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MAN OF TWO WORLDS: Julius Schwartz

The former sci-fi literary agent and long-time DC Comics editor discusses his memoirs--and the stories he didn't tell.

By Craig Shutt     October 06, 2000

Legendary DC Comics' editor Julius Schwartz is a lifelong Yankees fan, so it's no surprise when he pulls out a relevant baseball analogy while discussing his many years of plotting comic stories. 'A pitcher is going to have days when he's got good stuff and days when he's got bad stuff,' he explains. 'But he can win with either one, if he's good. When I was plotting stories, I never really ran out of ideas. They came flowing out all the time, and the writers and I would make them work.'

Schwartz has let many of those ideas flow out in one compact package with the release of his memoirs, Man of Two Worlds: My Life in Science Fiction and Comics, written with Brian M. Thomsen. Published this summer by Harper Collins Publishers, the 197-page book details the significant impact Schwartz has had on two genre worlds: science fiction, as the market's first literary agent, and comics, as a key editor during comics' Golden Age in the 1940s and the man who began the Silver Age in the late 1950s.

Written in a breezy, conversational style and sprinkled with references to many of the biggest names in science fiction and comics, the book details how Schwartz became interested in science fiction fandom while growing up with his lifelong friend Mort Weisinger, who became another legendary DC editor. After launching science fiction's first fanzines, they started the first literary agency specializing in science fiction writers, the Solar Sales Service.

'Hardly any of the writers lived in the New York area,' says Schwartz. 'So the writers didn't know what editors needed for forthcoming issues. The writers would bang out their stories and send them off, waiting months sometimes for a reply. Mort and I realized we could visit the editors to find out what they wanted and pitch our writers' stories at the right time. The editors liked having me personally submit stories to them, knowing that they had passed a 'first reading' and were more acceptable than rejectable. And the writers were happy to give us 10 percent to place or speed up acceptance of their stories and make sure they got paid.'

But by the early 1940s, with only a handful of magazine markets, Schwartz was having a hard time making a New York living from his 10 percent commission. One of his writers, Alfred Bester, told him of an editor's opening at All-American Comics, and he badgered Schwartz into interviewing for the position. Schwartz held the winning combination of his story talents, Bester's recommendation and the company's desperation for editorial help.

Following Bester's departure a year later, editor Schwartz quickly brought in some of his other science fiction clients, including Henry Kuttner, Otto Binder, Robert Bloch and John Broome. Their talents gave All-American, which soon merged with DC, some of its strongest storytelling strips.

The 1950s are best known for the introduction of the Comics Code Authority, but Schwartz hardly mentions it in his book. 'I never had a problem with them,' he says. 'I had high standards, so I knew anything I let go through would pass the Code.' Only once did he know he'd have a problem with a gruesome scene, so he inserted an even more gruesome scene in its place. When the Code objected, he bargained to take out the worst offender and retain the other, which was the scene he really wanted all along.

Another topic barely mentioned is Marvel Comic's 1960s impact. 'We were concerned about Marvel gaining sales, but we weren't giving much thought to how they were doing it. Bad mistake,' admits Schwartz. 'But my magazines were still selling well, and I felt that to try to imitate what Marvel was doing would make my books a pale copy--and why would readers want an imitation if they could have the real thing?'

Besides, he reflects, DC's editors' efforts to analyze each others' books didn't work the way they hoped. For instance, during one ill-fated editorial meeting, the editors critiqued each other's books to gain an outside perspective. 'It was a terrible idea,' he laughs. 'We all really dug into each other and got everybody upset. We didn't do that again.'

Although the book mentions many of the key comics figures he worked with, many didn't get their due, admits Schwartz. 'I regret not telling much more about Gil Kane,' he says, 'because he turned out such outstanding work for Green Lantern, Superman and others.' But Kane worked for Schwartz long before the superheroes returned. 'Gil first came looking for work at a time when we were doing a lot of westerns,' he relates. 'Few of our artists could draw a good horse, and he said he could, so I gave him a 'Rodeo Rick' strip. He did a good job, so I followed it up with 'Rex the Wonder Dog,' 'Hopalong Cassidy' and science fiction.'

Another great that Schwartz didn't cover indepth was Curt Swan. Schwartz calls him 'the definitive Superman artist,' an opinion shared by many long-time fans. 'Curt was great to work with,' he recalls. 'He was reliable and seldom complained about what he had to draw.' Swan's only complaint, Schwartz reflects, came with writer Elliot S. Maggin. 'Elliott was a brilliant writer, but his scene descriptions would go off on tangents. They'd include jokes and chit-chat, taking up an entire page. Curt used to complain that by the time he came to the end, he had forgotten the beginning.'

Schwartz enjoyed working with the new writers who entered the field in the 1970s. 'The new guys like Paul Kupperberg, Bob Rozakis, Martin Pasko, Paul Levitz, Mike Friedrich, and Mark Waid reminded me of my youth and working with new writers in the science fiction field,' names that included Ray Bradbury and Leigh Brackett. 'Working with them pepped me up again.'

But the long-time Superman editor isn't happy with how his former charge is being handled today. 'I hate the vivid, eye-blinding coloring!' exclaims Schwartz. 'And all those overdone, single- and double-page spreads that the artists hope to sell for sky-high prices at conventions and on the Internet!'

Schwartz may not have a say in how his favorite books are edited, but he's nowhere near running dry on colorful stories about the times when he had the ultimate say. With many readers believing his memoirs left many questions unanswered, Schwartz doesn't rule out a sequel if there's enough demand.

'The fascination of writing is that sometimes you're hot and sometimes you're not,' he says. 'There's always another story to be told.' Based on the flood of anecdotes Schwartz can spill that don't appear in the book, this long-time Yankees fan has plenty of stuff left if he should ever get another turn at bat.

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