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AFTER THE GOLDEN AGE for 09/06/1999
The whole emerging story of the copyright hassle over Superman makes fascinating reading. It's too bad Jerry Siegel couldn't stay around long enough to enjoy it personally. In a lesser way, I'm still around, at least, to rejoice for Jerry's family, and, more pointedly to rejoice for myself. Because I'm getting some payback too, at long last. It probably wouldn't have happened if the Donnenfeld family hadn't sold DC to Time Warner. But from 1955 on to 1958, even though I had written so much for DC, including both the major portion of the Batman newspaper strips while they were still around, and for some years, thanks to Jack Schiff, I was the only writer on the Superman newspaper strip, especially between 1947 and 1951. But because Mort Weisinger was taking over from Jack Schiff, it became more and more difficult to write anything for DC. You either had to knuckle under to Weisinger or manipulate him in some way, or be a special crony of his, all of which required effort, or you couldn't make a living at DC. Whit had gone off to Hollywood and had tied me to Superman and Batman because, as he said, "Anyone can write the other stuff. We need you on our main characters." So I was taken off scripts like Buzzy and Date With Judy and Vigilante and Tomahawk and forced to do Superman and Batman, except that with Mort now running the show, I was faced with endless rewrites that cut into my income so severely that the time soon had to come when I would jump ship.
In a way, Mort did me a favor because I got into an area of writing that was far more lucrative-in advertising, market research and-most lucrative of all-direct mail. In the end, I was appointed to the American Association of Ad Agencies' advisory committee on direct mail. At the time, I was Group Research Manager at D'Arcy Advertising, then the world's 10th largest ad agency. Outside the building, at 630 Park Avenue one day, I ran into Murray Boltinoff. It was now about 1966, about eight years after my departure from DC. We had quite a talk, but essentially Murray told me that no one could really make a living in comics just then. Of course, things were to get a lot better later on. But that meeting was to be my last contact with comics until another 24 years had passed. By then, I was living in Florida and just finishing a long novel on which I'd worked for nearly 10 years. I had no idea during that time what was happening in comics. I had lost all connection with the field.
In late 1990, as a member of a local writer's group that met in Melbourne, Florida, I attended a conference at the Gannett Press building. All of the writers were asked to tell about work they had done in the past. In response, I indicated, somewhat diffidently, that among other things, I had once written Superman and Batman comics. This was when one of the Gannett Press reporters said: "I want to see you after this meeting." This led to a long interview followed by a major article in the local Gannett daily press, Florida Today. Two weeks later, I was contacted by a very active comics fan, Rich Morrissey who had apparently been working along with Joe Desris (editor of Kitchen Sink"s de luxe reprinting of all the Batman dailies) helping to identify the Golden Age writers who wrote the various Batman continuities that had appeared in the daily and Sunday strips between 1963 and 1966. This event marks the beginning of what I call my Rip Van Winkle period with respect to comics. I not only couldn't remember, at first, what strips I had written. Not after thirty-two years. But I had no idea of the changes that had occurred in the field, and certainly nothing of the fact that Time-Warner had acquired the whole DC line. And of course during the entire Golden Age and well into the Silver, there were no credits for artists and writers. At this time, too, I first learned about a phenomenon that had come into being some time after I left comics-the comics con, which I discovered took place in many venues across North America. But comics too had changed as I might have known they would have in a very changed world from the time I worked in the field. It was Rich Morrissey who introduced me to Alan Moore's Watchman which I recognized as an important qualitative leap past the standard sort of super-hero comics that the industry was built on. This was a genuine literary work that first got me thinking: It's time we stopped calling this stuff "comics." I also discovered some interesting work being done at Dark Horse, and gradually I became aware of how much the universe of comics had become a broader universe of sequenced stories, that is continuing story boards-or preferably CSBs. I don't know if I can persuade the industry to begin adopt ing CSBs for comics, but right now, I've another story to tell.
We did, after careful exegetical analysis by Martin O'Hearn and Rich Morrissey, as well as a steady jogging of my rusty memory, manage to settle which stories were written by whom in the Batman dailies and Sundays and the books came out finally in beautiful deluxe editions. But for me, the best part of it was the unexpected emoluments that came from Time-Warner who, far from telling me I'd signed away all my rights in work-for-hire arrangements, actually paid me more for my reprinted dailies than I'd received for them originally. I even got paid for reprints of any of my old stories, and there were enough of them to add up, all told, to five figures a few times over. A nice surprise when I wasn't expecting any. And so, it's supremely satisfying to see real money finally going to Jerry Siegel's family, as though some kind of elementary justice has turned up at long last, even though belated, to right the wrongs inflicted by the original owners of DC.
So I gradually emerged from my Rip Van Winkle awakening and rediscovered comics,-er-CSBs, along with a growing number of interesting people and fresh ideas in the field.
It may have taken just this awakening to lead to a reacquaintance for me with my old pal, Superman. Not exactly literally, but in a way that revealed how the work I did writing Superman so many years ago had left not only an indelible impression, but allowed me to finally discover and pass on the deeper meaning of the character that originally powered the development of the CSB industry as we know it today.
So I had to write about it and share it. That's why I turned from the novel for a while and produced my memoir An Unlikely Prophet. In that work is the recognition of a kind of turning point in American culture in which a new mass market and a new image, Superman, burst on the scene and came to stand for many things. And as I stated in lectures I gave at the University of Connecticut some years ago, it wasn't Jerry Siegel, or myself, or Don Cameron or any of us who worked on the early Superman that brought this all about. Superman created himself, using us as catalysts, to reacquaint our modern world with a very old idea-an idea found in the work of the Sufi poets, in the Old and New Testaments, and in dozens of ancient religions reaching back into the dawn of history-the idea of the eternal now.
In our time centered world, with the arrow of history pointed only one way, it's worth stopping a moment and contemplating not simply how the past influences the future, but how the future influences the past. Why just leave it to the physicists who are currently discovering this? Why not discover it in the often overlooked meaning of Superman's ability to exceed the speed of light and thereby introduce us to the EFFECT before the CAUSE has even happened?
Does this sound like complex gobbledy-gook to you? It really isn't. Try AN UNLIKELY PROPHET and you'll find it all gradually becoming clear, as it did for me when I set out to write it. Because I didn't start out with the whole thing clear in my head. As I wrote the story, it gradually revealed itself to me. Apparently, that's what's been happening to a lot of my readers. And maybe, the effect is now beginning to catch up with the cause for the Siegel family too. What do you think?
<< 08/30/1999 | 09/06/1999 | 09/13/1999 >>
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