Literacy, ADHD, -isms, and the intersectionality that is Marvel Comics: 1973 – 1980

From the time I was five until twelve years old, I would spend every Thursday night from six o’clock until eight o’clock at the grocery store with my mother as we set forth on our weekly food shopping expedition.  This grocery store was the finest in the area in terms of product quantity and customer service. Of course, to anyone born after 1983, the thought of anything but expansively marketed products and consumer driven technological advancements seems Paleolithic in terms of efficiency and availability.  Nonetheless, this grocery store was not only the kingdom of all things Stauffer’s and Kellogg’s, but  housed a serious comic book section that only a visual learner, like myself, could truly appreciate to a point of adolescent homage. Remember folks, this is several years before Atari released PONG in home version and cable was limited to thirteen channels.  

As we entered the grocery store, my mother would reach into her purse for a single one dollar bill. This dollar was presented as payment for completed domestic chores. Each week, I would use this dollar bill to purchase four comic books.  Multiply that by four [weeks], by twelve [months], and by eight [years] and the final product exceeds one thousand.

Research has stated that boys are two to four times as likely as girls to be diagnosed with ADHD (Dulcan, 1997; Singh, 2008). As a precocious but restless young boy, comic books were the perfect cost-effective medium to provide an educational experience that did not require hours of direction, direct instruction, or numbing concentration.  Boys, as we know, have the attention span of…boys.  With this, Marvel Comics™ were the ideal remedy for a learned child [and parents] dealing with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder before current medicinal interventions were prescribed to a vast population of children. 

Marvel Comics™ were my comic of choice. Since I lived in one of the Mid-Atlantic States, I had an affinity for the northeastern quadrant of the United States and Marvel Comics™ stories was realistically set in none other than Manhattan and the surrounding boroughs of New York City.  The impact of these comics was more salient than DC Comics™ because artists at Marvel Comics™ used existing buildings, museums, and parks as the backdrop to the serial dilemmas and periods of identity flux and transformation. For example, the renowned Frick Museum located at Fifth Avenue and East 70th Street was used as the template for Avengers Mansion.

Beyond serving as an instrument to quell my gregariously unfocused behavior, my vocabulary increased significantly during this period.  By third grade I was able to pronounce as well as understand and use such words as nefarious and loquacious in well constructed sentences.  I even expanded my knowledge of Greek mythology in 1977 while reading a comic book series of Earth’s Mightiest Heroes: The Avengers.  It was through this two comic story that I was introduced to the Oedipus Complex through the villainous exploits of the cyborg, Ultron as he set forth on a quest to claim his creator’s wife as his own.  People may argue that Greek mythology and Freudian references may not be the best discussion topics for a nine year old, but learning was occurring. My mother could never argue that.

Marvel Comics™, to a kid in the 1970’s, was akin to reading Time Magazine as an adult.  The social issues and very real politics of the time were explicitly weaved within every story.  It was during this time that a rise in sub-group representation occurred. African American, Hispanic (East Coast), and Native American characters began to appear more frequently.  Also, there was the emergence of socially conscious story arcs that referenced government manipulation of populations and resources while expanding capitalism and monopolies behind a veil of chaotic episodes and conspiracies. In essence, reading a comic book during this period was like taking a class on current issues, topics, and terrorism.

Beyond the aforementioned, I was introduced to other social and governmental –isms such as sexism (Wolverine), feminism (Phoenix and Storm), racism (Luke Cage/Power Man and Falcon), idealistic patriotism (Captain America), and political theories such as communism, socialism, fascism, and liberalism.

Finally, I learned about the value of investments.  Several years later, I was able to sell these very comics for thirty times what I paid.

The owners of Comix Connection have donated over one hundred comic books to my wife for distribution to her second grade classroom. 

Dulcan, M. (October 1997). Practice parameters for the assessment and treatment of children, adolescents, and adults with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder. Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry 36 (10) 85S–121S. Retrieved from

Singh, I. (December 2008). Beyond polemics: science and ethics of ADHD. Nature Reviews. Neuroscience 9 (12): 957–64.

Explore posts in the same categories: comic books, Dr. Eric Waters, Education, Eric L. Waters, Eric Waters, Marvel Comics

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5 Comments on “Literacy, ADHD, -isms, and the intersectionality that is Marvel Comics: 1973 – 1980”

  1. minh Says:

    Not a boy, not an American & a couple of decades older but I too trumpet the value of comics. We sold comics – American, British & home-grown (Australian)in the late 50s early 60s. I was allowed to read any & all comics – carefully & put them back on sale. We sold dozens of comics a week & I read them all.

    I too acquired a polysyllabic & sophisticated vocabulary, a fine sense of Greek & Roman mythology, some, then, unusual perspectives on WW II & an insight into both US & British society unavailable to mere movie goers & TV watchers. As a member of a community on the edge of two empires – one declining & one burgeoning this insight was interesting.

    The extensive vocabulary was such a part of me that even schoolyard mocking could not knock it out of me. Some words were THE words to use – they arrived without fanfare & placed themselves in the conversation. There was no showing off involved.

    I read widely yes but comics were what I read intensively & consistently.

    As a teacher in the intervening decades – about five of them – I have embraced the use of comics particularly with boys of that ilk. I have fended off the usual charges of their being trash & not proper reading etc. The best thing is when young, previously ‘illterate’, ‘hyperactive’ boys start proudly producing their own comics to display their understanding of concepts.

    comix rule KO!


  2. Kelly Says:

    Very nice read. Do you know if any studies have been conducted on the use of comic books to assist children with ADHD?

  3. Amanda Says:

    This is very interesting! I am and always have been a big (huge) reader of fiction. Especially horror and action. Of course when I was younger I had a brief time in love with comics. I now enjoy the movies produced by hollywood portraying our favorite characters (usually incorrectly) on the big screen. I am a new teacher and will rememeber this article to get the attention of students in the future. Comics are visual and full of action! Such a great idea to use this concept in the classroom!!!

  4. Akil Bello Says:

    amazing and eloquent. this sums up in a very real erudite manner my experience with comics, my decision to read marvel not dc, and my understanding of isms. well done sir!

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