DC Comics’ Production Dept., 1979 Part 1

ADDED: I’ve revised this post thanks to new information provided by readers, one of the great things about the internet. I think we now have a definitive year and month when these pictures were taken, and you can read about that below. Also a few changes to the diagram below.

Image © Todd Klein. All photos © José Luis Garcia López, except as noted.

Photo of José Luis Garcia López © Todd Klein, 2010.

A few weeks ago long-time ace DC artist José Luis Garcia López posted a number of photos he’d taken in the DC Comics production department in or around 1979. They were from a contact sheet, not the original negatives, so the quality is not the best, but I found them fascinating, bringing back a lot of memories about working there. José has graciously allowed me to use them and he sent me the entire contact sheet, so I’m going to post all the pictures here with comments. The diagram above is of the offices at the time, as I remember them. I was hired to work in the DC Production Department in the summer of 1977, and it was quite exciting for me. I’d been a comics fan for many years, and here I was working at the company, meeting artists and writers, working with editors and other staff. And the offices were in Rockefeller Plaza, just off Fifth Avenue between 51st and 52nd Streets, so in the middle of mid-town Manhattan with all that had to offer. I loved it! I commuted in from New Jersey for about a 7.5 hour work day. Most of my time was spent doing art and lettering corrections at a drawing board, and putting together letter columns and text pages, physically pasting together all the elements (no digital publishing then). Here we go with the photos by José…

As you walked into the production from from the hall, on your left was the space of Assistant Production Manager Bob Rozakis, shown sitting here at his desk, probably proofreading some finished comics art. If so, the pencil in his hand would be a blue one. Behind him is a life-size Superman promotional figure printed on card stock. I think the arms and legs had moveable joints. To Bob’s left is a file cabinet with what look like comics makereadies or proofs, printed comics cut and folded but not stapled, and without the cover, the final printed version sent to DC right before the books were stapled and trimmed and went out from the printer to the distributors. It was usually too late to fix or change anything by then, but they were sent anyway. Bob commented: “The pile of proofs on the cabinet would come in from the printing plant and I would keep them till we received the copies of the finished books.” On Bob’s right is a desktop rack holding finished comics art ready to be worked on by production artists like me. When I needed a new thing to work on, I’d go up to Bob and ask for the next one he had ready (and they were in order by how soon they needed to go to the printer). On the cubicle wall at far right are printing schedules.

Bob and I always got on well, though he maintained a “boss-employee” relationship that lasted through the ten years I was on staff, including the final five years when I was Assistant Production Manager and Bob was Production Manager. In addition to his staff job, Bob was writing quite a few comics stories for DC on a freelance basis. Nearly all the production staffers did some freelance work for the company at home in their “spare” time to supplement staff income, which wasn’t a lot even for the time.

The next cubicle over was for Production Manager Jack Adler’s secretary. At the time I believe that was Lillian Mandell, but she must have been out to lunch or out for the day when these pictures were taken. In her seat is Mike Catron, typing something at her typewriter. I contacted Mike, and he told me he was on staff between October 1977 and November 1978, so that narrows down our window of time for these photos. As you’ll read further down in this post, new evidence suggests a later date, though, and Bob Rozakis and I think Mike continued to do some freelance writing for DC after he left staff. (Mike doesn’t recall that.) If so, it would help explain why he was typing at Lillian’s desk instead of in his own office, which Mike reports “got turned into a place for storing junk after I left.” 

When I asked Mike if he might know what he was typing, he replied:

“Yes, I can make a pretty good guess about what I was working on. It had to have been copy for one of the DC promo pages that ran in all the books, touting that month’s other releases. It was DC’s version, at that time, of the Bullpen Bulletins. Bob Rozakis edited those pages and I wrote all the copy and compiled the list of on-sale titles. So I was probably writing some last-minute promotional copy for Bob.”

On the desk are in/out trays, a phone, a rollodex for addresses, tape, a stapler, a small porcelain roller in a tray of water for moistening envelope flaps, and a Santa Claus thing that Rozakis thinks Lillian used as a pencil holder. Behind the typewriter is a file cabinet with what look like binders on it, and a Wonder Woman figure matching the Superman one is on the wall.

Here’s another photo looking over Mike’s shoulder. Probably an IBM Selectric typewriter.

There are no photos of Jack Adler or his work space, but you can see a little of his walled cubicle in the background of this photo of freelance colorist Tatjana Wood talking to Anthony Tollin, in charge of coloring, and also a colorist himself. Tony would go over work brought in by freelancers like Tatjana, and she was a talented pro, so I doubt he often had to ask for any changes unless it was a matter of a costume color being wrong, or something like that. Colorists also had to have their editor look over and approve their coloring work, so they sometimes did corrections from that in the office. The colors had to be marked up with codes for the separators, and that might be something they were discussing. There’s a file cabinet to Tony’s left with a standing rack on it, and on that what looks like the kind of box used for photostat paper. Behind Tatjana and I think in front of Jack Adler’s office are some comics spinner racks that appear to be empty, and another life-size figure of Batman. You can see a window right of that. They were recessed in the walls somewhat. On Tony’s bulletin board is a sign saying COLOR DEPARTMENT, and below that are pinned some printed covers and the printed color guides Jack Adler had made to show the colors available then and how they would print. (I wrote about this in my blog post about coloring comics old school.)

Here’s another photo of Tony’s desk from a different angle. Tony’s desk is actually positioned between two windows, so the ones in my diagram aren’t that accurate. His drawing board is the same as all the ones in the room, with a surface that could be angled upward at the back, and an area on the left that remained flat. Tony has his phone on the left and a pencil sharpener and T-square on a small table or file cabinet on the right.

You can see more of his pinup wall here, and I was hoping I might see something on it that would help me narrow the date, but I can only make out a few. At the top left is the front and back cover of the Pizza Hut promotional reprint of BATMAN #123 from 1977, below that are some BAT LASH covers printed in 1968-69 and some kind of ad dated 1975 to the right. However, Bob Rozakis spotted something I missed. He says,

“On the right side of Tony’s bulletin board are the color guides to “Bat-Mite’s New York Adventure” (from DETECTIVE #482, which went on sale in November 1978). Tony would not have the color guides back to hang on the wall until after the story had been separated and (presumably) printed.”

Bob went on to suggest the photo shoot date should then be early in 1979.

Image © DC Comics, Inc.

That Bat-Mite story was written by Bob Rozakis, and featured a number of staffers. Above is the art from page 5, which I bought from the artist, Michael Golden. In the top row of panels are Bob Smith, Milt Snapinn, Tony Tollin and myself. In the group shot below you can also find Michael Golden, Rozakis, and editor Al Milgrom at front right. Needless to say, WE all loved that story!

Behind Tony sat Joe Letterese, a long-time production staffer. Carl Gafford reminded me that Joe did production work at Atlas Comics (which became Marvel) in the early 1950s, then was laid off in 1958 when they went all-reprint and came over to DC. Joe is doing either lettering or art corrections on interior art pages. He has a pile of “to do” pages under his T-square on the left, and some finished pages on the counter to his right. In this picture I can see that there was a low counter between these drawing boards and the windows and wall with file cabinets below it, something I’d forgotten. Between Tony and Joe there’s a pile of books on the counter, probably bound volumes of comics from the DC library that Tony had pulled out for reference. On Joe’s bulletin board upper left is what looks like a printed cover proof for SUPERMAN VS. MUHAMMAD ALI, the tabloid-size comic that I believe was released early in 1978. (Tabloid refers to the page size of 10 by 13 inches, much larger than a regular comic.)  Also on the counter next to Joe, behind the finished art pages, is his rubber cement can, and a cup I can’t identify. Just under Joe’s face on the side of his board are jars and cans, at least one of which would be white paint for corrections, and another water for rinsing brushes. Ink would be in a stoppered bottle. We used Higgins Black Magic ink and Pro-White correction paint mainly.

In the original version of this post I added, “Too bad the calendar on the wall can’t be read.” How wrong I was! Reader Michael Gallaher commented, “The month shown on the calendar has 28 days, and ends on a Wednesday, so that would be February 1979.”  What an astounding feat of detective work, Michael, you should be on CSI! While the dates are unreadable, I agree the calendar seems to have 28 days, with three on the top row right of the art, three rows of seven, and a final row of four ending on Wednesday. Even if we have the number of days wrong, the only month in 1978 ending on a Wednesday is May, which is too early based on other evidence. In 1979, only January and February end on Wednesday, so it has to be one of those. Finally, there’s a large number 2 at the upper right corner which might also indicate the month. February, 1979 is what I now think is correct for when these pictures were taken by José. And Joe Letterese was the kind of guy who would keep his calendar on the correct month. Thanks for the help, Mr. Gallaher!

Here’s a better look at Joe himself. He was a good guy, and I enjoyed working with him, though he wasn’t really a comics fan, and to him it was just a job I think. Joe did some freelance cover lettering from time to time, but I don’t think he did much, if any, story lettering when I worked with him, though he did a fair amount in the 1960s. Below the shelf in front of his desk is an open area with no file drawers, and it’s full of stuffed boxes, don’t know what was in them. Probably comics and color guides.

Sitting at the desk behind Joe is Albert DeGuzman, who everyone knew as Albie. Albie was from The Philippines, possibly one of the artists recruited by Joe Orlando from there to do work for DC. I’m not sure of his history before he joined the staff, but I know he did a lot of reconstruction of old comic art for the company as a freelancer: touching up photostats of old printed comics pages from the 1940s to make them useable for reprints. (DC did not think to archive their printed comics in any way except to keep copies bound in hardcover volumes until the early 1950s, when they started saving film negatives of all the books. Before that there were only some newsprint proofs, but not a lot of those were saved.)

This spot was occupied by Morris Waldinger when I started in 1977. Morris, like Joe Letterese, was a long-time production staffer, with the company since at least 1953, since he celebrated his 25th anniversary with the company in 77 or early 78. But 1978 was also the time of the “DC Implosion,” when corporate decisions and poor sales led to about half the company’s comics being cancelled. That meant less production work, and Morris was let go at that time. Exactly when Morris left and when Albie was hired I don’t know, but I’m guessing there was a lengthy gap between the two, which would support our new photo date of February, 1979. Albie is also doing corrections on comics art, and from the clean look of his work area, I’d say he hadn’t been there very long at all. He was another guy I enjoyed working with, always cheerful and trying to make jokes in a language that was not native to him, which made them even funnier. Albie did all kinds of freelance work on the side, including quite a bit of lettering. Note that through the window you can see the side of another building, which was our view, not very exciting. I think our windows faced west.

I’ll wrap this up next time in Part 2. Other posts you might enjoy can be found on the COMICS CREATION page of my blog.

 

22 thoughts on “DC Comics’ Production Dept., 1979 Part 1

  1. Jim Campbell

    Brilliant. So many names familiar to me only as entries on the credits of books I loved — it’s fantastic to have them come to life like this. Many thanks, Todd.

  2. Bob Rozakis

    Hi, Todd –
    A few additional notes.
    Those are indeed the production schedules on my cubicle wall. The pile of proofs on the cabinet would come in from the printing plant and I would keep them till we received the copies of the finished books.
    Lillian must have been off that day. It could not have been lunchtime since the rest of us were in the room working. And I don’t think she would have been happy about Mike sitting there. That Santa Claus thing was a mug that I believe she used as a pencil holder.
    On the right side of Tony’s bulletin are the color guides to “Bat-Mite’s New York Adventure” (from DETECTIVE #482, which went on sale in November 1978) and a cover proof of “The Shadow Scrapbook” below it.
    Finally, to help tighten the date of the photos…
    I’m betting winter/early spring since everyone is wearing sweaters and or long-sleeve shirts. Also, I’m pretty sure that’s a poinsetta plant on the counter behind Tony/in front of Joe and another next to Albie. There was one Christmas that someone brought bunch of them and they ended up near the windows so they could get sunlight. Coupled with the pub date of ‘TEC #482, I’m guessing early 1979.

  3. Todd Post author

    Thanks for the very helpful notes, Bob!

    As to the date of the photos, Mike Catron was off staff by the end of November 78, so 1979 is out. The color guides to the Bat-Mite story are a great spot, but we can’t be sure the printed book was out yet. Still, I think that narrows it down to October or November of 78. I thought those might be poinsettias, but perhaps they were survivors from the previous Christmas. They do look a bit worn out.

  4. MWGallaher

    The month shown on the calendar has 28 days, and ends on a Wednesday, so that would be February 1979.

  5. Todd Post author

    Wow, that’s a great bit of detective work, Michael! If it’s correct, then Mike Catron’s memory of when he was fired must be wrong. I’ll ask him and see what he says.

  6. Bob Rozakis

    Also, regarding the Bat-Mite story… Tony would not have the color guides back to hang on the wall until after the story had been separated and (presumably) printed.

  7. Todd Post author

    I thought of that too, and I’ve emailed Mike to see what he says. I seem to recall him doing continued freelancing after he left staff.

  8. Todd Post author

    Good point! Okay, it’s looking more like Feb. 79 all the time. Once I hear from Mike I’ll revisit this.

  9. Robert Rowe

    Thank you for sharing these great photos and memories, Todd. Neal Adams said he used to go up to DC in the mid to late 1970s and use the lucigraph machine. Would that have been located in this room? Thanks again!

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  11. Alex Jay

    Under the SUPERMAN VS. MUHAMMAD ALI proof, is a ad, maybe from Variety, highlighting the box office income for Superman the Movie (1978). The Superman shield and clouds were done by famed illustrator Bob Peak.

  12. Richard

    Hello,

    I met you back in 1983-1984 when I got a tour of DC Comics. I’ll never forget going to the city and seeing all the posters for Van Halen 1984 album, plus getting to pick whatever comics I wanted off the rack after a tour. Thanks for making a young kid’s dream come to life.

    Richard

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