Image: Cover of Arthur Byron Cover's Autumn Angels (1976) by Ron Cobb.
The other night, while trying to gather more information about the illustrator Paul Kirchner (he of the astounding Dope Rider strips), I stumbled across an amazing fansite called The PorPor Books Blog. Created by user tarbandu, the site is devoted, but not restricted to, comic books and genre paperbacks from roughly the late '60s through the end of the '80s, covering a period that spans, in the words of its curator, "from the New Wave era and 'Dangerous Visions', to the advent of the cyberpunks and 'Neuromancer'."
This is a crucial period in the history of SF and genre-related material in general, since it marks science fiction and fantasy's transition from an obscure subculture to a massive phenomenon, beginning with the counterculture's embrace of Tolkien, 2001, and Stranger in a Strange Land in the '60s, and then continuing into the '70s and '80s, as the unprecedented popularity of Star Trek, Star Wars, and Dungeons and Dragons created multimedia empires spanning publishing, movies, TV, popular music, and games. It also saw the elevation of superheroes and horror fiction from cheap pulp entertainment to multimillion dollar productions like Superman: The Movie and Kubrick's Shining, as well as the convergence of rock music and SF through figures like Bowie, Eno, the post-punks, and the MTV aesthetic. (Did you know Adam Ant had his own comic strip? It's here.) It marked a new appreciation for SF as literature, thanks to the mainstream's embrace of writers like J.G. Ballard, Ursula Le Guin, and Philip K. Dick. And towards the end of the period, as space opera and sword and sorcery begin to lose their appeal, you can see the rise of the cyberpunks, not just in the form of William Gibson and Blade Runner, but in the ranks of former Atari addicts and Zork enthusiasts seeking to master the new realm of cyberspace. And you can see just about every stage of this evolution in PorPor's archives.
The site is divided roughly between book reviews and scans of old comic books and "graphic novels," a category that didn't have a name for much of the period covered here, and didn't even exist as a category until books like Bring On The Bad Guys and Alien: The Illustrated Story. There are few superhero stories featured here, with the emphasis on straight SF or pulp/serial-style adventure stories, except for a couple of "cosmic" superheroes like Marvel's Warlock, Killraven, and Jack Kirby's OMAC. There are also scans from "adult" SF magazines like Heavy Metal and Marvel's Epic Illustrated, including some fascinating rarities by the likes of Drulliet, Nicollet, and Caza. More interesting, though, are the columns from these magazines, in which you can see writers like Denny O'Neil, Lou Stathis, Bhob Stewart, Punk magazine creator John Holmstrom, and SF writers Norman Spinrad and Bruce Sterling figuring out what the genre's popularity means for the culture at large. Some of these articles still feel relevant today: see this Epic story about gaming from 1980, or this roundtable discussion about comics in HM from 1983. If io9 had somehow existed in 1983, it would have looked a lot like this.
The rest of of PorPor is devoted to book reviews, and it's here that you can really see how much the genre has changed in the past forty years. Today, most genre novels tend to fit into rigid categories like thousand page epic fantasies, military SF, YA dystopia, urban fantasy, et al., but back then there was much more of an "anything goes" quality, too, with lots of Howard pastiches, science fantasy, pulp heroes, and old-fashioned space adventures. And there were a lot more anthologies aimed at a general audience, too. The reviews aren't blinded by nostalgia — many of the books sound pretty mediocre or silly — but it's a reminder of what's changed as the genre's become more commercialized and stratified over the past few decades. It just seems more fun, somehow, as opposed to generic bestsellers or self-serious literary hybrids. I came away really missing the oddball experimentalism of Howard Chaykin's Stars My Destination adaptation, Ariel: The Book of Fantasy and The Illustrated Harlan Ellison. As far as the genre's come in the last few decades, it'd be nice to see more of that weird enthusiasm.
Anyway, enough of my yappin'. It's an incredible site, and totally worth your time. Just one warning: you may find that's one resource you'll find yourself running out of in a hurry...
H/T to 99Telepodproblems for suggesting this as a writeup!