Conversation

Doctor Fate #5

Doctor Fate #5 608 935 Paul Levitz

DF_05

In case it’s not obvious from the work, I’m greatly enjoying doing the new DOCTOR FATE series. The collaboration with Sonny Liew is a special joy, from his innovative covers (love this month’s ode to Frank King and Chris Ware), hate that he does them completely digitally so I can’t get an original to hang on my wall. With issue #5, Khalid has grown a bit more confident and competent (though it’s still less than a week of real time since he became Fate), but it’s clearly not enough to face off against a god.

Part of the fun for me is exploring things that are genuine Brooklyn, sadly even including looting in the wake of a blackout or disaster. The good news is that hasn’t happened much in the wake of Sandy, but it’s certainly something I remember from the big blackout of my childhood, most of who’s waking hours I spent on my front porch in East Flatbush, waiting for the power to return.

Have to find a moment to get a good slice of Brooklyn pizza or a chewy Brooklyn bagel into the story!

NYCC 2015 Will Eisner PANEL

NYCC 2015 Will Eisner PANEL 956 411 Paul Levitz

Raina Telgemeier, Todd McFarlane, Denis Kitchen and me in conversation on Will Eisner :

SCHEDULES IN A BRONZE AGE…

SCHEDULES IN A BRONZE AGE… 150 150 Paul Levitz

One of my first ‘business’ tasks at DC was helping to create the annual production schedule for 1974 or 1975, after proofreader Gerta Gattel retired. Gerta was a meticulous woman, had been responsible for a variety of schedules the company used. For whatever reason (the fact that I could keep track of such things in my fanzine? spreading the work around?) then-VP Sol Harrison asked me to help.

Impossible as it is to imagine from today’s perspective, when a combination of innovation, chaos, and constantly evolving mini-series make it appear that all comic publishers’ schedules are done in chalk, in those days, it was relatively likely that the year’s schedule could be designed, printed out, and left unchanged for most of the year. Maybe one title or two would get cancelled unexpectedly, and perhaps there’d be one burst of “everything is going monthly” or some other change.

One of the main tasks of the annual schedule was to balance out the special issues, by this period “giants” that would have extra pages filled with reprints, but usually keep the typical amount of original material in the front. The overall plan was to have a specific amount each month, in a pattern which had descended from the older G-numbered 80 Page Giants. Another was to orchestrate the 8x a year titles, a frequency DC used for a couple of decades that would end soon after. These came out every six weeks, reliably, so they basically appeared in two cover date months and then skipped the third.

If you wondered why WEIRD WAR TALES had a Giant in January, 1975, it was probably at least partially my fault.

IN A MUSEUM?

IN A MUSEUM? 150 150 Paul Levitz

Smiling at the sight of a couple of issues of ETCETERA & THE COMIC READER hanging on the wall of the NEW YORK HISTORICAL SOCIETY. They’ve mounted an exhibit entitled “Superheroes In Gotham” which I strongly suggest you check out. The history detailed is pretty straight-forward, but the artifacts presented are worth the trip (and I’m not talking about my ‘zines…yet).

Jerry Siegel’s old manual typewriter opens the exhibit, and sent me back into recalling his meticulously detailed lists of the Legion stories he wrote so I could get the credits right when I was doing the reprints. Then there’s a real treasure, two of Steve Ditko’s pages from AMAZING FANTASY #15. The originals are gorgeous, with detail in the line that was long lost in the miserable reproduction methods of the period. Steve’s sharply penned faces are worth the trip in themselves.

Spin around, and there’s one of H.G. Peter’s early color designs for Wonder Woman in a costume that certainly wouldn’t have become iconic, as well as one of his later covers. There’s also a SENSATION cover by Irwin Hasen from the period when it was morphing into a romance comic. Irwin lived near the Historical Society, and would have been smiling at the sight. Probably flirting with any tall pretty woman who came near it, too.

Other goodies include an original George Reeves Superman costume, a Julie Newmar Catwoman outfit, a program from the very first comic con in 1964, and more packed into a few small rooms. And the Batmobile from the ’60s show parked in the Society lobby.

Oh, and one of those ETC/TCR issues? The cover is an ad page of THE SHADOW by Bernie Wrightson that was done as his sample for the series in 1972 but never published other than on my zine. It’s worth a look.

The exhibit’s up until February 21st.

READING

READING 150 150 Paul Levitz

Unsurprisingly, one of the great pleasures of my life. When I went back to my elementary school four decades later, one of the two places I could find unaided was the library. And I can still close my eyes and remember where specific shelves were in My Friend’s Bookstore, Brooklyn’s first used bookstore to carry a deep selection of back issue comics and the source of much of my collection.

Currently finishing two books: Mercedes Lackey’s latest Valdemar novel, CLOSE TO THE HEART, and Nicholas Carr’s THE SHALLOWS. Valdemar seems to me to be a very cleanly constructed medievalist fantasy, with lots of familiar tropes but an interesting progressive ‘reveal’ of the nature of the Companions. This isn’t one of the strongest in the series, without a lot of emotional progress or new dimensions to the fantasy elements. Start earlier on, if you’re inclined to taste.

THE SHALLOWS explores the changes in our brains caused by our use of the new technologies, and it’s very much the brain rather than the ‘mind’ that’s the focus. Carr identifies a number of studies showing how quickly we get ‘rewired’ neuron by neuron in connecting online or to video games, and the shifts in our reading patterns and attention span. There’s also a short, thoughtful chapter on the Flynn Effect, which is the rise in IQs, arguing that humanity isn’t really getting smarter, just more adapted to using certain types of abstract thinking. Thinking about adding it as another text in my “Transmedia & The Future of Publishing” course, and at the very least will be drawing from it for my discussions.

Of course, few books deliver the pleasure I used to get from a good Hugh Lofting Doctor Dolittle tale. Sigh…

Welcome

Welcome 960 301 Paul Levitz

Welcome. Crawling slowly into the digital age. Looking for something that can replace the contact and conversation that I had with my fanzines (back in the dinosaur age of comics), or the almost 20 years of writing lettercols. I know this is a very different platform, but I’m hoping it can satisfy some of the old itch and I can enjoy some of the new freedoms.

If you’re here on day one, I assume you know who I am…if not, the propaganda can be found under “Backstory” (write comics long enough and you start thinking you’re a fictional character). If you’re one of the thousands of folks who enabled me to spend my life playing with my childhood toys and obsessions, thanks. If you’re not, welcome anyway—maybe you’ll find something interesting.

If you’re here waiting for the nasty revelations, you’ll be disappointed. I’ve been insanely lucky in my career, and this isn’t settle scores, and I have no taste for mean spirited gossip. You will get anecdotes that take you behind the scenes, but my memory is kinda cluttered with nonsense like Legionnaire home worlds, so it’s often fuzzy, or at least skewed to what I found interesting. And there’s plenty of things I can’t or won’t discuss.

But if you’re curious about nuggets of comics history, or observations about the field, popular culture, or my worldview, hang around. This is a new toy and I’m not certain how often I’ll play here, but I’ll try to keep it interesting.

The design team tells me that we are only in BETA mode, and there are glitches to be debugged, copy to be finalized, books to be added to the ones already posted and the like. But please jump in, join the conversation!

-Paul

 

Old Photos

Old Photos 150 150 Paul Levitz

Digging through the files found some old photos, including this one of the 1973 New York Comic Art Convention, with me at what was almost certainly DC’s first ever convention booth. The con was held at what’s now the Grand Hyatt on 42 Street, formerly the Commodore (after Commodore Vanderbilt, the namesake of the nearby avenue and onetime leader of the New York Central Railroad which terminated at Grand Central).

A small strange story of that room. Many years later, when Carol Kalish* passed away suddenly, then Marvel President Terry Stewart held a memorial service for her. Terry had cast about for a comics-connected place to have it, and felt he’d failed, so he settled on the ballroom of the Grand Hyatt. But when we were there, I realized it was the old Commodore ballroom which had been the dealers’ room for the NY Con for a few years. Terry and I shared a happy moment as I told him the history, and we thought about how fitting it was for Carol to have her farewell in a room where so many fans had found joy in comics.

* Carol was the longtime direct sales person for Marvel, starting as their second hire in that area, and going on to lead the department as well to venture into editorial areas. She had been an early comics retailer in Cambridge, Mass., and was much beloved by the retail community. Decades after her passing, she received a posthumous award for her services to the industry from Comics Pro, which I was proud to accept on her life partner, Rich Howell’s, behalf.

Will Eisner and The NY Comicon

Will Eisner and The NY Comicon 960 300 Paul Levitz

Working on the Eisner book yesterday, having fun doing detective work…for decades, Will and Denis Kitchen have told flip sides of the same story of their first meeting at the 1971 NY Comicon, the first time either of them attended. I was always a bit jealous–that was MY first Comicon too–why didn’t I meet you guys and become best friends too? [Not that we didn’t ultimately meet and become friends, you understand, but still…]

But something bugged me. I vaguely recalled a SPIRIT cover on an earlier NY Con program book I had gotten when I was working for Phil Seuling in the early moments of SeaGate Distributors and the direct market. Dug down, found it. 1968 con…no article on Will in the book, though. 1969 con program, no transcript of the previous year’s guest of honor event, no photos. Hmm…

Emailed a few friends who had been at the cons before me. Memories fuzzy. Suggestions back: look at the progress reports, try this other friend. Paydirt!

Will was a luncheon guest of honor at the ’68 show with Burne Hogarth, or at least announced to be, and Will rarely missed a commitment. And another friend recalls other friends scoring him an Eisner sketch at the ’69 show.

Will apparently conflated his early con appearances into the one, which made the story better…and probably forgot that he did so in retelling the story again and again…