The historian’s weekly lecture series is in full swing and we had some more questions for him, following up from last week’s MIGHTY Q&A:
Dan Greenfield: What are you reading these days?
Arlen Schumer: I don’t read much of the mainstream Marvel/DC material these days — superheroes have to be deconstructed for me in order to get my attention — except if it’s done by artists whom I love, like Mike Allred on Silver Surfer, and J.H. Williams III on Sandman; I still follow all the great independent guys, like (off the top o’ me head) Jaime Hernandez (Love & Rockets), Charles Burns, Chris Ware, Dan Clowes, Peter Bagge, Adrian Tomine, Jessica Abel, Dean Haspiel and others — like the still-prolific and profound Robert Crumb!
What’s your opinion of the state of comics as an art form?
It’s bitter-sweetly ironic that, when I was growing up (and speaking in grossly general terms), the mainstream superhero comics were great — but there were no hardcover, deluxe, archival reprints of the classic comic book and comic strip material. Now, the mainstream superhero comics aren’t that great, but man, the archival reprint collections are incredible — not to mention things like the awesome IDW Artist Editions, reprinting original art in facsimile editions, which we would’ve DIED to have back in the day!
But overall, it’s also bitter-sweetly ironic that, while the superhero movies are making billions of dollars, and comics’ influence on the wider culture is greater than it’s ever been, the actual readership of comics, and sales, are lower than they’ve EVER been. Comics that would’ve been cancelled because of low sales then would be bestsellers now. There are many reasons for this, too many to enumerate here, but suffice it to say they’re like a line of dominoes — one reason impacts and affects another.
The single-best comics character is …
“Best” or “favorite”? For me, it’s Superman for his classic/iconic, first-ever quality (though I haven’t bought an issue since Curt Swan stopped drawing him in ’86); Batman because he’s got the coolest costume in comics, and has been illustrated by more great artists than any other character; and Spider-Man because he’s got the most creatively designed costume in superhero history, courtesy of one of the most unique and quirky artist/writers ever, Spidey artist/co-creator Steve Ditko.
Who do you consider some of the most underrated artists from the Silver Age?
“Underrated”? Not by me! But I suppose, to a younger audience, guys like Murphy Anderson, Nick Cardy, Curt Swan, even Wally Wood don’t get all the Silver Age credit they deserve; for example, Anderson inked three issues of The Spectre over penciller Jerry Grandenetti in ’68-69 that are among the most out-there, psychedelic examples of comic book art produced in that era — and there was some stiff competition at the same time from Steranko, Adams and Robert Crumb!