New icV2.com column

New icV2.com column 150 150 Paul Levitz

Just a redirect here, reminding folks I have a new column up at icV2.com about comics retailing.


Last Day of the Dawn of Comics

Last Day of the Dawn of Comics 150 150 Paul Levitz

Forty years ago, DC Comics held its one and only Super DC Convention, and we gathered together the greats of the Golden Age for what was the last time. Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster had just reached the final accommodation of their lives with DC, and were there smiling, along with Bob Kane, Shelly Mayer, Jack Schiff and many others. The then-still active team that was present included Julie Schwartz, Murray Boltinoff, Sol Harrison, Joe Orlando, Jack Adler, Joe Kubert, Curt Swan, Denny O’Neil, and the youngsters like me. Jenette Kahn had just arrived at DC a few weeks before, and the chaos that was the convention provided her first great bonding with the small team that was then the DC staff of about 30 folks. Virtually everyone who was invited attended, with the notable exception of Bob Kanigher, who was nervous to be on the Wonder Woman panel with his old boss, Shelly Mayer.

Chaos? The convention had been scheduled to be at the Commodore (later the Grand Hyatt) Hotel, but they had gone on strike two days before. Hasty arrangements were made to shift to the Americana (now the Sheraton NY Times Square), and I have a vague memory of our needing to carry over a certified check for the deposit because Warner Communications/DC Comics’ credit wasn’t enough to satisfy them in the circumstances. DC folks were on phones trying to get radio stations to announce the new location, and we ended up rolling giant mail bins full of stuff for the con down 52nd Street from the offices to the hotel.

February 29th was Superman’s birthday under Nelson Bridwell’s analysis, so the official peak of the con was a giant birthday cake made of Twinkies (a major advertiser in comics in those days). There were leftover Twinkies to eat at the office for a long time. But the real thrill was meeting the men who had created the world of comics and super heroes, and for most of us, for the first or only time.

Somewhere in DC’s files there are grainy old videotapes of some of the panels, magic moments when the greats of the Golden and Silver Age of Comics met. Maybe technology has reached the point where they can been enhanced, and we can revisit that moment…

A tip of the hat to the departed Phil Seuling and Sol Harrison, who cooked up the event, and to my fellow “manager,” Jonni Levas (who as always, organized Phil) and the other Junior Woodchucks, whose love of comics showed through it all.


Covered! 150 150 Paul Levitz

Smiling at the new DEATHSTROKE #15 variant cover by Neal Adams. My inner comic fan was always tickled to be in the comics, going all the way back to a Gold Key issue of STAR TREK when Allan Asherman and I were written in as red shirts (and we all know what happens to them…). Showing up in stories I was connected to was nice but not surprising (the LEGION tabloid, the Wedding of Superman and Lois a generation later, with a few others in between). Being mentioned in the Marvel Bullpen Bulletins a couple of times was a special treat, as it crossed company lines. But covers are so rare. As best I can recall, the last time I made the cover was also by Neal — SUPERMAN VS. MUHAMMAD ALI with its amazing crowd scene. Thanks, Neal!

BTW, recalling the ALI cover brings to mind Carol Fein. Carol had been Carmine’s secretary before leaving to have her second daughter. I used to stand by her desk to read Jack Kirby’s Fourth World issues as they came in from the coast. She came back to DC shortly after Jenette Kahn arrived to assist Jenette when the secretary she inherited from Carmine was a bad fit. Carol became the company morale officer, with her booming boro accent (think Fran Drescher with less restraint), sexy sense of humor, and endless warmth. No one could make a bagel party come to life better than Carol. Anyway, Carol was responsible for chasing the paperwork permissions for each of the people on the ALI cover: celebrities, politicians, comics folks; and only the very rare person would say no to her. In mid-life she battled MS with enormous courage, and sadly we lost her way too soon. A lot of the people on the DEATHSTROKE cover shared smiling moments with Carol…

What’s making it Golden?

What’s making it Golden? 150 150 Paul Levitz

In my speech at Comics Pro this week I described the time we’re living in as the new Golden Age of Comics, and a more creative one than the first. Taking nothing away from the first generation of comics creators, including many who became my friends like Will Eisner, Shelly Mayer and Jack Kirby, to name three of the most influential, they were inventing a form with little to go on but the very short newspaper strip comics as a baseline. Today’s creators have a body of comics created over eight decades that they are using as a foundation for incredibly diverse and innovative work.

The diverse part is key, in my opinion. When you consider the success of manga as a form in Japan (where it’s about a third of publishing), part of it must come from the vast diversity of content offered in manga form. Fiction, history, how to, all for any possible audience. American comics (with perhaps a 4-5% share of the publishing market here) has operated in a very small creative range until the last decade or two. Now we’re seeing talented people speaking to a wider selection of subjects, and through that, a wider audience.

Much of the work is not to my personal taste, of course. As a reader, as well as a writer, certain subjects interest me and others don’t. And some subjects work better in prose than in comics (or vice versa). But as someone who has worked to expand the comics market in several different roles through my life, I’m thrilled to see the experimentation with subject matter, styles and formats…and even more excited to see the readers being attracted as a result.

And I really do think the best is yet to come.

Musings on Batman

Musings on Batman 150 150 Paul Levitz

There’s a new volume out updating an older collection of essays about Batman: MANY MORE LIVES OF BATMAN, edited by Roberta Pearson, William Uricchio and Will Booker (2016, British Film Institute). I’m pleased to say the lead essay is a piece of mine, “Man, Myth and Cultural Icon,” exploring why I think Batman has been the most protean of the great comic book heroes. He’s been successful (and perceived as ‘true’) in incarnations as different as the role played by Adam West and Christian Bale, as well as so many interesting comics incarnations. There are interesting essays by the editors and folks like Henry Jenkins, one of the academic founders of ‘transmedia’ as a subject. Check it out if you get a chance.


Paradigm? 960 300 Paul Levitz

There’s been a bit of conversation lately about something Denny O’Neil kindly labeled “the Levitz paradigm” – a plotting tool I used in the Legion’s heyday to keep track of the many fluid plots and subplots.  The physical ‘device’ is pretty simple, and the theory is one that was rapidly evolving in super hero comics in the ‘80s but which has deep roots in soap opera.  Warren Ellis said some nice things about it recently online, and I wanted to both point out its prior ancestry and my modest contributions.

Today the terms “A plot” and “B plot” are conversational language, but in the ‘80s that wasn’t the case.  Stan Lee and Roy Thomas had been developing the tools in comics since about 1965, and Robert Altman had been weaving it in films, but it hit the broadest mass culture when it moved to network prime time with HILL STREET BLUES.  

 If the ‘paradigm’ was anything beyond a charting tool, it was a few (sometimes ignored by me, sadly) guidelines:


  • start your secondary plots low and raise them slowly (maybe as a C or D plot before it gets to be a B, much less an A).
  • every time you visit a plotline, it needs to progress in that visit (if it’s boy meets sheep, one of them should end the scene in an emotional moment, for example).
  • vary the number of beats before you escalate to an A.

DC_Guide-to-WritingAnd all of this is, of course, secondary to basic plotting rules like making stakes important to the characters, and flowing plots from the characters themselves.  Or one that I’ve grown fonder of in my recent years of teaching, that what reveals/defines character is choices, particularly choices with costs.

It’s a fairly simple and useful charting tool for doing serial comics, and if you’re curious to look at it, check out Denny’s DC Guide to Writing Comics.


Cityscapes 150 150 Paul Levitz

Working on balloon-placing DR FATE today, and enjoying the careful detail that Sonny has used in researching a city so far from his home. It’s been fun writing art directions that include Google images, and even directions of flight over the city, and seeing what Sonny turns them into.

super_spidermanLooking at the scene in this issue set on the Manhattan Bridge walkway reminded me of the wonderful work of Ross Andru. Ross was a sweet man, and utterly dedicated to his art. I knew him from the time we worked on the first SUPERMAN VS. SPIDER-MAN tabloid to his period as a DC editor, when he was just down the hall. In his SPIDER-MAN days, Ross wanted to get his New York scenes just right, and would go up on the rooftops of Manhattan’s buildings with his camera, taking reference shots so he could get Spidey’s perspective. It’s probably impossible to do that in these post 9-11 days, but back in the ’70s, Ross got access to building after building.

His art always had clear storytelling (I was a fan of his work on the early issues of METAL MEN before I knew to pay attention to credits, or even thought about the fact that actual people created comics), but his work in the ’70s is a great textbook both for storytelling and clear composition of a page. I still send artists back to that work to look at how the line structure of panels can add to one another to make a page more dynamic. (It’s a hard concept to describe without picking up a pencil to mark up the pages, but think about the similarity of Ross’ work to Walt Simonson, or Gil Kane, or Jose Luis Garcia Lopez in their starkly clear compositions, and you may see it.)


Storytellers 900 1294 Paul Levitz

One of the occasionally contentious and often confusing questions in comics is the nature of the collaboration between writers and artists. Leaving aside the grand debates about Stan’s work with Jack and Steve since all three are or were friends, even in the much more modest cases there’s often no clear cut boundaries that are consistent from situation to situation.

So when I’m working with an artist in a true collaboration, inviting them to participate in the direction of the story and its structure, I’ve often adopted the practice of jointly asking us to be credited as “storytellers.” This last month’s issues provide some interesting examples of that, which I thought I’d share.

DF-7-3-e917dDOCTOR FATE #7 was a particularly challenging (and therefore particularly delightful) art task–largely inventing a view of the Duat, the Egyptian underworld. Unlike the Greek/Roman land of the dead, it’s largely unknown to modern readers, and didn’t have a long tradition of being depicted in Western art. Some depictions survive from when it was an active religion rather than a historic mythology, but not much. So Sonny had a lot to do in bringing the dead to life, and he did it in incredibly well. I got a book of Egyptian mythological art from Columbia’s library, ordered a dupe for him and shipped it off to Singapore, and we went to work.

But he also contributed to the story structure. The way I’d set up the final battle didn’t choreograph particularly well for him–how Thoth’s staff merged with Khalid’s DNA and the bouncing around of Khalid’s heart didn’t make a clear visual story. So Sonny built out an alternative choreography, and I adjusted the copy a little to fit.

Brooklyn-Blood-PG-02BROOKLYN BLOOD premiered this month too, and because of geography, this represented a different kind of collaborative opportunity. Tim Hamilton and I were able to get together a couple of times to flesh out the story as it will evolve over its 15 or so chapters, and he’s been able to make suggestions based on the years he’s been living in Brooklyn of specific locales in addition to the ones I called from my old days in Brooklyn or more recent visits.

I’ve been incredibly lucky in my collaborators over the years, and while some of the great artists had no desire to get involved beyond their officially appointed tasks, it’s great fun to play with those who do. And of course, some of the artist who’ve drawn my stories are also brilliant writers too (I knew Keith should be writing comics long before he started to…).

Jules Feiffer

Jules Feiffer 403 269 Paul Levitz

It’s been a delight to get to know Jules while working on my new Eisner book, and to do a couple of convention events with him talking about Will, Jules’ own recent graphic novel efforts, and the world of noir. Right now I’m re-reading his memoir, BACKING INTO FORWARD, making notes for our upcoming conversation at the SVA Theatre next Wednesday.

He’s arguably the most diversely accomplished creative person to work in comics in America, at least if you judge by the shelf of awards, and I’m very curious to see if he can articulate a theory of why comics are such an appealing medium for us to work in. And we’ll talk a lot about Will, and some of my pet theories about Will that are embodied in the book. But if you have thoughts about good areas of discussion, comments please!!

Hope to see you there.

Question from over on FB

Question from over on FB 300 200 Paul Levitz

Jamie Reigle asked me about how the FAMOUS FIRST EDITION of ACTION was done, and wondered if there had been any original art at all, since the story was cannibalized from Jerry & Joe’s newspaper strip pitch:

The technique to do the Golden Age reprints in the 1960s and 1970s started with a photographic process. A file copy of ACTION #1 was indeed cut up, then shot to create photostats the size of 10 x 15 original artwork that had virtually all of the color ‘dropped out.’ These stats had many imperfections in their lifework from the process, and occasional grey areas from the color. Young production artists were given the job of cleaning them up, freelance.

Many of my generation worked on them. I’m not sure who did ACTION #1, but some of the better ‘retouchers’ were Dave Manak, Steve Mitchell and Carl Gafford. During the 100 page giant era, when lots of these pages were being done, the work was often done in groups, and even non-art folks like me picked up rapidographs and joined in.

As for the original art, the cut panels were part of the art, but there was significant art extension and alteration to fit the format. Three folks claimed credit for that work to me over the years: Frank Shuster (Joe’s brother who lettered some of his early stories), Harry Lampert (who went on to draw the first Flash stories) and Sol Harrison (longtime DC production ace and early color separator). Never heard Joe’s version of these events.