Back in August, I interviewed George Khory, author of his love letter to the comic book culture of the Seventies and Eighties, Comic Book Fever. Publisher Two Morrows, will soon be publishing Hero-A-Go-Go from author Michael Eury.
The book is a spiritual older sibling to Comic Book Fever, covering the campy decade prior of the 1960s. Covering one trend after another, Eury’s phenomenal tome examines such touchstones as the Batman television series, superhero and humor comics, revised characters, The Monkees and other bubblegum pop music, heroes on television, and one oddball character after another.
Comics-A-Go-Go is a wonderful look back at an era of pop culture that was presented parallel to an otherwise calamitous decade.
Michael took some time to discuss the book, it’s origins and his upcoming plans.
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FOG!: The Sixties was a decade of Spies, Sci-Fi, Superheroes and Bubblegum Pop Music. Do you think it was the best decade of pop culture?
Michael Eury: I sure do… but as a child of the Sixties, I’m biased. Most people would say that the decade of their formative years was the best decade of pop culture, thanks to childhood nostalgia.
That said, I will argue that the Sixties was the best decade of pop culture because of the enduring icons that emerged during that era: the Beatles and Bond remain vital fifty years later, and it was the decade that witnessed the emergence of the superhero (particularly Batman) as a cultural, incredibly commercial phenomenon that extended beyond the kids’ demographic. The style of the Sixties remains unmatchable, and has helped make everything from retro fashions to Mad Men to biopics to cocktail culture tiki lounges perennially popular. Plus the music—from Motown to bubblegum pop, Sixties tunes still get a lot of play and remakes.
Hero-A-Go-Go does an amazing job showcasing some of pop culture’s biggest and most obscure icons. What was the genesis of the book?
I have to credit Mark Voger’s Monster Mash book (also from TwoMorrows) for planting the seed that sprouted into Hero-A-Go-Go. Mark’s celebration of the monster craze of the Fifties and Sixties made me think, “I’d like to do a similar treatment of the Camp Age.”
From there, I spent the better part of a year gathering and reading appropriate Sixties comics, watching campy cartoons and TV shows, and listening to Sixties oldies—essentially, revisiting my childhood, which was a great privilege, especially as it turned out to be the last year of my mother’s life… by reliving the joys of my youth, it made it easier to deal with Mom’s decline. In my essays in the book I address this campy material with the affection of my childhood tempered with the intellectual and historical curiosity of my adulthood.
I’ve got to give a shout-out to Scott Saavedra, the book’s designer. He did a great job—and truly “gets” the material. When I thanked him for helping bring my childhood back to life with his layouts, he said, “Hey, it was my childhood, too!”
You were in third grade when Batman premiered. Was this a monumental event for you?
Absolutely! It changed my life.
Of course, most other eight-year-old American boys felt that way in 1966—we were one half of Batman’s target audience (our parents were the other half, since the show worked on two levels, as a kid-friendly adventure series and as high camp).
But for me, Batman wasn’t just the latest cool new fad. I was obsessed.
During recess, I played Batman. At least once, one of my classmates, Mike Keel, was Robin to my Caped Crusader. My poor third grade teacher, Miss Propst, had to put up with us, and other kids, having Batman fights before and after class.
The funniest moment I recall from her class is her saying, when our classroom’s heater was on the fritz, that she needed to call the repairman—who happened to be named “Mr. Freeze.”
The mere mention of that cold-blooded Bat-fiend led me, as Batman, and Mike, as Robin, to leap from our desks and assume a Bat-battle pose! The class erupted into laugher. Miss Propst didn’t think it was very funny…
But TV’s Batman led me to Batman comics, which opened up a whole new world—and eventually, a vocation. Meeting Adam West at the 1994 San Diego Comic-Con was an awesome experience.
Much of the decade embraced “camp.” How would you describe it?
As I write in my introduction, the Camp movement was defined in 1964 by writer/activist Susan Sontag as: “Camp is art that proposes itself seriously, but cannot be taken altogether seriously because it is ‘too much’.”
Others have said Camp is something that is so bad, it becomes good… sort of like Ed Wood movies.
Camp dominated almost everything during the Sixties, even modern art, where portraits of comics panels and kitschy paintings ruled. Also, television sitcoms were over the top, with outlandish premises like “poor mountain folk strike it rich and move to Hollywood” and “sassy Allied prisoners of war befuddle nutty Nazis at a concentration camp.”
But as I also write in the intro, the Camp movement, with its excesses and laughs, provided escapism from the harsh realities of civil rights demonstrations and the Vietnam War.
Why do you think superheroes became so prevalent during this decade?
Great question! I believe that the Space Race had something to do with that, as it took science fiction and outlandish concepts such as space travel and brought them to the mainstream, allowing more “average” people to open their minds to such things. Television also helped, by providing broader exposure of superheroes to the masses.
Despite the Cold War, Civil Rights and The Kennedy Assassination, the decade at least through pop culture seems light and emphasizing fun. Do you think this was a conscious decision encourage a lighter tone that the world around them?
Another good question! I doubt there was a think tank out there with decision-makers who said, “Let’s crank up the Camp to help the masses cope.”
Instead, it was probably just an example of capitalism at work—when something is popular, produce more, and more, and more. Of course, when a fad or product explodes in popularity, it will inevitably implode… which also happened in the late Sixties when Camp ran its course.
What are your five favorite comic books from this era?
All things Batman (including Detective Comics, The Brave and the Bold, and World’s Finest Comics)
Metamorpho, the Element Man
The Inferior Five
Not Brand Echh
The Teen Titans
Why do you think that pop culture in the seventies became so much darker?
Two reasons: First, Americans became bitterly cynical after Watergate. Second, the creators of media were allowing their material to grow up with them, providing more a window into the world than an escape hatch from it.
Do you have any other projects coming up?
My day job is editing TwoMorrows’ Back Issue magazine. This summer we’ve got some exciting issues on tap: Bird People in BI #97 (Hawkman, Hawkworld, Hawk and Dove, Condorman, etc.), DC in the ‘80s in #98 (Secret Origins, Action Comics Weekly, DC Challenge, etc.), Batman: The Animated Series 25th Anniversary in #99 (with a wonderful oral history between BTAS writers, animators, and talent in interviews conducted by John Trumbull), and Bronze Age Fanzines and Fandom in BI #100 (wow, 100 issues!).
I’m also developing a new magazine for TwoMorrows… but that’s all I can say now.
And, of course, I’m required by (starving artist’s) “law” to say that Hero-A-Go-Go, which ships on April 19th, can be ordered from the publisher’s website.
What are you currently geeking out over (movies, tv, comics, music, books, etc)?
Per my retro sensibilities, I re-discovered the Monkees during my Hero-A-Go-Go research, and also got their reunion album, Good Times, and nearly played it to death. I liked the Monkees’ pop tunes when I was a child, but as an adult I’ve grown to appreciate their musicianship, versatility, and quirkiness.
I don’t read a lot of new comics these days, but follow each of DC’s Batman ’66 titles (yeah, like that’s a surprise) and Future Quest (sorry to see it come to an end).
My wife and I have become hooked on the CBS drama Blue Bloods. It’s the only show I’ve binge-watched.
And as a diehard DC fan, I’m anxious for November’s Justice League movie. But I’m also looking forward to Spider-Man: Homecoming. Tom Holland is perfect in the role (and stole Civil War), and I could watch Marisa Tomei do her laundry.
Hero-A-Go-Go arrives in stores and via digital on April 19th!