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Tony's Online Tips
Reviews and commentary by Tony Isabella
"America's Most Beloved Comic-Book Writer & Columnist"

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TONY'S ONLINE TIPS
for Wednesday, March 3, 2004

From COMICS BUYER'S GUIDE #1580:

"There is only one admirable form of the imagination: the imagination that is so intense that it creates a new reality, that it makes things happen."

- Sean O'Faolain

Julius Schwartz changed my life.

I didn't realize it while he was doing it and I'm fairly sure he didn't set out to do it while he was doing it, but, the more I reflect upon it, the more it's there.

Julie wasn't the only person who ever changed my life, but, if I were to start rattling off the long list which would start with Brothers Joseph and Michael at St. Edward High School, and include Stan Lee, Don and Maggie Thompson, Roy Thomas, Harlan Ellison, and so many others, I wouldn't have anyone left to thank when I accept the Oscar for my TRAPPED IN THE BODY OF A FAN screenplay. Besides, this is Julie's special issue.

No one deserves it more.

******

"Imagination grows by exercise, and contrary to common belief, is more powerful in the mature than in the young."

- W. Somerset Maugham

Julie got me when I was young. The first Schwartz-edited book I can remember reading was THE BRAVE AND THE BOLD #29 (May, 1960). I'd missed the introduction of the Justice League of America in the previous issue, but my anticipation was keen when I saw this comic on the stands. Just imagine all those great super-heroes together in one story, the house ads had commanded, and, as it turned out, editor Schwartz, writer Gardner Fox, and artist Mike Sekowsky were a match for my young imagination as the League faced the "Challenge of the Weapons Master."

The Brave and the Bold 29

My strongest memory of the issue is the Flash racing around the villain's Kong-sized robot, getting smaller and smaller as he is repeatedly struck by a shrinking ray. Fast as he was, how the heck was the Flash going to get out of this jam? Treat yourself to the first volume of DC's JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA ARCHIVES and see for yourself. Recalling that story is just a lead-in to something more memorable in my Schwartzian reading.

Memory can be subtle. Sometimes what stays with you forever isn't something that immediately struck you as worth remembering. In the case of the early JUSTICE LEAGUE, what has remained engraved on my brain is the obvious respect the male heroes had for Wonder Woman. Okay, yeah, they put her in charge of cleaning their cavern headquarters once or twice, and maybe that was a little sexist even then, but, otherwise, she was simply and subtly treated as one of the team. This went beyond Wonder Woman being powerful enough to fold most of them into colorful origami; in the world of Schwartz, capable women were a given and the men were better adjusted for it. Looking back, I now realize Schwartz and his writers were the first feminists who made an impression on me.

In THE FLASH, police scientist Barry Allen was engaged to Iris West, a sophisticated and successful newspaper reporter who never once leaped from a window to prove Barry was the Flash.

In GREEN LANTERN, Carol Farris ran the aviation company which employed test pilot Hal Jordan.

In THE ATOM, college professor Ray Palmer was dating attorney Jean Loring, who declined Palmer's matrimonial proposals until she succeeded in that profession.

In HAWKMAN, Thanagarian police officer Katar Hol was married to Thanagarian police officer Shayera Thal. They were partners in their lives and their work. One of the first times I got angry at a comic book was when the editor who succeeded Schwartz on HAWKMAN turned Hawkgirl from equal partner to sidekick, complete with Katar ordering her into hiding to protect her from a villain. During my time as a Hawkman writer, I gleefully disavowed those issues. The Hawkgirl/Hawkwoman I knew would have fed Hawkman his feathers had he ever treated her so disrespectfully.

Hawkman #9

Schwartz women were my kind of women. I don't know whether it was the influence of his comics or that those comics resonated with something in my own personality, but I have always been attracted to capable and strong women. Oh, sure, the fishnets and high heels are nice, too, but the women who hold my interest have brains and moxie to spare.

Green Lantern #42

Feisty Zatanna, a young woman "backpacking" across dimensions in search of her missing father.

Barbara Gordon, smart enough to hold her own in the same city as Batman and Robin.

Marene Herald, youngest member of the Atomic Knights, facing a post-apocalyptic future with courage and compassion.

Karel Sorensen of the Star Rovers. A movie star who got her off-camera kicks solving mysteries in space.

Detective Comics 359

Julie had a good eye for the truly great ladies.

******

"To invent, you need a good imagination and a pile of junk."

- Thomas Edison

Julius Schwartz was more instrumental in the growth of comics fandom than any other comics professional. His letters pages were literate. He encouraged fans to contact one another by including their addresses with the letters he printed. He was generous with his time. He was supportive of fan magazines like ALTER EGO, which survives to this day as the leading venue for exploring the history of American comic books. Maybe I would have still had a career in comics without Julie, but, any such "what if" conjecturing aside, he was an important part of my journey.

My memory isn't as clear on when I connected the dots between Julie and comics fandom, but I can recall another JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA comic was something of a milestone for me. It was JLA #16 (December, 1962).

Justice League of America #16

That issue's clever "The Cavern of Deadly Spheres" was a story without a villain. Fan "Jerry Thomas" (an amalgam of Jerry Bails and Roy Thomas) wrote and drew a comic-book story pitting the JLA against a villain, discovering, to his horror, that he had devised an inescapable doom for his favorite heroes. He sent the story to the Justice League to prevent it from falling into the hands of an actual super-villain. The heroes set themselves the task of coming up with a happier ending to the tale. They succeeded with mascot Snapper Carr drawing up the big finish and sending it off to their distressed fan.

I didn't read this issue until a couple years later, getting it in a boyhood "baseball cards for comic books" trade. By that time, I had read FANTASTIC FOUR ANNUAL #1 (1963) and set myself the goal of working in comics someday. Had I seen JLA #16 first, that would have been the trigger for my lifelong ambition. As it was, that issue, along with Jules Feiffer's account of creating his own comics as a kid in THE GREAT COMIC-BOOK HEROES, kindled my passion into high gear.

If Snapper could write and draw comics...

(I kid Snapper because I love him...and envied him. Not only did he get to hang with the world's greatest super-heroes and even take part in their cases on occasion, but they gave him the flying car we were all supposed to have by now.)

From that cavern, it was but a small step to ordering a copy of A/E. From there, it was step after step: writing to comic-book letters columns, corresponding with other readers, contributing to fanzines, going to comics conventions, and meeting the pros and the future pros with whom I would someday work.

Julius Schwartz was my sign post to the Twilight Zone that was and still is the comics industry.

******

"Character may be manifested in the great moments, but it is made in the small ones."

- Phillip Brooks

Stan Lee, along with collaborators Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko, is rightfully praised for the characterizations which were so vital to the growth of the Marvel heroes in the 1960s. There is no doubt in my mind that Lee and company set the standard for super-heroic characterization in that pivotal decade. All the same, some of my favorite "small" character bits appeared in comic books edited by Julius Schwartz:

Green Lantern sulking because he didn't get to save any other member of the Justice League this issue. Green Arrow laying down the righteous anger when he is falsely accused of being a traitor before all the evidence is in. Batman telling the other heroes to hush up while he bends steel bars which Superman had just failed to bend. Superman needing to bend those bars at the end of that case just to prove that he can.

"Mr. Silver Age" could doubtless rattle off the issue numbers and dates of these examples, but you're stuck with me. My comics are in storage and my memory only functions with my inner satellite dish is positioned just right. If you like, you can make a game of figuring where the bits appeared. The point I want to make is that Schwartz and his writers could lay down the character riffs as well as anyone this side of Stan Lee and the Marvel crew.

******

"When we do the best that we can, we never know what miracle is wrought in our life, or in the life of another."

- Helen Keller

Justice League of America #36

There was almost always an underlying message to comics edited by Julie, even if it was as simple as doing what was right because it was right. Sometimes the message was more obvious and, once or twice, it bordered on preachy. Still, two of my favorite issues of JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA were "message" stories: "The Case of the Disabled Justice League" (JLA #36) and "Man, Thy Name is--Brother!" (JLA #57), both written by Gardner Fox.

Justice League of America 57

When I read these stories, I was still a few years away from discovering EC's SHOCK SUSPENSTORIES and Will Eisner's THE SPIRIT. These tales were among the first to teach me you could use comics to entertain and inform. It's a lesson I've tried to apply to my own work on many occasions.

******

"There are no days in life so memorable as those which vibrated to some stroke of the imagination."

- Ralph Waldo Emerson

Julie gets well-deserved credit for his role in remaking the Flash, Green Lantern, and other 1940s characters for the readers of the 1960s. What he doesn't get enough credit for is how innovative and even daring he and his creators could be. For God's sake, they even tried to reintroduce the "Three Dimwits" into their new Flash comic book. That took guts.

But Schwartz and company also created STRANGE SPORTS STORIES with Carmine Infantino's amazing silhouette-action in the captions. Those tales still look and read as good today as they did when they were first published.

Schwartz recognized Neal Adams as the new face of Batman and then further expanded the Caped Crusader's visual world by having Frank Robbins, who had started writing scripts for Adams and other artists, draw some of these scripts. Robbins' style, developed via his JOHNNY HAZARD newspaper strip, was a strange-but-wonderful mix of Milton Caniff, Steve Ditko, and Alex Toth. I hated it for maybe three months before I realized that a) Robbins was incredibly good, and b) Schwartz was incredibly smart.

I could list many other examples of Schwartz-inspired genius and originality, but I figure I better save something for our next Julius Schwartz issue. And the one after that. And the one after that. And the one after that. And the one...

******

"A writer needs three things, experience, observation, and imagination, any two of which, at times any one of which, can supply the lack of the others."

- William Faulkner

A writer with minimal word-smithing skills could probably get away without any of the above if his editor were this guy Schwartz I've been writing about. Unfortunately, I only worked with him one time, plotting an issue of DC COMICS PRESENTS which teamed Superman with Hawkman, who I was then writing.

DC Comics Presents #95

The story itself isn't as important to me as how I came to do it. Though we'd never worked together, Julie and I had become good friends at more conventions than I can count. Julie came alive at conventions and it was during such events that I came to admire and love the man as much as I admired and loved the editor. Why would I want to ruin a beautiful friendship by forcing him to work with the likes of me?

Yet there was Julie, wrapping up his decades of service in the DC Universe proper, and he called me up and said he wanted to work with all of his friends before he handed off the Superman titles to their new editors. I felt honored as a writer and honored that he thought of me as a friend. A golden moment.

Heading for the big finish here, I have to tell you about the only other time I pitched a story to Julie. I was in between staff jobs at Marvel, still writing for them, but not yet editing some of their black-and-white magazines. This would have been sometime in the 1970s.

I was and remain a fan of playwright Neil Simon. I tried to sell Julie a story called "The Oddest Couple" wherein dire fifth-dimensional circumstances forced Mxyzptlk, the magical imp, to flee to Earth and move in with Clark Kent. The hook would be that Clark would be Oscar Madison and Mxyzptlk would be Felix Ungar. I even cast Lois Lane and Lana Lang as the Pigeon sisters. Yes, the idea went further into wacky-land than even the Three Dimwits of comics legend, but I was young, cocky, and absolutely crushed when Julie passed on the story.

Many years later, the now-retired Julie and I were talking and I reminded him of his rejection of "The Oddest Couple." He replied that he should've bought the story; it was a funny idea. Where was *this* Julius Schwartz when I needed him?

So, my dear and good friend Julie, here's the deal: If you can convince DC to publish "The Oddest Couple," I'll clear my schedule and write it posthaste.

But only if you edit it.

In the meantime, thanks for everything. Everything I needed to know I learned from comic books and a great many of those comic books were edited by you.

******

ADDENDUM

The above column first appeared in COMICS BUYER'S GUIDE #1580 [February 27, 2004], which shipped on February 9, one day after our pal Julius Schwartz went to his eternal reward. The issue, which I know Julie would have loved, was filled with tributes from those who knew him personally and those who knew him through the decades of great comic books he edited.

A few days after he died, I tried to write about him for what would have been a February installment of this column. This is as far as I got back then:
I'm not ready to say goodbye to JULIUS SCHWARTZ.

COMICS BUYER'S GUIDE #1580, which ships this week, will be a special issue. It was created as a 60th anniversary celebration of the day when literary agent Julius Schwartz first walked into the office of DC Comics and, despite his having never read a comic book until that day, was hired as an editor. That turned out to be one of the smartest hiring decisions in comics history.

I was asked to mention Julie in my "Tony's Tips" column and, naturally, devoted the entire thing to him. I wrote the column for Julie and hope he'd like it. I knew he had been ill for some time, had been in and out of hospitals, and was facing the likelihood of having to move into an assisted living situation. Such a prospect must have been terribly disheartening to the independent Schwartz, but I figured he'd handle it as he usually handled things, which is to say, better than nearly any one I know.

I also figured that, somewhere in the near future, I'd get a call from Julie or call him...that he'd tell me he liked my column and then point out something he thought I should have mentioned in it because that's what even retired editors do...that I would plan a trip to his neck of the woods to visit him and my other New York pals...and that I'd be saying "see you soon" to him instead of that other thing I am not ready to say.

My CBG column was written in the expectation Julie would read it. When I post it online, I'm not going to change a word of it. It will run as it was written...for a comics legend who I admire and for the man I have been fortunate to call "friend" for the past fifteen years or so.
I'm still not ready to say goodbye to Julie. But that's okay because I don't *have* to say goodbye to him. These past weeks, I have come to realize that he's still with me and with all of us who loved the man and the comic books he edited.

I can't say that about too many people, within or without the comics field. However, as I think you'll understand from the CBG column reprinted above, Julie had a profound effect on my life. He helped shape my view of the world and how I would address the world in my life and my work.

Shortly after I learned of Julie's death, on the message board at HARLAN ELLISON'S WEBDERLAND, I posted a few brief thoughts that culminated in something like this:

"He was a good man and he was a great man. The two things do not always go together, but they did in Julie."

Not surprisingly, Ellison eulogized our mutual friend in much the same way. We shared a laugh about that with Harlan expressing that great minds think alike and yours truly expressing that Harlan must be slipping. That laugh meant a lot to me because it sums up so much of the Julie Schwartz I keep with me.

He was a good man and a good friend. He was a great man and a great editor. He made the world fun and exciting...and he made the world a better place.

I am so glad I got to know Julius Schwartz.

Tony Isabella

<< 03/02/2004 | 03/03/2004 | 03/04/2004 >>

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