Monday, April 26, 2010

The Answer Is Out There...Maybe

One of my favorite parts about the magic of DVDs is all the special features, behind-the-scenes documentaries, and interviews with the movie's creators.  I'm a special features kinda gal.  I'll sit there and watch the entire director's commentary of a movie.  (Except maybe Justice League: New Frontier.  After Darwyn Cooke said "they did a great job making the movie look like the book" for about the fifth time, I had to turn it off.  You're great, Darwyn, and I love you and all, but I need a little something more than that.)


I like to hear about how things are made.  Even really silly questions like "How is baking soda made?" cross my mind and warrant research on my part.  So when I started reading up on one of my favorite comic book characters, the Martian Manhunter, and found very little information about the how's and why's of his creation, I started feeling a little downtrodden.

While Frank of the Idol-Head has put together an always-intelligent rundown of who created the Martian Manhunter, I'm really feeling the need to hear something directly from at least one of J'onn's creators.  I'm guessing that if a Martian Manhunter Archives volume was ever put out, DC might dig through their internal archives and put together at least a bio of Joe Samachson, Joe Certa, Jack Miller, and/or Mort Weisinger.

But I have this vision of a vertical file sitting in DC's offices filled with interviews from all sorts of Silver Age writers and artists, and maybe even some inter-office memos and notes on napkins detailing the creation of many a Silver Age hero.  Now, I have no idea about whether or not such records actually do exist, nor how meticulous DC was about documenting its history, nor whether they'd let anyone have access to it.  But if they do have that information, it would be the motherlode.

Now, considering that my line of work involves teaching other people how to research stuff, you'd think I'd come up with something.  Well, not yet.  Just a cursory search proved harder than I thought.  Part of the problem is not knowing what I'm looking for (a published interview, personal letters, etc.), and whether or not it actually exists and was archived somewhere.  Plus, it's my professional opinion that the archives world is just plain dumb for never developing a federated search infrastructure (i.e. something like Google or the Library of Congress), because I believe archivists are greedy little miscreants hiding away the great treasures of history from the public, and are definitely one notch above librarians on the Grand Scale O' Evilness.  I can't say any of this anywhere else because my best friend is, in fact, an archivist.  (Muahahaha.)

The second problem is that comics aren't really considered "academic" by many people, including universities, who are the main holders of archived materials, and therefore probably weren't collected, or not even donated in the first place.  A university is going to be a lot less interested in the private papers of Joe Samachson than they are the guy who invented the cotton gin.  Yes, I know, it's a great tragedy to all, but it's a sick world we live in.

So, I will keep looking.  There are university archives with historical comic book collections, but unless it was published in a magazine somewhere, there probably aren't any author interviews.  Searching archives is not difficult but accessing material is laborious, as it often takes a personal visit, or, remotely, a phone call or e-mail to an archivist to obtain photocopies of materials.  (That is, if they even allow them to be photocopied.)  Rarely are things digitized and made easily accessible online, becuase, again, archivists are evil.  So I find the odds stacked against my favor and coming up empty.  I had already tried to ascertain the exact fictionopolis of the Martian Manhunter (as anecdotally documented in a letters column) and come up with nothing after searching for weeks.

Maybe I'll find something.  If I do, I'll let you know.


Tom said...

DC didn't even save original art. Editors would throw it away, or give it away to any visiting fan who wanted to take a tour of the DC offices. And you want memos? And napkin sketches?

A few editors saved copies of freelancers' pay vouchers and other records, and these have been discovered posthumously. So now we have accurate writer and artist credits for every comic book edited by Julius Schwartz and Robert Kanigher. Jack Schiff has been dead for several years. If he kept such records, no one's found them yet. But a researcher would have better luck dealing with Jack Schiff's family than with DC.

If DC had what you were looking for, they'd publish it. They'd know that you and a lot of other fans would pay money to see it, and DC wants your money, Liss, all of it.

LissBirds said...

Hey, I can dream that the Holy Grail is out there somewhere on a cocktail napkin.

Giving out artwork? Tours of the DC offices? Now there's an idea. Bet they wouldn't let you set foot in their office in today's day an age. Ahh, simpler times...

I was hoping that because of J'onn's smaller fanbase, any information wouldn't have been deemed marketable enough to publish, and is still hiding somewhere. Or maybe I was operating under the erroneous assumption that DC likes to keep secrets.

Diabolu Frank said...

Liss, my favorite story about original art is how Steve Ditko uses his as cutting boards. A bunch of original art also walked out the doors in the 60s and 70s when the fan-pros came along.

I believe you can still schedule a sanitized tour through both Marvel and DC's offices.

If you're interested in DC behind-the-scenes history, look up Alvin Schwartz on the web, or check Gerard Jones' Men of Tomorrow: Geeks, Gangsters, and the Birth of the Comic Book at your local library. I haven't had time to read the latter, but I understand a good chunk of Mort Weisinger biography is in there (Schiff and Julie come up as well.)

Since you mentioned it, I bet Joe Samachson's scientific research is archived somewhere, and possibly records related to his pulp writing.