Dennis O’Neil: They Say It’s Your Birthday…
Think 75 is a big number? Well, my component atoms popped into existence at about the time as the Big Bang, when it all began, and that was 13,798 billion years ago, give or take (and what’s a billion or two among friends?). Now, that 75 seems pretty tiny, doesn’t it? And, matter of fact, it is.
For 49 or 50 of those years, I’ve been involved in what was once a backwater of American publishing, comic books. My timing was pretty good. Roy Thomas brought me into the business just as it was emerging from a decade of disrepute, during which its continued existence was in doubt. But first the late Julius Schwartz reinvented a few once-popular superheroes and, a little later, Stan Lee concocted a new approach to writing comics. Then Roy, and Steve Skeates, and I came to New York, young guys who had grown up reading and liking the kind of fantasy-melodrama that comics purveyed, and the business evolved around us. I can’t speak for Roy or Steve, but I wasn’t thinking of a career, and that was probably sensible since no career path existed in the world of comics. I was just doing a kind of nutty fiction writing and putting food in the mouths of those who depended on me and that was pretty much that.
We’re still here, Roy and Steve and I, and so is the business.
But it’s not exactly the same business. Even those who were taking comics seriously weren’t predicting what they’ve become. The look of the product is different: the pages slicker and fewer per issue, the art style showing influences that weren’t available a half-century ago. The vocabulary is sophisticated, and the themes either more mature or more adolescent, depending on your sensibility. Comics’s usual form, the complete-in-this-issue story, is odd and rare.
Imagine that, you gentle and kindly millennials…no continued stories! And more than one story per issue! And text stories with nary an illustration in sight! And half-page humor strips!
AND…all in color for a dime!
Then, there are the movies. Oh,yeah, Hollywood had been borrowing material from comics since the early 40s and after the first big budget Superman flick in 1978, it was possible to anticipate more superdoing at a theater near you. But I doubt that anyone predicted superheroes becoming their own genre, a first cousin to science fiction but, nonetheless, their own thing, and that they would dominate summer entertainment. Cinema technology evolved in tandem with the ever-more-mature costumed good guys resulting in a near perfect marriage of form and content. We sure didn’t see that coming.
What next? Well, given everything in preceding paragraphs, you’ll pardon me if I pass on prognosticating.