Saturday, October 06, 2007

Number 199

Whither 'Golden Age'?

Three subjects in the posting today.

An e-mailer has written to ask, "What is your definition of 'golden age', anyhow? According to most authorities the golden age was from 1938 to 1955 when the comics code came in. Your blog has comic books from the 40s, 50s, 60s, even 70s. You must have a liberal interpretation of golden age."

I do. I believe the wise man who when asked, "When was the golden age?" answered, "Age 12." That's about the time I took what was an interest in reading comics, and turned it into a lifelong love. I call this blog Pappy's Golden Age Blogzine for a reason. It's about my highly personal affection for a collection of different styles and eras. I don't dispute the general consensus that the Golden Age of comic books was from 1938-1955, and it makes sense to identify it as an era, a set of dates created for the purposes of dealers and The Comic Book Price Guide. But it's not carved into granite anywhere. If it inspired me, no matter when it was published, to me it's part of my personal golden age.

However, the writer continues: "You also run stories you don't seem to like, slamming them with criticism. Why put stories on your blog you don't like?" Ah, but I do like those stories. Just because I like them doesn't mean I can't see what's wrong with them. I am a critic in everyday life, looking past the obvious and the apparent. That has seeped into my blog. Even a poorly written or illogical story can be fun to read. But I still retain my critical faculties. My 'gosh-wow' sense up and left me years ago.

For reasons peculiar to me, I consider these representative titles and covers to all be within my personal definition of "Golden Age":

The death of Lord Greystoke

It's interesting to see how cartoonists handle similar subject matter. Well, it's interesting to me, anyway. The posting in Pappy's #198 on early Joe Kubert led me to what I consider a masterpiece of Kubert's, the issues of Tarzan he did for DC in the early '70s. That in turn led me to Russ Manning's Gold Key Tarzan of the Apes adaptation from 1965, and then to the graphic novel version of Tarzan Of The Apes by Burne Hogarth, published in 1972. How each of them handled the sequence with the death of Tarzan's father, Lord Greystoke, is shown here.

Kubert chose to show the action from a medium long shot, putting Kala, the female ape who raised Tarzan, in the forefront of the panel where Greystoke is being besieged by apes.

Manning didn't show the action at all, except for the ape bursting into the cabin. The next page shows Kala taking the infant, so Lord Greystoke's death is "off-camera."

On the other hand, Hogarth drew the actual killing of Tarzan's dad. Click on the pictures for full-size images.
All of these artists were--and are--heavy hitters in the comic art department, each with a distinctly individual style, each with their own way of staging and drawing a sequence. I wouldn't pick one over the other because they are all great.

Hogarth's young Tarzan

I hadn't looked at Burne Hogarth's Tarzan Of The Apes for many years. This is a first edition printing my wife gave to me for Christmas in '72. I was going to hold it up to Pappy's readers as an example of an early--and popular--graphic novel. I was going to point out that Hogarth had drawn the Sunday Tarzan for newspaper syndication for many years. Then I looked at it the other day and was surprised to see that the book could be considered gay erotica. There's been a change in perceptions over the years, mine included. When I first read this book none of this was apparent to me, but I'll bet it was very apparent to gay readers.

None of that takes anything away from Hogarth's beautiful, action-filled artwork. He's considered one of the premiere artists of the figure in motion. What it does is give me a new insight into the artist.


James Van Hise said...

Shortly after Hogarth's Tarzan of the Apes was published in the 1970s, I attended a convention in Florida where he was a guest. One thing I found peculiar about the book were the rediculous extremes Hogarth went to in his art not to show Tarzan's penis, so much so that his avoidance of showing it drew the reader's eye directly to Tarzan's crotch because of how clumsily it would be hidden. When someone asked Hogarth straight up why he never showed the naked Tarzan's penis, he dismissed it with a joke, claiming that people would then have argued about how big it should have been. The impression I got from the art was that Hogarth was just not comfortable with the idea of drawing a penis.

Alan Lawrence said...

Ever heard of censorship? Ask yourself who the comics were aimed at also.
It's not that artists don't want to depict human anatomy the way the ancient Greeks or Romans did, it's just that artists like Hogarth were
not working in ancient Greece or Rome, they were working in puritanical Christian America. The land of the free with all its sexual phobias and legal restrictions.