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August 18, 1972 - Image 5

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Michigan Daily, 1972-08-18

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Friday, August 18, 1972

THE MICHIGAN DAILY

Page Five

Friday, August 18, 1972 THE MICHIGAN DAILY t ag e Five; ,";yt
ROOSEVELT, N.J. {
A ooperati ve Vision

Edwin Rosskam, ROOSE-
VELT, NEW JERSEY: BIG
DREAMS IN A S M A L L
TOWN AND WHAT TIME
DID TO THEM. Grossman,
$7.95.
By ED SUROVELL
Our utopian communities are
overwhelmingly of the young.
If they aren't always temporary
-tents and schoolbuses, make-
shift houses or rented quarters
-they are rarely characterized
by large-scale construction and
a feeling of permanence. But as
Edwin Rosskam. points out, this
has not always been the case.
"NEW DEAL RAISES A LIT-
TLE SOVIET" was what the
headline of the Philadelphia
newspaper said in 1936 when
the first houses of the new vil-
lage were settled. The occasion
of this outburst was the settle-
ment of 1250 acres of central
New Jersey by 200 families,
mostly Jewish garment workers
from New York, in a coopera-
tive housing community, with
a small cooperatively o w n e d
garment factory that was to
provide the major source of in-
come for the commuity. What
brought these families together
was .that they believed that a
single economic form - the co-
operative - would right what
went wrong in the world of the
Great Depression.
But think of it! Two hundred
families, with children, each
willing to put down the then
sizable sum of $500 and move
into that "vast prejudice called
New Jersey,' for the sake of an
idea that was as unpopular then
as almost any idealistic com-
munity could be today. That was
no small feat.
Yet if these homesteaders
were radical economically, their
ethnicity marked them as being
culturally conservative in many

cases. Indeed for all their be-
lief in economic innovation there
was little thought given to what
we call life style - but those
weren't the times for new life
styles, or for new politics either.
The radical thought of the day,
true to its socialist roots, saw
the world in economic terms,
and it was in economics that the
hope of the new world lay.
Edwin Rosskam, a writer/pho-
tographer and resident of Roose-
velt, has written a provocative
and moving account of this
strange community. Something
terribly important happened in
Roosevelt - an economic idea
was transformed into a social
reality, a cooperative became a
community. Time tarnished the
cooperative, and eventually that
aspect of Roosevelt died. The
factory closed because the
workers wouldn't take orders.
Why should they; it was their
factory. It wasn't their fault
that they couldn't meet dead-
lines and delivery dates. And
why did the ILGWU look at the
project as a runaway shop? But
the war brought prosperity and
the people ,found other jobs,
some still as garment workers,
back in New York or in Phil-
adelphia, and made the long
daily commute.
As the ecoonomic ideal of the
little band of settlers beg an to
tarnish and fade it became a
slogan in a language that is no
longer completely understood."
People who had been united in
one era grew apart as the times
changed. The Orthodox and the
athiests, once united in the be-
lief of coops, no longer spoke to
each other. As the nation warm-
ed to the McCarthy era, so too
did. the town divide against it-
self. There were other changes,
too. Postwar prosperity and the
many new automobiles began to
cut into the self-imposed isola-

tion of the town as people be-
gan to spend more and more
time outside the community,
shopping, entertaining them-
selves, and working. Families
moved, new ones - often Gen-
tiles, God forbid - moved in.
Roosevelt, like the rest of Amer-
ica, was changing.
But the town still had a life,
perhaps even more of a life af-
ter fifteen or twenty years than
it did in the beginning, because
with age it had taken on a per-
sonality of its own. No longer
was it simply a collection of sev-
eral hundred individuals united
by an idea, it was a community
of people united (or sometimes
even divided), by a common ex-
perience. Roosevelt had creat-
ed for itself a personality, one
that no one would have ever been
able to predict at its founding.
Over the years it had acquired
more than its fair share of ar-
tists and others whose original
dedication to cooperatives had
long since been overshadowed by
the importance of their art it-
self, perhaps also by the grow-
ing American acceptance of the
artist as a member of society.
One of these was Ben Shahn,
whose growing fame and per-
sonal strength was to become a
major feature of the community.
(When I lived in Princeton for
several years all we ever knew
about Roosevelt was that Ben
Shahn lived there.)
More important, however, for
the village was that its children
recognized it as a place of im-
portance in their lives. Many of
them returned to it after college
and have stayed there ever
since; others saw the place as
confining. And what w o r r i es
Rosskam, I suspect, is that this
community, like a lim o s t all
others, may not last Roosevelt,
like o t h e r places, is divided
against itself:
COMIC BOOKS

The traditional unity fades:
the old drink, the young smoke,
and each disapproves of the
other. Whole classes in school
don't have a single Jewish child
in them . . . Somebody is
building a house so big it needs
two lots to stand on. It's an
outlander; it's not bad-looking
and it would be all right in
Princeton. In this town it brags-
But Roosevelt ought to I a s t,
and there probably should be a
whole lot more Roosevelts. The
commitment that created t h e

-Ben Shahn
town, that held it together over
the y ears, in a trying period of
our history is terribly important.
Rosskam puts it this way:
But the town is still alive. It's
going somewhere, though I
couldn't tell you where it's
bound . . . But by some mys--
terious process quite beyond
my understanding, the quality
of what they tried for in this
place is still here, however
faintly, under all the progress.
Or perhaps I just think so. Be-
cause I want to believe it.

Historical Insight Mixed with Fun

Les Daniels, COMIX: A HIS-
TORY OF COMIC BOOKS IN
AMERICA, Graphics by The
.Mad Peck, Outerbridge & Di-
enstfrey, $7.95.
By MICHAEL REHNER
Nearly twenty years ago,
when Frederic Wertham wrote
, Seduction of the Innocent, the
most common question asked
about comic books was "Who
reads them and why?" Since
1965 and Jules Feiffer's The
Great Comic Book Heroes, the
proliferation of histories of the
comic book seems to have shift-
ed the emphasis. With the ap-
pearance of Comix: A History of
Comic Books in America, we
might well ask "Who reads
about comic books and why?"
Leslie Daniels and John Peck's
history of the comic book
should find an appreciative audi-
ence of varied tastes. Certainly,
it is a book that appeals beyond
the underground and pop culture
manias toward which much of
its content and style are slanted.
Billed in the publisher's blurb
as a work of cultural history,
and a book of many pleasures,"
Comix in fact delivers a rather
curious mixture of historical in-
sight and simple fun.
Both members and observers
of the various counter-cultures,
and particularly followers of the
underground p r e s s, will be
pleased by the generous sam-
pling of panel and strip cartoons
from such sources as the East
Village Other, Zap, and Bijou
Funnies. To the pleasures of such
fare as "The Fabulous Furry
Freak Brothers," the author
ha* added enlightening historical
background. He traces the roots
of today's underground comics
back, for instance, to the illicit
eight-page "Tiajuana Bibles,"
those forbidden sex booklets so

alluringly advertised in the 30's
and 40's as "the kind that men
like." And illustrations are pro-
vided to prove the connection
graphically. .
On the other hand, more es-
tablishment oriented readers,
devotees of the booming popular
culture and avid colle tors of
comic books, will also find this
a pleasant and informative his-
tory. The rise of comic books

Somewhere between the ex-
tremes of the counter-culture
and the comics-for-fun-and-profit
groups fall two other significant
kinds of potential readers of
Daniels' book. The most numer-
ous of these grew up with the
comic books of the 40's. They
remember -Superman and Won-
der Woman, Captain Marvel, the
Sub-Mariner, or Captain Ameri-
ba with affectionate nostalgia.

booksbooks

out of their post-war doldrums
and up to a new peak of popu-
larity in -the late 50's and 60's is
fully traced. Ample illustrations
from Mad, from the numerous
horror comics, and from Marvel
Comics' crop of atomic - age
superheroes show the changing
bases of popularity. Outrageous
social satire, campy terror and
fantasy, and the exotic new cos-
tumed heroes like the "Fantas-
tic Four" (distinguished from
their less vulnerable and more
mythic forerunners by the "in-
ternalized and ambiguous con-
flicts" with their individual per-
sonalities) had won the day. And
with it came a secure hold on
the hearts of the rising genera-
tion of young Americans as well
as a generous share of the lu-
crative market for kitsch. Who-
ever derives pleasure from talk-
ing long and impressively about
the comics should value Comix
as a name-dropper's compen-
dium of who drew what, when,
and how well.

They long, if now a bit guiltily,
to live those early adventures
over again. By reprinting com-
plete stories rather than illus-
trative exatrets, Comix allows
such readers that pleasure. And
it may answer some trivial but
long-standing questions. Why, for
instance, was the Sub-Mariner's
skin sometimes blue-green? Ac-
cording to Comix, it all began as
a printing error in the original
story. But then, part of the ap-
peal of comics in that "Golden
Age" was that anything could
and did happen. For the nostal-
gic lover of comic books, as for
readers of today's underground
comics, the drawings of their
day mirrored the world as they
wanted to see it.
Fewer in number than the
readers considered above, but-
perhaps more objective in their
views of comics and the world,
are those readers who treat
comic books as artifacts of pop-
ular culture, as phenomena de-
manding disciplined if not aca-

demic study. Unlike the comic
book buffs and pop culture' dilet-
tantes, these are serious stu-
dents of the form. They want
to examine the ways in which
comics can provide answers to
questions like those that Dick
Lupoff and Don Thompson rais-
ed in All in Color for a Dime. In
the introduction to that collec-
tion of critical and appreciative
essays about comic books, the
editors asked:
What shapes a people? Is it
the geography and climate of
their country? The political
system under which they live?
Is it economics, religion, war?
Or is it the culture in which
they are immersed from birth
onward . . . especially the cul-
ture in which they are im-
mersed during childhood?
Daniels' text for Comix occa-
sionally provides the student of
popular culture with genuinely
insightful answers to just such
questions. His analyses of a
"Blackhawk" adventure and a
"Donald Duck" episode are par-
ticularly effective examples of
Today's Writers ...
Ed Surovell, when not work-
ing at the Institute of Labor
and Industrial Relations, lives
cooperatively with his family of
cats, dogs, kids, and friends.
Michael Rehuer received a
Ph.D. in English at the Univer-
sity and now teaches a course
on cartoons and politics in
Toronto.
his analytic ability. The "Black-
hawk" story "For all its fan-
tastic elements . . . functions
powerfully as it probes the
problems of political power."
Behind the -excitement of adven-
ture, Daniels finds a comment
on "the transformation of the

world from states of independ-
ence." Blackhawk's actions,
like those in the U.S. in its role
as self-appointed world police-
man, suggest "that his stance
in favor of a certain kind of
freedom is simultaneously a sort
of repressiveness." The "Don-
ald Duck" story,. a rural tale of
disaster for greedy, lazy Don-
ald and of one more financial
coup for wealthy Uncle Scrooge,
Daniels considers a lesson for
American youth, inculcating the
natural basis of capitalist eco-
nomics and morality.
Such instances of political and
social insight into comic books,
however, are all too infrequent
in the pages of Comix. Also, the
attempts to evaluate the artis-
tic merit of various artists and
to trace the development of spe-
cific styles fail more often than
not.
The value of Comix to the
questioning student lies in the
broader cultural themes that the
work manages to trace through-
out the development of comic
books. Daniels states his thesis
early in the first chapter, on
"The Coming of Comics." In the
work of the first newspaper com-
ic strip artists, he finds "the
recurring theme . . . of a devil-
ish impulse creating a sensa-
tion, then gradually being wat-
ered down into a conformist
norm, leaving a vacuum which
would be filled again by some
new challenge to the sanctity of
society and the printed page."
This thesis then becomes a prin-
ciple for organizing his history
of the comic books. The result
is not a mechanical chronology
but rather an illuminating pat-
tern of the cultural bases for the
rising and falling popularity of
the art form. For this reason,
Comix is probably the best, if
not the most comprehensive his-
tory yet available.

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