Looking Back at the DC Offices Part 2

Crisis teaserI joined Starlog Press in September 1980 and within months had a notion for a new magazine, one to cover comic books, comic strips, and animation. It debuted a year later as Comics Scene and I’ll be reminiscing about that in a forthcoming issue of Back Issue! Once the magazine was canceled in 1983, I was relegated to assistant editing the company’s boxing and wrestling titles while contributing to Starlog. I was unhappy and wanted out.

At that summer’s San Diego Comic Con, I arranged a meeting with Dick Giordano, who I had gotten to know briefly while covering the field. He politely listened to my pitch (despite his wife Marie impatiently waiting for him to move on) but told me he had nothing available. I had a nice lunch with Marvel’s Carol Kalish who talked to me about a post within her direct market group but we agreed it might not be the best fit, which proved good news for Steve Saffel.

Finally, in November, I was contacted to come in and chat with Dick. There was an assistant editor position being created for the company’s 50th anniversary plans. We chatted, agreed I was the right man for the job and gave Starlog notice in December. Later, I learned I was Plan B. Initially, Dick freed a salary line for Denny O’Neil to come over from Marvel, but he demurred, with impending heart surgery coming up, he did not want to jeopardize his health insurance with a move. It all turned out for the best since I got there, Denny got healthy, and followed a little more than a year later.

Initially, I was hired to work on Who’s Who and Crisis on Infinite Earths with co-editors/co-writers Len Wein and Marv Wolfman. I wound up taking over Marv’s half-desk in an office shared with Karen Berger and Alan Gold. Each morning I’d arrive and there was Alan, Janice Race, and others hanging out on the couch, catching up on stuff before digging into the day’s work.  (That three person office had a fair amount of turnover. Karen graduated to a different office and I took her desk. Barbara Randall, Mark Waid, and Jim Owsley all briefly took over Alan’s desk in the other corner as he moved to other space. I remained in place for several years. The couch’s visitors represent a who’s who of comic creators of that era until it was replaced with a desk that Jonathan Peterson anchored for a while.)

Crisis logoPeter Sanderson had completed reading every comic in the DC Library (a task I never quite achieved during the summer of 1980) and left behind two bulging loose-leaf binders of notes. From there, I began crafting the master list of characters to include to fill the already-approved 24 issues. Artists were asked for wish lists of characters and Art Director Neal Pozner began determining the look of the pages, logo, and cover. Meantime, not a whole lot had been determined about the Crisis other than the single universe outcome and need to clean house. We began weekly lunch meetings hashing ideas out.

But that left me with a lot of time on my hands so I began lending Len and Marv a hand on their other titles. Credited or not, I worked on all their books, learning the ropes of comic book production. This went from the silly (Marv received a penciled Star Trek cover from Tom Sutton that didn’t have time to go to Argentina for Ricardo Villagran to ink so walked the halls in search of an inker until Joe Orlando saw it and said yes) to the serious, being given responsibility for the letter columns in the Batman titles.

It was an incredibly fertile time as a new generation of talent was coming in and getting their first pro work through New Talent Showcase along with the likes of Dan Mishkin, Gary Cohn, Paris Cullins, and others also getting work on a new crop of titles. DC was experimenting with format from the Baxter paper used on Camelot 3000 to “hardcover/softcover” concept to the printed-from-Gene Colan pencils on Nathaniel Dusk. Visiting every now and then was Frank Miller who was at work on The Dark Knight and scripts for The Watchmen were beginning to come in. Nick Cuti was readying a ling of kids’ books in addition to the digests so DC was looking to recapture the younger readers while delivering more sophisticated fare to older readers, following the path Alan Moore carved with Swamp Thing.

It was a very heady time to be on staff with Dick open to pitches and the staff small enough that we all seemed to know what was happening in every editor’s office and other department on the half of the sixth floor we occupied at 666 Fifth Avenue. We’d gossip over sandwiches at Pastrami & Things, located in the building’s basement and on Friday nights a gaggle of talent and staff would go to the latest movies.

dcsampler3coverMarketing wanted the third edition of their DC Sampler, something to give out at the cons in 1984 so I was asked to work with them to determine which titles to promote and generate original or preview artwork for each spread (so blame me for the Titans/Legion volleyball game spread). I don’t recall who came up with the idea of Fred Hembeck executing the cover but he turned in a fun piece and that became my first editorial credit.

Dick saw that each man co-editing the two books was not working. I’d interface between Len, who was better suited at the time for Who’s Who and Marv on Crisis. Len was fulltime staff editing, writing just Green Lantern. I was immediately inducted into SWAS (Save Wein’s Ass Society) as he took Karen, Janice, and me out to a nearby deli for lunch and help him plot out GL for artist Dave Gibbons. Some of my ideas actually made it into print which was very cool for a young staffer.

Star_trek_3_comicMarv was giving up the titles he was not writing so Mike W. Barr got Star Trek to edit as well as write with me getting the letter columns. It was determined, though, I would solo edit the adaptation of Star Trek III: The Search for Spock (beginning a nice working relationship with Howard Chaykin) given the nature of secrecy involved and my ties to the Paramount PR department due to my previous job.

As 1984 gave way to 1985, Crisis came together and arrived with concussive force. The only hiccup being the flexographic printing that drove George Pérez crazy. It was that January that also saw me in London, accompanying Deb on business, but making contact with our talent over there that was a wonderful experience. (This was covered in Back Issue! #63.)

Dick asked for my help on some of his projects which led to me calling Frank Miller, excited to be working with him on Dark Knight, but delivering the news that he was running seriously late. A day later, I was removed from that project. I got further with Blockbuster which morphed into Comics Cavalcade Weekly, the aborted weekly series to spotlight the recently acquired Charlton characters. Nice idea, but I was the wrong guy at the time for the job as I was still figuring things out. (This was covered in Back Issue! #79.)

With every passing month, things continued to change as titles came and went, formats were considered, and DC was ready to try most any- and everything. Jenette Kahn, Paul Levitz, and Dick were focused mainly on riding the 50th anniversary sales success to greater glory with revamps of the core trio of heroes while Joe Orlando’s Special Projects department seemed to grow in importance by the day.

In 1985, Deb and I welcomed Barbara Randall into our home. She was hired by Dick, after impressing him with some Batgirl scripts, and crashed with us until she found an apartment. Her infectious enthusiasm for working at DC matched by own. She arrived in time to join the staff at Great Gorge for DC’s one and only staff retreat. Bob Rozakis has been posting pictures form this wonderful multi-day event.

DC was ahead of the curve with graphic novels expanding beyond heroes, to differentiate itself from Marvel. Julie Schwartz, relieved from editing Superman and moving into semi-retirement, had a field day reconnecting with his SF cronies and delighted in bringing the works of men he befriended, agented, or admired to print. While they were not commercially successful, they showed the company’s willingness to branch beyond newsstand and comic shop. They proved more effective in 1987 when they began what is today’s graphic novel bookstore presence.

Next: 1986 explodes.

2 comments

  • Hi,Do you remember the Month DC Sampler #3 came out? I believe it was October 1984 with DC comics that had a January 1985 cover date(Spanners Galaxy #2 & Justice Society #1(Jan. 85) ads mentioned in DC Sampler #3). Also do you have any idea what the print run was for DC Sampler #3?(10,000 to 20,000 issues printed??)You really can’t find many on the internet(maybe a few were thrown away for just being a free preview) so I guess it’s a pretty rare issue to find these days. Just Checking, Joel

    • Joel, the DC Sampler was covers aged October but was released as a summer convention giveaway. As a result, I know we printed closer to 10,000 given what was st aside for conventions and stores.

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