To Be Kurt, Not Short
Concluding PopMatters’ interview with comic book scribe Kurt Busiek conducted at Washington DCs Beyond Comics in June. Kurt is questioned about the place his writing has in superhero publishing history and the appropriate labels for such a history.
PopMatters: There’s a book coming out around August by a gentleman named Geoff Klock entitled How to Read Superhero Comics and Why. One of the things he posits is that, along with Kingdom Come, Astro City and Marvels helped the genre emerge from the “dark age” that Alan Moore’s Watchmen and Frank Miller’s Batman: The Dark Knight Returns inadvertently set in motion.
KB: Yeah, Watchmen, Dark Knight, and various others set off and age of deconstruction. Everybody was concerned with pulling apart the superhero, its absurdities and its insanities. And, to my mind, to deconstruct something it to take it apart to see how it works so that you can put it back together again and then take it out on the highway and see what you can do with it. So, when I did Marvels and then later with Astro City, my concern was with doing reconstruction: with taking all the lessons learned from deconstruction and putting the engine back together, seeing how to make it run even better. There were other people, consciously or unconsciously, very involved in that - Mark Waid, Karl Kesel, Scott McCloud, for instance.
PM: You went to high school with McCloud, didn’t you?
KB: Yup, high school, junior high school, college the bathroom. (Laughs) But yes, Scott is my fault; I take full credit for Scott. I forced him to read comics. If I hadn’t, he’d be making good money today.
PM: Both Klock and a writer by the name of Ray Mescallado -
KB: I know Ray.
PM: You know Ray?
KB: Ray has conducted the two best interviews that I’ve ever been a part of.
PM: Well, in one of his articles that I tracked down, the same approach that Klock labels “the Third Movement,” Ray calls “nuevo traditionalism.”
KB: Yeah: “Nuevo Traditionalism.” I told him that’s a stupid term. I like “reconstruction.” It’s simple. Nuevo traditionalism sounds like some sort of trendy restaurant that’s going to be gone in eighteen months.
PM: What’s the future of Astro City [currently on an indefinite hiatus]?
KB: When I have three scripts done, we will be back on the production schedule. I am working on the third of those scripts now. So, Astro City will be coming back, and we will be making more of an announcement soon, when we can announce things that we’re sure of.
PM: There’s also Power Company. What about Superstar and ShockRockets?
KB: Well, Superstar was a one-shot, and ShockRockets was a mini-series. But, I’d like to do a sequel. Heck, I’d like to do a Superstar ongoing series. But we had to walk away from the publisher of Gorilla Comics because he wasn’t coming up with the money that was promised, forcing us to finance the books out of our own pockets. Six issues of ShockRockets and one double-sized Superstar was about all I could afford!
PM: One more somewhat massive question, since you are heavily steeped in Marvel history. I threw out the term “Dark Age” before. Many people agree that there was a Golden Age of superhero comics. Many people agree that there was a Silver Age. Some people believe that there was/is a Bronze Age of comics, then it’s pretty much up for grabs. In your conception or perception as both a fan and writer, what are the appropriate Ages for you?
KB: You can really only identify the Ages that are clearly over. So, the one you’re in at the moment is always called “The Modern Age” until you give it an actual name because then you’ve put a headstone one it and you’re on to the next one. Certainly, the Golden Age starts with Superman [in Action Comics #1] and ends in 1950-51 with the cancellation of all but three superhero titles. The Silver Age I see as happening in three distinct phases. The beginning of the Silver Age is Showcase #4, the first appearance of the second Flash, until Daredevil #1, which is the last of the core, foundational Marvel titles. The middle goes until 1968 when Marvel got its own distribution deal and it started expanding. As things started to change very much for Marvel, DC Comics began doing things like bringing Dick Giordano in to edit comics, Mort Weisinger retired, Julie Schwatrz moved over to Superman, Jack Kirby left Marvel, Stan Lee got promoted up to Marvel’s publisher position, etc. So, from 1968 to the death of Gwen Stacey, I consider that the ramping down of the Silver Age.
PM: So Marvels actually catches the last gasp of the Silver Age.
KB: Yes, we picked the death of Gwen Stacey as our final story as the coda of the Silver Age.
PM: What came after the Silver Age, in your opinion?
KB: Technically, I suppose, the Bronze Age, if only because you already did Gold and Silver. I figure the Bronze Age is starting even before Gwen is dead, but probably Conan #1 is the first Bronze Age title. There’s a new wave of experimentation going on then with sword-and-sorcery books. And the Bronze Age eventually gets taken over with the success of Uncanny X-Men. It may be that between 1970 and 1975-6 is another interegnum, like the space between the Golden and Silver Ages. But then follows “The Mutant Age” or something - “The Direct Sales Age.” “The Age of Angst,” whatever you want to call it.
PM: Was there a tombstone on the Bronze Age?
KB: I think it’s a little too close to tell. In 1974-75, when I started reading comics, people thought they were still in the Silver Age. And only around 1982-3 could one say, “No, the Silver Age ended somewhere around ‘69, ‘70, or ‘72 at the very latest.” So, once you had enough distance from it to see the historical trends, then you could see the arc of the Age. To come up with a label for an Age just to have something to call it isn’t valid analysis - it’s just a way of categorizing things so that the people writing the price guides know how much to multiply its value by. I haven’t heard anyone put together a decent argument for another Age after Silver that has a discernable beginning, middle, and end. But, I’m sure somebody will - I’m sure there’s some sort of organizing principle out there. Whether it’s writer-driven or artist-driven, it’s always a cycle.
PM: Kurt, thank you for your time today. Are there any closing comments you’d like to end with?
KB: I don’t know “Damn you all!”
PM: Can I really quote that?
No. I have a Sharpie marker. And I know where you live.
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