x – Jack Schiff’s Shift

by Jimmm Kelly

myffxtra.shad

batman annual 2.back

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> getting to know jack schiff

> how jack schiff saved green arrow’s life

see also . . .

 THE LAST DAYS OF THE DYNAMIC DUO

THE FINAL DAYS OF THE GOTHAM GANGBUSTERS

12 Last Months of Batman and Robin

>

getting to know jack schiff

In the early ’40s, National Allied Publications was also known as Detective Comics, Inc. (or DC)–owned by Harry Donenfeld. All-American Comics, Inc., had a distribution deal with DC–and M.C. Gaines owned that company, with Sheldon Mayer as his head editor.

Whitney Ellsworth was the editor of record on the DC side of things, he was really for most of that time the managing editor and Jack Schiff was the real editor on many DC titles–especially once Ellsworth went Hollywood. On Mike’s Amazing World of DC Comics site, Jack Schiff is credited as being a DC editor from late 1942 to 1967, during which time he edited every genre of comic imaginable.

Jack Schiff

Jack Schiff

I worked with Schiff for years. I found him intelligent, caring, fair and literate– a combination which Mort Weisinger, who took over from Schiff was thoroughly lacking.

Schiff could write as well. None of the other editors at DC except Kanigher could write, not even Jack Miller who started as a writer and got a job as editor.

Schiff was not easy to work with in the sense that he wouldn’t swallow a bad plot. But he could plot himself and I remember with pleasure some of the plotting sessions we had. But more than that, Schiff went out of his way to see that writers and artists were treated fairly within the limits of his role as an editor.

I remember him fondly, and was supposed to visit him a couple of years before his death and some years after his retirement, while traveling from Florida to my New Brunswick, Canada summer home. Unfortunately, I was unable to make that stopover, so while we had some correspondence, I never saw Jack again after I left DC in 1958.

He was the man mostly responsibe for the quality of writing and grammar at DC. He always had a Fowler on his desk, and he alone of the editors knew that a subordinate clause containing a subject and predicate even when it was the object of the whole sentence did not use ‘whom’ but ‘who’. He was, for the comics business, the only quality editor I ever came across.

–Alvin Schwartz, writer of Batman and Superman in the ’40s and ’50s, author of AN UNLIKELY PROPHET.

In the ’40s, Schiff edited ACTION COMICS, BATMAN, DETECTIVE COMICS, SUPERMAN, ADVENTURE COMICS, MORE FUN COMICS, WORLD’S FINEST COMICS, BOY COMMANDOS, LEADING COMICS (among others). In 1948, Mort Weisinger took over SUPERMAN and ACTION, but Schiff remained on ADVENTURE through 1953, when Weisinger took over that title, as well. And Jack remained on BATMAN, DETECTIVE, and WORLD’S FINEST until 1964. Schiff was also editor on GANG BUSTERS, DALE EVANS COMICS, WESTERN COMICS, TOMAHAWK, BUZZY and many others. (You can see a good deal of his credits on Mike’s DC Database).

PSA by Jack Schiff and Bob Oksner ('64)

PSA by Jack Schiff and Bob Oksner (’64)

When I became a fan of DC comics in the ’60s, it was as much for all the extras they offered as for the excellent covers and lead features.

The public service announcements (PSAs), written by Schiff,  appeared in every type of title that DC put out–giving the company an identity.

I always looked on National Periodical Publications as a responsible institution looking out for the welfare of its readers.  Very different from the Marvel Comics Group that operated like hucksters for their own self-benefit.

Although really, I guess DC and Marvel presented two sides of the same American identity. DC as the patriotic citizen devoted to community; Marvel as the scrappy individualist fighting for his own piece of the pie.

I certainly had my personal prejudices when I was a kid, but the benefit of growing older (if there is one) is that you get a chance to revise your opinions. A lot of people bash the Batman comics in the late 50s and early 60s, but as the years go by,  I grow to love these comics more and more. And even if you subtracted those comics, you would have to give Schiff enormous props for all the Batman stories that he edited at the front end of his career.

As Winston Churchill famously said: History is written by the victors. But he also said: History will be kind to me for I intend to write it.

Jack Schiff didn’t get to write his own history, while others have written it for him. Not so much by victors–because comic history is not a story of great victories (only small ones)–but by fans who never bothered with a lot of the comics that Schiff edited or didn’t bother to know how much he edited.

Others, who might have a more favourable opinion of Schiff, still presume that some of the work is bad–especially the Batman comics from the later ’50s and early ’60s–and then they try to explain why that’s not all Jack’s fault. To me this seems to put the cart before the horse.

I assume that the comics are good in their own right, but they’re misunderstood and judged by a standard that is wrongly applied to them.  Most of the little kids who enjoyed these comics (in great numbers at the time) didn’t go on to write the history of comics when they grew up–so their opinion has been overshadowed by fans who preferred a different sort of comic.

In any case, it’s not the role of the historian to judge, rather to understand.

> Also, even after Julie Schwartz became the editor on DETECTIVE and BATMAN (with Weisinger on WORLD’S FINEST), Schiff still edited all the BATMAN ANNUALs/80 PAGE GIANTs–with one notable exception*–until his retirement. At which point E. Nelson Bridwell took over. While Bridwell was a great reprint editor, I feel that the collections that Schiff edited have a unique identity in being edited by the very guy who edited those stories in the first place. And often the letter columns in those GIANTs make for interesting reading.

*The notable exception, by the by, was BATMAN 176 (aka 80 PAGE GIANT G-17) which is credited to Schwartz. Released in late ’65, the line-up of stories always struck me as being some kind of set-up for the upcoming TV show (featuring characters and stories that the producers might have consulted–including the Joker’s Utillity Belt, Mr. Zero (aka Mr. Freeze), Catwoman, and a caveman plot that might have inspired King Tut).

 

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how jack schiff saved green arrow’s life

It’s a commonly repeated factoid that the only super-heroes to survive in continuous publication, after the Golden Age and after the culling of costumed crimefighters in the ’50s, were Superman, Batman (and Robin), Wonder Woman, Aquaman and Green Arrow.

How Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman survived seems self-evident. They all were featured in some of the best selling comics at the time. They were popular. It’s easy to assume that Aquaman and Green Arrow survived by riding their coat-tails–or rather their capes. In point of fact, since both Aquaman and Green Arrow were featured in ADVENTURE COMICS in the ’50s, they might have survived by being featured in the same book that starred Superboy (adventures of Superman when he was a boy). Green Arrow had the extra luck of also appearing in WORLD’S FINEST COMICS.

Now how did Aquaman and Green Arrow have the good fortune to stay in ADVENTURE for all that time? I assumed it had to be Mort Weisinger, who co-created both characters and as the editor of ADVENTURE COMICS–out of his own self-interest–who saved them. That might be part of it, but it’s not that simple. The route toward their salvation–and in particular Green Arrow’s–was a Rube Goldberg kind of journey.

Rube Goldberg was a famous cartoonist in the early 20th century now mainly known for his wonderful machines which lined up numerous causal links to perform simple tasks. The domino effect is a simple illustration of this causal linking, but Goldberg’s systems were much more fanciful than dominos, showing a circuitous route between point A and point B.

This effect occurs in nature all the time and it’s a guiding principle in publishing. While one might think that a straight line is the shortest distance between two points, things in the real world rarely happen that way. When we look back on funny book history now, using linear thinking, we assume that straight correlations should account for why the history developed the way it did. But this was never how it really was.

To trace the journey of Green Arrow and Aquaman, we first have to look at MORE FUN COMICS, which didn’t start out as MORE FUN COMICS.

1934, Major Malcolm Wheeler Nicholson gets in on the ground floor of a new medium spun off from the Sunday funnies. His company is called National Allied.

> January ’35, Nicholson launches NEW FUN.  A compilation of adventure strips (fantasy heroes, period drama, crime busters, thrill seekers) and funny cartoons–NEW FUN contains all new material, designed to look like Sunday funnies–unlike other early funny books that simply reprinted the Sunday funnies.

NEW COMICS is launchd later that year. I suppose that having two titles both called “NEW” could get confusing, so NEW FUN became MORE FUN.

Short on funds, the Major gets help from Harry Donenfeld to launch more titles.

1937, the next ongoing is DETECTIVE COMICS (thus the intials D.C.–which either stand for “Detective Comics” or “Donenfeld Comics,” take your pick). To bring uniformity to the line MORE FUN becomes MORE FUN COMICS–and all three titles now use the same font for “COMICS” in their logos.

NEW COMICS, to emphasize its content, adds the word ADVENTURE and becomes NEW ADVENTURE COMICS and soon the NEW was dropped and it simply became ADVENTURE COMICS. Got that?

National Allied aka DC launches a 4th ongoing anthology in 1938ACTION COMICS--featuring Superman!

The popularity of Superman–starts the whole trend toward using mystery men in comics (mystery men being another term for what we now call super-heroes). Each of the DC anthology titles needed to have its own mystery man.

DETECTIVE COMICS adds the Crimson Avenger to its line up in issue 20. Then  Batman in issue 27.

ADVENTURE COMICS gets Sandman.

MORE FUN COMICS takes a longer time recruiting its mystery man but eventually puts in the Spectre.

> 1940, All-American Comics, Inc., publishes FLASH COMICS with a multitude of mystery men, showing that more than one super-hero can appear in an anthology.

ADVENTURE COMICS adds Hourman to its roster.

MORE FUN COMICS gets Doctor Fate.

The long running Tex Thompson in ACTION becomes a mystery man, Mr. America, with his own costumed sidekick, Fatman.

Starman (co-created by Jack Schiff with Jack Burnley) comes on board ADVENTURE in issue 61 and the Shining Knight in issue 66.

The Shining Knight is set in modern day, but has some period elements and might be considered a hybrid hero–knight + mystery man. Hybrids are the new thing. ACTION COMICS soon adds its own hybrid, the Vigilante (cowboy + mystery man), in issue 42.

1941, Mort Weisinger is the editor of MORE FUN COMICS (and other DC titles). Doctor Fate remains the cover-featured character, but Weisinger adds his own speedster in issue 71 (cover dated September ’41) on sale July 24 ’41. Competing with the Flash, Johnny Quick is co-created by Mort with artist Mort Meskin.

In issue 73 (November ’41), on sale in September, the same month as the Vigilante’s debut, MORE FUN adds two more heroes, also co-created by Weisinger: Green Arrow (and Speedy)–co-created with artist George Papp; and Aquaman–co-created with artist Paul Norris.

Green Arrow and Speedy are also lucky enough to get a place in the Seven Soldiers of Victory (along with Shining Knight, Crimson Avenger, Vigilante, Star Spangled Kid and Stripesy) in the first issue of LEADING COMICS (Winter ’41), on sale December 7 ’41 (Pearl Harbor Day).

The luck runs out for the SSoV pretty quick, but Green Arrow also scores a spot in WORLD’S FINEST COMICS, starting with issue No. 7 (Fall ’42), on sale July 31 ’42.

By the end of ’42, Mort Weisinger is called up for service in World War II, and Jack Schiff takes over titles that Mort had edited, including ADVENTURE, MORE FUN and WORLD’S FINEST (Green Arrow’s other home).

1944, Superboy is added to the MORE FUN roster with issue 101 (July-August ’44) on sale May 23 ’44.  Which turns out to be the last issue for the Spectre–Doctor Fate having already left in issue 98.

Not long after that, most of the MORE FUN occupants have to go begging for a place to stay. With issue 107 (January-February ’46), the format changes to all humour, leaving Dover and Clover (a Henry Boltinoff comedy feature) as the only remaining feature from the previous issues. Even Schiff himself has to leave MORE FUN.

Superboy, Johnny Quick, Green Arrow and Aquaman move into ADVENTURE COMICS 103 (April ’46), on sale February 28 ’46–with the Shining Knight, who has always made ADVENTURE his home. Another comedy feature, Genius Jones, which has been a resident of ADVENTURE, moves over to MORE FUN. But the other previous occupants–Sandman, Starman and Mike Gibbs–have  no place to go.

PSA by Jack Schiff and Win Mortimer. (1951)

PSA by Jack Schiff and Win Mortimer. (1951)

As of ADVENTURE COMICS 152 (May ’50), on sale March 29 ’50, the number of featured spots goes down from five to four. By this time, Superboy has his own title, but he isn’t about to give up ADVENTURE as he is now the star. Green Arrow has his regular spot in WORLD’S FINEST. But Green Arrow, Shining Knight, Aquaman and Johnny Quick have to jockey for position in ADVENTURE.

This goes on for a whole year, with one of the four being left out in any given issue, until issue 166, which was the last issue for the Shining Knight.

By the way, this might explain why Ramona Fradon had her long run on Aquaman. She had been the artist on Shining Knight for his last two stories in ADVENTURE, BUT when he lost that spot, Ramona was shifted onto Aquaman. Perhaps Schiff didn’t want to leave Fradon without a job, so he handed her the Sea King.

> 1953, Mort Weisinger resumes as editor on ADVENTURE COMICS (more than a decade after leaving it with Jack Schiff).

Then with ADVENTURE 205 (October ’54) pages are being cut from DC comics, which leaves only three spots open. Superboy holds his own, but now Green Arrow, Aquaman and Johnny Quick are on a round-robin for placement. Editor Weisinger has to choose between three characters he had created. Given that Green Arrow still has a spot in WORLD’S FINEST (edited by Schiff), Mort could have saved all three by cutting Green Arrow from ADVENTURE. But he didn’t do that, instead Weisinger cut Johnny Quick–issue 207 (December ’54) being the last for Johnny.

Another sea-change occurs when Congo Bill is pushed out of his long held spot in ACTION COMICS. He comes over to ADVENTURE COMICS with issue 270 (March ’60) on sale January 28 ’60. And that cuts Green Arrow out of ADVENTURE.

By this time, Aquaman is being featured with the Justice League, who got their first try-out the month before, in THE BRAVE AND THE BOLD 28 (February-March 1960) on sale December 29 ’59.

Aquaman goes on to get his own try-out in 1960 which led to the ongoing AQUAMAN title. Green Arrow had been left out of the Justice League but at least he still had his spot in  WORLD’S FINEST, thanks to Jack Schiff!

Julius Schwartz said that it was simply a mistake that he omitted Green Arrow from the Justice League and he soon corrected the error when it was brought to his attention by the fanmail. However, I think that Schwartz was being politic. The group featured seven characters (odd numbers are always better for team books)–two belonged to Schwartz (Flash and Green Lantern). Two belonged to Schiff (Batman and Martian Manhunter). Two belonged to Weisinger (Superman and Aquaman). And one belonged to Kanigher (Wonder Woman). Schwartz was just maintaining an editorial balance.

Months later, Green Arrow got his spot on the Justice League. And a few years later, Green Arrow lost his feature in WORLD’S FINEST, when Jack Schiff left that title.  Without the Justice League to keep him in the public eye, Green Arrow might’ve gone the way of other second banana heroes. He was kept on life support by the guy who had ignored him–Julie Schwartz.

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All on sale dates might be approximate, as provided by Mike’s Amazing World of Comics (The Newsstand) and by other sources.

All characters, logos, and images are owned and © 2013 by current copyright holders. They are used here for educational and review purposes.

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