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Sunday, 24 January 2016

European Super Heroes (Again), Gilgamesh and WHY European Creators Should Do Their Own Thing.

 "You saw nothing, Dr Jacobs!"


Just read through "European Superheroes" over at the Europe Is Not Dead blog and have to say it was interesting and depressing at the same time!

They mention the Czech hero  Pérák as probably Europe's first super hero, going back to World War 2 and the occupation Czechoslovakia (1938-1945).  Well, Pérák seems to be almost a clone of the UKs Spring-heeled Jack (going as far back as 1833).  And there were UK costumed heroes prior to 1938.

If we count Herakles/Hercules as a super hero then there were a lot of super heroes about and let's not forget my favourite next to Hercules -Gilgamesh. Okay, Gilgamesh is Mesopotamian but European cultures had many heroes like him.

Time to re-post?

When I put together Return Of The Gods: Twilight Of The Super Heroes I put in, as spotted by Subzero (Tales From The Kryptonian), a lot of things I really loved.

There was science fiction -an even more evil presence behind an alien invasion of Earth, super heroes but also monsters and mythology -gods from many pantheons and their ongoing game of entertainment: a war with forces from many time periods who fought, died and returned to life the next day ad infinitum.

But there were two heroes from separate pantheons I had to include.  One is still lurching about the Black Tower universe with amnesia so I am not going to tell you who he is.  The other was Gilgamesh.

You see, I had heard various stories as a child -thunder was caused by giant playing football (my English gran came up with a corker there...though I could never see one of the bloody giants!).  I heard of ghosts and spirits from my German family.  And when I was attending Greenway Boys Secondary Modern School, Southmead, in 1971/72, we had lessons where we were allowed to just pick books to read.  There were a lot of the tiny pocket books so I read Gunfight At The OK Corral and then I found The Twelve Labours Of Hercules (and discovered he should be called "Heracles").

Then I saw another book which was Epic Of Gilgamesh. I read the entire book -and were talking a couple hundred pages which for a boy of 13  in a very tough school wasn't too bad.

Gilgamesh as illustrated in The Chaldean Account of Genesis (1876)

Gilgamesh  was a king of Uruk in what was called Mesopotamia -a kingdom which took in parts of Iraq, Iran, Turkey, Syria and Kuwait.  And Gilgamesh lived sometime between (roughly) 2800 and 2500 BC and  is the main character in the Epic of Gilgamesh, a poem that is considered to be the first great work of literature.

Go, Mesopotamia!

It is in this epic that we learn that Gilgamesh is a demigod: a possessor of superhuman strength and who was responsible for building the city walls of Uruk. Adding even more credibility to Gilgamesh's cred was the fact that he travelled to meet the sage Utnapishtim --a man who had survived the Great Deluge.

And, according to the Sumerian King List, Gilgamesh lived for a good while -he ruled Uruk for some 126 years. You can imagine that Gilgamesh after a series of great adventures had become what might be called today "a really arrogant bastid!"

He was not going to get away with that.  Modern accounts tell us that the now tyranical Gilgamesh was to face a challenge:

"Enkidu was formed from clay and saliva by Aruru, the goddess of creation, to rid Gilgamesh of his arrogance. In the story Enkidu is a wild man, raised by animals and ignorant of human society until he is bedded by Shamhat. Thereafter a series of interactions with humans and human ways bring him closer to civilization, culminating in a wrestling match with Gilgamesh.

"Enkidu embodies the wild or natural world, and though equal to Gilgamesh in strength and bearing, acts in some ways as an antithesis to the cultured, urban-bred warrior-king. Enkidu then becomes the king's constant companion and deeply beloved friend, accompanying him on adventures until he is stricken ill. The deep, tragic loss of Enkidu profoundly inspires in Gilgamesh a quest to escape death by obtaining godly immortality."

The death of Enkidu  I can recall reading and it was very poignant.  I must have moped that day.

 Above: Enkidu and Gilgamesh.

there is a more scholarly account here

And I quote:

The Creation of Ea-bani.
The passage referring to the creation of this being, who was named Ea-bani, reads as follows:—
“Upon hearing these words (i.e., the words of the gods)
Aruru conceived a man of Anu in her mind.
Aruru washed her hands,
She broke off a piece of clay, she cast it on the ground.
Thus she created Ea-bani, the hero.”
Ea-bani, however, was not wholly human in form. From his picture upon cylinder-seals we know that he had the head, and body, and arms of a man, but his legs were those of a beast.
The following description of Ea-bani is given in the poem:—
“The whole of his body was [covered] with hair,
He was clothed with long hair like a woman.
The quality of his hair was luxuriant, like that of the Corn-god.
He knew [not] the land and the inhabitants thereof,
He was clothed with garments as the god of the field.
With the gazelles he ate herbs,
With the beasts he slaked his thirst,
With the creatures of the water his heart rejoiced.”
Now you might ask: "Who the **** is Ea-Bani?!" so let me explain. Older sources sometimes transliterate the name as "Enkimdu", "Ea-bani", or "Enkita" and "Enkidu" is a modern variant. Explained? Good.

Ea-bani and Gilgamesh in conflict with two bulls. (From a cylinder-seal in the British Museum, No. 89,308.)

Gods were, obviously, what we might call in our modern pop culture "super heroes".  It is interesting that Enkidu is described the way he is.  Many have tried to suggest that he might have been a Sasquatch-like hominid.  If you have read my books you'll know I go into a lot of detail on wild men as well as large hominids.  A neat idea and there are certain parallels between Enkidu and Sasquatch but this post ain't about that (I'd stick that over on the Anomalous Observational Phenomena blog!).

Now, Marvel and DC -and many other companies in the past, have bastardised other nations-cultures mythology.  Kirby and Lee did a great job with Thor and the Norse pantheon and Jack, of course, brought us the Eternals and New Gods.

And it really did show how both Lee and especially Kirby, loved the old myths.

Then, of course, DC and Marvel fecked everything up by killing them fact I've shied away from any of the non-Kirby New Gods and Eternmals.

"So just what has this got to do with Gilgamesh?!!" I hear you impatiently scream.

Well, Gilgamesh, an Eternal in the Marvel Universe, actually got himself recruited into the Avengers back in volume 1 #300.

Now, I have to say that he was not dressed very Mesopotamian and for some reason he had a horned helmet that is more commonly associated with a Pharaoh elite guard and the "Sea People" who ravaged the Mediterranean area back in the day.

Then again, the legend of Gilgamesh grew up around this character so there was an "opt out".

Hey -it's cover time !!

 Above: NO! That is not a scan of my copy which is bagged and in a box.  Whoever had that done to his copy needs to break someones fingers. Looking at it again, no, that ain't even a Sea People style horned hat.  Someone was dropping some weird meds back then!

Below, my man, Gilgamesh....having a sort of brain leechy type problem.

So how did I portray Gilgamesh?  Far more Mesopotamian!

Probably aged about 110 years old here, I think!

And one day I may well draw the Gilgamesh -Enkidu story....though I've put off drawing the Mabinogion for thirty years -and the Mabinogion is full of super powered individuals.

But Europe Is Not Dead showed two things: Firstly, a lot of the serious heroic characters were Marvel originated but very few of the European created ones -the ones I would accept as European heroes- Secondly, these were little more than parody or humour.  Now I understand parody but parody in a character only has a certain amount of shelf-life to be honest.

It's almost as though European comic writers have lost their way when it comes to writing about heroic figures.   Now I know that is not true because all sorts of heroes abound in European comics but they have to have a certain edge or difference.  The idea of a costumed hero what a character wears depends on their environment: hot Finnish Summer then, yes -light clothing. Minus 20 Finnish Winter -woolly knickers time.

Please, we've discussed the whole false argument of "Europeans are not interested in childish super heroes" in postings on Wanga and Hexagon comics from France and elsewhere.

The problem seems to be with the "comic art elite" as I am sure they would like to be called. Many consider anything after the Platinum Age of comics (up to the 1930s) to be "low-brow" and yet they will hail Kirby, Eisner and others but have an irrational reaction to others.

I was told by a French artist how he met a group of these people and they talked about Kirby and the artist said "Kirby is my inspiration!" so they asked to look at the portfolio he had with him.  there were "tuts", head nodding and one waved at the art (and this artist was one of the best) and pulled a face: "This is childish super heroics!"  The others all nodded in agreement and the artist was rudely ignored.

The thing is that I have absolutely no doubt that there is a strong interest in "super heroics" -or else who has been buying the comics in Europe for many decades and who buys the comics now??  I think a lot of creators are "doing their own thing" and maybe not even publishing because they are afraid of ridicule when they should not be -comics are a multi billion dollar industry spawning books, TV shows and movies as well as popular computer games.

European creators need to say "feck it!  I'm going to do what I enjoy and screw the arty morons!"

German, French, Italian, Croatian, Russian, Ukrainian, Icelandic -where ever you are: if you want to draw comics featuring costumed heroes then do it.  You will help inspire future generations to do their own thing without Marvel, DC or the "permission" of the comic art stuffed shirts!

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