sword of Conan comic. These stories often dealt with Conan’s destiny to become the most powerful King of his world. The youthful Conan stories could be read then as narratives of a wayward youth who acquired the necessary knowledge of men and women to lead them. The wikipedia entry on Conan becoming King is wonderfully evocative: “In his forties, he seized the crown of the tyrannical King of Aquilona, the most powerful kingdom of the Hyborian Age, having strangled the previous ruler on the steps of the throne.” Again these are generic stories so strangling the King is sort of metaphorical. As King, if I remember rightly from my youthful readings, Conan ruled with a firm but fair hand, remembering from whence he came, and always astute to the machinations of his court.
To take these sort of ideals from a fantasy world and project them onto, or into, the realities of American politics would be a tad foolish. It is easy to make metaphorical connections between strangling a tyrant and taking his throne and winning a Presidential election contest. But governing as an absolute monarch and as an elected President are two entirely different endeavours. Trying to ascertain a person’s character from the comics they read when younger will only get you so far. That said the smaltzy line from the Spider-Man movies “with great power comes great responsibility” is not the only tag from comics to hope Obama will live up to. A little bit of Conan’s understanding of the oft venality of the powerful will go a long way.