I sit quietly in Dimo’s Pizza, 1615 N. Damen Ave., and cut out various articles of clothing to design the outfits of my biologically male and female superheroes. It is fascinating to examine the nuanced characteristics of masculine and feminine heroes, and this is one of several thought-provoking interactive experiences that took place during the Illinois Humanities Council’s event “Heroes Like Us: What Does Your Superhero Look Like?” at the pizzeria’s Wicker Park location.
Several minutes later, frustrated by my indecisive nature, I finally resolve to dress my superheroes in matching kimonos, gracing both characters with the superpower to compel anyone who makes eye contact with them to dance like no one’s watching.
The Illinois Humanities Council ( IHC ) is “dedicated to fostering a culture in which the humanities are a vital part of the lives of individuals and communities,” according to its website. In partnership with the Joyce Foundation, the IHC provided art supplies, reading materials and free pizza for attendees.
The Dilettantes—a new-age group of “earnest provocateurs” who build unexpected experiences at the intersection of arts, science and technology—led the event’s group discussion, asking participants poignant questions about representation, diversity and sexuality in comic books. More than 40 people were in attendance and there was a unique mix of participants ranging from middle-aged gay men to housewives as well as high school students to a group of senior women who had been reading comics for decades. The Dilettantes expertly steered the group discussion and many shared intriguing thoughts with the larger group.
During the dialogue, Dav Yendler collected our male and female superhero illustrations with the intention of creating a single, sexless, ultimate hero combining all of the audience’s ideas. Yendler is an illustrator, designer and performance director whose work has been seen at Chicago Public Libraries, Steppenwolf Theatre, The House Theatre, Collaboracation, Groupon and more. At the event’s culmination, Yendler revealed his creation—a mystical hero wearing a hijab, hipster glasses, high heels and a flowing cape with the power of super strength and the ability to make any urban garden flourish with the touch of his/her green thumb.
Comics have always been a home for people who identify outside of mainstream culture, and the purpose of the “Heroes Like Us” event was to investigate how those outside of the mainstream—like the LGBT community—are represented in comic books.
The Dilettantes forced attendees to question their perceptions of comic book culture, using tropes brought up in Ms. Marvel, Batwing and the Green Lantern to inspect the advantages and disadvantages of diversity and cultural appropriation in the comic book form.