Finally Closing on Broadway
For a while, if you were in New York City at night, and walked down Broadway, right under the marquee of the Ed Sullivan Theater where “Late Show With David Letterman” is filmed, you could glance across the street and see Superman. Or at least Superman’s “S” symbol, lit up in neon, shining down from a sixth floor window.
For most of my career in this business, DC Comics has had its offices at 1700 Broadway in Manhattan, right across from Letterman. Now, as DC Comics winds down its presence in New York City and relocates to Burbank, I can’t help but think back on the time I spent in those offices, and more importantly, the people I met there.
I started my career at Marvel, and it took a few years to break into DC. My first trips up to the DC offices were actually at the previous site, 1325 Avenue of the Americas. I can only remember being up there a couple of times. The last time was the day staff members were packing up to move to the new Broadway offices over the weekend.
The offices at 1700 Broadway, especially the sixth floor, were DC Comics for me. There was a feeling of community. Hanging out in an editor’s office was like visiting a clubhouse filled with art and comics and toys.
Living 90 minutes north of Manhattan, visiting DC was a quick trip for me. I’d take the Amtrak train in from the Rhinecliff station on the east side of the Hudson, and wind up at Penn Station, 20 blocks south of the office. Or I’d drive in, so I wasn’t hostage to the train schedule; New York State Thruway south to the Palisades Parkway, over the George Washington Bridge, then down the West Side Highway. I always parked at the same garage a few blocks away, driving in on 56th Street and out on 57th.
I would walk the few blocks over to Broadway. For a time, there was a strip club along my route. One day, the doorman was an African-American dwarf, dressed in a bright red overcoat with shiny gold buttons, and a matching red cap. The stream of filth coming out of his mouth to entice potential customers — one word, over and over — was such that I can’t repeat it here. Or maybe I’m mistaken, and he was just calling a lost cat.
I’d take the elevator up to the Superman-themed seventh floor lobby, where a statue of Superman (or sometimes Clark Kent) waited near faux phone booths. The receptionist would buzz whatever editor I was visiting — usually Kevin Dooley or Eddie Berganza — and then I’d take the elevator down to the sixth floor (you needed a key card to enter the actual office areas on six). The third floor lobby was Batman-themed, with memorabilia including production drawings of Gotham City by the late Anton Furst.
When the elevator doors opened on six, you were greeted by the huge jam piece featuring a plethora of DC characters by a plethora of artists. I was always partial to the Darkseid by Jack Kirby, and the OMAC by my friend Jim Starlin.
The offices themselves were pretty much like any other office space — solo offices for editors, with a view of the Ed Sullivan theater directly across the street. Assistant editors shared offices (without the view) across the hall. For a time, especially when I was exclusive to DC, it felt like home.
Visiting a publisher’s offices is a boon to a freelancer’s career. It makes you a face, not merely a name attached to an e-mail. You get so much more accomplished in the same room, rather than via electronic means. Assignments result from those visits; bumping into an editor in the hall can bear more fruit than a stack of pitches.
I was offered the writing gig on “Superboy” when I was up at the office, the editor essentially saying, “Hey, we need new, regular ‘Superboy’ writer. Do you want to do it?” I said yes, and started on it shortly thereafter. It was that simple.
I received an advance copy of “Fear Itself,” the Green Lantern graphic novel I did with artist Brad Parker, in the hallway. The project was years in the making, and my first hardcover. I felt like I’d been handed the holy grail, and basked in paging through it the entire train ride home.
I was up at DC one morning when editor Dan Raspler walked down the hall with a handful of faxes he had just retrieved from the machine. The faxes were Grant Morrison’s “JLA” pitch, for what would of course be perhaps the defining run on the book. Dan was reading passages from the pitch aloud to anyone who wanted to stop and listen.
When I was assigned the “Doctor Strangefate” Amalgam title — or probably more correctly, insisted on it — I sat down with editor Dan Thorsland in his office to talk about the art team. I remember saying, “I don’t care who you get to pencil it, but you have to get Kevin Nowlan to ink it.” Dan’s reply: “How about if we get Garcia-Lopez to pencil it?” I was too stunned to say anything more than, “Um… that’d be all right.” That issue is still the only time I’ve ever had stage fright writing something.
One July afternoon, I ducked out of a meeting and walked across Broadway to watch Smashing Pumpkins play a Letterman sound check from an outdoor stage set up on 53rd Street. Nice bonus to the visit.
I vividly remember being in editor Archie Goodwin’s office, pitching him the story that eventually became the long-lost Batman “Splash” issue by me, Bernie Wrightson and Kevin Nowlan. I didn’t do a great job of delivering the story, but Archie waved off my nervousness. As I’ve written before, Archie said something like, “Well, that sounds fine, I’m sure you know what you’re doing. I don’t like having to tell my stories to people either, because I always think I sound like an idiot.”
That was the same visit when Archie told me his philosophy as an editor, which still holds true: hire the right people, and then let them do their jobs. Archie was the best, and the industry has been poorer for his passing.
Meetings with editors most often turned into lunch meetings on DC’s dime. Quite a few restaurants in midtown Manhattan are going to miss DC’s presence. Denny O’Neil favored an Indian restaurant that had a great lunch buffet. Mike Carlin was partial to an Italian place a few blocks north. Kevin Dooley’s preference was sushi. I went for Thai food with Eddie Berganza and talked him into trying Thai Iced Tea for the first time. He had about three of them, and the combination of sugar and caffeine had him vibrating at Flash speed the rest of the day.
One of the DC Christmas parties was held, logically enough, at a club called Le Bar Bat on 57th, long gone now. My wife and I had been in Chinatown earlier, picking up a new up a Crosby horse saddle for her, then lugging the saddle around all day. We had so many friends at the party that it was the first time we told anyone, besides our families, that my wife was pregnant with our first child.
At the turn of the century — a phrase that still sounds weird to me — we moved to Florida so I could join CrossGen Comics. I didn’t visit DC for a few years, and during that span, 9/11 happened. I was driving to the CrossGen studio when NPR broke the news that the Towers had been hit that morning. The rest of the day was surreal, and I spent a lot of time thinking about friends in New York City, many of them DC staffers.
The next time I visited DC’s offices, the building had changed. One set of ground-level doors was locked, and the security desk now spanned the entire lobby. In order to pass through one of the security gates, you needed a key card. If you were just a visitor, you needed to show identification, and appear on that day’s guest list. If the editor had forgotten to put you on the list, it could be a hassle to get the situation rectified. It wasn’t DC’s fault, of course. It was merely a reflection of the new era in which all of us were living. The only thing constant is change, right? Even when editors just swapped offices, it felt like someone had snuck into the house and moved the furniture into unfamiliar places.
The change taking place at DC now obviously has a sense of permanence. The move west closes a long chapter in DC’s history, and opens another one. I haven’t visited the new offices in Burbank, but I hope to do so soon. DC made some promising editorial hires to staff up, while losing some truly great people who chose not to relocate.
Companies evolve. Looking forward to the future isn’t at odds with fondly remembering what’s come before. To everybody at DC in New York City, past and present, I’ll miss you all. It was a hell of a run.
Ron Marz has been writing comics for two decades, and thinks it’s pretty much the best job ever. His current work includes “Witchblade” and the graphic novel series “Ravine” for Top Cow, “The Protectors” for Athleta Comics, his creator-owned title, “Shinku,” for Image, and Sunday-style strips “The Mucker” and “Korak” for Edgar Rice Burroughs, Inc. Follow him on Twitter (@ronmarz) and his website, www.ronmarz.com.