On the cusp of the release of “The Dark Knight Rises” The Housing Works Bookstore Cafe (126 Crosby Street, New York, New York) hosted an enjoyable and informative panel discussion aimed at graphic novel/comic book fans. The event shared it’s name with the recently released hardcover Leaping Tall Buildings: The Origins of American Comics published by Powerhouse Books. Authored by writer Christopher Irving and photographer Seth Kushner, previously of the Graphic NY website, the volume features interviews with key figures in the industry from golden age to underground. In addition to the book Irving edits an online ‘zine The Drawn Word, which is of equal interest to genre fans and collectors.
DC’s Dynamic Duo, The Other One…
Graciously on hand for the charitable event were writer Dennis O’Neil and artist Neal Adams who discussed their early 1970’s revitalization of Batman and Green Arrow. Though the popularity of the 1960’s Batman TV series boosted the caped crusader’s profile in popular culture the “Biff, Bang, Pow” campiness and commensurate decline in quality of the actual comic books soon left the DC editors with a less than compelling character.
In 1971 Editor Julius Schwartz brought the writer and artist together with an intention to “avoid the crap.” O’Neil created a set of guidelines harking back to the stealthy crime fighter of the earliest Bob Kane, Bill Finger and Jerry Robinson stories. Noting Science Fiction author Alfred Bester’s “obessed” characters as inspiration O’Neil outlined a psychological key to the Dark Knight persona. This consistency of personality was a giant leap beyond the “anything goes” loopy spin of DC scripts at the time. As O’Neil said during the panel talk “Batman doesn’t fight dinosaurs… doesn’t time travel.” He deliberately avoided using outre villains like The Joker, Riddler and Two-Face. Adams’ sinewy depictions perfectly complimented the reality driven stories and a real life DC dynamic duo was born.
Clearly iconoclasts in a time when drug stories and ethnic diversity in comic books was nearly unheard of O’Neil and Adams went on to create now classic barrier breaking moments in comics history. During the evening the two gave an extemporaneous good cop/bad cop view of those accomplishments and behind the scenes business. Adams generally leaned toward unvarnished recollections with “F-Bomb” punctuation, while O’Neil was willing to apply a bit of balm to the memories – though he did believe ignorance of writer Alfred Bester a knock-out worthy offense. They both enjoyed teasing the audience with supposed spoilers based on their premiere night viewing of “The Dark Knight Rises.”
Publisher Powerhouse Books donated copies of Leaping Tall Buildings which quickly sold out as attendees took the opportunity to have them inscribed by Adams, O’Neil and the authors. All proceeds from the event went to the benefit of Housing Works.
How It Works, How You Help…
Housing Works is a not-for-profit organization the mission of which is “to end the dual crises of homelessness and AIDS through relentless advocacy, the provision of lifesaving services, and entrepreneurial businesses that sustain our efforts.” The Cafe offers a regular series of talks on an eclectic number of subjects and serves to draw attention to the charity, which is exactly what it did for me. All proceeds from the cafe and the various satellite thrift shops throughout NYC’s boroughs go directly for support. Please consider a donation to Housing Works whether it be monetary, volunteer work or salable items, or drop by the cafe to have a brew and buy a book, CD or DVD.
The event was a great introduction to the programs at Housing Works Bookstore Cafe and the organization’s cause. It was also a wonderful opportunity to hear the anecdotes and opinions of two respected graphics professionals, catch up with Chris Irving and share some personal remeniscences with like-minded folks. It was a sweet reminder of the spirit of early 70’s NY ComiCons and a perfect example of how fandom can come together for a good cause. Simple but effective everyday heroism. Thanks to Amanda, Director of Public Programming at the Bookstore Cafe, for the warm welcome on my first visit.
Ken Pierce of the PiercingMetal website was also on board to cover the event. He’s a long time comics fan and collector and you can read his coverage here.