Comics Out Of The Closet, by Mike Gold
My old pal Joe Staton, one of the most brilliant graphic storytellers in the history of this medium, is currently enjoying a long-overdue exhibition of his work at the Storefront Artist Project in Pittsfield, MA. Peculiarly titled The Art of Joe Staton, it runs through August 31. We talked about this here at ComicMix a while ago; click-through and read to your heart’s content. Better still, go there and check it out.
This could have been the shortest column I’ve ever written, but no, I aim towards broader context. We’re seeing more and more of this sort of thing. Mark Wheatley and Marc Hempel’s Breathtaker was among the dozen or so graphic novels recently honored at the Norman Rockwell Museum, and that exhibit is now touring the nation. There have been many theme-based exhibits of comic art all over the country – too many to mention.
Oh, boy. We’ve been accepted as a real art medium. Not to look a gift horse in the mouth (for a change), I just wish this happened a couple decades ago.
Will Eisner and Stan Lee lived long enough to feel the full brunt of public acceptance; Jack Kirby really didn’t. He was honored as the ABC News Man of the Week after he died, but I’m sure that didn’t massage his ego any. Wally Wood got bubkis. The fact is, the first generation of comics creators is almost entirely gone, and most died with a stigma attached to their names. Sure, Stan and Joe Kubert are still around (thankfully) and are still producing stuff (also thankfully), but that’s because they entered this craft while still pre-pubescent.
Sadly, the second generation of comics creators – those who entered the field after World War II and before the industry’s collapse in the mid-50s – are getting pretty long in the tooth. As I’ve said before, the folks working in comics at this time were exposed by The Saturday Evening Post and The Reader’s Digest and “experts” as nothing less than child molesters who were ruining our children and causing juvenile delinquency. Many hid their vocations from their neighbors. They were “commercial artists.” Sadly, some started producing as though they were.
Because of this, there was no third generation of comics producers. Very, very few folks came into the field between the early 50s and the mid-60s. I can’t help but wonder where the medium would be today if we had the input of this untapped new blood.
The fourth generation, like the first, contained a lot of young folk who were allowed (by and large) to read and enjoy comics during the troubled times. Neal Adams started drawing for Archie Comics at 18. Jim Shooter started writing for DC Comics when he was 14; Gerry Conway did the same when he was 16. This generation – and I count myself among them, although I came in later I’m actually (very) slightly older than Jim and Gerry – worked very, very hard to gain the respectability that this medium presently, and finally, enjoys.
It’s important that we support gallery exhibits like the one honoring Joe in Massachusetts. It’s also important that we get the old folks their due as well. Without them, today’s generation of talent would be … commercial artists.
Mike Gold is editor-in-chief of ComicMix.