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After the Golden Age by Alvin Schwartz
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AFTER THE GOLDEN AGE for 08/22/2005
Vol. 2, #173

Last week, I felt compelled to wave my broom and shush away a long chain of pointless enquiries about Smilin' Jack. I regret the hurt feelings, but that stuff about who did what and when, the bits and cogs of comics history, is clearly not in the purview of this space. My Smilin' Jack friends would be better served by reading Alter Ego on such matters where my friend Roy Thomas does an incomparably better job. And Roy also has the help of all the rest of us in coming up with details of that sort, including myself. Not to mention priceless art samples that can be found nowhere else. Mine is an altogether different aim.

Way back in a previous column, I put it this way: "What is not there is more than what is there."
A strange, cryptic statement? Only superficially. In fact, this column has to a great extent been dedicated to the "what is not there" more than anything else. I've used words to describe aspects of Reality mostly ignored because they're outside the spectrum of our everyday experience. Yet all that we do in the arts, especially in the comic book art that created "impossible" superheroes, is largely because the "not there" exerts a compelling force on all of humanity and provides a lens through which we can leap beyond the known world and explore realms of reality that challenge the imagination.
I think it's very important to bring this up from time to time, because as I said in a recent book, even though strange things happen all the time, we tend to forget them quickly and as the rabbi character in the book says, explaining why he gets up every night to wash the dishes, "the dust gathers on the dishes every night." That is, unless we get reminders from time to time, we forget about our strange and often enlightening contacts with the "not there.

For example, in writing stories for a character like Superman, whose powers exceed those of any other human, it struck me as absurd that Supes would not spend a lot of time questioning himself, his unique role and his proper place in the scheme of things. And I developed a lot of my stories out of this kind of awareness. There are many who recognized that these stories were "different", even to the extent of Bob Hughes commenting not so long ago that "since Schwartz left, the stories have definitely gone downhill." Well, perhaps, but there have been other very good writers at DC but they didn't have the advantage of having an editor like Jack Schiff who was mostly misunderstood for his mistaken political ideas, although his intention was largely a concern for his fellow men. He cared about people, just like Bernard Shaw and Bertrand Russell and even Sartre, all of whom made bad political choices in Stalin's Soviet Union. Without Schiff, I could never have gotten by with some of the stories I did but would have been limited to the Biff Bang Sock outlook of the other editors.

Some months ago, Publishers Weekly mentioned that I had had a philosophical background, and perhaps the culprit can be found in that fact. To put it simply, I was interested in "reality" and found myself working with the most "unreal" character around anywhere, in a field that had suddenly made its appearance like a tornado and virtually taken over pop culture, even to the extent of having reshaped a substantial segment of the Hollywood film industry in its image.

It was interesting too that the most effective way of trying to examine concepts of reality was through the most "unreal" personality around. It became possible because Schiff could see things my way. When I tried to work with Weisinger that way, it was mostly a miserable failure. So I'm quite bemused to think how I might have bedazzled the old behemoth into opening the door on such a character as "Bizarro." But it happened. And only once. Bizarro took off on its own, but with Weisinger running the show, that was my cue to leave.

A lot of years have gone by, but I'm still at the same old game, the reality game. I'm at it in this column and.in my books. Watch for the new edition of An Unlikely Prophet along with its sequel, A Gathering of Selves, this coming spring from Inner Traditions.

--Alvin

<< 08/15/2005 | 08/22/2005 | 08/29/2005 >>

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