It was already happening
September is Cosmic Zap month here at Doctor Xaos Comics Madness, and today I’m talking about its remarkably early onset. It’s probably impossible to nail down a formal exact starting moment, but there’s no question that Steve Ditko and Jack Kirby boosted it into major content during the mid-60s. To repeat from the previous post, Lee & Ditko with Strange Tales 130-146 in 1965-66; Lee & Kirby with Thor: Journey into Mystery 103 – Thor 135 in 1966; and their Fantastic Four 44-60 for Galactus, the Silver Surfer, the Cosmic Cube, and lots more. It kept going and exploding with the Kree and Him in 1967 FF, then in Thor with Ragnarok, continuing with more Him, and more Inhumans stuff up through 1969.
God knows how. I mean, going by first and second glance anwyay. A gruff cigar-chomping Brooklyn combat veteran and minor commercial illustrator, pushing 50, grinding out horror and romance strips for a decidedly beta-beta level magazine publisher? Or the very image of the surly self-perceived visionary, pushing 40, who, without Marvel (such as it was, see above), would probably be living like Rorschach and handing out self-illustrated Objectivist screeds on a street corner? I think it’s in his Come In Alone essays, where Warren Ellis is baffled too: how “these weird middle-aged men” could have done what they did, exploding the cheapest of throwaway entertainment into the cultural voice of its age, or what I’m on about this month, that they weren’t coasting on the psychedelic explosion but actually helping to shape it. Kirby and Ditko weren’t seeing painted vans and funky rock posters in 1966 – the people who’d soon be doing those vans and posters were reading these guys. Not even fantasy and SF had broken it open yet; the future Bodhisattvas and apocalyptic runeswords were at best contemporary and most would come later – again, by people who had nursed at the teats of the Negative Zone and dialogues with Eternity in cheap newsprint. Evidence for an amorphous zeitgeist after all? Something in the water (Ellis’ hypothesis)? Beams from alien saucers?
Stare at this (or better the run of issues which includes it)
No history of 1960s comics is complete without a vague reference to the college scene accompanied by much wide-eyed mystification about how Ditko and Kirby “just happened” to score so heavy with the heads. That’s a well-erected wall no one’s going to scale, especially since the just-say-noers love it: “You don’t have to do drugs to be trippy!” (you’ll see similar in the sanctimonious album liner notes written in the 90s and after, according to which not a single pop musician even knew what pot and acid were at the time). Don’t get me wrong; I’m not saying they did acid; I’m saying that the whole discussion of such things is borked. No one became an artist because they tripped, so arguing did-they-or-didn’t is a waste of time.
You can’t even blame the undergrounds (see The way underground). Wonder Warthog and God Nose date back to 1964, but most of that stuff, specifically the cosmic-mystic imagery, and its more general recognition and integration with other media, lay in the late 60s and especially the early 70s. Again, the influence on artists like Rich Corben probably traveled from Marvel rather than to it.
The worst thing about discussing this is simple disinformation gumming it all up. 1964-66 wasn’t “the Sixties” yet. The confluence(s) among counterculture, post-Beatnik, Leftism, black civil rights, specific musical genres, so-called Free Love, pop art, intentional communities, Indian civil rights, anti-war, draft resistance, music festivals, pot & LSD, and a few other things had begun in spots, but had not yet become a “thing” or been named. The word “hippie” was at the moment merely an obscure derogatory term among San Francisco Beats for younger arrivals who said “cat” and “pad” but had not published any poetry, insert goatee’d snort. Seven years later, you’ll see all of that and more in Kirby’s New Gods which is hippie to its core, but go back to 1964 – what on Earth was he doing making up characters like this? What on Earth was that growing down, down, down, off the God of Thunder’s freaking head?
Let me explain long hair to you. In 1964, this over here on the right is what “long hair” looked like, and I do mean the longest anyone in Anglo-American culture could begin to conceive for a male human. The Beats grew beards, not head-locks; all those hairy Ginsberg pics come from the 70s. Really long hair appeared when the first round of LBJ’s draftees returned from their tour in Vietnam, having refused to cut their hair in-country as a means of defiance against the draft and the war. These guys came back to the campuses to discover SDS on the rampage – and to provide it with the first organizers for effective draft resistance. They were the first longhairs, and it took a while for everyone else to catch up, hippies included (although a certain 1900-style dandyism was known at the early Haight, it was ear-length). Rockers figured it out first and put the scissors away fast, but otherwise, look at the photos of campus and street protests of the late 60s, shoot, look at the photos of the first performance of Hair: you’re not going to see the manes like they show in the movies. Really long hair like Thor’s didn’t develop for Hair until the actors had time to grow it out, the do’s you see in Woodstock are first-growth on the early adopters, and it wasn’t casually around for men until 1971 at the earliest.
You got me on that one. I have no idea how Kirby did it. To extend back out again to the larger cultural phenomenon. I can at least imagine that he and Lee were somehow in real contact with youth culture, way too savvy to just be reading about it in Life. I dunno about Ditko.
The bridge into the wider realm of Marvel work is obviously Steranko
and I am beginning to think pre-Marvel Dave Cockrum and some other stuff at DC deserves some recognition in this too. From there forward, the zap lived as long as it still held the Kirby and Ditko spark. Starlin dedicated his most out-there Warlock work to them, and a whole lot of people in other art, media, cultural iconography of any kind, should do that too.
Next: A dangerous vision
Posted on September 6, 2015, in The 70s me, Vulgar speculation and tagged Come In Alone, cosmic zap, Doctor Strange, Galactus, God Nose, Jack Katz, Jack Kirby, John Lennon, longhairs, Stan Lee, Steve Ditko, Thor, Vietnam veterans, Warren Ellis, Wonder Warthog. Bookmark the permalink. 8 Comments.