BookLife Talks with Brad Laidman
A sponsored Q&A with the author of 'Waiting for Clark Kent'
Cleveland-born pop art patron Laidman reimagines Superman's Clark Kent as a baseball player in an "existential cartoon."
What is the story behind Waiting for Clark Kent? How did the idea of creating an alternate life for this iconic character come to you?The first piece of fiction I wrote was a short story I dubbed "an existential cartoon" about Mr. Ed, TV's talking horse, who I saw as cursed with angst owing to his language abilities. I moved on to writing about Superman, iconic yet stale due to his perfection. I wanted to explore the implications and loneliness of his relative godlike nature in a world of lost mortals looking for a savior in a way that was short, funny, and as true as Voltaire's Candide.
How much does Clark Kent's life, as written by Superman's creators, factor into your story?
I was extremely faithful to the comics and their original era. The time period Clark Kent inhabited saw the rise of fascism and heroes going to war. I grew up on John R. Tunis's The Kid from Tomkinsville and wanted to reclaim it from Bernard Malamud's darker The Natural.
The superhero and the sports hero are two archetypes that have dominated American culture for decades. What kind of commentary on these aspects of popular culture are you hoping to advance with Waiting for Clark Kent?
America has always loved the lone Western gunslinger arriving to save the day. It's generally accepted that a benevolent dictator would make people behave and share, but no one ever agrees on the identity of the messiah. As conceived, Superman is God. Why landing in America infused him with pureness of heart is never answered. I saw him longing for a life of his own and saw a need for him to earn that morality.
How did you come to mix notions of God with superheroes and baseball in this "existential cartoon"?I spent my childhood nights absorbing everything, tormented by concepts of infinity. It's my contention that the best modern artists work in pop mediums they grew up loving. Waiting for Clark Kent samples everything from Samuel Beckett, Sinclair Lewis, and Friedrich Nietzsche to cartoons, comic books, pop music, and the entire newspaper, from the front page to the sports section. "It's only Rock 'n' Roll, but I like it."
Why or how do you think Waiting for Clark Kent is particularly relevant now?
Ray Davies of the Kinks foresaw the coming of an "age of machinery" and corporate hegemony that would evaporate small-town values and pastoral life. He was ahead of his time and ignored. I identify with his integrity. We are more and more the intellectually lazy, mindless slaves Jim Morrison raved about. We worship shallow celebrity.
How can Clark Kent rise to his best self in a world that rewards fame and notoriety over fortitude?
I'd like to see us ignore Ayn Rand's bloated prognostications and truly become as exceptional as the American myth.
What is the one thing you most want people to know about you or your book?
My writing all stems from Voltaire's Candide. I have a unique voice, bordering on the stubborn. I've been stifled by the same confidence issues as my protagonist. I have four pop culture memoirs, and tons more in my head. As John Lennon wrote, "Come on, let me through / I got so many things I gotta do." My next book will reevaluate his life and work.