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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 09/11/2006
Maybe This is Something You Really Ought to Read

You awaken in the morning and slowly assume the ideas, the persona, the carefully defined reality built up over all your waking years -- the self you recognize as yourself. And so, for still another day, you're locked in. You see what you expect to see, you recognize the same reality you've always known and will set forth into your day seeing only what you've learned to believe is real and ignoring or denying anything that happens that doesn't fit that carefully built up schema. You'll live with your nose to the ground, your vision blinkered to a marked out path, your capacity to recognize the marvelous events that shadow you unseen on every single day pointing a way out of the most troublesome and apparently hopeless situations. It's the box we've all been taught to believe in.

The box is a big lie! I've managed to explain that in many ways in this column over the past few years. And in fact I used to write my books that way -- even the comic book stories -- all bounded by what was possible and acceptable within the medium -- even setting bounds to originality by not allowing it to reach too far. Except for a single breakout -- Bizarro! And so I remained up until 1997 -- years after my trip to Hawaii and the pronouncement from Harry, the kahuna who said quite emphatically: "You'll learn." Just what I was to learn is explained early on in PROPHET as Harry also gives a doubtful Alvin his personal version of how Superman reshaped time to save the Islands from disaster and provide a home for his people.

And so, decades later, on a day in early 1997, I learned. A seven foot oriental personality on a bicycle showed up at my door and through a few words and a convincing demeanor led me to take the steps that freed me from the carefully created box that for many years had constituted both myself and my reality. Part of that reality had to do with Superman whose adventures I had written for so many years such a long time ago. I didn't realize that working on that unique and unworldly character had left a residue that remained with me ever since. But in my normally boxed-in world, I had not surprisingly remained unaware of it.

Suddenly, I had to explain myself -- to myself and everyone else -- all over again. I finally sat down and wrote AN UNLIKELY PROPHET.

It wasn't my first book. In addition to a few serious works that continue to come back into print every so often, I had published a number of long poems, produced THE BLOWTOP, the first "beat" novel, often cited by critics as the direct inspiration for Ginsberg and Kerouac, written dozens of pseudonymous novels under an assortment of names -- earned some impressive reviews, been a successful ghost-writer and written major studies for some of the world's leading corporations, as well as treatises on policy for government -- in a word, was far from a novice when I began writing UNLIKELY PROPHET. Yet in doing PROPHET, none of my past experience played a role. It was as though I had allowed myself to stumble into a strange land in a strange universe where the rules were different and the meanings vastly richer.

And following the appearance of that tall Oriental, Mr Thongden, the Alvin Schwartz who wrote PROPHET was so far out of the box he had lived in for so long that PROPHET became a window onto a vaster and more significant reality than Alvin Schwartz had ever dared entertain before.

The writing flowed out of me as though some cosmic principle had begun operating. I seemed to work from a loftier and more energized perspective. It was as though I stood on the outside, looking into what I once thought of as myself with all its limitations and uncertainties. The resulting work, in turn, was widely proclaimed by those who stumbled across it as virtually "unput-downable." From people of all sorts, from reviewers, from sources I had never expected to reach, I received personal mail that attested to the unique renewing powers of my book. I was overwhelmed. But I also understood what had happened which, to put it simply, involved an expansion of reality on my part that allowed me to see further and more clearly than I ever had before. It was also the kind of vision that certain complex personalities, knowing ones, had often pointed out as one of the gifts of age which, for most of us elderly ones go unrealized because the walls of that box so rarely release us. I was one of the lucky ones.

Despite the fact that the first edition was issued by a small publisher with barely the means to promote and distribute it, I received quite a bit of mail from the rather small circle of reviewers and chance readers my tottering publisher managed to reach -- people who had to tell me how strongly this work affected them. But inevitably, the publisher folded and the book went out of print for a while. In the meantime, I was preoccupied with other works. And then suddenly, everything began coming together.

UNLIKELY PROPHET found exactly the right publisher for a work of its kind -- Destiny Books, an imprint of Inner Traditions. It was republished in June. In a few months, a sequel, A GATHERING OF SELVES will appear. And I will have passed my nintieth year in a state more involved with my yesterdays -- particularly the long stint of writing both the Superman and Batman newspaper strips -- along with numerous comic book titles -- even the book that brings both characters together -- WORLD'S FINEST. and at the same time, the mail has started again, often from the strangest of sources all over the world. And by now I understand why. This work, written in a manner so magically free of the box, provides a way out to almost anyone else who reads it. I've been reticent about doing any promoting of PROPHET in this space beyond bits of news and incidental information.

But the responses I've been receiving lately have pursuaded me otherwise. Read PROPHET then and see for yourself. But remember -- it will affect you. You might never be yourself again.

-- Alvin

<< 08/14/2006 | 09/11/2006 | 09/18/2006 >>

Discuss this column with me at my Round Table.

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