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Unemployed Man vs. Superlotto!

By Erich Origen and Gan Golan, Special to CNN
  • Authors of new comic novel satirize the economic hard times
  • They use the classic superhero style to make visible the intangible economic forces
  • They say there's a serious point to the comic novel along with the humor
  • Americans have seen shrinking opportunities for upward mobility, they say

Editor's note: Erich Origen and Gan Golan are writers and artists residing in California. They are the authors of "The Adventures of Unemployed Man" comic and the book "Goodnight Bush," which was a New York Times best-seller.

(CNN) -- "The Adventures of Unemployed Man" is a parody of the classic superhero comics. In it, Unemployed Man and his team of down-but-not-out superheroes battle the self-interested villains who dwell in the Hall of Just Us, devising sinister plots that threaten the world.

The Adventures of Unemployed Man had many inspirations. First, with millions struggling in this economy, we thought the country needed a dose of emergency comic relief.

At the same time, we chose a superhero story -- with everyday heroes fighting against economic supervillains -- because it was, amazingly, not that far from the truth.

In our troubled times, millions of ordinary people are engaged in a struggle of epic proportions against massive economic forces beyond their control. It seemed important to show people how truly heroic they are.

'Unemployed' superhero

Maybe being a superhero isn't about the ability to fly or to shoot lightning bolts out of your ears. Maybe it's about finding the inner strength to look for a job for the 100th time, taking on two or three underpaid jobs while trying to raise children or working into your old age because you can't afford to retire. That's heroic.

We wanted to take the many invisible economic forces we fight every day and make them visible by dressing them up in capes, masks and spandex underwear. We've created an accessible visual vocabulary that lets us all name, confront and defeat these sinister forces.

We wanted to take the many invisible economic forces we fight every day and make them visible by dressing them up.
--Erich Origen and Gan Golan

Laughing at them doesn't hurt either. We also wanted to demonstrate that the root causes of the sour economy are decades old, stemming from large-scale decisions made to keep sinister, self-interested (and "self-regulating") megaplayers from having to play by the same rules as the rest of us.

The confrontation with Superlotto is a crucial turning point in the book. When he arrives, the Nuclear Family is facing bankruptcy. His remedy? Lotto tickets!

"Your chance to become one of society's lucky winners!" Unemployed Man says he'd rather rely on hard work and self-determination.

At this, Superlotto laughs and tells Unemployed Man that even if he did find a job, he could never climb to the top of the economic ladder because the rungs have been removed. At that point, our hero begins to realize that unemployment is a symptom of a much larger problem. The real crisis is the erosion of social mobility that was once promised to Americans who worked hard and played by the rules.

Since the end of America's Great Prosperity (late 1940s to late 1970s), we've been told, by Republicans and Democrats alike, that reduced funding for social programs would strengthen the economic ladder. But after 30 years, we've been left with neither a ladder nor a safety net.

Now, with fewer chances for everyday heroes to actually get ahead, Superlotto tells us that the only rule that matters in our casino economy is "Scratch three and win!" The social structures that once supported great individual achievement have been reduced to lottery tickets.

After his confrontation with Superlotto, Unemployed Man goes on to meet many down-but-not-out heroes in Cape Town, USA, a tent city made of stitched-together capes. Together, this band of heroes for hard times goes on to confront larger and larger economic villains, including The Invisible Hand itself.

Amidst flying kicks and dazzling escapes, we make the case that the unemployment crisis will not end until these deeper problems are addressed.

The jobs won't come until average working people aren't living in a cave called Rock Bottom (i.e., they can achieve a decent standard of living), heroes young and old can develop their superpowers (access quality education) and all of us can lead healthy and productive lives that strengthen the common good --just like the heroes of old.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Erich Origen and Gan Golan.