Editor’s note: DC Comics President Paul Levitz returns to Blog@ once again to post memories of meeting Will Elder and E.C. Comics.
by Paul Levitz
The passing of Will Elder has me thinking of the amazing moment in time that was E.C. Comics. I think we met at 1972′s legendary E.C. Fan-Addict Convention, but that was my first encounter with so many great talents it’s kind of a blur, and I have a sweet thank you note from him in the file (the desk sometimes lets me get thanked for acts that are just common decency, but it doesn’t stop me from enjoying the contact with the greats of my field).
Anyway, two forces seem to have come together at E.C.’s offices down at 225 Lafayette Street (an easy stroll from the Puck Building if you’re coming to town for the MOCCA event on June 7-8) — It’s full of our history, from the All-American offices that Max Gaines and Shelly Mayer presided over, to an artists’ studio shared by Steve Mitchell and Bob Smith decades later. The first was Bill Gaines’ singular gift for creating an atmosphere in which talent flourished and felt appreciated. Dick Giordano used to articulate a theory that running a comics company was mostly creating the environment in which great creative work could happen, then stepping back out of its way (Dick says this better, but I’m paraphrasing). No one was ever better at this than Bill. He was chief of the naughty boys, instigating, contributing, inspiring (and perhaps only topped by Elder as a prankster); the grown-up who somehow got them paid; and their chief fan.
The second was the additive, competitive nature of talented people. When a few start doing great work, it raises the bar for the others around them, and miraculous things happen. Whether you talk about E.C., or the Marvel bullpen a decade later, or DC in the mid-80s, the brilliance of the best work seems to help more people rise to the peak moments of their career. Sometimes it’s helped by leadership (I’ll never forget Stan re-enacting how he warmed artists up over a burger at Hamburger Hamlet), sometimes it just happens and it’s up to the historians to figure out why.
In any case, the young men of E.C. were an incomparable bunch, at a unique moment in their careers. I worked with many of them two decades later, when the fires weren’t always burning as brightly. But you still would’ve adored them: Joe Orlando, my mentor and the most elfin trickster and teacher ever to grace DC’s halls; George Evans, whose love of the planes he drew twinkled in his eyes; Johnny Craig, still sending in immaculate and precise pages…and even the guys who the years hadn’t treated as well: Woody, scribbling Superman in a knight’s armor on a napkin; Roy Krenkel, visiting Joe and hauling page after page of the most intricate pen illustrations out of a gigantic, weathered portfolio; and even Jack Oleck, coming in to plot a half-dozen or more stories in a morning, as Joe would twist around every springboard to try to give him a new challenge.
Some of the gang I got to know later; Harvey Kurtzman, Al Feldstein, gentlemanly Jack Davis (whose quick self-portrait adorning one of those aforementioned thank yous could hang in a gallery), even Harry Harrison, recalling an awkward young Joe Orlando starting out in the studio he shared with Woody, over sandwiches of solid cholesterol at the Stage Deli.
If you never picked up the E.C. books in any of their forms, check out either the Gemstone Archive editions or our MAD Archives. You may not have gotten to meet the magicians in person, but you can still feel the magic.