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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 04/23/2001
Volume 2, Number 1

The year was 1948, and I had been doing comics since 1939, nine years, of which six, beginning in 1942, had been with DC. The routine of writing comics, going into the office and discussing ideas for more comics and continuing on that way ad infinitum seemed somehow like the wrong way to continue on with my life, and even the wrong way to keep scripting comics if I was to maintain a certain freshness in my work, which was what ultimately made doing it a lot more than just a way of earning a living. My first novel The Blowtop, had just been published, my wife had had her first one-man show at Peggy Guggenheim's Art of This Century and we'd acquired our first child-- all in the first two months of that year.

So I went to my editor, Jack Schiff and suggested to him that I was getting stale all around and maybe I should take a leave of absence from DC, Schiff was understanding and helpful. Take off, he told me, but don't leave me in the lurch with the Superman daily. Drop everything else, go wherever you like, but keep doing the daily. It'll give you an income and a rest at the same time.

Actually, I liked doing the daily, especially since I could write more mature stories for it, and I seemed to have a special knack for doing it. So in March 1948, off I went with my family to the University of Chicago, taking my wife and child, my dog Angus, and Superman, who was soon to become a special figure on campus. A lot of that was because of my dog, Angus.

We had a small house right on the edge of the campus. The house had one other important tenant., The Red Door Book Store, a real center of discussion and ideas for some of the best minds of the university. The fact that I'd recently published a literary novel gave me some standing among them, but, at the start. that was mitigated somewhat by the fact that I wrote Superman. The Man of Steel may have had millions of fans in the world of pop culture, but the "great minds" at Chicago U looked down on comics. At least, it started out that way. These best and brightest of the land, attending a university which in those days was so higbrow it wouldn't even condescend to have a football team or give even the least nod to mere sports of any kind, were mostly outstanding in sociology and in the physical sciences. This was a place where comics was really at the low end of the totem pole.

And then, gradually, things began to change. Because The Blowtop which had a certain celebrity around various campuses, particularly Columbia where at that very time Allen Ginsburg and Jack Kerouac were just beginning their discussions that were to develop some time later into what was known as "the beat movement"-- The Blowtop, by reflection, also created some interest at Chicago. And my home slowly became part of the moving seminar that rose upstairs from The Red Door Book Shop. So, gradually, it began to be noticed that my dog, Angus, always very much underfoot during these informal seminars, earned some extra attention when it was noted that Angus was also playing a large role in the current Superman daily. It got so that a lot of professors, perhaps out of idle curiosity, also began checking on Superman's and Angus's antics daily as they appeared in the Chicago Sun-Times.

But that was only a beginning. Little by little, as I acquired friendships among the faculty and became privy to little personal traits and bits of behavior, somehow, these also began to show up in the Superman daily. It is no exaggeration to say that six months later, the Superman newspaper strip became the most widely read comic on the U of Chicago campus. At DC, no one had any idea that this was happening. The lawyers probably would have had fainting fits, for one thing. But for two long years, Superman and Angus and I very effectively changed the attitude toward comics on this very uppity and strait-laced campus.

Now, this isn't meant to be about how Superman became popular at Chicago U. Nor is it meant to show how easily it was possible to work away from the office. After all, John Broome who was a close friend of editor Julie Schwartz--John having been best man at Julie's wedding-- was also working far away from the office-- with Julie. John worked from as far away as France and turned in some of his best work.

But there were changes taking place in that section of the office where Jack Schiff was in charge of Superman. Batman and a host of other comics. Mort Weisinger was slowly pushing Jack out and taking over. Now the thing about Mort was that he didn't like writers. He couldn't stand writers who made more money than he did. And he couldn't stomach writers who worked away from the office while he had to come in every day. So in spite of my happy relationship with the Univerity of Chicago, Mort ORDERED me to come home and work out of New York. I had little choice. So back I came, not only regretfully, but bringing with me strong feelings of outrage and frustration. And those feelings, primarily, were the things that set me off into the adventure that was to bring me not only a whole new view of life but a vision of reality that I had always regarded as downright silly. Until the door opened wide and I had a chance to look into a world entirely different than I had dared to imagine it. I'll start on the details of that adventure next week.

Oh yes-- almost forgot to mention it but that old 1948 novel, The Blowtop is being reissued on May first. Watch for it on Amazon or wherever great books are sold. It's also got a new intro. Explains why critics now believe The Blowtop sparked the beat movement of the fifties.

Alvin

<< 10/08/2000 | 04/23/2001 | 04/30/2001 >>

Discuss this column with me at my Round Table.

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