Comic Book Historians

Paul Levitz: Publisher & President Part 2 with Alex Grand & Jim Thompson

December 16, 2019 Comic Book Historians Season 1 Episode 55
Comic Book Historians
Paul Levitz: Publisher & President Part 2 with Alex Grand & Jim Thompson
Chapters
Comic Book Historians
Paul Levitz: Publisher & President Part 2 with Alex Grand & Jim Thompson
Dec 16, 2019 Season 1 Episode 55
Comic Book Historians

Alex Grand and Jim Thompson interview Paul Levitz, former President and Publisher of DC Comics, In this second of a 2-parter, we discuss his writing and editing Batman in 1978, working with Julius Schwartz, the changes in the 1980s that he and Jenette Kahn brought to DC Comics, Jim Shooter's effect on both companies, the payment of royalties to artists and creators, publishing Will Eisner's work, the effect of the DC Movies on DC Comic's corporate identity, growth of the Direct Market, hiring Frank Miller, John Byrne, Alan Moore, Karen Berger's Vertigo, his role as President and his new project for Valiant Comics, The Visitor. Images used in artwork ©Their Respective Copyright holders, CBH Podcast ©Comic Book Historians. Thumbnail Artwork ©Comic Book Historians. Support us at https://www.patreon.com/comicbookhistorians

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Show Notes Transcript

Alex Grand and Jim Thompson interview Paul Levitz, former President and Publisher of DC Comics, In this second of a 2-parter, we discuss his writing and editing Batman in 1978, working with Julius Schwartz, the changes in the 1980s that he and Jenette Kahn brought to DC Comics, Jim Shooter's effect on both companies, the payment of royalties to artists and creators, publishing Will Eisner's work, the effect of the DC Movies on DC Comic's corporate identity, growth of the Direct Market, hiring Frank Miller, John Byrne, Alan Moore, Karen Berger's Vertigo, his role as President and his new project for Valiant Comics, The Visitor. Images used in artwork ©Their Respective Copyright holders, CBH Podcast ©Comic Book Historians. Thumbnail Artwork ©Comic Book Historians. Support us at https://www.patreon.com/comicbookhistorians

Support the show (https://www.patreon.com/comicbookhistorians)

Alex:          As you mentioned him, what is your impression of Julius Schwartz. He was there for decades, obviously. Were you fond of him? Did you like him? What’s your impression of Julius Schwartz?





Levitz:        I liked Julie a lot. I learned an awful lot about organizational methodology for comics from Julie. Record keeping, administering in keeping things on deadline. He was terrific at that side of the job. When he finally asked me to write for him, around ’78, that’s the first time I felt I really was a professional writer.

Alex:          Oh, cool.

Levitz:        Getting assignments from Joe or from Gerry, I was there in the middle of it. I was in a privileged position, which I either used or abused, [chuckle] probably both at different points. Julie offering me an assignment was a real editor saying, “You’re worthy. Take a shot.”

Jim:            And that was DC Comics Presents, right?

Levitz:        Yeah. Yeah, I did a few of those… Julie’s role in making the comics more intelligent, and more sophisticated, in the early ‘60s, the whole creation of the second heroic age, if you will, the Silver Age, is a tremendous contribution to the field.

Levitz:        He stayed a long time, maybe the last few years, he wasn’t as in tuned with the market as he was earlier on. Other challenges of age crept up, and there are things that make his legacy more complicated from those years. But if he had done nothing but the work he did, from 1956 to 1964, he would be one of the three or four most important editors comics ever had.

Alex:          Yeah, of all time. Industry changes around this time… Jim Shooter became editor in chief, in ’78 in Marvel, and there was some friction he had. People like Roy Thomas, Gene Colan, moved over to DC. Jim Starlin, also moved over to DC when this is happening. What was your impression, just of down the street, “Oh, what’s going on over there that all of these people are coming over?” Did they express their impression of why they left, to you? What was your impression on what was going on with that shift?

Levitz:        That would be…?

Alex:          … ’80, ‘81 at this point.

Levitz:        Yeah. Because from ’76 to ’80, I have a regular poker game going. It includes Jim, Len Wein, Marv Wolfman, Denny O’Neil, occasionally Chris Claremont, occasionally, Frank Miller, Marty Pasko, Jack Abel, Steve Mitchell, Roger Slifer. There was a lot of cross-company …

Alex:          Camaraderie.

Levitz:        Camaraderie, friendly relationship.

Jim’s one of the best editors of comics. Probably one of the three best editors of my generation. I’d argue he was a better editor than I was. He had, I think two challenges, one, the editor in chief title is intrinsically a two-edged sword for a talented person.

When you take responsibility for a whole line, of the size Marvel was, or the DC was, if you approach the editor in chief role as saying, “I am responsible for each and every one of these books! I will make it right!” That’s enormously draining. If you’re good enough to do it well, I think, it either damages you emotionally, or damages you physically.

Shelly Mayer who did that back on the All-American Line, back in the ‘40s, who I think was an extraordinary editor as well, pretty much destroyed his health in the process. It’s a major part of why he retired from that as a very young man, to return to being a cartoonist, which is what he loved, for the rest of his life.

Jim, I think, damaged an awful lot of his emotional relationships with a lot of people. And I think the other problem with it is, if you’re that good as an editor in chief, and you start fixing everything that’s around you, your subordinate editors begin to create to your desires, and to your needs, or trying to double think, “What will the boss think of this?”

It was the reason I never took the editor in chief title, when I had the opportunities to. I think I would have been vulnerable to exactly the same thing.

[00:05:06]

Jenette, never had that kind of problem because she was not a comic book writer or editor at heart. So, she never took possession in the same way. Her view of being editor in chief, which is perfectly valid, was to be the guiding spirit, and the cheerleader for it all. Setting basic policy, basic direction, but not reading every book.

Jim would read every issue of Marvel before it went out. Make notes. Have things fixed. Require a change in an ending on an important story. He arguably was right 90% of the time. But it’s very difficult thing to maintain your relationship with the creative people when you’re doing that.

Some of the people you’re talking about didn’t leave Marvel because of anything to do with Jim. Jim Starlin, I think had enormous frustration with Marvel, over the way they approached the change in the copywrite act in the late ‘70s, and walked away because he didn’t agree with their contracts at that point. That’s nothing Jim had any control of over.

Alex:          Right. True.

Levitz:        Some of the other people, were just ready for a change. Some left because of some frustration with their editors. We lost some people because of their frustration with editors at DC too. There was certainly a period, for a couple of years there, where Jim was having a rough time with the talent pool.

Alex:          Right. And also, the people kind of went back and forth, because like you mentioned, the DC implosion, people like Tom DeFalco, and Larry Hama moved over to Marvel just because of there just wasn’t as much work at the time. I guess, there’s various reasons for these shifts in talent.

In ’81, Sol Harrison leaves DC Comics, as president, he left. Was this a planned retirement? Were there other factors in his leaving? Or was he like, “I’m just done. I’m just tired.” What led to him leaving?

Levitz:        He was 60 years old. He’d been there since the beginning of time. Give the guy a break. Let’s count it as retirement.

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Alex:          Right. So, just a pure retirement… So then, Jenette became both the publisher and the president and then you became… I want to get this title right, because I saw on one article, is DC’s Manager of Business Affairs, but is that now called Chief Operating Officer? Are these correct titles?

Levitz:        I was carrying the title as Manager of Business Affairs. In modern parlance, basically, the job I did over the next whatever, 20 years, was more or less Chief Operating Officer. Jenette was the chief executive of the company. I was the guy managing the nuts and bolts operations, on a day to day basis.

My title changed about four times over the course of that period. Some changes in the responsibility, but they were really at the edges, the heart of the job was the same. It was that the company changed as we built it.

Alex:          Things are really kind of shifting. The ’80 are beginning, there’s just kind of the younger people like you and Jenette are now more in pushing things towards the future. Was it Jenette that promoted you? Did you ask for the position? How did that work?

Levitz:        It was absolutely Jenette, by that time, I’ve been working with her on all the business stuff, the contracts and the rest. She had given me that job a few months before Sol retire. When Sol retired, I just inherited a lot of responsibilities that he’d been handling directly.

Alex:          Joe Orlando also. He became vice president in 1981, also at the same period of time.

Levitz:        He got the vice president title, I guess, about a year and a half before I did. But, again, those were changes in title, not changes in job. He’d been running the editorial department, since late ’76, I think.

Alex:          So, then you became VP of operations, what? A year and a half after that then?

Levitz:        Something like that. As I said, we change the title a few times but…

Alex:          I see. You would say like a lot of the work was kind of the same, with maybe a few additional things, but it’s more the titles, that were more the shifts than, in this.

Levitz:        Yup.

Alex:          Okay. That’s fascinating because I guess, like you said, it was kind of smaller office so they got to call people something.

Levitz:        I was a kid, they hadn’t thought the company was important enough to be worth hiring somebody older, more experienced, with more professional credentials. There was not much of a bench in the comic book industry at the time. I had a good working relationship with Jenette. She had faith in me. She advocated for me.

It took a while for the title to catch up to what my responsibilities were. It took a while for the pay to catch up.

Alex:          Right. I see. So, it was all kind of delayed. I got you.

Levitz:        But meanwhile, I’m doing the job.

Alex:          Yeah. Right. The industry, especially DC Comics, was in transition at this time, and the direct market starts to take off.

[0010:05]

Tell us about you and Jenette, getting creators, writers, artists paid royalties on comics. Is it because of this structural shift that now these things are able to happen?

Levitz:        Well, a couple of things come together. The market is changing, as you say, and makes more sense in a comic shop driven market to pay royalties than it did in a newsstand market. The classic newsstand business, the kid was coming to the newsstand. He was too little to know the names of the writers and artists. He was generally too young to have a specific passion for a specific title. He looked at the covers and said, “Oh, I like Superman. I like Superman and the Gorilla. I’ll take that one.”

The perception, fairly or unfairly, was that the creators were fairly generic. In some cases, that was clearly wrong. Where you had people who had developed characters, develop properties, or who had a particular take on the book that transformed it.

In a lot of cases, it was not an unreasonable proposition. But if you were going to the comic shop world, where the kids were a little older. They were coming in with a poll list, with a fanzine. “I’ll buy anything Frank Miller’s doing.” Frank circa 1981 probably the most interesting writer, emerging at the field at that moment. If you’re selling on the basis of the creator’s name and particular style, there’s a damn good case for paying royalties there, that weigh in most other creative industries. We did some financial maneuvering with the budget, that freed up some money, to go to the royalties.

Jenette, I, Joe Orlando, Dick Giordano had come in at this point, the four of us sat down and spent some considerable time thinking about, “Well, if we’re going to pay royalties, what should be the relationship between the writers, and the artists, penciler and inker? How should this pool work? What can we afford? How should we do it?” And we worked out a plan, and we were able to get corporate to sign off on it.

We kind of hoped Marvel wouldn’t follow immediately because that would have given us a great advantage. It was going to be a much more expensive thing for Marvel to follow because they had better selling titles than we did.

Alex:          Right. Right. More money.

Levitz:        I think, to Jim’s credit, Jim immediately jumped and said, “We’re not going to be able to hold our talent if we don’t do this.” He got Mike Hobson, and Jim Galton to support him, and got them to follow suit, within I think, about a month after us.

Alex:          Yeah, I heard it was a month, yeah.

Levitz:        We didn’t get the tremendous win of a competitive advantage in it, but we civilized the business.

Alex:          That’s right. That basically changes the industry… quite a bit.

Levitz:        Everything.

Alex:          Yeah, everything because money’s a big deal. As far as shifting to the direct market, marketing, licensing… Can you tell us about that? How important was the direct market for the success and the shift of the industry?

Levitz:        When Jenette and I moved to have control over that side of the business, the direct market represents about 10% of our sales, probably a little bit more for Marvel. Within four years after that, it’s the largest part of our business. Some of that is because the newsstand continues to shrink. But most of it is because we put in place a number of policies to help grow the direct market.

Marvel does some of it as well, but we’re able to significantly increase our market share in that period. We go from about a 10 or 15% market share to about the low 30s. All at Marvel’s expense, and that’s a much healthier position to be in.





Alex:          Yeah. You mentioned Frank Miller on Rōnin and he has also obviously, did the Dark Knight. Were you part of that negotiation with bringing Frank Miller on board? I’d read that Jenette really wanted him on board. Were you part of that effort there?

Levitz:        Well, Jenette was the driving force in it. She had an enormous appreciation for the creative work he was doing. And she was a great believer in star creators. She put a lot of energy into wooing Frank. “We will do things we’ve never done before. Tell us what you want to do, tell us how you want to do it.”

I certainly handled a lot of hands on negotiations with Frank. He was a friend so it was an easy process in that sense, but we were changing everything. He found a paper in the French albums that he thought comics look good on. “Could we print a comic on that?” We’ve never used a paper like that. We were just starting to do offset comics, we had to source that. The whole team worked on all of these pieces of it.

[00:15:01]

One of the challenges of the way comic fans typically see much of the business is they have a tendency to personalize things. There has to be a singular person responsible for everything that is good, or everything that is evil, or anything that happens.

These are organizations and certainly, by the time that we’re talking about DC is growing as a company, there probably were 40 or 50 people, by the time we bring Frank over. Lots of folks played important roles in all of that.

Bob Rozakis was heading production at that time, worked closely with Frank, figuring out how to do the blue line. Color that we’d never worked with before that made such a big difference on Rōnin and then even more on Dark Knight.

Alex:          Tell us about Alan Moore. Were you part of the negotiations of bringing him over? And him working on Swamp Thing and then some of the discussions about his Watchmen Series, the Charlton characters. Can you tell us about that?

Levitz:        I come home to my apartment one day, in the ‘80s to a letter, “Hi, you don’t know me but I’m the best comics writer in England. And I’m writing you because I think you’re one of the better comic book writers in America.”

Alex:          Oh, that’s cool.

Levitz:        “If you ever need somebody to write Martian Manhunter, let me know.” I had a lot of friends in England, going back to my fanzine days. I guess Alan had connected with me from that.

At that time, he was doing kind of an ET knock off strip called Skeeze, 2000 AD. That work is kind of not one of his fabulous works but certainly very well written. And Len Wein was also aware of him. Len was the one who actually suggested him for Swamp Thing. Len’s editing the book at the time, he needed a replacement, I think, for Marty Pasko.

There weren’t any negotiations. These were standard form contracts. This wasn’t creating a character, this was, “Would you like to write an issue of this book?” So, I wasn’t anywhere near any of that.

Alex:          DC bought the rights to the Charlton Characters and the Watchmen was originally about to be about them and then it changed over. Can you tell us a little about that?

Levitz:        As you said, we bought out the old Charlton catalog. I figured we’d do something with it. Dick Giordano was heading editorial. I guess, Alan by that point was defined to be the best writer in the house, or doing the most interesting work. So, Dick said, “Come up with something to do with this.” And Alan came up with the idea that basically ended with the characters being unusable afterwards. Dick didn’t want to do that.

I said, “Why doesn’t he switch it around to make it original characters. We can give him a better deal, if that’s true. Then we’ll have something useful maybe and still have the Charlton guys to play with.” That became the Watchmen.

Alex:          There’s all this talk about the new show and then the movie, earlier. Then the Watchmen Comics edit come out a few years back, and Alan Moore, I guess his impression… and obviously, not everyone agrees with him on this as well, some do. But there’s this feeling he… Is he turning down royalty money from these later projects? What is his hard feeling about it, exactly?

Levitz:        I think you have to ask Alan what his hard feelings are. I’m certainly not going to speak for Alan.

Alex:          I got you. Okay… You also helped developed the concept of trade paperbacks, with the Dark Knight, is that correct?

Levitz:        That sounds more impressive than I think it is? Trade paperbacks are a long-standing publishing format. The first trade paperback formats being used for comics, date to Jack Katz’ First Kingdom in ’78 by Simon and Shuster. Notably unsuccessful.

I think what I’m proud of, and what I think my team and I can take the credit for, is using Dark Knight and Watchmen, to launch the trade paperback format in to being the standard for America, for collecting comics.

We built on… Again, not a revolutionary idea it’s been done with Katz’ work. Dave Sim had done the black and white Cerebus, what he called phonebooks. But we really marketed particularly, Dark Knight in a uniquely effective way. We did an unusual deal with Warner Books, where we created a co-edition with them. Then a traditional license, so we got, I think it was 70,000 copies, out to bookstores, which was just a phenomenal number for anything comics related at that time. It was very successful.

The combined success of Dark Knight, Watchmen, Maus from Pantheon, three of which came out in very close proximity. That format really is what created the commercial weight of the graphic novel format in America.





[00:20:09]

Alex:          Right. That’s an industry game changer because now, everything has a trade paperback of six issues or four issues, or whatever.

Levitz:        It’s the larger part of the business now.

Alex:          Yeah…. A couple of more questions, then Jim is going to talk about different things you’ve written.

In 1985, Crisis is coming out and then John Byrne was obviously big in Marvel, whose idea was it to bring John Byrne over to do a Superman in ‘85-86?

Levitz:        It was John’s. We were going to relaunch Superman, a number of creative people pitched. Steve Gerber, I remember had a pitch in. Cary Bates and Elliot Maggin, I think jointly had a pitch in. I think Frank may have pitched one. I’m not sure if I remember that correctly.

My role on that, I remember, being tasked to create the list of what could and couldn’t change in the Superman mythology. And doing a memo that sadly I did not preserve a copy of, saying sort of, “These are the things that have to remain the same.”

Jenette made the decision, ultimately, that John was the best pitch. And that was what she wants to bet on.

Alex:          Were you part of the negotiations with Will Eisner to publish some of his work?

Levitz:        I probably was the only person involved in those. Will was someone I respected greatly. Knew him from many years. That was certainly a passion project for me.

Alex:          What was he like?

Levitz:        Will created a lot of the vernacular of comics. He was energetic in his old age. You wouldn’t know he was in his old age. He was still striving. He was still trying to break new boundaries. He was still aspiring to thing that he… In some cases, he reached. In some cases, he never did. He was a wonderfully talented and decent human being.

Alex:          You know a lot of people. You’ve done a lot of things.

Levitz:        You spend 50 years on something, you better get something done.

Alex:          Yeah, and you clearly love it which is… It sounds like it’s driven by like obsession and love kind of combined, right?

Levitz:        [chuckle] I love the forum. I mean it’s something I grew up on. If you grow up loving baseball, and you get to be, ultimately, to be a manager of a major league team, after being a player, that’s cool.

I’ve gotten to write comics. I’ve gotten to run one of the best teams in the business at one of its best moments. Did something to contribute to it being one of the best moments. We can all argue about who did what and how much but inarguably, the ‘80s DC will be one of the most memorable periods in the company’s history.

Alex:          Yeah. That’s my era of it. It’s huge.

Jim:            Before I get to the writing, I had a couple of things in relation to what Alex is talking about. I remember, during this period, being very aware of an improvement in how the marketing was going on in terms of the house eds, but also the packages, and what was happening. The maxi-series, things like the King Arthur and Amethyst, and all of those.

It’s an exciting time in terms of just opening up the books and seeing what was coming next. Was that something that you guys were doing very deliberately to try to up your game?

Levitz:        As a starting point, you tend to have better marketing when you have a marketing department. We launched the first one in comics, I think.

Jim:            There you go. That’s fascinating. Talk about that a little bit.

Levitz:        Just, after Jenette became president, we began trying to grow the company. We added a marketing department. We concentrated on the new customers we had in the direct market. They clearly were older, pickier, if you will. We began to change the line over to take advantage of that.

We said, “If they’re older, they might like comics to be printed better. They might like the color to be more vivid. We could be able to do something with that if we changed it.” It’s a series of dominoes. So, some of what you’re talking about were changes in marketing, some of it were changes in production.

I remember being there, late at night in Montreal, for the press check for Camelot 3000 #1, our first original offset book, as we were learning how to use this new press and carrying it through. I did many a few press checks in the years. Following then, Bob Rozakis, who headed production, or Alison Gill who would take over for him eventually. But I was there for that first one.

We added our own licensing department to work with the outside, the sister company that was our licensing agent to create the first style guides for the characters. We were trying to grow in a hundred different ways.

[00:25:00]

Some of them were things that I was very involved in. Some of them were things I was involved in for a moment along the way. Some of them, I watched happen from distance.

Jim:            I want to talk about, during this period of time, basically in the ‘80s, for almost the entirety of the ‘80s, you were writing Legion of Superheroes and became a real fan favorite at this point. Legion of Superheroes had a fan following that was different from any they’d ever had before, wouldn’t you say?

Levitz:        It was different but it wasn’t larger. Remember that in the early ‘60s, before the Batman Show, Legion’s outselling Batman. Maybe that’s because there’s a guy with the red S on his shirt, in it. But this had been a very successful book in the early ‘60s. I’m very proud of my work on the Legion.

That run you’re talking about was generally DC’s second most profitable book during that period, after Teen Titans. Leaving out the special things like Dark Knight or Rōnin, the event books if you will. But as a regular monthly book, it was the number two book in the line. It’s remembered very fondly by people.

Great Darkness Saga, has been almost continuously in print. I just saw something that they’re just about to do a new edition of it in France. I’m, “Ah…. What?” 40 years later almost. I would never have expected any of this stuff to have survived that long.





Jim:            The old Legion fans that like the earlier stuff, they embraced it and you created an entirely new generation. The same people that were reading the Titans and the X-Men, they became fascinated with these characters. So, it really was a major moment for the Legion, I think.

Levitz:        I think that’s fair.

Jim:            Besides obviously, the Darkseid Saga, what were some of the things you did that you’re the proudest of in relation to that mythos?

Levitz:        One was just getting a hundred issues sequentially without fill-ins. When I came back on the book, I really felt I had not done it as well as I should have the first time out. And I committed myself to, as long as I was on it, it was going to be an uninterrupted run. I was going to get it done. I basically managed that.

Jim:            What about characters? Death of characters. New characters. Talk about characters that you… And choices that you made during this time.

Levitz:        The joy of the Legion is that you have so many characters that you can kill a character, marry a character, or break up a relationship, have somebody have an affair. I’m proud of the diversity of what we did, which is not at all diverse by the modern standards, but was diverse for the time.

The relationship between Shrinking Violet and Lightning Lass was a very early, clear LBGTQ relationship in superhero comics.

Jim:            Did you get much blowback from that?

Levitz:        Nope. I mean part of it is nothing happens on screen. You have to read into it. It’s very clearly there but it’s implied rather than screamed out at you, “Now, a gay Legionnaire…!”, but I tried. The stuff, to where I look back with naiveté, in choosing the Invisible Kid to be a Legionnaire of color. Kind of, I kick myself now.

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Jim:            The Invisible Man. Yes.

Levitz:        Yeah. You know… “Yeah… Really?… You should have been better read on that, buddy”. But nonetheless, he was there. Nonetheless, we introduced, genuinely alien characters. I still get a big kick out of Quislet, who I think is as alien as anybody who’s ever belonged to a superhero group.

Jim:            I love Quislet.

Levitz:        I think we were a little bit ahead of our time. Obviously, a lot of it was Keith, as well. He’s one of the most fertile imaginations in comics. We had a good solid run of several years there where he was just bouncing back and forth with me on ideas, constantly…

Jim:            It’s also a great science fiction comic. I mean, could be a superhero style book, it had more science fiction elements than most things I can think of, and sustained and really became deeper and deeper as your involvement with it went through the decade.

Levitz:        I think we did some good science fiction. I think we did some good mysteries. First time I met Brad Meltzer who had grown up reading the book. He started on me, saying, “I know they say Great Darkness was your biggest one, but I think Universal Project was a better story.” Technically, I agree with him. I think, certainly, it’s a better mystery story.

The Sends Girl Mystery, I think, was a really good mystery story. Karen always felt ultimately that it was a soap opera book. I think that’s a reasonable way of characterizing it as well. I was very lucky to have her as the editor for most of my run. She’s an extraordinary editor.

[00:30:02]

Jim:            And that’s true to the very origins of the strip as well, because you had… Going all the way back to the originals, where you’d had Starboy kill somebody and be kicked out, and Dream Girl…There were always romances and there was always drama. When you only think of Marvel as being the person doing that, Legion was always, to some degree a soap opera book.

Levitz:        A little bit… A little bit. Again, the size of the cast made it easier to do that. I enjoyed doing that tremendously. I would have kept writing if I had kept writing. But it had reached the point that my two older kids were two and four, and the writing was the weekend job, and I wanted to be out on the soccer field with them or driving my daughter to the dance class or whatever. That was more important at that point.

Jim:            Now, once that Crisis took place, that had to be a huge challenge, wasn’t it? To try to keep Legion with all these changes.

Levitz:        Basically, just losing the Superman mythology out of the Legion. That really was the only challenge, which I think hurt the book. But, you know, if you hurt Legion a little bit, and you improve Superman, the way John did, that was absolutely the right decision to be made.

Jim:            So, you were happy with the changes that Byrne made?

Levitz:        The publisher half of me was incredibly happy. The writer half of me was not. But the publisher gets to overrule the writer.

Alex:          Right. There you go,

Jim:            Besides that instance, were there other times where you had that internal conflict between what you wanted as a writer, and also, even going back to being a fan, versus what you knew to be the right publishing decision?

Levitz:        Sure. I think almost any writer, when the company says, “We’re doing a giant cross-over and you have to have monkeys in it in this month.” If you’re not the writer who came up with the monkey, you’re frustrated by it… “Okay. I think I can figure out a way to stuff a goddamn monkey in.”

Sometimes those stories came out fine. And sometimes those stories were pretty lame, mine or other people’s. I don’t think mine were any better or any worse than any of the other guys. But the publisher’s always really happy because he knows he’s going to sell more copies.

Jim:            When you were doing an almost 10-year run on Legion, were there times where you felt tired, and you kept going? Or was it always just one idea after another and it was, you could’ve continued running on it, in terms of inspiration if you hadn’t decided you had too many other responsibilities?

Levitz:        I can’t tell you that I would’ve succeeded being equally inspired for another 10 years. But I don’t think, if I hadn’t had the other aspects of my life, I don’t think would’ve given it up.





Jim:            That’s great. And let’s talk about Giffen’s contribution. Because he was listed as co-plotter. I know it’s not like the two of you sat together and plotted it out. But you believe that his contribution, nevertheless, deserve that status?

Levitz:        When comics are done collaboratively and it works, it’s very hard to draw the boundary line. You have all these debates, Stan versus Jack, Stan versus Steve, you look back and you try to separate the contribution of the two people, I wasn’t involved in any of that work, obviously. But I was friendly with all three of them.

I can occasionally look at it and say, “Here’s Stan’s hand. Here’s Jack’s hand. Here’s Steve’s hand.” I see the way they think. But you can’t sit there and parts it. And half the time, the people involve can’t parts it.

There were any number of instances with Keith, where I would suggest one thing, he’d suggest another, then I’d come back with something reacting to what he had suggested in reaction to what I had said, and the final thing really wasn’t mine, wasn’t his. It was just a thing that live and breathed of its own.

He would occasionally ignore my plot. Type the plot for an issue for a page or two, draw a scene that had nothing to do with what I’d written there. And I would dialog it. Ignoring his liner notes as something entirely different again. But we were in harmony enough in our basic conception of the characters, the base of tonality of the material, that the stuff came out wonderfully. That’s a fabulous feeling.

Jim:            Just in the interest of time, I’m going to turn it back over to Alex in just a minute. But I do want to ask you about your other collaboration with Steve Ditko in Adventure, and that would be Starman. Did you get to know Steve Ditko very well during this process?

Levitz:        I knew Steve going back. Obviously, before Stalker, when he was doing Mystery Stories for Joe. So, I knew him for 35 years or so of his life? Or more…

[0035:03]

Jim:            Was he fun to work with?

Levitz:        It was always great to see Steve’s pages. We didn’t have the kind of personal back and forth, that I had with some of the artist of my own age. Steve was a generation older than I was. A little younger than my parents but much close to my parents age than mine.

As is well known, he was a notoriously private person, but it was always fun seeing what he did with it and we all got along well. We did about 20 stories together, between Stalker, Starman. We did a story for Mike Friedrich’s Imagine, one of the start-rich publications back in the ‘70s. My first indie work. My first creator owned work. Incredibly talented man.

Jim:            Do you think it was easier to work with him when you were doing things like… Because you weren’t doing straight superheroes, so you weren’t getting in to some of his ideas of what a hero is in the same way, because you were doing the science fiction and you were doing fantasy with him?

Levitz:        Never thought about that. Maybe. I don’t know if his problems with Stan were about what a hero is per se… Or what else was in the mix. I think it’s pretty distant backseat driving for us to try and figure out what went wrong in that relationship.

Jim:            Sure. I was more thinking of Hawk and Dove, actually. And what a hard assignment that must have been to work together with.

Levitz:        Yeah. Steve was not in great health, as I understand it at that point. So, he wasn’t able to stick with it for a long time. I’m not sure what went on there. There’s a lot of interesting ideas in that material.

But one of the things that we don’t have a window into, as fans of the material is what’s going in in the lives of people. You don’t do your best work when your life is going through a challenging period, with health, family. Everyone of the great creators, whose work we love had meshugas. Sometimes that turn into their best work.

I didn’t know that Will’s daughter had died of leukemia till, I think it was 20 years after I first read Contract With God. He was very private about it. I still remember sitting at the Princeton Club at dinner with him and Ann, and hearing the story for the first time, and basically my jaw dropping.

Sometimes your pain goes into your best work. And sometimes, it doesn’t. Sometimes it’s just really hard to work when you’re not at your best. As I understand, Hawk and Dove, and Creeper, came at a time when Steve was having some real health challenges.

Jim:            Right. Ok, Alex, back to you… 1989…

Alex:          Sure… ’89. So, Time and Warner merged, and DC is part of Warner Bros, as far as the movie studio. Did that change the way DC was processing your putting comics out. Was there more connection with the Hollywood people? Because, you know, the Batman movie coming out around this time as well. Tell us about that.

Levitz:        We were an odd company. In terms of playing 52-card pick up. So, should have been in the publishing division with Time, shouldn’t move over at Warner Bros. The big money was clearly in the movie, and the associated licensing, so the decision was made to move us to the Warner Bros’ side.

A lot of work for the next few months. Changing some payroll systems. Changing some salary structures. Explaining our business to our new bosses. In general, they were very supportive. We had the good luck of working for some very good people there. As we had good luck working for Bill Sarnoff at Warner Publishing for the previous, 20 years, I guess, or almost 20 years.

But a lot changed, including the resources that were available to us. I remember the first my new bosses visited the DC offices, and walked through. It was Sandy Reisenbach who was the direct guy we were reporting to, and the woman who was heading HR, Adrienne Gary, who’s did a lot of work with us on the transition, and their expression on their faces as they walked through was like, parents walking through a college dorm.

It was just, “We pay at least…. We spend so much money, and you’re living like this?”

Alex:          [chuckles] That’s funny.

Levitz:        “What is wrong with you guys?” And suddenly, we found ourselves looking for better office space, and hiring more people, and having more resources available to us. That helped tremendously with our growth for the next batch of years.

Alex:          I got you. This is around the time when the titles start to change again. Because Jenette was editor in chief as well as president, but then she stepped down as publisher, but then you were executive vice president and publisher, right?

Levitz:        When we moved over to Warner Bros, it was a moment to sort of reassess.

[00:40:02]

We looked at the jobs we were actually doing. We felt that she was better described as president and editor in chief, and I was better described as executive vice president and publisher.

Still basically, chief executive and chief operating officer. She was concentrating on getting the movies and TV shows made, and setting broad picture editorial policy or running some extraordinary special projects over the next batch of years. She was always great at things like that. Things like our Landmine Comics that no one else in the world would have pulled off.

And I was running the nuts and bolts of the business. That also was kind of consistent with the way a lot of the Warner Bros divisions ran. Because a lot had a top creative person, and then a nuts and bolts business person.

Alex:          So that’s that, the division. Okay. Yeah. That makes sense, and that’s interesting. That’s why it all kind of happened around that same time then.

We’re going to the ‘90s, image comics, Marvel bankruptcy in the ‘90s. What was your impression of those industry changes, and you running the nuts and bolts of the company to keep DC safe from as much of the impact and maintain as much of the market share as possible? What was the overall discussion of that in the ‘90s?

Levitz:        The ‘90s is a long time with a lot of light…





[chuckle]

I mean some of the key points in that maybe. The founding of Image is something we had expected for a long time. We had looked at the United Artists model, which is basically what that was, originally. Actually, we first expected that to happen with Chaykin, and Simonson, and Starlin who were hanging out a lot together, and certainly were the guys who were capable of it.

We were probably a little naïve in thinking that at the time because we hadn’t focused on the need for the money to invest in something like that. And it was the money that the Image guys had made off some of the terrific speculator successes: X-Men 1, Spiderman 1, at that time, that enabled it to finally happen. The whole speculative boom of the early ‘90s had some great times attached to it, and some really challenging times attached to it.

The Marvel bankruptcy wasn’t so much an issue as much as the Heroes’ World decision…

Alex:          Distribution.

Levitz:        Distribution system. And I spent the next six or seven months of my life doing not much else but figuring out how to build the distribution system that could work for the next couple of decades. Working with a team both from within DC and a couple of lawyers from the Warner Bros side, but DC people like Bruce Cristo, Bob Wayne, Wiliiam Lasserson made tremendous contributions.

We used the fact that we were playing 52-card pick up to restructure the business in a way that made the growth in the graphic novel much, much more likely to happen. And really did make sure that the industry survived and thrived. We ran some real risk at that point.

Alex:          At the same time in the ‘90’s is 1993 Vertigo, that was a game changer as far as brand creation, creators. A lot of the British people coming in for 2000 AD world… Karen Berger assisted you as an editor in the late ‘70s. Talk about her creation of Vertigo and what was your role or impression of that?

Levitz:        I hired Karen as a kid, fresh out of college. I’m only about a year older but I was five or six years more experienced at that point, even more than that because I had started so young.

She was not a comic fan, so when she began to edit, she really tried to create comics that she wanted to read, and hoped that that would find a new audience. In fact, they did. She turned into, I would argue, the best editor of her generation of comics.

By the late ‘80s, early ‘90s, it was very clear that there was an identifiable flavor to her work, that customers were responding to. So, going with an in-print approach made sense. We offered her the opportunity to switch over to an in-print, and give up the more traditional DC stuff that she’d been doing up until that point. And she built it from there.

There were a bunch of decisions that I was involved in that process, whether we were going to put the DC Bullet on it, whether we were going to put the DC name on it, how we were going to put it, which names we were going to use? But the heart of what worked, is what Karen did.

The rest of us get credit for identifying it, for supporting her in the process, occasionally for arguing with her when she hit, maybe what was a boundary point that was arguable. But the heart of the success is all hers.

[00:45:03]

Alex:          So then, in 2001, it’s kind of a big… Your 2001-2002 era, you won an Ink Pot around this time, 9/11 has some impact in just New York in general. Jenette left and you became president and publisher. Tell us about the mood at that time, why did Jenette leave, and you becoming president and publisher.

Levitz:        Again, I’ll let Jenette speak for herself. I’m not going to speak about other people about their lives.

But I was given the opportunity to run the company, and as I’ve said before, I didn’t like the title editor in chief. I didn’t think it was good for me and I didn’t think me carrying it would be good for the company.

I also didn’t want to disassociate myself with what I had accomplished in the previous dozen or so years, as a publisher. So, I used the president and publisher version of the title. Also, to show that I was still staying fully connected to the publishing side of the business.

Jenette had really handled the TV and movie creative, and I suddenly was inheriting that, it was not something I was anxious to do or something that I thought, went to the heart of my skills or the lifestyle I wanted to have. So, it was a way of maybe keeping myself more connected to the comics.

Alex:          That’s pretty interesting… To not lose your comics soul, in a way. That’s pretty interesting. Did you have any involvement with the Chris Nolan, or Batman film, Zack Snyder films, any of those movies? What kind of interaction or role did you have in those?

Levitz:        I was Chris’ primary contact at DC. Both of the first two, and a piece of the third, Batman 3, were on my watch. By the time Zack got started up, we’d hired Gregory Novak to be our movie and TV guy. So, he was probably the primary, but I still interacted with that in reasonable amount.

Alex:          Did you have any involvement also in the animated films like with Bruce Timm involved stuff?





Levitz:        Sure.

Alex:          Tell us about your role on that.

Levitz:        It’s hard… “What is your role?”

Alex:          [chuckle]

Levitz:        It varies. The most important contribution I think I made to the Batman, The Animated Series was when Jean MacCurdy, who ran that division, called (she’s an old friend), and said, “Look, I want to hire Alan Burnett to be the head story guy on the series. We’re not getting what we need out of the people who are doing it now. And I need help convincing Sandy “, Reisenbach who was our boss, “Because Alan is incredibly expensive.”

He was doing a lot of animation writing for Disney. He was just coming off of a very lucrative Disney contract. She wanted him to move in. Probably the most important thing I did was say, “Yes. I’m a big fan of his too.” Dating back when the three of us had worked together on Super Friends, whatever, five or six years before. “I’ll go with you to Sandy. I’ll say, Sandy, you should hire this guy even if he would cost more than me or Jeanie. He’s worth it.” I think that’s probably the most important thing I did on that series.

From time to time, I would sit down with Alan or, rarely with Bruce, but occasionally. Paul Dini, Marty Pasko, when he was there. And listen to story ideas they had or suggest some story out of the Batman mythos that I remembered, or the Superman mythos. But most of the time, they’re doing it. That’s their gig. I’m kibitzing at the edges. [chuckle]

Alex:          I have one more question before Jim talks about the last section… 2009, DC Comics goes under the offices of DC Entertainment. First, what’s the difference of that entity? What are the details of you stepping down as president and becoming contributing editor, and overall consultant?

Levitz:        Again, I’ll leave it to DC to describe why they became DC Entertainment.

Alex:          Okay.

Levitz:        The company had made the decision, which evolved over a period of time, that they ultimately going to move it to California, and integrate it more closely with the movie business. I had no desire to be more closely integrated with the movie business, and I wasn’t going to uproot my life and move to California.

I had the economic freedom, thanks to how well they had treated me through the years, to not have to worry about it. So, I had said to them, “This is not a path that I want to go. Time comes and you want to do that, be glad to help, be glad to work through any kind of transition you want… but I ain’t going.”

And 2009, they said, “The time’s come, we feel this is the right thing to do with the company.” … “God bless you. It’s your toy. Let me know how I could help.” They set me up as a writer for a few years. Did a bunch of writing for them in the following years.

[00:50:02]

And they continued to treat me very nicely, and I get to continue to do the odd project for them. Reprint collections now and then. Writing every now and then. Telling them where I buried bodies every now and then.

Alex:          [chuckle] All this time, a potential homicide, yeah.

Jim’s going to continue, but I want to just throw out one more observation is… It’s interesting because you worked with really strong women in your time. Jenette Khan and Karen Berger, very creative, strong women, and you also write about them with Huntress and Power Girl. It’s just a really cool theme I’ve noticed from you.

I just want you to know I’m a big fan of yours.

Levitz:        Thank you. When we talk about strong women, the company had a lot of strong women executives. Chantal Dolnese who headed International for many years, business affairs for a number of years. One of the smartest people I ever worked with.

Terrific publishing person, Cheryl Rubin who ran our licensing department for any number of years. Terry Cunningham, who ran editorial administration. We had a lot of strong women. Part of that was because Jenette was sort of a flag flying.

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If you go back to the 1970s, women executives were relatively rare. The fact that we had a woman leader said, “Hey, you can come here.” Cheryl’s predecessor Mary Mobis-Yedlin before her was an early strong woman executive hire in the company.

I’m proud to say that generally speaking, when I would run the numbers to test, our payroll was pretty much 50/50 by gender. Some of that was obviously helped by Jenette, being a significant weight on that side of the scale, but she was not sufficient to do it all by herself. We had women in a lot of serious positions for a long time. That was an important component in the company’s success. We weren’t as diverse as I would hope a company could be, ultimately. But we were more diverse than a lot of companies at our time and we certainly worked at it.

Alex:          Jim.

Jim:            All right. Going way back in time, in terms of that, I am just curious, Was Dorothy Wofolk gone by the time you were hanging around the hallways?

Levitz:        I met Dorothy a couple of times in the hall when I was doing the fanzine. I don’t think we ever have a really long conversation. I knew her ex Bill Wofolk the writer, better, in later years. Got to meet her daughter who is a great prose novelist in her own right.

Jim:            Because the impression I got was that, ultimately, when she was doing Lois Lane, and some of those books when editing, that it maybe wasn’t the best environment, or the easiest environment for a woman to work in. Although they made an effort by putting her there, but that she wasn’t always treated perfectly. I wondered if you had any thoughts on that.

Levitz:        I was a kid. I probably wouldn’t have noticed. But I don’t remember any stories about Dorothy, particularly feeling like she wasn’t being treated well because she was a woman. I think it was a really difficult environment because comics weren’t doing well. And in particular the comics she was predominantly in charge of, the romance comics, were dying for broad cultural reasons that I don’t think any editor, no matter how brilliant could have resolved.

The other media were beginning to depict romance and sexuality in very direct and vivid forms. I think, there was universal wisdom, that if comics tried that with the drawn image, we’d be on the evening news every night with, “Oh my god, look at the dirty pictures they’re showing the children.”

I think the romance comics were caught between a need to modernize, and an impossibility of modernizing. Whether Dorothy could have done that creatively or not, I don’t have an opinion on, but I think it was an almost impossible task.

Jim:            In keeping about diversity. We talked about Vertigo but we did not talk about Milestone, which unfortunately did not have the same level of success. But my understanding is, it is something you were proud to be a part of. Do you want to talk about that for a couple of minutes?





Levitz:        Incredibly proud of Milestone, and the work the guys did. It did not succeed commercially. In the long run, it gave the company the character, Static, who is extraordinarily fondly remembered by a generation of kids that grew up on the animation. Maybe it won in the long run.

What the guys were trying to do required super human efforts, and the original founders had, I have to say, insane amounts of courage of their convictions to put their lives in that way. They did some phenomenal creative work, and it didn’t work.

[00:55:01]

There’s no way of telling at two extremes, whether it didn’t work because a certain number of people weren’t interested in buying characters of color at that point, or at the other extreme, the unique style of coloring they picked to use, because they wanted to try to find a way to do people of all different shades in a near adjust before computer coloring came online as a regular way to do that. It was unappealing to people or anything in between.

Unfortunately, comics don’t generate enough revenue to support the kind of market research budget where you can really find out why you succeed or why you fail most of the time.

Jim:            Another thing I wanted to ask you about was the weekly series 52. That seemed like a relatively daring project to put out and actually pull off. You guys did it spectacularly. Were you hesitant to go forward with that or were you confident it was going to work?

Levitz:        It’s probably one of the rare instances where I’m at fault for an editorial project. Dan came up, I guess, Dan and Jeff… Dan liked to make presentations on easels at that point, sketched out this whole presentation from his Crisis Series he was doing, and then said, “And then we’re going to jump ahead a year.”

There were a bunch of good ideas, and there’re a bunch of things I didn’t quite agree with. But that’s the usual. It’s his job not mine. But I really reacted negatively to the idea of jumping ahead a year, and I said, “Look, that’s been done, and it doesn’t usually pay off. If you’re going to do it, you should do something new.”

At that point, 24 was a fairly recent phenomenon on television and I threw out the idea of, “I you’re going to jump ahead a year, maybe do something that tells the story of that year in sort of real time. Maybe do something like 52 weeks.”

He grabbed the easel and he ran off and said, “Got it. Let me figure it out.” It was one of the first times, maybe the first time, that the sort of writers’ room approach that was very common in television already, was brought to comics. Dan came up with this whole writers’-room-based theory of working with Jeff and Grant, and Keith, and… was it Wade who was the other one on it?

Jim:            Yeah. Morrison was around too, wasn’t he?

Levitz:        Yeah. I said Grant. Yeah.

Jim:            Oh, I’m sorry. Yes.

Levitz:        He got that group together and he figured out a way to make that work, in a system that had not previously. And that’s really to his credit. I didn’t build any of that or touch any of that.

Jim:            And boy, those covers were something too.

Levitz:        We had a lot of talented people at DC. I mean they still do. I’m just speaking from my time. Incredibly proud of the team we had.

Jim:            We’ve been lucky enough to talk to people like Tim Sale and Mark Chiarello, and they’re just, amazing talent that you guys have.

Levitz:        Yup.

Jim:            Can we talk about New 52 for just a minute? Do you have thoughts on that?

Levitz:        “Not my job”

Jim:            What’s that?

Levitz:        “Not my job, chief.”

Jim:            [chuckle] Okay.

Levitz:        That’s their term.

Jim:            All right… I’ll leave that alone. Let’s talk about the comics that you did after 2009. It seems like although they say, “You can’t go home again.” You went home on a couple of projects. You did a Huntress book, and you returned to the Legion of Superheroes.

Levitz:        I don’t look at some of that stuff as being my best. It’s certainly not my best Legion run. Many factors, some of it being, just I was rusty after 20 years of not writing on a regular basis. Some of it, the changes in the direction that the line was going through at the time.

Jim:            And you were saying that some of that was you were a little rusty, you got very good notices when you did the different Doctor Fate though, didn’t you?

Levitz:        Yeah. I was really happy that New York Public Library put it on some list of Best YA Graphic Novels for the first one. Sonny Liew is, again, an extraordinary person to collaborate with so that was great fun.

It’s a collaborative medium. When it’s good, it’s one and one equals three.

Jim:            I want to do your non-DC stuff in a minute but I wanted to cover a couple of other… You have some other roles besides executive and writer. There’s a historian aspect to you because you did do the DC History Book, correct?

Levitz:        I did the DC History Book, and I did the Will Eisner Book with Abrams, Champion of the Graphic Novel.





Jim:            Yes. Both of those. Are you hoping to do some other books like that, more historical projects?

Levitz:        I have one book on popular culture history, that I want to do that I haven’t gotten off my ass to really put together. But I am hoping to put time in on that next year. We’ll see.

Jim:            Anything you want to say for the DC book and the Eisner book?

Levitz:        Please buy them. [chuckles]

[01:00:02]

Alex:          Go out and buy it. Yeah.

Jim:            Okay.

Levitz:        I mean the DC book has gone through I think 11 different forms and editions with Taschen It was a terrific experience. Still out there. Still available. I’m very proud of it. Won my Eisner for it.

The Eisner book, on the other hand, came out from Abrams, and didn’t do any gigantic numbers. It probably sold a little better than my fanzine did, towards the end of my fanzine days. Didn’t reach a really wide audience. And I think it was a good book. I think the history of the graphic novel in it is important history and accurate. Abrams has a warehouse full of them so…

Alex:          I got you. So, everyone, go online and buy one. Make a statement.

Levitz:        Think about it, anyway.

Jim:            I’ve another question too, while it’s in my head. I saw you at a San Diego panel talking about Jules Feiffer. Is Feiffer somebody you have a long-standing relationship with?

Levitz:        I met Jules through doing the Eisner book. We became friends from that because he was, of course, Will’s assistant, at the very beginning of his career. We discovered that we had many friends in common, who we both knew at the beginning of our careers. Him at beginning of the other people’s careers, and me at the end of their career.

Like Jonny Craig, and all the people who have been through up the Eisner’s studio in those years. That was kind of a hoot. I adored Jules. I respect him enormously. I hope to God, I’m doing something a tenth as creative in my 80s.

Jim:            It’s pretty amazing what he’s doing in his latest projects. The graphic novel’s he’s doing. Let’s talk about your academic career, post-DC. You taught at Columbia, you taught at Princeton, you taught at Pace, all with different aspects. Can you just talk about what you’re getting from that?

Levitz:        When I got up from the desk, what do I want to do with the rest of my life? I’m economically free to do whatever I want. I was very lucky in the teachers I had. I am one of Frank McCourt’s students, for those of you who know that name. The only high school English teacher to ever win a Pulitzer later in his life for, “Angel’s Ashes.” He was just one of the great teachers I’ve had, including people like Joe and Jenette.

So, I said, “You know what? Teaching would be fun. It’s a great thing.” I’m a drop-out, so it’s a challenging thing to get in, but I sent letters off to about a half dozen schools that either had writing programs or publishing programs. I said, “Hi, Kind of weird, don’t have the usual qualifications but I’ve done all these stuff in my life. Can you use me?” And inveigled my way to a number of different schools, and it’s about half of what I do these days.

Jim:            Where are you currently teaching?

Levitz:        Pace has a master’s in publishing program, I do a course a term there. Either the Business of Comics and Graphic Novels or Trans-Media and the Future Publishing. Pace undergraduate, I teach Writing the Graphic Novel, one term, and Graphic Novel as Lit, the other term. Little liberal arts college, named Manhattanville up in West Chester, I do a couple of sections there for Writing for the Media, there. And every couple of years, Columbia lets me co-teach the American Graphic Novel, with one of their real professors.

Jim:            That’s great. Do you know Karen Greene?

Levitz:        I do, very well.

Jim:            She’s great.

Levitz:        She is terrific.

Jim:            And we should have her at some point, Alex:

Alex:          Yeah.

Jim:            Besides that, you’ve done some post-DC work, specifically, having moved from Brooklyn as a child, I assume you moved. Were you actually living in Manhattan during the DC period, is that right?

Levitz:        Not all of it. I was in Manhattan at the beginning of my DC career, and then when the kids came along, I was up in Chappaqua, New York suburbs.

Jim:            I see. You returned to Brooklyn at least in terms of narratively for Dark Horse. after that with Brooklyn Blood, correct?

Levitz:        Yeah. Well, and actually for Doctor Fate as well, which I set in Brooklyn.

Jim:            Oh, that’s right.

Levitz:        Brooklyn is cool again, which was not in any of the years I was in there. So, it’s nothing to do with me. When my daughter moved to Brooklyn after college, it was, “We worked so hard to get out of Brooklyn, and why are you moving there?” … “It’s not the same place, Dad.” And she’s absolutely right. It’s really an amazing multi-cultural place now. A great setting for a story.

Jim:            Let’s talk about, you have a new book that’s coming out in just a few weeks, correct?

Levitz:        Right before Christmas, I think, December 18. The first Visitor from Valiant which is, again, an interesting mixture of a mystery story, a science fiction story, and the atmospherics of a superhero story.

Jim:            How did that come about that you were going to do something for Valiant. You’d had no previous relationship, had you?

[01:05:03]

Levitz:        No. I mean, I’ve paid some attention to the Valiant Books when they were first coming out because I was interested to see what Jim was doing. Jim was there. Bob Layton, who I’d worked with and have been friendly with. Don Perlin who is an old family friend. So, I paid some attention at the beginning but I hadn’t paid much attention since.

Fred Peirce who is the publisher there these days, I’ve known since his first day at Valiant, and then much better in his days at the Wizard Conventions. We stayed friendly. Fred just said, “Hey, are you free to do writing for other people? Do you want to do anything for us?” I said, “Sure.” He said, “We’ve got a couple of old names, maybe you can take one of them and do something interesting with it.”

He gave me some copies. I thought the Visitor name was a good name, and I thought there were some elements in that that I could play with and do a very different take on, and went from there. I got very lucky in the artist who they found for it. A young woman named, MJ Kim who was nominated for Ross Manning Award this year. And she’s really… you watch her grow and come in to her own, she’s really a phenomenal artist in the series.

Jim:            Is this going to be an on-going series or is it a set story?

Levitz:        It’s a six-issue series. I think if it does well, Valiant in their usual pattern, may come back and ask to do another one at some future point. It’s structured for the six issues.

Jim:            Anything else you want to say about the Visitor? We’re excited about it. Looking forward to it.

Levitz:        Well, as we were talking earlier, lots of comics shops don’t stock the secondary brands, so if you like my work, and you’ve been interested in it for over the years for DC, and your comics shop doesn’t normally stock Valiant, please, ask them to special order it. If your comics shop does stock Valiant, it would be great if you put it on your pull and hold list to ‘taste it’.

I think from Valiant’s point of view the best reason to have me writing for them is that, maybe it’ll bring some people to reading their books who don’t usually. And it would be wonderful if that worked.

Jim:            Please go on to Comic Book Historian’s Facebook Group, and tell us when each issue is coming out. That’s what Howard Chaykin does each time he has something coming up.

Levitz:        Howard’s a more energetic marker than I am, unfortunately.

[laughter]

Levitz:        I fortunately for him, unfortunately for me.

Jim:            He seems to have a lot of energy.

Levitz:        God bless. Always did.

Jim:            I just have two, like guilty pleasure questions I want to ask you, is whether or not you ever wrote a story for Marvel? And is there any story or any character you would like to have written or would get to write?

Levitz:        As you said earlier, I love the Avengers. It’s the book I broke apart, studying to figure out how to do All Star Comics. Analyzing Roy’s run on that.

Jim:            That was nice, with Buscema and George Klein doing the inking on those early books. Those were beautiful.

Levitz:        Yep. I’d get a kick out of getting a chance to do an Avengers’ story one time. Who knows?

Jim:            That’d be great… You talked about poker night. I’m just curious, and you named the people that were playing. Can you tell us who were the good poker players and who were the bad poker players?

Levitz:        I don’t think we had anyone who was a notoriously bad poker player. Except the one time Paul Kupperberg sat in and folded a royal flush not realizing it qualified and thought jacks are better.

Jim:            That’s pretty bad.

Levitz:        I collected those cards and held them hostage. I think I ultimately gave them back to him as a wedding present… after some years later.

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Alex:          [chuckle] That’s funny.

Levitz:        It was a nickel and dime game. Not a lot of money floating at the table. I’ve played in poker games with vastly more serious players. But it’s a great bunch of people. We were all interested in what comics were, interested on what could be. Talking about the field, showing off pages of stuff.

You saw everything, from Marv’s pages for Tomb of Dracula back in the early days. Gene’s pencils which looks so, so amazing, looked wonderful after Tom Palmer too but Gene’s one of the artists whose work is most unique in the pencil form of that generation, I think.

I think it was a very formative experience for a lot of us. It wasn’t like we recruited the table for, “We are going to run the world.” but, I guess we had four Marvel editors in chief, Len, Marv, Jim, Tom DeFalco. Me from the DC side.

[01:10:00]

Denny who although not ever editor in chief anywhere certainly was the dominant editor and writer on Batman for decades, and one of the industry legends. And bunches of talented young men, and occasionally, a talented person who turned out to be a super star like Frank. And you know, everybody kicked their nickels and dimes in, and ate their pretzels.

I’ve been in the board of Boom for several years now. It’s board work so I’m not involved directly on the creation of the comics but every now and then, I’m doing something helpful to keep them going effectively.

I do a couple of charitable boards. The Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, which I’ve been on for over a decade. Clarion Foundation, which runs the Clarion science fiction workshops, which has been around for about 40 years; I’ve only been on hat board for a couple of years.

But, I think, to give applaud for Boom, again, like Valiant, there’s a lot of comic shops that aren’t checking out the Boom projects and offering them. They’ve got a bunch of stuff that’s worth reading. I would recommend that highly to people.

The Comic Legal Defense Fund I think continues to do really important work. We’re seeing comics challenged very frequently now, in classrooms, and in libraries, they’re very frequently banned books. It’s often some of the very best materials. Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home, gets challenged constantly, and the Legal Defense Fund is really on the forefront of fighting those battles to make sure people have access to the work.

If you spend your, I don’t know what it is to join, whether it’s 10 bucks at a San Diego cocktail party or a hundred bucks for a membership but if you’re kicking in a couple of bucks to Legal Defense Fund, I would argue that that’s money going back to the comic book business in a very effective way.

Alex:          Actually, that’s where me and Jim first met years ago. It was at the CLDF meeting in San Diego ComCon.





Levitz:        Ah, one of the Westgate parties.

Jim:            Yeah.

Alex:          Yeah. That’s right.

Jim:            I keep up my membership every year.

Levitz:        Thank you, Sir. Thank you to everyone who does. It’s a good cause.

Alex:          You also received the Bob Clampett Humanitarian Award, as well in 2008. There’s a lot of aspects to you.

Levitz:        I’ve gotten the Bob Clampett. I’ve gotten the Dick Giordano Humanitarian Award from Hero Initiative. I got the Industry Appreciation Award from Comics Pro the first year that they put that in place almost a decade ago. I’ve got a shelf of stuff I’m really proud of.

Alex:          Yeah. Oh yeah. Driven by love, obsession, determination, hard-work and good taste might I add.

Levitz:        Well… and outlasting everybody else. Hang around for almost 50 years, they’ll give you something to make you go away.

[chuckle]

I was very honored to get inducted to the Eisner Hall of Fame, this year at San Diego. But that have also sort of like, “All right already, are you done? We’re putting the audio-animatronic of you in there… You don’t need to do anything more. Go home!”

[laughter]

I want to keep doing stuff as long as I can.

Alex:          Yeah. Oh, yeah… Well, this is Alex Grand with Jim Thompson at the Comic Book Historians Podcast. We’re really excited about out interview with Paul Levitz who has many more projects in front of him but also has a strong legacy behind him.

Paul, it’s really interesting in that you approached comics from a writer, from a corporate standpoint, from an editing standpoint, from a fanzines standpoint. You’re really unique, multifaceted individual and we’re really thankful that you spent some time with us today.

Levitz:        My pleasure… You know, I’ve done everything I could figure out how to do. I can’t draw or I probably would’ve tried that at some point. But I tried my hand at coloring. I’ve done an odd lettering correction, here or there. But you do what you can do.

I had one student in an MFA program who had a bit of wisdom, that I love to pass along to my current students. She said, “I’m a computer jock. I could work in any kind of industry. But I love my job.” She runs the ticketing computers for one of the major Broadway houses. And she says, “What I love about the job, is every day when I go to work, they’re not talking about whether the Mets or Yankees are going to be on the World Series, they’re talking about who’s going to replace Nathan Lane in the play he’s in.”

I think, getting to be in the business that you love, no matter what role you play in it, is a great path in life. I was lucky enough to get into a business I love. Been lucky enough to hang around in it. And I just keep trying for different roles that make sense for my life at that moment and where I can contribute something.

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