Back when I was doing a lot of work for DC Comics, I had the good fortune of meeting editor emeritus Julie Schwartz, the man most responsible for the resurrection of superhero comics in the late fifties and early sixties.
Julie–short for Julius–was part of the original cadre of science fiction fans in America. He went on to become, among other things, the fledgling Ray Bradbury’s literary agent. But what he did most to shape my life was revive the popularity of the superhero in America, repackaging Golden Age favorites like Flash, Green Lantern, Hawkman, and the Atom for me and my contemporaries. Life without superhero comics…I can’t even imagine it. And it was Julie who made sure I didn’t have to.
Comic book writer Mark Waid told me to visit Julie whenever I was at DC and pry a story out of him. I took that advice as often as I could. It turned out that Adam Strange and Space Ranger were the results of a friendly competition to see who could come up with the best new space character. Ray Palmer, the Atom’s alter ego, was named after Julie’s friend, a vertically challenged pulp magazine editor. And so on.
But when I saw Julie standing in the hall at a Lunacon one evening, I didn’t approach him just to squeeze some more DC lore out of him. The guy was past eighty, after all, and it was after eleven o’clock, and I wanted to make sure he was all right. “Don’t worry about me,” he said, “I’m just waiting for my ride to say his goodnights.”
Still, I hung around to keep him company. “So where do you live?” I asked him.
“Queens,” he told me.
“I grew up in Queens,” I said. “Whereabout?”
“Near Springfield Boulevard and Union Turnpike.”
“No way. I grew up near Springfield Boulevard and Union Turnpike. Where exactly?”
“An apartment building. It’s called Cambridge Hall.”
“Are you kidding?” I said. “I used to deliver groceries to Cambridge Hall. Which building?”
He told me. I knew a half-dozen people who lived there.
“Julie,” I said, “do you know how lucky you are?”
“Well,” he said, “I guess you could say I was fortunate. I’ve worked at things I’ve enjoyed, even loved, for most of my life. Not too many people can say that.”
“No,” I said, “that’s not what I mean. If I’d known Julie Schwartz lived in Cambridge Hall while I was growing up, I would have been knocking on your door every day. You never would have gotten rid of me. That’s what I mean when I say you were lucky.”
Which was right about the time Julie’s ride showed up to take him home.
Julie passed away a couple of years later at the age of 88. I went to a memorial service for him. He had selected the music himself.
I’ve met lots of inspiring people. Talented people. People to whom I owe a debt of gratitude for enriching my life.
But none to whom I owed more than Julie Schwartz.