One can also seek aid and comfort from specialists in the study of oral literature. Milman Patry and Albert Lord have shown how folk epics as long as The Iliad are passed on faithfully from bard to bard among the illiterate peasants of Yugoslavia. These ‘singers of tales’ do not possess the fabulous powers of memorization sometimes attributed to ‘primitive’ peoples. They do not memorize very much at all. Instead, they combine stock phrases, formulas, and narrative segments in patterns improvised according to the response of their audience. Recordings of the same epic by the same singer demonstrate that each performance is unique. Yet recordings made in 1950 do not differ in essentials from those made in 1934. In each case, the singer proceeds as if he were walking down a well-known path. He may branch off here to take a shortcut or pause there to enjoy a panorama, but he always remains on familiar ground—so familiar, in fact, that he will say that he repeated every step exactly as he has done before. He does not conceive of repetition in the same way as a literate person, for he has no notion of words, lines, and verses. Texts are not rigidly fixed for him as they are for readers of the printed page. He creates his text as he goes, picking new routes through old themes. He can even work in material derived from printed sources, for the epic as a whole is so much greater than the sum of its parts that modifications of detail barely disturb the general configuration.
–– Peasants Tell Tales as printed in The Great Cat Massacre (and Other Episodes in French Cultural History) by Robert Darnton p 19
If you are interested in the history of comics you will be interested in looking into the important precursors of comics, namely certain pulp figures. Of especial interest for me is the figure of Doc Savage. His place in the evolution of comics, heroes, and general iconography is clear and vital.
Here is a decent if sparse (on information) three part mini-documentary discussing Doc Savage.
It could be better described as an extended bibliography for all things Doc Savage more than a documentary, but there are certainly worse ways to spend half an hour.
(Well, ok. That’s not strictly true. I have been studying superheroes, I wrote my honors thesis on superheroes, and I’ll be writing a book on superheroes once I get enough research behind me. But all that aside, I have no good reason to be watching this show.)
The premise, even the very infrastructure of the show itself, is a bit of comedy. A space craft comes to Earth and delivers to an Odd Couple a suit which turns it’s steward into a superhero with the express purpose of fighting for goodness. The Odd Couple here consists of a cardboard, hard-edged FBI agent and a post-hippie, aspiring pacifist, special-ed teacher. Oh, and this is during the cold war, so most of their time they fight the good fight against the commies and promoting the American democraticapitalist ideal. Apparently no one told them that all space aliens were enlightened beings who saw past the petty conflicts underlying Earth politics.
If there is one, I’m getting closer to the point of this post so bear with me.
Tonight I watched the fifth episode titled “Saturday on Sunset Boulevard”. The opening scene of which is a fantastically over-the-top lovers’ dilema that would make a romance novelist blush. This scene is comedy enough to warrant watching the episode. But, wait; there’s more.
The episode carries one of the greatest continuity breaks I have ever seen. The mainest of the main characters (Ralph) finds himself one moment getting into the backseat of a parked car, then appears next to a man standing at the front of said car, and finally appears in the backseat again having changed his clothes (in fact, having stripped down to the super-suit).
But the icing on the cake is a one-liner uttered from one minor character to another in response to a particularly bizaar monolog: “Ain’t nothing wrong with your grammar learning English wouldn’t fix”.
Laughter may not be the best medicine, but I’m hooked. I haven’t had this much fun since Super Chicken.