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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.


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

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.