I was a fan of Ray Bradbury's writing long before I learned about his connection to Julie Schwartz, the comics editor for whom I did much of my writing.
Before joining the comic book business in 1944, Julie had been an agent for such science fiction greats as Henry Kuttner, Leigh Brackett, Manly Wade Wellman, Alfred Bester, and Otto Binder. In 1939, Julie met a very young Ray Bradbury and agreed to take him on as a client. Bradbury's first sale, a short story titled "The Pendulum" appeared in Super Science Stories in 1941. I don't know how many more of Bradbury's stories Julie sold, but I do know that they became lifelong friends.
I suspect that my own first encounter with Bradbury's writing was Fahrenheit 451, which we read in a junior high English class. That led me to the library and collections of his short stories, including The Illustrated Man, The Martian Chronicles and Golden Apples of the Sun. In a spinner rack of paperback books in the mom-and-pop candy store where I bought my comic books during my high school years, I found Tomorrow Midnight, which was a collection of Bradbury's tales that had been adapted to comic book form for the early-1950s EC comics. By the time I finished high school, I had tracked down and read every Bradbury book and story I could find. And I've continued to do so through the years, with his We'll Always Have Paris currently sitting on my to-be-read shelf.
I don't recall the specifics of the first time I met Bradbury, but it was while DC had its offices in 75 Rockefeller Plaza. He had come to town and was visiting with Julie. I'm sure I said the same things every other staff fanboy did, about being a great fan of his work and having read every one of his books. And I'm sure he nodded and smiled and thanked me. I wonder now what Julie must have been thinking at the time; here was a world-famous author he had discovered four decades earlier talking with an up-and-coming comic book writer whose first scripts Julie had bought in the past couple of years.
I can much better remember a later meeting with Bradbury, one that took place in the mid-1990s. Once again, he had come to town and was visiting Julie, though now we were in the DC offices at 1700 Broadway. I had started teaching the CTY Writing & Imagination course by then and one of the writing assignments I used was to have the students pick an event -- personal or historical -- that they would like to change and then write a story about what would happen. As a prompt, I would read them Bradbury's "A Sound of Thunder," in which a time-traveling dinosaur-hunter accidentally steps on a butterfly and sends ripples down through history.
When I told him of my use of the story in my class, Bradbury said, "You don't make copies of it, do you?" I quickly assured him that I read the story aloud from a copy of the book that I had bought and that I was not in any way infringing on his copyrights. In retrospect, I think he was probably having a little fun with me. This was, after all, the man who, when he found out that Bill Gaines and Al Feldstein had "adapted" a couple of his stories without credit in an EC comic, decided not to threaten a lawsuit and instead wrote saying that the royalty payment for the adaptation had apparently been lost in the mail. (Gaines sent a check and struck a deal whereby EC adapted many more of Bradbury's stories, all credited and paid for.)
Bradbury told people that, from the moment he decided to be a writer, he wrote every single day. Like the pianist who constantly practices and the shortstop who fields endless ground balls, he became a master of his art. There is something lyrical about his style, the way the words just flow, that I and many other writers wish we could emulate. Just reading a couple of his stories is enough to make me want to sit down and write.
Though he has left us, his work remains for future generations to enjoy. In that way, to paraphrase the title of the book that awaits me, we'll always have Bradbury.