web stats

CSBG Archive

Committed: Unhealthy Fantasies

The most depraved and sick comic books are healthy and possibly even necessary. This is a difficult article to write, and I’m not sure if this is going to go down too well, but it needs saying. These comic books are doing us a public service, helping us to live out our most dangerous fantasies in a safe environment which harms no one else. This way, when we can accept our unacceptable selves, we’re able to let go of them and move on.

060210_elektraAs a child, every school report card I ever had complained about my tendency to stare out the window and disappear into my own world. Once I started to read comic books, my fantasies got a lot more interesting. I could escape my tiny little girl body and pretend I was the Hulk, indiscriminately smashing and crashing through life, or the Angel, flying away on graceful wings. As I got older, my fantasies got more complex and confusing and I realized that comic books were no longer just a way to supplement my fantasies, but an effective way to live them out in an alternate reality. Now that I’m an adult, I still like to use comic books to experience the fantasies I have which are at odds with the kind of world I want to live in, without actually having to inflict them on my environment.

In the main I’m a pacifist, I abhor violence. I recognize our shared humanity, and consider the fate of the world entirely dependent on our shared happiness and success. I want to help people. If we all start degrading and hurting each other, then what kind of environment will we create? Our society runs best when we can trust each other, when we feel safe and cared for. Unfortunately I’m an angry pacifist. My empathy and understanding is only part of me, the other part doesn’t give a toss. That aspect of my personality doesn’t care why people do the things that adversely affect me, it just wants to crush them.

060210_crumbSo there I am, wrestling with my principles, and the conflicting desire (for example) to tear my upstairs neighbors limb-from-limb because they are completely unable to take their empty trash cans in after trash day. I resolve these conflicting desires by living out my anger and fury via my fantasies in my comic book reading tastes, so that I can move on, without exacting them upon the world. Briefly diving wholeheartedly into my depraved fantasy life through the harmless medium of comic books, no one is hurt by my fantasies and I can then let them go. Denial and suppression of these feelings would only give them more power, so by immersing myself in a comic book fantasy I can stop the fight against my own nature, and move on to my more peaceful, loving thoughts about my fellow humans.

060210_hulkThere’s a reason that I suggest comic books as the medium for this fantasy life. It works incredibly well, far better than reading a novel or watching movies. Like novels, comic books are personal, intimate and exist most powerfully in the imagination, but they aren’t as abstract or removed as the simple words on a page can become. Like movies, comic books are visual and immediate, but they do not involve a cast or crew in potentially denigrating or uncomfortable fantasies. It is the combination of these two mediums which lives in comic books to create a perfect experience. Simultaneously, we can hypothesize that it acts as a fantasy-based release for the comic book creators themselves too. For example, Robert Crumb fantasized about sex with headless women, among other disturbing things, and while some people might find this kind of thing entirely unacceptable, it’s important to recognize that not only did he use his art to live out his fantasies in a safe environment, but he also gave the world art that provided a place to explore feelings about things that would otherwise be completely disgusting.

060210_punisherAt various times I’ve fantasized about experience the savage violence of an animal like Wolverine in his berserker rages, or the brute power of a massive Hulk, smashing and losing control. There are definitely those times when I wanted to have Elektra‘s ninja skills, her silent shout and subtle mind-control abilities seemed fantastic. Most recently, I’ve found strange pleasure in Garth Ennis’ Punisher. Ennis invested the Punisher, (who is already a ridiculously violent, judgmental character) with an incredible, unrelentingly vicious single-mindedness. But rather than making him two-dimensional, he creates a character who is unrelentingly driven. It’s is somehow so deeply satisfying, that I can only envy him. His perfect commitment to the mission and his inability to perceive gray areas seems almost freeing, it allows him to judge and destroy any and all wrong doings. While I’m actively opposed to the death penalty in life, in my fantasy it is almost a relief to watch him methodically murder drug dealers. It’s a satisfying fantasy for me, and I’m not about to question why.


I totally get what you are talking about. And I agree. :)

Um… wish I had something more compelling to say than that.

You stopped short of the elephant in the room.

@ Julian

What is the elephant?


Of course, Ennis has never even pretended that the Punisher is a sympathetic character. He may target ( mostly ) the worst people on the planet, but there’s nothing to him except for hatred– even the excuse of his dead family was something Ennis revealed to be a half-truth. If we’re to believe the voice in Frank’s head during Born, he wanted to keep killing forever, even if it ultimately meant sacrificing his loved ones.

And while I agree in principle with the notion that violent and unsettling stories are a good release, there’s a fine line between a story that offers vicarious pleasure that couldn’t be achieved in the real world without being arrested, and a story that genuinely examines hard truths. In other words, the difference between Mark Millar and Garth Ennis; both are entertaining, but Millar’s stopped trying to do anything other than have entertainingly sociopathic protagonists do their thing, while Ennis can make even a story about rape-crazed zombies a deep, engaging character piece.

Great insights…good article.

Yeah, I’d say there’s a pretty big difference between fantasizing about killing bad guys, and fantasizing about raping little girls and animals.

Quoted for truth Nitz….I’d have these revenge fantasies myself but I would never be able to turn them off before I got the damn bloody retribution….

Stupid self-moral streak….

Tom Fitzpatrick

June 3, 2010 at 5:33 am

The same thing can be said about movies, and porn.

People can watch porn and have unhealthy impure carnal (not to mention, unrealistic) thoughts about women (and/or men).

Nitz: The point made here is (apparently) that it DOESN’T matter what your unhealthy fantasy is, as long as you get fulfill it by reading about it in a comic book. I don’t entirely agree; for SOME people dark fantasies help with their issues, but with other people they might make things worse. There’s no blanket cure; individuals just vary too much.

And btw, as crimes, murder, rape, and bestiality are all in different ranges of gravity.

You want catharsis thru comics…go find Gerber’s Foolkiller miniseries from the early 90s.

First, I agree entirely.

Secondly, the day after the Columbine Shootings, James Sturm (Drawn and Quarterly, Center for Cartooning Studies) came into our class at SCAD and made a statement about how Comics were not being blamed for causing the delinquency. And half jokingly how this was a bad turn for comics. After all we had entire Senate hearing on how comics corrupted kids in the 50’s and now…well we only discus it among ourselves.

IMO this is an “it depends” situation. Sometimes expressing anger or lust or frustration or whatever through art can be cathartic and helpful. But at other times it can reinforce those thought patterns and obsessions. I know that I focused too long on certain failed relationships, and fantasies were part of keeping that regret and disappointment alive for much longer than was helpful. It wasn’t until I told myself, “move on, dumbass” that I grew past it. So I don’t know…If you have some dark desires or negative habits of thought or feeling, and you explore those in art, pay attention to whether making that art gets it out of your system or, instead, fans the flames. It can do either of those things, depending on the person, the situation, etc. etc.

Leave a Comment



Review Copies

Comics Should Be Good accepts review copies. Anything sent to us will (for better or for worse) end up reviewed on the blog. See where to send the review copies.

Browse the Archives