DENNIS O’NEIL: One Upon A Time
Once upon a time, way back, I was just a tiny bit afraid that the stepchild of American publishing wherein I labored, comics, would not be properly documented – that the right people weren’t being interviewed, the right information preserved. I needn’t have worried. Thanks largely to an army of scholars-without-portfolios – we called them fans – I think comics are likely to be the best documented art form in history. These people, and more recently the academics that involve themselves with popular culture, must have found sources of information completely unknown to me, and I applaud them for it.
Among my current sprinkling of projects is writing introductions for a collection of essays concerning what I guess we can unblushingly call the Batman mythos. More documentation and, I’d like to believe, welcome. The next intro I’ll do will be for a piece by Paul Lytle on Arkham Asylum. That name – Arkham Asylum – is familiar to Batman devotees and maybe to some folk not quite so devoted because it played a prominent part in the last mega-budget Batman movie. It is, for you who are not devotees and those who weren’t paying attention while you watched Batman Begins, the place where the criminally insane of Batman’s rollicking home town, Gotham City, are sent for incarceration and rehabilitation though, judging from results, the staff of the institution aren’t very good at either task.
But – here comes our big reveal, and I’m mostly addressing devotees, though the rest of you can stay – have you ever wondered where that distinctive name came from? Oh sure, the better read among you will recognize the word “Arkham” from H.P. Lovecraft’s tales – Arkham was the spooky burg where Lovecraft’s things went bump in the night. But who had the inspiration to associate it with the residence of Gotham’s host of loonies? I was pretty sure I knew, but, as you may remember, a couple of columns ago I trusted my memory and erred. So I sent an email. Here, in part, is the reply:
The JCH that signs the letter stands for Jack C. Harris, a veteran writer, editor, historian and, for the past decade, give or take, a comics writing teacher at the School of Visual Arts in lower Manhattan. Credit where it’s due – where it’s long overdue.
If Jack were here, I’d ask him to take a bow.
RECOMMENDED READING: Awareness, by Anthony de Mello. Those of you who look at this blather every week may have guessed that I’m not a huge fan of organized religion these days, largely because of the misuses to which it’s currently being put, and the book recommended above is by a Jesuit. Well, if the Jebbies who presided over my university years were like de Mello, I might lay some bucks on the alumni fund once in a while.
Dennis O’Neil is an award-winning editor and writer of comic books like Batman, The Question, Iron Man, Green Lantern and/or Green Arrow, and The Shadow, as well as all kinds of novels, stories and articles.