Posts tagged ‘Comics’

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.”

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As I mentioned in the short piece I wrote about Alfie Bester, he and I had a joint talk for a bunch of English fans thirty-odd years or so ago. To my total amazement, some of them recently came up with a tape of that discussion. They transcribed it, and I thought some of you might like to read it here in the blog.

Here’s what Peter Roberts’ fanzine, Checkpoint, reported at the time:

TYNESIDE “FUTUREWORLDS”: (Ritchie Smith reports on the Newcastle sf film festival) “Alfred Bester and Frederik Pohl spoke at the Tyneside Cinema for some two hours on June 26th. Bester was smallish, plump, larger-than-life, and explosively friendly in a Hollywood sort of way, right down to calling some people ‘darling’. Pohl looked more literary: ectomorphic, tall, and restrained, full of good anecdotes, like Bester (sadly, too many of them were familiar from Pohl’s essay in Hell’s Cartographers). Afterwards they signed books — Bester’s dedications were especially witty — and the great men and a large minority of North-East fandom went off for a Chinese meal.”

 

Frederik Pohl     Alfred Bester

   Frederik Pohl       Alfred Bester

Alfred Bester and Frederik Pohl — The Conversation

Recorded 26 June 1978 at The Tyneside Cinema, Newcastle upon Tyne, UK, by Kevin Williams. Transcript by Sue Williams, edited by Neil Jones and Kevin Williams. Originally published in Rob Jackson’s fanzine Inca 5, December 2009. Additional editing here by Leah A. Zeldes.
 

Pohl: Let me tell you about Alfie Bester. I’ve known him for a long time, and I first encountered him when I was 19 years old and editing a magazine called Astonishing Stories, and I bought a couple of stories of Alfie’s because I liked them. And then, some years later, Cyril Kornbluth and I had written a book called The Space Merchants, which I sort of hoped might win a prize, but it was beaten out by something called The Demolished Man by Alfred Bester.

A little while later, Cyril and I were working on another novel — I think it was Search the Sky. We’d written a couple of others by then, and I’d just begun to edit a thing called Star Science Fiction Stories — a series of anthologies of original science fiction stories. I brought home a story by Alfie Bester that I had just accepted for Star. It was called “Disappearing Act,” and I showed it to Cyril while we were working on our own book.

He gave me a resentful look and said, “You bring me this to read when we are writing that!”

[The novel we were writing was pretty much space opera, while Alfie’s story was a literate gem. But I didn’t explain this in the conversation, which led to a mixup. —FP]

Bester: Cyril didn’t like it?

Pohl: He loved it. He thought it was so much superior to what we were doing that it embarrassed him.

It’s been going on like that — our paths keep crossing, and he keeps doing this superlative work, and now I’ll let him speak for himself.

Bester: The one thing that you must understand is that we admire each other profoundly. I cannot tell you how many times I have read a story or novel of Fred’s and said, “Why in Christ’s name couldn’t I have written that?” — and then run into Fred and I tell him. The truth of the matter is that there is no rivalry between us at all, there is nothing but admiration.

We are rather like the high baroque musicians: We borrow from each other, we learn from each other, we admire each other, we do the same things, or different things, and have a hell of a ball.

Now Fred’s novel which he wrote with Cyril Kornbluth, The Space Merchants, is, I think, the finest novel ever written in the history of science fiction. It is a brilliant piece of work. Many brilliant things have followed it, but this came along when everybody was obsessed with Doc Smith space opera, which has its own charm — it’s great fun — and suddenly comes this realistic extrapolation of what American life, American advertising, American ecology and American psychosis will lead to eventually.

Horace Gold ran it as a three parter in Galaxy. Gravy Planet, he called it. A tremendous piece of work — exciting, ravishing. I will never forget the scene where that crazy broad with the needle is giving him the works. Fred, that was outrageously brilliant.

Pohl: That scene was all Cyril’s but I’ll accept the credit.

Alfie is one of the greatest writers science fiction has ever had and he is well aware of it — he just wants to be told! Everybody knows the novels, but there was a period in the early ’50s when in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction month after month there was a leading novelette by Alfred Bester.

Bester: Always with the wrong title!

Pohl: Always with the wrong title but always good! They were just brilliant, one after another.

Bester: I once sent two stories to Mick McComas and Tony Boucher (at F&SF) — they had asked for them, of course — and they switched the titles on the stories. I stink on titles, I really do, I’m terrible.

But the point I’m going to make very strongly is the greatness of science fiction. To my mind, it is the last, the last outpost of freedom of literature in the States — I can’t speak for England. In science fiction, we can do what no one else can do in any other medium.

I speak as a magazine writer, novelist and scriptwriter. The constraints of commercial fiction in the States in television, in films, in radio, you name it, are so severe that there is very little you can do. This is one of the reasons why I have written science fiction off and on all of my life. Quite simply because if I come up with an idea which rather enchants me, I would very much like to develop it and do it, so that people would see it and hear it.

If my producer, my director, the client says “No, no, it’s too expensive, no it’s too far out, people won’t understand it, ah forget it, give us something a little less,” then I have to turn to science fiction. In science fiction, you can do anything you please, and God knows the artist needs a free hand. The greatness of science fiction is not the science, not the prediction of the future, not anything you want to name — the greatness is that it is wide open, and we can do exactly as we damn please, and that story will run somewhere, somehow, and you will have your audience, and you will get feedback. And after all, a writer without an audience is no writer at all; you’ve got to have people that you are entertaining.

Continue reading ‘Me and Alfie’ »

Alfred Bester

Alfred Bester

When the Air Force decided they wouldn’t need my services in order to accomplish the defeat of Japan — the reason for that being that Japan, discouraged by the simultaneous American atom-bombing of Hiroshima and Stalin’s last-minute invasion of their northern front, had finally given its struggle in World War II and surrendered — they sent me home to New York City. There I rented an apartment in Greenwich Village and, for reasons connected with a book I was trying to write, went looking for a job in the advertising business.

I answered three help-wanted ads in the Sunday Times employment section. One of them, a small Madison Avenue advertising agency, Thwing & Altman, took me on as a copywriter.

It didn’t pay as well as I had thought a Mad Ave. advertising job would, but otherwise it was a likable enough job. Its good features included location. Within the perimeter of a circle with a ten-block radius there were literally hundreds of quite good restaurants where I could get a lunch of almost any school and ethnicity. I quickly learned that, even with all that variety available, there were a handful that I kept returning to, and one of those was in the lobby of the Columbia radio (not yet TV) network’s then New York headquarters, the present skyscraper not yet having been built. The restaurant was frequently used by people from the network, and one of the reasons I liked it was that every once in a while I would run into Alfie Bester, also looking to grab a lunch there, and we would have a nice meal together, spiced with shop talk.

 
The thing to remember about the career of Alfred J. Bester is that he was first and foremost a money writer. He had the talent to do that well. He could write almost anything — science-fiction stories, comics, radio-serial scripts, you name it, and he could do them all at the top of his form — and what particular kind of thing he did write, depending on how the vagaries of the market fluctuated at any given moment, was whichever one of them was paying the most dollars per hour of punching typewriter keys.

Alfie had begun writing science fiction, back in the ’30s, because he had a number of friends — including Horace L. Gold and Mort Weisinger — who worked as editors at Standard Magazines, publishers of, among many other pulps, the magazine Thrilling Wonder Stories. They coached him in the writing of sf, and bought his practice stories. (Well, they didn’t buy all of them. A very few they rejected, and of those I bought one or two when, as a teenage editor, I was editing Astonishing and Super Science Stories).

Then Alfie discovered that comics were paying better than sf just then, so he tried his luck at comics, discovered that they were as easy to write as sf — for him — and switched his personal production line to comics.

Then he got a tip from his wife, Rolly, that changed everything.

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