DC Comics’ Production Dept., 1979 Part 2

75 Rockefeller Plaza, photo © David Shankbone, 2006. Our DC Production Department was on the 6th floor (Jack Harris tells me). I think our windows faced the wall of a building to the left, but behind the one shown here, also part of Rockefeller Center.

Working at DC was an exciting time for me, and in this second article I’ll be showing and commenting on more photos of my workplace from artist José Luis Garcia López taken in February, 1979. Here we go.

Photos © José Luis Garcia López, unless otherwise indicated.

Looking down the row of drawing boards on the west side of the room (see part 1 of this article for a diagram of the Production Room), we have Joe Letterese, Albert DeGuzman, and behind him is my drawing board, the only shot of it in this set. Even with the poor quality of these images, I can make out some things I had up on the wall behind me. On the bulletin board are some cover proofs. The one at upper left is the front and back covers of SUPERMAN VS. SPIDERMAN, which came out in 1976. On the wall at upper right are two versions of a piece of Batman art I did for the inside cover of another tabloid. Here’s the original art:

Art and scan by Todd Klein.

It appeared in the actual book as the background for the contents page I think. That book was BATMAN’S STRANGEST CASES, the “Limited Collector’s Edition” tabloid comic #C-59. Release dates for the tabloids are hard to pin down, but I think it was probably out in April or May, 1978. Like the other staffers, I did all kinds of freelance work in addition to my staff job, though lettering eventually became the main thing. At this point I was trying everything including art, writing and coloring. I was never good at drawing figures, though, so my attempts at comics art were few.

Here’s a photo of me at my drawing board taken by Jack Adler probably in the summer of 1979. The SUPERMAN VS. SPIDERMAN tabloid cover is still on the bulletin board at the top. The HOUSE OF MYSTERY printed cover proof below is issue #263, December 1978. Right of that is DOORWAY TO NIGHTMARE #3 dated May-June 1978. I’m certainly dressed for summer, and while that HOM issue probably came out in October ’78, I think that still rules out summer of 1978 for this picture. Looks like I’m lettering something, and yes, I am left-handed.

Back to José’s photos, here I am wearing cold weather clothes (as are all the people in these photos), leaning on the end of the high counter in the center of the production room talking over something with Bob LeRose. Bob, as many who remember him will tell you, was a great guy with a long history in comics production, though he’d only been at DC a few years in 1979. Before that he worked for many years with artist Al Stenzel producing the comics section of “Boy’s Life” magazine for the Boy Scouts. Bob sat in the last seat in the other row of drawing boards, so we talked quite a bit, and Bob loved to talk and tell stories. He worked almost exclusively on putting covers together, adding the logo and trade dress plus any cover lettering to the art, all pasted on with rubber cement. There was more to it than that, he also had to “make it work,” which often involved moving parts of the art around, or resizing things, and so on. Bob was also a fine colorist, and did lots of that for DC, both on covers and stories.

The counter we’re looking down on is the one with the large flat file cabinets under it, you can see some of the drawers below. Inside would be unpublished art and covers for upcoming books, some older art that hadn’t been put into the art return process yet, large mechanicals (pasted up boards ready to be photographed for printing), and all sorts of odds and ends that wouldn’t fit in regular file cabinet drawers. Just below me is a series of boxes holding art paper, mostly Strathmore one-ply or two-ply bristol board in large sheets which could be cut to size and used for mechanicals, cover lettering, or anything else. The pre-printed (in pale blue) DC art boards for drawing covers and stories were smaller, precut to about 11 by 17 inches, and stored elsewhere.

Another dim view of Bob and I where you can see we’re looking at some very large mechanical that I can’t identify, perhaps a promotional poster. Some of the file cabinets at the back of the room can be seen, as well as more flat files. Incidentally, one of the jobs I took on during the “DC Implosion” when work was slow was to go through all those file cabinets on the back wall and organize them into labeled hanging folders by title and character. When I visited the DC offices a few years ago to research logos, I found many of the folders I made then stored with the contents of those cabinets in the Film Library. It was kind of eerie to see them. I wrote about it here.

Here’s a shot from just behind Bob LeRose’s board looking at the other end of that high counter and past it to Tony Tollin and Jack Adler’s areas. Bob has a number of covers in process on his board, and you can see the lamp he used, which was different from all the others. It had a circular neon bulb surrounding a large magnifying glass, allowing Bob to work close with magnification. The high counter was generally kept clear, but sometimes got cluttered with things being worked on, as here. I’m not sure what all those things are, but at the left end is a roll of something, perhaps brown paper, used for wrapping packages. Can’t identify the rest. Beyond the boards in this row is the photostat drying rack.

The darkroom, where all the in-house photostats were made, was in a separate room down the hall a bit, and Shelley Eiber, not in these pictures, was the person making most of the “stats.” If we needed something copied, a logo or anything else from the files, we’d put it in an out-tray for Shelly with the size percentage of the stat we wanted and our name, as in “85% LeRose.” Some of the logos I’ve shown in my “Logo of the Day” feature on Facebook have those markings. Shelly would bring the stats out of the darkroom and put them on the rack to dry, which took about 10 minutes or so. Shelly was a smart person to get on the good side of. When you did, she’d give your requests priority, and let you come into the darkroom and make your own stats when she was busy with other tasks, a good way to learn the process and try new things, as well as get your own work done faster. Photostats use a photographic process that creates a positive copy of something from a paper negative that’s thrown away. Digital publishing has pretty much eliminated the need for them. Last time I was at DC, a few years ago, Shelly was still on staff there, working in the Film Library. Certainly the longest tenured person in this article, and now that Paul Levitz is off staff, probably the longest tenured person at DC, if she’s still there.

An empty desk in production was always fair game for a freelance artist who needed to finish up some work or make corrections, and here’s artist Ross Andru sitting at Steve Mitchell’s desk doing that. He’s lowered the board so it sits flat, and has his work spread out on it. Wish we could see what he was working on. At left is Bob LeRose again.

The desk in front of Bob LeRose was the seat of Steve Mitchell, who is also not in these pictures, probably out for the day. Steve also worked almost exclusively on cover paste-ups. He, too, loved to talk, and had many freelance artist friends who would come in and stand on the other side of the low counter to talk to him. It just so happened that standing there put one out of sight of Jack Adler when he was in his office, which worked out well for them, as Jack would chase away gabby freelancers if they spent too much time in the room. Some of them came over to chat with me on occasion, and if they crouched down behind my desk, they could also evade Adler’s eye. Jack was kind of like the umpire in baseball, he’d give you a few minutes for a conference, then walk out to break it up, but if he was busy or not around a lot of gabbing happened. And smart freelancers knew Jack also loved to talk, and if they could get him into the conversation, they managed to hang out in the room longer. ADDED: Both Bob Rozakis and Jack C. Harris think Steve had left staff by this time, another victim of the Implosion. That left Bob LeRose as the only full-time cover man, but I recall Albie and I helping him sometimes.

Just about every artist working for the company came into our production room at some time while I was there, to chat or ask questions or just hang out. Freelancing can be a lonely business. The writers came in too, though they tended to spend more time with the editors, we didn’t see them as often. Of course, those who lived close came in more frequently, but that was the majority back then. While artists and writers who lived far away could mail in their work, those who lived close enough to make a day trip of it usually came into the office regularly to deliver their work in person, and took some time to socialize while there.

Somewhere behind Bob’s desk is another machine called a Varityper Headliner. I’ve looked online, and I can’t find an image of the model we had, only newer and smaller ones. It was sort of a miniature darkroom which you could look into through some kind of red-tinted viewport. Photographic paper in rolls was fed in and headlines were made one letter at a time on the roll from about a dozen available alphabets on large disks. You rotated the disk to the letter you wanted, positioned the paper with some kind of rollers, and clicked to expose the paper until you had the entire line of large type you needed. Then the paper continued through photographic baths to fix it, and came out the other side. Clunky and time-consuming, but this was the only set-type we could produce, all other type, like that used for letter-columns, had to be sent out to be set photographically in galleys at a type house. If there was an error, you had to cut and paste to fix it. Thankfully, digital publishing has eliminated all that!

I think this is the front-most desk in that row, which looks unoccupied. It had been the desk of John Workman until he left to become the art director of “Heavy Metal” magazine at the end of 1977, and I can’t recall anyone being hired to replace him at the time. Perhaps the workload was already shrinking due to the “Implosion,” and Jack Adler didn’t feel there was a need for another person working on covers, which is what John mostly did.

On the flat part of the board are a rubber cement can and rubber cement thinner can, the one that looks like a small version of the Tin Man’s oil can from “Wizard of Oz.” When your rubber cement was too sticky, you added some thinner, which was, I’m sure, a deadly petrochemical of some kind. On the counter beyond are in/out trays and a light box. On the tall counter in the back are some small machines we used, though I’m no longer sure what some of them are. At left is a combination radio receiver and phonograph album player to provide music. Choice of music was always a hotly debated topic, though, as there was little everyone liked, so sometimes it was just off. Another thing probably up there is a dry-mount press for attaching art to illustration board using a sheet of dry glued paper that would adhere when heated. The one with the lid up might be for making copies of artwork on acetate. That looks like a small refrigerator on the right, not sure what it was used for. There was a coffee room refrigerator for bagged lunches, so I doubt that was it.  There was also a machine for laminating: sealing things between two sheets of clear plastic to preserve them, and probably more.

On the bulletin board above left are some pieces dry-mounted by Bob LeRose. This was his personal gallery. Some may have been things he colored, but he also enjoyed doing that with the paper towels he dried his coloring brushes on, making colorful abstract art.

Right of that is a printed promo piece featuring the logo of the first Superman movie, something we were all excited about then. It was released at the end of 1978, and we created another DC tabloid comic about it, above, for which I did most of the production work. Right of that are what look like other tabloid cover proofs, but I can’t identify them.

Freelance colorists also used available spots as they found them, but Adrienne Roy, wife of Tony Tollin, had her own regular drawing board in the DC bullpen, another room across the hall from production where freelancers could sit and work. Wish I could identify what she’s working on. Tony tells me:

“Not only did Adrienne have her own assigned desk (first in the bullpen and later John Workman’s former desk), she also had a Warner Communications after-hours employee ID card, allowing her 24-hour and weekend access to the offices. (I didn’t have such a card, though letterer Ben Oda did.) Adrienne sometimes worked ’til midnight or later on hot jobs, so she spent a lot of time in the bullpen with Ben as he finished his last pages. Jack Adler and Sol Harrison both found it useful to have an in-house colorist readily available who did not have staff duties, so Adrienne did a lot of last-minute freelance jobs, often at enhanced commercial rates.”

Another look at Adrienne working. That’s clearly Superman on the page, but I can’t say what book it’s for. Even in this poor and blurry view, I think I can identify it as the work of artist José Luis Garcia López, who took these pictures, which would have given him a good reason to be interested! A paper towel for blotting excess color off the brush is right beside her. I don’t see her color set, it must be off to one side.

Here’s another picture I can’t place. It’s me making a photocopy of something, but I not in the production room. There must have been another room for copiers, that’s a different one in the foreground, and I’m told the hooded thing is an art projector used for copying small layout drawings larger onto art paper, the brand name is Lucigraph. I never used it myself.

Another view of the copier. That boxlike thing seems to be some kind of autofeeder.

The final photo from José is of editor Paul Levitz in his office. A very young Paul working hard, as usual! Other editors that I’m sure were on staff at the time are Julius Schwartz, E. Nelson Bridwell, Joe Orlando, Jack C. Harris, Murray Boltinoff, Joe Kubert (but only in the office occasionally), and possibly Larry Hama and Al Milgrom. The latter two were also let go during the “DC Implosion,” I think, so probably gone at the time of these photos. Other staffers included President Sol Harrison, who spent a fair amount of time with us in the production room, often to offer us freelance work for licensing projects, Sol’s secretary Midge Bregman, Publisher Jenette Kahn and her secretary Carol Fein, art director Vince Colletta, Film Library head (and letterer) Milt Snapinn, publicist Mike Gold, and probably a dozen others I’m forgetting. Those were the ones I most often had contact with, anyway.

Working at DC then wasn’t always fun and games. During the Implosion times were tense, as we all knew layoffs were likely. Sometimes tempers flared. Art and coloring for stories and covers often came in late (a perennial problem in comics), and then we’d have to bear down and work hard to get them pasted up, corrected, marked up, approved by editors, and out the door to the separation house in Connecticut, often while the DC delivery man, Eddie, paced impatiently and complained at the front of the room until he finally had everything for the day and could drive them there. Sometimes we were up late doing freelance work and had a hard time getting through our day jobs. Commuting could be tough due to weather, transit strikes and accidents, and other obstacles. Mistakes were made by us, provoking anger from editors and our bosses.

There were perks, too. Meeting famous people, like Christopher Reeve, above, as they visited the offices (with editor Jack Harris and myself in a photo by Jack Adler). Meeting artists and writers whose work you admired and perhaps had grown up reading. Lunch out with company friends or freelancers. Occasional parties in the office, or out of it. Being invited to free movie screenings. Visiting the rest of Rockefeller Center for free, including the roof deck on the RCA building, and all the great stores, museums and attractions in the area on your lunch break. In all, it was a wonderful experience, and one I feel lucky to have had, and the comaraderie and friendships forged then are warm in my memories to this day.

Hope you’ve enjoyed this trip down memory lane. Thanks again to José for providing the photos that made it happen. Other articles you might enjoy can be found on the COMICS CREATION page of my blog.

16 thoughts on “DC Comics’ Production Dept., 1979 Part 2

  1. Bob Rozakis

    Shelley is still at DC and is the longest=tenured staff member at this point.
    Nelson did not share an office with Julie in 75 Rock. He had his own office down the hall.
    I’m not 100% sure, but I think Steve Mitchell may have been gone from staff by the time these photos were taken in February, 1979.

    The copier, the light table next to it on the right, and that gizmo on the left were in what had originally been a second bullpen area (where my first desk had been) that was later closed in with frosted glass windows. It was a repository of large “machines” and later became a conference room.

  2. Jack C. Harris

    Wow, Todd, what a memory. And you awakened mine. We were on the 6th floor, by the way. And the material Adrienne Roy is working on appears to be that big promotional brochure we all helped on for the Premium Incentive Trade Show, a beautiful piece illustrated by José Luis Garcia López. (I remember it well since my picture is in it). I think Bob is right about Steve Mitchell having left the staff at the time of this series of photos, but he was still in the office as a freelancer quite often. I well remember the day Chris Reeve visited. I also remember Burt Ward, Allan Funt, Willie Mays, Andy Warhol and others dropping by. It was a remarkable time and we were fortunate to be a part of it.

  3. Todd Post author

    Thanks, Jack! I’ll have to look for a copy of that promo brochure, I think I still have one. It was beautiful. And visitors I remember (though perhaps not all at 75 Rock) include Jack Larsen and Noel Neill (Jimmy and Lois from the TV show of the 50s), Madeleine Kahn, and science fiction writers Ray Bradbury, Edmund Hamilton, Leigh Brackett, Frederik Pohl, Harlan Ellison and others who came in to visit Julius Schwartz.

  4. Graeme Burk

    I see that the reproduction of H.J. Ward’s Superman painting is in DC’s office for Christopher Reeve’s visit. I had heard it was resident in Julie Schwartz’s office.

  5. Todd Post author

    Jack: I’ve found that brochure, titled “DC Promotional Comics,” but the piece Adrienne is coloring is not in it.

  6. Paul Levitz

    The ‘hooded thing’ was a projector some artists like to use to scale their layouts up and trace them onto boards. I recall it being in the office Neal and Denny shared at 909 Third Ave, and then it sat in a couple of places at 75 Rock. There’s a proper name for it, but I forget it.

    Fun to see all the old faces and places…

  7. J. Kevin Carrier

    Seeing this stuff brings back memories of my own time doing production work at an ad agency…that was in the ’90s, but the equipment was much the same, up until everything went digital. The hooded gizmo next to the photocopier might be a lucigraph, aka “Lazy Lucy”…a sort of projector used to enlarge artwork or photos so they could be redrawn. The one we had at the agency had a hood like that.

  8. Mike Flynn

    Todd,

    Fun to see the place between my first visit as a fanboy and my first day as a promotion nebbish. I always was able to rely on the exceptional competence of the production department while I was there (although I’m pretty sure some of BobRo’s missing hair may have been pulled out on some of my trips to beg in his office).

    Mike Flynn

  9. Tom Williams

    That copier looks like the old ‘zoomer’ machine at the Stinko’s I used to work at. The thing was on it’s last legs but it still could do large format. It’d jam like crazy.

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