Honoring the Past

Yesterday, I was visiting with art dealer and pal Spencer Beck. As it happened, he had just gotten several boxes of materials from Marie Severin to catalogue and prepare to sell. Marie, for those not in the know, is a terrific artist and colorist, whose career dates back to the days of EC Comics and was one of the mainstays at Marvel during the 1960s and 1970s.  Her versatility was seen in things like the Hulk and King Kull stories, but she was also a wonderful cartoonist with a wicked sense of humor.

The boxes were an amazing trip down memory lane and any of us who appreciate the history of the field would have been amazed. It seems she kept everything, from a birthday telegram from EC to memos written in the 1970s. Not only was there a ton of materials from her work, she kept photocopies and Photostats of work done by other artists. There were original sketches by Al Williamson and cover paintings by Earl Norem; photos from the Marvel Bullpen, and other ephemera.

It got me to thinking about the field’s history and how its being well-mined by TwoMorrows’ Alter Ego and Back Issue! But they seem to be read mainly by those who lived through those eras. My guess would be that many of the people who have begun working in the comics field over the last decade barely know who the field came to be or who the players were through the eras.  Is it essential? Somewhat.  While it won’t necessarily make them better writers or artists, it might make them better professionals, understanding how the field evolved, how the efforts of certain individuals made their income possible. As the larger cons celebrate the past and bring out those still with us, the current working pros should know who these people are and why they’re being celebrated.

It’s not just the comics field that should do a better job of educating their current practitioners. Major League Baseball and some of its teams cover the history but not all the professional sports do this. And they should.

If you represent a team (or publisher), you should know something about them, be conversant with the veterans and the fans from different generations.  Too often I see athletes unaware of the players they are being compared with and they should have some appreciation of who these people were and how much of a compliment this is.

Without honoring the history, the field is the poorer for it.  San Diego Comic-con will celebrate its 40th anniversary this summer while Marvel is celebrating its 70th all year long followed by DC’s 75th. Pay attention and learn something, the stories can be utterly fascinating.

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