If your first reaction to Michael Eury’s book, ‘Hero-A-Go-Go!’, and the cover are what an awful selection of comic-book characters, wait until you get inside. No, only joking, Well, maybe not. Some of them really are truly awful but this is the nature of the 1960s where many of the super-heroes and super-villains were more spoofy than serious. The world of ‘camp’ humour comes from not taking things seriously and it swept through many comic companies as the key to success. Although there’s but only a brief mention of Marvel Comics, I wonder if there was an effect because they thought if the characters joked amongst themselves then it meant whole realities could send themselves up. However, enough of my analysis and let’s look at what Mike Eury and a few of his friends have to say on a variety of subjects.
If you thought the 1966 ‘Batman’ TV series was the start of the campy goofiness, then as Eury demonstrates, this was near the end of that period not the start and why the series fizzled out on its third season. If you lived through this era, something I share with Eury, then you would have taken much of this material as serious because as kids we didn’t really understand camp humour and took everything seriously. We were young, what did we know? Looking back now, I was chuckling over a lot of the things I discovered and, in some ways, grateful not all of it was imported to the UK.
Susan Sontag described camp as an art not to be taken too seriously because it’s ‘too much’. Translated the dittoed words as ‘over the top’ and you can explain it to your grand-sprogs. Examining this from my perspective. The 1960s was the break-out decade for the new generation and breaking away from the tougher parental controls after World War Two and the 1950s, From this book, you’ll soon discover much of the output, especially the comic-books, was from people who were at least 20 years older cashing in on the trend.
Some of it was revealing. If you remember the ads for Superman battling a giant Cyclops at the Worlds’ Fair, seeing the photo reality will make you glad you missed that exhibit.
The criticism of DC Comics being run, written and drawn by older people is proven with the ‘Teen Titans’ and Bob Haney being 40 years-old although he did appreciate his readers and didn’t write down to them. If anything, I wish there was some comparison to any younger writers out there at the time. The nearest was teen writer Jim Shooter and him being handed the reins of DC Comics’ ‘Captain Action’ comic-book. Should I mention a 24 year-old Jim Steranko getting started on Harvey Comics at the time?
Interestingly, Metamorpho is seen as being part of that culture. The interview with artist Ramona Fradon reveals the character’s body parts were supposed to resemble earth, fire, air and water but instead looked like wood, metal, maybe water and acne. Even so, I’m not sure if I would call him rock and roll, more like rock and assorted other elements.
There were some things that did come over. When I read the first Batman comic-strip paperback from Signet Books, I did have to wonder how crooks could be fooled by a disguised Batman breaking the glass of his watch to provide diamonds at short notice. Mind you, these were stories reprinted from the 1950s. From the looks of things, we were spared a lot of the extreme Bat-madness you Americans had.
Some areas of this book I knew of but never really paid much attention to. After all, I was in my pre-teens. Some of it I definitely knew. One thing I will comment on was in the first appearance of DC’s ‘The Inferior 5’, it was the stolen plastic ruby that Doc Gruesome’s lackey got when he couldn’t find the real thing and smashed open a kiddy gift globe that contributed to his master’s downfall. That theft has also got to be one of the funniest scenes I can still visualise from that era.
Marvel’s own ‘Not Brand Echh’ still stands up because of Marie Severin’s art and I had a sharp reminder that Gene Colan could spoof long before he got to ‘Howard The Duck’. I did wonder when he was drawing an Iron Man tale in Tales Of Suspense # 89 where Stark had his helmet ear cones sans helmet on and then off if he was referencing something.
I think my favourite character names shown were Electro-Man and his side-kick, Flicker. If that doesn’t raise a grin, you shouldn’t be buying this book.
There are an assortment of interviews. Of particular interest are with animator Ralph Bakshi as his career started with Terrytoons before moving over to Paramount. Bill Mumy recounts his time ‘Lost In Space’. What was interesting about the series itself but probably not known by Mike Eury was the comicbook stories of ‘Space Family Robinson’, which was release prior to ‘Lost In Space’ were reprinted in the UK in the ‘Lady Penelope’ comic and the mystery of the differences between the two series are explained here.
It goes without saying that there is an intensive look at the 1966 ‘Batman’ series but I was more struck by the look at the 1966 theatre production, ‘It’s A Bird…It’s A Plane…It’s Superman’, and was really wishing they could show more when the interview with its Superman, Bob Holiday, followed and thinking what a nice honest guy about his career and then got stricken by the reminder at the end of him dying last year.
The look at all the various American cartoon series from the 1960s should stir some memories and you do get the lyrics to many of their titles. To add to the topping on this camp cake, we have a look at the pop spins into comic-books with everything from The Beatles to The Monkees to The Archies and any wannabees in the middle.
A lot of this book should be read with tongue firmly in cheek but there are some serious overtones in places that will show just how a trend can quickly develop across a population and vanish just as quickly. From a UK perspective, we caught some of it because of how many US shows we had on the box over here but I’m less sure if we realised it was camp at the time. But then, in the 1960s, the only thing we knew was camp over here was a bottled coffee liquid.
I did have a ponder on whether Mike Eury forgot anything. Despite the wide DC Comics coverage and who went far more camp than Marvel, I think he forgot about the checker strip across the top of their comics for a couple years to appear chic.
This book will undoubtedly give you a nostalgia kick if you lived through the 1960s or at least catch sight of things you absorbed without question at the time. Quite what the modern generation will make of this material is hard to say. I suspect somewhere down the line, similar books can be done looking at trends from later decades and the realisation, especially if you did one of the current decades, that the merchandise is still there, much of it better quality but at a far more expensive price. At least it was a lot more funny back then.
(pub: TwoMorrows Publishing. 270 page illustrated large softcover. Price: $36.95 (US). ISBN: 978-1-60549-073-1. Direct from them, you can get it for $31.41 (US))
check out websites: http://www.twomorrows.com/ and http://twomorrows.com/index.php?main_page=product_info&cPath=95_94&products_id=1273