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SF and Comics Great Julius Schwartz Dead

By Beth Hannan Rimmels

Julius Schwartz, often called the architect of the Silver Age of comics and a much-loved and influential member of the science fiction and comic field, died early Sunday morning, February 8, in Winthrop Hospital in Mineola, NY, from complications from pneumonia. He had been in failing health for the past few months. Schwartz was 88 years old.

Regularly and accurately called "a living legend," Schwartz was Editor Emeritus for DC Comics where his career as an editor spanned five decades and brought new life to such mainstay DC characters as Batman, Superman, The Flash, Green Lantern and more. Often cited as one of the founders of science fiction fandom, Schwartz loved meeting fans and hanging out with his friends at conventions. He was an annual guest at the ICON Science Fiction, Fact and Fantasy convention at Stony Brook, NY, where he would discuss his long career with the greats of science fiction and comic books, both on and off the page. Two years ago, the directors of Comic-Con International in San Diego, Calif., decided to make Schwartz a "permanent guest of honor" due to his contribution to the comics medium.

Schwartz was born on June 19, 1915, in the Bronx, NY. Along with Forrest J. Ackerman and Mort Weisinger, he created science fiction's first fanzine, The Time Traveler, in 1932. Then he and Weisinger co-founded Solar Sales Service, the first literary agency specializing in science fiction. Their client list included Ray Bradbury, H.P. Lovecraft, Alfred Bester, Henry Kuttner, Robert Bloch, among many others. In 1939 Schwartz helped organize the first World Science Fiction Convention.

Feeling he could go no further in the field of science fiction, Schwartz applied for a job at All-American Comics (a predecessor imprint of DC Comics) in 1944. Schwartz later admitted in interviews and appearances that he read his first comic book on the way to the job interview. But clearly Schwartz had an innate sense not only of good storytelling, but how to tell stories in a medium that blended graphics and words because shortly after Sheldon Mayer hired him, Schwartz began leaving his mark in the comic book field.

When sales of superhero comics waned in the late 1940s, Schwartz began editing Western comics such as All-American Western, Danger Trail, Hopalong Cassidy, and Rex the Wonder Dog. But Schwartz also found a way to return to his first love of science fiction by launching comic book titles such as Mystery In Space and Strange Adventures, which featured characters such as Captain Comet, the Atomic Knights, and

Star Hawkins.

It was during this period that Schwartz began working with comic book writers and artists such as John Broome, Gardner Fox, Gil Kane, Carmine Infantino, Murphy Anderson and Joe Kubert, all of whom would end up influencing future generations of comic book creators and becoming fan favorites. Together, they began what was literally a new era in the comic book field, beginning with the October 1956 release of Showcase $4, which featured the debut of a new Flash (Barry Allen). It was a hit and marked the beginning of the Silver Age of Comics as well as the start of Schwartz's amazing success at reintroducing Golden Age heroes to current comic book readers.

Schwartz soon followed the new Flash with a new Green Lantern (Showcase #22, September 1959), paving the way for his later collaboration with writer Denny O’Neil and artist Neal Adams on the Hal Jordan Green Lantern. Schwartz also introduced comic book readers to new versions of Hawkman (The Brave & The Bold #34, February 1961), and The Atom (Showcase #34, September 1961). The launch of The Justice League of America (The Brave & The Bold #28, February 1960) is often touted as a new way to handle team books that led the way for such Marvel titles as The Avengers and The Fantastic Four. But Schwartz didn’t spend all his time at DC reinventing the past. He also edited the 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," said 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."

Paul Levitz, DC Comics president and publisher called Schwartz "a living legend" and "a true original." Levitz went to say that, "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."

The comic book titles Schwartz edited and oversaw all featured rugged adventurers such as test pilots and scientists, but Schwartz also featured strong, believable romantic relationships between the heroes and their leading ladies. His titles also tended to blend science fact with fiction and had a sense of humor mixed with the action.

While the topic of multiple universes can be controversial with fans, no one can dispute that Schwartz was the pioneer who introduced this science concept to the field of comics with the "Flash of Two Worlds" story in The Flash #123 (September 1961). Schwartz proposed that the there were various alternate universes, also known as the multiverse, which would enable the Silver Age heroes to occasionally team up with their Golden Age predecessors. Schwartz later used the idea as a backdrop for annual crossovers between the Justice League and Justice Society, as well as introducing Earth-2, Earth-3, Earth-S, Earth-X, and even Earth-Prime, which is where DC Comics and Schwartz himself lived. Schwartz’s multiverse stories became so well known that the magazine Scientific American has referenced to it and the science behind the idea in the cover story for its May 2003 issues.

Schwartz was also often credited for introducing the concept of continuity to comics. In the Golden Age of comics, issues were entirely self-contained and actions rarely had long term consequences beyond a villain going to jail in one issue and escaping in another. That changed in the Silver Age where if Green Arrow and Black Canary had a lovers’ quarrel in one issue, it could carry over to the next and serious changes to characters, such as modifications to their powers or supporting casts, weren’t just wished away at the end of the issue.

By 1964, Schwartz's reputation for revitalizing characters had become so impressive that he was asked to rework DC icon Batman, a character that had lost much of its story power after the "Seduction of the Innocent" anti-comic book backlash in the 1950s. Schwartz introduced the "new look" Batman in Detective Comics #327 (May 1964) which features a bright yellow bat logo oval on the chest of the Dark Knight Detective, in contrast to stories whose tone was appropriately mysterious, moody and darker.

This led to Schwartz hiring writer Denny O’Neil and artist Neal Adams, pairing what would become an influential creative team for the first time, for Detective Comics #395 (January 1970). O’Neil and Adams’ work on Batman still affects the Caped Crusader today and seems to be the baseline portrayal later creators eventually return to after experiments in new directions. Schwartz edited the Batman titles through 1978.

Schwartz then edited O'Neil and Adams’ award-winning run of Green Lantern/Green Arrow comics that, along with Stan Lee’s Spider-Man, brought the concept of relevant, contemporary issues into comics.

In the meantime, Schwartz’s old partner Weisinger had become editor of Superman and when Weisinger retired, Schwartz stepped in and became Superman’s editor from 1971 through 1985. As he did with other long-running characters, Schwartz played up certain aspects of the Man of Steel while downplaying elements that seemed dated. He also eliminated some of Superman's more absurd abilities, introduced many new characters and modernized Clark Kent by giving him a job as TV reporter.

Up to the end of his daily chores at DC, Schwartz was working with talented creators who either already were stars or would soon be. The last monthly title Schwartz edited the two-part story "Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?," which appeared in Superman #423 and Action Comics #583 (1986). The story was written by Alan Moore with art by Curt Swan, George Pérez and Kurt Schaffenberger, and it served as a closing chapter to the Silver Age Superman.

Schwartz wasn’t done working yet. He then edited seven science fiction graphic novels for DC, adapting science fiction tales by his old friends Harlan Ellison, Bradbury, Robert Silverberg, and others.

Schwartz retired in 1987 but was named "editor emeritus" and acted as a goodwill ambassador for DC, making countless appearances at conventions. Among his many awards he received 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, which recognizes creative achievement in multiple genres. Its winners include Bradbury, Ackerman, Neil Gaiman, Ellison, Will Eisner, among others.

Comic book writer and novelist Neil Gaiman said in his Web blog (http://www.neilgaiman.com/journal/journal.asp) that Schwartz’s "... passing really is the end of an era." Gaiman goes onto note that Schwartz was "all about stories" and that Schwartz once brought photos of Eric Frank Russell to a convention he knew Neil was attending for the sole reason of being able to tell stories about Russell since he knew Gaiman wouldn’t recognize him.

Novelist and comic book author Peter David, another loquacious Long Island resident who knew Schwartz well, was clearly affected by the sad news when he posted to his own Web site (http://peterdavid.malibulist.com/) on Sunday: "He was a wonderful guy, and I don't really feel up to saying much more than that right now."

Bob Ingersoll of the "Law is an Ass" column in Comics Buyers Guide said, "I firmly believe that without Julie Schwartz and his ushering in the Silver Age of Comics in Showcase #4, comics would not have survived their doldrum sales of the ’50s and made it into the ’60s."

Writer/artists Mike Grell (Green Arrow, Jon Sable: Freelance, Warlord) posted a tribute at his Web site (http://www.mikegrell.com/feature-schwartz.jsp) that’s worth reading. In it he credits Schwartz for giving him his first break in the business. Grell concludes by saying, "Julie was often described as a "living legend." Well, he still is. As long as there are comic books, Julie’s legacy will live on in the work of artists and writers he nurtured, cajoled and inspired."

Comic book writer Marv Wolfman (Blade, Gene Pool) also posted a lovely tribute on his Web site (http://www.newsfromme.com/archives/2004_02_08.html#003668) and credited Schwartz with his career. "I can say with certainty that because of Julie Schwartz, I became a comic professional," said Wolfman, "I can say with certainty, that dozens of other professionals owe their current positions directly or indirectly to Julie, whether or not they ever worked for him. ... In the movie It's A Wonderful Life, the Jimmy Stewart character learns how one man's life affects so many others. I think it is not only safe, but obvious to say, Julie Schwartz's life has affected all of us."

"I got the sad news in an e-mail," said Tony Isabella, "and I've been teary-eyed ever since. Just last week, I wrote a column about Julie for the Comics Buyer's Guide, for a special issue coinciding with the anniversary of the day he first walked into the DC offices in the 1940s. I wish Julie could have read that column, but I'm glad he knew how I felt about him and more so that I got to know him. He was a good man and a great man. The two don't always go together, but they did in Julie."

Harlan Ellison is currently writing Schwartz’s obituary for The New York Times.

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. No memorial service information has been announced at this time.

Since Schwartz was a regular at Long Island’s ICON convention, it is expected that the convention will stage a tribute to Schwartz but no further information is available at this time.