Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Guest Writer - The Bronze Age and Comics as a Youth Sub-Culture



Doug: Happy Humpday, kids! We have a new writer to feature today, and it's our pal from the UK, Colin Bray! Colin sent us a topic several weeks ago, and just a few days past turned in the finished product. It's a perfect Open Forum topic that we're sure you'll enjoy. Thanks, Colin!


Colin Bray: What is a “youth subculture”?


A youth subculture consists of some or all these elements:

  • a source of personal identity.
  • its own exclusive language.
  • its own style.
  • culture beneath the mainstream radar.
  • culture given time to grow naturally, like a petri dish in some forgotten corner of the laboratory.
  • a narrative for exploring and explaining the world.
  • an ethical space or dimension.
  • a space created for people ‘in the know’ by people ‘in the know’.

During the entire history of comics, I would argue they have only existed as a widespread youth subculture in the Silver Age (Marvel only) and Bronze Age (both Marvel and DC). In fact the wonder and beauty of comics in the Bronze Age was that they were drenched in youthful subcultural-ness (is that even a word?) and yet wore it lightly for such an extended period of time.


During the Silver Age…

It all started with Stan, of course. Perhaps accidentally he hit on the appeal, the language (‘Excelsior!’) the storytelling and the sense of an in-club (‘Marvelites’) in the brief years before Beatlemania and the rise of teenage dreams. Marvel then surfed on not only their own creative power but the wider 60s cultural wave through the rest of the decade.

Prior to Fantastic Four #1 a few of these subcultural elements had existed in proto-form. So Julius Schwartz and other DC creators were early sci-fi fan boys, and comic art stood out on the racks for those who had the eyes to see. But their full potential was yet to be explored and comics were generally seen as and remained a preteen thing.


During the Bronze Age…


If we fast-forward to the early 70s the factors that made the Bronze Age unique were falling into place:
  • the 60s fans had grown up, or were growing up, and still bought and read comics.
  • new micro-generations of readers were coming through every few years and creating a dynamic, varied readership, immersed in a shared language and universe(s).
  • the newer creators were fans themselves so knew and spoke to an audience they understood
  • the relaxation of the comics code - but crucially the Code itself stayed in place to set creative limits/challenges and give parents the trust to let their children read these often-subversive stories.
  • stories read, absorbed and discussed (mainly through the letter pages and to a lesser degree at cons and in the small fan press) completely out of mainstream view.



The Copper Age Onwards…

The golden age of the Bronze Age had to end sometime but by the end of the 1980s the three ‘Ms’ - movies, mainstream and marketing – had pretty much killed the original subculture. After the crash comics went back to being the niche product they remain today, movies notwithstanding. And not ‘niche’ in the same, cool way they were during the 70s – the innocence has gone and cannot be regained. Superhero characters and trademarks are now ubiquitous but comics themselves will never recapture the strange, wonderful combination that marked the Bronze Age as a shaper of young minds.

Is this an accurate or reasonable analysis? Discuss!



From Daredevil #77, offering a link between one youth subculture and another – the inspiration for the name of Liverpool post-punk band The Teardrop Explodes.

39 comments:

Redartz said...

Intriguing topic, Colin; and a great post. Nice job!

I agree with many of your points. Prior to Marvel's arrival, comics were largely seen as kid's material, and this was probably accurate (with some exceptions; EC comes to mind- they certainly had a fervent fan base, but how large I don't know...). During the 60's and 70's, comics seemed to attract a wider range of ages, and the younger readers often stuck with comics as they grew.

Now, as you noted, comics are again a niche but without the sub-cultural identity. From articles I've read on various comics sites, the average age of the comic reader is now in the 30's. Don't know how accurate this is, but there are efforts in the industry to reach younger readers (and there really are many fine comics available now for just that group). Although comics fans may never again enjoy that feeling of community the Bronze Age instilled, we can enjoy the wider exposure those comics have experienced in our culture today. If someone had told me in 1976 that a movie about Ant-Man would be a hit (let alone the Guardians of the Galaxy), I'd have thought they had read too many Twinkies ads...

david_b said...

Colin, ditto's, excellent post and observation into the Bronze era.

I especially liked the mentions of artists and writers from the Silver (especially Marvel), really understanding their audience, capitalizing on the solid characteristics of the mid-Silver (sooo well defined by the greats like Kirby and Lee..), so well established in terms of their looks and story-telling constructs (like Lee famously advising writers to 'make it look like change occurred without any actual change', paraphrasing of course...).

Just a solid bedrock to expand upon. And expand upon it they did....

Especially with the early Foom with Steranko and the likes of Barry Smith on Conan, and slowly chipping away at the Comics Code.., their early strokes at changing what was acceptable really resonated, especially if you grew up in that era and were conscious of the constraints in place, both in society and in the world of print media. It was indeed exciting.

Luckily it's when I came into the Marvel Universe.

Sadly, by mid-Bronze, everything paled by comparison afterwards..

Humanbelly said...

Your premise sounds quite valid, Colin, I like it.
Do you think it serves, maybe, as a prime example of a youth sub-culture (one of about a zillion) that sprouted out of the pop-culture explosion that began in the late 50's/early 60's? (I'm thinking of the advent of massive television-watching as sort of the catalyst, here-.) Young people have always looked for their own "tribe", and suddenly there were sooo many avenues to catch their maturing fancies where they might connect with other like-minded youths. The big difference was that mass-communication & mass-media provided a way to keep those otherwise-fringey pursuits alive and thriving into young adulthood and beyond. Lots and lots of individuals can connect with a shared-interest and still feel like they're part of a small "in-the-know" select group. Man, and I imagine the internet has done nothing but compound that phenomenon exponentially.

HB

Martinex1 said...

Colin, great topic and post. I am particularly interested in your comment about comic “language”. Something new was going on in Silver Age Marvel under the guidance of Stan Lee. Not only was the dialogue layered with catch phrases, but the way Stan addressed the audience in Bullpen Bulletins and even more importantly the way Kirby and others were playing with the layouts and look affected the reader. In a sense Marvel created a new language that was just as impactful as the way French New Wave auteurs affected cinema.

The combination of a) Stan’s persona (“Excelsior”,”Nuff Said”, “True Believers”, use of alliteration, humorous monikers for his staff, the myth of the bullpen), b) characters that were broken, damaged, and “real” in some way (Thing, Silver Surfer, Spider Man), c) the fun characterizations and sayings (“It’s Clobberin Time”, “With great power…”, pseudo Norse dialect, etc) AND (and it’s a big “and”) d) Kirby’s driving force in the art with exaggerated poses and figures, the crazy machinery, and the bigger than life designs, and dynamic storytelling that the page couldn’t contain. It is like the company truly caught lightning in a bottle and tapped into the pop culture zeitgeist of that moment. To your point though, comics really still had a limited audience and appeal. Whereas Golden Age comics were very available and read at many ages, the Silver Age reemerged to a more selective group. I wasn’t in the midst of it and it is kind of hard to see in retrospect, but to think that the early FF was considered revolutionary in concept is pretty amazing. It seems so tame, amenable, and even quaint now; but it was culturally significant.

Modern comics seem to rely on nostalgia by harkening back to the cutting edge and important stories of the past. Or they further emphasize the violence, gore, "more adult” humor and topics to mimic a cutting edge feel. Neither is really successful in the same way as the original. It is difficult to use the same medium in a new way; I think Stan and Jack did that but they did so almost out of desperation to survive. And I don’t think that specific type of pressure exists today. I think that pressure caused Stan to become a carnival barker for a generation rather than a “publisher” and it gave Jack the freedom to try anything to drive attention to a sale.

Colin Bray said...

Thank you for the comments so far folks!

HB - absolutely, it is hard to avoid the conclusion that comics were part of a wider youth movement. I doubt Smilin' Stan could have predicted in '61 that the same young readers picking up Spider-Man #1 would eventually go to college, taking their love of comics with them. And in the case of Steve Englehart (for instance) then become immersed in the counter-culture, avoiding the draft before eventually returning home to write Captain America of all things. Talk about radical change after the red-baiting Cap of the 50s...!

But I disagree that the Internet has allowed youth subcultures to flourish. On the contrary it makes finding like-minded people too easy, especially using such an open, public forum. Nothing is secret, nothing can be allowed to develop organically out of sight and mind for years at a time.

Or maybe I'm just nostalgic for the days of waiting for comics to arrive at the newsagent, or for the latest punk or hardcore album to arrive at Rough Trade Records...knowing it was my secret and it was me against the world. Hopefully young people still get that thrill somehow.

Colin Bray said...

Thanks for the comments Martinex1, very interesting indeed.

I rather think after the 70s we all became a little too 'knowing' and ironic to sustain the charming subversiveness of the Silver and Bronze Age.

And sadly I blame the wider punk movement and specifically in comics, the British Invasion for this. While Alan Moore is a wonderful writer he has made dismantling the Silver Age (and therefore his own innocent enjoyment of comics) his personal mission.

Perhaps it had to happen, after all, no medium stays young forever, and as you say the strength of the original content is obvious in the way it is still being mined in comics and the wider culture.

Garett said...

Interesting topic Colin. I think it's hard for adults to pick up on youth subculture, because like you say it's growing in a petri dish in the corner. I remember being baffled that adults judged my comics as being not worthy of my time-- without even reading them! But they were probably remembering the comics of their youth, which were not as well written or drawn. Likewise, I'm baffled now by people my own age who pronounce great judgement on the kids of today, when there are obviously petri dishes out there creating results which may only become apparent in 10 or 20 years.

One small thing I picked up on: "the Code itself stayed in place to set creative limits/challenges and give parents the trust to let their children read these often-subversive stories." Were most parents even aware of the comics code in the Bronze Age? I know my parents wouldn't have noticed the symbol or known what it was unless I told them about it.

And from Redartz: "If someone had told me in 1976 that a movie about Ant-Man would be a hit (let alone the Guardians of the Galaxy), I'd have thought they had read too many Twinkies ads." I agree, but also remember thinking as a kid that comics and superheroes would obviously take over and be widely known and respected by everyone. I figured it might take as much as 5, maybe 10 years even! : ) I'm curious: what did people here think the future of comics and superheroes would be when they were younger?

Anonymous said...

Colin, great post! And so many directions to go to comment...

About the internet - I think both you and HB may be partially correct. Nowadays, it's like a new petri dish every day. But, where are today's dishes that grow off in the corner somewhere? I guess they exist but I don't what they are because I'm not a teenager anymore. But I can bet they are not the same as ours. It seems the whole notion of a sub-culture is now different as nothing seems to be private or sacred anymore.

This might be tangentially related but just the other day my daughter (now 23 years old) showed me a video making the rounds about the difference between today's kids and the previous two generations. An interviewer separately asked a few sets of grandparents, parents and young kids what they liked to do for fun (as kids). The older ones talked about playing hide and seek, exploring trails, etc. (not sure if anyone said read comics) while today's kids talked about how they can spend hours playing video games and texting. Kinda sad...

Tom

Anonymous said...

Garret, about:

I'm curious: what did people here think the future of comics and superheroes would be when they were younger?

In the late '70s, I can remember thinking if we can have Star Wars, Star Trek, Ape movies and then finally the Chris Reeve Superman movie, then where the hell is Marvel? Well, it only took another 20 years or so but the movies of the last 10-15 years have affirmed that my time spent in the corner with the petri dish was time well spent.

Tom

Dr. Oyola said...

A-ha!

Now you are treading into the ground a big chunk of my doctoral dissertation. Part of what I found as I did my work is how complex, messy and overlapping such sub-cultures quickly become as you study them. And as I studied the study of them (w/ seminal books like Resistance Through Rituals: Youth Subcultures in Post-war Britain) that so many of our assumptions about them arise from truncated, biased or simply erroneous reportage both among academics and in the mainstream media. Even sub-cultures have their gatekeepers who work to establish their own definitions of what counts and who matters within the subculture.

A great example is the limited degree to which girls in the mod, rocker, punk subcultures were studied in the 70s - to the degree that save for few examples they were considered to not exist and not really matter if they did exist. Angela McRobbie did wonderful (and undervalued) work exploring how girls, because of different kinds of social pressures than boys faced, engaged with the subculture differently. There were many involved, but frequently gathered in private spaces (like their own bedrooms) to listen to music and discuss elements of the culture, rather than in public spaces (like street corners and clubs), and thus were less visible. She challenged sociologists and cultural studies theorists to examine their own gender-based bias.

The aspect I would argue against in Colin's assertions is the petri dish aspect - or the idea that they grow distinct from mainstream influence and interference. I think the influence of capital is impossible to avoid. Furthermore, most of what youth sub-cultures do is take what already exists in the mainstream to some degree and re-purpose and re-imagine it. Even something as simple as safety pins on punk rock jackets, or my personal area of expertise, the wide use of comic strip and comic book characters at the height of NYC graffiti/hip hop culture.

I think that's fantastic.

All that said, I think Colin B.'s look at the specificity of the Bronze Age is well-done. I think the transformation of the writing/artist base from middle-aged dudes who turned to comics from other interests (either in pulp mags, sci-fi, or simply publishing and art design) to younger guys who grew up as fans of comics is a CRUCIAL element to understanding the shift in Bronze Age comics, and the way they represented a kind of post-counter-culture outlook of disillusionment both with the establishment and the counter-culture itself.

Humanbelly said...

Although it's not exactly the same thing, MX1, I think a phenomenon related to your comment about the idiosyncratic-- and definitely manufactured-- "language" of Silver Age Marvel and its focus on what it perceived to be its "youth" market manifested in a couple of other venues at about the same time. In WEST SIDE STORY a large amount of the banter, chatter, and slang of both teen gangs was manufactured by the writers-- not at all a product of what they may have been hearing on the streets at the time. This creates a unique but accessible world very specific to the play-- giving it its own identifiable "aura", as it were. Then just a few short years later, the writers of HARD DAYS NIGHT spent a lot of time following the Fab Four around, listening to how they talked, their personal "insider" slang, etc-- and used that to fabricate the hip, mod "slang" of the film that's associated so closely with early Beatlemania. At the time, if someone were to slip a couple of "gears" and "grotties" into their conversation, it clearly identified which tribe they followed. . .

Colin, I follow what you're saying with the everything's-exposed aspect of the internet. But I think the only difference is that the petrie dishes don't exactly ferment out of sight in a corner anymore, because they're now all hiding out in plain sight on the impossibly vast main warehouse floor of the internet. Everything can be seen, but no one can see everything, so sub-cultures can thrive without too much fear of interference. . . as long as, hmm, they don't become too popular of conspicuous. I think.

Hmm-- are we a sub-culture, here, do you think? The Community of Nostalgic Respectful Late-Boomer Non-Trolls? Maybe not even a full sub-culture. . . maybe just a microscope slide or two?

HB

Anonymous said...

Yep, the Bronze Age WAS another time, another place...excellent summation, Colin...I hate to sound so down but the ingredients to make that excitingly creative soup will NEVER be gathered again to repeat the feast we all enjoyed. How can it, when we live in a world ruled by greed and rules that protect greed; where 'Image Rights' prevent children in England placing the word 'Beckham' on the backs of their new Manchester United (soccer team) shirts?...Where a small (3 people) sign company that for years(at least 20)had a sign-board over their shop with a picture of Caleb Hammer (Marvel Premier #54, the owners favorite ever hero), is forced to take it down because they are profiting out of something that belongs to Disney(!??)
The end of the Bronze Age was the start of; the 'special covers', investor speculation...and a truck load of derivative tripe that was passed on to us all as Creator owned genius but was really a way of making more cash...SORRY everyone I could carry on and was about to but I have to get my daughter from the station...Ciao, for now

Redartz said...

Osvaldo- you make some very good points. Regarding the influence of capital on subcultures: yes, either during the culture's formation ( ex. Marvel originating from Martin Goodman's attempt to catch DC's Justice League train). Or later in a culture's timeline (ex. the music industry's efforts to catch up with the Punk/ New Wave movements in the 80's.

Garrett: as for how we saw the future of superheroes: at the time, DC had the most visibility in the big arena. I thought Marvel could do well with it's lineup, but never really expected to see them on the scale that we have in recent years.

Doug said...

I hope to be able to comment at length in about an hour, but just wanted to say that today's post has some fantastic reading here in the comments section.

Doug

Colin Bray said...

More great comments - arguing against myself I actually agree with Dr Oyola that a subculture isn't able to be isolated from wider influences. Heck, even rebelling against something is to be influenced by it.

Perhaps it is easier to see in musical terms - how reggae influenced punk, the combination of which created Two-Tone which was an evolution style-wise from the original skinheads who evolved from the mods who rebelled against the rockers who themselves would have been punks if they had been 16 years old in 1977.

No doubt this simplifies it with hindsight and post-the-fact cultural narratives but spotting these connections is a fun game to play.

But when you are young and absorbing culture without adult filters you don't care about that stuff. American comics were the brightest, most exciting game in town in 70s London and in the end that's what initially drew me to them - the theorising came later - but equally it didn't take me long to see Stan Lee as the leader of my particular gang.

Anonymous said...

Cool post Colin. I think you're right about the "youth culture" of comics back then; I was a "youth" in the Bronze Age, and comics certainly grabbed me. I think Marvel was initially better at playing to that demographic...as soon as they realized college kids were reading Marvel comics, they started marketing to them more and more.

Mike Wilson

Doug said...

I think we all know that many kids of today who are the same age that we were back in the Bronze Age do not get their comics knowledge from comic books -- they get it from the major motion pictures. Just two days ago I opened my economics classes by handing each table of four students a comic book. I then asked them, sort of as a pre-learning activity, to discuss all of the flows of money necessary to bring that comic book to the consumer. After a moment of blank stares, I offered that they might begin in a forest with a lumber company, and then move via truck or train to a mill. And so on... They then took off into what was actually a pretty engaging conversation.

But in the midst of that, I asked how many of them (30 students in each of two classes) read comics. My follow-up question inquired as to how many of them enjoyed the movies, had seen Avengers in May and Ant-Man in July..? Almost every hand answered affirmatively to the latter question. The former? Way less than a third in each class.

So there may be a comics sub-culture -- look at the proliferation of t-shirts, and especially on athletes and celebrities (Cam Newton of the Carolina Panthers of the NFL was seen a few days ago sporting a Green Lantern Under Armour). Comic book characters are a known commodity. I've said many a'time that when I was a child one could get beat up for wearing anything comics related. Not so now. But is it a sub-culture, like the "secret club" or "secret society" mentioned above? I'd say perhaps, but only as a niche in the larger pop culture machine.

Doug

Dr. Oyola said...

How many do you mean by way less than a third? 15? 10?

I think even 15% is probably consistent with my youth. In elementary school and middle school (and even high school) I never remember more than about 5 or 6 kids in my class that were into comics.

Edo Bosnar said...

Man, excellent topic Colin, and great conversation everyone. I had a packed day at work, so until now I was only able to glance at a few of the comments and then move on. So a lot of the things that came to mind have already been (better) elaborated by others - and darn that smarty-pants Osvaldo especially for beating me to the punch with his last paragraph.

Seriously, though, one thing I actually found myself thinking about a lot on the ride home was Tom's point about that video making the rounds asking 3 generations to describe how they enjoyed themselves as kids. That's because I found it a bit problematic. Now I'll readily state that since I grew up in a pretty rural area, I did spend a lot of time outside at play, either or alone or with siblings or with friends, and also bike riding, but I also spent a lot of time reading (books and comics) and - yes - watching TV. As I'm pretty sure all of us here, born from the roughly the early '60s to the mid/late '70s, did. And I noticed none of the middle generation persons in that video admitted that, as far as I recall, nor the fact that the custom of spending lots of time in video arcades or playing Atari, etc. in front of the TV started back in the late '70s and early '80s. Yes, maybe kids in general now are spending a lot more time playing games and otherwise fiddling around with their phones and pads, but some of them - at least based on what the kids of friends and acquaintances are doing - also seem to find time to engage in sports, music (i.e., playing instruments, singing), etc. In other words, I think the video may have been over-dramatizing the difference between today's kids and at least the immediately preceding generation a bit much. Sorry for the digression, but I had to get that off of my chest.

Doug, on the topic of modern comics sub-cultures, it's my impression that they're still there. I'm sure Osvaldo knows more about this than I do, but I think there are these little niche fan-bases of mainly younger people (in their teens and 20s) reading specific genres of comics (including the whole world of manga) that have nothing to do with mainstream comics being put out by the big 2.
As to Osvaldo's observation about the percentage of kids reading comics, my own experiences in elementary and high school would seem to indicate even less than the 15% he mentioned.
Also, it's also so incredibly cool that you brought some comics to class as a discussion aid. If any teacher had done that when I was in HS, I would have worshipped the ground he or she trod upon...

Doug said...

That's why I did it, Edo... ;)

Back to Osvaldo, I would say that out of 55-60 students total, maybe 10-15 had their hands raised affirming that they'd read comics. So around 20% to ballpark it. And you got me to thinking about that number and to reflecting on my childhood experiences. Yes, that number actually does seem high when I apply it to a context 40 years ago. So maybe there's "hope" after all!

Edo, good call on things such as Atari and on video arcades. We enjoyed our share of video games, yes -- just not as readily available as today's youth.

Agreed on small niche communities, such as manga. When I visit our son at school the LCS has a gaming section in the back for RPGers. That part of the store is always packed -- any day, all hours. The front part with the comics and trades? Not so much. Usually I'm the only one thumbing through the longboxes looking for a bargain. So the kids are in the store, but not really into the comics it would seem.

Doug

Anonymous said...

Edo, I'm glad you got that off your chest because you made some good points. So maybe today's texting is analogous to the TV watching, Atari playing, arcade trips of our time? I do think the amount of technology and access to same is obviously way different. But then you could apply that to just about any subject when talking about how things have changed over the last few generations.

As to the "way less than a third" reading comics, I took Doug's point to be that although few read comics (perhaps no different than our day), virtually ALL of them knew the superheroes and "enjoyed" the movies. In our day, not many more than those of us who read about them even knew who they were. And those few that did were probably ridiculing us.

Back to that sub-culture thing again. :-)

Tom

Colin Bray said...

On comic shops and today's niche readers. I'm sure you're right, they do exist and are super-meaningful to the young people involved.

But what perhaps marks the Bronze Age as a thing apart is that this comic subculture was being spread via little family stores in every town, under the noses of family and store owners who saw them purely as throwaway kid's entertainment.

By contrast today's comic shop offers an instant cachet/filter for people exploring comics or otherwise put off by the cost, environment and baggage. The chances of a child receiving almost incidental exposure to cool comics this way is practically zero.

That in my view means comics are now less likely to shape young minds and more likely to reaffirm a young person's existing identity and choices. Which is still cool but not as cool as knowing that Warlock comics could be found in nearly every mainstream store during the mid-1970s.

Oh, and Garett, you are right. Thinking about it how many adults buying comics for children actually knew what the Comics Code was? I guess it was more a general assumption that comics were for kare super and as such harmless.

Colin Bray said...

Edit: sorry, the post above should have closed '...were for kids and as such harmless.'

Martinex1 said...

Is the subculture (now as well as back then) those that don’t only know the mainstream characters but also know the details, minor characters, history, and creators? Back growing up I think everybody I knew was aware of Spider Man, Superman, and Batman (ala television and Super Friends), but nobody knew that the Beast was a blue furry guy who used to be on the XMen and was originally not smart, or who Gwen Stacy was, or that Roy Thomas created the Vision based partially on a Golden Age character, etc. The subculture knew. Today, I bet it is the same. Everybody knows who is on the Silver Screen, but few knew the Guardians of the Galaxy before they appeared there.

On another note, I find it interesting that many of the creators of our particular interest were middle aged guys who were raised during or served in WWII. I think that hardship and period really drove the definition of “heroism” that was so attractive to the younger generation. The heroes fought clearly defined evil (the megalomaniacs in comics were just fictional mirrors to some of the dictators, despots, and totalitarian buffoons that actually existed) , later that evolved into heroes fighting abuses of authority (because of feelings around Viet Nam and Watergate), to now when heroes just fight for fighting sake (at least that is what I perceive). I think that the hero against a defined and close to “real” villain is more attractive to the youth than a hero fighting a villain where the lines of gray between the two overlap.

I am probably reaching but I always thought the FF reflected Stan’s and Jack’s identification of the passion of the American youth. And that hit a chord of truth in the emerging teenage readership. Reed and Ben are war heroes looking toward the future and exploration into space. Family is important and sacred and worthy of sacrifice. Ben is angry and troubled but solid as a rock in his beliefs. Reed is flexible and adaptable and inventive to satisfy the needs of society. Johnny is fun loving and adventurous but a little “hot headed” and rebellious. Sue feels invisible, thematically wanting to achieve notice. Together, as a team, they make an image of what a teenager often feels (angry, outsider, creative, inventive, adventurous, invisible). The FF fights for what is right for America (being first to space), but are rebellious enough to break the law to do so. Wierdos but heroes. It just all touched the right chord at the right time (just 16 years after WWII) and within a couple years of the Beatles (another foursome wearing similar costumes, benign by our standards, but rebellious and a team at the same time). I think living in the mid 20th century affected the message in the art which in turn affected the kids raised afterward.

I don’t know if I have the exact scenario and statement correct, but I think Stan was about ready to throw in the towel prior to creating the FF, and according to legend his wife said something along the lines of “well if you are going to do it, why don’t you just do it your way”. And I think if that is true, the opening of freedom to not follow a pattern and just let out all of the feelings and voice all of the built up frustrations (even unintentionally) and have a “there is nothing to lose” attitude…. that was very attractive to the reader. And I don’t think it can really be mimicked.

Great discussion and topic. It does make me feel old though when I realize my collecting peak (1980) was equidistant to WWII as it is to today. That and Yvonne Craig passing makes me feel ancient; RIP.

William said...

Colin, I think your article pretty much hit the nail on the head. And as you said, you can't get back what was lost. Comics are no longer in the hands of the artists. It's all too corporate now.

I actually feel sorry for kids today, not having what we had in the 60's, 70's and into the 80's. The funny thing is, that the youth of today would laugh at that statement, because they don't know what they're missing.

The youthful comics sub-culture will probably never rise again, if only because comics just aren't what they used to be. They aren't created for the same audience they once were. If comics were like they are now when I was 12 years old (or 20 years old for that matter), I would never have even read them at all. Because I just plain don't enjoy anything coming out of Marvel or DC today.

I would say that when I was a kid, all the way through to young adulthood, my greatest enjoyment came from reading comics. Because they were filled with so much wonder, and escapist fun, with faced paced exciting stories, dynamic artwork, and vivid colors. I still get a thrill when I read those old stories today. (However tempered by the years they may be).

But today, what passes for comics have none of those elements. Almost no sense of fun and wonder. The stories are slow paced (decompressed), drawn out, and grounded in attempted "reality". Where's the escapism in that? No, I'm afraid that superhero comics (at least as we knew them) no longer exist, and neither does the fun-loving culture that spawned them.

Redartz said...

Fantastic conversation going on here today! I echo those who found few comic-loving compatriots back in school. Among those I knew, there were only a couple other comics fans, and a couple science fiction devotees. The vast majority of our peers seemed unaware, and amused at our Mead Fantastic Four notebooks. I recall reading Steve Gerber's story in Giant Size Man-Thing 4, about the kid who didn't 'fit in' and finding it uncomfortably familiar territory. But that was part of that subculture the Bronze Age gave us: writers like Gerber, Englehart, and others who spoke to the uniqueness in us all.

As for today, that subculture still echoes. It was nurtured in lettercols and fanzines, and today we enjoy it's vestiges right here on this site. How cool is that...

Doug said...

Does anyone besides me cringe when you overhear young folks discussing Marvel characters, and it's clear very early into your eavesdropping that they've gotten all of their "knowledge" from the films? Drives me nuts.

William, I'll say this, though, about the films and modern comics: Although Marvel Studios has chosen by and large to use the Ultimate versions of their characters, I'd much rather have that than the Marvel Now or post-Secret Wars stuff I'm reading about in the month to month solicitations. Sheesh...

Doug

Humanbelly said...

Mmmm--- My impression is that Marvel Studios may have taken the Ultimate versions as their starting point, but then projected everyone through a very heavily tinted lens of "Classic" universe to give us these terrific Cinematic versions. I LIKE all of the Cinematic U Avengers. I can't remember "liking" a single member of the Ultimates, really. They were interesting, sure-- but all of them were remarkably non-sympathetic.

Completely OT and behind the curve: HBSon & I finally just saw ANTMAN this evening, and I have to say that it was a solidly good film. Well-cast, well-paced, visually innovative and unique-- it may be the closest we've seen yet of a truly "comic book" tale being told on the big screen. The whole genre will never get past the limitation of being formulaic-- but I have absolutely no problem with a well-executed formula, y'know? And it's yet another genre-film accounted for in the Cinematic U canon: a RomCom/Heist film-- whod've guessed?

HB

(PS-- boy, what a great discussion today-- good job, teammates!)



Garett said...

What Martinex says about WW2 sounds right to me. WW2 was still in the air in our youth, through the creators of the older generation, in movies, comics, tv shows.... I think that is different now for the younger generation. They may watch the occasional period piece like The Imitation Game or Saving Private Ryan, but I think it doesn't underlie their world like it did still for us. 9-11 probably has much more resonance for them.

As a kid I felt influenced both by the WW2 generation and the hippies, not a part of either but somewhere in between those extremes.

Colin Bray said...

Thank you to everybody who posted for creating such a lively, stimulating discussion.

Just to add, Martinex1, that your thoughts on Stan, Jack and the other WWII veteran creators have opened up a new way of looking at the Silver Age for me. I could already see the Jewish anti-fascist connection but hadn't gone any further than that - thank you for the insight!

Martinex1 said...

Thanks Colin. It was really a brilliant idea for a discussion. A lot to explore on the topic.

I apologize for misspelling “Vietnam” above … not sure how that happened… weird.

Cheers on a great post.

R. Lloyd said...

I just have to marvel (no pun intended) at how today the younger people embrace the super hero movies. During my years growing up in the 1970's I was ostracized in both high school and college because I expressed to a class mate my addiction to comics and science fiction. Were I was growing up in my state it was frowned upon. If I mentioned Star Wars, Star Trek or any other science fiction or fantasy book or movie I was looked upon by my teachers as backward.

My school was in a very conservative area and I do remember an incident from the fourth grade that stood out in my mind. While I was talking to a student I mentioned the latest episode of Super Friends. I was about 8 years old at the time. When my teacher over heard me ( she was in her 70's) she went into a long tirade how super-hero cartoons are "pornography" and I should be "ashamed of myself" for watching them. She went on to say all comics are trash and I'll turn into an idiot if I read them.

She told our school librarian, who also gave me lecture on how all science fiction is garbage. I tried to borrow a 1950's children's sci fi novel from the school library and got an endless speech (from the librarian) how I should never read such material. When I told her why does the library carry this book if it's so terrible; I got another warning not to question her judgement.


When I look at this incident today it's so laughable to think how a couple of teachers (who were way past retirement age) could get so worked up about super heroes and Star Wars like it was corrupting young minds. I wish I had an I Phone back then so I could have recorded their reactions back when I mentioned the subject of comics.

R, Lloyd said...

There was a comment about the Mead Marvel Notebooks. I remember those well because I had them in junior high school. The teachers would accuse me of bringing comic books to class and distracting the other students. When in fact it was just a comic book image on the cover.

It was at that time our guidance counselor got the idea of having a "collectors club" where the kids who weren't into sports could meet and talk about comics and science fiction. It was 1977, the year of Star Wars, so he wanted to monitor the kids that didn't "fit in" and give them a place to discuss comics and sci fi memorabilia and films. He would bring into our little club comics from the 1950's and discuss how the comics and movies have changed since his time. This was about the only time I remember where an adult acknowledged that science fiction and comics could be a positive influence on kids.

Karen said...

There's been some great discussion here! What a well-thought-out post, Colin. Thank you for contributing it.

I'm late to the party -as usual nowadays, it seems - but it's always seemed to me that once a phenomenon, whatever it is, becomes part of public consumption, it loses whatever it was that made it special. In appealing to a mass audience, it is diluted and changed. The original "club" required one to understand special code and shared behavior, but that all gets tossed to accommodate the bandwagon fans. I may be rambling but I hope it's somewhat coherent.

Doug said: "Does anyone besides me cringe when you overhear young folks discussing Marvel characters, and it's clear very early into your eavesdropping that they've gotten all of their "knowledge" from the films? Drives me nuts."

What really bothers me is to see articles written by people who have no comics knowledge, only movie knowledge, yet they will act as though they know these characters. It's painfully obvious, especially when they are using Wiki or some other source to support their statements. They don't understand the complex relationships or who any of the creators are. There's no context to anything they write. Just terrible.

Edo Bosnar said...

I totally agree with Karen's last point, i.e., I'm pretty unfazed by "the younger set" chatting on about Marvel heroes and getting everything all wrong, but I find it so incredibly annoying when reviews and other articles related to the movies are written by ignoramuses who think they're experts...

Jerry said...

Hi Everyone! First post here on this blog. I find myself second-guessing the decision to even contribute becuase...well, as most of you have expressed, growing up when we did was a time when one did not express an interest in comics publicly without expecting some sort form of snide humor directed at yourself.

But I've realized reading this blog for the past year or so (yeah, I'm a slow learner!), and specificaly this post, that here's a group of people who 'get it', like I did. And not only that, who look back on those Bronze Age years with the same sense of wonder and excitement that I do.

So, for now, I just want to say fantastic post. Its brought up some interesting perspectives on 'that time' - Garett identified being in a generation stuck (blessed?) between WW2 and the hippies: what a fascinating dichotomy, and it explains how a Steve Englehart can do such an amazing job on Captain America.

For my part, 'comics' connected me to writers and artists with incredible imagination - and were able to express what is most admirable and noble about being a human, but never becoming pendantic or preachy (well, almost never....), but were always focused on delivering great stories in an unconventional format. It was a solitary experience for me, but it bound me to a broader, invisible subculture of other readers with whom I could vicarously engage through the letters columns and other inventions of the 'community' that Marvel (and DC, I guess) had built through a bunch of small drug stores, 7-11s, and the like around the world (On the 'world part', I remember reading in FOOM and elsewhere in Marvel about this mysterious "Captain Britain" and how cool those books looked! Alas, acquiring a COMIC BOOK from England was just not even possible back in those days. My, things have changed!).

I have to say, I do lament the loss of the old spinner rack for that reason. Today's comic shops are a bit like tattoo parlors and require a certain degree of credibility and/or adventurousness to engage in - and to an 'outsider' can be a little intimidating. I wonder if my own 10 year old self would not have found comics in 1975 if the only way to get them were to enter the current modern comic shop.

Anyway, thanks for sharing all your interesting comments! I've really enjoyed reflecting on those days along with you! I may not post much, but I really enjory all of it! Thanks Doug and Karen for your efforts to keep and build this community!

Karen said...

Jerry, welcome to BAB! Your comment just made my day. I am so glad you enjoy the site and decided to jump in. All Doug and I ever wanted to do is create a fun place for us Bronze Age kids to hang out in. It's great to see that fulfilled - even more so with our guest posters like Colin. Please don't be a stranger!

Colin Bray said...

Hi Jerry, wonderful first post...I do hope you share more of your particular perspective in the days and weeks to come.

Jerry said...

Thanks Karen and Colin! I'll definitely be around! 😊

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