February 8th, 2004

Alex Ross/World's Finest

Personal: Remembering Julius Schwartz

Okay, I'm adding this to the journal a few years later, after I started reading DC Comics again, but it's just too fascinating a tribute of a guy whose work entertained, provoked, inspired, and delighted me – directly and indirectly – in more ways than I'll ever realize. It's one of those stories that makes you truly appreciate the power of a gifted administrator: like Ted Hesburgh, C.S.C. in Educational Administration, or a great departmental chair – someone with a real gift for that has not only the chance to use their own gifts, but also to maximize the gifts of others in such a way that the effects multiply exponentially.

DC printed the following in each of their issues that ran with the cover date of May 2004:


Consider, if you will, the Unified Field Theory of Schwartz. Julie Schwartz, that is.

Hypothesis: one man, by his participation in events over many decades, created unbreakable bonds between the nascent fields of science fiction and comics in a way that enables both fields to thrive, interconnected and parallel, endlessly.

Or, as Schwartz might have said, it's a lot like bean soup made well and served scalding hot: you can't single out any ingredient or how they were prepared, but you know someone was cooking.

Julie Schwartz was fascinated by the new world of science fiction that he discovered as a young boy in the Bronx. He joined one of the pioneering sf fan organizations of the '30s, The Scienceers, and joined with friends to launch the first fanzine, The Time Traveller, which swiftly began to feature work by people like Jerry Siegel, who would soon go on to co-create Superman. To gather more fans together, he helped organize the first sf convention, in 1939.

But it wasn't enough to be a fan. Schwartz moved on to co-found a literary agency devoted to science fiction, and represented such leading talents of the day as HP. Lovecraft, Leigh Brackett, and Henry Kuttner. And to add to the field further, he looked for new talent, and made the first sales of a young Ray Bradbury, adding a new literary dimension to science fiction.

Now Schwartz came to comics, filling an editorial desk at the early DC imprint All-American Comics in 1944, under legendary editor Shelly Mayer, upon the recommendation of sf writer Alfred Bester who was starting to dabble in comics. Schwartz would bring a legion of sf writers to comics after him, and get the best out of them (like Bester's classic oath for Green Lantern).

Schwartz edited and improved super-heroes in the last days of the Golden Age, then moved on to the many genres of the '50s, even launching two classic titles that linked his fields: Strange Adventures and Mystery In Space. But his glory days came at comics' weakest moment, in 1956.

Given the assignment to revive The Flash for Showcase #4, Julie decided to update the hero, and added pinches of science fiction to the recipe. He followed with Green Lantern, who became a star-spanning protector of worlds. Success followed success, culminating in the Justice League of America. Suddenly, comics were hot again. Even the competition noticed, and The Fantastic Four resulted, beginning Marvel's age of great creativity.

As the Silver Age of Comics began, some young science fiction fans began to migrate their habits over to comics, aided by Schwartz benignly encouraging their taking this field seriously. Suddenly there were comics fanzines, too, and clubs, and conventions, and a new generation of people eager to bring their ideas to print.

More has been omitted than included in this list of accomplishments: a 14-year run that made Batman consistently fandom's favorite character, 16 years editing the Superman titles during which they were often DC's best-sellers, awards, encore performances, and even an unprecedented number of appearances in the comic pages as a semi-fictional character. Look to the dccomics.com site for more raw data.

But for decades, most of the talent in comics looked to Schwartz as the model of what an editor should be: tough, fair, effective and loyal to talent, characters and readers, all without unnecessary compromise. He set the standard.

Schwartz also loved to teach, especially the science that fascinated him. Facts and scientific lore were scattered in stories like hidden gems. He had theories and laws, read about and invented, and was joyously thrilled that he had been the living junction between two fields so important to his life, rejoicing in the fact that both would have been so different without him.

Julie Schwartz passed away on February 8th, 2004, 88 years old, a few weeks short of what would have been his 60th anniversary at DC. Until his last illness, he still came in regularly to show us what a real editor looked like, and to pass on his knowledge. Let us posit, then, a final, vital Schwartz's law that he proved by his life:

Take something you love, tell people about it, bring together people who share your love, and help make it better. Ultimately, you'll have more of whatever you love for yourself and the world.

Not a bad law to live by.

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