soapbox

Without being fully invested in the project of critical pedagogy, some parts of it that we learned about it Ruth Ray’s “Teaching of Writing” seminar in the winter intrigued me, especially the focus on the classroom as a place of cooperative knowledge work, a place in which the hierarchies of student and teach can be challenged by using the classroom as a space in which students and teacher can do valuable intellectual work together.

All this by prelude to noting that I’m trying to incorporate some of those strategies (divested of their explicit ideological indoctrination schemes that still make critical pedagogy kind of unsettling for me) in my classes this summer.  And that as prelude to noting that I’ve committed to writing this semester’s assignments along with students–a process that is far more challenging than I’d anticipated, but has been productive in many ways–that may be the subject for a later post.

The syllabus is the long-in-coming “dictionaries” syllbus, now rechristened the iCyclopedia (similar to Rice’s “Handbook of Cool” assignments).  Anyway, in doing some research for this assignment, I came across a site that I really dig.  It’s an index of Marvel Bullpen Bulletins, archived on a blog, running from the early bulletins in 1965 and then petering out sometime in 1975.  (The site hasn’t been updated in more than a year, so I can’t say whether there are plans for further additions).

There are a couple here I’d like to share.

November 1968

December 1968

The November 1968 bulletin was what drew me into the archive.  I was looking for information on when Stan Lee’s first use of his now-famous (and trademarked) sign-off “Excelsior!” occurred–and, as best as I can tell, it was the on the page shown above, Nov. 1968.  So the page fulfilled a certain pragmatic research value: it provided the information I wanted.

But it was more than just the information that I found appealing.  For at least the last few years or maybe a decade, or at least the last time I bought single issue comics about six or seven years ago, comic books haven’t printed letters pages or bulletins or soapboxes or anything of the sort.  I imagine that a lot of the functions of such pages have moved to the web–checklists, coming soons, fan club info (are there still “official” fan clubs anymore?)–in ways that are probably a lot more efficient than anything offered in the old bulletins.

Still, there’s a lot reasons to love these pages, to be nostalgic for them (even if, as a child of the 80s, I’m nostalgic for something that I wasn’t a part of–which is itself an interesting phenomenon).  I have a fondness for these pages in the way they both share the fan’s love of the material at the same time it couches them in affectionately silly language:

  • 11/68, Spectacular Spider-Man promo: “Don’t just sit there, citizen!” (Sir, no, sir!)
  • 11/68, Marvel Superheroes promo: “And oh, that artwork!” (Stan’s promo is nearly orgasmic here.)
  • 11/68, Fantastic Four Special promo: ” . . . Sue finally gives birth to –WOW!” (To what, a planet eater?  An Atlantean?  An ultimate nullifier?  An orange-rock-skinned love child?)
  • 12/69, Dr. Stange promo: “Hooo-boy!” (Yippie-ki-yay!)
  • 12/69, Sub-Mariner promo: “With a climax that’ll rock ya!” (For those about to be rocked, I salute you.)

The pages here are ecstatic, almost literally: they promise a reading experience that will rock you with orgasmic climaxes (11/68: “one of our most startling climaxes!”).  Rarely have so many exclamation points been used on one page!!!!

These pages know their audience: they match a fan’s breathless anticipation with their own breathless excitement: Look what we’ve got in store for you!  You’ll never believe it!  We’ll rock ya!  You’ll never see it coming! All the more fascinating when you figure that Lee, Kirby, et al. had probably 25-30 years on the kids and teens reading the comics at this time.  So there’s a certain performance here, too: the middle-aged (or nearing middle age) creators become overwhelmed adolescents on the page.

I think I might try to do something with this archive.  As the “Soapboxes” above indicate, Stan the Man (another persona) used the pages in part to editorialize, to rap, to drop truth on the kids.  So, that’s weird: what is Lee’s commentary about “What is a bigot?” doing in the same pages as the death of Gwen Stacy?  A juxtaposition.  Then, too, we can juxtapose the Soapboxes with other moments of 1968: the Situationists and their detournement/reappropriation of American comics for Marxist propaganda purposes.  R. Crumb’s Snatch #1 appears, as does Zap! Comics, as does his collection Head Comix, his “first exposure … in national bookstores”.  (This site notes that one of Crumb’s contemporaries, S. Clay Wilson, had his work published in a book called Yellow Dog–a fact that might be of interest to at least one reader.)  Alcoholics anonymous and Al-Anon publish a line of AA-approved comic strips starting in 1968.  So: comics/comix underground, mainstream, politicized; a revolution? a movement? a moment?

For anyone interested, a link to my own iCylopedia work.

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One Response to “soapbox”

  1. Clay Walker Says:

    What do you mean by “explicit ideological indoctrination schemes” – you have batted this idea around a few times. At some point, I would be interested to hear a more detailed explanation of your thinking behind this position.


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