Last night I went and saw Batman. Except I thought they were calling him ‘the Bad-Man’ the whole way through. Confusing. He was a great hero though, bat-cape, bat-belt, bat-cave. He had all the accessories and the determined stare to boot. But secretly, I actually preferred the super-suave cop Blake, played by the lovely Joseph Gordon-Levitt. Less flashy and a really sensible haircut. You see, I’ve never been very good with heroes. Spiderman was okay (a bit sticky), my housemate lived for three years as a Thunderbird, and Cat Woman is impressively flexible (but doesn’t that PVC get hot!?). Still I’ve been waiting a good few years for a real, heart racing, jaw dropping, bonafide hero to walk my way. I don’t think fancying the metaphorical pants off Shane from Westlife (age 16) really counts, and meeting ex-Chelsea goalkeeper Peter Bonetti (aka. The Cat) was pretty cool. So I’d given up years ago- I thought I wasn’t cut out for hero worship. I was wrong.
With the Paralympics just around the corner we at Hot Key Books have been thinking about what makes a good hero. Over the past few weeks we have been treated to a veritable cornucopia of potential hero material. Jessica Ennis who can jump, throw, run, and hurdle better than anyone else on the planet, or the inspiring GB hockey captain Kate Walsh who continued to play throughout the tournament after having her surgery on a broken jaw caused by a wayward hockey stick. And of course the list goes on, Mo Farah, Bradley Wiggins, Tom Daley or Usain Bolt. From around the globe we have had our pick of heroes. But as the Paralympics start the world will get a second chance, to find a hero that is not only an international champion in their chosen sport, but has overcome incredible odds to get there. I was given the chance to see Oscar Pistorius run in the 400 metre relay finals, but in the end I was so caught up with GB Jack Green’s heroic 4th place finish that I barely noticed Pistorius as he stormed round the track to claim a season’s best for South Africa. Cyclist Joanna Roswell has proved that having a condition like Alopecia shouldn’t hold you back –an inspiration to kids the world over. Whether we admire our heroes because they are the best in their field, or whether it’s because they’ve come from somewhere amazing, it’s great to see that the world is being offered a huge range of superstars to choose from.
So back to my personal super-hero story. Last year I visited The Illustration Cupboard to meet Shaun Tan, my favourite author and illustrator by several thousand light-years. I cycled across town, arrived in a sweat about three hours early, browsed, queued, bought a book that I didn’t have. So far, so good. Then it was my turn to meet the man himself. Tongue-tied doesn’t even cover it. ‘SPEAK’ my brain told my mouth. “I… think…I…. well…I just… LOVE YOU” my mouth told Shaun Tan. And that was it. Real time hero worship- and it was totally and utterly mortifying. I think I stuttered and stammered in front of him for a few more minutes before going to die quietly in a corner.
Jump to Friday evening, Shaun Tan is in conversation with Nicolette Jones at the British Library. Home from Home. I’ve spent a year in publishing, I’ve hobnobbed with the best,rubbed shoulders with the elite, hey, I’ve been to film premiers and have so moved on – this time I will be totally cool. How wrong I was. Shaun was amazing. He spoke with an awe-inspiring eloquence and intelligence. Discussing depression, hope, waiting and creativity the hour and a half discussion flew by. We even got a spur of the moment wombat to take home! And once again I queued up, and once again I was a gibbering mess. But that’s the thing with heroes – if you were able to form sentences in their near proximity you’ve probably outgrown them! All these years I expected my hero to take the form of an athlete, a film star or politician. Sure, there are a lot of people I admire, that I think are doing incredible work and that I would like to emulate. But it turns out that, as Bonnie Tyler put it, I was ‘holding out for a hero’ and then he came along! A man who articulates better what is happening inside my head than I can. Heroes are great things, and it’s wonderful that we are getting a chance to find someone who may not be able to save Gotham, or spew spidey webs from his wrists, but can change someone’s world anyhow. Are you holding out for your hero? Or have you found a superman with a quirk? Let us know – maybe we can form a super-league?