The Modern Age

Hollywood, comics, radio and the times have always been interwoven. In the Modern Age, the events within each decade affected these entertainment forms dramatically.

In the 1950s, increased competition from television caused the motion picture industry to try many experiments. A stereoscope technique (3-D) was used for full-length films to give them visual depth, a curved screen that was more than twice as wide as it was high was combined with stereophonic sound to give the viewer the illustion of being within the picture. But television prevailed, and other events began to affect the content of films.

Whitman produced a six-book series of TV BLBs: Andy Burnett, The Bucaneers, Gunsmoke, Jim Bowie, Sir Galahad, and Wyatt Earp.

Radio programming such as The Jack Benny Show and The Lone Ranger could not compete with television programming, and radio evolved into a news and music medium.

With World War II in the past, heroic comics were no longer needed. Many heroes, like Mandrake the Magician and Captain America, disappeared in the 1950s. Those who remained became less heroic and were sometimes ludicrous--one comic book cover showed Superman yelping when Lois Lane dropped a biscuit on his foot. By the time the 1960s began, a new type of character, the antihero, was predominant in both comics and films. Typical of the comic antihero was Spiderman who, his creator said, "loses as often as he wins--in fact, more often."

From the mid-1960s to the mid-1970s, the content of films and comics reflected social problems--problems with romance, problems in the ghetto, problems involving ethnic differences. Then, as the 1970s drew to a close, leading characters left the realities of urban environments and entered the fantasy worlds once again. By 1980, the classic themes for movies, comics, and radio had returned.

Today, regular storyline programming can be heard on radio, and an industry for trading and selling old broadcasts is doing a booming business. Heroic characters have reappeared, and they jump from paper pages onto the screen and back again with ease. New heroes created for such films as Star Wars and Raiders of the Lost Ark, first appear on screen, then enter the comic forms. And the movie theaters splash traditional comic characters in bigger-than-life images before raptured audiences--Superman I, Superman II, Flash Gordon, The Legend of the Lone Ranger, Tarzan and Popeye. On the Hollywood planning boards are other comic heroes about to be placed on the silver screen--Dick Tracy, Little Orphan Annie, Terry and the Pirates, Sheena the Queen of the Jungle, Conan the Barbarian, Brenda Starr, Betty Boop, The Shadow, and so on. Television also participated in the phenomenon with such TV series as Wonder Woman, The Incredible Hulk, and Buck Rogers. In the interchange among media, one can see the comic format influence upon the pace and style of films and television and the influence of films upon comic art.

Wyatt Earp
The Books

During the Great Depression, Hollywood, radio, and comic publications provided the main sources by which the public escaped the problems of the day. During World War II, the need for heroes influenced the content of these sources. Now, many years into the Modern Age and after a long absence, heroes are reappearing, and so are the earlier sources of entertainment, joined by television, are interwoven and turn to each other for inspiration.

The Modern Age, influenced by the times, was generally an unimpressive period for BLBs and similar books, until recently. During the period, Whitman remained the predominant publisher of such books. The company attempted to bring television programming into the BLB format in the late 1950s, in the 1960s it tried books with full-color illustrations, and in the 1970s it produced softcover versions of previously popular titles along with a few new titles and characters. The Whitman effort came to an end in 1987 when the last soft cover BLB was published.

Other companies entered the scene in the last half of the 1970s with softcover books of their own. Waldman and Son, Inc. produced illustrated classics, and Ottenheimer Publishers, Inc became the exclusive publisher of Hanna-Barbera material

An independent author/artist/publisher, Joe Wherle, produce a single BLB titled Cauliflower Catnip, and in 1997 through 1999, Chronicle Books published a movie-related set of BLB-type books.


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