Strange Tales, Too Common

Michael Chabon’s “Citizen Conn,” from the Feb 13/20 New Yorker, has arrived at a moment which makes it unexpectedly relevant, ill timed, or both. “Conn” follows the last months of Mort Feather, a comic book legend in exile. Chabon has mentioned that Fantastic Four/Hulk/Avengers/X-Men co-creators Stan Lee and Jack Kirby were points of inspiration for the story’s marginalized but brilliant Feather and its comics writer/publishing impresario Artie Conn. He has also argued that Conn and Feather are not simply stand-ins for Lee and Kirby, and this is true. The story’s invented biographies for the pair depart from those of Lee and Kirby at important times, and in important ways. For instance, readers learn that the cause of Feather’s decades-long estrangement from former collaborator Conn –or at least the core of Feather’s bitterness– has less to do with unpaid royalties or withheld credit than with the tarnishing of the two men’s friendship once Feather was ousted from “Nova Publications.”

“Citizen Conn,” told from the perspective of the rabbi at Feather’s assisted-living facility, is sentimental, earnest to a fault, and wholly unlikely to change anyone’s opinion of Michael Chabon as a writer. If it succeeds, it’s because Chabon’s obvious affection for the imaginative crackle of comics and the people who make them distracts from his soft-focus handling of creator’s rights issues. Continue reading