The 20-minute walk from Beeson Village to downtown Maryville is an uneventful stretch made
tolerable by the occasional greetings of friends passing by and the catcalls of strangers shouted from grimy truck windows. I pick up trash as I go, challenging myself to find more than enough to hold in
a hand. I make my own excitement by seeing if I can
sneak my findings into someone’s recycling bin before someone calls me out on it.
The first 10 minutes of this journey are made more interesting by the bright splashes of color that pop out once you clear the residential area near the college. The exterior wall of “The Golden Age” that keeps the building level in this hilly hell of a small town now presents the images of various heroes from the ‘50s, the poster children of the comic book medium.
This is a welcomed deviance from the earth-toned exteriors that comprise the facade of Maryville. As you pass one of the uncountable Baptist churches in the area, you can begin to pick out the color schemes of various blobs. Is that swatch of red supposed to be Plastic Man, or is it Superman? Perhaps that faint yellow patch is Hawkgirl’s helm, or maybe Hawkman’s.
Driving toward downtown from this direction, the traffic goes too fast to really pick out the fine details, the folds in capes and the heroic grins plastered on all-American mugs. I can still remember the excitement of creeping steadily closer, the mural coming into frame little by little, my joy and smugness mounting as I found myself naming every character.
This menagerie of color and comic come to life becomes something very different upon closer inspection. The majority of the characters do hold a strong resemblance to their paper-bound counterparts, but it feels like a poor facsimile to those who know more modern depictions.
I can remember my disappointment just as well.
Perhaps comics were cruder back in the golden age, because a few of our fearless heroes look more than a little like plastic dolls that have spent a few hours in direct sunlight in the back of a sedan in the heart of summer. I’m not sure what art school the muralist attended, but he applied the Michelangelo technique most noticeably to drawing Hawkgirl and Wonder Woman: draw a man and slap the breasts just anywhere. At best, these border on parody and are something to joke about with your peers as you drive past. At worst, they’re a suggestion that comics are no more an artform than cave drawings or finger paintings.
Before the artist began to paint the wall, a petition was passed around campus asking permission. I remember signing and sharing the petition eagerly with my friends, urging and encouraging people to sign, promising that it would be something for which to be proud of our town. All I can offer now are weak excuses and the promise that the inside of the shop is much better than it appears. I would honestly love to pick the muralists brain about this.
I’ll admit, my critique might seem harsh to those who are unfamiliar with the mural, or even comics in general.
I encourage you to take your time and walk to it, really ferment on your ideas about what these legends look like up close. Even more, go inside and check out the Golden Age shop.
For all of its artistic faults, the owner, David Laney, has managed to turn a dilapidated former radio station (also formerly the first pizza parlor in Maryville) into a truly cool place to hang out and game. Why can’t the wall look as cool as the inside feels?
I don’t think that the mural was a bad idea, and I still think it has potential. Maybe all it needs is a different hand and a few coats of paint.