Visiting DC Comics in the 1960s Part 3

E. Nelson Bridwell and Carmine Infantino by Jack Adler.
E. Nelson Bridwell / Carmine Infantino, photos probably by Jack Adler. These and all images © DC Comics, Inc., except where noted.

In the mid 1960s the winds of change were blowing through the halls of 575 Lexington Avenue, New York, the home of National Periodical Publications, which we now know as DC Comics. An early sign was the hiring of E. Nelson Bridwell as Assistant Editor to Mort Weisinger late in 1964. Bridwell was the first comics fan to make it to the NPP staff. He had an encyclopedic knowledge of and great love for the company’s super-hero comics, especially those about Superman, many based on ideas of Weisinger, and it must have come as a shock when he found his new boss to be, as many reported, highly verbally abusive at times. Bridwell stood his ground and became a welcoming friend to young fans who were able to visit the offices, particularly those who loved the comics of the 1940s and 50s as he did. His interactions with visitors and fans became more common when Weisinger was not in the office, as happened ever more frequently as the decade went on and Mort shortened his work week.

Carmine Infantino had been an artist for the company since the late 1940s, and become an award-winning fan favorite with his groundbreaking art for editor Julius Schwartz’ THE FLASH, the book that ushered in the Silver Age of super-heroes at DC. Infantino spent a lot of time at the office, and made friends in high places. In 1966 he joined the staff as Art Director, and began doing more covers, and cover layouts for other artists. In 1967 he became Editorial Director, a first for any artist at the company, and he soon hired three more artists as editors, giving the staff a good shakeup. Jack Schiff and Robert Kanigher were out as editors, though Kanigher continued to write for the company for many years. Schwartz remained helming his Silver Age titles and the Batman books which were given to him in 1964. George Kashdan and Murray Boltinoff remained, but on less important books.

Dick Giordano, Joe Kubert and Joe Orlando by Jack Adler.
Dick Giordano / Joe Kubert / Joe Orlando, photos probably by Jack Adler.

The new artist/editors came from varied backgrounds. Giordano had been a successful editor at Charlton Comics, as well as one of the best inkers in the business. He worked on super-hero books like TEEN TITANS and AQUAMAN, and brought top Charlton talent like artist Jim Aparo with him. Kubert had long been employed at DC mainly on the war books, and now took them over from Kanigher, who continued to write many. Orlando had made his name at EC Comics and Mad Magazine, so came in working on both humor and “mystery” (DC’s name for horror) comics.

575 Lexington Avenue offices of DC Comics by Alan Kupperberg.
sketch © Alan Kupperberg.

1967 office layout of 575 Lexington Ave. as Alan remembers it. Missing are the offices of Julie Schwartz and the new artist/editors, though they may not have started until 1968. Jack Adler probably had another of the “semi-open cubicles” in Production. Steve Mitchell adds, “I believe that Jack Miller’s office was the closest to the reception area. He shared it with Barbara Friedlander. Jack was a warm guy, but Barbara found all us kids on the tour to be, well, annoying to one degree or another.”  Both were romance comics editors.

The rest of the staff remained largely the same, even when the company was bought by Kinney National Services in 1967. In 1968 they also bought the Warner Brothers movie studio, taking on the Warner Brothers corporate name. A change of location for the company would follow in late 1968, but more on that later.

Story and art by Alan Kupperberg.
Story panels © Alan Kupperberg.

As above, regular Thursday afternoon tours of the NPP offices had become established by 1967, with Alan Kupperberg and others being frequent visitors. All of these young men, as well as Steve Mitchell another regular, would go on to work for the company. Of those I contacted, Alan has given me the most material about his visits, including autobiographical comics stories that touch on the subject he’s graciously allowed me to use, so much of the following relies on his accounts and memories. I also have comments from Steve Mitchell who who took a job in the Production Department a few years later, and also worked as an inker for the company. Marv Wolfman and Len Wein were high school friends who shared a love of comics. Both initially hoped to become comics artists, but found more opportunities at DC as writers, and made their first story sales in 1968. Both became regular writers and later editors for DC.

Story and art by Alan Kupperberg.

Mark Hanerfeld was a few years older, 23 in 1967. Very active in comics fandom, he soon took a job as assistant editor to Joe Orlando, and did some writing for the company as well. Later he returned to run the company library.

Steve Mitchell remembers, “The tour was always Thursdays after lunch. It was given by Walter Herlitschek, a Production staffer. Walter liked us young boys. His reasons were not as obvious to me as to some others. As a 12 and 13-year-old kid I visited on any Thursdays I had free from school. In all fairness we were gnats buzzing about. But we were gnats who loved the product, and couldn’t hear enough or see enough of what great adventures were coming up.”

Since Alan Kupperberg is my main source for this part of the blog, I asked him for opinions about some of the staff and regular artists of the time. He complied, but saying, “You may not wanna use most of this stuff because I’m going to give you my honest opinion.”  His remarks are refreshingly candid, which I appreciated, though he’s right, some are too candid to use here. But it’s also important to remember these are not the impressions of that wide-eyed young fan taking the office tour, they’re opinions formed over a lifetime of work in the business which included a year or two on staff in the Production Department and some years as a freelance artist for the company. With that said, I will offer parts of them.

Let’s start with Carmine Infantino, seen above. Though very popular with fans, and perhaps charming with visitors, Carmine had a reputation with those I met who worked with him of being gruff and dictatorial. Alan thought him nasty, saying, “He’d put a “y” at the end of your name, if possible. Making you diminutive. Joey, Mikey, Bobby, Jackie, etc. He was jealous and petty. That’s why he systematically forced out Giordano. He was very vain.”  Steve Mitchell says, “Carmine had a small office, but it was his own. No roommate. He was very open to talking about his work, and he really seemed to enjoy it. We also lavished praise on him constantly, and why not?! In many ways in the mid-60’s his style was the house look for DC.”

Superman sketch by E. Nelson Bridwell.
Sketch by E. Nelson Bridwell from the collection of Alan Kupperberg.

Alan is much more positive about Nelson Bridwell, describing him as “a very nice man. Very passive. Very learned.” He also says Bridwell was “available and avuncular on the subject of the Man of Steel or any other fictional or historical character.” Steve Mitchell adds, “I always thought of Nelson as a big kid, just like me, who loved comics.”

Todd here. I worked with Bridwell when I started at DC in 1977, and while he was always nice to me, he was a character. Nelson had a number of health problems, including what I believe was Tourette Syndrome. He made odd twitches, clicks and occasional loud bleats, for lack of a better word, more so when he was agitated about something, and he spoke quite loudly in general. I can see where his boss Mort Weisinger might have been annoyed by those things. Even Julie Schwartz, who shared an office with Nelson when I was there, would sometimes come into the Production Room saying, “I can’t stand it.” But Nelson really knew his stuff. Trouble was, he was focused on the past, and not the right person for the changing world of comics he found himself working in. I think that’s why he didn’t go further in the company.

Moving on to Julie Schwartz, Alan says he could also be nasty with his artists, “until he had no more power. Then he became everybody’s pal. Nevertheless, I liked Julie. He was a tough editor who wanted things done his way. But he was fair and not manipulative like Mort.” Steve Mitchell adds, “Julie was always grouchy, but in a benign way.”

It’s true that at DC editors were used to having absolute power over their writers and artists, and some took advantage of that more than others. Especially in the days when there were no credits on the stories, editors could replace their freelancers at the drop of a hat. Julie was one of the pioneers in giving credit, even as far back as the early 1950s on some of his science fiction books like STRANGE ADVENTURES, well ahead of the curve. Another way in which I think Julie was different was that he understood the fan mentality because he’d been one himself. Not of comics (he read his first comic on the way to the job interview at DC), but of science fiction, where he was deeply involved in fandom and became an SF author’s agent for a while before joining DC. Once he found out I was also a fan of the genre we got along great, and he introduced me to many of the SF writers he knew when they’d come to visit him at the office.

Of Robert Kanigher, Alan says, “Him I didn’t like. Not him, not his writing. What he did to his artists was a shame. Of course, he didn’t try anything with Kubert because Joe was built like a brick building and could’ve snapped Bob like a twig.” Sounds like another editor whose power went to his head. Steve Mitchell says, “My favorite books were edited and written by Kanigher. I loved the war books. The content was exciting and the artwork fantastic. Joe Kubert, Russ Heath, Andru and Esposito, Jerry Grandenetti, Irv Novick and Jack Abel were, then and now, some of my all-time favorite artists. Kanigher begrudgingly talked with us fans about new stories and art, or talked at us rather, but he did give us some freebie issues not yet in the stores, which was a very big deal.”

Joe Kubert, on the other hand, Alan calls “The best. Thoroughly decent. A rock.” Dick Giordano was “ostensibly a very nice man. And yet, and yet…I always thought of him as someone who would stick his own neck out for no man.”

Daredevil sketch by Joe Orlando.
Joe Orlando sketch from the collection of Alan Kupperberg. Daredevil © Marvel.

Of Joe Orlando, Alan says,“A sensitive guy. Gotta watch what you said in front of him. Insecure in my opinion. Wallace Wood didn’t respect him.”

A few more memories of editors from Steve Mitchell:

“Jack Schiff was very warm towards us ‘gnats.’ He never seemed to be in a hurry, and maybe I’m idealizing the past, but he also seemed interested in why we were so into comics. Maybe we were market research for him, I dunno. Jack Miller, referred to by us as Uncle Jack, was a very warm guy who really seemed to enjoy showing us Neal Adams’ DEADMAN pages. Jack mostly edited romance books, but DEADMAN was his baby. Murray Boltinoff was quiet and sort of distant. George Kashdan was a nice man who seemed to be surprised that us kids were interested in his work, and a little bit afraid when we would say Hi.”

Of the offices, Steve says, “They could have been any kind of office from the time. Very few reminders that comics were published there were in evidence. Sure, each editor had a cork board with their latest covers, otherwise not much else. If you’ve watched the fourth season of the TV show “Mad Men,”  the DC offices had similar frosted glass walls seated in metal frames. Very 1960’s then and retro cool now. This was the only DC office to have them.

Wonder Woman sketch by Mike Sekowsky and photo of him by Jack Adler.
Mike Sekowsky sketch from the collection of Alan Kupperberg, photo by Jack Adler.

“The Production Department was windowless and always, to me, a dark and slightly foreboding place, illuminated by the lights on the drawing tables. Some freelancers like Murphy Anderson and Neal Adams had boards they worked at on what I believe was a daily basis. Other freelancers had space available to them. I remember Mike Sekowsky being there, and Jack Sparling, who put my name on the cover of an issue of STRANGE ADVENTURES. He lettered it on the side of a building, which was unbelievably cool! Sadly, a caption or word balloon was pasted over it, but Mr. Sparling had a fan for life with that sweet gesture.”

Batman sketch by Neal Adams.
Neal Adams sketch from the collection of Alan Kupperberg.

Artist Neal Adams began looking for comics work at DC in 1967, and spending a lot of time doing it in the office. Carmine Infantino liked his work, and began giving Adams his cover layouts to flesh out. Alan reports, “I saw Neal Adams working on some of the first of his great SUPERMAN covers, drawn from Carmine Infantino’s inspired layouts.” Adams was soon outshining Infantino in the fans’ eyes and became the new golden boy artist at the company.

Sergio Aragones sketch.
Sergio Aragones sketch from the collection of Alan Kupperberg.

Alan says, “Sergio is one of the few gentlemen in the business. (Another one was Grey Morrow.) A very sweet, talented man. A prodigious. prolific, funny cartoonist.” I doubt many who’ve met him or know his work would argue with that.

Story and art by Alan Kupperberg.
Panel by and © Alan Kupperberg.

Alan seems to have had a love/hate relationship with the Production heads, Sol Harrison and Jack Adler, and he’s said a lot about them in his autobiographical comics. The two were high school pals who followed similar career paths, with Sol seeming to always be one step above Jack. Both could be entertaining in their own ways, though I think this page from INFERIOR FIVE #6 written by E. Nelson Bridwell, art by Mike Sekowsky and Mike Esposito goes way beyond what ever really happened:

Page 17 from The Inferior Five #6, DC Comics.

Humor aside, there’s an insider look at the Production Room at 575 Lex, as visitors would never have seen it! Steve Mitchell remembers, “Sol scared the crap out of me and many others for years. He had a way of intimidating you with his silence. Sol loved the company perhaps more than he ever showed it. ‘Magazines,’ were what he called the product, never mags or comic books. Jack Adler was, for all intents and purposes, the DC color department back then.”

Gaspar Saladino by Jack Adler.
Gaspar Saladino, photo by Jack Adler.

Sadly, no one mentions meeting one of MY favorite freelancers, lettering ace Gaspar Saladino. Gaspar had been lettering stories for the company since 1951, but Carmine Infantino moved him in as the main logo and cover lettering man in 1967, replacing the elderly Ira Schnapp. Gaspar’s dynamic cover work started appearing regularly in 1968.

About Schnapp, Marv Wolfman remembers: “I was told what he’d done (the many logos) and that they felt they needed to keep him employed even though he was pretty old then and incapable of regular work. This was when DC  a very different place for good and bad, so they kept him busy doing minor Production work. I remember speaking with Ira and he told me about doing the Post Office lettering, but honestly I no longer remember much. I was impressed that he’d done the Superman logo. He was very nice to speak with a kid.” Schnapp retired in 1968 and died the following year.

A few more quick opinions from Alan Kupperberg. Curt Swan: “A very nice man. THE Superman artist.” Kurt Schaffenberger: “Ditto. A nice man.” Gil Kane: “Not an honest guy, but a great artist.”

DC moves offices, article from Warner Bros. newsletter.

In the December-January 1969 issue of a Warner Bros. in-house newsletter this article appeared. At the end of 1968 the comics company and its various affiliates had moved to a new building.

909 Third Avenue today.
909 Third Avenue entrance as it looks today, photo © Alan Kupperberg.

The office tours apparently continued at this location, at least for a while. Steve Mitchell called it “My favorite of all the DC offices.”

About the tours in general, Steve adds, “The offices were populated by adults in suits and ties. Nothing adolescent or really fun about it, but I loved being there as a fan. The Thursday tour became a destination event for me. I would build my summers around those trips to Manhattan. Ultimately the tour inherited certain rules. We regulars were put on a restrictive leash and were only allowed to visit once a month. I hated that, but in retrospect I get it. In the end we still had access to a lot of the staffers who shared their time with us, and most were gracious and, to me, inspiring. They seemed to have a good time making comics, and it was then I decided to be a part of that world.”

As the 1960s drew to a close, DC faced new challenges. The sales boost that had come from the Batman TV show had faded, and sales were continuing their steady decline (with a few upward blips) that had begun in the 1950s, and is still not over today. Marvel Comics had finally slipped the leash on the number of books they could publish, and were exploding on the newsstands. And at the office, new young artists and writers were starting to make their presence known. But that’s a topic for another day.

Thanks to Alan and Steve for providing these great memories and images. I couldn’t have done it without you. Hope you’ve enjoyed this series. You can find the earlier parts as well as other blog entries on the topic of COMICS CREATION on that new page of my blog.

3 thoughts on “Visiting DC Comics in the 1960s Part 3

  1. Odkin

    Excellent series, Todd. Only one historic quibble with the paragraph about Infantino: “In 1967 he became Editorial Director…giving the staff a good shakeup. … Schwartz remained helming his Silver Age titles and took over the Batman books from Schiff.”

    Schiff had been taken off Batman, Detective, and World’s Finest several years before (1964 I believe) and kept busy ruining Schwartz’s sci-fi titles instead of Batman. Infantino made some great changes, but this one pre-dating him having any editorial authority.

  2. Derf Backderf

    These are terrific posts, Todd. Very informative. Here I am on deadline and I’ve spent a couple hours poring over these things. Thanks a lot!

    Love the floor plans. And the inside scoop on office politics. I knew DC was a collection of fiefdoms, each with a dictatorial editor. Quite frankly, the comics of this era reflected that. Carmine, for all his famous gruffness, to his credit ushered in an era of unmatched creativity and experimentation. 1968-1973 is one of my favorite periods in comics, and certainly my favorite in DC history. Infantino never gets as much credit as the serial self-aggrandizing Stan Lee, but in terms of breaking ground and trying new things, I’d go with Carmine. Lee had one great idea– superheroes with real problems– and milked that for the rest of his career (and leaned heavily on Kirby and Ditko, of course).

    Too bad Carmine was left so bitter. Some of his rants in the fan press, especially regarding Giordano and Adams, are rife with petty jealousy. They all did great work together.

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