Style is not content; it’s something dynamic that animates a milieu. Comics seem to employ the relationship between the two to great effect. Pym is introspective; he represents a type, a man of action and thought, a doer. Comic artists represent a similar type. They perfect their craft and tell stories brought to life partly from their unconscious desires, images.
This is the same type as the early 30s art-literary club of like-minded prairie-poets that REH joined – the Junto. Viewed as an institution, it was an enclave of pulp rebels against oil and industry. Pulp writing attracts a certain type, the thinker who appreciates action, the mixture of introspection and savagery.
This invites a kind of meta-culture born of unconscious imagery, desires, urges. Meta meaning beyond human, connecting them to the wild side. It might be said “the wild” has a dark side and a gentle side.
Satyr holding drinking gourd, Athenian red figure, 5th century
The dark side has a sense of unreality that is associated with pulp fantasy.
Doctor Strange #1, © Marvel 1974
Englehart paints Doctor Strange as a custodian of the irrational, the deathly. The final panel of #5, meanwhile, has the Alice in Wonderland type unreality become a trap for the egotistical Silver Dagger.
Doctor Strange #5, © Marvel 1974
Strange, as Englehart says, deals in forms that are irrational, even approaching unreality. However, that’s not the same as fake, meaning untrue. If they exist in the unconscious they are real enough, they just have the appearance of unreality. This points to something that the 30s Junto seem to personify. The mixture of introspection and action is a meta-culture because it goes beyond the human-centric, the egoistic to images of the unconscious.
A meta-culture represents a certain type – the artist – a type of reaction against the complexity of the ego and toward iconic imagery of the imagination. What you can say is that a meta-culture is very common in history and points to dark irrational forces, as well as gentle images of nature.
This takes us to Howard’s historical tales “free of the dominion of fact” - see Swordwoman and other Historical Adventures, Del Rey - set in medieval Europe and points East. The great conflagrations of Vienna and Ottoman, of Jerusalem knight and Saracen against eastern hordes, are like a fiery, dreamlike fury. What gives these blood-drenched epics their docudrama realism?
I would say it’s the presence on the stage of the unreal, of great shadows of men and beasts, what today is sometimes called magic realism. How is it that the unreal can seem more real? Because it’s an introspective reality seen through the desires of men and women.
Let me take you back to the 13th century, of government by city-states, of news by horseback. Writing of that time, there is very little “fact” as we know it. There is a mix of introspective content and actual events, which are what Howard is writing about. His writing is uncluttered by what we call the facts of history, which are just after the events.
Howard’s stories are real because they take us back to a time when there was no egotistical reality, no opinion. There were just events and people’s irrational views of them. This means the reality that people experienced was meta; it was connected to unconscious dreams, desires. His tales are very true to that type of situation.
What this means is that a world of fact, or news, splits the mind from introspective reality, unconscious desires, images. But this is a lot of the content of history. You can attach facts to history, such as dates and dynasties, but the sense of mythopoeic reality that an Athenian or 16th century Dutchman experienced is lost, and that is visible in art. Bruegel the elder, hunters in the snow
What that means is that a world of facts replaces a world of unreality – of the mind. Facts will replace unreality and so you eventually inhabit a world where unreality is limited to pulps. The Junto, it seems to me, reflected an old world that was composed of style and content – a simpler one – the desires and urges of intrepid adventurers. The content of that world is much more introspective desires and their interaction with events. Thus is a style born.
The world as described exists in a balance between the unconscious and the visible. You can call it magic realism but you can’t call it fake. What you see when you read a newspaper is a description of a world that has no interior reality. The Junto –along with Howard’s other influences like Talbot Mundy – are being anti-political in describing an interior world, a dream world. But that world – which you could call unreal – is the one of Apollo and Dionysus, of dreams and urges.
Now, this makes a link between the 30s and the 60s very simple, since that is a description of “White Rabbit” psychedelia! There’s an obvious connection between the 60s and India, the Beatles and Ravi Shankar. Less well known is the link between Chinese culture, the mythic land of intrepid bandits and warrior priests, and Jefferson Airplane.
I think it’s essentially a dream image of China as the antidote to Western rationalism..
SKETCHES OF CHINA
..is not the China we know, it’s a dream fantasy of a land that once might have been. Hippy idealism is drawn to human cultures that are meta, that have a simplified iconography of naturalistic forms, that are not human-centric and rational.
In ’67, the San Francisco art-scene evolved a poster style that reflected these interests. What you could say is the scene has an unreality about it a scene of the interior life that connects Man to unconscious imagery of naturalistic forms. The similarity between styles is seen in the cover art to “Blows” (1971), which looks like a hippy poster but is 19thcentury Russian folk-art.
Paul Kantner, Jefferson Starship
There’s also a similarity with art-deco forms, represented in comic art by BWS, who is also something of a medievalist. His prints and some of his comics are pre-Raphaelite influenced, as is well known. I guess you see where this is heading? The heraldic simplicity of that type of art has an unreality to it. In medieval times, though, the unreality was iconographic to the society.
In other words, unreality was actually reality to the society, meaningful images. It reflected the introspective nature of a certain type – the artist. The types of societies were much more similar to the ones portrayed by Juntoists than to more rational ones.
If all that is so, you have to wonder how “real” rational deterministic societies are that are guided by facts that owe nothing to human desires? Which brings us to..