MEANWHILE, IN THE FEVERPITCH WANKPIT OF PHILIP K DICK’S ARTIFICIAL CONSCIOUSNESS NESTED INSIDE THE ROBOT HEAD OF JACK KIRBY: someone in America is creating graphic novels for the newsstand and the bookstore. They weren’t called graphic novels. Not least because this is happening in 1968 and 1971. A crime graphic novel in magazine format, featuring a protagonist appearing not unlike Lee Marvin in POINT BLANK. (Remember that brilliant trailer for POINT BLANK? “Walker is an emotional and primitive man.”) A fantasy graphic novel in mass-market paperback format, to go on the bookshelf next to those CONAN fix-ups by Lin Carter and L Sprague De Camp (and, in this book’s cover tagline, set in “The Primitive World Of The Future”). In this alternate world, someone is pushing actual graphic novels, in commercial and lauded genres, into the cultural mainstream.
Except, of course, that this is actually the real world, and that person was Gil Kane.
Gil Kane, real name Eli Katz, in his early days an assistant to Jack Kirby (Kane on Kirby: “I think that he saw everybody as competition; that was the thing that finally dawned on me. It was Jack against the world.”), partly trained at New York’s School Of Industrial Art (now the High School of Art and Design): American comics’ great draughtsman and composer, a fierce autodidact, a speed demon to rival Kirby, stridently self-critical and always looking for the next mountain to climb (even when he couldn’t necessarily see a way to do it). He frequently operated outside his comfort zone and backed himself into positions where he had to bootstrap things into existence from thin air and compressed time.
This combination of traits meant that, while Jack Kirby was wondering how to get out of Marvel and over to DC and seething about not owning anything and not getting the respect he was due and all the rest of it, the urbane Mr Kane said screw it and talked the printers of germinal American lefty magazine RAMPARTS (Eldridge Cleaver worked for RAMPARTS before becoming the Black Panther Party’s Minister Of Information) into cranking out two hundred thousand copies of HIS NAME IS SAVAGE, a crime/espionage thriller (the form some call “spy-fi”) that you might consider a harder-edged MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E. (cancelled in January 1968, SAVAGE released in June 1968) fused with the vicious dynamics of the aforementioned POINT BLANK. There were cyborgs running around, to be sure, but there was also the redoubtable Savage smashing out every tooth in some bastard’s head with the barrel of his gun. Which, at the time, was something you did not see regularly in American comics. That kind of blunt violence was a bit of a jolt.
SAVAGE was conceived and illustrated (and owned) by Kane, but it was written by Archie Goodwin, in a textually dense style that made a forty-page comic into a meaty reading proposition. The lettering is typeset rather than hand-executed, to give it a more “adult” feel. This must have been a pretty alien thing to discover on the newsstand. And not many people discovered it, because the distribution was screwed up and, by Kane’s estimate, maybe as little as ten percent of it actually got out into the world.
(There’s a DO ANYTHING 2 which is all about all the things Archie Goodwin touch between, say, 1966 and 1996, that would be a history of the maturing of the American commercial form and its writing, and what now seems to be a secret, the little-optimum that was EPIC ILLUSTRATED, an anthology magazine-format comic of original creator-owned work released on the newsstand eleven years after HIS NAME IS SAVAGE by Marvel Comics.)
So it didn’t go so well. But he did it before Will Eisner did it, before Corben did it, before Jack Katz (!) did it with THE FIRST KINGDOM (sort of) before pretty much anyone did it. And then he tried it again on the bookshelf.
I think this bloody robot head has just noticed that I have original art from that book here in my office. It doesn’t look best pleased. I’m thinking I need a plan to switch this thing off.
I was going to write a whole thing here about BROADCAST AND THE FOCUS GROUP and THE TRANSACTIONAL DHARMA OF ROJ, which are two records I’ve been listening to for the last week, but I’ve run out of time, so just google them and be educated. Also google terms like “library music,” “hauntology,” “ghost box uk” and “mordant music.”
I can be sent things via Avatar Press at Avatar Press, 515 N. Century Blvd., Rantoul, IL 61866, USA, but I cannot promise a response or a review. You can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org, but I warn you, it’s a dump address, not my regular email address, so it can take me a few days to check it.
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