Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Why The Silver Age has Become Tarnished.

As I said earlier no best and worst post this week. I almost went off on a political rant about why the US Government is driving me crazy and bankrupting the country at the same time. Oh I have issues with wanting to search our underwear, to our continual waste of lives with wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the abysmal Healthcare bill, the continual shenanigans of the Fed and the Treasury, too many czars and all sorts of things, but Ron Paul and I can continue our tilting our windmills on another day.

I want to instead talk about the Silver Age of comics. This is the time that is often fondly remembered as remaking comics into what they are for us today and are often derided for humor since they were written for a different time and audience.

Recently I have noticed and Lee has noted it on occasion to me also, that the silver age no longer holds up on re-reading like it used to do maybe a decade ago or maybe just a few years ago and it dawned on me that the reason is fairly simple. Comic books are a lot better now then they ever have been in the US.

The Silver Age was of course dominated by DC and Marvel. DC wrote to an 8-12 year old boy mentality with the thought process being that the audience would turn over that fast. Marvel under Stan Lee did not write down to his audience and therefore they probably generated an older audience and or inherited DC fans still hungry for super hero fantasy but had outgrown DC. Still Stan Lee’s famous Marvel way was born of desperation to produce the largest quantity of product they could. On close re-reading of some of those classic Marvel books you can see where Stan’s dialogue was pushing a story to a different place then the actual panel was showing. Also to be fair this stuff was being done at 100 miles an hour so the quality is just not going to be there.

I read when Kirby went to DC he had an agreement to produce fifteen pages of complete work every week. No artist today is expected to turn around that amount of work. Even when something is needed to be quickly finished it is usually farmed out to multiple artists. Heck even when building in gaps and trying to make things work it all falls apart today. Look at Captain America Reborn, they added Butch Guice to help cover for what Bryan Hitch could not do and the book is still way behind schedule. It is embarrassing when you think of how many high profile projects have had pinch hit artists or schedules that could make one wonder if they will live to see the end of the series.

Writers can still knock out prodigious amounts of work, when you look at Bendis, Johns, Morrison, Brubaker, Rucka and others the amount of books they produce is tremendous, but remember one page could be as simple as saying “one panel page Green Lantern is hitting Sinestro square on the jaw”, that takes the artist hours to do.

Still this digression is all in the way of setting up that today’s comics are just higher quality products. We have tons of professional writers who want to write comics and have a strong understand of visual story telling. Very seldom do we see long expositions explaining what is clearly in the panel anymore. Also the writers are able to write for an older audience. The restrictions of having to write down to a younger audience have been removed and the violence and sexual situations can be played up in the story with less fear of being edited out. The Comics Code for all intent and purposes is dead and the writers, editors and artist can bring a lot more to these stories.

The artists are given a lot more freedom to have the time to try and produce their best work. When the situation demands or the publishing schedule demands you will see fill in artists and other things done to keep the machine humming but often the George Perez, Steve McNiven, Bryan Hitch, Ethan Van Scriver and others are given the time to crank out their best work. Part of this is the page rates are now such for top tier artists that they do not have to crank out pages to just make ends meet. I’m sure artists starting out may have to do that, but I’m sure Frank Quietly is not starving if he does not produce 22 pages of pencils every month. Many writers and artists have the security of benefits and artists can sell work on the open market to supplement their income.

All of this leads to higher quality writers able to write for a wider audience, artists who have time to play with what they are doing and think about design and layouts as opposed to just cranking out work.

Add to that the higher quality production values and we have comics that are shot from pencils and then colored or pages can be photo shopped and other programs to give effects the artist of yesteryear had to produce 100% by hand.

The final layer is the depth and breadth of the independent market. While a small portion of the market they make up 20% to 25% of the market place just in the direct market. This means we have books like Scalped, Echo, Northlanders, Stumptown, Jersey Gods, Chew, BPRD, Invincible, 100 Bullets, Locke & Key, Ghoul and all the rest that attract writers from various walks of life who then get the attention of the mainstream and often work both sides of the fence.

What this has done is created a market where the professionalism and quality of the work and production has jumped light years from the silver age. Once you have been reading this, when you go back you can see that the silver age was a lesser product from an overall reading and production standpoint. Not that there are not great stories from the past that still stand the test of time, but in general the silver age is not as good as what we have today. It is more of a trip down a nostalgic lane and perhaps for writers a place to mine gold as they had tons of throw away ideas which have great potential if developed.

I still love the Silver Age, but re-reading it now has lost some of its zeal as today’s upgraded product has highlighted the flaws of that period. The good news is that we are seeing the best in graphic story telling ever in the US and I see nothing but brighter days ahead as far as high quality entertainment in a graphic form. Now whether that is digital or print as days go by and how long the direct market lasts is another question.


  1. Uh, how many high priced Silver Age reproduction packages did you buy before you reached this conclusion?

    When it comes to art, and maybe life generally, keep in mind the maxim "90% of everything is crap." Saves money.

  2. Jim can I have your Archives and Masterworks that are full of this shoddy Silver-Age material? : )

    Actually, I just bought the first 5 green lantern archives and am really looking forward to reading them. I have all of the Flash and Adam Strange ones and of course a bunch of Silver Age Marvel stories. I still think they're good.

    I actually miss some of the caption exposition of yesteryear. It's like reading a novel and a comic together. Maybe I'm too busy or lazy to pick out all the details in the panels. I'm always surprised at the detail in the writing when I read the actual script. The only exception was Power Company where I often read the issue then really focused on each panel.

    Further, I don't necessarily think the "freedom" to use more sex and violence is a good thing or always handled well. Just see Peter Parker's recent sex-capades in Amazing. Sometimes when you have limits, you have to be more creative to get around them. For example, an Alfred Hitchcock film with off-screen violence is usually more effective than some slasher-flick.

    Given that I'm buying less and less new comics these days -- I disagree with your assessment. But, I'm really glad you're back!!!