Wednesday, July 17, 2013

The Titanium Toon Age Trifecta

Talking with Fireworks / Here, It Never Snowed - The Twilight Sad (mp3)

Whether the 1980s deserves credit for great music deserves to be debated. Despite my ‘80s music bias, it deserves to go down as a relatively embarrassing decade. Its synths and hair metal arguably served the one-two punch from which great hard rock music has never fully recovered.

For comics, on the other hand, in strip and book form, the 1980s is the Titanium Toon Age, and this claim is deserves to be beyond dispute.

In 1980, both Bloom County and The Far Side were born. These were John the Baptist and Mother Mary to Calvin & Hobbes. They were so powerful as to render almost insignificant the embarrassment that was Garfield.

Chris Claremont and John Byrne ushered in the decade in comic books by making X-Men an unstoppable force of nerd culture, and Frank Miller had begun to warm up a run that would make Daredevil the surprise of the early ‘80s. Alan Moore lurked. In swamps, mostly. Where he would remain until he took a character even more doomed to suckage than Daredevil -- DC’s Swamp Thing -- and made it into something mind-numbingly ambitious. Sandman and Hellblazer arrived at the end of the decade, more or less guaranteeing that nothing afterward could match the breadth and potency of that 10-year stretch of comic creativity.

In the middle, the trifecta of comic perfection hit. All three in less than a single year. Calvin and Hobbes in November 1985, The Dark Knight Returns in February 1986, and Watchmen in September.

Highway 61 Revisited, Pet Sounds and Sgt. Peppers came out in 1965, '66 and '67 respectively, so that might be as close as any genre gets to cramming top-level nigh-perfection into such a short span of time.

But the Titanium Toon Age was so perfect that we comic nerds are mostly still waiting around for something to return us to that glory. The worst music fans are like this, but most of us in the real world don’t yearn for a return to 1967. Few of us yearn for a return to some magical past pinnacle of television or film, either. But funny pages and comic books are different, because we’ve witnessed the best, and the rest is mere shadow, some feeble attempt to move around or beyond the ‘80s and consistently failing to do so.

The print industry is in the last stages of Alzheimer’s, and the film industry, with its increasingly omnipotent special effects, has stolen the surface mojo of comics. And although I love my superhero movies more than most -- even the sketchy and flawed ones -- it loses the ceaseless optimistic wonderment of the print experience.

Or maybe this isn't about comics at all. Maybe it's about having lost a quarter-century.

The trailer for a Dear Mr. Watterson, a documentary exploring the cultural and comic strip impact of Calvin & Hobbes was recently released. The film is due in November, although I doubt a Chattanooga theater will ever consider it, since it involves two things Chattanoogans don’t always appreciate: humor and literacy.


Jessica said...

Don't forget "Who framed Roger Rabbit" Surely that dererves a mention in the great toon age.

G. B. Miller said...

I loved "Calvin and Hobbes" so much that I used the name Calvin as a middle name for my son.

And for a while, he lived up to the comic stip.