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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 04/12/2004
Volume 2, #120

I'm a little late getting to the experiences I promised in visiting parallel worlds with my new Ford Focus. This world has turned out so much sloggier than anyone ever expected, least of all the Bushies. Their Iraq stunt has led us into the worst amBUSH this country has ever experienced, so that it's hard to focus on other events. But today, I finally managed to cut loose and take my new Focus into an important parallel world. Actually, this is a story that's turned into a whole book.. But I'll just give you a foretaste of it here because it's a big story and needs to be gotten out and there's no point in waiting for the book to come out just to sketch the basics.

And what are those basics? People think of me as an old comics writer, and I am. That is, I'm old, and old enough to have covered a lot more bases than just comics, or even novel writing. Or film writing as a filmic investigative reporter. I suppose that much of the work I did in more recent years for the National Film Board of Canada could be called investigative. I'll go into more detail on that at another time if only to show that a mind subjected to the daily and constant discipline of writing superhero comics especially develops what I might call a certain genomic tilt in its thinking that somehow learns to make use of hostile mutations and create shifts in the environment itself. What I'm saying is that what we call evolution isn't simply the result of mutations that produce favorable advances, but often enough owes much to unfavorable ones that force a new direction of growth so that complex things like the eye can emerge out of elements that were never intended to be part of it. It's like falling into a mud puddle and coming up with a diamond, to put it simply, and if it weren't the case, we wouldn't even be able to talk about evolution. It couldn't happen except through the self evolvement of disparate and unrelated factors. But that's another and very complex discussion. All I want to say here is that the mindset I acquired after all those years of focusing on Superman and Batman and working with a superb editor like Jack Schiff, every day, for years, added a corner to my head that wasn't really any good for comics but made me probably the greatest think-tank operator in the world. Would you believe that right after I finished doing comics, I actually ran successively two of the greatest think tanks in the nation, the Center for Research in Marketing, started by Dr Ernest Dichter to solve all kinds of complex corporate problems. And I was the research director. Then I became the research director for Dun & Bradstreet's Marketing division which was the Reuben H Donnelley Corporation whose ostensible job was to manage couponing and sampling for almost every consumer outfit in the nation, which involved me up to my ears with the marketing departments of Ford, General Motors, General Foods, General Practically Everything.... I really had a hand in setting the direction of marketing across a broad swathe of American industry, even to the extent of changing the inventory carried by most of the nation's supermarkets. I was involved in the small car development. I was doing analyses of Quebec politics long before I ever moved to Quebec, and Variety even wrote a big story about how I advised the entertainment industry. No, it didn't all come from comics. It came from the mindset that followed exposure to certain great Superheroes and the superb editorial skills of Jack Schiff. Like a unique and rare kind of yoga. How about that?

I got started at a place called The Center for Research in Marketing, which was actually a spinoff from Dichter. And because I was new, I really ran wild. I started by shaking up the Betty Crockers and the Pillsburys and the Duncan Hines people, turning them into tools for examining the mind of the grocery store shopper. What I tried was so different and so comics-stimulated that I shook everybody up in the course of producing what our clients called the greatest piece of applied research they ever saw. I forgot the name of the agency that said it, but they were Chicago's biggest. But I also drove everybody else crazy as I turned market research on its head. And, as a result, took my leave after eight months. This was followed by the Dichter and Donnelley whirligigs where it often seem to my comics crazed mind that I was actually telling US business how to operate. Later on, when I moved to Canada, the Department of Trade and Commerce got me together with reps from Ford, Chrysler and GM to help them change the negative image of the North American car whose market Japan was so rapidly taking over. And what happened? They asked me how much I wanted.

The question startled me. Money? I hadn't even thought of it. I was having fun. The sum I asked was so small in their eyes that they decided I wasn't the real article. They walked out on me. And I really had a great solutiion for them too.

So now lets get back to my original reason for doing this column which came to me as soon as I heard how the association or trade group of rock stars, whatever they called themselves, voted the Beatles as absolutely the best group that ever was. The Beatles typified and represented the sixties. And the sixties was a cultural watershed in more ways than one. Also not the best years for comics either, for reasons I'll go into some other time. But with that pointyhead I developed through comics, I began to recognize something else happening in the sixties and which I, personally, saw as involving the Beatles. I turned it round and round. I looked under and over it. I subjected it to discriminant analysis.

And I discovered that there was a weird connection with all the riots that were happening in the sixties, remember Watts, and the 68 democratic convention? Well, there were dozens of others and they were far from mostly political as most people believed. The cause was something I used an acronym to explain. It's actually the title of my new book. SHIM! Student and Hippy Index of Mobility. Now hold on! The reason for the riots of the sixties was because in certain centers of population, there would occur a sudden slowdown in the constant mobility and restless movement of the hippies and students. Remember how in those days they were always on the road, always chasing the Kerouac dream of endless mobility? All fine. But when they stopped, and began to cluster in a major center, or even a small center, for whatever reason, their restless vibes seem to spread and produce strange effects around them, mostly in the form of riots. Now in the book, I've worked out the science and the math and a few strange new theories of force. I've explained it. When these occult adolescent forces stopped, trouble was sure to follow. I saw it happen.

Like the great Jakob Burckhardt, the father of modern historical method, I did not take the facts at face value. I stained them the way Robert Koch stained the TB bacillus to find it. I created in a sense, an alternate world. That was the point of the Focus, how appropriately named it was Ford never dreamed, allowing me to focus on a period from a different viewpoint, creating in effect, an alternate world. Then I could see what was happening. And then I discovered that student and hippy mobility had dropped drastically in the city of Chicago. What to do? Why, get them moving again. The mob had lowered the price of pot, so they weren't moving. I decided that only a greater attraction would pull them out of Chicago before it was too late and the city might be burned to the ground.

Get the Beatles to perform a rock concert somewhere out west. That would draw them out of Chicago. But the Beatles had retired, gone east, seeking gurus. So off I go in the Focus and meet the Mahareeshi, the Beatles' new idol, the idols idol, you might say. When I found him, he was singing about Yellow Submarines, until I got him interested in, money. By the way, John Lennon was there too. In this world, he doesn't get killed.

No point in telling you the whole story. It's too long. And hopefully, you'll soon be able to get the book. Think a year or two. But, I wanted to introduce my Ford Focus and the various kinds of discoveries it led me to by finding routes to the solution of important problems by showing me their roots in alternate worlds.

So stay tuned. If George Bush doesn't keep getting in the way, we'll go on some interesting trips.

--Alvin

<< 04/05/2004 | 04/12/2004 | 04/19/2004 >>

Discuss this column with me at my Round Table.


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