KUNM

'Awesome Man' Is Super, And Maybe You Are, Too

Sep 25, 2011
Originally published on September 26, 2011 7:50 am

Michael Chabon won a Pulitzer Prize for The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay back in 2001. Ten years later, he has a new book out, called The Astonishing Secret of Awesome Man.

This one may sound like a sequel, but Chabon isn't after another Pulitzer. He's looking for ohhhs and ahhhs, hearty giggles and gleeful faces as kids from coast to coast bed down for the night.

That's because Awesome Man, with his trusty sidekick Moskowitz the Awesome Dog, is a children's book — Chabon's first. His inspiration, he tells weekends on All Things Considered host Guy Raz, was his son, Abe.

"Like a lot of boys his age, he was just starting kindergarten and he was really into superheroes," Chabon says. "Dressing up in superhero costumes and running around imagining that he could fly or have titanium — sorry, adamantium — claws that come out of his hands and so on."

But Abe was also struggling with other issues, like keeping his temper and staying in control. So Chabon thought writing him a little story might help Abe work through some of his problems. And it might even be fun to read or listen to.

Awesome Man is, well, "basically awesome," as the man himself puts it. He can fly as high as a satellite and shoot positronic rays out of his eyeballs. Giant killer robots just hate that stuff, he says. Superheroes, Chabon says, have a lot to offer kids.

"There's the costume element of it," he says. "There's the fantasy element of just wishing for abilities and powers that one can't have or doesn't have, like flight for example.

"But even more than that, I think it's, to some degree, because they still haven't quite given up hope that they might be able to fly. That they might be able to have these kind of powers — that it's not completely impossible.

"The idea that you have a hidden potential that only you might know about and that the world doesn't understand or appreciate," he says. "I think that's an important element."

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GUY RAZ, host: Michael Chabon won a Pulitzer Prize for "The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay" back in 2001. Ten years later, he has a new book out called "The Astonishing Secret of Awesome Man." Now, this one may sound like a sequel, but Chabon isn't after another Pulitzer. He's actually looking for ways to help get your child to sleep. It's because Awesome Man, with his trusty sidekick, Moskowitz the awesome dog, is a children's book. Michael Chabon's first.

MICHAEL CHABON: (Reading) Hi. I'm a superhero. My name is Awesome Man.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

CHABON: (Reading) I have a cape as red as a rocket, a mask as black as midnight and a silent letter A on my chest. I'm just basically awesome.

RAZ: OK. You have written the book about Awesome Man. "The Astonishing Secrete of Awesome Man." First of all, where did this book come from?

CHABON: It really arose out of my feelings toward my youngest son, Abe Chabon. Like a lot of boys his age, he was just starting kindergarten and he was really into superheroes and dressing up in superhero costumes and running around imagining that he could fly or, you know, have titanium, or sorry adamantium claws that come out of his hands and so on. And he was also struggling and wrestling with issues having to do with his ability to control himself and control his temper and control his body.

You know, you're not allowed to hit people and all that kind of stuff. And I just thought I would just write him a little story and, you know, that would somehow address some of those things he was struggling with but that also would be, you know, fun to read, fun to listen to.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

CHABON: (Reading) I can fly as high as a satellite and as straight as an arrow or through the time barrier and not get dizzy or feel nauseous or smash into things, except on purpose. But maybe the most awesome thing about me is my secret identity. Now, this is a total secret, all right? So listen closely because I'm going to whisper it real low. So low only you and Moskowitz, awesome dog, will be able to hear me."

RAZ: What do you think it is about superheroes that just draws in kids and, let's face it, particularly boys?

CHABON: Well, there are a lot of elements, I think. You know, there's the costume element of it. There's a simply, the fabulous exterior. There's the fantasy element of just wishing for abilities and powers that one can't have or doesn't have, like flight, for example. But even more than that, I think it's, you know, to some degree because they still haven't quite given up hope that they might be able to fly. You know, that they might be able to have these kind of powers.

The idea that you have a hidden potential that only you might know about and that the world doesn't understand or appreciate, I think that's an important element.

(Reading) Here comes Professor Von Evil in his anti-matter slime box. Anti-matter slime is extra gross but, OK, check this out. I change into my secret identity and the dude just (unintelligible) right at me. Do you see me? Professor Von Evil doesn't. Then I just sneak up behind him, slap a big old power grip on his pointy head and scrunch. The professor gets schooled.

RAZ: Do you read this book to Abe? Does he still want to hear it?

CHABON: He has been living with it for a while, and the pictures came in, and at every step of the way from the first edit to the final drawings start to come in and then we got a set of page proofs and so on, you know, I would read it to him at every stage of the way. But at a certain point he became kind of a junior member of the editorial team and was offering not always solicited opinions about, you know, this or that and little critiques and...

(Reading) After I'm all calmed down and positronic again, I take off after the flaming eyeball. I fly west. I fly east. I fly eight times around the Earth and all the way to the heart of the sun. The flaming eyeball hangs out in there sometimes. And I see him. He's chilling with Sister Sinister and the Red Shark. I throw an awesome power grip on all three of them, give them a little blast of eye beam and kick a little bad guy behind. Then I make a quick getaway back to the Fortress of Awesome.

RAZ: That was Michael Chabon. His new book is a kid's book. It's called "The Astonishing Secret of Awesome Man." Michael, thank you so much.

CHABON: Oh, Guy, thank you. I've really enjoyed talking to you.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.