Podcast Season 1: Episode 6

“The Avatar for America”

In this Episode

In this episode we dive deep into the history of comic books! Not only do we explore the origin story of the medium, we also talk about what superheroes can teach us about American society. We speak with historian Jonathan Gray and freelance writer Alex Simmons, as well as Kevin Wong, a former resident of 103 Orchard for whom comics were an incredibly formative part of his childhood.

We talked to:

Jonathan W. Gray is Associate Professor of English at John Jay College-CUNY and the CUNY Graduate Center. He is the author of Civil Rights in the White Literary Imagination (University Press of Mississippi) and is currently working on the book project Illustrating the Race: Representing Blackness in American Comics. Prof. Gray co-edited the essay collection Disability in Comics and Graphic Novels for Palgrave McMillian and formerly served as the founding editor of the Journal of Comics and Culture (Pace). Prof. Gray’s journalism on popular culture has appeared in The New Republic, Entertainment Weekly, Medium, and Salon.com.

Alex Simmons is an award-winning freelance writer of screenplays, theater scripts, and comic books. Mr. Simmons has written for several publications including Disney Books, Penguin Press, Simon and Schuster, DC Comics, and Archie Comics. Also a teaching-artist, Alex created Color of Comics, an exhibit that celebrates and promotes diversity within the comic book industry, which has traveled globally. He is also the creator of the incredibly popular Kids ComicCon.


We featured the family story of:

In 1968, the Wong family moved into 103 Orchard Street. Mrs. Wong and her two daughters immigrated to the United States four years earlier, to reunite with Mr. Wong who was working here in the United States. Kevin was born in 1970. Raised on the Lower East Side’s Chinatown, Kevin was surrounded by the Chinese-American community. Kevin’s grandfather would drop him off in a dusty comic book shop afterschool, where Kevin would devour stories of superheroes, specifically X-Men.

Images & Extras:

We asked Jonathan where someone who wants to get into superhero comics should start. Here’s his answer:

“I’m a professor, so let’s make this a syllabus, right? I would actually encourage people to read the Denny O’Neil and Neal Adams Batman first. This is from the 1970s. I would then encourage them to read the Dark Phoenix Saga, which is the central story for X-Men. I would then encourage them to read Frank Miller’s Daredevil. From there, I would encourage them to read V for Vendetta. From there, I would encourage them to read Jaime Hernandez and Gilbert Hernandez’ Love and Rockets. And from there I would say ‘go.’”