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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 11/27/2006
Vol. 2, #194

Sometime in the mid-1940s, Dan Miller, proprietor of the local general store in the rural village of Springs, Long Island, New York, acquired a painting from his new neighbor, the painter, Jackson Pollock. I knew them both in those days. But it took me many years to figure out how it might have happened. What follows is what we both discovered, Jackson and I together, along with a special approach to art criticism.

For starters- Pollock was the first to describe Superman as light... knowing this because what he paints himself. "I know they call them squiggles..." he says, "But, when I see things, I see them in the way the light makes them. The thing that always made Superman different for me -- I began reading your stuff about him last year when you told me about writing it -- and I could see right away it was different. Because it's a lot like my own work.

Critics say squiggles, but I see light. Light isn't just white stuff like moonlight and daylight. The Navajos knew that, and I got to see things the way they did. If you look carefully enough, nothing is what it really looks like. You pick up a stone, and it's just that, a stone, a pebble, let's say. But you look the way they did, knowing that everything you see is because there's sunshine to see it with, you know that you're really looking at a piece of light. Something that broke off from the sun, you see? I started looking at things a lot that way and found that light isn't everywhere like you'd expect, or maybe you wouldn't expect that, because then what would light the light so you could see things made from light? You follow me?

Well, look at this painting I'm working on now, all tied down at the corners, making sure of the corners because light has no corners so everything's light and you can't see anything. The corners rein in the light, so you see it. Snippets here and there, then up swoops and down swoops and in-and-out swoops until you get a design and the light is dancing, or tearing around looking for itself, looking into all the corners, getting involved, trying to find itself, like Superman-you know? All over everywhere, trying to be all things to everyone and everything, even though it ALREADY IS ALL THAT STUFF.

Did it ever strike you that LIGHT MIGHT BE STUPID, ALWAYS LOOKING FOR ITSELF and finding nothing because it's there all the time? Did you ever think of that? When I paint, I walk around my paintings because light doesn't wait for you, it's faster than anything, always in and out and up and down, endlessly chasing its own tail as though it were afraid it'd get lost in itself. Light does that, it loses itself in itself. And that's why Superman which is all light, needs Clark Kent, to know he's not lost, that he can get outside himself and see himself and know he's there, because he can't do that just by looking for himself because light can't look for light, it's too fast.

It needs something sluggish, like a standpoint, another self that's darker, or corners tying it down at all four ends, so he can look at himself from outside himself or, well, otherwise, where the hell is it? Where is light when it tries to see itself unless it's not himself?

And that's what I try to paint and I don't always do it, and sometimes I just go crazy and get so damn drunk, I have to yell for Lee to drag me back to where I can make things out again, make out the light that isn't always there because it's what I am so how can I see it? You're the only one I ever met who could understand that. That's what you write about, isn't it? Sometimes, after a couple of beers, I ask myself, why did He say, "Let there be light!" Was it because if He could think it wasn't there until He made it, maybe He was something else again.

No, not light, but what you have to be to know the light's there. I figured you'd know that for some reason because you're the only one who ever noticed when I spattered my color, the paint didn't fall like it was supposed to, but went somewhere else like it had a mind of its own. You knew that, didn't you? And you knew about color too, that color has darkness in it, that it knows how to hide the light, that's what it means to hide. Look it up. You'll see. Because if you couldn't hide the light in places, it wouldn't have any shape at all and would just be there so you couldn't see it in its own brightness.

Isn't it just like that with Superman, hiding behind his clothes and his costumes so he could operate all over the place. Tell me, where did you ever get the idea... to do it like that."

And then he'd go quiet and wait for me to answer which I would by saying nothing for a while until I picked up a pebble myself and said, "I realized that everybody else doing it, especially Jerry, thought a pebble was a pebble, and on the other hand, everything was just a pebble he could sling around any old way to make things happen that would be helpful. Save the world, win the war, catch the bad guys, rescue Lois, and it all just kept going around the same way over and over again until I realized that there was too much Superman, I mean, too much light in him, and the wrong kind of colors that were just painted on him like he was a big slap-happy clumsy puppet, and it was boring as hell to write. Until I figured out about stretching the color, stretching it so far that Superman could turn into a Bizarro, like being good all the time and acting right, the same bad things kept repeating and he was going around in a circle like all the other superheroes. So if he was boring me, think how he must've been boring everybody else.

Things changed after the war, even the beats became beatitude seekers and Superman either had to begin questioning himself and his powers and whether he was trapped by them or a victim of them. Because they held him back, confused him... all razzle-dazzle, not really light. Until he broke out in things like Bizarro, like personal confusion about his real role in life, his purpose, you see, he needed some dark because all light is blindingly dull after a while... and aside from Bizarro, they wouldn't let me change him.

They were even willing to kill him, just to shake things up, but what I wanted to do was different. I wanted to enlighten the big lunk. And I did. By writing him into a book like Unlikely Prophet where he was a different kind of light, didn't even look quite the same, in fact, he was real light, shimmering, changing, getting into different heads, mind visiting. Until he really wasn't even the Superman they had started with, but something more universal.

Not a rescuer or a savior but, well, maybe a teacher. Maybe even a sage of sorts. A field of meaning, I like to call it. A field, exactly as I described it in the afterword of the book, AN UNLIKELY PROPHET, using the phantom limb syndrome as an example. And I guessed right, because the idea of that kind of universal field is spreading all over now, even among leading scientists. In fact, it's even changing science by connecting things in a better way, so yes, the light shines everywhere but changes its colors.

And Lynne MacTaggart found that out too and she's making a big thing of it, which I agree she should be doing. And while we're both onto the same thing, I've got to be making something of it, more books, more wild, whirling, wonderful, life, brightening light flashes, sometimes mistaken for Superman but, looked at closely, I'm sure you, of all people, will realize what it is.

Hey, I just read where they sold one of your old light paintings for millions of bucks, so you don't have to tie down the corners anymore, you can have someone do it for you. Because light keeps going, just as you do, and I knew it as soon as I learned that you had me stuck into your personal library at the Pollock Museum in South Hampton. I knew we knew what was going on.

-- Alvin

<< 10/23/2006 | 11/27/2006 | 12/25/2006 >>

Discuss this column with me at my Round Table.

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