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Man of Two Worlds: My Life in Science Fiction and Comics
Julius Schwartz with Brian M. Thomsen
HarperEntertainment, 224 pages

Man of Two Worlds: My Life in Science Fiction and Comics
Brian Thomsen
Brian M. Thomsen is TSR's Director of Books and Periodicals. As an editor, he has been nominated for both the prestigious Hugo and Tucker awards, served as judge for the World Fantasy Awards, and edited and acquired numerous award-nominated novels, including Cyteen by C. J. Cherryh (Hugo Winner for Best Novel). He is also the author of over 20 short stories for various anthologies. His first novel, Once Around the Realms, was published in 1995.

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To anyone with even a passing knowledge of the comic book industry, and most with a smattering of knowledge of the history of science fiction publishing, the name of Julius "Julie" Schwartz will be familiar. Schwartz was around for the beginnings of SF fandom in the 30s. He became the first literary agent specializing in SF while not yet out of his teens, and went on to become one of the most influential editors in comic books.

For a person with that historical knowledge, or someone looking for it, Schwartz's book is great fun to read. When I was working in the field of comic books, back in the 70s, I knew Schwartz's name and a bit of his background, but that was only because I had been reading and studying comics for years and had come across his name from time to time. I can't think of any other living person who has been so long involved in comic book publishing since their inception. Even Stan Lee would admit his junior status in deference to Julie Schwartz.

Man of Two Worlds refers to Schwartz's connections to SF fandom as well as to the comic book industry. Schwartz was hooked on science fiction from the moment he saw the first issue of Amazing Stories, back in 1926, when he was only 11 years old. Shortly after he turned 16, he met Mort Weisinger, who would himself one day be a formidable force in comics, after reading an ad Weisinger's fan group had inserted in Amazing, looking for new members. Schwartz and Weisinger soon decided to create an amateur magazine, a fanzine, to talk more about their common passion -- science fiction. Wishing they had more bio information on their favourite authors, they decided to write and ask for it. Writing to well-known authors of the day, such as E.E. "Doc" Smith, Weisinger and Schwartz soon had enough responses to fill an issue of The Time Traveler, their fanzine. They sent off notices to people whose names they got out of letter columns in Amazing, and before you knew it, they had 30 or so requests for subscriptions.

That may not sound like many, but to Weisinger and Schwartz it was more than enough to stoke their enthusiasm. Before long, they were daring to think that they might somehow be able to make a living from their passion for science fiction while doing something to help their favourite editors, who were, they knew, swamped by growing slush piles.

Having had good contact with so many of the day's authors, these two brash youngsters decided to take a crack at peddling stories by known authors to the beleaguered editors. The scheme worked -- and Weisinger and Schwartz were off and running.

Schwartz's rambling book -- he takes frequent time off from the main story in side bars to discuss authors, editors, baseball, comic book series and the like -- features many anecdotes about SF personalities from Stanley G. Weinbaum, Ray Bradbury, Forrest J. Ackerman and many, many more. He gives insight into the creation of several comic book heroes, and the general day-to-day workings of the industry. All of this will be of interest to the historian, and Schwartz's light, chatty tone and wealth of experience keeps him from sounding like a name-dropper trying to impress. All he is doing is telling you what happened, to whom, and how he himself was involved.

Through the 30s and into the early 40s Schwartz made a living as a science fiction agent. Then in 1941, something happened to bring him into the sphere of comic books.

Alfred Bester, a client of Schwartz's agency, needed to supplement his income. The pulp fiction market was drying up. Mort Weisinger introduced him to Bill Finger, writer and co-creator of Batman, who taught Bester what he needed to know about writing for comics. With that knowledge, Bester was able to take an assignment writing for the Green Lantern series.

Bester knew that Schwartz would be feeling the same financial pressure that he was feeling, so he suggested the Schwartz apply for a job as editorial assistant to Sheldon Mayer at All American (later National, or DC) Comics. That was the beginning of Julie Schwartz's long association with comic books.

Alfie Bester soon moved on to greener pastures, and Schwartz replaced him with a string of writers, notably Henry Kuttner, Robert Bloch and Eando Binder, among others. But the Golden Age of superhero comics was passing, and by 1950 only Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman were left. To fill out the lists, Schwartz created a number of science fiction-oriented titles including Mystery in Space, and took over their editorial reins. He was, at last, a science fiction editor, "one of the gods on earth," as he puts it. From 1950 to 1964, he edited over 160 issues of Strange Adventures and more than 90 issues of Mystery in Space.

It is arguable that Schwartz has had a lasting effect on the field of comics. Certainly he has presided over some of the best-known titles including Superman and Batman. Schwartz was reluctant to take over either title, as it happens. Not because he had any doubts about his abilities, but simply because he preferred the science fiction titles. He modernized Superman, taking Clark Kent out of the newspaper business and making him a TV anchorman. (At least, until the Christopher Reeve Superman movie came out -- the producers wanted Clark Kent back in the Daily Planet.) He was also instrumental in reviving many of the "Golden Age" heroes, such as Green Lantern and the Flash, and updating them in the 50s and 60s. But what is most interesting about Man of Two Worlds is the inside look it gives us at science fiction and comics publishing.

Sometimes those inside looks are ironic. For example, during the 60s, the Green Arrow/Green Lantern team dealt with racial prejudice and drug abuse in an award-winning series of stories written by Denny O'Neill and drawn by Neal Adams. Unfortunately, the majority of the book's readership was made up of young males, who wanted action and adventure more than relevance. For them, the team didn't work, so the series was allowed to die.

Sometimes Schwartz's adventures are pretty funny and more than a bit puzzling. At one point during his editorial tenure on Strange Adventures, the circulation figures spiked for a particular issue that depicted a gorilla on the cover. The consensus was that something about the gorilla, actually a man that had been changed into an ape, acting human had attracted readership. They decided to try it again, and put another gorilla on the cover. Again the readership spiked. "In due time," Schwartz says, "every editor wanted to use a gorilla on the cover. Even on Wonder Woman! Eventually the law had to be laid down: no more than one DC cover that had a gorilla on it a month (except, of course, for the occasional 'gorilla month,' where every title had to have a gorilla on its cover."

In recent years, Schwartz has spent a lot of time on the convention circuit, appearing on panels and accepting the accolades due his many years in the business. All in all, Man of Two Worlds is an informative and entertaining book for those with an interest in comics and/or science fiction.

Copyright © 2000 by A.L. Sirois

A.L. Sirois walks the walk, too. He's a longtime member of SFWA and currently serves the organization as webmaster for the SFWA BULLETIN. His personal site is at http://www.w3pg.com/jazzpolice.


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