Otto Binder by Bill Schelly (book review).

As Richard A. Lupoff points out in the introduction to Bill Schelly’s book about writer Otto Binder (his surname rhymes with ‘tinder’ in case you’re not sure how to pronounce it), there are a lot of books about comicbook artists but very few about their writers. Considering that Otto Binder wrote 2,227 comicbook stories spread between Faucett’s 57% of the ‘Captain Marvel’ family and DC Comics ‘Superman’ family of titles from the 1950s-1960s, I suspect many of the younger comicbook readers have ever heard of him. This isn’t helped by the fact that neither of these two publishers had a habit of never giving credits to their creating talent isn’t that surprising. However, if I point out that Binder created, just for DC, Supergirl, the city of Kandor, Brainiac, Bizarro and the Legion Of Super-Heroes amongst others, then you would certainly have felt his influence on the DC Universe.


I knew Binder had contributed to the SF pulps, along the way creating the robot ‘Adam Link’ stories, one of which was made into an ‘Outer Limits’ episode ‘I, Robot’, but I was less aware that he also wrote material for NASA and about UFOs. Incidentally, if you thought Asimov was the first to use a sponge-like brain inside the robot skull, Binder preceded him by eleven years. Likewise, Asimov originally called his first robot stories collection ‘Mind And Iron’ but was changed by his publisher to ‘I, Robot’, which he openly admitted that Binder got there first.

A lot of his early fiction were written under the name of Eando Binder, when he co-wrote with his elder brother, Earl. Earl and Otto = EandO, although the former dropper out of writing after a while and Otto went name alone.

I should point out that this is the second edition of Schelly’s book, correcting any mistakes made in the first and with access to a copy of Binder’s own but never publisher autobiography filling in a lot more details. Some things I picked out of the information myself. At one stage in his youth, Binder was studying to become a chemical engineer and had a basement laboratory. Now think of how many 60s ‘Superboy’ stories you read where these basement labs were the norm. I hope the cost of equipment and chemicals was a lot cheaper back then.

In many respects, Binder was there from the start of the American comicbook industry, moving over from writing short fiction because it paid more and on time. He was also one of the earliest guests of honour at the nascent comicbook conventions there, too. He had even given a young Jerry Sigel some thoughts about creating a superman, although when Action # 1 came out, Binder did think the character a little fanciful.

There is also some insight into the young Julius Schwartz and Mort Weisinger. The latter might have been a little tight but following Binder’s comments over the years, definitely lived in his own world and a total miser in older years. DC publisher, Irwin Donenfeld, when it came to DC Comics resisting change when Marvel’s sales overtook them, even when they were pointed out. Later, at DC, Weisinger is noted here as saying that he would initiate the plot springboard ideas so they had somewhere to start from than any writer, including Binder, coming in with several ideas that could be rejected for either having been done recently or even ready to come out. What is especially telling is that like all comicbook publishers, all creative work for by work-for-hire and none benefited from reprints or health insurance plans as revealed later in the book. Indeed, where the latter was concerned in the 60s, DC Comics fired several writers merely for asking about it.

Binder wrote for many of the early comicbook books, including Captain America and Sub-Mariner for Timely, although he didn’t write for many other of the first-string characters in the 1940s outside of the Captain Marvel family. Thinking about it, the lack of page credits must have served him in some respects and, although a freelance writer, no company could claim exclusivity to his work so he worked for several comicbook companies. To say Binder was a workaholic for many years is a bit of an understatement.

During the war years, where Binder was most prolific, it was largely because he was too old for enlistment that kept him out of the military. Binder’s insights into why National Periodicals/DC Comics picked a fight with Fawcett over Captain Marvel was largely to do with sales and, as he points out, neither were much alike.

With the likes of Fawcett closing their comics line, Binder worked for several years at EC Comics before eventually going to DC Comics and wrote extended runs on ‘Superboy’, ‘Jimmy Olsen’ (the first 52 issues no less) and ‘Lois Lane’ where so many creations we take for granted in their mythos came from him.

Binder also ended up running his own space magazine for a while before it financially broke him and later an open sceptic looking at UFO reports. He also had a say in comicon convention protocol where guests wore identity badges and that signing sessions should be limited to set periods.

After comicbooks, Binder wrote some 40 fiction and non-fiction books as well. Schelly gives a remarkable account of Binder’s life from 1911 to 1974, where he finally died of liver cancer. If you didn’t know much about Otto Binder before reading this book, you will afterwards. You will also get some insight into work practices of companies and various people as well. If you’re interested in comicbook history then you will not only want to put this book on your shelves but read it as well.

GF Willmetts

June 2016

(pub: North Atlantic Books. 329 illustrated indexed enlarged paperback. Price; $19.95 (US), $25.95 (CAN). ISBN: 978-1-62317-037-0)

check out website: www.northatlanticbooks.com



Geoff Willmetts has been editor at SFCrowsnest for some 21 plus years now, showing a versatility and knowledge in not only Science Fiction, but also the sciences and arts, all of which has been displayed here through editorials, reviews, articles and stories. With the latter, he has been running a short story series under the title of ‘Psi-Kicks’ If you want to contribute to SFCrowsnest, read the guidelines and show him what you can do. If it isn’t usable, he spends as much time telling you what the problems is as he would with material he accepts. This is largely how he got called an Uncle, as in Dutch Uncle. He’s not actually Dutch but hails from the west country in the UK.

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