What Is the Pre-Breakthrough Moment?

WHAT IS the Pre-Breakthrough Moment?

It’s that period before drastic artistic upheaval when everything seems quiescent on the surface but for the very acute, rumblings of dynamic change can be sensed beneath the surface. A conjunction of forces about to come together to become explosive.


AN EXAMPLE of this is the moment in the 1960’s– late 1963– when the universe was ready to signal such change. When all in America seemed calm, yet within months a rock and roll band from Liverpool, England, would appear on the scene so different in look and attitude it would overturn the culture and herald the overwhelming changes of the Sixties, spearheaded by the rock revolution. The Beatles appearance on national television on the Ed Sullivan Show the initial step.


Is such long-overdue change coming to the literary world?

We can hope!

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(3D Day is June 6th, exclusively at New Pop Lit.)

-Karl Wenclas, New Pop Lit NEWS

Public Denunciations in Art



The process of ostracizing a person or persons based on their beliefs or actions– more often than not, on rumors of their beliefs or actions– is nothing new. The power of gossip– part of human history since time began.

(How much of the Junot Diaz, Jay Asher, and Rachel Custer cases have been initiated and propelled by gossip? At their core, is there much more to the accusations than that?

The subject of public shunning of an individual or group has been a mainstay in American literature from the beginning.

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The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne, published in 1850, addresses Puritan New England circa 1642. Hester Prynne is forced to wear the red “A” on her clothes as token of her sin– her falling out from the mores and codes of the community.


The 1956 novel Peyton Place by Grace Metalious, likewise set in New England, updates the theme of the malign power of community. The rejection of individuals is less blatant than the previous work, but no less painful. Destruction begins behind the scenes– the target or targets left wondering what’s being said, who’s saying it and who believes it. (The blockbuster novel was turned into a popular 1957 film.)


In theater, playwright Arthur Miller tackled the topic of rumor-generated hysteria with his look at the Salem witch trials, The Crucible.


The classic example from American theater is Lillian Hellman’s The Children’s Hour— whose plot concerns rumors spread by a malicious student about two women teachers in an all-girls boarding school, stating they’re having an affair. The gossip has tragic results. The message again is the power of the “community”– which has different targets in 2018 but is no less able to cause mayhem in the lives of individuals who don’t follow acceptable standards. Who appear to leave the flock morally, artistically, or politically. As Hellman’s play demonstrates, the scantest evidence is enough to motivate that flock to create outcasts. Pariahs.


FOR an example of the power of the conformist, properly-correct community taken one step further, see the two movie versions of “Invasion of the Body Snatchers”— made in 1956 starring Kevin McCarthy and Dana Wynter, and in 1978 starring Donald Sutherland, Brooke Adams and Leonard Nimoy.


(NOTE the eerily prophetic statement on the 1978 poster: “Sleep . . . and be born again into a world without fear or hate!” Many people today would say, “Sign me up!”)

WHO are the pods?

WHY does everyone look with hostility at individuals exhibiting human qualities of emotion and difference of opinion?

WHY does everyone think exactly alike??!

Watch either movie version at your peril.
NEXT: Whispering Campaigns and the Writer.

-Karl Wenclas for New Pop Lit NEWS


Are Comic Books Propaganda?



HOW FAR should one take politics in art?

The question arises with the ongoing “comicsgate” controversy which has split the comic book publishing world. (Background on the issue is available here  and here. Debate has raged across the internet, especially on twitter, for weeks.

A point made by those on the social justice side of the issue is that superhero comics have always been political. Nazis in particular have been socked by superheroes for decades.

They’re right. Superhero comics have been political almost from the start. The kicker is they’ve been more than political. From World War II through the Cold War they were outright propaganda. Cheerleaders for American empire.



The Second World War was a battle for civilization– a no-holds-barred fight to the death, during which all rules of civilized behavior were broken, by all sides. This was reflected in the propaganda.


Comic books were a big part of this– including “Superman,” fighting for truth, justice, and the American Way.



The two great creators of Marvel characters and storylines during its formative years were both New York City natives who fought in World War II. Both firmly bought into Franklin Roosevelt’s ethos of America saving the world. Given the nightmarish regimes on the other side of the oceans, this was an understandable, even necessary viewpoint.

Kirby and Lee retained this ethos after the war. (Evidence suggests that Stan Lee retains it now.) In the 1960’s they launched “Sgt. Fury and His Howling Commandos,” refighting the same battles.


NOT that this was unusual– Germans continued as cartoonish villains across the culture, from movies to television shows to professional wrestling, which featured arrogant Nazi bad guys such as the nasty “Baron Von Raschke.”


ALL’S FAIR in love and war, as they say, even when the war’s long over. Or even when it’s a Cold War. So, while Sylvester Stallone fought cartoonish Russian movie monsters like Ivan Drago–


— Marvel’s Captain America battled his Soviet nemesis, Red Guardian.


The question can legitimately be asked: When were superhero comic books not outright propaganda for Pax Americana– usually of the most jingoistic variety?

MANY of Marvel’s recent superhero movies– the “Captain America” and “Iron Man” series come quickly to mind– have continued this mindset. Always with a global, America-running-the-world mindset. One “Iron Man” flick had the character outdoing drone missiles in blowing up bad guys in Afghanistan. (See this Noah Berlatsky review of it.)

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THE SURPRISE is that today’s social justice warriors in the comic book realm, ostensibly on the left, use these precedents as justification for their political aesthetic now.

(It could just be that “left” and “right” are obsolete concepts for truly understanding today’s world.)


When dealing with issues like fascism and anti-fascism, one will always run into a host of contradictions. A good example is recently deceased award-winning novelist Philip Roth. Roth’s 2004 novel, The Plot Against America, depicts a world in which Charles Lindbergh has become U.S. President and imposed a fascist-like regime, with Franklin D. Roosevelt offstage as ostensible good guy. Kind of a misguided slant on history, in that Lindbergh was politically inept and non-interventionist. The contradiction is that FDR himself came closer to being a dictator than any President before or since. Elected for four terms; hyper-devious and charismatic; a popular demagogue; knew how to use media, particularly radio; built America’s military-industrial complex and empowered giant corporations in order to do so; put an unpopular ethnic group into concentration camps; tried many maneuvers to get around the U.S. Constitution; etc. etc.

THIS was the offstage ideologue and ideology which comics creators like Stan Lee and Jack Kirby explicitly followed– a worldwide American interventionist viewpoint.


The big comic book companies today have a different agenda– or are pandering to a different agenda. As before, the goal is some level of social engineering– real life masters of the universe deciding from above what the brave new world should look like. Art usually gets lost in the process, and always has.


CAN art be polemical and at the same time, important art?

THAT Frank Norris’s populist novel The Octopus, and Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead— the first from the left, the other from the right– are both polemical, yet two of the best American novels ever written, says the answer to the question is “Yes.” But there are lines to be crossed. (Rand crossed them herself in her next major work.)

In this critic’s opinion, two major comic book superhero series have crossed into the realm of important, even mythic, art: “Batman” and “Spiderman.” Most of the rest have either been harmless entertainment or indoctrination pamphlets.


-Karl Wenclas