Tuesday, June 21, 2011

LEW SAYRE SCHWARTZ (1926-2011)

Lew Sayre Schwartz died a couple of weeks ago (June 7th). Schwartz is best known as one of several early Batman artists who were anonymous to comic book fans for years because they did "ghost" work for Bob Kane. Kane, co-creator of Batman, outsourced his Batman work to other artists, but then signed his own name. Schwartz worked for Kane from 1948-53.1 Schwartz moved on to ghosting a couple of comic strips before going into the advertising field and producing commercials. In 1982, he produced a documentary on Milton Caniff, but his association with Caniff started long before that.

TwoMorrows publisher Jon Cooke did a comprehensive interview with Schwartz for Alter Ego2. Schwartz told Cooke that he grew up loving the comic strips, and got turned on to Milton Caniff's work at age 13. He began a youthful correspondence with Caniff, which evolved into Caniff being something of a mentor and father figure to Schwartz. Though Schwartz never made a name for himself in strips, he worked on staff at King Features both before the war and during the 1950s. Schwartz joined the National Cartoonist Society in 1946, in the first year of its founding by Caniff and others. To Schwartz, comic books were inferior to comic strips, and he didn't mind that his Batman work was anonymous. In Alter Ego, he and Cooke had this exchange:
SCHWARTZ: I didn't mind at all the fact that nobody knew about me. In some respects, I didn't want Caniff or Alex Raymond to know that I was drawing "Batman," and they were friends of mind.
COOKE: Really? You didn't even tell Caniff that you were drawing "Batman"?
SCHWARTZ: Never...I never told Milt.
COOKE: Were you ashamed?
SCHWARTZ: At that particular time it was beneath my status...or my objectives. Let's put it that way.

Even after Schwartz left comics, the two kept in touch. As told in the documentary, as well as the Cooke interview and R.C. Harvey's Caniff biography, Caniff helped him out of a non-comics jam. Schwartz and his production company were working on the title sequence for Stanley Kubrick's "Dr. Strangelove." Fearing the film's sentiment, the military had cut off their cooperation. The problem was, Kubrick needed footage of the atomic bomb explosion for his ending. Kubrick asked Schwartz if he had any contacts, and Schwartz said "I only know one guy." Caniff, from his WWII work and post-war military boosterism, especially of the Air Force, was a friend of the military. "Why don't you ask me for something hard," Caniff said. He then a called a general who then talked to Schwartz and had only question, "Do you need 16mm or 35mm?"

Schwartz self-financed a documentary about Caniff in 1982. It includes Schwartz interviewing Caniff (see picture at top) as well as Noel Sickles, Mort Walker and others. It may be the only video interview footage of Sickles in existence. The documentary relates many interesting anecdotes and is a nice look at Caniff at age 75, still plugging away at his craft. The video is bookended by fellow Eagle Scout Walter Cronkite, giving due praise to Caniff as a national treasure.

I'm racking my brain trying to think of where and when I met Lew Sayre Schwartz. It was at a comic show in 2002. I'm not sure what we talked about as the memory is very fuzzy. He had a copy of his Caniff documentary, but none for sale. He said I could order one from him and he'd mail it to me. He sent me a postcard after receipt of the check, letting me know they were doing the transfer to VHS and would mail it out soon. Lew Sayre Schwartz was a very nice guy who led an interesting life.

The Caniff documentary was only sold briefly by Schwartz himself, but there was no commercial release. Schwartz followed up his Caniff documentary with one on Norman Rockwell. DVD copies are available here.

1Schwartz's earliest Batman work has been collected in Batman Archives volumes 6 and 7. Volume 6 can be found for $25-40, but 7 is rare, going for around $100.

2Alter Ego #51 from TwoMorrows Publishing can be purchased here.

1 comment:

Randy Reynaldo said...

I think his documentary on Caniff was shown at the San Diego Comic-Con awhile back, which I saw.