In Conversation with Paul Levitz

Paul Levitz was born in Brooklyn, NY in 1956, and entered the comics industry in 1971 as editor/publisher of The Comic Reader, the first mass-circulation fanzine devoted to comics news.  He continued to publish TCR for three years, winning two consecutive annual Comic Art Fan Awards for Best Fanzine.  His other fan activities included editing the program books for several of Phil Seuling’s legendary New York Comic Art Conventions. He received Comic-con International’s Inkpot Award in 2002, the prestigious Bob Clampett Humanitarian Award in 2008, and the Comics industry Appreciation Award from ComicsPro (the trade association of comic shop retailers) in 2010. Levitz also serves on the board of the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund.

Levitz is primarily known for his work for DC Comics, where he has written most of their classic characters including the Justice Society, Superman in both comics and the newspaper strip, and an acclaimed run on The Legion of Super-Heroes, a series he’s recently returned to write.  Readers of The Buyers’ Guide voted his Legion: The Great Darkness Saga one of the 20 best comic stories of the last century, and visitors to the site selected the same story as #11 of the Top 100 Comic Book Stories of All Time.  DC Comics has just issued a new hardcover edition of Legion: The Great Darkness Saga, and a hardover collection of his new stories, Legion: The Choice, both of which made the New York Times’ Graphic Books BestSeller List.

Cumulatively, Levitz has written over 300 stories with sales of over 25 million copies, and translations into over 20 languages.  As a DC staffer from 1973, Levitz was an assistant editor, the company’s youngest editor ever, and in a series of business capacities, became Executive Vice President & Publisher in 1989 and then served as President & Publisher from 2002-2009.  He continues as a Contributing Editor, but is now concentrating on his writing.

His current writing projects include Taschen’s 75 YEARS OF DC COMICS: THE ART OF MODERN MYTHMAKING, published for holiday, 2010, which won the  U.K.’s Eagle Award for Favourite Comics-Related Book and is nominated for two Eisner Awards in the U.S.

He has been teaching “Writing For Media” at Manhattanville College since last fall, and will begin teaching a course on “Comics & Graphic Novels” for Pace University’s M.S. in Publishing program this fall, and a class on “Transmedia” at Columbia University in the spring.

He took time off at the recent Singapore Toy Game and Comic Convention to speak to POPCulture Online.

POPCulture Online: How do you feel about being back in writing having been the President and Publisher of DC?

Paul Levitz: I’m happy to be back writing and I’m doing teaching now which is something I’ve wanted to do my whole life and I don’t have to be on the road 15 nights a year which is great as well. I’ve had an extraordinary run at one of the greatest jobs on the planet.

POPCulture Online: Do ever get tempted to intervene?

Paul Levitz: These guys are the ones driving the bus and I know better than anybody else that when you’re doing that, you’re gonna make a bunch of good decision hopefully and some not so good. Because you make so many decisions being in that position and especially in a business as complicated as DC , nobody every makes them all right.

You hope that you make the big ones right and then in general you make more right than wrong. The guys doing it have to be the ones who are following the star that they believe in and the last thing they need or want is a backseat driver in it. I’m much more content to be a backseat cheerleader.

Please let them be right more often than I was, be more successful than I was, let them run it longer than I did! These are great wonderful characters and I’m very proud of what I did and happy to have passed the baton to a new team and it’s their turn to solve these problems.

POPCulture Online: Your book 75 years of DC Comics: The Art of Mordern Mythmaking was a great success. Any plans for another book?

Paul Levitz: Well I’m sure they will do another one at 100 years but it probably won’t be my turn..I would certainly love to write another book but my next projects are not announced in that area. Hopefully by the end of the year I’ll be started on some more book projects.

There are things I’d like to do but when you go through a transition process, it’s usually set up in stages and my freedom to do projects like that kicks in at a certain point and that’s when I’ll start making the deals for the next things I want to do.

POPCulture Online: There have been so many versions of Superman. Being a fan of the character yourself, which story line is your personal favourite?

Paul Levitz: You can never get past the comfort food of your childhood. The Superman that I fell in love with was the one that Mort Weisinger was editing, Jerry Siegel, Ed Hamilton all putting in material regularly. When I wanna feel the magic that I felt when I was 10, 11 or 12, those are the stories that I go back to.

I can’t tell you as a professional, as a writer or editor that they are objectively better than a story Grant did last week or a story John Byrne did 20 years ago or any other piece of work but there’s a resonance to me that is unmatched because it was all fresh to me. My mind was open to the ideas and it was a high point in the characters creativity so it’s not just that it came out when I was 12 but it was a great thing that came out when I was 12.

The science fiction historian Sam Moskowitz historian once said that the golden age of science fiction is when you are 12 and I think that really applies to all forms of popular culture. The things that you read at the moment where the discovery is important to you carries a different kind of emotional weight.

POPCulture Online: In the upcoming Huntress project you’re working on is that anything distinctively different about her in terms of personality or costume?

Paul Levitz: Well the costume constantly evolves. It’s a balence between battle armor and sexiness. I’m different now compared to 30 years ago when I first wrote her. I’m sure that’s affecting what I’m doing too.

POPCulture Online: With Superman and Batman achieve great success transiting from Comics to Movies, if there was another DC character who you would like to see achieve that same status, which one would it be?

Paul Levitz: It’s all about getting the right kind of creative people driving the project and not just the raw material itself. If you can get someone with Christopher Nolan’s level of skill and intelligence and he looks at something that nobody else considered worthwhile and bring his kind of skills to it, you get magic. That’s really what you’re hoping for!

If I remove myself from DC and my prejudice to them having been a part of that process, if I was sitting there with the list of Marvel characters in let’s say 1999 before the Spiderman movie came out. Certainly I would have said if you wanna do movies that are from Marvel, you wanna do Spiderman and X-Men because those are their 2 great staples.

I don’t think I would have listed Ironman has number 3 on the list. That was the directors brilliance and the extraordinary performance that Robert Downey Jr gave and they put lightning in a bottle that day.

That’s what you’re look for to happen each time but most of the time it doesn’t whether it’s Marvel or DC. You’re always hoping that the character and the idea which has an intriguing creative dimension will successfully make the transition. A lot fo what I do in teaching is that I talk about the process of characters or ideas moving from medium to medium. One of the things I do in my writing class is to ask the kids to look at The American President and The West Wing.

Same brilliant writer, same setting and in a way when you look at the characters that he uses, it’s the same just with different name. Bu the nature of film vs television forces you into a totally different structure.

Comics aren’t designed to be perfect for film so you have to have a director, a writer, a creative genius, someone in the mix who can look at the thing and say “Here’s how to turn this just a little bit sideways and keep what was magic about the original and make it work in the form it has to go into”

Paul Levitz was in town for the Singapore Toy Games and Comic Convention

By Elliott Danker

©POPCulture Online 2011, All Rights Reserved

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