“Batman” comics writer Alvin Schwartz dies at 84

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Alvin Schwartz

Alvin Schwartz

Comic book writer Alvin Schwartz died October 28 from heart complications, the Canadian Comic Book Creator Awards Association announced Wednesday. He was 84.

Schwartz wrote the adaptation for the half-hour 1983 CBS cartoon special The Legend Of Hiawatha. Produced by Atkinson Film-Arts, it was originally presented as a Kenner Family Classics special.

Born in New York City on November 17, 1916, Schwartz moved to Canada after his contributions to comics. He was best known for writing Batman and other strips for DC Comics, and is credited as the creator of Bizarro. Schwartz lived in Chesterville, Ontario for decades, working mostly with the National Film Board and writing reports for the Federal Government.

Schwartz wrote his first comics for Fairy Tale Parade in 1939, and wrote extensively for Shelley Mayer, then an editor at Max Gaines’ All-American Publications (later purchased by National/DC in 1944). He had also done a short stint at Fawcett on Captain Marvel.

Schwartz wrote his first Batman story in 1942, and his first Batman newspaper strip in August 1944 (an assignment he continued on until 1958) and his first Superman newspaper strip in October 1944. He had a long association with Superman as the writer of both the Man of Steel’s newspaper strip and many of his comic book appearances, and one of his many enduring contributions to the Superman mythology was the first tale of Bizarro, a character who became a part of popular culture, quite apart from comics. While writing most of DC’s newspaper strips between 1944 and 1952, he also went on to do stories for many of their comics magazines, working on characters such as Aquaman, Vigilante, Slam Bradley, Date With Judy, Buzzy, House of Mystery, Tomahawk, Wonder Woman, The Flash, Green Lantern, Newsboy Legion and numerous others.

After his 1958 departure from comics, Schwartz took on a whole new role in the corporate world, using the knowledge of plotting gained in comics to open new directions in market research, developing the now well-known techniques of psycho-graphics, typological identification and others, until, as research director for Dr. Ernst Dichter’s famed think tank, The Institute for Motivational Research, he provided structural and marketing advice to some of America’s largest corporations, ranging from General Motors to General Foods. He was subsequently appointed to an advisory committee of the American Association of Advertising Agencies.

Schwartz also authored three novels for Arco Press, one of which, Sword of Desire, a detective story, won praise for its successful takeoff on Reichian orgone therapy, a popular psychotherapeutic technique during the ’40s and ’50s. His Beat Generation novel The Blowtop was published by Dial in 1948. Under the title Le Cinglé, it became a best seller in France. He also wrote and lectured on superheroes at various universities and received a prestigious Canada Council grant for a study on the religious symbolism in popular culture, using Superman as a springboard.

Also in Canada, he wrote feature films and did numerous docu-dramas for the National Film Board for nearly 20 years and did a number of economic and social studies for the Canadian government.

His last two books, written in his 80s, were An Unlikely Prophet: Revelations on the Path Without Form (published in 1997) — a memoir dealing with some very off-the-wall experiences generated by his years doing Superman which led him to a unique understanding of Superman’s significance as well as some life-enriching possibilities available to every one of us, and the sequel A Gathering of Selves: The Spiritual Journey of the Legendary Writer of Superman and Batman (published in 2006).

Schwartz received the first Bill Finger Award for his contributions to comics via writing in 2006. The Finger Award was created by the legendary creator Jerry Robinson to honor his friend Bill Finger (the uncredited co-creator of Batman), and is given to comic book writers as part of the Will Eisner Comic Book Industry Awards each July.

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