I cried the day Julie Schwartz died. It was February 8, 2004, a Sunday, and Paul Levitz called me that morning to deliver the news. My then wife and I had family coming over later in the day for a visit, but I spent that Sunday in numb shock over the loss of that dear, dear man. Julie wasn’t just an editor and a friend, he was that crusty, curmudgeonly old Jewish grandfather I never knew. Long before I ever met him, he had given me vast chunks of childhood memories that set me on the path to the career that would eventually allow us to meet, to work together, and, most importantly, for us to become friends.
Today would have been Julie’s 97th birthday.
Here are two pieces I wrote about Julie Schwartz, the first appearing in an issue of Comics Buyers Guide commemorating his 60th Anniversary (!) as an editor at DC Comics, the second for a DC Comics tribute following his death.
Like every comics fan of a certain age, I was raised on the books edited by Julie Schwartz. While the Batman and Robin of 1963 were fighting aliens and giant robots, while Superman was engaging in battles of wit against mobsters in suits, heroes in the Schwartz stable of books (including THE FLASH, GREEN LANTERN, THE ATOM, JUSTICE LEAGUE, and Adam Strange in MYSTERY IN SPACE) were facing off against criminals and menaces worthy of their great powers and abilities. You could, as far as I was concerned, keep your Marvel Comics with their purple prose and soap opera conceits; Schwartz’s guys had been displaying their fair share of personal problems and angst years before Fantastic Four #1 hit the stands. (In fact, as legend has it, it was Marvel’s publisher learning of the sales success of the Schwartz helmed JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA that was the impetus for the creation of the Fantastic Four. No Schwartz, no F.F.—and, perhaps, no Marvel. Who knows?)
For as long as I can remember, Julie Schwartz was the Editor in comics. When Batman was struggling to survive on the newsstands of the early-1960’s, the character was handed to Schwartz for a major retooling. The result was the “new look” Batman. Gone were the robots and aliens. Batman the detective—the character as he was created to be—was back. Next stop for Batman? The Batman TV show that revived the character’s popularity and gave comic books in general a much needed shot in the arm. Julie did that.
Julie pulled off that level of creative magic so many times in his editorial career—his second career by the way, begun in 1943; his first was as a literary agent for the top names in science fiction of the 1930’s and 40’s—that it was probably just business-as-usual for him. Not for the fans, though. For us it was always a matter of waiting to see what he would do next.
I started writing for DC Comics in 1975. I honestly don’t remember what the first thing was that I wrote for Julie, but it must have been around 1980 or 1981 that he first asked me to pitch him some Superman stories, after I had a fair number of stories under my belt. What I do remember is how nervous I was heading into the Schwartz’s Den that first time. Julie was a certified legend. I was a humble newcomer. He was gruff Perry White, I was bumbling Jimmy Olsen. Editor of legends like Alfred Bester and Gardner Fox and John Broome. I was a kid who had written a bunch of stuff for HOUSE OF MYSTERY and WEIRD WAR TALES. Julie was…well, Julie Schwartz!
I had a bunch of ideas to throw his way, but I barely had time to stammer my way through the first one before Julie jumped in, tossing out idea after idea. Just bits and pieces off the top of his head, any one of which would make for a fine story in its own right. For once in my life, I shut my big fat mouth, listened, took notes, and learned.
Evidently Julie saw something in my execution of his ideas and let me actually pitch my own stories. Before long, I was writing not only Superman, but SUPERBOY, SUPERGIRL, and DC COMICS PRESENTS for him. Pretty soon we were friends and, eventually, I even stopped being afraid of him. But one thing that hasn’t changed and never will is this:
I never actually felt as though I had made it for real as a comic book writer until the day I sold my first story to Julie Schwartz, the best damned editor in the history of this business.
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It’s taken a while to absorb the reality, to go from our weekly visits and having just written to CBG commemorating his 60th anniversary at DC to saying good-bye. Growing up reading the comics coming out of his editorial office, I feel like I’ve known Julie Schwartz my whole life, even if our relationship didn’t begin until around 1980. It started out as strictly professional—I was way too intimidated by this living legend with the impatient bark and growl in his voice to even think about anything else—but developed over the years into something more. All it took was discovering that this gruff guy behind the editor’s desk was all bark and no bite. He was, in fact, a pussycat, and once he “adopted” you, you were family and family, as I learned, meant more to Julie than anything else in the world.
Most Thursdays since his retirement, I’d wander up to the 6th floor and drop in on him in his office. We’d chat, we’d gossip, he’d tell stories, I’d listen. Every week, without fail and with a big smile, he’d growl “How’s Maxie?” referring to my 7-year old son Max, who Julie had met once, about four years earlier at a convention. And when the visit was done, he’d send me on my way with an “Awright, you’re dismissed,” and I’d head on back to work with a “Later, Schwartz!” I already miss those Thursdays. I miss Julie not sharing the world with us any longer.
Julie, as everyone who knew him will tell you, loved to tell stories. One of those stories concerned a middle school class that came through DC one day on a tour. After he had waved hello to the kids and made small talk, the class moved on. Except for one boy, who lingered in his office door. Julie told him to hurry along or he’d miss the rest of the tour, but the kid wanted to ask a question.
“You’re Julie Schwartz, editor of The Flash, right?”
Julie admitted that he was.
“So that means you’ve got Flash’s Cosmic Treadmill in your closet, right?” the boy asked hopefully, referring to a recent story in which Julie had appeared as his Earth-Prime self meeting the Earth-One Flash, who built the time-travelling Treadmill in order to return to his own world.
Julie explained that that had just been fiction, that the Cosmic Treadmill was an imaginary device in a make-believe story. He couldn’t understand why the little boy looked so crushed by this news, so Julie asked.
“Because,” the boy said, “my dad died last year and I wanted to use the Cosmic Treadmill to go back and tell him I love him.”
It sure would be nice to have that Treadmill right about now.