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At first glance, the everyday geek may think I've lifted this week's title from Mel Brooks' sci-fi parody Spaceballs, but I didn't. In fact, I stole this one from science-fiction legend Harlan Ellison.
And it didn't come from one of Ellison's many works of fiction, but from a work of fact—an obituary. Ellison invoked Brooks' whimsical line in memory of a pivotal figure in science-fiction history, someone many of you may have never heard of: Julius Schwartz.
For those geeks out there (myself included) steeped in the lore of comic books, Schwartz was a legend. He was the editor who almost single-handedly instigated what comic book historians refer to as the "Silver Age," a revitalization of flagging World War II-era superheroes using science-fiction sensibilities.
Beginning in 1956 with The Flash, Schwartz breathed sci-fi life into some of the most notable superhero characters ever created, including Green Lantern, The Atom, and Hawkman. His success at revamping "second-tier" characters led National Publications (now DC Comics, a division of AOL Time Warner) to hand Julie (as he was affectionately known) the then-in-danger-of-being-cancelled Batman series in 1964.
Julie so thoroughly revived the Dark Knight Detective that the comic's success spawned the notoriously campy Batman television series starring Adam West. Don't hold that against him, though; Julie disliked the goofiness of the show as much as most comics purists.
Suffice it to say, no one was surprised when Julie took over the reins to the Superman family of comics in 1971, a post he held for 15 years. During Schwartz's tenure, the Man of Steel graced the cover of Time magazine, earning Superman enough interest in Hollywood to suit up a film or three starring Christopher Reeve.
When Schwartz finally retired from DC Comics in 1989, he did so as editor emeritus, a post created specifically to honor and acknowledge his 45 years of service to the company, the industry, and the genre at large. When Julie passed away at the age of 88 on Feb. 8, 2004, nearly every major comic book figure eulogized him as the man who saved comics. His work ensured that the art form outlived him.
Yet, perhaps ironically, Schwartz's influence on comic books is not necessarily why science-fiction fans owe him a debt of gratitude. Julie's greatness also emanates from his work in the years before becoming a comic book editor, when he left perhaps an even more significant—and more unheralded—mark on the world of science fiction and fandom.
WHAT WAS JULIUS SCHWARTZ'S PROFESSION BEFORE BECOMING A COMIC BOOK EDITOR?
Before launching comic's "Silver Age," what did legendary comic book editor Julius Schwartz do for a living, a period in Julie's illustrious career worthy of note by every fan of science fiction, comic books, or otherwise?
From the mid-1930s to the mid-1940s, Schwartz was a literary agent for an ad hoc company called the Solar Sales Service, an agency exclusively devoted to helping science-fiction writers place short stories in the budding sci-fi magazines of the day. While that in and of itself wouldn't necessarily make Julie remarkable, Solar Sales' client list, and the particular careers that he helped launch, persuasively spell out exactly how influential Schwartz and his company were.
Ray Bradbury, H.P. Lovecraft, Alfred Bester, Robert Heinlein, Henry Kuttner, Stanley Weinbaum, Leigh Brackett, Manly Wade Wellman, Eric Frank Russell, Otto Binder.... At one point or another, Schwartz represented each of these authors, if only for one story, but usually for more.
Most of them—Bradbury and Bester in particular—considered Schwartz a friend. All of them owe him some measure of their success, especially Bradbury, whose career took off partly on the merit of Julie's tireless efforts to see him published.
And if that doesn't convince you that Schwartz was a pivotal figure in the birth of modern science fiction, try this on for size: Schwartz was one of the founding editors and publishers of The Time Traveller, the first widely successful science-fiction fan magazine.
He followed that up with efforts on the semi-professional Science Fiction Digest, which ran from 1932 to 1934. In other words, Julie helped invent the "fanzine," one of the pillars of the thriving sci-fi fan culture of today.
He was also an early member of the Scienceers, a Bronx-based science-fiction fan club started circa 1930, which, in many ways, was the template for organized fandom today. For nearly 75 years, Schwartz carved a science-fiction legacy that few nonwriters can match, one that remains a wonder to behold for sci-fi buffs and Trivia Geeks everywhere.
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The Quibble of the Week
If you uncover a questionable fact or debatable aspect of this week's Geek Trivia, just post it in the discussion area of the article. Every week, yours truly will choose the best post from the assembled masses and discuss it in the next edition of Geek Trivia.
This week's quibble comes from the Sept. 8 edition of Geek Trivia, "A date with destiny." TechRepublic member Sauna reports a glaring omission to my list of geek-significant dates that celebrate anniversaries on Sept. 8.
"Another renowned event of Sept. 8 is the publication of the famous comic strip Blondie back in 1930. This comic has been one of the top five comics in syndication for the past seven decades! And did you know that the Dagwood Sandwich is actually in the dictionary because of this strip?"
You're right, dear reader, the Blondie-versary certainly should have qualified. And now, I need a sandwich.
The Trivia Geek, also known as Jay Garmon, is a former advertising copywriter and Web developer who's duped TechRepublic into underwriting his affinity for movies, sci-fi, comic books, technology, and all things geekish or subcultural.
Jay Garmon has a vast and terrifying knowledge of all things obscure, obtuse, and irrelevant. One day, he hopes to write science fiction, but for now he'll settle for something stranger — amusing and abusing IT pros. Read his full profile. You can also follow him on his personal blog.