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After the Golden Age by Alvin Schwartz
Giving a glimpse into the formative years of comics and beyond.

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AFTER THE GOLDEN AGE for 07/05/2006
Vol. 2, #187
Mr. Schwartz, receive all my gratitude for your fast and sincere respond,

here are the questions for the requested interview:

1.- You have the opportunity of see and live the birth of the superhero scene, how was the transcendence of the superhero in that moment? There was nothing like that in the moment, was something new; how was the respond of the public and the critics to that?

2.- How do you feel the opportunity to write superhero comics in that moment: like a simple adventure, like the opportunity to make something new in the dramatic sense or like maybe create something that would evolve like something important for the future world?

3.- What do you tried to say with your stories, specially with Superman? Superman give you the chance to say what?

4.- Which is the Superman stories that you remember the most and why?

5.- In AN UNLIKELY PROPHET, you say that Superman is a Tulpa. In the last years, important comic writers like Alan Moore (in Promethea) and Grant Morrison (in The Invisibles) have constructed stories involved with this concept of the ideas alive. How do you see the importance of this concept in this moment and what can you tell me about your tulpa experience with Superman?

6.- How do you see the evolution of Superman in recent years within the real world?

7.-What can you tell me about the messianic charge and religious symbolism in Superman? And how do you see the assumed messianic message in the Superman Returns movie?

8.- How do you come with the Bizarro concept?

9.- What can you tell me about your AN UNLIKELY PROPHET book, and it's sequel, the one about Batman?

Well, these are all the questions, Mr. Schwartz. Please fell free to answer in the extension and form do you like most; and would be great if you send them tomorrow, or the Thursday morning. Please forgive the urgency of this, but the newspaper in which it will be published it's out in the weekend.

Many thanks again, and I will wait for your answers.

Mauricio Matamoros
Senior Matamoros:

I'm sorry that I cannot answer all your questions before the deadline of your newspaper. What you ask requires, in fact, my writing another book to explain it all. In lieu of that, I suggest that you will find many of your answers right on this site, where you are now my guest on my column of many years -- where many of the questions you ask are already answered and dealt with. Because you are really asking me to provide a cosmogony, a whole system of belief and a new vision of reality. To some extent, I have already done that. To an even greater extent, there are now vast changes going on in the scientific paradigm which question the way orthodox science approaches reality. Too many good scientists have begun to ask why we must try to explain everything in terms of causes -- until we reach all the way back to the smallest original cause of everything. Like Descartes and his reductionism that lies at the heart of all Newtonian science -- and even Einstein. I myself live in a very different world. I have studied quantum physics and astrophysics and cannot find any reason to believe that everything we are and hope and dream and love and suffer can be traced back through the background radiation to something called "the big bang." We live, we suffer, we hate, we love, we fear, we explore, we wonder -- and the big bang isn't behind any of it. In fact, there isn't even the vaguest connection between why I should love my wife of fifty years and "the big bang."

Not any more or better than taking the various sacred books of the religions now so at war with each other and finding in them the answers you seek. Because now along comes Superman who started out as a very different idea when first conceived by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster. There were similar superheroes at the time -- like TARZAN, and Sherlock Holmes, and Achilles and Odysseus and Aeneas -- in fact each historical period had its great heroes. Throw in the great religious figures like Jesus and Moses and Mohammed and Noah and -- and... innumerable others in cultures less known to us than our own -- Superman is not so extraordinary. We were at war when Superman came along, and he was fighting for "peace, justice and the American way" -- a purely local hero if you like who became so vast overnight because fifty percent of circulation went to the armed forces and created a huge captive following. The same thing happened with Batman. But Superman was a bigger concept -- and his story, as an alien himself, was adapting to earth. In those early days, I found that Superman was one of the few comics I was unable to read because I was not a drafted soldier looking for a powerful, if imaginary savior from the Nazis, or a victimized Jew, hoping for another Golem. Desperate men in large numbers, living in trenches, will pin their hopes on anything that passes for support -- even imaginary support. I was a severe asthmatic and so not draft material -- but I could get a job writing comics since I was a well known literary writer -- and was easily able to turn my skills to writing Superman stuff -- EVEN THOUGH I NEVER LIKED THE ORIGINAL SUPERMAN. I found it boring -- unimaginative -- nothing but smash, bang your inferior enemy and throw him into jail -- without benefit of a fair hearing as well -- hardly the American way. But as I explained in AN UNLIKELY PROPHET, I realized that Clark Kent was the really important story of Superman -- the attempt to adapt an alien being into an ordinary man -- to become ordinary -- to live in reality the double life that all of us in some way live -- as we struggle against our frailties and dream of the means -- the wealth -- the power -- to realize our highest dreams. And what's more -- to dream better and higher than we started out. To grow in understanding and compassion.

And so I was interested after all, and took to the Superman script with a zest that changed it, changed the nature of his powers, expanded them, saw his powers as things not to triumph with but to hold within bounds, to control -- like the Sorcerer's Apprentice.

In short, I managed with the support of DCs best editor of the time, Jack Schiff, to make Superman more of an idea of what we ourselves were when we were fiunctioning at our very highest level -- as I explain in AN UNLIKELY PROPHET. But actually, I introduced great changes into the character which I took over in 1942. There is not enough space here to detail all the changes, but after the war, Superman did not have the same significance as before. He needed to be thought of differently, to be more in line with the changing scientific paradigm -- to focus more on our humanity, our values, our purpose in passing through this world. I tried to insert meaning into his experiences, I tried to deal with values, I tried to deal with changing notions of reality -- that things were becoming possible -- such as remote sensing, communication with other forms, experiences that went beyond the mechanical body conjured up by the old medical sciences -- the discovery by people like Pribram, Francisco Varela and the Santa Fe (Chile) school of new notions of self, the work of Rupert Sheldrake on morphic fields that linked us all in hitherto undreamed of ways, or, more recently, Lynne McTaggart along the same lines. I tried to equate certain Superman capacities with new concepts of self and values that far transcended the exploitable material world to one of which we were intimately bound -- in fact -- not just in one universe but in the now famous multi-universe explanation favored by so many serious scientists. Superman had to be part of all this if he were to maintain meaning and credibility. So I even took Jacques Derrida's deconstruction of the meanings that held the world together and applied them to Superman -- creating Bizarro as but another aspect of that kind of reality. Other DC writers like Alan Moore and Neil Gaiman did similar things with Batman and Sandman -- so I wasn't entirely alone. Although by the time these gifted creators came along, I was long since gone, having transferred my skills to other venues -- crossing the world through Canada's National Film Board, discovering life forms that did not fit the old biological patterns -- things like tulpas, for example -- other living expressions of reality with whom I had become open enough to establish direct contact. Much of these will be revealed in my sequel to AN UNLIKELY PROPHET -- A GATHERING OF SELVES. In short, a complete transfiguration of powers and meanings have become for me, part and parcel of the Superman myth -- without which, I am convinced it will fade into a kind of sentimental product of a wartime reality and a science rapidly shifting into another more marvelous direction -- marvelous with new kinds of events, new human powers, new human unity, and above all, despite the cacophony of today's dying gasps of the old ways -- a new compassion and a new unity of all living things. We are our own dreams. We are the best of them, and they come, as they always do, in the winter of the old ways. I hope to be around participating in these great shifts of perspective and value for some time yet. In the meantime, my Mexican friend, I hope you will find this response, and many of the columns that go with this sight a way to answer your many questions and shed new light on old forms and ideas.

- Alvin Schwartz

<< 06/19/2006 | 07/05/2006 | 07/17/2006 >>

Discuss this column with me at my Round Table.

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