Every book project starts somewhere and my biography for Gardner Fox started in a place that might be surprising: his scrapbook. Fox was a researcher who spent many hours reading through the materials in his extensive collection at home, at the Mount Vernon Public Library, and anywhere else he might come across something in between. He would keep careful note of anything he thought might be useful for his writing in various locations including his file cabinets, plot genie, and scrapbook. This scrapbook, currently residing in the Gardner Fox Collection, was a touchstone for my work as it gave me a much better understanding of his writing process and what he saw as important. My research keeps coming back to scrapbooking as well with relatives talking about a missing scrapbook containing Fox’s high school newspaper work and the Keene Public Library scrapbook that was likely created by his sister Kay Fox who was Head Librarian there for twenty-nine years. Scrapbooking was a fairly common practice in the 19th century among both men and women, who used it as a way of filtering through the surplus of newsprint and other media at the time in order to follow a trend or track a story. They could also serve as a method of preserving personal and family histories. As scrapbooking was already an established activity for Fox, it would be natural to apply that methodology to his research practices too. He made himself several reference books, including the scrapbook, that he could refer back to during the many steps of his writing process, thus ensuring the best quality of work he could manage in the time frame allotted to him. It also allowed him to contextualize his stories in the most accurate way he could, thereby sharing his knowledge with his impressionable readers. More than a tool created to maintain his written output, the scrapbook allows us to see the value of the knowledge Gardner Fox collected as part of his research process thereby elucidating the educative nature of his writing style.
The many materials he preserved serves a dual purpose in that they not only helped him to construct his stories but also shows us who Fox was as an author. When talking about what kinds of scrapbooks different types of people make, Ellen Gruber Garvey, in Writing with Scissors: American Scrapbooks from the Civil War to the Harlem Renaissance, singles out authors specifically when she states: “Authors clipped records of their work and made scrapbooks intended for reference, keeping accounts of publications” (10). The Gardner Fox Collection contains those many examples of Fox’s written works as well as business correspondence and the like therefore making much of the archive supplemental to the scrapbook from this perspective. Gardner Fox collected these materials to help him become the best writer he could be. We can look at the clippings he saved as essential to his creative process because of the very fact that he saved them. The wear and tear of the scrapbook is also revealing as it showcases the frequency of use throughout those demanding years. As he read through the many mediums he clipped from, he selected things he found the most inspiring for his writing, thus building his own media source that could have functioned much as the internet does for artists now. Returning to Ellen Gruber Garvey, she explains that: “Many scrapbooks are diaries of sorts — a form of writing that may or may not be chronological but records and preserves elements of life experience and memory cues” (15). He was a well-educated man, and throughout his career as a writer, he makes many academic references that reveal his love of knowledge and these are made possible through the use of his scrapbook. References include everything from current events, literature, mythology, history, and even scientific theories. This kind of biographical information can be incredibly important to understanding a person’s scrapbook because it provides a context, thus making the scrapbook more legible.
In looking at the actual content of the scrapbook, it is useful to keep in mind the title he gave it: “Local Color.” The definition of local color which he later provides within the scrapbook under the section labeled “writing hints” is something that “can create mood for reader, for character, can help to characterize.” Much of the scrapbook is made up of titled pages with many types of paper scraps attached to them. Most of the clippings are taped onto the note pages while others are hole punched and added in as if they are additional pages. Some of these add-ins even have things written on them and yet more clippings taped to them as well. Almost all the clippings are pictures of some sort. Unfortunately, a large number of clippings feature women, which is troubling in the context of his definition of local color. Potentially useful information is also clipped and saved such as the answers to quizzes titled “How much English do you speak?” and “What’s in a name?” both of which test readers’ knowledge of English slang. Clippings with historical context such as “Life in a Medieval Castle” are included as well. Fox got most of his clippings from newspapers, magazines, advertisements, comic strips, and other mediums such as the many pages from The Bulletin Presents. He took these clippings and taped them in layers to the pages in the scrapbook to create something he could flip through when he needed to describe the “local color” he wanted to invoke in the panels he was envisioning. After this section, there are many handwritten notes, illustrations, and bits of information he might need, all organized by a table of contents. The table of contents includes things like: tables, loot, lingerie, occupations, and superstitions. Within those groupings, many repeated contexts appear such as: Western, Viking, Medieval, Oriental, Classical, and Roman. These categories do have some overlap regarding picture type and information type; however, there seems to be no specific relation between the first two sections, organizationally speaking. Lastly, after the written aspect of the scrapbook, yet more clippings are taped onto pages to flip through. As a whole, the scrapbook exemplifies what makes Fox such an effective writer, what is important to him as a writer, and points to some of the issues that are often brought up when looking at his writing. Namely, the racism and sexism that was unfortunately common in Golden and Silver Age comic books. Fox included a lot women in his stories when compared to his contemporaries and the women he wrote were agency filled and knowledgeable. Still, to include so many women in the context of local color speaks to the way in which female characters were (and still are) often used to inform our understanding of male heroes and the situations they are put in. It is also worth noting that the category of Oriental is problematic; however, the term was much more commonly used in the time that he was writing and he saw all people as more or less the same regardless of their ethnicities. These topics will be covered in much greater depth in my book when I talk about the Justice Society of America.
When it comes to the use of the scrapbook, it is fairly easy to see how helpful it would be in the construction of more true to life stories, but reading through the scrapbook with the perspective of comic studies on my mind was an enlightening experience. On their most basic levels, both comics and scrapbooks manipulate a juxtaposition of words and pictures to convey a larger meaning that is then further influenced by their placement on the page. The transitions from item to item even mirrors the transitions from panel to panel as the reader must construct the narrative from those available items and the placement of them on the page. The two most common transitions found in scrapbooks includes subject-to-subject and aspect-to-aspect. Fox’s scrapbook functions slightly differently as the pages were not made to look at but to physically flip through. This makes the meanings beyond the title become clear in the action of flipping instead of simply looking at them as a whole. Using the page labeled “Medieval,” the first clipping the reader flips past is an ornate medieval saddle clipping from the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The next layer is another piece of information, from the same source, that details a joust stating: “Here two knights are tilting at the barrier with their blunt-headed lances ready for the encounter. The winner will be the one who breaks the most lances by well-directed blows on his opponent’s armor, or unhorses him.” This switch between the saddle to the information about how a joust is won, along with another larger image depicting a joust behind these two pieces, is an example of a subject-to-subject transitioning, where the panels transition from one thing to another while remaining within a scene or idea, requires a certain amount of effort on behalf of the reader to make the transition meaningful (McCloud 71). Here, we can see the theme of how a joust looked and worked as well as what kind of saddle the knights might be using for the horses they would be riding during that joust. This is the kind of obscure detail that Fox often included in his work. Another type of transition common in both comics and scrapbooks is aspect-to-aspect which is described as being similar to a wandering eye in that each panel shows different aspects of a place, mood, or idea mostly outside of the timeline of the narrative (McCloud 72). An example of this is the shift from explicitly jousting materials such as a clipping of a knight in armor, to a worrisome scene showing a man restraining a woman. In order to understand what is happening in between this, and the other clippings, the reader must use closure which is defined as: “The phenomenon of observing the parts but perceiving the whole” (McCloud 63). In other words, as the reader’s eyes travel from one panel across the gutter and into the next, the reader mentally builds a narrative that fills the gap and completes the story. When looking at this page of Gardner Fox’s scrapbook, a possible narrative that can be pieced together is that of a woman being captured, which results in a joust and ends with a knight receiving some kind of reward from a king as the reader can just make out a clipping with a king on it under the most recent clipping I was focusing on. Closure is needed for any scrapbook just the same as it is used in comics as the individual pieces inform everything around them and it sometimes takes work on the behalf of the reader to sort out what the key theme or story arc is on any given page. The term most often used to describe the closure occurring in the kind of reading methods used when analyzing a scrapbook is finding a through line. Further research into the commonalities of these mediums could prove useful to increase our understandings of how each of them functions narratively speaking.
Fox wrote well over 4,000 comics stories and his scrapbook would have been a useful resource to help him with both the panel-by-panel descriptions and providing authentic contextualization via local color. The latter was of personal importance to him. Fox was a very educated man who did a lot of research and felt that education is essential. This scrapbook allows us to see the research Fox found most useful to his writing, and using the scrapbook as a lens to read his many works reveals the application of that research. With this scrapbook, Fox created an archive of historically correct inspiration. A place where he could go for reference; an external form of his own memories. He saw value in the knowledge contained in the clippings and the functionality of its application. This spreading of knowledge was something mentioned in several letters he exchanged with fans, including notables like Jerry Bails and Roy Thomas, showing us how it was rewarding for both him and his fans. The scrapbook he created not only aided his writing process, but gives us the chance to catch a glimpse of who he was as a creator and as an educative propagator of the next generation.
Garvey, Ellen Gruber. Writing with Scissors: American Scrapbooks from the Civil War to the Harlem Renaissance. New York: Oxford University Press, 2013. Print.
McCloud, Scott. Understanding Comics The Invisible Art. New York, New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 1993. Print.