Image © DC Comics. A larger version of this photo is HERE.
Some time in early 1982, the entire DC staff was invited on a company-paid retreat to Montauk, Long Island. This group photo from the event is in “The Bronze Age of DC Comics, 1970-1984” by Paul Levitz, from Taschen. I was there, I’m in the back row on the right, and this photo brought back memories of the event and the people that I thought I’d share. I’ve been narrowing the date of the retreat down with the help of Irene Vartanoff and Laurie Sutton, who were there. I originally thought it happened in the winter of 1982-83, but Irene left staff in the spring of 1982, so that was wrong. Then Laurie found the exact dates in her records, March 15-17, 1982. Thanks to both of them for the help! It had to be off-season at Gurneys Resort, above, where we stayed. We left on a Monday morning, and returned on Wednesday afternoon. I remember it was a long bus ride from Manhattan that took much of the first day, a full day there with meetings, and very cold and windy when I ventured out to see the ocean. In his book, Paul Levitz writes, “Following the 1981 retirements of Jack Adler and Sol Harrison, much of DC’s editorial and staff came together at an all-company retreat.” That sounds about right. I remember sitting in a meeting room looking at slides of pages and covers from then-current DC comics while the leaders discussed what they did and didn’t like about them, but most of the comments were positive and supportive, as I remember, focusing on what they wanted to do more of. Encouraging us to try new things, be creative, and help DC do its best, that sort of thing. I had joined DC in the summer of 1977. Some time in 1982 I was given the position of Assistant Production Manager under Production Manager Bob Rozakis, who had succeeded HIS boss Jack Adler when Jack left staff. I’m not sure if this had happened yet at the time of the retreat. Overseeing the production department then, I think, was Joe Orlando, but he was not with us that much, having other duties as well.
Here’s a closer look at the left half of the photo. Sitting in front are Vice President & Creative Director (and artist) Joe Orlando and President & Publisher Jenette Kahn. Joe had been working at DC as an artist since 1966, and on staff as an editor since 1968. Jenette came from magazine publishing, and had been on staff at DC since 1976. As Laurie Sutton remembers, “The retreat was Jenette’s idea. To the best of my knowledge, she was inspired by how Japanese companies often took their executives off to relaxing, neutral locales to exchange ideas. I don’t recall what we actually DID at the retreat, but I do remember having teams of some sort and I was team leader of one of them.”
Next I’ll identify the people standing in the group behind Joe and Jenette, those I can. At left in the pink shirt is editor Murray Boltinoff, who had been with the company since 1940, the longest-tenured staffer there. Right of him with glasses is E. Nelson Bridwell, editor/writer and a font of early DC Comics knowledge. He’d been with the company since 1965, the first “fan” to join the staff. The woman right and in front of him is production artist and colorist Nansi Hoolihan, and right and behind her is production artist and colorist Tom Ziuko. Both had joined the staff in the late 1970s after I did. Right of Tom is production artist and colorist/letterer Helen Vesik, who joined the staff in the early 1980s. There’s a man mostly hidden behind Helen I can’t identify. Right of Helen in blue denim is Shelly Eiber the production photographer. She worked in the darkroom with the photostat camera making reduced and enlarged copies of things like logos, also prints of finished comics pages at printed size used by the colorists to make their color guides, and lots of other prep work and images. She’d been with the company since 1973, and just left staff recently when DC moved out of Manhattan. Behind this group, standing in the back, is production artist/letterer/art re-toucher Albert DeGuzman, who started on staff not long after me in the late 1970s. Right of Albert is comics retailer Steve Geppi, one of two invited to the retreat to talk about their end of the business. Below him and mostly behind Shelly is Promotions Manager and fan Mike Flynn. Right of that, with the beard and glasses, is editor/artist Joe Kubert, who had been drawing for DC since 1942, and editing since 1967. Joe is, and was then, a legend, and I remember what a great time I had talking to him at this retreat. When you talked to Joe, he gave you his full attention and really listened. Below Joe is Irene Vartanoff, a long-time fan who worked with Paul Levitz on rights and permissions, writing contracts, and other business office duties. Up from Irene and behind Joe is a face I can’t identify, though Bob Rozakis suggests it might be long-time staffer/letterer Milt Snapinn. Right of that, also behind Irene, is production artist/colorist Bob LeRose, on staff since 1976. The woman in white directly behind Jenette is her assistant Carol Fein. Carol had been with the company since at least the early 1970s. The bald head mostly hidden by Carol’s hair might be that of Julie Schwartz, DC’s long-time fan-favorite editor, who had been with the company since the mid 1940s.
Here’s a much better photo of editor Julie Schwartz with writer Harlan Ellison in 1981, photo by Jackie Estrada. I thought he deserved to be better represented! In 1982, Julie was editing the Superman titles.
Moving on to the right half of the photo, seated in front are William (Bill) Sarnoff, head of Warner Books, and the Time-Warner executive that Jenette Kahn reported to, then Vice President and Executive Editor (and artist) Dick Giordano, with Executive Vice President (and writer) Paul Levitz on the right. Dick had been an editor at DC from 1968 to 1971, then returned as Executive Editor in 1980. Paul had begun at the company in 1972. It’s interesting to see that the top people at DC included two artists and a writer with long careers in comics, though Paul’s was not quite so long yet. I’m not sure if the Vice President titles were in place for Joe, Dick and Paul at the time of the conference, but they probably were.
There are more people on this side, so it’s a little tougher to pick them out. Let’s begin with the four standing in the back. At left is comics retailer Buddy Saunders. Buddy recently told me, “Steve Geppi and I got to know each other while riding together in a limo to the retreat. We were invited there to provide advice as to how best DC might meet the growing competition from Marvel.” To the right of Buddy is Leon Knize, who Paul Levitz tells me was “a consultant who was helping reorganize our distribution arrangements.” To his right is production artist/letterer Bob Lappan, and to Bob’s right is myself.
Okay, among the large standing group, beginning at the left, we have Diane Perla from the Accounting Department in the shirt with red collar. Behind her and a bit to the right is her boss, Treasurer Arthur Gutowitz. Right and behind him with beard and glasses is editor/writer Marv Wolfman. (I remember during one meeting there Marv and I trading fanciful logo ideas for his new series NIGHT FORCE. The actual logo was designed by Gaspar Saladino.) Below Marv and above Bill Sarnoff is Corinda Carford from the Marketing Department. Corinda was only at DC a short time, but has had a long music career since including singing with Bruce Springsteen. Right and behind her is Midge Bregman in the blue shirt. Midge had worked with Sol Harrison in the 1940s, and rejoined his DC team around 1973. I don’t recognize the person directly behind and partly hidden by her, but right of that is Production Manager (and writer) Bob Rozakis, my immediate boss at the time. Bob joined the DC staff in July 1973. Below him in the pink striped shirt is editor Karen Berger, though at the time she may have also been Editorial Coordinator, handling coloring and lettering assignments to freelancers. Karen joined DC in 1979. Right and behind Karen is editor/writer Len Wein in the blue shirt. Friends Len and Marv began writing for the company in the late 1960s, and joined the DC staff in 1979-80 after stints at Marvel. Right and behind Len, the bearded man who is mostly hidden, is production artist Howard Bender. I don’t recognize the man with glasses in front of him, or the woman in white below that, though again, both faces look vaguely familiar. The woman to their right in the black shirt is Pat Bastienne, Dick Giordano’s assistant. The woman right and in front of her with the magenta shirt and white jacket is proofreader and assistant editor Tamsyn O’Flynn. Between Tamsyn and myself are two more partial faces. I don’t know the man on the left, the woman on the right mostly hidden by Tamsyn is editor/writer Laurie Sutton. Right of that, in the gray jacket and white shirt is editor/artist Ernie Colón. In the April 1982 issue of THE COMICS READER (#200), an article says Ernie had just been hired as a “Junior Editor,” and would work with Marv Wolfman. Right of him with the beard is assistant editor/writer Nick Cuti, who I think started at DC around the same time as Ernie, assisting Len Wein. And right of Nick with the tie and tan jacket is editor/writer/artist Dave Manak. I think Dave left staff in early 1983, and spent many years drawing “Sonic the Hedgehog” at Archie Comics. Below Dave is Andy Helfer, then an assistant editor under Joe Orlando. He started at DC in 1981. Kneeling next to Andy is Licensing Coordinater Mary Moebus.
At the time of the retreat, DC was back on its feet after the disastrous Implosion of 1978 when many titles were cancelled and some staff was laid off. The success of the first two Superman movies helped, and the rise of the direct market was giving DC new places to sell comics at a better profit. The core heroes like Superman and Batman continued to sell. Books like THE NEW TEEN TITANS were doing well, and the company wanted more of that. Did the Montauk retreat help with DC’s continued rising fortunes in the coming years, as they headed toward the success of books like WATCHMEN and THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS? I don’t know, but possibly. I know I felt more a part of the team after events like this.
Here are some memories from Irene Vartanoff: “What I remember the most was the awful cold I had, and the fashionably puffy comforter on the bed in my blessedly single room—which as I recall was built into a cliff. Oh, and how some people dressed in very expensive ‘casual’ clothes. As for any business conducted, any bonding exercises or the like, nada. I think at one point I and others walked on a beach, but why there would be a beach next to a cliff, I could not tell you. As I said, I had a really bad cold. I did campaign in advance to make sure the bus driver did not smoke, as such were wont to do back then.”
As you can see in the above photo, the rooms were sort of built into the side of a hill that was probably originally a huge sand dune.
I don’t know of any other DC group photos from the time I was there, but there was a group drawing of the Production staff by Ray Alma in 1986. Other articles on DC staff and history can be found on the COMICS CREATION page of my blog. Thanks to Bob Rozakis, Irene Vartanoff, Diana Schutz, Paul Levitz, Laurie S. Sutton and Buddy Saunders for identifications and help, and thanks to Jackie Estrada for permission to use her photo.