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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 09/18/2000
Column 68

I asked what readers of this site are reading besides this site and comics. It was a dangerous question and the answers were dangerous. One came to me personally, instead of the message board, an elegant diatribe by my old acquaintance Alfie Costa who writes with a diffidence that tells me he himself is of many minds about the whole question.

No matter, I enjoyed his letter and would like to see it on the message board but won't post it there unless Alfie does himself. It's kind of a small masterpiece from an interesting mind. I think it would be appreciated, but feel I must leave Alfie, the diffident, to broaden his appreciation by making his comments public. This I cannot do.

Now, let me add, there were only two other responses to my question. I can't draw any conclusions from such really scant details of forays into other realms of literary interest . Is it possible my readers don't really read anything else? Nonsense. If they read me, they have to read a lot of other stuff, or they wouldn't put up with me. Yet counting Alfie, there were only three.

Lousy cooperation I call it. How can I come up with ideas to save the comics if you don't give me the material I ask for?

There is a way. A last resort way, if you like.

It just so happens that I'm a master of the art of elaborating great architectures from a few measly bricks. So I'm going to attempt to draw some significant conclusions anyway.

I find, from my responses, and others garnered along the way, that comics readers, even let's say the more fastidious ones, do indeed do other reading- ferreting around in places like history and, no surprise at all- science fiction. And then the big surprise, they do indeed read science fiction but they don't read science. What is one to make of this?

Comics is loaded with pseudo science and seems to be in its death throes. In the meantime, the body of serious scientific writing for the non-specialist has been expanding enormously. Scientists, some of the best, often misunderstood by their own colleagues, are turning to the literate public for the audience they don't find among their co-workers. You see, science is fragmenting into so many areas, along with the fragmentation of the old Cartesian analysis, in which wholes become unanalysable because their parts don't explain them, and consequently, there has been a powerful efflorescence, a reawakening of science as an aspect of consciousness. There are truly magical things coming out of evolutionary biology and the gradual coalescing of cognitive science with ancient Buddhist "realism" that had its humble beginnings back in the days of Robert Oppenheimer- almost, you might say, from around the time Superman was born.

I note too that besides comics folks not reading science, the important novelists of our day are totally missing from the discourse and the commentary of comics writers. Note that I say writers and not artists, since I tried an experiment recently . I read some old scripts before they'd had any art work added and had no difficulty at all figuring out what the story was, or even being entertained by the story. Then I took some comics, removed the dialogue boxes and tried to make sense of the stories. I couldn't. Well, I didn't expect to. But I needed to make the point once again that comics is about writers. The artists add an enriching graphic overlayer. Best of all, of course, are those writers who can also do their own art work. Starting with Will Eisner, Shelley Mayer, and reaching all the way across a couple of generations to John Byrne and others like him, we're dealing primarily with writers.

Political cartoonists are a different breed. They speak in the language of illustration. They are, for the most part, artists.

So what is all this getting at? Well, I'm struck by the fact that most of these comics writers don't read hard science, but do read science fiction. They also don't seem to read quality fiction- I don't find names like John Updike, Phillip Roth, Richard Powers, Martin Amis, deLillo, Faulkner, Attwood, Sontag, Lessing, Proust, Umberto Ecco, Bernanos, Beckett, GB Shaw-I can stretch out this list, but I won't. They read the pulps. Fine- we owe much to the pulps. The pulps even spawned the comics. But why are we all locked into this narrow range when comics is in such desperate need of new elements to revive it. Don't put it all on the publishers. Besides, the pulps are dead, except for a few that come out of comics. But we're not looking for comics-inspired pulps. We're looking for a literary infusion to revive comics.

The writers themselves have to open those doors, find new voices and new ways of inspiring their readers. Here and there, among underground comics creators, there are promising signs. I get word from the grapevine although I'm not doing any looking myself. Tony has referred to a few. So have some of his correspondents. And I'm so up to my ears in my own late novels, and a narrow time span, I simply won't take the time to go ferreting out the new minds and the new ideas in comics. I can only remind this audience that it's time a more concerted effort were made to drag some of this new stuff into the light of day. It's there.

So do two things. Start reading real science. Start reading good fiction. And you'll acquire the taste and the ability to ferret out the best in comics.

Or-for all I know, maybe you'll find the stuff I'm inviting you to try so satisfying in its own right, you won't really care any more about comics as such. You'll know it all by its flavor, whether comic or quality fiction.

I'll even offer still another suggestion. Visit http://go.to/e-pub2000 and download a copy of The Shattering Presence, or, if you prefer, The Straight Tree. You might even want to try them both. And after that, there'll be more coming. Just to get you started, see?

And maybe just doing that will help bring about the changes that the comics medium needs. :)

Alvin

<< 09/11/2000 | 09/18/2000 | 09/25/2000 >>

Discuss this column with me at my Round Table.

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