Dennis O’Neil: 50 Years 50!

Kirby Thing HannukahThere’s probably a lot going on just up the road, at the Temple Beth Torah. This is the second day of Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish new year, and, apart from whatever community and religious value it has, it’s a pretty big personal marker for me. Just 50 years ago, on this holiday, I arrived in Manhattan after three days on the road to begin what would prove to be a new life – and, my friend, I’m talking a seriously new life.

In those 72 hours, give or take, I went from being a small town reporter, and something of a local pariah, and a bachelor, and a Missourian, to being a comic book writer in New York City who hung around with peaceniks with an eighty dollar a month apartment in what was then a slum. Pretty soon, I added husband and father to the list, and then freelancer and then a dude with “detox” on his resume and then…

What a long, strange journey it has been.

The business I stumbled into, on a sunny September day, has changed, which may be what the universe intended it to do. It’s still recognizable – the callow me whom Roy Thomas introduced to Stan Lee that sunny day would recognize today’s comics as comics – but there has been gigantic evolution. The product – those comic books – is slicker and skinnier and costs a lot more and the fiction they purvey is far more sophisticated, both in subject matter and structure. And – believe this! – it has become respectable. No fooling.

Comics were still in the spiky shadow of the witch hunts of the 50s when a lot of folk thought they were, you know, evil or something. Ah, but now. we get invited to speak at big universities – heck, some of us teach at those institutions. We shake hands with celebs and politicos. Our work is covered by the other media (Today: two items in Yahoo’s news column about what kind of costume actress Chloe Bennet will wear on a television show derived from comics stories Stan and Jack Kirby did when I was a newbie.

Which brings us to the television programs and the movies. Four weekly shows featuring comic book superheroes (and I may be forgetting one or two) coming to a screen in your living room within the next few weeks. And movies? Oh, shucks – if you’re bothering to read this you know about the honkin’ big movies. Most of them do damn well at the box office and some do damn well in the billion-dollar arena and that profit margin may be a reason we comics geeks have attained the aforementioned respectability. Anything that’s reaping those bucks has to be good, right?

Back then, 50 Septembers ago, I could not imagine that one day I would be doing copy for a computer-sourced venue and if I thought of computers at all, I probably called them something like “electronic brains.” And, what’s more, I’m using one of those electronic brains to produce the copy. But here I am.

Wondering, a little, what to do next. I’ve been electronically braining this column for a few years and maybe, just maybe, it’s time to do something new with it. Or maybe not. I might just decide that it ain’t broke and don’t need no fixing.

Meanwhile, Shana Tovah.