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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 05/20/2002
Volume 2, Number 37

For several weeks now, I've been serializing the sequel to AN UNLIKELY PROPHET in this space. I've warned readers that this would be an especially difficult work involving my very complex relationship with Batman, how I felt about the strip and how that feeling persisted over the many years that I wrote it. To follow it clearly, I suggested that readers get themselves a copy of AN UNLIKELY PROPHET. The results were interesting. Not a soul bought PROPHET, available from Justin, our Webmaster, in paperback at considerably reduced prices. And nary a one of you asked me a single question about the serial which I called A GATHERING OF SELVES. Instead I got a couple of queries about my editor, Jack Schiff, and some follow-ups asking for more dirt on Mort Weisinger.

Thoreau once remarked that a man may have great skills at weaving baskets, but nobody is thereby obliged to buy his baskets. As an old marketing man myself, I soon began to understand that I'm addressing the wrong market, one that seems to be focused on tidbits and gossip about comics--who first thought of Red Kryptonite in a Superman story? Was Superman's costume really impermeable or did he have to change costumes when the old ones got worn out? Is Bizarro essentially a machine or a person? Good questions but without context.

And here I am, interested in comics as literature, which is the way I approached comics when I wrote them. So when I had to descend to Mort Weisinger's way of using comics, about whom, as that really superb comics writer of the forties, Don Cameron, said: "Mort is really a litmus paper for mediocrity"-- I knew it was time to leave comics if I was going to stay with literature, although, in the final analysis, comics is literature, can be literature and, in the longer term, will certainly be recognized as such, as it is today in Europe. But there seemed few literary types among the readers of EXPLORING THE GOLDEN AGE. . . so for those few who were interested in the literary aspects of comics, I am leaving this site for a new web page and a new column as part of a group more focused on literary work than comics as such. Since I've already talked at great length about what literature is and why it's important, anyone interested can search the archives of this site and find the material.

The new site is not focused on "pop" culture, even though "pop" is important. In fact, Justin has put together one of the best "pop" culture sites on the web. In fact, pop is and always has been at the heart of literature, although it isn't the same thing. Literature is the epiphenomenon, if you like. It builds on the foundations of pop. But it goes way out beyond that given set of functions and titillations. In my own case, instead of writing with plotted, established characters, I tentatively create characters and rely on some deeper inner rhythms as well as a more complex psychic connection with the rest of life to allow me to explore, follow, shape and be led by those creations. To borrow a term popular in the new physics today, my literary characters and ideas are like dissipative structures far from equilibrium. That means my ideas form a rather open system, energized by forces beyond and outside myself, and never in balance, but through the very absence of homeostasis, constantly swirling back and forth in an effort to achieve that balance and more often reaching a point where it bifurcates into an entirely different direction. That's where the word "creative" takes on significance. It's a fascinating ride and I never really know where it will take me.

PROPHET and A GATHERING OF SELVES were both written that way. There was no plot. No particular ending in mind. But it was a journey, sometimes along known passageways, but almost always branching off into terra incognita. So in a way, I'm pretty much through with comics. Or rather, while this method of working seemed all right during the forties and early fifties in comics, that's certainly not the case today. I think the slow demise of comics is due to this loss of the true creative element. Because I haven't slowed down. I've always looked to other pastures, since the US publishing industry seems to be drifting more into the mire of planned outcomes and situations mostly in equilibrium. I could put it more harshly than that but won't. However, in the UK, there's still a band of mid-sized publishers steadfastly attached to literature. I have a UK agent who is currently handling four of my new books and who thinks the way I do. We're delighted to have found each other.

So while I'm walking away from comics which, if you look at how the writers who created the business have fared overall, it really never was the best place for us anyway, except in the early days, when editors were brought up on story, and were not artists trying to pretend they knew something about story.

So this is farewell and not farewell. My new site has a URL, but everything is in process of construction. I'll be back from time to time to answer question on my Round Table, and to inform you of when the new site will be up and running. At which time, you're all invited to come have a look.

--Alvin

<< 03/04/2002 | 05/20/2002 | 06/24/2002 >>

Discuss this column with me at my Round Table.

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