BY MARK EVANIER
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED 4/16/99
Let me set the scene.
It’s Day Three of last year’s Comic Con International in San Diego…August
14, 1998, 4:00 in the afternoon. The room is packed. An amazing
percentage of those present are professional comic book writers, most of
them the right age to have read comics in the sixties or before: Marv Wolfman,
Kurt Busiek, Roy Thomas, Mark Waid, Dan Raspler, Mike Friedrich and many
know right there, this is something special. Folks who do comics
almost never go to convention panels not unless they’re up there behind
the table, answering questions. Still, they’ve all turned out for
those on this panel is Murphy Anderson, one of our best artists.
Another is Julius Schwartz, one of our best editors. They are fine
gents, well worth hearing…but they are this is not a criticism convention
regulars. Everyone in the room knows them. In fact, a high
percentage of those present has actually worked for Julie. Important
though they are, Anderson and Schwartz are not the reason all these writers
reason is John Broome.
Broome wrote for DC from 1946 until 1970. Most of his work was done
for Julie, who was also his best pal. But it was not friendship that
caused the man they call B.O. Schwartz (for “Be Original”) to have Broome
writing Flash and Green Lantern and Batman and The Atomic Knights and so
many more. It was because John Broome was a terrific writer arguably
among the three-or-so best among many fine writers who worked for DC over
the years. Many in the room might say he was the best, but I don’t
want to go there.
them have met Broome before this convention. He did his last script
for DC before most of them were in the field. He has always been
a world traveller, so even when he was working at DC, he was often away
from the office for months at a time. He has been away from comics
altogether since ’70 and has never been to a comic convention before this
he’s a Guest of Honor at this convention, the con didn’t arrange for him
to be here, didn’t pay his way over from Tokyo, where he now resides.
An ad hoc group of Broome fans, headed by Rich Morrissey, arranged it and
put up the bucks. That’s how important it is to them to have him
here, to meet him, to hear him. All would be pleased to find him
a charming, self-effacing gentleman. He blushed every time someone
said to him, “You were a major influence on me,” which meant that he did
a lot of blushing at the con.
the panel, which I get to moderate, along with Mike Barr another writer
who lists Broome as a major influence. Here is some of what was said
in a room thick with love and respect…
M.E.: You have an enormous
number of fans out here. We have all loved your work for many years
and I can’t tell you how much I have stolen from you. I want to go
back to the earliest part of your career. I believe the first comics
you wrote were for Fawcett. What was the first?
JOHN BROOME: I remember
the very first one. I don’t remember much after that (laughs).
If I’m correct and I might not be entirely correct because that was
a long, long time ago the first one wasn’t a super-hero at all.
It was an ordinary guy in the South Seas named Lance O’Casey. It
was just an adventure story. Just like you might read in the South
JULIUS SCHWARTZ: Edited
by Ray Palmer…who was the real Atom.
M.E.: At that time, you
wanted to write professionally ?
BROOME: I think I realized
that I wasn’t good enough to be a real top notch science-fiction writer.
know, these things happen. You just want to be something and you
don’t get to be it. Your wishes are completely disregarded by somebody
who regulates these things. (Audience laughs). And so,
when I found out that I could make money in comics, I became a comics writer.
SCHWARTZ: I must interrupt
Mr. Broome. I was your agent for a while and I sold at least 12 science-fiction
stories. That’s not too bad.
BROOME: Not too bad.
But they weren’t very good.
SCHWARTZ: I sold them
they must have been great. (Audience laughs).
BROOME: You were one salesman.
M.E.: What were your influences
as a writer? What did you read that excited you?
BROOME: I read everything.
I was a reader. I wasn’t a writer, I was a reader! I loved
them all all the great writers…H.G. Wells, Bernard Shaw, Tolstoy, Dostoevsky…I
read them all. That had nothing to do with my comics career. Comics
is a very special field and, somehow, it suited me. That was what
made me realize that somehow. I was being cared over by something, somebody,
somewhere. Somebody was taking care of me! I realized that,
all of a sudden. Later on, it became more obvious but, at that time,
it was the first inkling that I wasn’t going to have to go out and hold
out a tin cup in order to make my dinner. I could make my money writing
comics. That was the big event of my life!
M.E.: What was your first
BROOME: A dollar a page!
(Audience laughs). Julie, is that right?
SCHWARTZ: Not at DC , I
beg your pardon! (laughs)
M.E.: How did you get into
BROOME: That’s a good question.
I think I heard that Fawcett was publishing comic books. There was
someone named Wendell Crowley who was editor at Fawcett and somehow, I
got the chance to try-out…to write a story and have it looked at.
From there on, it went like that.
M.E.: Was this before or
after you sold the science-fiction stories?
BROOME: I think it was right
in the middle of it. Julie and I were trying to figure out when we
SCHWARTZ: Not just when
but who first introduced us. We came to the conclusion that it was
a good friend of John’s I think he went to Brooklyn College with you
named David Levine at that time. Then he changed his name to David
Vern and wrote science-fiction and many comics under the name of David
V. Reed. Also, David knew Mort Weisinger and he came up and did some
comics and he brought John along. This is about as close as we can
M.E.: Did you do any super-hero
stuff at Fawcett?
BROOME: Yeah, I did Captain
Marvel. He was a good character. He wasn’t up to Superman or
Batman, but he was a good character.
M.E.: How did you get from
Fawcett to DC?
BROOME: Through Julie, whom
I was getting to know fairly well…then the Army intervened. I was
in the Army for two-and-a-half years. After I got out, Julie was
already established as an editor at DC. So all I did was to go up
to Julie’s office and start writing.
SCHWARTZ: That’s not quite
right. (Audience laughs) Alfred Bester got me my job at DC
or All-American, in that case. When Alfred left, he had been writing
Green Lantern. I persuaded a science-fiction writer named Henry Kuttner
to do some, which he did for a while, then he decided to move on.
I was doing fairly well with John on science-fiction. I said, “How
about trying some comics?” That is about the most reasonable explanation
I can think of.
BROOME: Do you remember
the editor of Amazing Stories, I think, or Astounding? When he read
one of my stories, he said, “This guy’s science is terrible.” Remember
that? Well, I never claimed to be a great scientist! (Audience laughs)
SCHWARTZ: But I’ll bet I
sold the story, anyway. So I think I immediately put John on Green
Lantern because I needed someone, and eventually, he did some Flashes.
But the main thing he did, as far as I was concerned, was to take over
the stories that were appearing in All-Star Comics that dealt with the
Justice Society of America. He wrote many of the latter stories before
the magazine was discontinued. I hope there is an expert in here.
I said to John, I think you did a backup story in All-Star Comics about
a girl in the future called Astra. Does anyone know anything about
that? Oh, Mark Waid!
MARK WAID: That was actually
in Sensation Comics.
(This is M.E. here in italics.
Sure enough, down in the front row, Mark Waid not only knows about Astra,
he happens to have a copy of her first appearance Sensation Comics #99,
Sept.-Oct. 1950 which he shares with the panel. It’s a treasure
which, he later tells me by e-mail, “by dumb luck I’d bought in the dealers’
room about an hour beforehand with no notion it might connect with Mr.
Broome in any way.”)
SCHWARTZ: That was a forgotten
gem. I always forget whenever I have questions about anything,
Mark Waid knows the answer.
M.E.: Now, after you started
working for DC, did you work for any other comic book companies?
BROOME: I don’t think so.
SCHWARTZ: You may have done
an occasional story for Mort Weisinger or Jack Schiff. Once he got
started at DC, he was treated very well. He got a fairly good rate,
as high as any in the field.
AUDIENCE MEMBER: Were you
familiar with Batman before you wrote him in 1964?
BROOME: Sure. I wrote
Batman for Mort Weisinger before Julie took over.
SCHWARTZ: How well John
knew Batman and how well I didn’t know Batman became apparent in the first
story that appeared [when I took over as editor]. The first error
was that Batman was on the hunt for the villain during the daytime.
The second was when Batman caught up with the villain, pulled a gun on
him and held him at bay. Neither one of us realized that Batman didn’t
use a gun, but we learned quickly.
M.E.: All right now…you
wrote westerns, science-fiction, super-heroes…Did you have a favorite
genre? Rex the Wonder Dog?
BROOME: Detective Chimp.
Rex the Wonder Dog was an important character. I remember being in
St. Tropez, writing Rex the Wonder Dog or Detective Chimp and it seemed
a little odd that I should be writing things like that in such a setting.
M.E.: No preference for
any type of story?
BROOME: I think I preferred
Hopalong Cassidy. I liked it because I could work in a more human
kind of story into these. I can remember giving someone advice about
breaking into comic books. “Start with the character,” I told him.
“Start with the character.” So when I was writing Hopalong Cassidy,
I would think of some doctor who has a problem, some lawyer who has a problem
something simple and work from there.
M.E.: Did you like the way
your scripts were illustrated?
BROOME: Yes, I think so.
I found that DC had good artists and they did a good job of illustrating
SCHWARTZ: I never thought
to ask. After the story appeared in print, did you look at it?
BROOME: Sometimes, I would
reread it. I would admire my own work! (Audience laughs). I
worked on a kind of philosophy of comics. I said that, “The essential
of comics is a gimmick that works!” And Shelly Mayer, who was my
editor somehow before Julie, said this about me. I’m boasting a little
now, because I don’t have much chance to boast, but this is my one chance.
(Audience laughs) He said he never came across a writer who, when
he hit it that is, when the gimmick was operating, hit it as hard as
I did. (Audience applause). I would work up a kind of a curve
of an idea. It would start off low and finally, all of a sudden
POW! That’s what I prided myself on when writing the story.
M.E.: Now, John, in the
1950s you wrote the Nero Wolfe comic strip, right?
BROOME: That’s right.
Is anyone going to ask me about the first union that ever existed?
M.E.: We’ll get to that.
(Audience laughs). Let’s discuss the way you worked with Julie.
How many pages did you write a week?
JOHN BROOME: I think I did
enough to make a living. As I said, I wrote for money. I don’t
want to disguise it. I wasn’t working to try and make a lot of friends.
I seem to have a lot of friends but I didn’t work for that. I went
for the money. I did the best I could, and Julie and I turned out to be
a good team. We complimented each other, we supplemented each other
and I could always rely on him to have a good reaction to any ideas that
I would bring up. People would often ask me, “Where do you get the
ideas?” Well, I don’t think any comic writer can ever tell you where
ideas come from. If you are a comics writer, you get ideas.
That’s your business to get ideas. I remember, I got an idea…”The
Guardians of the Universe!” That was an idea. As far as I know,
they didn’t exist. (Audience laughs) That didn’t keep me
from writing about it. That’s what the stories were based on ideas.
JULIUS SCHWARTZ: That originated
in a science-fiction story, I believe, that appeared in either Strange
Adventures or Mystery in Space. It was called “Guardians of the Clockwork
Universe.” That eventually lead into the Guardians that appeared
in the Green Lantern series. Incidentally, why do aliens have to
look different from the way we do? Maybe in this particular universe,
all the aliens look alike. The Guardians of the Universe were
all based on the prime minister of Israel, Abin Sur.
MARK WAID: No, not Abin
SCHWARTZ: Oh, right!
M.E.: Abin Sur was the
first Green Lantern. Would you describe for us what it was like
to work with Julie in the typical session? You would come in the
morning and he would tell you what he needed?
SCHWARTZ: He would probably
say, “What are you going to have for lunch?” (Audience laughs)
BROOME: He would say what
he needed. For example, he would say, “I need a 12-page Flash story.”
We always knew the number of pages ahead of time. That was very important.
An idea for a story had to be bigger for twelve pages than for six or eight.
You had to get the right kind of idea for the length of the story, and
that came with practice.
SCHWARTZ: Well, of course,
we came up with the idea of having the cover first. We had a provocative
cover and it was a challenge to us to look at the cover and figure out
how a thing like that happened. A typical example was the Flash
cover in which he was holding up a big hand toward the reader and the copy
read, “Stop! Don’t pass up this magazine! My life depends on
it!” (Audience laughs). We worked it out and it became
a beautiful story.There was another reason, incidentally, why we had the
cover done first. After the artwork was done, there might not be
a decent cover scene in it, so it was much better to get the cover beforehand.
Poor Murphy, poor Gil Kane, poor Carmine Infantino, poor Mike Sekowsky
would pace up and down, trying to think up an original cover idea.
Sometimes, nothing came out but some days, you’d get three or four.
I’d present the cover to John and say, “OK, let’s solve it!” We had
a great time doing it
BROOME: That’s right.
The cover sometimes provided the story in a sketchy kind of way.
Then I’d work out some kind of understanding or explanation of the cover.
The cover usually presented some kind of mystery. Something was happening,
someone was getting poisoned, or frozen or killed or something like that.
M.E.: You would come up
with ideas and he would come up with ideas…
BROOME: I would usually
have a day or two because he would contact me by telephone and, a day or
two later, I would come in with some ideas for a story. I might have
several ideas and he would pick one of them. He knew what was good
and what wasn’t. Then we began the most intricate and interesting
part of our meeting, which was the plot.
SCHWARTZ: No, it was discussing
where we were going to have lunch. (Audience laughs)
M.E.: After you settled
on lunch, you’d talk through the plot, you’d take notes?
SCHWARTZ: John never took
M.E.: You would go home
and write the script in a couple of days ?
BROOME: Maybe two or three,
maybe a week.
SCHWARTZ: No, let me interrupt
again. John would say, “When do you want the story?” I’d say,
“Wednesday,” for example. He’d come in Wednesday and have the story
done and the beautiful part was I had the check ready for him. In
Mort Weisinger’s case and Jack Schiff’s, the editor made you wait a few
days to a week. But my writers knew they the check was waiting in
my drawer, and that’s why most preferred to work for me. (Audience
laughs and claps)
MURPHY ANDERSON: Not true.
(Audience laughs) That was a factor but that was not the big thing.
M.E.: Julie, how often did
you want rewrites on these scripts?
SCHWARTZ: When the rewriting
had to be done, I did it. Yes, I would say, “John, I didn’t like
this,” but I would rewrite it myself. With John, there was very little
rewriting. Gardner Fox, quite a bit. It would be easier for
me to do it than to try to explain where again and bring it in. A
terrible example of that was Fox. He bought in a story we had plotted
and I said, “Oh my God, there’s a hole in the story,” and Gardner said,
“I know.” I said, “Why did you write it that way?” And he said, “That’s
the way we plotted it!” (Audience laughs) John always brought
it in on time and with very little rewriting.
ANDERSON: I can attest to
that. I’d get John’s scripts and there would hardly be any editing
at all. But with Gardner, it sometimes took quite a bit of figuring
M.E.: Let’s talk about
the Atomic Knights. What do you remember about how that strip
came to be?
BROOME: I remember, in the
beginning, we both got the feeling that it had something to do with King
Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table. We thought if we could
make a modern version of that spirit and the feeling, that would be a new
kind of comic that hadn’t been done and we would enjoy doing it. So
we worked out a third World War where life was almost destroyed and crime
was all over. And the Atomic Knights stand for justice and faith
and all that. So that is the way the story began.
M.E.: Murphy, do you remember
starting on the Atomic Knights? Was it one of you favorite assignments?
ANDERSON: Oh, yes, I remember.
Yes, that is something I really enjoyed doing. Except it was a back-breaker
and I was thankful it only appeared every three months.
AUDIENCE MEMBER: While
we are on the topic of the Atomic Knights, I just have to know this.
What did you get the idea for the giant dalmatians? (Audience
BROOME: That was one of
the stories? (Audience laughs) That’s been long ago!
M.E.: Towards the end of
your career at DC, there was an attempt to form a writer’s union…
BROOME: Oh, yeah.
I developed a fixed idea that DC should pay us for reprint material.
When they reprinted a whole story without paying us, that was a stealing
of our abilities. It was stealing something away from us. I
knew that, in movies and television and ASCAP [the composers’ union], they
paid royalties…so I thought comics should pay royalties and I talked
to the other writers. I didn’t talk to the artists…they were above
me, anyway. There were five or six writers Eddie Herron, Bob Haney, Otto
Binder, Gardner Fox, a few others. I think it took six or eight months
but one day, I got them all together all in the same room, ready to do
what we had to do, which was to march into Liebowitz’s office. Liebowitz
was the millionaire boss. We marched in and demanded reprint rights.
And Liebowitz, who I understand is still alive…he’s about 95 or something
SCHWARTZ: Or more!
BROOME: He didn’t waste
any time. He said, “Boys, I’ll give you a two dollar raise,” and
immediately, my union collapsed! (Audience laughs) That was
the end of the first union at DC.
M.E.: Can you give us a
year on that? About ’68 or so?
BROOME: By ’68, I was already
cashing out of the picture. It would be earlier. Maybe ’65
would be about right.
M.E.: Now were there other
grievances besides the reprints? Didn’t some of the guys want health
BROOME: Maybe. I think
maybe they had other demands, but that’s the only part I recall.
Liebowitz was afraid of me. He knew I was a danger to him.
I was going to cost him money! (Audience laughs). So he didn’t like
me but he really couldn’t get rid of me too easily.
M.E.: Now, one day, years
later, they started sending you reprint checks. How’d you feel the
first time you got one?
BROOME: I loved it!! (Audience
laughs and applause) I felt that I had it coming to me. The
new management, Jenette [Kahn] and a couple of others seem to me to be
a new breed, different from the old breed hanging on to their money.
SCHWARTZ: To show you an
instance…when the Flash went on television, I received a check, Robert
Kanigher received a check, Carmine received a check…John, they sent you
a check for how much?
BROOME: It was $5000.
SCHWARTZ: They didn’t have
to do it.
M.E.: So that was sometime
in the sixties. You didn’t work for DC much longer after that.
BROOME: Not much longer.
I wasn’t fired or anything like that. I just lost momentum.
I lost steam. I just couldn’t keep going. And so I went into
the business of teaching English, and that was the end of it.
AUDIENCE MEMBER: John, I
was wondering if there was any sense of competition between you and Gardner
Fox? I always feel that you guys were the two giants of DC writers.
Did you ever feel competitive with him?
BROOME: I’m afraid when
it came to comics writing I never recognized that I had any competition.
(Audience laughs and applause) We were good friends. He was
an honest man. I had a very enviable position. I remember Eddie Herron
some of you may remember a giant of a man. He said to me, “Your stories
are cold. Mine are warm.” He was trying to make up for the
fact that I had this great ‘in’ with Julie. I could travel around
the world, so he was jealous of me, as I’m afraid other people have been.
Marv Wolfman: Julie’s books
and comics back in the fifties and sixties for a long time never had credits.
However, there were always stories that all of us would say somehow resonated
a lot more than the others. Later on, when I became a professional
and had access to DC office files, I checked out all the stories from my
childhood that I liked. There were so many that you wrote that I
want thank you for my childhood, as everyone else here does, too.
M.E.: He’s basically saying
we all stole all our ideas from you. (Audience laughs)
AUDIENCE MEMBER: Mr. Broome,
I had a question regarding the current direction of Green Lantern.
How do you feel about DC taking your baby and turning Hal Jordan into a
SCHWARTZ: He knows nothing
M.E.: DC has done a storyline
in which Hal Jordan has become a mass murderer and gone crazy…
BROOME: I would never write
that story! (Audience applause and shouts of approval)
DAN RASPLER: Mr. Broome,
I’m an editor at DC Comics. I would just like to cordially offer
you the opportunity to, if you have any interest in writing a story for
DC Comics, we would always be interest in talking with you. (Audience
AUDIENCE MEMBER: I wonder
if you recall any of your favorite gimmicks that you came up with?
BROOME: That’s a good question!
As I’ve said, I think that is the key to a good, successful comic. It’s
very hard to say what a successful gimmick is. A gimmick could be
something like a banana peel. A typical example from newspaper comics
in the old days, they used to show a guy walking along and he would
slip on a banana peel and land on his head and that was considered very
funny. But if you put a banana peel down on a villain who is running away
from Green Lantern or Flash, you want him caught because he is an
evil person. Well, he slips on that banana at the right moment and
the reader feels great. The reader feels fate overtook him.
It’s what you used to say, Julie “tragedy struck and fate intervened!”
That was the slogan. We would joke and say. “At this point,
tragedy struck and fate intervened!” (Audience laughs)
M.E. again. This has
been an edited transcript of maybe the best panel I’ve ever seen at any
convention. Admittedly, what made it great cannot be reproduced here.
It was the massive amount of respect and affection that filled the room,
emanating from the audience to John Broome (and also between Broome and
his collaborators, Julie Schwartz and Murphy Anderson). At the end, Mr.
Broome received a standing ovation that rocked the convention center.
I hope, back in Tokyo where he now lives, he’s still hearing its echoes.
It was loud enough that he should.