Almost all of us had a favorite superhero when we were growing up.
This idea of superheroes, in both fiction and real life, is what Eastern Michigan University alum Jermaine Dickerson’s new art exhibition is all about. Dickerson, who graduated from EMU in fall 2014 with a B.F.A. in graphic design, has always been a fan of comics and superheroes.
“I’m mostly inspired by my own emotions and the natural world,” said Dickerson. “Depending on the mood I’m in, the content of the drawing changes.”
The exhibition, titled "Virtuous," will be up for display until March 31 at Chin-Azzaro, a local art, design, and photography studio. Chin-Azzaro is located at 9 S. Washington St., Ypsilanti.
“'Virtuous' is a narrative that places ordinary characters in situations where they can represent certain moral values and modern issues,” said Dickerson.
Last Thursday, a panel discussion called "Virtuous: What Superheros Can Teach Us About Moral Responsibility" was held next door to the exhibition and listeners were able to hear from Dickerson along with professionals in the comic book industry about what superheroes and comics mean to them.
Richard Rubenfeld, a former Eastern Michigan University professor of art history, served as the panel moderator. He described how comic books are reflective of the times and the idea of superheroes has almost always existed in some form.
“The concept of superhero is about as old as the concept of art and literature,” said Rubenfeld.
Dickerson believes that anyone who goes above and beyond to help others can be considered a superhero.
“People like Dr. King would be a real life superhero because he was extraordinary,” said Dickerson. “Especially growing up in a society where being a black male tells me that I can’t do certain things.”
Other members of the panel included James Conniff, who has worked at Fun 4 All Comics and Games since 2006, illustrator and painter Jesse Rubenfeld, who is also an EMU alum, and Curtis Sullivan, owner and operator of Vault of Midnight.
Topics that the panel discussed ranged from what makes a hero, to childhood superheroes, to working toward diversity in comic books.
“Superman was a big part of my life,” said Jesse Rubenfeld. “I had quite a few capes growing up.”
When the topic came up of why the media is diversifying so slowly, Sullivan and other panelists agreed that people just do not want to change what doesn’t appear to be broken. Steps have been made in a more diversified direction with a new female Thor and more African-American protagonists, but some are still resistant to these changes.
“We’ve actually had backlash from diversity in the comic store,” said Sullivan. “A customer actually asked me, ‘why are they turning everyone black?’”
However, Dickerson and the panelists still have hope that comic book lovers will become more and more open-minded.
“I can see the change happening, slowly but surely, I just wish it would happen faster,” said Dickerson.