The Three-Day Novel

The idea of writing a novel is surprisingly popular. It seems that nearly everyone who reads a novel or two entertains the notion that they might, one day, sit down and write one themselves.

Of the reasons given for these notions never advancing beyond a Sunday afternoon's daydream, lack of time is the most prevelant.

After all, even assuming research and planning for one's Magnum Opus is complete, everyone knows that writing a novel is a painstaking, almost all-consuming task which will take months if not years. Or will it? During this year's Adelaide Festival Fringe 40 people wrote novels in three days -- and they were not the first.

In 1845 the French novelist and playwright, Alexandre Dumas, famous even today for such novels as The Three Musketeers and The Count of Monte Cristo, wagered that he could complete the first volume of his then projected three volume work Le Chevalier de Maison Rouge in 72 hours including time for sleeping and eating. He emerged from his study with his completed manuscript a mere 66 hours later.

Ernest Hemingway wrote The Torrents of Spring in a fit of inspiration that kept him going from the 20th to the 26th of November 1925. Just to show that it wasn't a fluke he wrote Rasselas in 7 days in 1951. This time, however, it was the need to pay for his mother's funeral rather than the touch of the muse which kept him going.

For more than ten years Walter Gibson, who, as Maxwell Grant, was chiefly responsible for the pulp detective character known as The Shadow, produced a complete 60,000 word novel every fortnight. His most spectacular show of speed occured on a holiday in Maine. The log cabin he had commissioned as a hideaway was barely started. With nowhere else to stay and a new Shadow novel due in three days he ordered the builders to throw together a desk and a chair. His work space secured he sat down and, whilst the cabin was being built around him, wrote the new novel in the three days he had left.

The Running Man, a novel originally published as by Richard Bachman but eventually revealed to be by Stephen King was written -- and eventually published with almost no changes -- in 72 hours 'with an energy [King] can only dream about these days.'

Even Shakespeare himself was apparently not free from the need to produce work in a hurry. Tales suggest that more than once fellow members of his company locked the great bard in an attic and would not let him out until a completed play was passed, page by page, through the gap under the door.

So, it seems the old standby of 'not enough time' is no excuse for all those would-be novelists not producing their tomes. Given the right motivation anyone should be capable of producing a novel in a week.

Getting the right motivation, however, seems to be rather difficult. How many of us are ever hit with inspiration sufficient to keep us standing in the kitchen writing on top of our fridges for three days, as Hemingway is reputed to have once done. How many of us have held the wolf from the door as desperately as Thackeray, Walter Scott or Dumas were forced to. Each of these three were, at various times, writing almost literally one day ahead of their creditor's demands for money.

All is not, however, lost. Something of the impetus needed to produce at such great speed is the guiding idea behind the literary marathon known as a Three-Day Novel Contest.

On the Canadian Labour Day Weekend of September 1978 Pulp Press International, a small press in Vancouver, British Columbia, held the first of its now locally infamous Three-Day Novel Contests.

The rules are simple. One registers an interest and pays the entry fee before the contest runs. Then, on the three days prescribed by the rules, you chain yourself to your typewriter or word processor and write.

Outlines are permitted prior to the contest; only the actual writing of the novel is restricted to the three specified days. Collaborations are permitted, but no more than two authors per novel are allowed.

The kick which make this contest an acceptable substitute for inspiration or economics is the first prize. The winning novel is released as a genuine published book the following Northern Spring.

Pulp Press have run twelve contests to date with the thirteenth scheduled to run over September 1 — 3 of this year. Winners in the twelve contests so far run range from bp Nichol the established Canadian poet whose novel Still won the 1982 contest to the 1989 winner Stephen Miller. His book, Wastefall, is his first novel.

In 1988 Landin Press, a small publisher based in Adelaide, decided that what was good enough for the Canadians was good enough for us and ran the first Australian Three Day Novel Contest during that year's Adelaide Festival Fringe.

The only notable differences to the rules used in Canada were an undertaking to publish the winning novel before the end of the Festival and a requirement that the novel contain some reference to Adelaide's Festival of Arts. For the 1990 Three-Day Contest the requirement was broadened to simply some reference to Australia.

The other stipulation, that the novel will be published before the end of the festival, may also go by the time of the 1992 contest. Many more than the forty entries recieved this year will make judging in time almost impossible.

So all would-be novelists out there have no excuses left. Next time you hear someone, as they put the latest blockbuster down on the easy table, sigh that they are sure they could do something just as good if only they had the time give them a nasty grin and tell them they have. After all it only takes three days.

Revisiting Friendly Street

Friendly Street is Australia's most successful poetry group cum meeting place. It began on November the eleventh 1975, a day more normally remembered for its political significance than its poetic import. Since then, with only minor changes to format (a change from one to two guest readers, from fortnightly to monthly meetings and from the Media Resource Centre to the Box Factory, both in Adelaide) the meetings have continued unabated. During 1976 Richard Tipping, one of the original organizers and christener of the meetings, suggested an anthology of the best of poetry read during that year would be appropriate. He then went on to both edit and convince Adelaide University Union Press to publish The Friendly Street Poetry Reader. Since then there have been Readers published each year with the fourteenth due to be launched at the Adelaide Festival during Writer's Week. In 1980 Graham Rowlands edited, and Adelaide University Union Press published, Dots Over Lines, an anthology containing generous examples of the work of eighteen Adelaide poets, all of whom had apppeared at Friendly Street meetings. In 1982 the Friendly Street Poets, having taken over the publishing of the Readers in 1980, published four individual collections, all launched during the Writer's Week of that year's Adelaide Festival. Friendly Street has launched individual collections at each subsequent festival for a current total of nineteen volumes of poetry.

But what is Friendly Street that it is so succesful? Why does it survive (to now be Australia's longest running regular poetry reading) where others, with possibly better resources, do not? Answers to these questions lie in both what Friendly Street is and isn't.

Friendly Street is not a movement. Unlike the Jindyworobaks, the Modernists, and the Classicists, all of whom preceded it in South Australia, it has not even the loosest of manifestos or creeds. It is not a cabal of 'in' writers who dictate terms to all comers. While various cliques have existed and continue to exist, their influence has never been such as to affect the nature and purpose of the meetings. It is not a workshop. There is no organised or formal response to any poem presented. Readers must make what they will of whatever response the audience provides. Friendly Street is, however, both a venue and a community.

As a venue it provides an audience and a place for poets and poetry in Adelaide. The open readings which constitute the second half of any Friendly Street meeting are an unsurpassed opportunity for poets and poetry, of literally any type and quality, to be presented and heard. To visit Friendly Street is to hear poetry; good, bad and indifferent. To read at Friendly Street is to have an audience predisposed to your work, if only because it is poetry.

As a community it provides a flexibility and a support system which not only encourage writers to continue their writing, but also help protect Friendly Street from the excesses of the various cliques that inevitably spring up around such gatherings of people.

Beyond all this is its location. Friendly Street as it is could not exist in the larger cities of Sydney or Melbourne. In those cities groups equivalent to the Jindyworabaks or the Classicists can gather in great enough numbers to preclude joining together for the sake of venue. In Adelaide the descendants of the Jindyworabaks, the Classicists and the Modernists, both actual and spiritual, are not enough to survive on their own. Along with many others of various poetic ancestry they constitute the diversity and friction which both give Friendly Street its impetus and necessitate its communal aspects. When described as a community aspects of its behaviour as an entity are easier to understand.

Because it is a community it is able to develop unwritten rules of ettiquette. No poet is shouted down by listeners beholden to a different and apparently antithetical artistic manifesto, although poets whose work, in the general consensus of a meeting's audience, is genuinely awful, have been heckled into silence. No newcomer is judged, publically at least, on anything other than their poetry, the social order imposed by community stifles any racism or (more prominently) sexism in the hearts of the audience. The neutrality of the venue has meant that when various sections of the community are at loggerheads (at one stage at least one faction within Friendly Street was known to be ringing up various members of the Australia Council's Literature Board and abjuring them not to give any funds to anyone within another faction) the meetings and readings went ahead unchanged. Because it is a community it has survived the disappearance of many of its original organizers, many of whom have gone interstate, some of whom have simply reduced their commitment to that of any attendee.

The most dramatic example of the efficiacy and importance of community in Friendly Street's continued existence is Friendly Street's recent near collapse.

During Writer's Week at the Adelaide Festival of 1988, as has become almost customary, Friendly Street Poets launched four new books of poetry. The only variation on the established format for these books was the inclusion of two collections, "The luminous ocean" by Louise Crisp and "Mad moon alight" by Valery Wilde in one volume entitled In the Half-Light. The launching passed by with no more than the usual comment.

As is also customary in a Festival year the launch of the annual Reader was included in the Writer's Week programme. This launching brought forth much more than the usual comment. Edited by Jeff Guess and Donna McSkimming with book production by Graham Rowlands and Kevin Pearson the Number Twelve Friendly Street Poetry Reader had a cover which completely overwhelmed its content. The cover consists of various disembodied torsos, breasts, vaginas and penises strung together into an amorphous mass.

Jeff Guess and Donna McSkimming, who were amongst many who disliked the cover, accused Graham Rowlands and Kevin Pearson of choosing a cover that was at the very least innappropriate and, to many people, positively offensive. Graham Rowlands and Kevin Pearson countermanded with the suggestion that neither of the editors had shown the least interest in the book production itself, preferring to hand the manuscript over to them once the editing had been completed.

The absolute truth of claim and counter-claim remain open to at least some question. Undeniable is the enormous, and for the first time, public rift it caused between participants in the Friendly Street meetings. The story made it into Adelaide's morning newspaper The Advertiser who proceeded to follow the story at least part the way to its bitter end with varying degrees of accuracy and luridness. A special meeting of a number of Friendly Street regulars resulted in the re-publishing and re-launching of the reader. A new edition in a plain brown cover was produced. For those with copies of the offending edition the brown paper cover was available free.

The changes this controversy wrought were minor. All through this period readings went on as normal. The decisions and meetings to make the decisions were announced at Friendly Street, but only during the pre-ordained times for announcements already long in place. Other than this no public discussion of the fight occurred during Friendly Street readings. For myself, far enough away from the dispute that my thoughts, one way or the other, were inconsequential, the only noticable change was a the vague sense of all not being right pervading the meetings for some months. With the re-launch done and The Advertiser no longer interested, even pruriently, the anger became memory and the event folklore. The rules of communal living were unspokenly invoked and Friendly Street survived.

All this, however, was merely prelude to a genuine and potentially fatal crisis. During 1988 it became apparent that Friendly Street's finances were, putting it mildly, not as they should be. By the end of 1988 it was clear that nearly $13,000 was 'missing'. Rory Harris, Jeri Kroll and Graham Rowlands, all then members of the management committee, denied any impropriety. Subsequent events confirmed completely the innocence of all three and identified the source of the money's 'disappearance'.

For reasons I am not privy to, and in what can only be described as a remarkable example of a community acting resolutely in its own self-interest, no direct action was taken. Friendly Street was re-funded by the South Australian Department for the Arts and the Number Thirteen Friendly Street Poetry Reader was edited by Constance Frazer and Barry Westburg, published by Friendly Street Poets and launched at a Friendly Street meeting early in 1989 as is customary.

Things have in no way returned to normal, however. Differences have not become memory and events have not become folklore. To a lesser degree the changes in Friendly Street can be attributed to the conditions imposed on it by the Department for the Arts as pre-requisites to its being re-funded. Friendly Street Poets now has a constitution, official membership and attendant membership dues and lists, regular conventional committee meetings and regular conventional committee chairholders.

To a much greater degree, however, changes in the atmosphere at Friendly Street meetings are due to the enormous range of often impossibly conflicting responses a community goes through when it faces such a betrayl of trust.

The community that is Friendly Street is currently less concerned with various sub-divisions than it is with simply maintaining itself as a viable and continuing entity. The monthly readings continue to provide as wide and diverse a range of the good, bad and indifferent in Adelaide poetry as ever. The readings, however, are touched by an undercurrent of tension not just the result of pre-performance nerves.

Other changes wrought by the crisis are evident in the planned additions to the Friendly Street list for the 1990 Writer's Week. Since 1982 Friendly Street has published five or six book, including the reader, every festival. This year, in conjunction with Wakefield Press, it is publishing only three: The Number Fourteen Friendly Street Poetry Reader, edited by Ann Timoney-Jenkins and Neil Paech; Edison Doesn't Invent the Car by Steve Evans; and The Inner Courtyard: An Anthology of Contemporary South Australian Love Poetry, edited by Anne Brewster and Jeff Guess. The reduced number of books is designed to save money. Publishing in association with Wakefield Press is designed to both save money and improve distribution. It is worth noting that Wakefield Press is also publishing four books of its own this festival. Two of them, Seventy-seven by John Bray and Rites of Arrival by Jeff Guess, are collections by poets long involved with Friendly Street.

To what extent the recent upheavals will affect Friendly Street's viability is still difficult to predict. If it has been bureaucratised as a result of the upheavals the meetings and venue have nonetheless been left unchanged. One may be able to officially join Friendly Street. It is not, however, a prerequisite for reading at a Friendly Street meeting. If the people now running Friendly Street are new they are no less committed than their predecessors. Traumatic as the changeover may have been it is not the first time new people have suddenly become intimately involved in the running of the readings. Whether the feelings of community so vital to the success of Friendly Street as a venture survive or re-emerge is, even now, difficult to tell.

As this sees print the books will be being launched and Friendly Street will be re-forming once again to begin a new year of readings. If you are in Adelaide for the Festival make a point of seeking out any Friendly Street events being touted. For all its troubles Friendly Street is still Australia'a most successful poetry venue. Every festival writers and readers of poetry come from almost everywhere to take a turn in the spotlight, try and understand the mechanisms that enable it to survive and prosper or just listen to good poetry well read.

This year a lot more than just the poetry is going to be worth listening to.

The Many Masks of Batman

On 31 August 1989 the most popular movie to date, Batman, opened in Australia. The film revolves around two individuals. The first is the title character who, as a result of witnessing the murder of his parents as a small boy, decides to spend his adult life dressed up as a giant flying mammal chasing criminals across the rooftops. The second is the Joker, a gangster who takes an unplanned chemical bath, and decides that his resultant fluorescent features should be used to add a more theatrical touch to his activities.

The makers of Batman have thrown enormous sums of money about making certain the movie is talked about in every medium the developed world has to offer. Aside from this what good reasons are there to explain its enormous success?

The Batman character comes from the comics. Since the Second World War ended, comics have, in the English-speaking world, been considered fit only to entertain children. So why does a movie based on the character Batman have a PG rating? Why do reviews of the movie judge the film on its ability to entertain adults?

Any attempt to explain either the change in the Batman's image or its financial success first needs to recognise the commercial nature of the character. Whatever else the Batman may be he is first and foremost a product of popular culture. His success or failure is judged primarily on economic grounds, rather like soap or chocolate. Unlike soap or chocolate, however, it is not just a matter of convincing people that the product cleans whiter or tastes better. The Batman, like all popular culture, is consumed as leisure or entertainment. To have enough people spending both their leisure time and money on a particular example of popular culture relies on the example having broad appeal. Knowing what will or will not appeal to a large percentage of the paying audience is not easy. The thousands of failed television shows and films are testimony to that. Broadly speaking, however, popular culture normally reflects the fears and desires of those who consume it.

In order to understand properly the popular appeal of the Batman, therefore, one must go back to 20 years before the character's first appearance.

In 1919 the Volstead act, based upon the 21st amendment to the Constitution of the United States, was passed into law. The Volstead act brought in what we now know as prohibition. It became unlawful to manufacture, transport or sell alcoholic beverages. The act could do nothing, however, about people's desire for the demon drink. Since the American public could no longer imbibe legally, it did so illegally. A huge underground industry sprang up to supply this public with the alcohol it desired.

Small criminal gangs, taking a lesson from legal free enterprise, began to organise on a large scale in order to properly control the manufacture and distribution of the now banned substance. The enormous revenue this 'bootlegging' earned for the gangs enabled them to establish themselves in a variety of legitimate and semi-legitimate businesses. When prohibition was finally repealed in 1933 it was too late. The few organisations that had survived the intense inter-gang warfare of the past decade had grown so strong and were so firmly entrenched in the mainstream of American life that it was impossible to remove them.

With time these criminal gangs were to learn the virtue of subtlety and the value of keeping a low profile. In the early 1930s, however, they had just established themselves and were inclined to declare their existence publicly and to flaunt their power deliberately. The public perception was one of complete chaos. The gangs had taken over. Civilisation had given way to a savage law of the jungle in which only the strongest survived. Marketplace competition was expressed in the most brutal terms imaginable with rivals literally killing each other on the streets.

The police forces and other law-enforcement bodies seemed unable to cope with these 'new' criminals. What was needed was some sort of super policeman who would meet these gangsters on their own terms. A hard and efficient lawman who could clean up the cities and keep them clean. The real world failed to provide any such figures but popular fiction abounded with them. Dick Tracy began his career in the comic strips; The Shadow started in one of the most popular pulp magazines. Books, film, comics and radio abounded with tough private eyes and square-jawed G-Man. The fear these times generated made these super crime-fighters and tough detectives enormously popular. None of these figures offered realistic solutions to the problem. What they did offer was a temporary feeling that the chaos, and therefore the fear, could be dealt with.

Batman first appeared in Detective Comics #27, cover-dated May of 1939. The very first Batman story, 'The Case of the Chemical Syndicate,' establishes the tone and style of the series. Alfred Stryker murders two of his three partners in an attempt to gain control of the chemical company managed by all four. In his attempts to murder the third he is thwarted by the Batman and finally dies after accidentally falling into a vat of acid. "A fitting end for his kind," remarks the grim-faced Batman at the story's end.

The Batman of this tale is less super hero than detective, very much in the tradition of The Shadow, Dick Tracy, Phillip Marlowe and even Sherlock Holmes.

The Joker of this era (he first appeared in Batman #1 cover-dated Spring 1940) was, likewise, instantly recognisable as the pulp villain he was. His peculiar visage and colourful name had recognisable antecedents in other detective fiction of the time. His bizarre, seemingly pointless murders and robberies would today be described as psychopathic. To the audience of the day they were simply the sorts of things 'the bad guys' did.

The story itself, "a takeoff on a Shadow story" according to the author, is nothing more than ordinary. It points quite clearly to the character's intended audience, however. The motivations are economic and spiteful, not just evil and rotten. The methods are sly and nasty, not just dastardly. This is not a character aimed at children. In fact the audience to whom comic books sold was, at the time, largely adult. Quite specifically it was white, male and increasingly made up of servicemen looking for light, quick reading.

The Batman stories of the next 15 years involved the character in adventures that were to differ in little more than details. They took place at night, in an almost surreal world of enormous shadows and impossibly angled buildings. The villains were all straight out of the pulp-detective tradition, wearing wide-brimmed hats and double-breasted suits with padded shoulders. Like the detective fiction it came from, all this appealed to those who felt powerless in the face of organised crime seemingly run rampant. The Batman's peculiar motivations, his obsession with crime -- a result of witnessing his parents' murders as a boy -- and his disavowal of guns and deadly force gave him an individual appeal. This formula was very successful.

The only relief from the grim and bitter texture of the stories of this period is Robin, the Boy Wonder. Robin first appeared in Detective Comics #38, cover-dated April 1940.

The introduction of Robin didn't change the sales of Batman comics significantly. Nonetheless the character was very popular with Batman's then-current audience. A popularity reflected in the emergence of the 'kid sidekick' as a standard part of the superhero genre of the day.

In order to come to some understanding of that popularity we need to more fully examine the character's origins.

Like Bruce Wayne, Dick Grayson (Robin) is left an orphan when his parents are murdered by criminals. Grayson is the only son of John and Mary Grayson. The three of them make up the trapeze act known as The Flying Graysons. The casual and easy-going life of the circus is shattered for Dick when the owner of the circus the Flying Graysons appear with refuses to pay protection money to a gang led by local crime boss, Zucco. In order to press their point further the gangsters arrange for an accident to occur. They cut through the trapeze ropes and John and Mary Grayson fall to their deaths while performing their act.

When Dick, by sheer chance, learns that the apparently accidental death of his parents is in fact murder, his only thought is to bring the killers to justice, and thus restore some little balance to his shattered life. About to go to the police he is stopped by a grey and menacing figure, the Batman. The Batman warns him the police are unable to help as Zucco "owns" the town. If Dick wants his parents' killers caught he will need the Batman's help.

When the Batman reveals that he too is an orphan as the result of murder, Dick pleads to be allowed to join the Batman in his crusade. Seeing more than a little of his own anguish in Dick Grayson, the Batman agrees to take the boy under his wing. After many months of intensive training the Batman assents to allowing Dick, now costumed and christened Robin, to take on a case. In their first adventure together they bring Zucco's gang to justice.

The most important factor in the above story is the bringing of Zucco's gang to rights. Within the framework of the Batman stories it explains much of the difference between Batman and Robin.

Both Batman and Robin experienced the trauma of seeing their parents murdered before their eyes. Both responded to the trauma with an overwhelming sense that justice has been destroyed. In Robin's case, however, he was able to see some of the balance restored relatively quickly -- "many months later" according to the story. This relief from the trauma was never available to the young Bruce Wayne who, as a result, internalised the anguish until it became the grand obsession that now drives him.

For Robin the motivation was always very different. Relieved of some of the anguish by seeing his parents' killer brought in, he escaped from the horror relatively unscathed. Rather than being driven by an obsession he is motivated by a sense of duty, that justice be served, coupled with a strong sense of adventure. He was a trapeze artist and lived the life of a circus performer before his personal tragedy. The appearance of a legitimate father figure, and the relatively quick resolution of his feelings of helplessness at seeing his parents die meant the happy-go-lucky spirit he had acquired as a result of circus life was never completely crushed.

From the point of view of the reader, Robin represented someone almost all could identify with. For the younger readers (the material may have been slanted at adults but its very low price guaranteed it an audience of children as well) there was out-and-out identification. Gosh, may I could be Robin. For the adult reader Robin was an element of normality, a balance, rather like the various companions who have travelled with the Doctor in the Doctor Who television series. That Robin did not increase sales dramatically suggest that, for the most part, the readership simply accepted him as another character. An adjunct to the Batman rather like Commissioner Gordon or Alfred: not essential to the central premise but a nice touch all the same.

With the end of the war things began to change. The huge audience of servicemen stopped reading comics at about the same rate they stopped wearing uniforms. The comic-book was now seen as fit only for children.

American foreign policy became firmly rooted in the idea that the United States was the 'guardian of the free world.' Paranoia became almost respectable. Anything deemed a threat or potential threat to the American Dream weathered the full force of America's growing sense of self-righteousness.

The Second World War had wiped away the old, dark world of the Depression and optimism was the new creed. Science was going to solve all our problems and technology was going to satisfy all our wants and needs. The only shadows spoiling the view of white America during this decade were the twin ones of the bomb and the Cold War.

The comic-book industry reacted to the changes in popular feeling in two ways. Adventure strips began to emphasise communist and communism as the villains rather than criminals and fascism. Horror and seamy detective fiction were out and science fiction was in, not only because it reflected the new dominance of technology, but because it was also believed to be more suitable for the children now seen as the comic industry's major consumers.

Very few of of the strips and characters which came from the pulp traditions survived these changing times. Characters such as Superman, which drew their inspiration from science fiction, thrived in this environment. The Batman, however, was deprived of the very elements which were the character's lifeblood.

Rather than fighting criminals Batman began encountering mad scientists, aliens and robots. Instead of appearing only in the shadowy streets of night-time Gotham he began visiting lost worlds and other dimensions. Deprived of both locale (Gotham City) and time (the night) his black and grey costume lost its menacing touch and became plain silliness.

Robin, on the other hand, remained largely unaffected. Throughout the '50s he was the life-loving, risk-taking, pre-adolescent boy wonder he had always been. Not being intrinsically tied to the night or crime, Robin was able to go off to fight marauding monsters and aggressive aliens without losing credibility.

The Joker, like the Batman, was changed by this new and better world. No longer a homicidal maniac he became "the clown prince of crime." His activities, although ostensibly criminal, seems more concerned with providing the Batman with an adversary than illegally acquiring wealth.

The changes were not successful, either aesthetically or financially. By the early 1960s, the sales of Batman comics were so low they faced the prospect of being cancelled. In Detective Comics #327, cover-dated May 1964, the Batman was again changed. He was returned to his natural locale (Gotham City) and was once more fighting crime. His audience was still considered to be children however, so dark and violent streets were considered out of bounds. There was no return to the vengeful character of the '40s, and the Batman still went out during the day. The plots became concerned with classic detective work, full of clues and puzzles. Robin added to the general pre-occupation with word games and clues by becoming a wise-cracking teenager with an over-fondness for bad puns. The Joker was largely forgotten. The character who had once been the Batman's nemesis was reduced to occasional appearances as a comic relief criminal. Batman and Robin became a sort of Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Watson in leotards. More explicitly the pair became something of a self-parody.

The change was successful. The sheer absurdity of running around city streets in skin-tight pants solving crime had an appeal which fitted perfectly the mood of the mid-1960s. How well this 'camp' approach slotted in to the times was to be seen with the success of the television series.

Television producer WIlliam Dozier picked up a copy of Batman #171 (cover-dated May 1965). The plot, featuring an abundance of he afore-mentioned puzzles, puns and self-parody, immediately appealed to Dozier. The Batman televisions series premiered on American television in January of 1966 and was an instant hit.

Comic-book camp became a national sensation. Comic-book heroes became the subject of magazine articles and fixtures on prime-time television. The proliferation of super-heroes on Saturday morning cartoon shows began.

The enormous success of the series was also its failing. The swiftness of national acclaim made most people's interest no deeper than that of any fad. In its second season the TV series was already losing ratings. The re-vamping of the show, with the inclusion or a new character, Batgirl, bought the series a third chance. It fared no better and the show as cancelled at the end of the 1968 season.

Nonetheless, the television series reached much further and lasted much longer than three seasons in America's living rooms. Success of this magnitude had the inevitable spillover into the rest of the English-speaking world and the Batman TV series was exported to Canada, England and Australia. In all of these countries, as in the United States, the show was screened just before the evening news, a time slot generally considered to straddle the afternoon children's programming and the evening's adult fare. The audiences both in the US and elsewhere were made up of the same mix of children and adults. For the first time since the 1940s substantial numbers of adults were including the Batman in their leisure time. Although not as successful outside the US, the show did make the Batman a universally recognised symbol of the camp '60s. The show became a repeat stable on children's television for the next 20 years. Only those who continued or began reading comics saw any change in the Batman's image. For most people the Batman remained one of the quintessential images of the '60s. Kind of goofy, lots of fun and rather naive.

The impact of all this on the comics industry was dramatic. In the first year of the television series Batman titles became the biggest sellers on the market. Comic-book companies everywhere were jumping on the bandwagon. By the end of the fad's life several comic publishers had experienced their last fling before going out of business. As the Batman craze died, adults once more stopped buying comics. Many companies found the pre-existent children's market was no longer enough to sustain business. Either a new approach, one which appealed more strongly to adults, or a new market would have to be found. One company had weathered the camp fad by assiduously cultivating a new market: the teenager.

The emergence of the teenager as an economic force in the late 1950s was to change the face of popular culture. As a group they had more income than children, and, unlike adults, almost all of it was disposable. Aside from rock ’n' roll, teen movies and fashion, the teenage market was also to change the nature of comics publishing. DC Comics, the publisher of Batman, were not the first to recognise the possible benefits of slanting their products towards the adolescent market. With sales down by 10 to 15 percent across the board, they were not long in exploring the idea.

The Batman was included in this experiment with the release of Batman #217 (cover-dated December 1969). The changes wrought were in many ways a return to the character's original conception. Once again he came out only at night. His motivation was once more an obsessive drive originating in his witnessing of the murder of his parents as a child.

It was not a complete return to the image of the 1940s, however. The audience this change in the Batman was trying to cultivate had grown up during the '60s. People were increasingly prepared to blame the 'system' for the world's ills and not just individual politicians or bosses. It was no longer enough for the Batman to simply assault and apprehend the bad guy. The Batman of the 1970s became a force for an admittedly abstract justice, rather than just a vengeful misanthrope.

Robin had been made into a teenager back in the early '60s in an earlier attempt to cultivate the emerging teenager market. The understanding of teenagers demonstrated by DC Comics at the time, however, was laughable, and for several years the once popular boy wonder became the unpopular teen wonder. This unpopularity was largely due to his boyish enthusiasm being replaced with a 'hipness' that even the most willing suspender of disbelief was hard pressed to accept. With the return of the Batman to his dark night detective image this 'hip' Robin had to go. The new creative team did more than just change his image, however: they sent him off to college. Although Robin would occasionally drop in on a term break to share an adventure, the Batman of the '70s was, by and large, once more a loner.

The Joker, however, was turned back into something more closely resembling his original conception. In line with the changing times, though, his rationale was, in effect, removed. No longer the consciously evil villain of the '40s, the new Joker was murderously psychotic. In those uncertain times the almost arbitrary terror of the Joker's schemes made him all the more frightening. The Batman and the Joker, once more transmuted, attempted to reflect contemporary desires and fears.

The changes to Batman did increase the teenage (and college aged) audience substantially. No individual comic, however, showed any return to the sales vigour of the middle '60s. Comic books were competing with an ever-broadening array of material from the various popular culture outlets. In addition popular culture itself seemed to have real trouble in the 1970s providing a product any large proportion of the market would readily buy. The changes to the image of both the Batman and the Joker reflected that problem. To be sure, the Batman always won, the good guys always triumphed. But the victories were less satisfying. With the Joker no longer so resolutely evil, nor the Batman so self-righteously correct, their battles may have been more 'realistic' but they were less immediately gratifying. The Batman, comics and popular culture in general seemed to have lost the ability to personify the fears and desires of the public. Without that personification popular culture could not provide that temporary feeling that whatever might be wrong could be quickly righted.

The image of the Batman survived none the less. Sales stabilised and the only real change in the series was the eventual re-introduction of Robin. Dick Grayson had, since the early '70s send-off to college, stopped cavaliering about as Robin and started cavaliering about as Nightwing. The re-introduction of Robin, in a series of stories running from May 1983 through to February 1984, was therefore accomplished by the introduction of Jason Todd. Jason Todd might best be described as a re-creation of the Robin of 1940. Although this did allow for the re-emergence of an interactive and teacherly Batman it could not hide the only other noticeable change in the stories: the emergence of a sense of malaise as the various writers and artists began simply putting the character through the motions.

Discussions towards making making a Batman movie began as early as 1977. It was not until the mid-1980s, however, that Warner Brothers began to pursue the idea seriously. The Superman movies had done quite well and, other than Superman himself, the Batman was the most recognisable costumed character around. The original intention was to do the movie in much the same spirit as the television series of 20 years before. Changes in the marketplace and within the comic-book industry were soon to kill that idea.

Unlike the English-speaking world, Europe had for many years accepted the fact that the comic was a story-telling medium just as suitable for adults as for children. Just as significantly they held the medium was capable of both serious and light material. In the middle 1980s this idea began to take hold in the book publishing spheres of both England and America. In 1985, Art Spiegleman's Maus was published in book form by Pantheon. The story of Spiegleman's father's experience during the Holocaust gained widespread critical acclaim. THe book was nominated for an American Book Award and was praised widely as a significant contribution to the canon of Holocaust literature. All this came for a comic book. All for a story told with allegorical animals taking the place of humans in a consciously cartoony style. In 1982, British author Raymond Briggs, previously known for his delightful Father Christmas series of comic books, published When The Wind Blows, a disturbing and harrowing account of what happens to two very ordinary people when the Bomb goes off. It too received widespread acclaim.

The major American publishers reacted to this largely through a change in production values. They continued to publish stories revolving around the exploits of costumed heroes saving the world from costumed villains. Instead of publishing nothing but slim monthly magazines on newsprint, however, they began producing comics printed on heavy stock with proper binding. Although not about to publish something like Maus or When The Wind Blows, they also began experimenting with more ambitious projects, designed and packaged to appeal to an adult market.

In 1986, DC Comics began publishing a new and rather different Batman story. Published in four installments, each installment was square bound on heavy stock paper. It looked rather like a tall, thin paperback. Called The Dark Knight Returns, the story begins with a 55-year-old Bruce Wayne, retired and embittered, his crusade having made no difference. He has not been Batman for 10 years, but the old ghosts still gnaw and bite at his soul. Accidentally catching a reply of Zorro, the movie he saw on the night his parents were murdered, he re-lives his childhood trauma. The old ghosts become too much and, driven almost beyond the edge, he once more dons the suit and begins stalking the night.

The Joker also re-emerges in this story, after many years locked away in Arkam Asylum, an institute for the criminally insane. The Joker of this story is still psychotic and homicidal. More than a decade in Arkam has, however, taught him to play the psychiatric game. Having convinced his keepers of his sanity he uses his celebrity status to wrangle a spot on a a TV talk show. Taking full opportunity of his freedom, the Joker proceeds to do what the Joker does best and murders the entire studio audience as part of his escape. His next move is to set up his final confrontation with the Batman. The Joker of this story may still be psychotic but his obsession with wealth and power and his sense of theatre have been totally overwhelmed by his struggle to outwit his old enemy. He has come to be so obsessed, in the end his every action is directed towards and centred upon the Batman.

The Dark Knight Returns also introduces a new Robin, this time in the shape of a young girl called Carrie Kelly. If Dick Grayson was the typical kid of the 1940s then Carrie Kelly is the typical kid of the 1980s. She is streetwise, sassy and prematurely cynical. Unlike Dick Grayson she takes on Robin's mantle completely independent of the Batman, convincing him of her worth as a student by simply showing up and doing the right thing.

In a story that ends with a nuclear bomb designed specifically to bring on the nuclear winter being detonated, Batman is back to his most vengeful and obsessed since the character first appeared.

The peculiar and particular appeal the Batman had in the 1940s was once again in vogue. The story did very well. When the four chapters were gathered together into a trade paperback it sold several hundred thousand copies and brought comics into the bookstore with a vengeance.

The plans for the Batman movie were changed. No longer the camp Batman of the '60s, the Batman of the movie was going to reflect the new-found popularity of the comic book character.

It was not just The Dark Knight Returns. Also appearing on the bookshelves during this time were The Killing Joke, seen by many as the definitive statement on the nature of the Batman/Joker relationship, and an acknowledged influence on the Batman movie's director, and Batman Year One, a gritty and modernistic retelling of the Batman's first year of operations. All of these works re-confirmed Batman as a dark and vengeful figure of the night, an object almost as much of terror as of justice. The Dark Knight Returns earned the largest amount of money of any single comic book story in history. The Killing Joke and Batman Year One also did very well, clearly demonstrating that the darker and more sinister Batman was very much in tune with the spirit of the '80s.

When the movie was released in America on 23 June 1989 it broke the box office record for any movie's opening weekend, taking US$43.6 million. The latest figures to hand [as of September 1989 -- BF] have the film grossing over US$250 million, well past the previous box office record of US$228 million set by E.T. in 1982. Even allowing for increases in ticket prices this represents many millions of people seeing the movie.

The Batman movie is set in a city where fear rules the average citizen's life. Criminals and gangsters run the city with the help of crooked cops and corrupt city officials. Just as in the crime fiction of the 1930s chaos rules supreme. The ordinary citizen has no recourse to the protection of the law or the prospect of due process.

If popular culture is a reflection of the fear and desire of the public, this re-emergence of the Batman as a figure of mass popularity tells us much about the pre-occupations of the Western world. We have, it seems, returned to the 1930s. People everywhere are less and less confident the forces designed to protect them from harm and fear are able to do so.

Running around in a costume assaulting criminals is no longer funny, it seems almost necessary. Nothing else provides any sense that what appears to be wrong with the world is being put right.

The 1980s are very different from the 1930s. But the fears of both times seem to be the same. The implications this has for those who would say the world is, today, a better place than it was 50 years ago are enormous.