As this week’s DC bombshell sent ripples throughout the Multiverse, most people were taking time to talk about the contributions of Paul Levitz to the comics — as a medium and as an industry, Levitz’s handiwork has created or nurtured much of the infrastructure we live with daily. It’s a huge legacy. A few reactions.
ICV2 recalled his own words in a recent interview:
It’s an incredible gig. I’ve been there a very long time. It’s way past any statistical likelihood of anyone staying doing something. So one of these days I’m not going to be doing this, whether that’s the company changing its mind or moving in another direction, or me saying, ‘guys it’s been great, it’s been a wonderful time but I’m not getting on another airplane for awhile.’ But I’ll still have been one of the luckiest guys imaginable to have gotten to play with these great toys for so long. I hope I’ll still have one foot in the comic book industry for a long time thereafter. If nothing else I get to go to a comic convention and actually have some time to attend a panel and just listen or buy some comics.
Chris Butcher gets to the point that occupied many a hot stove league conversation:
I always wondered when Warner Brothers would figure out that they owned DC Comics. Turns out? September 9th, 2009.
Brian Hibbs expresses the worries many are feeling:
I think Paul is a Class Act, and there’s nothing more that I fear than Warners completely ruining the DM. I’m absolutely shattered by this news — I was hoping we’d have AT LEAST another decade with Paul at the helm, and now everything — everything — is up in the air.
Mark Evanier shares those worries:
So the question for some of us becomes: How much interest will DC have in doing that, in publishing comic books? Paul was great at dealing with the movie deals and the videogames and the merchandising but he was also a publisher of comic books. He learned the business when that was Job One and everything else was ancillary income. The same question hovers over the recent Disney-Marvel deal. Disney hasn’t cared for a long time if there were Mickey Mouse comic books being published or not. Will they care if Amazing Spider-Man comes out every month? Will they care when sales decline? Keep in mind we will probably never again see the day when there’ll be a thousandth as much money in publishing Iron Man comic books as there is in one good Iron Man videogame.
Why so many worries? Because, as one person put it to me so succinctly, Paul was the conscience of the industry. I’m not talking about all the controversies and feuds — a lot of people disagreed with Paul, myself included. Many of the tributes to the man include mention of those disagreements. But when it came to changing the American comics industry from a sweatshop run by fear and need to a place where creators could begin to be treated as the valuable partners they are and share in the profits of their work, Paul was always in the forefront. He bore the burden of comics’ original sin — Siegel and Shuster — and did what he could to atone for it in endless ways, large and small. Evanier had more about this in another post:
Even harder would be to assess how much of what he made happen was shrewd business strategy and how much was simple human decency. I suspect the answer is that at some point, Paul figured out those two values did not have to be mutually-exclusive. Even if that’s all he realized, that puts him way ahead of some folks who’ve been in charge at companies I’ve observed or worked for. I have dozens of stories of Paul being a gentleman in a position where some would fear being gentle.
Unlike the vast majority of executives at his level, Paul was always acutely aware of the Right Thing To Do. It can be said that he was not always able or willing to act on that knowledge, but he did far more than most people would be willing or able to achieve.
Paul was — and is; he’s still around! — also acutely aware of comics history, of its fandom, of the legacy of older creators. He started out as a fan writing for ‘zines, and remains a fan. I have no doubt we’ll see him around buying comics and going to panels and enjoying the world that his stewardship helped protect.
Over the years I’ve had many conversations with people who were frustrated by the caution that Paul always embraced, often to the detriment, or at least deferment, of the bottom line. But the flip side of that frustration was the recognition that once Paul left his job, the bottom line would become the only thing a giant corporation cared about, without the mitigating respect and decency of the Levitz Era. It’s that knowledge that is fueling much of the anxiety being expressed today, publicly and privately.
Which is not to say that the new crew running DC is a bunch of evil overlords. (See my next post.) But they never wrote for The Comic Reader, either. Paul Levitz is One of Us, and he did about as much as One of Us could ever hope to do. And I’m pretty sure we’ll see some more achievements from him before this game is over.