This week and next, I'm going to be presenting excerpts from maybe the best panel I've seen in pert near three decades of shlepping to
comic conventions. And I'm sure that, here on newsprint, it won't seem all that cosmic. Just trust me on this one, people: You had to be
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 others.
So you 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 this one.
One of 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 are here.
No, the reason is John Broome.
John 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.
Few of 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 one.
And though 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.
Now comes 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 Seas magazine.
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. You 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 page rate?
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 Fawcett?
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
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 first met...
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 get.
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
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
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
M.E.: Now, after you started working for DC, did you work for any other comic book companies?
BROOME: I don't think so. Julie?
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 the story.
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).
And we will, next week in this space. But before we break, I'd like to thank Don Ensign, who was the only person in the place
with enough smarts to bring a camcorder and capture this whole, historic panel for posterity. (By the way, Don, there's something wrong with
your camera. It makes comic book writers look grossly overweight,)
It was transcribed for Gene Kehoe's excellent publication, It's a Fanzine, and I borrowed that transcript to present here.
And that's the perfect name for that publication, by the way. When Gene sent me a couple of recent issues, I looked at them and exclaimed, with
great delight, "It's a fanzine!"
That's what it is, all right. It's a fanzine, just like a lot of us published and/or contributed to in the sixties and
seventies. It even looks like one, and it's full of reviews and essays and letters about comics, past and present. Give it a try. I
don't make a dime off it and, since it's a fanzine, Gene probably doesn't, either.
And meet us back here next week for the conclusion of our chat with John Broome. Sure beats suffering through my silly stories
about our old comic book club, doesn't it?
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