A Moment In The DC Library

[ 9 ] May 18, 2020

For a long stretch the responsibility for the DC Library went to a woman named Gerda Gattel. Gerda was a Jewish survivor of the Holocaust years in Germany, and worked at Timely (the Marvel predecessor) in the 1950s, possibly as a letterer, but was caught up in one of their periodic shutdown/layoffs. She came over to DC, and served as the secretary to Irwin Donenfeld, the editorial director and then moved into production as the proofreader.

Gerda was strict and organized. In both her work with Irwin and her time in production she prepared the production schedules for the company. Back in the pre-computer era, not the equivalent of a modern work flow chart, but simply a straight forward layout of what was coming out and calculated back from on sale dates, due to production dates for the different components. As part of that responsibility she prepared annual schedules in the early 1970s, which changed a bit during the year but very little by our current standards. On those she’d get to indicate which titles would have ‘giant’ issues, with guidance from the company leadership of course. When she retired at the end of 1973, I somehow inherited the responsibility for the annual schedule (yes, I was a whopping 17 years old, and I got to help decide where those 50¢ Giants would pop up on the schedule…don’t ask me why I was chosen).

Gerda’s strictness included her attitude towards the editors, particularly any of the then-newer ones who weren’t as organized as she like. Joe Orlando vividly recalled being called to come in from vacation to turn an issue into production when it was due, commuting into the city to take it from its (unlocked) cabinet and walk it down the hall to its labeled drawer in production…where it sat untouched until several weeks after his vacation was over. (Comics were produced more leisurely in those years.)

But she lovingly tended the Library…chasing fans who visited or turned pro out if she thought they were a danger to its organization, ensuring that new bound volumes were collected each year, and giving staffers the opportunity to add their personal collections to the binding process (at their own cost, naturally) which started me on the path to binding my entire collection.

When Gerda retired, I got to help tend the Library, and one day in my exploration of its depths, I found a small stack of her papers. The most interesting was an issue of AQUAMAN, with a note tacked to it in her letterer-precise handwriting, saying “My greatest mistake.” The issue was folded open, and careful examination showed a caption, with a circle around a single word. The caption described the Atlanteans as “a gentile people.”

I could feel her blush.

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  1. Travis says:

    It is very interesting to hear the behind-the-scenes stories of how comics were made during this period, and the care that there was for getting the work done in a timely fashion. It took efforts of so many beyond those whose credits were listed in the credits panel of the story to get it to market, including the production staff. Thank you for sharing.

  2. Todd Klein says:

    The best perk of my staff time at DC (77-87) was being allowed to go into the Library on my lunch hour and just look at stuff.

  3. Alex Jay says:

    Wonderful story. I wrote about Gerda on my blog, Tenth Letter of the Alphabet.
    https://alphabettenthletter.blogspot.com/2020/03/comics-gerda-gattel-letterer.html

  4. Would love to see the production charts, or any of that behind-the-scenes paperwork!

    -Jim

  5. Tom Galloway says:

    Is it wrong that my 13-year-old self has a bone to pick with your 17-year-old self about not scheduling more Giants? : -)

  6. Gary Colabuono says:

    One of my favorite memories was being invited by you to research ashcan editions at your offices and get a tour of the library. Such a sense of history!

  7. Rob Hansen says:

    Heh, but unless Atlanteans were the missing tribe that wasn’t *technically* wrong.

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