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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 06/04/2001
Volume 2, Number 7

Thoughts For Writers

Two weeks ago, I talked about escaping from comics by getting back to it in a new way. That is, I used the knowledge of story and plotting developed in comics in a different field. I applied it to an advertising and marketing model once I understood that any product on the market existed more as a story than a material reality in the consumer's mind. Along with that, I discovered that it paid far beyond anything I could ever have made in comics and even for that matter in any of the ancillary areas that most comics writers aim for, such as tv and film. Unless you are one of the few who can initiate and control a whole TV series, work prospects are just as uncertain as in comics even though the pay per individual script is higher. It's the same rat race.

It's hard als to find yourself a niche in advertising but if you can get a toehold, it will surely pay off. On the other hand, many writers will find it frustrating and unfulfilling over the long term. After a while, you just might get to feel like a con man and need to walk away from it.

I want to stop here to point out that I'm speaking particularly of comics writers, and not artists, or writer-artists who, in the long run are more likely to find comics a reaso nably lucrative form of activity. Even at the worst of times, competent artists in the field can usually find work, and if they can write besides, they're in good shape.

Does this mean that comics is really a field writers should stay away from?

On the contrary. Comics is one of the best training grounds for developing story skills of various kinds, especially if your aim in writing is to make a living at it. This, by the way, is never entirely clear-cut. You usually start writing because you like it. And usually too you start young. If you stay with it for a time, it tends to destroy your ability to function in a regular job or a normal business environment. Let me note here that when I was in advertising and found I was really good at it, I still couldn't endure the nine to five discipline of the office and usually managed to find a way to take my staff home with me and work from there. That was before the computer, and today that kind of escape is far easier.

So, if you're a writer, the freedom is great, if you've got the capacity to discipline yourself without outside help. Accomplishing that is one of the most important skills you'll ever acquire. And after that, comics does offer an opportunity to develop visualization and story skills. But it is not in general a medium that will support a writer very satisfactorily. Since it's an up-and-down industry and has been that way from its origins in the late thirties, any writer who is not also an artist, should try to develop contacts and skills in all the other forms of commercial writing. Consider film, television, print media, and advertising, all the places where the same basic skills are required. None of them are secure in themselves, although there are always a few who do well, and not necessarily because they are the best. Another interesting outlet is teaching. If you've developed any kind of reputation in any field of writing, there are always places where, for a time, anyway, you can teach creative writing in one form or another. This has been the great standby of so many of the writers I've known. In my own case, I found that occasional university lecturing was not only a great place to fill the gaps in a small writing income, it also became the means for my obtaining one or another major writing grants. It would seem as though, for all the wrong reasons, the universities still have the clout to support writing grants, although in my experience, they're usually the least likely to have any idea of what writing is all about.

Sometimes interpersonal skills provide lesser talents with better writing gigs than those who are more gifted. None of it's fair. And, keep in mind, that for the most part, the average income of full time writers in the US rarely exceeds $7000 a year, according to such sources as The Authors Guild. Of course, faced with that statistic, if you're a genuine writer who started young, you just have to stay with it and hope that somewhere, somehow, you'll grab the brass rung. Or the times when you're really up and doing well will make up for the times you're down and find work hard to get. I think there's no profession that calls for an individual to live by her wits than being a writer. And because things will always get tough from time to time, the very introspective personality that made you a writer will also carry you into other deeps of introspection. Not because you're special but because uncertainty and anxiety tend to push you into a search for deeper meaning. If you don't end up a monk, you'll be a better writer for it. (Slightly tongue in cheek for that one).

And that brings me back to the story of my long and highly introspective adventure with Roy. I got drawn into it because I needed to find a way out of the Weisinger trap and I got caught up in it over years as I struggled to grasp this unexpected expansion of reality, never being quite sure what it was, where it was coming from or what mysterious Himalayas of reality it would carry me across. Although it seems to be directly contrary to science and certainly to orthodox religion, it turns out to have given me a handle on what the best of our scientists are driving toward, and taught me how to distinguish between the mere technicians with their eyes and ambitions on their grants and some of the great new scientific ideas involving systems and complexity and chaos theory, yes, and even the presence of multiple universes. Not to mention a new slant on religion. Strangely ernough, these are areas where both comics and science fiction have ventured, but with uncertain steps and too little understanding. You'll know what I mean when I continue with the Roy adventure next week.

In the meantime, in case you want to see how many different lifestyles a writer can live, even Superman had only two, then get on Amazon, in the column at the left, or Barnes and Noble and find out how, while I was writing the Superman daily, I was also writing the Greenwich Village novel THE BLOWTOP that's now got a lot of people thinking that I was "the father of the Beats". It was first published in 1948. Made an especially big splash in Europe in the French edition and now, in a revised new edition, it's beginning to make big inroads in the university bookshop market. Go have a look.

Special note: If any of you know about or happen to own a copy of an old Superman story that appeared in Action Comics sometime in the 1940s, I know neither the exact date or the issue number. It was called THE CHEF OF BOHEMIA, and I wrote about it in detail right here in Column 24 October 25, 1999. Look it up on this site. I'm trying to locate a copy or, at least, a photocopy. The story has an important connection with THE BLOWTOP. Use the Round Table to contact me. And for any other comments you might want to make about today's column.

Alvin

<< 05/28/2001 | 06/04/2001 | 06/11/2001 >>

Discuss this column with me at my Round Table.

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