Tom Spurgeon's Web site of comics news, reviews, interviews and commentary

November 6, 2011

Les Daniels, RIP


"As confining as the emphasis on superheroes has been the promotion of the concept of the 'Golden Age' of comic books, a term used to designate the period between 1938 (the year in which the germinal Superman feature first appeared) and 1945. This was, admittedly, the era in which many of the most famous characters and creators got their start; it was the time when comic books came into their own. But it was also a period which began with crude drawing and somewhat simple-minded scripting, a period sustained more by the excitement of novelty than by excellence of performance."

"There was an important reason why these comics appeared in the forties and fifties -- comics, that is, featuring not only animals, but animals like the Fox and the Crow, Uncle Scrooge and Gladstone Gander, who are preoccupied with money. The power and beauty of these images came less from their appeal to their pre-adolescent audience than from the fascination they held for their creators. The animals first of all provided a link with a vision of America that was rapidly disappearing: a world of small towns and barnyards that most of these men had known. Donald makes it clear in several stories that he 'lives' fictionally in Burbank, but he is obviously from much further East. Ducks live in Missouri and Kansas, not in southern California. The comics business was precarious -- fantasy-ridden and fantasy-mongering -- and for the men who created these strips (as so obviously for the great Disney himself), the animal images were echoes of the collective past they had left behind. At the same time, it is not surprising that men who were pressed for deadlines, who lived by their wits, who were misfits in other occupations, who had lived through the Depression, should embody their preoccupations with money and how to get it in the figures of irascible ducks and shifty crows."

"It is possible to more than a little suspicious about the value of the whole comics controversy. The attack was perhaps more sincere than sensible, and the defense was more successful as a business maneuver than as an artistic stand. The success of the code concept made it a simple matter to squeeze presumable objectionable publications off the market without every proving them to be in any way illicit or illegal."

"The drawings of Griffin and Moscoso have been a relatively isolated phenomenon; the only other comics with similar concerns are the attractive but unintelligible productions of John Thompson. The debut of S. Clay Wilson, on the other hand, was to have immediate and powerful repercussions. He is, for better or worse, the cartoonist and writer who defies more taboos than any other in the history of comics. He has shocked and amazed every reader who encounters his work not only because of the subject matter but because of the repellent but fascinating drawing style in which it is presented. While Crumb's great popularity is doubtless increased because of a certain roundness and cuteness in even his most reprehensible characters, Wilson's figures are as hideous as his considerable skill can make them. Yet his work has had a direct and acknowledged influence on Crumb and all other underground cartoonists, by making them aware of how much further they could go in challenging conventions of taste and judgment. Wilson's fantasies of depraved sex and violence made everything that preceded him, even in the underground, seem tame indeed. He makes the eight-pagers look romantic, and the kinky comics look chummy."

-- Les Daniels expressing ideas in 1971 that took many of the smartest current thinkers about comics decades to uncover on their own.
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