“….Bring your swipe files, Willi”
I have never been a “comics” fan. I grew up in the 1950s and early 60s enjoying CLASSICS ILLUSTRATED and several titles by Dell Publishing.
I had long admired the detail, grit and emotional quality of the illustrations of “SJG” in the COMBAT series so I wrote Sam through Dell Publishing sometime in 1965-66. I had included several of my own drawings with my letter and asked Sam (he had signed his full name rather than only his initials on COMBAT’s Dunkirk issue) for some advice on getting into the writing/illustration field. He answered my letter with some very kind and encouraging remarks and critiques about my drawings and said that he would like to meet with me…and that I should bring my “swipe files.”
Swipe Files are important reference materials that illustrators collect and use for accuracy in their work. Sam had been impressed with the details of my military drawings and figured that I must have terrific swipe files of my own.
I boarded the Long Island Railroad at Brooklyn’s Flatbush Avenue and met Sam in Commack in Suffolk County, New York. After meeting his wife, Barbara, who made us lunch, Sam asked to see my swipe files. I opened my attaché case and showed Sam…every issue of COMBAT that I had. Oh, I also had a few paperbacks of World War II photo accounts but the majority of my research was Sam’s own art.
Sam’s face fell. Then he gave that wry smile and chuckle of his and admitted the truth. Sam, the stinker, was looking to either copy or rip off my swipe files for his own use!
Rather than the end, it was the beginning of one of the most treasured relationships of my life. I was 15 years old and I believe Sam had recently turned 40. He took an interest in my writing and showed me how to prepare a script for submission to Dick Giordano at CHARLTON COMICS. Dick rejected my first efforts but wanted to see more. With Sam’s encouragement, I kept at it and eventually Dick liked what he saw, The Sniper. The Lonely War of Willy Schultz and The Iron Corporal soon followed.
Our career together was all too brief. Over the years, Sam has remained a good and generous friend and respectful mentor. Although we didn’t always agree, Sam never spoke down to me. He always constructively advised and contributed to my developing a creative process rather than merely criticizing my mistakes. He taught me more than he realizes. I have carried many of these lessons over in the rest of my life to benefit others. Never one to boast or brag, he demonstrated the value of a solid work ethic. It is a shame he does not appreciate his talent the way others do.
Sam’s work is frequently understated but tends to provoke serious thought rather than mere visual gratification. The Battle of the Sundra Straight in COMBAT #7 will always be the definitive “SJG” for me. The swift warships themselves seemed to come alive and I shuddered at the fate of the three men on the grating above their ship’s engine room when Japanese torpedoes struck home. Then, of course, there was Monte Casino and New Guinea and…. The list is endless.
Sam Glanzman is a man of warmth, humor, integrity and incredible depth and talent. I am fortunate that he was my creative mentor and so very glad that he is my dear friend.