Wednesday, February 1, 2012

DC Superheroes

Who knew back in the '70s that those very days were a high water mark for DC and the comics industry in general? We thought it would only get better. Not to denigrate some really good art and writing since then, but DC really hit a great stride across the creative spectrum with the likes of Neal Adams, Dick Giordano, Carmine Infantino, Joe Kubert, Curt Swan, Murphy Anderson, Jack Kirby, Berni Wrightson, Mike Kaluta and a bunch of other Turks, young and old — and that's just on the art side. Writers were hitting their stride with compelling and entertaining stories that sometimes were serialized, but many times were told in less than 2 dozen pages.

I collected comics then as a young man that I still find entertaining today. But the comics of today just plain leave me cold and I do not collect any. I have not 'outgrown' comics, comics have 'outgrown' me. There must be many others who feel the same way.

Kid Robson has made a really good point over on his blog, that I wish the industry would take to heart:

"Simply give the potential readership what it's crying out for - good, old-fashioned, entertaining stories that diverts attention from the harsh realities of life and takes the reader on a rip-roaring, magic-carpet ride into worlds of fantasy and enchantment."

When quality comics are created for the young at heart, everyone wins. When they are created as dark and gritty, full of hyper angst, the audience drops off to the point of harming the industry. I say look to the past and aim for the future.

Neal Adams & Dick Giordano — DC Superheroes — 1977


Kid said...

You put it even better than I did, Thom. Thanks for the mention and the kind words.

I'll point in your direction over on my own blog - not that you really need it with all the followers you have. Wow! That's some number.

Annie said...

I agree. We all need fantasy with heart and hope. Do you feel that graphic novels are in some ways, replacing comics? Most of them are also jarring and violent. I attended a workshop some years ago, that explored their potential and purpose as viable storytelling, using the panels, much like in comics, to create tension and transition.

Thomas Haller Buchanan said...

Thanks Kid. You're an inspiration with your soapbox issues. Keep sluggin' pal.

Thomas Haller Buchanan said...

Annie, you bring up thoughts that need to be dealt with in depth. It's somewhat at the heart of entertainment of the 21st century.

'Heart and hope', good words, good concepts.

In literature for the young at heart, look to the "Dinotopia" books by James Gurney for inspiration on storytelling and art that is compelling and evocative (and best-selling). At the root of the work is 'heart and hope'.

I sense a series of posts coming up that might try to deal with these issues.

Thanks Annie for always being a positive voice.

Robert Fiore said...

It was an interesting situation then -- Marvel had emerged as the dominant force but all the experimentation and innovation was happening at DC. The phenomena were not unrelated, of course.

Matt said...

I agree. The trick is to get back there without imitating them.

Steve LeCouilliard said...

I'm with you on this as well. As good as genre-expanding experiments like Watchmen and The Dark Knight were, they led mainstream comics into a creative dead end. You can only take the premise of superheroes so seriously before it breaks and the whole thing is just ridiculous.

I honestly think that's why American comics are so dismally unpopular compared to Japanese and European analogues. It's not that comics are inherently bad, it's that the stories being told turn off the majority of potential readers. Gritty, "realistic" superheroes aren't any fun and hard-boiled pulp fiction doesn't work with colorful long-underwear characters using magic to fight crime.

Thomas Haller Buchanan said...

You all have excellent points, my friends.

Yves Ker Ambrun said...

All very interesting and true. But I have to add to Steve Le Couillard's very relevant comment that European comics are only slightly in a better shape and only for a short time still. Under the thin masks of originality and art-fashions, they just follow blindly and obsessively the latest pop- or esthetic trends. Or they recycle the same old not-really-well-understood formulas of 50 years ago to try to hit the jackpot. At least modern U.S. comics are unashamedly openly commercial, brutal, grim and superfluous, without pretending to be something else. That they are open about it is the main difference with European comics or U.S. graphic novels.
real originality or sincere involvement have become the rarest thing.

David Clemons said...

Many comic stories of yesteryear were very silly and campy at times and not what I'd call winners. Charming perhaps, but even the recent films and TV of these characters tend to show how dumb they can be. You can also still find "kid-friendly" stories of these characters today. That doesn't improve the stories, however. There are several newer generation artists in the biz that I think compare well to those of the past.

Thomas Haller Buchanan said...

David, I know what you're saying. I struggled with those thoughts as I made this simplistic pitch. "Kid friendly" is not really what I'm yearning for. And 'silly and campy' really defines a lot of comics in general throughout its history. Perhaps one way to analyze this issue is to point to the high water marks from throughout the years. And even though there are WONderful artists & writers of the modern generations, I have found it difficult to enjoy their high water work.

I would appreciate any thoughts from anyone on clarifying just what is right and wrong in the modern industry.

James Abbott said...

Bravo. Points that need to be made.

Here's my two cents, and worth every penny. Since the advent of dark and gritty comics, many comics fans thought that comics were now becoming 'adult.' That is a facical proposition -- no adult story features a billionaire dressing up like a giant bat to fight a homocidal clown.... What you get, instead, is Leathal Weapon in a shroud.

Aside from the inherent silliness, the problem is that is puts a creative stranglehold on anything else. Kid Friendly and Family Friendly are too different things, and one can be Family Friendly without being childish. To use a movie analogy, the James Mason 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea and Journey to the Center of the Earth were family friendly, while being intelligent, thrilling, exciting, romantic and non-campy. If comics can return to that aesthetic, they would, paradoxically, once more be taken seriously.

Thomas Haller Buchanan said...

More good points. Thanks James for the two cents (more like twenty-two cents at least).

I'm trying to think this through to the root. One of my thoughts emanates from rereading some of the golden age DC Archives, and seeing Bill Finger stories standing out as human interest stories involving Batman. People struggling to make a life or to overcome weakness or standing up to bullying, not from bullies, but from a rough existence. I'm certainly not suggesting that all superhero stories need to be that way, but here and there to include those everyday sensibilities that we all struggle with, tempered with flights of fantasy to keep it lively.

I'm still not reaching what I'm searching for here, but I think I'm on a relevant trail. Let's keep trying, I sense a major post on the subject looming on the horizon.

Thomas Haller Buchanan said...

Yves, I didn't mean to ignore your comment. I am not as familiar with modern European comics as I should be. I do get the sense that they are more about 'real life' than mainstream American comics are. They are not as flashy, but immensely more relevant to the world than DC and Marvel Galaxy Overlords wishing to wipe out puny humanity, the fools.

Am I misguided here?

Steve LeCouilliard said...

Yves and Thomas, I live in Canada so I only experience European comics second-hand. I'm sure there are plenty of awful comics there, but it definitely seems to me that comics have a far broader appeal and variety of audiences. It seems more like the paperback market here. Lots of genre stuff, Sci-fi, fantasy, crime, espionage, war, romance, etc., most of it not very good but so much of it that the market can support better stuff like Joann Sfarr, Lewis Trondhiem, Jaques Tardi, Manu Larcenet, Thierry Martin, Blacksad, Regis Loisel, Yann & Conrad, Franquin, Spirou and so on...

In America, while there are certainly a variety of comics in various genres, they are dwarfed by the superhero genre, which is itself the merest sliver of the publishing industry. At least in Europe, comics get some respect, right?

Thomas Haller Buchanan said...

Hi Steve—

Respect, yes.

In America, comics have achieved a mainstream presence, but do they have the respect of their audience? I remember toward the end of my collecting days that I bought a number of items that I realized, too late, were nothing but eye candy that dissolved into empty mind calories. I lost respect for what I was purchasing, hence I stopped. I no longer even look—at the risk of passing over a rare gem.