Today I thought I’d discuss – wait, I’ll need that soapbox – where did I put – oh, yeah. I’ll be right back. Talk among yourselves.
Here we go – man, this isn’t nearly as high as it used to be. Sorry about the delay. Now what was – oh, yeah…
I like the work of documentary film maker Ken Burns. I like his approach, both verbally and visually. His subjects run the gamut from famous Americans to pivotal events in American history to sports, entertainment, and the Arts.
There was an interview with him in a recent issue of Time Magazine where he said he had films at various stages in the pipeline that would keep him busy until 2016. A lot to look forward to. As I was reading the interview though, it struck me that no one has ever done a large scale, multi part documentary on the history of the Comics.
It has been posited that there are two art forms created in America: Jazz and the comic strip/comic book. Burns did a wonderful film on the history of Jazz. My son owns the DVD set and I’ve watched it a couple of times. But, what about comics? Sure, there have been smaller works on individual creators but never anything all encompassing. The clock is ticking. Obtaining first hand information about the early days is getting harder all the time as we lose many of the creators who invented this verbal/visual language.
Why not comics? Comics are a very insightful mirror to the 20th Century in America. We can follow the path of not only the events, but also the society and culture of any given time. The history of comics is the history of America.
The story strip was born at about the same time as the century. Comic books were created as a result of The Great Depression, and it could be argued that the runaway success of Superman was a result of that same economic crisis. Comic strip characters fought World War 2, and those that didn’t referred to the sacrifices being made on the Homefront. Later, Korea and the Communist Scare were addressed in comics and the industry was brought to its knees and almost destroyed by the Witchfinders in Congress. The rise of Marvel and it’s new approach to super heroes occurred during the decade that saw sweeping changes in the social fabric of the nation. The comics kept pace with the country and served as a pop culture record of the times.
So, now, we find ourselves in the 21st Century and there’s no question that the Big Deal is digital technology and comics is keeping pace once again. The screen you’re reading right now is proof of that.
Every now and then you’ll hear someone pronounce that comics are dead. Will Eisner was once asked if he thought comics were dead and he replied, “I’ve seen comics die four or five times.”
The fact is, for all intents and purposes comics should be dead, but they’re not. When you think of all the new forms of entertainment that have been introduced during comics life span, competing for the public’s time and money, it’s a wonder that the entirety of the industry’s output isn’t residing in some land fill in Wisconsin. But, it’s not. We’re still here. We may be making adjustments in the way we tell stories and how those stories are distributed to their audience, but we’re still here.
So, somebody needs to get on the stick (as we say here in the Mighty Midwest) and create a historical record of this fascinating, seemingly invulnerable medium. Some of the original creators are still around, but sadly, many are not. It’s ironic. For a long time Jazz garnered much more respect around the world than it did here in the land of its birth. Comics are the same way. In countries all over the world comics are considered an art form on the same level as film or literature. Just another way to tell a story. Any story. But not here.
So, I’ll step down off my soapbox now, put it back in the closet, and return you to regular programming. Maybe next time I’ll talk about Lady Sabre.