Tuesday, January 19, 2016

C.C. Beck and the Deadly Sins

C.C. Beck (1910-1989) is best known for his stories in Fawcett comic books of the 1940s and '50s, including Captain Marvel, Spy Smasher, and Ibis the Invincible. He lived long enough to become a "crusty curmudgeon" and wrote a column of that title in The Comics Journal. He also corresponded with a group of friends, comic book fans, and professional writers and editors, a group who called themselves The Critical Circle. In its autumn issue of 2000, the magazine Alter Ego published a previously unpublished essay by Beck entitled "The Seven Deadly Sins of Comics Creators." In his opinion, they are:
  1. Not Staying within the Limits of the Medium
  2. Revealing [the] Presence of the Creators
  3. Overdoing the Job
  4. Losing Control
  5. Tastelessness
  6. Pandering
  7. Breaking the Rules
Beck was and is a widely admired artist. His Captain Marvel stories from the 1940s are considered classics. They were so good, in fact, that Fawcett, for a time, represented one possible paradigm for the future of comic books in America. Instead, Fawcett was sued out of business, and eventually all comic books, for better or worse, became Marvelized.

The point is that C.C. Beck, even if he was a self-proclaimed "crusty curmudgeon," knew what he was talking about when it came to comic books. His warning against committing the seven deadly sins should be taken seriously. I'll quote from just two as he describes them:
Sin Number Five: Tastelessness
     The general public has very little knowledge of what is right and what is wrong. It has practically no taste; it will accept almost anything that is presented to it, no matter how bad it is or how poorly it is made.
     Nobody can change the public, which has always been this way. The best thing that can be done is not to offer the public things which are in bad taste and which degrade both the public and the producers of products. Writers and artists should be able to tell bad writing and art from good, even though their public (and sometimes their publishers) can't. . . .
Sin Number Six: Pandering 
     Some comic book publishers believe in giving readers anything they think they want. . . .
     Catering to the tastes of the lowest members of society . . . is what makes civilizations go down the drain. History proves this; when literature and art start to degenerate, it's a sign that the public is not getting what it needs but what it needs least: pandering to the wants of the lowest, most mindless of its members.
Beck was obviously conservative in his views, not necessarily politically conservative, but at least culturally conservative. We could take his words as those of a curmudgeon, a grouch, a crank, or a guy sitting on his porch saying, "Hey, you kids, get off my lawn!" You can decide for yourself whether there is wisdom in what he wrote or something else. But I think he was on to something, and though I didn't read his essay until after we had begun publishing Five Star Comics, I think we, the six original creators, had a sense that he was right. It's why we decided against the tastelessness, violence, gore, misogyny, nihilism, and amorality or moral relativism of contemporary culture in making our comic book. We may sometimes miss the mark, but that isn't because we aren't shooting for good writing, good art, and a positive and uplifting tone. Our comics, like each one of us, is a work in progress.

Original text copyright 2016 Terence E. Hanley

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