Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Bronze Age Vertigo

A Trout in the Milk is one of those comics blogs that I don't read very often because, to be quite frank, I'm not smart enough to always follow the level of discourse there. But with their focus on Steve Gerber, one of my favorite Bronze Age Marvel authors, I have to check up on the place every once in a while. The latest Trout essay, "How to Complete", is more dense than I can fully process. But at least one section of the piece that helps explain why I find Gerber so intriguing. Here's a partial quote:

Of course it’s not much thought-of these days, but in the Seventies the comics-publishing world came with a lot of funny strictures (and perhaps today we would even consider them quaint), that artists and writers regularly had to work around, if not exactly with. This was a whole other country, then, from the one we live in now. And I’m not talking about the Comics Code Authority. I’m talking about the genre of superhero comics being actually very much more closely identifiable, at that time, with the medium of comics itself. Not that you didn’t have Tintins and Freak Brothers, or even Peanuts and Broom Hildas and Mads — even Heavy Metals — because you did. Don’t get me wrong. And not even that people just mistakenly lumped the idea of “comics” together with the idea of “superheroes”, because they did that too…but the funny difference in those days, as I understand it, is that certain types of serialized comic-book narratives, that we can now easily and comfortably set off from “superheroes” in our minds, were functionally incapable of being separated in the slightest degree from the superhero books and the superhero publishers. All the stuff that you, perhaps, as a young writer, can today see yourself writing for Vertigo and possibly selling to goth girls in college…that stuff would all have had to be crammed into a Spider-Man comic, once upon a time. You would’ve had to make it about Spider-Man, to make it at all. You would have needed four pages of fight. Sure, maybe in the Vertigo story of your imagination, you wouldn’t need to harp on superpowers as such, or costumes as such, or on superpowers or costumes at all, instead being able to drill down immediately to the symbolic stratum hidden underneath the layers of supervillainy and long underwear…