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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 02/28/2000
Column 42
February 28, 2000

I was about to visit the last of the three names on the list recommended by the owner of the comic book store. Horiatio. The other two had certainly been interesting. What would I come across this time, I wondered as I placed myself reluctantly at the tail end of a long line that stood before Horatio's oddly-shaped, squarish tent. That is, it was square in shape only generally, but still seemed to be made of two parts, although things got kind of fuzzy as I tried to examine the double aspect of the tent on which, above the open front flap, there was only the name HORATIO lettered on a small wooden sign.

As soon as I joined the line, I began to feel my usual restlessness. I hated queuing up. I always avoided it when I could. My move to the sparsely populated countryside south of Ottawa was a way to guarantee that around home, at least, I would probably rarely if ever have to stand in any kind of line. Even the Toronto Dominion bank seemed to be so devoid of customers, I sometimes had the feeling that this local branch had been set up almost entirely to serve and cater to my impatience. There was always a teller window open to me any time I went there. Which is why, almost immediately, when I got in line at Horatio's tent, that old feeling of impatience grabbed me.

Ten seconds, and I was beginning to consider abandoning the whole thing. After all, why did I have to visit three of these characters just because the comics store owner had urged them on me? Two were enough. Besides, I had other things to do. So, I was about to step out of line-three others had already queued up behind me- when something happened.

This is kind of hard to explain. There I was standing in line, and in the next instant, or actually, it seemed, at the same time, I was inside the tent. Does that make sense? It didn't to me-at least not right then. But there I was, standing on the tent's board floor under some bare light bulbs dangling from the tent's wooden rafter and looking toward the back left (or maybe it was the front left) where on a raised dais stood a tall thin black man with the beautiful fine features, acquiline nose, softly chiselled mouth that seemed to mark him or his immediate ancestors as from the Nile Valley. And while I was incidentally noticing this, I now noticed him or his twin also standing on the same raised dais at the right side of the tent. So there were two of them. Identical twins, was my first thought. And then, something shimmered. And there was only one. I turned my head left and right.

"Where did he go?" I said to the one on the left, while pointing to the now empty place on the right.

Horatio-it had to be Horatio-presented me with a wide baffling grin. "How did you get in here?"

"Why-I just walked-" I broke off. I hadn't walked in at all, I realized. I had been standing in line out there- and suddenly-I'm inside here-like an electron jumping from orbit to orbit. But I wasn't any electron. I directed a puzzled look toward Horatio and, once again, I saw his double at the other side of the long dais. "Hey-what's going on here? A very neat trick. A kind of double teleportation or something. They didn't tell me you were an illusionist."

Horatio raised his hands in mildly appalled protest. "My dear man, I'm no illusionist."

"Then how do you explain-"

"Decoherence," Horatio responded.

"Deco-what?" I asked.

"You're a man of some background in science," Horatio declared. "So surely you must have heard about decoherence."

"How did you know that?"

Horatio splayed out his hands. "Doesn't everybody?"

"I don't mean 'decoherence'" I said. "How did you know I'd know about such an obscure bit of quantum theory?"

Horatio laughed. He laughed for almost a full minute. "I'm psychic, man. That's how." After he caught his breath, he began again: "As you know, when a quantum particle is isolated from the influence of its surroundings. it slips into what's known as a quantum wave function-that is, all of its possible states like its position or its momentum are all scooped together in a condition known as quantum superposition. Now I know you've heard of that. And probably puzzled over it. You probably also know it drove Einstein nuts. But experiments have pretty well established the fact by showing. for example, that by dissolving the wave function, a particle can appear in two places at once. Like us," he added with a grin. "We've both been in two places at once on this fine day. You dig?"

"Come on-we're not particles. How do we get involved in this? That's quite a jump."

"Well- mostly because the scientists haven't quite got it right. You see, they can maybe diddle things around as they do with lasers and get a particle appearing in two places at once. But it's baby stuff. Tip of the iceberg. It's a psychic matter, you see. I've been practrising it all my life. So I'm not limited to particles. There's decoherence in everything, because it's all basically primal stuff. You dig now?"

"Just barely," I said. "Which doesn't mean I agree. So what are you telling me?"

"Didn't you have a question?"

"You need me to tell you what it is?"

"I don't do everything. Do I wash windows? No-I just do the big stuff. What's your question?"

"Well," I said sounding a little sheepish. "I'm supposed to be asking you about the future of comics."

"Never thought about that, really," Horatio said. And suddenly, he was double again, finishing his sentence from the right side of the dais. "But it's entirely a case of decoherence. All possible states are likely."

"I don't understand," I admitted. "How does that apply to this question?"

"Well, if you follow the logic of quantum mechanics, the whole universe can be described by a wave function, with all its possible pasts and futures glued together in superposition. Your problem is to make the comics future decohere into a particular future. Is that hard to follow, man?"

"Very hard."

"No-no-you're making it hard. It's simple. You choose. Everybody chooses his own universe. You want comics in it- you choose it. Now choosing ain't just a dance and a jig and clap your hands, you got it. You work at it. Like you already did. You spent your whole working life being in two places at once. How many newspapers described you as leading a double life, doing comics and writing all this highbrow writing you're into."

"They're not so divided anymore. I've been bringing them together."

"Sure- that's what all the really wise men in the world keep saying. The purpose in life is to bring the opposites together. You doing good, buddy. You don't need no more from me, except this reminder." And as he started laughing again, I suddenly found myself back outside the tent, waiting in line. Only the line had grown twice as long.

I walked away. I found Kay who was wandering around looking for me, and together we went back to the comics store. The old proprietor was eagerly waiting for me.

"Did you see them?" he asked.

"I did. All three. They were-unusual-just as you said."

"And what did you find out about the future of comics?"

"That's the hard part. It's up to us."

The other nodded: "Always been that way. You want something bad, you work at it."

"That's what I've been doing. But I'm doing it by adding a lot of other things to it. Things I used to think had nothing to do with comics. But that's for me to decide."

And after that, we left. This time we didn't take a wrong turn on the highway, so we wound up home. And I got to write this column to add my little special bit of push to the comics universe.

Alvin Schwartz

<< 02/21/2000 | 02/28/2000 | 03/06/2000 >>

Discuss this column with me at my Round Table.

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