Ernest Hemingway has appeared in comics over 120 times. That’s more than Abraham Lincoln. So why does Sun Valley’s prized literary possession share the page with the likes of Wolverine?
Robert K. Elder comes to The Community Library on Sept. 15 to discuss his new book “Hemingway in Comics.” His exhibition will run there until Nov. 27. Programs and Education Manager Martha Williams helped bring Elder and his work to the area.
“This body of work ... shows us that there is always more than meets the eye with Hemingway,” Williams said. “This project gathers an entirely new set of stories through which the larger-than-life character of Hemingway lives on.”
Prior to this, Elder wrote a book about the Hemingway archives in Oak Park, Illinois, where Elder lives and Hemingway was born.
“The thing that surprises me about his iconic status is just his resiliency,” Elder said. “The fact that he has spoken to so many generations over 100 years. The work has aged pretty well. He is still not only readable but compelling, because it requires so much of yourself, so much individual interpretation.”
While promoting “Hidden Hemingway,” he wrote pieces for different outlets. One of them was for a comic journal. It snowballed from there. One piece turned into four, including one for The Hemingway Review. He has given speeches at the American Library Association and International Hemingway Conference on the topic.
“It’s been the most unexpected, fun and viral book I’ve ever done,” Elder said.
Elder argues that Hemingway’s prose style is not too different from that of comic book writers. Hemingway spoke often about the “iceberg theory”—everything left out of a story the reader has to infer.
“With comic book writers, there’s the kinship because there’s a finite amount of space,” Elder said. “It requires an economy of words. Much like the iceberg principle, a lot of the action takes place between the panels. It requires that you bring a lot of yourself to the work.”
Elder believes one of the reasons Hemingway shows up in so many comics is because “he lived in the most interesting places and the most interesting times.” In WWI, he volunteered as an ambulance driver for the Red Cross. He was a correspondent during WWII. He covered the Spanish Civil War. He traveled to Africa. He brought movie stars to Idaho.
“He had such a fascinating life over decades,” Elder said. “It’s like those old Dos Equis commercials. He was literally the most interesting man in the world.”
Some of the comics ground the iconic writer in reality. Steve Rolston adapted “Living on $1,000 a year in Paris,” a piece he wrote for the Toronto Star in 1922, into a comic, illustrating his cafe lifestyle in France.
Others are a little more ridiculous. Hemingway pops up in Topolino (Mickey Mouse in Italian). Hemingway arrives to write a story about Mickey, who is an adventurer. He is also in the Japanese comic “Samurai Crusader” where he acts as the sidekick. Together, they go on Kung-Fu adventures and fight demons.
One of Elder’s personal favorites is “The Biggest Game in Town,” a Superman comic from 1974. Former Daily Planet journalist Ted “Pappy” Mailerway represents a cross between Hemingway and Norman Mailer. As Hemingway was famously a big game hunter, the character sets out to take down Metropolis’s biggest game of all: Superman himself.
Despite Hemingway’s mythos in comic books, Elder does not view him as a superhero.
“He’s definitely human, Elder said. “He reflects everything about the extremes of the human experience. In one way, he’s the perfect avatar for creators wanting to explore these times and locations. But he fits very well with the superheroes he’s matched with.”
Elder has only been in the Wood River Valley one previous time. While doing research, he visited Hemingway’s grave to pay respects. When a blizzard hit, he got snowed in. The “kind people of Ketchum” had to come tow him out. He got the last room at the Best Western. He enjoyed a night in the heart-shaped tub of the honeymoon suite.
“I want to come back and say thank you,” Elder said.