Visiting DC Comics in the 1960s Part 2

575 Lexington Avenue as it looks today. All images below © DC Comics, Inc. except as noted.

In 1964 the company we know as DC Comics, then named National Periodical Publications, was housed mainly on the tenth floor of this building, having been there for about five years. Though no one knew it yet, the company was nearing the end of a 30-year period of stability.

© Marvel Characters, Inc.

Marvel Comics’ new superhero line spearheaded by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby was making waves with the fans, including myself. If you remember those aunts of mine who lived in Manhattan (from part 1 of this series), on one visit there around this time they gave me a small stack of comics that one of their neighbors had saved for me, having heard I liked them. Among that stack were early issues of THE FANTASTIC FOUR, including the one above. I loved them, and from that moment I began to search out more Marvel comics and gradually abandoned the DC favorites I’d read until then. But at DC, Marvel was not yet seen as a threat. For one thing, they were being distributed by Independent News Corporation, which was owned by National Periodical Publications, or NPP as I’ll call them here. The distributor greatly restricted the number of titles Marvel could produce, even though they sold quite well. Funny how that worked, isn’t it?

Another thing that was about to shake things up for the company was the wild success of the live action Batman TV show which would debut in January of 1966. NPP had benefited greatly from the very successful Superman TV show in the 1950s with George Reeves — especially the written and spoken plug for their comics at the end of each episode. It’s where I first found out about them!

Finally, management and ownership would undergo major changes, too. But for now, in 1964, things were rolling along as they had for many years. Staff editors were largely the same as those I listed in the first part of this series, but with the addition of Jack Miller editing the romance titles. Murray Boltinoff and George Kashdan were beginning to get full editor credit on some of the lower profile titles they worked on like TOMAHAWK and HOUSE OF SECRETS. Those are the only changes I’ve been able to find.

Now I’ll turn over this story to writer Pat McGreal, who has written a number of comics for DC and even more for European publisher Egmont, where he chronicles the adventures of Disney characters like Donald Duck and Mickey Mouse. Pat and his brother Terry visited the DC offices in 1964, and it sounds like they spent most of their time in the Production Department. Pat writes:

“I grew up in Southern California in a suburb of Los Angeles.  My older brother, Terry, and I were big comic book fans.  This being the late ‘50’s and early ‘60’s, we naturally discovered the DC titles first.  Our favorites were the ones edited by Julius Schwartz – FLASH, GREEN LANTERN, JUSTICE LEAGUE, MYSTERY IN SPACE & STRANGE ADVENTURES, THE ATOM,  HAWKMAN, etc.  Early on, we learned to identify artists and inkers by their styles and we were nuts for the work of Carmine Infantino, Gil Kane, Joe Kubert and Murphy Anderson.

“In 1964, when I was ten, my family took a month and a half road trip across the United States.  Upon arrival in New York City, there were only two things Terry and I really wanted to do – (1) go to the World’s Fair to see the groundbreaking Disney audio-animatronics exhibits and (2) visit the offices where those sensational comics were created.  Thanks to my good natured, indulgent dad, we did both.

“We arrived at 575 Lexington Avenue, giddy with expectation.  Our spirits sank when we learned DC gave tours but not on that day of the week.  Dad sweet-talked the receptionist, telling her what huge fans his boys were, that they had come all the way from California and how they would only be in the city for a day.  Finally, she called upstairs and a few minutes later Jack Adler came down to escort us to Heaven. Dad left us in Jack’s capable hands and we ascended.

Joe Letterese / Ira Schnapp, photo and watercolor by Jack Adler.

“My memory of the place is a series of offices and production rooms surrounding a central bullpen furnished with drawing tables.  We were shown massively wide filing cabinets filled with original art destined to see print.  Jack introduced us to the staff members who happened to be there that afternoon – Morris Waldinger, Stan Keith Starkman, Joe Letterese, Walter Herlitschek and Ira Schnapp.  Ira had designed many of the logos that graced DC covers and was proud to show off his work to an adoring audience of two. The guys gave us an assortment of postcards featuring various DC characters (including Jack Larson, TV’s Jimmy Olsen) and they all signed them.”

Todd here. Postcards like these were clearly printed up by the company to help sell the product, as well as to give or mail to fans who expressed an interest. On the front we see Jack Larson, who played Jimmy Olsen on the 1950s Superman TV show. His signature and inscription are printed on the card. At lower left we see the fine script lettering and signature of Ira Schnapp. How I envy Pat his meeting with Ira, the one DC staffer I would most like to have met and talked to, but never had the chance. Pat told me Ira carefully drew pencil guidelines for his lettering before inking it, and you can see them if you look closely. Ira was 72 in 1964, and nearing the end of his time as the main logo designer and cover lettering man for the company, but still doing all that work himself then.

Morris Waldinger also signed this card in red at upper right. Morris was still on staff when I began working at DC in 1977, in fact he sat right in front of me. Mo, as his friends called him, wasn’t the brightest guy, nor was he much of a comics fan. His main interest was making extra money doing freelance lettering or outside advertising work, and I have to say he wasn’t all that good at it. He and Joe Letterese were the mainstays of the Production Department, though, spending decades doing production work like art corrections and pasting up covers and letter-columns. On the back of the card is a JIMMY OLSEN cover dated June 1956, giving a good indication of when the card was printed.

BLACKHAWK was a cross between a war comic and a super-hero team comic. DC had purchased the property from Quality Comics in 1956, and at DC it was mainly drawn by Dick Dillin and Chuck Cuidera, who probably did the art here. The printed inscription looks like the work of Ira Schnapp. It’s signed at the top by Production staffer Walter Herlitschek, the man who worked the photostat machine in the small darkroom, which was used to make copies of repeated elements like logos and the DC “Bullet,” as well as printed-size copies of the art for the colorists to make their color guides (see my article Coloring Comics Old School). Walter also did other kinds of production work I think. At the bottom it’s signed and inscribed by Joe Letterese in a style I remember well from when we worked together later. As many have pointed out, Joe had a great name for a letterer! His biggest claim to fame would come a year or two after this when he drew the sound effects for the Batman TV show.

The art on the Batman and Robin postcard is, of course, signed by Bob Kane, but most likely the work of Dick Sprang or one of the other artists Kane employed. Again the printed inscription and top display lettering are classic Ira Schnapp work. It’s signed and inscribed by Murphy Anderson, who even dated it April 5th, 1964. Editor Julius Schwartz also signed. More about those two  in a minute. On the back of the card are three covers from 1960, indicating that’s when it was printed.

The last card, featuring Superman, is larger and much older than the rest. I had one of these cards once. It was printed in 1948 and the back shows covers from that time. It’s not a postcard, but is intended to look like an autographed picture. The art might be by Wayne Boring. Young fans who would write asking for Superman’s autograph, or his picture, would be sent one, presumably in an envelope. The inscription at bottom right is printed, at upper left Stan Starkman has signed and inscribed it. Took me a while, but I finally identified Starkman as a letterer for the company, with credits running from about 1955 to 1967 on quite a few titles. I never met him, and since none of his lettering work was credited, didn’t really know his name until now. Whether he was also working as a Production Artist, or just a freelancer visiting that day I don’t know. Okay back to Pat McGreal:

“We were shown artwork to a new feature that would appear early the next year in THE BRAVE AND THE BOLD #57… Metamorpho.  When asked if we knew what metamorphosis meant, Terry – fortunately – knew the answer.

Jack Abel / Murphy Anderson, photos probably by Jack Adler.

“There were only two artists working in the bullpen.  One was Jack Abel, penciler of the “Gunner and Sarge” strip in OUR FIGHTING FORCES.  The other was Murphy Anderson.  Terry and I were knocked for a loop!  Here was the unsurpassable inker on FLASH and ADAM STRANGE!  The guy who drew and inked THE ATOMIC KNIGHTS in STRANGE ADVENTURES and HAWKMAN in MYSTERY IN SPACE!

“They were both welcoming and friendly and let us dumbly watch them as they worked.  Murphy was penciling the cover of SHOWCASE # 55, the issue that reintroduced Golden Age heroes Dr. Fate and Hourman as they battled Solomon Grundy.  While we looked on, Murphy put down his pencil and began inking.  The cover came to life before our eyes.

“I remember asking Murphy if he loved his job.  ‘You have to,’ he replied in a deep baritone.  ‘Otherwise you’d go nuts.’

“Murphy and Jack Abel each did little ink drawings for us.  Murphy’s was a profile of HAWKMAN and Jack’s was a portrait of GUNNER.  How could things get better than this?

“That’s when Julius Schwartz opened the door to his office and invited us in.  Zeus had beckoned us to the highest peak in Olympus! We spent twenty minutes or more with Julie, talking comics and stories and artists and it was unadulterated bliss! Before we left him, he signed one of the postcards and the issue of JUSTICE LEAGUE where HAWKMAN joins the group and – inexplicably – a Spanish language edition of SUPERMAN.

“The crew at DC wasn’t done yet.  On our way out, they opened one of those massive filing cabinets and presented us with a week’s worth of original SUPERMAN newspaper strips drawn by Wayne Boring. Terry and I emerged from 575 Lexington Avenue walking on Cloud Nine.  As far as we were concerned, the DC gang was the best, no hands down.”

There you have it, two young fans welcomed in and dazzled by their comics heroes. And I bet they made the staffers and artists feel pretty good, too! I have to add that Murphy was also one of my favorite DC artists, and I got to know him well. He was a kind and generous man who loved to tell stories about comics and his life, a fine and talented person.

Thanks to Pat McGreal for writing up his memories, and for scanning those cool postcards that launched me on this journey. I’ll wrap things up next time with visits to the offices in 1967-68 by a group of regulars. More articles you might enjoy can be found on the new COMICS CREATION page of my blog.

 

2 thoughts on “Visiting DC Comics in the 1960s Part 2

  1. Todd Post author

    Thanks, Jon, I’ve fixed it. I was so careful of the spelling of Reeves (not Reeve like Christopher Reeve), I missed that I had the wrong actor!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

− 9 = 1

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>