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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 01/10/2005
Vol. 2, #155

The Doldrums

In the middle ages, the word doldrums came from the past participle of dull. It's a state where "nothin's comin' down, man", nowhere. Also a place in the Indian Ocean characterized by squalls and dreary weather. And what's more, everybody gets the doldrums. Today, as I write this, it's Sunday, doldrum day for a lot of people. And most highly celebrated in what we used to call The Sunday Funnies, because we needed something funny to pull us out of the doldrums. That's how comics, which aren't at all comical anymore, got started. Even the late Will Eisner got started with The Spirit in the Sunday funnies, although there was hardly anything ever funny about The Spirit. But 5 million circulation, not funny at all, but fun!

But for me, the best representation of the doldrums was in the strip Blondie that ran in the Sunday Funnies for years. Because it was on Sunday that Dagwood Bumstead, with no office to go to and no place to be kicked around, would sink into his Sunday torpor, curl up on the living room couch and sleep the day away. In fact, the idea for this column came to me because it's Sunday and I've got the doldrums. But instead of letting things like that get me, I start to think about it. And I made some interesting discoveries.

Actually, the doldrums aren't funny. It's real depression and sometimes they can go on for a while and drive people into doing drastic things like desperately sitting glued to the television set or going to a movie and overstuffing themselves with popcorn and junk. And, if the circumstances are right, those doldrums can hang on for quite a while, right into and past "blue Monday" because you suddenly feel so rotten about going back to work.

Hey, I thought you liked your job! Nah!! I just try to put up with it, but the truth is, nobody likes a job. You're a prisoner for eight hours, doing work you never chose for someone you'd like to kick, and worrying all the time you'll do something wrong and get thrown out and have to sludge around for a new job.

All right. This is the kind of thinking that goes with the doldrums. But I had to do a lot more thinking about it when I received an email from my very good friend, Tony Isabella, in answer to my assumption that he too, like everybody else I knew in comics back when I worked for DC, hated comics. In fact, in the Times obituary for my late old high school friend, Will Eisner, it was even mentioned how everybody who did comics back in the thirties and forties, hated comics. Including the editors. Not to mention the time when editor-in-chief Whit Ellsworth came over one day in the DC office to where Jack Schiff and I were plotting a Batman story and exclaimed with a real howl of despair: "How long will grown men have to keep turning out this shit." That's the word he used, shit. Now, that wasn't because anybody was really underpaid, I mean the regular writers, because even though the rates were lower than television or the slick magazines or the movies, you were always assured of work, unlike any of those other places where you'd get better money on a, say, ten week contract, and then spend months chasing around trying to find work. So the DC deal was better in that respect. Plus the regular writers could always borrow extra money to buy a house or meet an emergency and get the loan taken, interest free and rather painlessly, off future checks. A great place to work, while Whit was around. But, it lacked "prestige", and everyone wanted to be in something more prestigious. And of course, editor Weisinger, who hated to see writers or artists make any money, tried to change all those perks for creators, and did, but only after Whit had taken off for Hollywood. Man, if anybody ever had the doldrums, it was Weisinger, but we've said that before. And I'm getting off the track.

So as I was saying, I got an email from Tony who assured me that whatever I might have felt, along with my whole generation, he personally LOVED comics. Now Tony is not a man who unlike the rest of us, doesn't experience doldrums. He's had his share. It's just that, he LOVES comics. And suddenly, I realized, this was a real generational gap. Because in looking around, I found plenty of people still in the field today who also love comics. So there's been a very sharp change in outlook. Today, comics isn't exactly thriving as it was during the Golden Age. And yet today, creators LOVE it! This is a real 360 degree turn. This is something that I shall have to investigate very thoroughly. At the moment, however, I'm focused on the doldrums, so if I find out why hate turned to love in a single generation, under very adverse conditions, I'll let you know. Or you let me know. Write me about it. Help me understand.

But for now, back to the doldrums.

I'm curious about states like that, states of human unhappiness, melancholia and stuff we all have to live through and very rarely have a chance to learn anything about what's behind them and how to deal with them. Yet it's such a part of life, a very painful and constant presence. At least, for a lot of us, at least every Sunday, so I decided to do some real investigation. And I discovered "the sack of hope"!

It has to do with time, with remembering and with what Gurdieff, the Sufi trained sage, advised. He called it "self remembering." If you keep awake in the sense that you train yourself to be aware of what you're doing all the time, you'll probably, I've discovered, be less prone to real deep doldrums. In fact, the first thing I noticed when I trained myself to watch myself was how I tended to perpetuate my own doldrums. Then, as I watched, I began to notice that doldrums, to a great extent are like the weather. They come and go like passing clouds. We really need them to highlight our moods and be self-aware. But mostly, we tend to start following them, remembering all the rotten stuff we've experienced before, darkening our own mood and stretching it out, and out---- a-n-d o-u-t...... as though when the doldrums hit, we take this load of stuff off our backs that mostly we never notice, which is crammed with all the bad feelings we can manage to remember. And we add them to the bad feelings we're having, until like Dagwood, we try to sleep it off. But that doesn't always work. Besides, not everybody can count on a rotten job to make the doldrums seem picayune like our Dagwood by the time Monday rolls around.

The fact is, if you consider it carefully, if you start "remembering", you'll notice that almost always a kind of event, feeling, surprise, unexpected happening, just as capricious as the doldrums themselves, comes popping into your life. Think about it. Doldrums are not a steady state unless you make them so. If you're prepared to drop them, then suddenly "the sack of hope" starts operating and events occur that lift you right out of those dismal feelings. Now I say that's what always happens but you won't believe that until you've learned how not to hang onto your doldrums past their time. It's very simple. I could give you a long metaphysical explanation, but, what for? Just try my simple formula. In the doldrums? There's a nice surprise in store for you soon. Watch for it. You'll find that you won't be disappointed.

--Alvin

<< 01/03/2005 | 01/10/2005 | 01/24/2005 >>

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