We couldn’t be more pleased to welcome back a true gentleman and scholar, Benjamin Le Clear, Official DC Archivist, Keeper of the Comic Books & DC Lore!
If you just can’t wait for the Q&A, then you must watch DC Tales From the Vault, a video series where Benjamin takes us on an intimate tour deep into the archives to explore your favorite characters, creators and more.
Please try to limit the number of questions asked to 1; this way, everyone has a chance to get a response in the limited time we have Thanks!
Add your question about the archival process, DC history and more in the comments below, and come back at 2pm PT/5pm ET on Wednesday, January 27th to read Benjamin’s answers LIVE!
Curious what questions Benjamin answered in his May 2020 Q&A? Look no further!
Q&As about Vault Contents
Q: With the Sotheby's auction, it is known that the collection there is more complete than the DC Archives. At a guess, how many comics are “missing” from the DC Collection?
We need thousands of more loose copies of some of our comics - but as to how many we’re totally missing with a DC or All-American Imprint (there are some more needed for our Quality and Fawcett characters) - I think we’re only missing about 30 comics. Though that’s a loose number as occasionally we will discover a missing page/story that may have been cut out to produce an old collected edition.
Q: What DC comics issues are missing that you’d really like to get your hands on?
I’d really like to get copies of all the Platinum Age comics we produced in the pre-Superhero era - so most of the first year of New Comics (later Adventure Comics) and New Fun #4.
But there are so many comics that we would love to have a loose displayable copy of we only have in a Bound Edition.
But it’s issues of More Fun that have been the hardest to find over the years - so I’d really feel a lot better when we’ve acquired the few more we need.
Q: Was there any piece of DC history that you have seen or held that you never thought or even knew about being in the vault, and can you tell us what it was?
Lots of little things - but sometimes the big things have more history than you originally thought.
We have a Fleischer animation series cell and sketch for Superman. I thought it was amazing when I first saw it (Because it is) - but when I tried to identify what specific cartoon it was from (the Technicolor wonders that played in the movie theaters) I couldn’t find that image. Then I dug deeper and discovered that it was actually from the 1-minute test reel they did even earlier to see if the idea was worth the huge costs.
Q: Would you be interested in telling the stories of what it took for DC to acquire some of the rare books?
I would love to tell those stories - but someday in the future after we’ve acquired all of our comics I don’t want to do anything that might drive up our acquisition costs until we’ve gotten all the comics we’re missing.
But I can say that I once bought a comic we needed and only later discovered that I had bought a copy that once belonged to Dick Sprang. So sometimes there are happy acquisition accidents.
Q: What item in the archive do you keep coming back to for sheer amazement?
We have an original Jack Kirby drawn Jimmy Olsen Cover that we framed in a spot that we will see every time we walk in the door. I never thought I’d be that close to the King. But the DC Comics house copy of Action Comics #1 and the Ash-Can for it - is hard to not bow to every time you see them.
Q: Have you run across any particular ad(s) from a comic book that stuck out as the worst ever attempt to sell a product?
The only AD I can think of right now isn’t really terrible - but during World War 2 Baby Ruth ads had a recipe for cookies on nearly every back cover. I have been thinking for a long time that I need to make those WW2 Baby Ruth Cookies.
But most ads are the best kind of Nostalgia - I couldn’t buy a comic for over a year that didn’t have “Deeds Not Words” / the Chuck Norris movie Megaforce add on them. It makes me think of buying comics every time.
Q&As About The Comic Book Industry
Q: The very first published comics, were they targeted to a specific audience, such as adolescent boys? Or was it more of a “let’s publish this and see if anyone will buy it” sort of situation?
Great question about the original target audience.
I think depression-era youth was always the intended primary audience of the first comics, but it’s also clear that the first publishers were hoping that they’d be enjoyed by audiences of all ages and genders. Comic Books have their roots both in PULP Magazines (and especially) Newspaper Comic Strips. In both cases, those stories were seeking mass audiences and not just a small niche. A lot of other publishers may have just been throwing stuff out there to see what sticks, but we were founded by a romantic visionary named Major Malcolm Wheeler who had dreams about the possibilities of original content comic books and a wider audience in mind. Editor Lloyd Jacquet promoted our landmark first issue New Fun #1 by recommending trying “it on the youngsters from 2 to 90”.
Q&As About Digitization & Archival Process
Q: In your archival and print to a digital system. How much restoration does the team do? Is the restoration done on the comic itself or done on the digital version?
Thank you for your kind words. As to restoration - we only do it digitally, we never alter anything about the original comics themselves. And we always Scan any of this old material at the highest resolutions possible to ensure we will have file sizes and true scans for future generations of DC to be able to reproduce material from.
A lot of our material is in moderate to poor condition - but they are survivors and have been well-loved by and probably carry the DNA of so many prior DC editors and writers. Paul Levitz proudly pointed out to me once. the little library pockets that have been glued into a number of our Bound Books and told me he was the one that put them there back when he was an intern. So our books carry a lot of magic and we aren’t going to resell any of them so as long as there aren’t pages missing or torn - they will do the job they need to and sometimes being in less than mint condition takes a lot of pressure off of our department when we have to handle these.
Q: Can you describe the decision-making process that goes into which vintage comics are digitized each week? A couple examples: how was the Spectre 1987 series selected for digitization? How were the random Wonder Woman issues such as #50 and #301 selected for digitization?
I wish I could give you a better answer as there are lots of factors. But I can say that with any reprint (Digital or Print) a lot can depend on what the shape of our files are for a particular issue or what newly restored files are becoming available.
Q: Can you tell us about the state of the archives when it comes to libraries acquired by DC from other publishers? Fawcett, Quality, Charlton, Prize… do they all have a place alongside the DC originals?
I’m glad you mentioned the other holdings. I think a lot of people forget that a number of our great characters have come from Fawcett, Quality and Charlton, etc…
We have a lot more holes in our collection of those titles - but we have inherited from those various companies Bound Copies of much of that Material. Our set of Blackhawk is altogether on the shelf and starts with the ones Quality comics put together for themselves and continues through the issues we produced
Our Ditko Blue Beetle issues at Charlton are the ones Bound by Charlton.
Q: I’ve heard that DC does not currently have a complete archive of every comic issue they’ve ever published. I’ve also heard that, in some cases, the archives do not contain copies of some issues in good enough quality to be digitized. Are both of these things true? If so, is DC making active efforts to obtain copies of the missing and poor quality issues?
The good news on this front is that we have nearly everything we’ve ever produced in some capacity and we are actively seeking copies of things we are missing or lose issues that will make digitizing easier. What makes reconstruction difficult but not impossible are cases when we only have issues in Bound Volumes. Now our oldest bound volumes had spiral rings that punched holes in some of our oldest comics - but other copies do exist and that kind of damage can be repaired too. But we are slowly digitizing our collection and I hope to be even more aggressive about that in the future to help ensure we save our Intellectual Property and American History.
Q&As About Specific Titles
Q: Any chance of us getting any golden age Shazam issues? Whiz? Captain Marvel adventures?
No true say in what gets reprinted – but as a proselytizer of what’s great in our vault and a champion of our old comics I definitely have been able to influence company attitudes about some of our material.
With the theatrical film, Shazam now has the highest-profile he’s had in decades – I hope the recognition will make people curious enough to seek out and request more of his material. Because they are among the finest set of comics ever produced and even today feels almost too good to be real. Anyone who has ever toured the DC Vault with me has heard me sing the praises of the great Mary Marvel.
The original and still primary source of our collection of these original stories come from Fawcett and came over to us when we finally purchased the character. I consider myself one of the luckiest people in the world to have read Otto Binder’s The Monster Society of Evil for the first time from a Fawcett Editorial copy (probably Rod Reed’s). We also have HOPPY comics.
Q: I’m really interested in the early, pre-Superman comics. A few of the characters from those days, like Slam Bradley, the Crimson Avenger, and Dr. Occult, do occasionally show up in current comics. Are there any other great characters lurking in that era that you would love to see brought into modern comics?
I think you’ve named the best ones. And I’ll punch anyone who doesn’t love Slam Bradley (or Slam or Shorty would) – but for other hidden gems in that pre-superhero era, I like Sandra of the Secret Service who started all the way back in New Fun #1. And I’m sure you are also a fan of Jerry Siegel’s and Joe Shuster’s SPY – sure Bart Regan is just OK - but for me, the real character finds in the strip is Sally Norris who feels like an early version of Lois Lane. And maybe Don Drake on Planet Saro.
Q: I’d be really interested in reading Real Facts comics that are based on a true story, what’s the history behind it, and any chance for it to be digitalized on here?
Real Fact comics was a great series. Nobody seems to ever mentions it or get as excited about it as I do. I really like comic book biographies like those in Real Fact or our Wonder Woman backup feature “Wonder Women of History”. I think they are amazing time capsules and biographies - but there is a prejudice against this type of material because it’s not contemporary and doesn’t have a superhero or central character. My hope is that we can digitize it someday and let people decide for themselves.
Q: What is the status of DC's War and Western comics. such as Our Army at War, Sgt. Rock, The Black Hawks, and Jonah Hex? Are they complete and in a condition to be digitized?
I share your implied hopes here and the ghost of former DC editor and writer Bob Kanigher appreciates your question. We produced a lot of comics in both of these genres and they are amazing and people should be able to read them. They represent an incredible body of yet to be reprinted comic art from DC
The good news is that we have copies of all our War (Including Bound Volumes of the original Blackhawk run at Quality Comics) and our Western comics. The vast majority of those issues haven’t been Digitized yet – but they should be in condition for us to be able to do so. I’m a huge fan of the war comics work of Joe Kubert and Russ Heath and the Westerns (and anything by) Alex Toth. And we started our first ever comic in 1935 with an original Western strip “Jack Woods” on the cover – so Western comics are a huge part of both comic book and DC tradition.
Q: How much of an interest is there at the DC offices in preserving the non-superhero comics of the 1930s-1960s? I’m especially wondering about classic comics that were targeted toward a female audience, such as Girls’ Love Stories.
No genre of comics has ever been as mistreated and neglected as Romance Comics. I am a converted modern fan of this material. One of the things about the shelves of the DC Archives is that its real estate spells out what comics were truly popular. When you walk past rows of Young Love, Young Romance, Heart Throbs, Falling In Love, Etc… it’s unmistakable how big these were. And then you open them up and you see art good enough for Lichtenstein to swipe for a painting and the covers of John Romita and the all-American Melodrama of soap operas and you know you have something special.
But these books (and every publisher produced them) are also important and neglected parts of comic book history. A genre that has its origins with the magic team of Simon & Kirby, features so many incredible (and far too many unknown) creators and the work of pioneering women editors like Zena Brody and others should not be ignored.
I can say that interest in and respect for this genre has never been higher at DC (but it was virtually non-existent when I started). I’ve been able to introduce lots of younger employees to these and they’ve taken to the incredible artwork and over-the-top melodrama the same way I have.
I have faith that this material will find its way out again someday soon.
Q&As About Being An Archivist
Q: What’s it like to be an archivist? How did you become an archivist? Did you always want to be an archivist?
I can’t speak for all Archives - but being an Archivist for DC is a dream come true that I never knew was possible.
It’s a tremendous honor and responsibility. Not just being trusted with one of the world’s most important collections of comics but an obligation to our characters and their artists and writers to tell their stories and tell them accurately.
I became an Archivist in a weird way. I got the keys to the DC Vault and basically have refused to leave ever since. It’s a more complicated story than that - but time is short.
But in either case - this was not a career path I originally sought out. I am a trained historian who loves comics but I never thought this was what I’d end up doing. My childhood dreams were to be a U.S. Senator, a Movie Director, or play baseball for the San Francisco Giants.
Q: You seem like you have an amazing job. Do you ever just stop and stare?
Yes I do stare.
It would be an insult to fans and the books themselves not to stare. I’ve also come in early and stayed late just to look at something in person I’ve stumbled across online.
And when you walk the stacks of bound books – some of the older ones will whisper “please read me”. Maybe I shouldn’t tell people that.
Q: Is there a link to your job description? I get the sense it is very similar to that of someone in charge of a wing at a museum, overseeing possible exhibits across the country, allowing the availability of rare items for certified scholars, etc.
It has elements of that - but it’s a lot more corporate in nature and in responsibility than some people would imagine. We’re also pretty insular. Always happy to help the academic community if we can - but the collection is really for DC and its fans.
Q: What’s the funnest part about being an archivist?
Smelling several hundred thousand comic books at the same time and being able to touch and experience history every day.
It’s an amazingly lucky thing to be paid to learn. But it’s a very scary thing to need to know everything.
Q: Do you consider yourself more of a historian or a creative? What strengths does one need to become a comic book archivist?
I’m very touched by that question. Because I think there’s a lot more of a creative heart and eye needed to do the job effectively than most people realized. But I view myself as a Historian first.
I think an Archivist has to be a passionate defender and curator of their collection. These characters, comics, and creators need someone to tell their stories - we can’t let them down.
Q: Growing up, DC Comics were some of my favorites. Did you have specific titles that were your favorites?
I can say that as a kid from the Bronze Age – so many of the incredible DC Horror comics covers that I love today, absolutely terrified me and sent me away into the next aisle. But my first ever comic was a copy of Kamandi #16 – which started my love for both Kirby and Comics. But the John Byrne Superman stories and Frank Miller’s Ronin were things I loved from the first word to the end. And I may be the only one I know who really thought Action Comics Weekly was awesome – maybe it’s the old comic book heart I have, but an Anthology series like that was an incredible primer for me into the DC Universe and gave me something to look forward to every week at the store.
Q: Does your job title ever get you involved in selecting what issues do or don’t wind up in “best of” reprint collections?*
I have been fortunate enough to be able to make some suggestions that have gotten in. And I am particularly proud that I was able to edit and get back into print our first ever comic New Fun for the first time in 85 years - and as part of a resurrected Famous First Edition Line. Anything else I do after this will be pure gravy.
Q: Who is your favorite none DC superhero?
My favorite non-DC superhero is Benjamin J. Grimm - The Thing. But I think I’ve already said how much I revere Jack Kirby - so why wouldn’t love the embodiment of Jack Kirby in Superhero form. But with the caveat that I think of Shazam/The Original Captain Marvel and Tom Strong to be DC Characters.