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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:

JULIUS SCHWARTZ 1915-2004

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.

+++

DC issued the following eulogy, retrieved from Newsarama, for Schwartz as well:

Julius Schwartz, one of the best-loved and most influential members of both the comics and science fiction communities, died Sunday morning, February 8, in Winthrop Hospital in New York from complications from pneumonia. Schwartz was 88 years old.

Schwartz, who was popularly called "a living legend" and served as DC's Editor Emeritus, will be remembered as one of the founders of science fiction fandom, as a comic-book editor whose vision spanned five decades with DC Comics, and as the architect of comics' Silver Age, revitalizing the careers of such super-heroes as Batman, Superman, The Flash, Green Lantern and The Justice League of America.

"DC has lost a living legend this weekend and a true original," says Paul Levitz, DC's President & Publisher. "Julie was an editor who entertained and educated millions over three generations, performed the near-impossible feat of getting great work out of his contributors without ever ruffling their feelings, and taught many of us our craft. If the measure of an editor is the respect of his peers, he was immeasurable - for his peers who loved and respected him were often legends in their own right. Most of us were simply left in awe."

Schwartz was born on June 19, 1915, in the Bronx, NY. In 1932 he created science fiction's first fanzine, The Time Traveler, with fellow enthusiasts Mort Weisinger and Forrest J Ackerman. With Weisinger, he formed Solar Sales Service, the first literary agency specializing in science fiction, with clients including Ray Bradbury, Henry Kuttner, Alfred Bester, H.P. Lovecraft, Robert Bloch, and many others. In 1939 he helped organize the first World Science Fiction Convention.

Schwartz left the world of science fiction in 1944 to join the staff of All-American Comics (one of DC's predecessor imprints), where he was hired by Sheldon Mayer. As script editor, Schwartz contributed to GREEN LANTERN, ALL STAR COMICS, THE FLASH, and many others. As interest in super-hero comics faded in the late 1940s, Schwartz moved on to a variety of titles including ALL-AMERICAN WESTERN, DANGER TRAIL, HOPALONG CASSIDY, and REX THE WONDER DOG. His passion for science fiction shined through in launching MYSTERY IN SPACE and STRANGE ADVENTURES, which featured fondly remembered series including Captain Comet, Space Museum, the Atomic Knights, Star Hawkins, and Space Cabby.

During this time, Schwartz continued to work with his favored stable of writers including John Broome and Gardner Fox, and artists such as Gil Kane, Carmine Infantino, Murphy Anderson and Joe Kubert. With these creators and others, Schwartz would soon lead comics into a new age.

Schwartz's career - and the history of comics - turned a corner in with the publication of SHOWCASE #4 (October 1956). The issue, which featured the debut of a new Flash, was a hit: it marked the start of the Silver Age of Comics, and of Schwartz's unparalleled streak at reintroducing Golden Age heroes in a way that would appeal to current comics readers.

The Flash soon was followed by the debuts of a new Green Lantern (SHOWCASE #22, September 1959), the Justice League of America (THE BRAVE & THE BOLD #28, February 1960), Hawkman (THE BRAVE & THE BOLD #34, February 1961), and The Atom (SHOWCASE #34, September 1961). Not content only to reinvent past heroes, Schwartz edited the far-flung adventures of science fiction hero Adam Strange, who made his debut in SHOWCASE #17 (November 1958).

"I know a lot of people in our business, but not many I could call my friend," says acclaimed artist Kubert. "Julie helped a lot of people in this business, as an editor and as a person, mostly by being a good guy and a straight guy. He came off as a curmudgeon, but he had a soft heart underneath it all."

"Schwartz was a fan, and agent, an editor," writes New York Times best-selling novelist Neil Gaiman. "Without Julie, our media landscape would look nothing like it does today. His passing really is the end of an era."

Schwartz's comics were noted for their rugged heroes, who were scientists, test pilots, and adventurers. Readers enjoyed their attention to detail and their mix of science fact and fiction, as well as their tongue-in-cheek sense of humor and strong romantic relationships between the heroes and their leading ladies.

In September, 1961, Schwartz transformed the world of DC Comics into a complex multiverse with THE FLASH #123. "Flash of Two Worlds" opened up the possibility that DC's Silver Age heroes could race into adventure alongside their Golden Age predecessors. It was an idea inspired by science fiction, and one that Schwartz would use for years to come in annual Justice League/Justice Society crossovers, and in stories that introduced Earth-2, Earth-3, Earth-S, Earth-X, and even Earth-Prime, home of DC Comics and Schwartz himself. This depiction of the science fiction concept of multiple earths became so iconic that it became the basis for a recent cover on a national science magazine.

By 1964, Schwartz's reputation for revitalizing DC's characters had grown so great that he was asked to rework Batman, whose adventures he edited through 1978. The "New Look" Batman first appeared in DETECTIVE COMICS #327 (May 1964). The issue featured the addition of an easily recognized bright yellow oval on the Dark Knight Detective's chest, while the tone of the stories shifted to moody and mysterious.

Schwartz helped move the comics industry forward again in the late 1960s by teaming Denny O'Neil and Neal Adams for the first time in DETECTIVE COMICS #395 (January 1970), which started the collaboration that still informs the portrayal of the Dark Knight today. Under Schwartz's watchful eye, O'Neil and Adams also created an award-winning run of GREEN LANTERN/GREEN ARROW that brought the concept of relevant, contemporary issues into comics.

Following the retirement of his old collaborator Weisinger, Schwartz stepped in as the new SUPERMAN editor from 1971 through 1985. Typically, Schwartz enhanced what made the Man of Steel work while downplaying elements that seemed dated. He pared down Superman's out-of-this-world abilities, introduced a host of new characters into the Man of Steel's milieu, and gave Clark Kent a new job as TV reporter.

Schwartz retired from editing monthly comic books in 1986 with the two-part story "Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?," which appeared in SUPERMAN #423 and ACTION COMICS #583. The story, written by Alan Moore with art by Curt Swan, George Pérez and Kurt Schaffenberger, served as a closing chapter to the Silver Age of Superman.

As a coda to his career as a comic book editor, Schwartz edited seven DC SCIENCE FICTION GRAPHIC NOVELS, adapted from classic science fiction works by Harlan Ellison, Robert Silverberg, Bradbury, and others.

Since his retirement in 1987, Schwartz made countless appearances as a goodwill ambassador for DC Comics. He has received awards including the First Fandom Hall of Fame Award, the Shazam, the Eagle, the Alley, the Inkpot and the Jules Verne Awards. In 1998, DragonCon established the Julie Award, whose recipients, including Bradbury, Ackerman, Gaiman, Ellison, Will Eisner and others, are recognized for achievements in multiple genres.

Schwartz's memoirs, Man of Two Worlds: My Life in Science Fiction and Comics, co-written with Brian Thomsen, was published by HarperCollins in 2000.

Schwartz is survived by his son-in-law, three grandchildren, and five great-grandchildren. The family asks that donations be made to the Julius Schwartz Scholarship Fund c/o DC Comics, 1700 Broadway, New York, NY, 10019.
Tags: art, books, cultural, dc universe, literary, obituary, personal, scientific, writing
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