30 January 2010


J.D. Salinger, the semi-reclusive and slightly mysterious author of The Catcher in the Rye, past away Wednesday from natural causes at the age of 91. Catcher, which was first published in 1951, was Jerome David Salinger’s sole published novel; that, and a handful of short stories,  remain his only public writings.  Nevertheless, there's few among us who haven't met the 16-year-old Holden Caulfield or who could find meaning and relationship in his disaffected quest to be anything but a "phony" -- an unmasked vigilante of sorts roaming a masquerade world.

Having so few published works, comics' prolific pace would have been anathema to Salinger, but it's interesting to see him - and Catcher's Holden Caulfield - through comic book glasses.  From his obsession with privacy to his stature as a cult figure, Salinger would certainly have had much in common with Alan Moore - especially if Moore were to have quit comics all-together following Watchmen. Moore's recoil from the mainstream comics scene is reminiscent of Salinger's own aversion to publishing, to which he seemed to have a singular dislike. Both writers, intentionally or not, also sparked their share of controversy - for Moore, his pornographic novel, Lost Girls, may be his best example; however, Salinger easily trumps Girls, as Catcher in the Rye earned the privilege of being the United States' most-banned book of the 1990's.

Sales-wise, Catcher in the Rye is estimated to have sold more than 60 million copies worldwide since it was first published 59 years ago; it continues to sell about 200,000 copies annually. Watchmen was published 24 years ago, in 1986; The Los Angeles Times reported in 2008 that the graphic novel had sold 100,000 copies the year before, and that DC Comics had printed nearly a million more in response to rising sales spurred by the then-forthcoming Watchmen movie.  In addition, Watchmen's initial print run - as a twelve-issue comic book mini-series - would greatly increase its numbers - although exact data unfortunately doesn't exist (what does exist can be seen HERE).  Even if it did - all things being relative - abbracadabbling would declare this point a draw.

The stories and content of Catcher and Watchmen seem, at least on the surface, to be infinitely different.  Thematically, however, intriguing similarities exist, especially between the main character and narrator of each, Holden Caulfield and Rorschach.  Both characters have issues with masks, either metaphorical or literal. Both are extraordinarily cynical characters, each of them a wanderer in life with heroic intentions of saving others and somehow returning the world to a better, early way of being. Both rail against wealth and corruption, both are unwilling non-conformists and are alienated (if not eventually killed) because of idealistic beliefs they'll never sacrifice.  Both Rorschach and Holden's persistence with their ideals brings their sanity into question, and each is called upon to acclimate to a society they detest. Yet despite of the pervasive sense of alienation  that surrounds the characters,  Holden and Rorschach also remain pessimistic about their  (misguided?) role  as a savior and their mission to uphold an order they believe to be right and just.
When we heard of J.D. Salinger's death, we knew immediately it had a place on our blog, for undoubtedly Salinger's influence can be felt and seen in the works of many writers today.  It doesn't seem likely that the author would have considered Holden Caulfield to be a super hero, although his sixteen-year-old protagonist certainly meets many of the genre's criteria to be one. 

Like Moore's Rorschach, Holden is a psychological examination made human.  With no domino mask or cape to his name, Salinger's greatest contribution has given generations of young readers a less obvious hero, but a hero nonetheless.   

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