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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 08/05/2002
Volume 2, Number 43

In one of my earlier columns, I wrote about DC's teenage strip, Buzzy and how I enjoyed doing it far beyond the many superhero strips (what Whit Ellsworth called "the big stuff") DC produced, especially, of course, Batman and Superman. And even though I've written a rather big novel examining the complexities of my relationship with Batman and Superman, there was a unique connection between Buzzy and my prepubescent years in the Cincinnati suburb of Avondale. I even pointed to Avondale as establishing the quintessential reality of Norman Rockwell's art which so many critics have claimed was unreal and sentimental.

I still think today that if I had been allowed to continue with Buzzy instead of having it turned over to some second raters whom I won't name, that strip would today have become one of DCs shining lights. So much for lost opportunities and misguided editorial management. But Buzzy, as it emerged from my typewriter back in the forties, would not have been possible without the amazing art work of Stan Kaye.

I don't know how many of you remember Stan. He was quiet and self effacing and even though I admired his work, I never got to know him well enough to talk to him about it. The way it went in those days, a writer handed in his script to the editor, and then the editor handed it over to the artist. So direct communication between artist and writer was impossible. My communication with Stan was entirely through the script itself. But when Stan took over, then the magic really happened.

In order to demonstrate the sheer legerdemain and beauty of Stan Kaye's line, I'm looking at the one copy I still have of the many Buzzys I did. It's Buzzy No.9 for Sept-Oct. But I don't have the date page. So I can only guess at the year which would have to have been pre-1948. I know that because between 1948 and 1950. I was at the University of Chicago where Jack Schiff had given me the responsibility for the Superman Daily, and during those two years, the Daily was the only thing I did for DC.

Let me add that between Stan and myself, even though we didn't work together, there seemed to be a special affinity. His remarkable dancing lines, the eloquence of his circles and parabolas and compositions that so uniquely and magically enacted motion and adolescent exuberance, enriched my typescripts by an immeasurable magnitude.

Stan's work on my Buzzy's demonstrated so clearly how drawing itself is not simple subjective reproduction but mood and intensity in the same way that there's a difference in the way a musician handles the bow of a violin-the same music, same pitch, but each sound is different, some livelier, imbued with something of the artist's own voice and psycho-magnetic signature. It's because the same note played upbow is completely different than when played downbow. The texture is changed, the meaning is altered. Similarly, drawing is not merely the reproduction of various art-school rules-eyes in center of head in straight-on appearance, with changes determined strictly by perspective. Tip of nose halfway down-mouth one quarter further down, etc. So that, in the end, esp[ecially in Superhero art, most of it gets to be a series of templates of various positions, turned hither and thither for variation, but never seen in connection with the composition of the single panel itself, although some effort was often made to compose the entire page.

It's interesting how, despite the lapse of time, about fifty-five years, I can recognize my own work in Stan's hand despite the absence of attribution in those days. Those lines of his rolled, danced, gyrated and even had a rhythm that carried the eye and the story forward. There was also something wonderfully surreal in the combination of Stan and myself, so that, for example, in one particular story about a small opera company coming to Cupcake Center-thanks to Mr Gruff's boostering efforts for himself as well as the town, the opera company's elephant got sick. They couldn't go on. They were doing, Aida, you see. And you can't do Aida without elephants.

So do another opera, Gruff proposes. Impossible says the opera company's impresario. We are a specialized company. We do only Aida.

And then, to the rescue, Buzzy and his pals remember their pal the zookeeper in a nearby town. The zoo has an elephant. Their buddy the zookeeper will surely lend his elephant to the opera company. Then, the zookeeper buddy is seen warning about the temperament of the elephant. If she gets out of hand, just soothe her with some great jive. No gas to get to the Scrub Pond Zoo and back? Simple. We'll have the elephant tow us back. And so, back to Cupcake Center with the temperamental pachyderm. The opera goes on and here comes the elephant as the orchestra plays the Triumphal March, when suddenly the big beast goes berserk. Panic in the audience until Buzzy has his gang rise from the audience and start playing Jungle Jive. The elephant calms down, starts dancing. The crowd loves it.

Typical Buzzy stuff, right? But it works because Stan's lovely line bounces and slides across every scene, providing a visual rhythm and a comic elegance that I've never seen matched by anybody else.

So today, I celebrate Stan Kaye who's now been gone from us for a long time.

--Alvin

<< 07/29/2002 | 08/05/2002 | 08/12/2002 >>

Discuss this column with me at my Round Table.

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