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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 06/27/2005
Vol. 2, #167

Creators are sloppy people... whether they're doing a great symphony, like Tchaikovsky, who said: "Generally speaking, the germ of a future composition comes suddenly and unexpectedly... takes root with extraordinary force... and...finally blossoms." Similarly, the mathematicians, Poincaré and Gauss spoke of their own creative experiences as being sudden and discontinuous, like a quantum leap.

It doesn't matter what you're doing, creation is a helter-skelter process. It seems to come from unanticipated places, can be set in motion like a straw in the wind, and, is the bane of ordinary, orderly people. Creators are not orderly and in comics particularly, our best creators were effectively the most disorderly, people like Bill Finger, yours truly, Jerry Siegel, Don Cameron. And incidentally, these people worked best with the most orderly and organized of editors. Jack Schiff, for example, whose reputation is in decline these days but only because office politics, political prejudices and personal jealousies deprived him of the best writers and artists so that, toward the end, even he couldn't do much with the dregs that were left him.

Now that Will Eisner is gone, there is a move on foot to restore Bill Finger's deservedly honored place in comicdom by a lot of people who were once so put out by his irregular deliveries and late production and who hadn't the least understanding of how those very traits in Bill produced some of the best comics of the Golden Age. To be creative is to be a slob, a kind of Van Gogh. Because the creative part arises out of nothing that can be organized or pinned down or always controlled. I should note here that the one writer I remember from those days who was regular, always on time, never missed a deadline and ground out his stuff with an effortless assiduity was a man named Joe Sammachson. He was a chemist by trade, and drifted into comics like so many when work in their own fields was unavailable. He was an editor's dream, except that not a soul remembers Joe for anything he wrote or said. I myself only remember marveling at his consistent assiduity in meeting his assignments. I've mentioned Joe before, but not in this context of creativity.

Let me say here too that among our best creators was Whit Ellsworth himself. He could write, plot a story and produce memorable scenes, but not reliably and always irregularly. How well I remember Whit's getting started on a daily Superman continuity and then folding and passing the job of finishing it onto me. But who was there to fault Whit? He was chief editor. Finger, on the other hand, had to stand on his own shaky feet, creative feet but not always ready to run on command. But I for one, who was a writer long before I got involved in comics, learned more about writing comics from Bill than from anyone else, even though Bill, not much of a writer himself, he didn't know a redundancy from a hole in the ground, doing splash panels with sentences like, "Johnny, the typical prototype of the average American boy", but his creativity overcame all that. He read, he collected ideas, he went about doing comics in his own strange, fixated and marvelous way, and wasn't ever really a writer. But he understood comics continuity, he understood what the artist had to contribute, and he had a marvelous feel for the uniquely comic-style story.

We have had other writers, people who turned out piles of endlessly mediocre stuff, who were praised, although, again, nobody remembers anything actually memorable that they wrote. One of those, praised as "the King of the Comics" not so long ago by Robin Snyder who judged quality by sheer quantity, has passed from us, but he was definitely not the King of Comics as much as the man who could pile it on with no particular panache or life, but always adequate.

Don Cameron was one of the remarkable writers. His scripts were juicy, lively, interesting and often elegant. And he could handle any kind of assignment, but only when the muse was with him and he wasn't in the clutches of his demon alcohol although I wouldn't say that during one of those latter states, when he tried to push editor Mort Weisinger out the window, that he was not indeed being creative.

I come now to this column of mine. Try to define it and you miss it. I've used comics as a springboard to write about almost everything else, even quantum physics and other strange ways the world turns. My inspirations for most of my better pieces almost always come out of left field. And my readers seem to appreciate it. As for myself, I really never know what will come out of my writing hand, either in this column or in the various books I'm engaged in. I'm an absolute paragon of creative disorder. In fact, disorder is my magic stone, the method of my madness, and the entree into areas of discovery that I never expected to begin understanding.

Lately, the muse is getting a bit recalcitrant. Silent. I've been missing columns. Not only the crush of other work, but maybe old age. Maybe I'm drying up a little bit. I've now lived in one place for nine years, which means I'm settling down. But don't count on it. As long as the letters and the encouragement and the interest is out there, I'll be here. I promise.

--Alvin

<< 06/06/2005 | 06/27/2005 | 07/04/2005 >>

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