King of the Comics and Agent, Editor, Faaan

Julius Scwartz, 1945.

Julius Scwartz, 1945.

The thing about Julius Schwartz is that, while I myself did many things in that Early Paleozoic Era when there were no jet aircraft or nuclear submarines and people didn’t even have TV sets yet, Julie Schwartz was doing the same things even earlier than I did.

For instance, I joined my first science-fiction fan club, the Brooklyn Science Fiction League, in 1932, but Julie had joined the first science-fiction fan club that ever existed, the New York Scienceers, years before that. I edited my first fanzine (we didn’t call them that yet, just “fan magazine”) when I was twelve. So did Julie. But he was twelve before I was, due to his unfair advantage of having been born four or five years earlier.

And both of us had set ourselves up as literary agents, specializing in trying to sell other writers’ stories to the science-fiction magazines, and both of us coasted from that to actual full-time jobs editing —

Hey, wait! I was going to say that we then coasted into full-time jobs as professional magazine editors. And that did happen for both of us, but I’m getting the facts wrong, because that was the one time that I led the way for Julie.

I broke in in 1939, when I lucked into the job of editing two science-fiction magazines, Astonishing Stories and Super Science Stories, for Harry Steeger’s giant pulp house of Popular Publications. Julie not only was still making his rounds as a literary agent at that time, I actually bought a number of stories from him for my magazines. He didn’t get the chance to make the jump to an editorial job, with an actual salary, until 1944. Then he was hired as an editor by a company that published comics magazines which ultimately mutated into the mighty DC Comics.

Oh, and there was another significant difference in our careers. By 1944, I wasn’t working for Popular Publications anymore, anyway. A war had come along and it required me to get into uniform so I could give it my full attention. I never did go back to working for Popular Publications, either.

Julie, on the other hand, knew a good thing when he had it. He stayed with DC Comics, in all of its convolutions and growth problems, until the day when — by then as its editor in chief! — he retired.

That was in 1986. However, you mustn’t think that his retirement from editorial duties took Julie off the payroll. Although he didn’t have to worry about deadlines or sales figures any more, but now he was reborn as DC Comics’ “goodwill ambassador to the world of comics and science-fiction fandom.” That meant he was given a fat expense account and charged with showing the DC Comics flag at as many cons and other events as he could find the strength to go to.

Was that what you would call a dream job? For a grown-up faaan who still loved cons and fandom in general, you bet it was! But it wasn’t unwarranted. More than any other single human being, Julie was responsible for returning DC Comics, and indeed the whole comics industry, to the money-making powerhouse status it achieved in the mid-1950s. in what was called “the Silver Age Revolution.”


Let’s backtrack a little bit.

When I said that Julie and I became editors in much the same way, I in the pulps and Julie in the comics, I didn’t mean to say that we wound up doing the same job. We didn’t. Julie’s job was different from mine, and a lot harder.

As a pulp editor, what I basically had to do was find, or create, around 50,000 words of enjoyable stories and send them off to the printer to be set in type each month. As a comics editor, Julie had to do the equivalent of that, too, but then he wasn’t finished. Then he had to sit down with an artist and get him to make the drawings that would actually tell the story.

All that took a lot of hard, skilled work Julie did even more.

He went over the sales figures for comics in general, and for superhero comics in particular, from the birth of the comics industry to the present — which was then in the mid-1950s — and tried to figure out what to do about them.

It wasn’t the Golden Age any more, that was for sure. Those were the years in the late ’30s and the ’40s when comics were selling their heads off for almost every issue.

But it had been a different world then. It was a world at war. Hundreds of thousands — in the long run, more than eight million — young Americans were scooped up into the armed services. They looked for entertainment, and found it in the comics — cheap, disposable, above all lightweight, so you could stuff a handful into your duffel bags to read on those long train rides, or those even longer waits for someone to give an order.

Well, Julie couldn’t bring the war back — and, you know, he didn’t really want to go that far, anyway — but he noticed there were a few bright spots in the postwar sales figures. So he sat down with the writer Gardner Fox and the artist Carmine Infantino and the three of them took another look at a superhero that seemed to have promise called The Flash. With Julie, Fox invented some new adventures for him to have and, with Julie, Infantino redesigned his costume to follow the illustrator’s golden rule — “When in doubt, make it red!” — and they sent the first new Flash story out onto America’s newsstands, with their fingers crossed, to see if it would sink or swim. And, oh, boy, did it swim! It sold its head off, and so did the next Flash adventure they followed it up with, and so did the other middle-aged superheroes they gave the same treatment to … and the Silver Age of American comics was born.

 
For a while there I didn’t see much of Julie. I had fallen into a dream job of my own — science-fiction editor for the giant paperback publisher, Bantam Books — and one of the best things about the job, apart from the fact that I had the authority to sign up any books I chose, at whatever terms I chose to put in the contracts — was that I only had to come in to the office once a week. So one afternoon, having spent most of the day in the office. I came downstairs and headed for the ice-cream store in the lobby — and. halfway there, a voice from behind me said, “Didn’t you used to be Fred Pohl?” And when I looked around, there was Julie.

It turned out that he was still working for DC Comics, which I hadn’t known, and that DC’s offices were in the same Madison Avenue skyscraper as Bantam’s. So for the previous couple of years we’d been working in the same building at least fifty-some days a year, and eating in the same restaurants almost as often.

It was good to see him again. He liked it too, and every now and then, on a day when I was working at Bantam, my phone would ring and it would be that familiar voice, still wanting to know if I had used to be Fred Pohl and if I planned on being free for lunch that day. (Well, it was a pretty good joke, even if Julie kept on using it for almost twenty years.)

Then, one day, it wasn’t just lunch he wanted to talk about. His old teenage sidekick Mort Weisinger, who had followed him into DC Comics where Mort had primarily been the boss of Superman, had retired a while ago. Julie had been in charge of The Man of Steel, along with all his other charges, since 1971, and now he had arranged for DC to give Superman a mammoth 50th birthday party. In Cleveland. And would Betty Anne and I like to fly out there to help celebrate it?

How could we say no? And of course we had a great time meeting all the old co-stars in the movies and TV shows, and Betty and I got to ride in the parade, for miles and miles around Cleveland, just the two of us in a decorated open truck, waving back to the crowds who cheered us all the way.

I don’t know if they had any idea who we were. But they knew who Superman was, and as loyal Clevelanders they gave us the benefit of the doubt.

 
For the next fifteen years or so we saw a lot of Julie, at almost every con or other event we went to. Then some health problems of my own began to get in the way of frequent air travel, and I cut back on my own con-going . And then the morning came when Charlie Brown called from his Locus office to tell me that Julie had just died.

I said, automatically, that I was really sorry to hear that. And Charlie said, “You know? I’ve been thinking, and I can’t think of a single person who won’t say the same thing — and actually mean it — when he hears the news.”

And for how many people can any of us make that same claim?

10 Comments

  1. Robert Nowall says:

    I’ve read some comics but never been a big fan—not like SF. But I picked up Julius Schwartz’s memoirs, and was impressed by his comment that, late in life at (I think) the World Fantasy Convention, he was the only one there who had known H. P. Lovecraft personally. (Not just that, but he was his agent, too.)

    The whole memoir, much like “The Way the Future Was,” was a fun read…

  2. Michael Rawdon says:

    I saw Julie at a science fiction convention in the late 90s, where he mostly talked about his days as an agent for SF writers. He easily filled the hour-plus of the panel, and probably would have just kept going if the next panel hadn’t kicked us out of the room. If I recall correctly, he said he sold Ray Bradbury’s first story? And also that he recruited Alfred Bester to write Green Lantern, where Bester came up with the familiar oath for the character.

    I could probably go look all this up, since I recall that most of his talk went into his later autobiography, Man of Two Worlds, but of course my copy of that is at home and I’m at work!

    I do remember him talking up Bester’s novels, and for reasons I don’t recall he picked on me to ask if I’d read them (maybe that’s what I get for sitting in the front row), which I hadn’t. He admonished me to go read them, so I did, and The Demolished Man is now one of my favorite novels.

    That’s the only time I ever saw him, but he was so much fun I always urged my fannish friends to go see him speak if they ever had a chance to do so.

  3. Stefan Jones says:

    Julie Schwartz was a regular at I-Con, a campus SF convention I frequently volunteered at. Great guy, as I recall. (We also had Sam Moskowitz and Raymond Z. Gallun out many times.)

    I once walked Schwartz and Stan Lee to my car for a ride back to the hotel. It was fun hearing them banter. At one point I addressed Lee as “Mr. Lee,” and they both laughed. Still kids at heart, I guess!

  4. Kurt Busiek says:

    One minor correction:

    Julie was never editor-in-chief at DC. I don’t think they ever had anyone with that title until recently, actually, but back in 1986, when Julie retired, the equivalent was Dick Giordano, who was VP/Executive Editor, and in charge of the whole editorial department.

    But Julie was certainly the longest-tenured and most-respected editor there, and it was always a treat to see him at cons thereafter as DC’s “goodwill ambassador.”

  5. CaitieCat says:

    What better legacy can a human leave, than being loved by other humans? Thanks for this loving portrait, sir.

  6. JohnArmstrong says:

    Did Julie ever suggest you might write some comics? DC had several long-running sf anthology books -

  7. Jay Borcherding says:

    While I enjoy all of Fred’s reminiscences, this one struck me as particularly poignant.

    It is hard to say precisely why, as I’d never heard of Julie previously, and as he evidently lived a long and happy life. Best to chalk it up to the sweetness of the subject and the deft and sensitive writing of Mr. Pohl.

    Thank you, Fred.

  8. Kim Gibbs says:

    Another small correction, Weisinger started at DC in 1941 with a break from around 1942 to 1946 while he served in the army. So Schwartz actually followed Weisinger.

  9. Rich Lynch says:

    I\’m not entirely sure that The Scienceers was the first-ever science fiction fan club. From what I\’ve read it dates back to 1930, but so does another New York fan club, the Science Correspondence Club (which is credited with publication of the first science fiction fanzine, The Comet).

  10. Keith Ray says:

    Julius Schwarz’s vacation slides from the comic “Son of Ambush Bug #6″:

    (quote from http://www.fourhman.com/ambushbug/)

    “FEB 08 04: Julius Schwartz – comic book legend and one of the architects of DC’s Silver Age – has passed away at the age of 88. Julie was Ambush Bug’s editor during his heyday and was often featured in the books. We salute you, Julie. You are missed. (So let’s all take one last look at Julie’s vacation slides!)\"

    http://www.fourhman.com/ambushbug/julie-vaca.htm