Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Comics and the City

Just the other day, I was reading about one of the most unsung achievements of the likes of Steve Ditko and Jack Kirby, which was to portray a realistic looking skyline to the comics that they worked in. Couple that with the fact that Marvel Comics was based around Manhattan, and soon enough you had Spider-Man and the Fantastic Four roaming real-life landmarks around New York City.


It's now many years later and, while a majority of Marvel comics still take place in New York, a larger number of both titles and characters mean that you have all the characters interacting with various landmarks around world. Even DC, who has historically had most of their story lines take place in fictional cities, like Metropolis and Gotham City, has started giving real cities more relevance than previously before. For example, Power Girl recently relocated to New York City and Blue Beetle is a resident of El Paso.

Of course, I can't judge how realistic those cities are portrayed, but hit the jump to see a couple of the cities that I have lived in, and how they were portrayed in comics.


Buenos Aires, Argentina

(as seen in Uncanny X-Men)

I was originally born in Rosario, Argentina. It is the second (or third, depending on who you ask) biggest city in the country, but it obviously doesn't get a lot of page time in American comics. Buenos Aires, the capital of the country, does get more attention and I have been there several times. Terry Dodson does a fine job in portraying the city, which is very modern, but has many European tinges such as the outdoor cafes.

And I am glad that the creators of this comic understand that it is a city with normal and modern people. I have seen many portrayals (mostly in cartoons) of the people of Argentina as just a bunch of Gauchos, which is as ridiculous as making all Americans cowboys living in the Rockies. That being said, the country does have a reputation for holding many Nazi refuges from World War II, so I wasn't surprised when Dr. Nemesis was down there looking for them.


Miami Beach, Florida

(as seen in 100 Bullets)

Years later, I moved to Miami, which is pretty much like any other city. The neighborhood of Miami Beach, however, gets all the attention from all kinds of media, including TV series, movies, video games, and comics. Most of the time, the characters don't get to stay there for long, but there are exceptions, as seen in 100 Bullets. A big part of the series takes place in Miami because the Medici family are based there. For example, the image above, by Eduardo Risso, portrays a famous (and very expensive) hotel in Collins Ave. that is very recognizable because of the long white curtains it has on the outside.

As for the portrayal of Miami Beach, it is usually shown as a mecca of sex, drugs, and other types of debauchery and I would have to say it is pretty accurate. But, once again, Miami is just a normal city, much like any other, whereas Miami Beach is what is usually shown in comics (and other media too) and sometimes people don't understand there is a difference. 100 Bullets was also pretty good in this part, sometimes showing other parts of the city, such as Little Havana and Coral Gables (other neighborhoods in the city). I don't know if this was the work of Risso, or the writer Brian Azzarello, but it was more accurate than other depictions I have seen.


Valencia, Spain

(as seen in Invincible Iron Man)

And, finally, the city I currently live in recently made a guest appearance in another Matt Fraction penned title, this time Invincible Iron Man. Those building seen in the image really exist. As a matter of fact, I live only 5 blocks away from them! The only difference is that (before they got blown up) they were Stark Industries office buildings. And, while I could certainly imagine Tony designing those very innovative buildings, in reality, they are part of a bigger museum complex called The City of The Arts and The Sciences.

Another interesting fact is that Salvador Larroca, the artist of this comic, is originally from Valencia. So I think this was just more his input than Fraction's in this case. And I don't think it was a mistake on Larroca's part, but more of an Easter egg or nod to his home city.


Conclusion

So that's it for me and the places I've lived appearing in comics and those are just very recent examples, but what about you, dear readers? Has your city, state, or country ever been portrayed in comics? How accurate was it?


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37 comments:

Ryan Schrodt said...

The only time I can remember Iowa being featured in comics for more than a panel or two is in DC's Wild Dog books. He was from "Quad Cities, IA" which is actually a collection for four cities in Iowa and Illinois (Davenport and Bettendorf, IA and Moline and Rock Island, IL). That's about an hour south of me, which is the closest my home town has figured into a comic that I've read.

brandan said...

Justice League Detroit. Those were better days for the city so its portrayal wouldn't be nearly as "bad" as it would be today.

Matt Ampersand said...

Haha, wow, to have a Justice League named after your hometown is pretty cool.

Hooligan Tuesday said...

As an Australian i'd love to see some kind of acknowledgment that parts of my country outside of Sydney exist, it seems to be that the entire place is comprised of two locations, exploding opera house and isolated outback retreat/hideout/shack.

Bill said...

The only notable Atlanta comic appearance I know of was early on in the Walking Dead. There was a pretty accurate depiction as Rick was entering the city the first time (probably after Tony Moore consulted google for some skyline pictures), but the times Rick and Glenn went into the city, it looked very New York-ish.

Nick Marino said...

Pittsburgh was blown up by the whole New Universe thing back in the day. The only time I've seen Pittsburgh recently was when Bendis had Ms. Marvel crash land there in the early issues of Mighty Avengers. She tore down a bridge as she landed... a bridge that hasn't been standing for a long long time.

As for other places I've lived, Christos Gage and Sean Chen did a good job with their quick depictions of Philly in War Machine: Weapon of SHIELD. The ones I've seen in the new ongoing haven't been quite so accurate.

Hooligan - what about the X-Men era where they operated out of Australia?

Matt Ampersand said...

@nick: There was a recent Punisher MAX arc that was completely set in Philly. The writer, Duane Swierczynski, is from there I think.

As for the Uncanny X-Men parts in Australia, it was pretty much set constantly in the outback, wasn't it?

Anonymous said...

Recently, X-Factor was based in Detroit, and the New Avengers popped in for a few panels in Detroit too. The suburb I actually live in has yet to be featured though.

Matt Ampersand said...

@Anon: Haha, yeah I remember the New Avengers appearance too. They just showed up and stood there for a little while, and then they never did it for any other city.

Tyler said...

Wolverine was in Minneapolis a couple of years ago.... it looked a lot like most big cities but with snow and Elektra was wearing a coat

Anonymous said...

Blue Beetle (Ted Kord) was based in Chicago for the run of his book in the mid-80's. It was pretty basic stuff as far as skylines and shots of two-flats, nothing too spectacular. The true major screw-up was with the battle at Wrigley Field (home of the Cubs) under the lights. The issue came out in late 1985/early 1986 a full two/two and a half years before the actual lights were put in Wrigley Field (which was August 1988).

With regards to Wild Dog, I seem to remember a panel or two of him in college at (Illinois) State University the home of the Red Dogs (Red Birds) in Normal, Illinois. I went to ISU, and moved back to the area some time ago. I actually work in Normal, and live next door (across the street in some places) in Bloomington.

Jule said...

like Hooligan Tuesday case, my country (Mexico)usually its portrayed in two basic landscapes: the usual small town in the outback, without the minimal services where everyone its a fat, ignorant, corrupt charro; and the urban city where everyone its a fat, ignorant, corrupt cop, narc, thieve,etc.
the most recent use of mexico taht i recall its the last issues of moonknight...

Klep said...

Arachne (Julia Carpenter) was based in Denver originally. Not my town, but it's an unusual venue.

I suspect the outgrowth to more cities we've seen recently is a result of increasing globalization. Back in the 60's a person's grasp on the world was much more local. Using New York City or some fictional location was fine because it was either globally familiar or you could just make stuff up. Cities like San Francisco, on the other hand, would have had far less for people to grasp on to and wouldn't have worked as a major setting as well.

These days, the internet and wider availability of television and such mean people have a greater knowledge of the world at large, and more locations have some degree of familiarity to more people. Thus, writers and artists can use other locations without putting readers in places that are too unfamiliar, and can also do a better job of making their portrayals accurate. In doing so, they can excite readers in those new locations. I imagine an in-depth look at the numbers would show an uptick in Uncanny X-Men sales in the SF Bay area after they moved for this reason.

Ryan K Lindsay said...

I'm Australian too, and I would love to see something not in the outback. Yeah, it takes up a lot of our space, but not much of our population. I live in Canberra, the national capital, and we have plenty of stuff here that could explode too, Opera House style.
I'd just like to see an Aussie character pop up, and not a busted-ass stereotype, so Boomerang doesn't count.

Kirk Warren said...

@Ryan K Lindsay - Hulk took over Australia in House of M. X-Men were there during the Claremont days if I recall.

Air said...

It's good to see other Aussies around the blogs - Ryan K, I'm from the 'Berra as well and yes we do have many things that could be blown up, but are just wasted. That said, I imagine melbournians are more constantly miffed with Sydney's exposure.


(stretching my memory here) wasn't there some surf life-saver character in claremont's x-treme x-men run?

brandan said...

Hey Guy Gardner took Ice to Wrigley field in Green Lantern Corps.

M said...

http://www.indolentindio.com/2008/08/tony-stark-visits-the-up-campus/

Infinity13307 said...

I live in Birmingham, AL (Mark Waid's hometown), and Impulse was set in Manchester, AL. I didn't read the whole run, but the issues I do have contain several of the key landmarks of the Birmingham area. Of course, all of their names were changed like the city's was, but the art was close enough that I could identify where in the metro area Bart was running around playing hero.

Someone tried to put together a website atlas of the DCU, and he mistakenly put the DCU Manchester where the real Manchester, AL, is located, about 30-45 minutes NW of Birmingham. Unfortunately, the real Manchester is little more than a wide spot in the country that is loosely a community; no real city or town there. When I last saw Manchester in 52 for the funeral of the speedster from Luthor's Everyman team, there is an image of several newspaper boxes, with a Manchester paper, a Montgomery (State capital which is 90 minutes S) paper, and the county paper that services the real Manchester. I always figured that Waid had seen that site and included the Walker County paper as a joke.

Bill: Atlanta has popped up a few times in the DCU as well. In the early issues of Damage, he is from Atlanta and accidently blows up a city block or two when he first gets his powers. A fairly recent Justice Society book featured Atlanta and the fact that Damage was no longer allowed within the Georgia state lines because of the first accident. Granted, I don't remember seeing anything in the JSA book that was distinctly Atlanta, like Centennial Park, Turner Field or the gold Capitol dome, but at least they called it Atlanta.

Anonymous said...

unfortunelly there are times that stories don´t match with the reality!... I live in Montevideo (Uruguay, Southamerica). This city was aparently destroyed in the DC 1,000,000 saga...Maybe I´m a spirit walking in a desolated city, jejeje...

Anonymous said...

I personally hate the geography of India as shown in comic books. It seems that the Taj Mahal and Fakirs are the only things shown. I am an Indian and the only place i have seen actual fakirs is in National Geographic specials about India.

Matt Ampersand said...

Love the comments we have been getting in this article, I never knew The Weekly Crisis had such an international crowd. I am surprised we haven't seen anyone from England comment though..

@Air: Yeah, I remember that. They were a brother and sister, and both of them were mutants. I don't think they have appeared again since then.

Derek said...

I remember being surprised when learning that Chosen was set in Peoria, IL. Having spent alot of time working in that town, the book didn't match the town at all.

googum said...

Towards the end of Kurt Busiek's Iron Man run, Ultimo nearly destroyed Spokane, Washington. The fight didn't get too close to the city, so it might have been fairly accurate; but rumor has it this was revenge for a bad stay Busiek had there. Just a rumor, but it may have been some kind of signing gone awry or something?

David Miller said...

Another Minneapolis guy. I don't recall much MN action in comics. Come on Dan Jurgens - throw us a bone!

Klep said...

The Great Lakes Avengers/Champions/Initiative are from Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Which I feel sorry for.

bog-boy said...

I'm from England. We probaly have'nt commented as hardly any comic has protrayed Londeon correctly. Apparently we all say blimey and travel down cobbled streets and still use gas lamps.

Although Captain Britain and MI13 was pretty accurate. But Paul Cornell is English so that would do the trick.

bog-boy said...

Apologies for the spelling in the above post.

Anonymous said...

I'm from small town Kansas and the most recent depictions of Smallville are fairly accurate of your typical rural Kansas town. The TV show not as much. I currently live in Oklahoma and there aren't too many floating Asgards.

Ryan Schrodt said...

Bog-Boy - Did you read Christos Gage and Mike Perkins's Union Jack miniseries a few years back? If I'm not mistaken, Mike did a "photo tour" of London so that the series could be as accurate as possible. When I met him last year in Chicago, he seemed quite proud of it.

To all the Minnesota folks--do you guys hit up FallCon? I was there two years ago and had a tremendous time. I hope to go again this year. Lots of awesome creators for such a small show!

Daniel Woburn said...

I'm a Londoner, and I agree with bog-boy - Captain Britain and MI:13 was pretty accurate. The other one I can think of is "It's Dark in London", a collection of short stories from a bunch of different creators, but they all offer a very noir-ish view of London. All the locations are bang-on, as all the writers have an innate love of London.
I remember in the Fantastic Four sequel, Silver Surfer drains the Thames. ha.

mrpeepants said...

I think Hal Jordan's brother lived in Sacramento, CA in Green Lantern: Rebirth. Something about it being comfortable and nice compared to the blown up rebuilding Coast City. Hah!

krakkaboom said...

During Civil War, one of the issues of Ms. Marvel was set in Downtown Indianapolis. I can't seem to find any images on the net, but the opening panel was Monument Circle.

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