There are tears in my eyes as I begin this, a notice I would wish never to write.
Lew Sayre Schwartz has passed away at age eighty-four.
I read the headline; it took me several moments to realize the loud, sorrowful cry filling the room was my own. As I type this sentence, I am three hours away from a week-long trip abroad, and I had a long list of things to do before driving to the airport. A key item on my list was to call Lew and arrange a time when we could next get together.
We had spoken in May and I was rushing against a deadline, and Lew said he needed one of ourRip Kirby volumes, so I told him I would get that for him, then come out for a visit as soon as I got the book and delivered the piece I was writing.
I have the book and I met the deadline, but it hurts me so, so much to know I’m too late for the visit.
* * * * *
Lew found us through the Billy Ireland Cartoon Library and Museum at Ohio State. He had acquired our first Terry and the Pirates releases and contacted Jenny Robb at the Cartoon Library, asking her if she had contact information for us. Jenny passed his message along to Dean and after a few exchanges of e-mails and phone calls, in the process learning that Lew resided in a town slightly more than an hour’s drive from where I live, Dean and I got together to make our first trip to Lew’s.
He and his wife Barbara were welcoming and gracious, the perfect hosts in every way. Lew showed us the adaptation of Moby Dick he had created with Dick Giordano, and was generous in praising our efforts on Terry, and delighted to hear about our then-upcoming Scorchy Smith and The Art of Noel Sickles. He shared with us his own collection of Sickles material, accumulated through the years, and he loaned us a copy of his 1981 film tribute to Milton Caniff, Reflections of an Armchair Marco Polo, which is must-viewing for any Caniff devotee. It had Dean and me babbling excitedly to one another after we had each had the opportunity to view it. More than a year later, while writing the final essay for Terry Volume 6, the closing narration from Reflections, which Lew had written for Walter Cronkite to deliver, seemed the perfect coda. After he saw the book in early 2009, Lew never failed to tell me how much enjoyment he took in having the final word, as it were, in our series. It was my great pleasure to give it to him.
After that initial visit, I phoned Lew often and visited his and Barbara’s home close to a half-dozen times, breaking bread with them on two occasions. Whenever I walked through their door I was treated with kindness and I learned a great deal, as Lew told stories from his days at King Features and his later work in film. He passed along anecdotes from his face-to-face encounters with the Caniffs, Raymonds, and Sickleses of the comic strip firmament; he showed me the works he had collected by the likes of Roy Crane. I would bring him our latest releases, and he was always unfailing in his praise of our work. During another visit, either in fall of 2009 or springtime of 2010, Lew surprised me with a gift of his own—a copy of DC’s hardcover Batman Annualsreprints, which included stories he had drawn in his days as the first of Bob Kane’s ghost artists. A connection to Batman is another thread Lew and I shared, since I wrote a handful of Bat-stories in the late 1990s. He was always proud of the fact no less a talent than Eddie Campbell publicly praised his Batman work, and it is fitting that Eddie produced the industry’s tribute to Lew, which can be found here.
Lew Sayre Schwartz was a fine artist and writer, an award-winning filmmaker, and an enthusiastic ambassador for the comics. But first and foremost, I think of Lew Sayre Schwartz as the warm and funny and thoroughly delightful man I have been proud to call my friend.
And now I feel the tears coming again, so before my view of the screen becomes a total blur, I’ll say, “Safe passage, Lew—I know Bud and Pappy and Roy are mighty glad to see you again.”