Wednesday, February 17, 2010

A 'Slight' History of the Golden Age of Comic Books: Super Heroes: What is 'The Golden Age'?

What is a Golden Age?

Well, the actual term dates back to Greek Mythology and legend, and it refers to "The Best Age" in a sequence of ages. In a way of breaking down a history, chunks of time are separated into an "Age" to have a better perspective on what has come, and keeps common things together to better represent, what relates to what. In this example, Greek "periods of time"...or being...or states of being, where "The Golden Age" (a period of peace, harmony, stability and prosperity), "The Silver Age", "The Bronze Age", "The Iron Age" and so on.

When used in modern parlance, and the way I use it, it's used in relating to an art form or industry. "The Golden Age of Comic Books", "The Golden Age of Comic Strips", "The Golden Age of Radio", "The Golden Age of Television", "The Golden Age of Films", "The Golden Age of Rap Music", etc....

A time when each of these are first booming, when the artists contributing to these fields are at their most productive and creative. Most creative because, there's no past parameters of "what can be done or can't be done", so there is free range to experiment and grow and to just play in a medium. Most productive because, the field is usually at it's most commercially successful at this point, and there are more venues to practice the art.

What came first, "most creative" or "most productive"? That's like the chicken and the egg question.

A quick breakdown of the time frame of the ages of comic books:


"The Formative Years" or "The Formative Age". From the invention of the comic book and including all the formats it went through before finding it's place in the American culture. We'll cover some of this on our way to the meat of our history.


"The Golden Age". When the first true artisans entered the field. Folks who had to figure out what this new medium brought and what they could bring to it. Experimentation, discovery, innovation. Commercial success comes with a successful new vehicle for "telling stories". And isn't that what our brains all want? To be told a good story!


"The Atomic Age". After the first influx of creators has left their mark, tastes of the audience change (especially after WWII), and the first wave of creators who grew up WITH this new medium in mind when training for their careers. The first writers and artists who saw what the medium could be and built on it intelligently, still pushing the boundaries.

1956-1970 or so:

"The Silver Age". The first wave creators are now seasoned professionals and dynamic artists, blend with the second wave and build on what they've both wrought. This combined with a more aware audience leads to a more engaged and in-depth (self-aware and inside) series of stories. This could also be called "The Second Golden Age".


"The Bronze Age": Things get more simplistic and not as dynamic. Artists are more derivative of themselves and the audience becomes more ignorant of what the medium's potential is, and only know what comes in their time. Things begin to flat line. Comics are sedentary. The first influx of "Fan Boys" as contributing professionals.


A mix of...

Great stuff!

...and really, really, really, really, really, really shitty stuff!

"The Modern Age", "The Age of Independents", "The Age of Creators Rights", "The Plasticine Age" own term for a segment of comics...and another..."The Jim Lee/Rob Liefeld Homoerotic Art-How Far Can Batman's Thong Creep Up His Keister-Show All The Details of the Boot Treads and Have No Story-Telling Skills-Computer Gradient Coloring Slickness and No Substance To Design/Layout/Composition/Timing-"This is My Badass Face"-Age": A lot of creative doors were opened as relates to independent publishers and creators rights/ownership. A lot of hacks showed up on the scene being even MORE derivative of what came before and resting on their laurels as print technology became slicker and they could do less and seem like more. I'll come back to this age one day, but only to focus on the good parts. Allen Moore, Frank Miller, Dave Simm, Jeff Smith...there really is a lot of good stuff, but the no-talent hacks still prevail.

That should give a good outline and perspective for us as I continue my 'slight' history of the Golden Age of Comic Books.

Next installment: What the heck is a "Comic Book"?

See ya then!

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