Mar 23, 2017

The 40 Years of Comics Project - Day 757: Fort - Prophet of the Unexplained #3, August 2002

Charles Fort is a study in contradictions in this issue. Though he makes his way around New York on a horse-drawn bookmobile, he also manages to go full-on action hero in this issue, actually engaging in a controlled slide down the Statue of Liberty, then chasing a giant alien virus into a sewer with a flashlight taped to a rifle. It's a wonderful reconception (I'm assuming this. Perhaps the real Fort actually was an adventurer) of a historical character. I'm going to be talking with my class about this next week, the notion of taking real people or places and fitting them into a fiction. My argument at the end of class today was that history is more often made up of events than of people. Even when we do recognize people as historically significant, it's because they are somehow attached to an event of historical significance. What the kind of fictionalization that Fort traffics in does is remind us that the people involved in those historical events, be they the fundamental figures or simply faces in the crowd, are, or were, each individuals with their own personalities, ideas, and dreams. As I teach Natalie Asplund's Redcoat West, and then teach factual accounts of the Northwest Mounted Police, I ask my students to notice what fiction is doing for us. It humanizes the historical. Biography and autobiography can also serve the same purpose, as long as we recognize that these, too, are forms of fiction. There's no such thing as an objective record of human experience, as far as I can tell.

Of course, some fictionalizations are more...real...than others. The one in Fort leaps over the cliff of the real and into complete fantasy, but it still reminds us that the real Charles Fort, the one who compiled the wonderful books that serve as his legacy, was a human being, perhaps even an adventurous one. And wouldn't it be just lovely if he actually did save New York from an alien virus from the back of a horse-drawn bookmobile?

To be continued.

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