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Comics You Should Own flashback – 1963

While I’m trying to wrap my head around the latest installment of this series, another Alan Moore-penned comic (I’m in the letter “F,” so you can probably guess which one it is), I thought I’d re-post a different Alan Moore-penned comic, which is a bit less serious but no less essential. And you know what: SPOILERS!

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1963 by Alan Moore (writer), Rick Veitch (penciller, issues 1, 3, 5, 6), Steve Bissette (penciller, issues 2, 3, 4; inker, issue 4), Jim Valentino (penciller, issue 4), Dave Gibbons (inker, issues 1, 2, 6), Don Simpson (inker, issue 3), Chester Brown (inker, issue 3), John Totleben (inker, issues 4, 5). (Phew!)

Image Comics, 6 issues (#1-6), cover dated April-October 1993.

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This mini-series is brought to you by most of the people who brought you the revitalized and excellent Swamp Thing in the 1980s, but it’s much less consequential than that. This series came out in 1993, and it’s the beginning of Moore’s affiliation with Image, or, as some people call it, his “selling-out” period. Well, maybe Moore desperately needed the money or something, but it’s like an album by Prince: it might not be his best, but it’s better than 90% of what’s out there. I own this and Moore’s run on WildC.A.T.s, and while neither is comparable to his classic writing (or even his more recent ABC stuff), it’s still better than most of what passes for comics.

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1963 is a pastiche of early Marvel comics. It’s not really a satire, and it’s not really a parody, because it doesn’t really make fun of those old comics. What it does is lovingly recreate those early issues of, for instance, The Fantastic Four. You might ask “Why the hell should I buy them, then?” and it’s a valid point, but for one, those early issues cost hundreds, if not thousands of dollars (sure, you can get them in reprints, but the originals are still dear). Another reason is because Moore can write a good story, no matter what kind of genre he’s working in. Okay, so maybe he does satirize the “Marvel Age” of comics a little, but although you are laughing along as you read these issues, you never get the sense that Moore wants you too. He’s telling a story using the familiar tropes (if that’s the right word) of the Marvel Golden Age (say, 1961-1965 or so). We laugh, but we’re also swept along on a tide of nostalgia for a time when, we believe, comics were “more innocent” and “more fun.” Anyone who knows anything about Steve Ditko or has ever seen Jim Steranko’s subversive art from the period knows that’s bullshit, but it’s what comics fans believe. Even today there are web sites devoted to the 1960s-era comics as an example of “what comics should be,” and comic book writers today are reaching back to “re-imagine” those days. Moore has never been one for nostalgia, and I think that’s why 1963 does work as a satire, if you want to look at it that way. Instead of writing modern stories that hearken back to a more innocent age (a trend that began with Marvels and continues to the present day), Moore simply says, “I can write as if it were 1963!” It’s not as easy as it sounds. The comics back then were seriously compressed – eight pages to tell a tale, and move on! There was a crapload of information packed into every panel, which is why you had captions and thought balloons and expository dialogue that no one would actually say.  The decompressed luxury was not there back in the day. Yes, the comics were often ridiculous, and I’m not really a huge fan of them, but you have to admit – you got a huge bang for your 12 cents (!).

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Moore goes even further than that, with not only a recreation of a 1960s story, but a complete 1960s comic. The art, by a variety of good pencillers, is solid and unremarkable except for the fact that it looks like Kirby and Ditko and Heck and Colan and all those others from way back in the day. But the creators (and, to be honest, I don’t know how much the design of the book is by Moore and how much by the artists, although knowing a little about how Moore works, I’d guess it was mostly him), go even further. In each book there is a page with Items! on it, like Stan used to put in each Marvel book, even into the 1990s. There are also footnotes to tell you where you can find the reference that is being made by a character (such as “See Mystery Incorporated #17 – Assiduous Al”). There are letters pages with typically gushing missives and typically self-congratulatory responses. There are wacky credits (Sensational Script by Affable Al Moore; Promethean Pencils by Roarin’ Rick Veitch; Immaculate Inks by Dashin’ Dave Gibbons – you get the idea). There are crazy ads on the back (I want my own Monster S-I-Z-E Commie!). It’s all very detailed and very manipulative, as if Moore is saying, “Don’t you remember when comics were fun? Isn’t this what you really want?” Of course, this coming from a man who re-invented the superhero with Miracleman, in which the mad scientist routinely raped his female creation; crippled Barbara Gordon; made Abby Arcane clean herself with steel wool – you know, cheery stuff. Moore is playing with us, because we do feel a wave of nostalgia, even those of us (like me) who weren’t even born in the ’60s. This is what we want, we think, even as we laugh along. This is what comics ought to be.

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So what, exactly, is the mini-series about? Well, it’s about six issues long! Oh, hell, I’m not going to go into what it’s about, because like comics from the 1960s, that would just spoil the magic. There are multiple dimensions and mysterious strangers and team-ups of various superheroes, and a twist at the end that disappoints, because Moore ties everything into the “regular” Image universe in a weird way and the mini-series doesn’t even have a proper ending (the actual ending was supposed to be in an 80-page giant that never came out). This series isn’t about the story, after all, it’s about the moments. It’s about laughing at the dialogue (such as when Johnny Beyond thinks to himself, “Bleeker Street was quiet that night, you dig? Strictly from nowhere! … Your noble narrator had hit the bricks lookin’ for kicks … but all I’d found was a detour to Dullsville!”) and wondering if things were ever this good. Of course they weren’t – Moore is, after all, probably the best writer in comics history, which is why this is good. He toys with us, and we’re glad. Even though he comes up with things that sound sufficiently “Marvel Age,” it’s coming from the sensibility of 1993, and the genius of it is that it doesn’t feel forced or anachronistic. I mentioned Marvels, which is a beautiful comic in its own right. However, Marvels never feels like it was written in the 1960s, even though it takes place then (for the most part). Darwyn Cooke’s The New Frontier is also like this – it deals with the 1950s and 1960s, but it’s too modern for us to truly feel the unbridled joy of reading something bold and new. Moore obliterates thirty years of comics history, without really losing all the cynicism we’ve built up over the years. It’s an impressive achievement.

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1963 has not been collected in a trade paperback, for reasons that I’m sure are terribly fascinating and probably tie into the lack of the resolving 80-page giant.  However, the issues are pretty cheap and probably easy to find.  Check these out next time you’re at your local comic book store (you do support your local comic book store, don’t you?) and pick them up for a joyous and weird trip down memory lane.

As always, you can peruse the archives for more interesting comics.  Do so at your own risk!

18 Comments

Stephane Savoie

August 26, 2007 at 2:47 pm

I think it’s worth going into what this series was about:
How much 90s comics… ergo Image… sucked.
The big meet-up between Tomorrow Syndicate and the Image-verse (in the 80-page giant) was almost guaranteed to be a scathing commentary of the 90s comics industry. Since it never happened, Valentino had it happen in his book (Shadowhawk?), and instead it turned into an indictment of the innocence/naivete of the 60s. It was one of the more aggravating moments of 90s comics, and still burns my blood.

I’m not sure that the 1960s were about feel good comics as much as good value comics. They appealed to all ages and anyone could afford them. Today’s uncompressed storylines mean they’re simply not a viable proposition for a person on a budget. Thank goodness for the Essentials!

The really satirical part comes in when you read this:

The real satire of 1963 doesn’t become apparent until you read this: http://www.comicon.com/moore/interview_affable.htm

And of course, the basic ideas behind 1963 were developed further in Supreme, which then led to Tom Strong. I reall don’t think you can call that the “sellout” period–if Moore had wanted to sell out, he could have kept working for DC. I think it was the freedom afforded by Image that appealled to him, and Moore is one of the reasons that Image became the solid company it is today, as opposed to a vanity project for Liefeld and MacFarlane.

What bugged me somewhat about 1963 (don’t get me wrong, I did enjoy it) is that it didn’t turn out to be quite what the early previews led me to expect. Specifically, there was an article in CBG that described it as attempting to create a comic that felt like it had come out in 1963, as if you’d come across previously-unknown back issues from a company you’d never heard of.

That would have been an interesting project, but it’s not quite what Moore was doing. The winks to the modern reader are one thing (besides the crossover with the modern Image universe, there are the heavy-handed attacks on Stan Lee, among other things), but at least one of the stories would never have come out in 1963: the USA story with the Kennedy/Oswald parallels. Not only would such a story never have been printed back then, and not only is it very unlikely that a comic related to the assassination could have come out in 1963 given how late in the year it took place, but it was clearly a story that could only have been written years later and with the benefit of obsessive study of the Zapruder film.

It’s possible that this would have been dealt with in the 80-page giant, but without that I’m not sure what Moore was trying to do (trying to produce a story that looked like it accidentally paralleled real-world events by coincidence, or indicate that history had been affected by time travel, or what) apart from massively breaking kayfabe. Fortunately, it’s the only story like that (apart from the end of the last issue), although Moore did draw on Marvel concepts that hadn’t been introduced in 1963 (there are analogues to SHIELD and Galactus, for example).

On a more positive note, the attention to detail is truly impressive. CBG pointed out that the colorist mimicked the style of the time by using relatively little yellow, which wasn’t used as much because it was more expensive. That’s the kind of detail that’s easy to overlook but really contributes to the proper feel.

And, as always whenever anyone mentions ‘1963’, I remind everyone to go look at the letter column in issue #6, ‘The Tomorrow Syndicate’, for a letter from Yours Truly and Affable Al’s response. I loved the lettercolumns in that series, and getting one published there was worth ten of any other lettercolumn. (Except for ‘Groo-Grams’, the letters page so funny that it should get its own trade paperback.)

“The really satirical part comes in when you read this:

The real satire of 1963 doesn’t become apparent until you read this: http://www.comicon.com/moore/interview_affable.htm

I can’t handle all that alliteration. Care to summarize?

I collected these books well after the fact, and I always thought of them as equal parts tribute and parody of the Marvel Age. The letters column and bulletin Items! made it clear that they were stickin it to ol’ Smilin’ Stan, but I found the stories themselves to be fun and enjoyable, especially Tales From Beyond.

I have to disagree with the central thesis of this post — 1963 is a satire, and not an especially affectionate one. At least not on Moore’s part; much of the work by the various artists displays obvious enthusiasm and fondness. Moore has no such nostalgia for Stan Lee or early Marvel, and the venom is barely concealed. He never misses an opportunity to point out jingoism and mindless flag-waving, and his affection for the seeming idiocy of vintage Marvel is condescending at best. By contrast, the homage elements in Supreme and Tom Strong, drawing as they do on the history of Silver Age DC and other publishers who aren’t Marvel, are much warmer and — I’d say — a lot more accurate and well-observed.

All that said, I don’t actually dislike 1963…but I do see it as a work with a pointed agenda.

To answer one point you raise, as far as I know Moore and the artists worked “Marvel style” on these books — Moore wrote plot synopses which the artists broke down into pages and panels, then Moore scripted the dialogue to suit the finished art — so a lot of the visual appeal of the package is down to his collaborators.

FunkyGreenJerusalem

August 27, 2007 at 1:00 am

I think it was the freedom afforded by Image that appealled to him, and Moore is one of the reasons that Image became the solid company it is today, as opposed to a vanity project for Liefeld and MacFarlane.

That last part is one hell of a statement.
Got any proof for that one, or did he just change your opinion, and there for everybodies?

Mention not ad favorite 1963 from, my!

Lesson better English offered speaking mail.

Improve! Speaking my has, also!

Genius man, smart.

Going to agree with RAB…I remember from reading it when it came out, that it just felt mean spirited to me….very much in the vein of Stan Lee sucks and Kirby is awesome (he did make Kirby a god in Supreme).

As for “sell out” period…not necessarily with 1963, or his work for Wildstorm (like WildCATS) but the stuff he was doing for Maximum/Awesome/whatever Liefeld’s Group Was Called (such as Badrock vs Violator) was pretty much for booze money according to a M/A/WLGWC staffer/artist I knew at the time.

Stephane Savoie

August 27, 2007 at 3:49 pm

I think Alan Moore is doing two different things in 1963, each with its own theme, and it’s unfair to conflate them
First there is the story, and the meta-story. For me, the stories are a joy to read. Everything about them are great.
The second element is laden in the “promotional hype” columns. Implicit in some of Moore “Lee-esque” blather are some pretty critical statements about Stan Lee, and Marvel’s approach to the medium and its creators. I can see why people might this is a downer.
I will maintain that the stories themselves are excellent tho, and stand apart of any meta-criticism.

I’m not sure that the 1960s were about feel good comics as much as good value comics. They appealed to all ages…

I don’t really think that’s accurate. Those comics were written for children, and it shows. Most adults don’t need that much exposition.

I’ve only just managed to find all of these. And they’re totally awesome.

My kingdom for the 80 page giant DOUBLE IMAGE 1963 Annual!!!

I just want to know how the story ends!!!

Curse mini-series that end on a cliffhanger!!!

Must I continue to wait past 14 years!!!

Argh!!!

“in which the mad scientist routinely raped his female creation; crippled Barbara Gordon; made Abby Arcane clean herself with steel wool – you know, cheery stuff.”

When you add in Silk Silk Spectre getting kicked in the crotch, man was Moore a mysoginist (sp?) or what back in the day?

He is a great writer…but sometimes he just needs to get over himself. His tirades about the EVIL that is Stan Lee just makes me think what a petty man he is. Not like DC was all that much better during that time also, so why no beef wit DC?

Promethia aside, of course ;)

Halfway through this series and it is exceeding my expectations. The letters column has made my laught out loud on multiple occasions.

I thought 1963 was underrated and one of the best things Moore has done. The 80 page giant would have been an amazing tie up.

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