Written by Bryan Stroud
Robert "Bob" Rozakis (born April 4, 1951) is an American comic book writer and editor known mainly for his work in the 1970s and 1980s at DC Comics, as the writer of 'Mazing Man and in his capacity as DC's "Answer Man". He was also responsible for the creation of DC characters such as Duela Dent (The Joker's Daughter), Mister E, Bumblebee, and Noah Kuttler. He first made a name for himself as a fan who would write in regularly to the letter columns in DC comics. From there he was able to transition into writing comics for DC.
Despite my fascination with DC's Silver Age, I am actually a Bronze Age baby, having purchased the 100-pagers and .20 and .25 copies off the spinner rack at my favorite stores. While the actual date of the Bronze Age is somewhat speculative, the Bronze Age tome by Paul Levitz pegs it at 1970 and my best friend and I (he being the webmaster at my home base, thesilverlantern.com) happen to agree. So while Bob Rozakis (the old lettercol guy who became one of the first to make the transition to professional at DC comics) is squarely in the Bronze Age, he was able to meet and interact with many of the Silver Age stalwarts - and being the "Answer Man," he seemed like an excellent interview candidate. I was not disappointed.
This interview originally took place via email on June 13, 2007.
Bryan Stroud: You lived out the dream of many fans, by getting on staff at DC. Were your letters to Julie (Schwartz) written as a means to an end or just for fun?
Bob Rozakis: I was writing the letters just for fun. When I was a senior in college, I went to visit DC and Julie was very cordial, owing to the fact that I had been one of his "lettercol regulars" for so long. It was after the visit that I thought, "Gee, maybe I can get a job here."
Stroud: What's your favorite DC Silver Age story?
Rozakis: "The Death of Superman," hands down.
Stroud: Tell us about your first visit to the DC offices.
Rozakis: Well, it was pretty amusing, actually, because they were treating me like I was a celebrity. (Or they were just amused that "this is one of those guys who writes all the letters, but he almost seems normal.")
Anyway, at the time, I had been doing some crosswords and word find puzzles for a fanzine and brought copies along because I thought Nelson Bridwell would enjoy them. Nelson shared an office with Julie and when Julie saw the puzzles, he grabbed them and ran out of the office. He came back a few minutes later with Sol Harrison, who asked if I could make up puzzles that were specific to Superman and Batman. When I said yes, he said, "Okay, do it and we'll buy them!"
So my visit led to immediate work. That was on a Friday afternoon; on Monday I was back with nine puzzle pages. They were eventually used in the 100-Page Super-Spectaculars and the Limited Collector's Editions.
Stroud: What's your fondest memory of Julie Schwartz?
Rozakis: Julie was a big fan of bean soup. One time when I was in the supermarket, I noticed that they had a bean soup "Cup-o-Soup" and mentioned it to Julie. His response was immediate, "And you didn't buy me any?"
Well, I went back to the store the following weekend and there was no bean soup to be found! It turned out to be some kind of test marketing in limited supply. (It did not come out "officially" for about six months after that.)
But that didn't stop Julie from asking, "Where's my bean soup?"
Finally, my wife Laurie cooked up a pot of homemade bean soup and I brought it in for him. Which resulted in him asking, "When's your wife going to make some more bean soup?"
Stroud: Did E. Nelson Bridwell keep notes on DC's complex continuity or did he just trust his memory?
Rozakis: Nelson didn't need any notes; his memory was incredible. We would be talking about something happening in an old story and he would go to the files, find an issue, and open it to the page and panel.
Stroud: Let's say you had to look up an obscure bit of continuity from a Golden
Age story, how was this accomplished? Did DC have a "morgue?" (storage for back issues)
Rozakis: DC has a library with copies of virtually everything they have ever published. Over the years, much of the early stuff has been crumbling, so no one is allowed access to it any more. But when I started there, we junior members of the staff were in the library all the time.
I even spent a lot of time indexing the stories on books like Action, Adventure and Detective. Since this was before computers, it was all done on 3x5 cards and it was quite impressive when I finished. Unfortunately, when we moved from 75 Rock to 666 Fifth, someone threw out the entire file drawer of cards!
Stroud: When sales went into a slump at DC what would you attribute it to, or is it simply a cyclical industry?
Rozakis: There were periods when the market was flooded with titles, so sales on individual books suffered. But I think the bigger problem is that the audience for comics has been steadily shrinking. The older "fanboys" have more money to spend than they did as kids, but there are fewer of them.
Julie liked stories that had a beginning, middle and end and yet the modern format seems to rely on endless story arcs. Which do you believe is superior?
I far prefer the self-contained stories. Today's comics seem to follow the pattern of "action scene - talking - action scene - cliffhanger." I find myself flipping through many of them just to see what is on the last page. Too many stories are padded out to fill the eventual trade paperback.
Julie always insisted that your story have a plot with a beginning, middle and end, regardless of how many pages long it was. (And if it was a book-length story, there had better be some sub-plots too!) I look at stories that run for issues and issues these days and say, "Julie would have made me do this whole thing in eight pages!"
Stroud: You wrote for Teen Titans for a while. Have you seen the animated cartoon? If so what’s your impression?
Rozakis: I think I saw the cartoon once, just to see the Bumblebee, a character I created. It was certainly superior to the cartoon like "The Superman-Aquaman Hour" that I grew up watching.
Stroud: You scripted some of the Hostess ads that featured DC characters. Who drew and lettered them? According to Joe Giella those jobs often paid more. Was that your experience?
Rozakis: Curt Swan drew most of the ads, as I recall. It was either Ben Oda or Gaspar Saladino who lettered them. They did, indeed, pay more than regular script pages.
Stroud: Carmine Infantino told me that Julie heavily edited all his writers’ projects. Was that your observation?
Rozakis: Yes, Julie did some pretty heavy editing on virtually all his writers' scripts. Apparently, he did his heaviest work on Gardner Fox's stories, though I never saw one of those scripts first-hand. Of my "generation," the most editing was on Cary Bates' scripts and the least was on Elliot Maggin's. Mine fell somewhere in between.
Stroud: When you were scripting Aquaman your work was interpreted by Jim Aparo and edited by Ross Andru. What were your memories of Jim? Do artists make good editors?
Rozakis: Did Jim really draw some of my Aquaman stories? I don't recall.
I can think of some artists who were good editors and others who were not. (But I can think of some writers-turned-editors who also fall in both categories.) I would say that the artist-editors were more appreciative of page design and how the story looked where their writer-counterparts would be more concerned about the plot and dialogue.
Stroud: You were the writer for the Freedom Fighters. Did it occur to you that you were handling one of the characters squarely in Dr. Wertham’s crosshairs, the Phantom Lady?
Rozakis: Never crossed my mind.
Stroud: How was Ramona Fradon to work with on that title?
Rozakis: I don't know that I ever had any interaction with Ramona. I know that I enjoyed working with Dick Ayers on the issues he did. No matter what I asked for or how many characters I would squeeze into a page, Dick would make it work.
Stroud: Joe Giella inked some of your Batman Family work. Did you interact with him much?
Rozakis: I knew Joe because he came in regularly, but Julie's writers didn't have any direct interaction with the artists about the work. You handed in the script, Julie edited it and gave it to the artist. I got to see the pencils and inks when they came in because I worked on staff. But I think most of the writers didn't see the stories until the printed books came out.
Stroud: Is Duela Dent, the Joker’s Daughter, the same character that appears in Kingdom Come?
Rozakis: I'm not sure who Duela Dent is any more. I know that they recently killed her off as a kick-off point in Countdown. For a character that many people at DC spent years deriding, she certainly has had an influence.
One thing I have to laugh about: When we first introduced her, readers (and some of my colleagues) complained about my explanation of "selective aging" that allowed Duela to go from birth to college age in the same period that Dick Grayson went from 12 to 19. Now Dick, who was a teenager when Barbara Gordon was introduced, seems to have caught up to Babs; I guess selective aging works after all.
Stroud: Why do you think the Famous First Editions didn’t sell well?
Rozakis: There were no direct market or comic book stores back in the early 70s. The books were too large for many of the newsstand outlets to carry.
Stroud: Why did it take so long for the old classics in that format like Action #1 and Detective #29 to be reprinted?
Rozakis: No film negatives existed for the early issues and the technology used at the time involved destroying actual printed copies of the original books. It was a long, tedious process.
Nowadays, all the clean-up is done on a scan of the printed page on a computer monitor. No actual books are harmed in the production of the DC Archives or Marvel Masterworks.
Stroud: You were a production guy and according to Carmine, with the exception of editors, you guys were the only ones on staff. Can you tell me a little about how a book was put together? How were freelancers chosen? How were they lettered, colored, separated and printed?
Rozakis: The editor had control at the start, picking whichever writer he wanted to do a particular story. For the most part, each editor had his own "stable" and kept them busy. Artists were, for the most part, exclusive to one editor or another. (During my first couple of years at DC, Julie and Murray Boltinoff "shared" Dick Dillin.) Letterers and colorists were usually assigned by the production department, though the editors usually had some input about the colorists.
Once all the art and coloring was done, the pages were sent to Chemical Color Plate in Bridgeport, CT, where the color separations were done by painting acetates for each of the 25%, 50% and 100% screens of red, yellow, and blue. (This changed with the advent of computerized coloring and separations.)
Stroud: You’ve doubtless seen the piecemeal auctioning of the fabled “Jack Adler Collection.” I even have an approval cover I received as a gift. How did he get hold of those? How did they work, exactly? I’ve read the certificate and the article in one of the magazines about it and still don’t quite get it.
Rozakis: From what I know, Jack took the proofs home with his original color guides and now they are being sold off. The proof was created at Chemical using the separations they'd generated. If it was okayed, the film negatives were shipped out to Spartan Printing in Sparta, Illinois, for printing.
Stroud: Neal Adams told me a long and complicated story about the way the comic shops came into being. Can you give me your view?
Rozakis: The "mom and pop" candy stores that were the traditional place for most comic sales were vanishing and newsstand sales of comics were dwindling. Phil Seuling came to DC and Marvel and asked about buying books directly, on a non-returnable basis, for a better price. His Seagate Distribution was the first in a market that is now almost exclusively Diamond's.
Stroud: How did DC change under the different publishers like Donenfeld, Carmine, Sol Harrison, Jeanette Kahn and Paul Levitz?
Rozakis: I was not at DC until after Donenfeld left, so I cannot say what it was like when he was there. Carmine's reign was rather free-wheeling, but he seemed to spend a lot of time answering to "the people upstairs" (at Warner Publishing), who seemed to watch every nickel and dime that was spent. Carmine used to have Bill Gaines come in as a business advisor.
While Sol had some interesting ideas (the Comicmobile, publishing Amazing World of DC Comics, the Junior Bullpen program), he seemed stifled by trying to achieve immediate, substantial results (again, to gain approval from the bosses at Warner) rather than letting things develop for the long term.
Jenette, initially, had no experience in the comics business, having been brought in by Warner management. She looked to a variety of people for advice; some of them were good, but some used the opportunity to their own advantage.
Paul, to a great extent, is a victim of fanboy mentality. I think the company has spent too much effort focusing on a dwindling market and has not been able to find ways to bring in substantial numbers of new readers.
Stroud: Shelly Moldoff was telling me that logos were the production department’s baby. Who pulled the trigger when it was decided a new logo was needed?
Rozakis: Usually the editor or editorial director. Then one of the letterers would be given the assignment. Gaspar Saladino did a lot of them while I was there. Todd Klein did a number in the later years while Joe Letterese did some in the earlier years of my DC tenure.