Paul Levitz Goes BOOM! With New Board Position, Talks DC Work, Weeklies
Paul Levitz and Ross Richie of BOOM! Studios
CREDIT: Ross Richie
When news broke that Paul Levitz, the former DC president and publisher, has been added to the board of directors at the Los Angeles-based BOOM! Studios, a lot of fans wondered what that meant for his current DC comic Worlds' Finest — and whether the long-time New Yorker was moving.
Never fear, Levitz has told Newsarama — his current work will continue unhindered, and his commitment to New York is unchanged.
The announcement, which was made by BOOM! founder and chief executive officer Ross Richie at last week's ComicsPRO retailer conference, came as a surprise to a lot of industry watchers because Levitz is so associated with DC. Not only did he serve as president of DC Comics from 2002 to 2009, but he'd previously been in a variety of creative, editorial and executive roles for the publisher — dating back several decades.
In fact, the current move at DC toward weekly comics is owed, in part, to the innovation of Levitz, who first suggested DC get back into the weekly business when 52 was being planned.
Newsarama talked to Levitz to find out more about his addition to the BOOM! board, what he'll do for the publisher — and what he thinks of DC's move toward weekly comics.
Newsarama: Paul, I think this was a surprise to a lot of people because they associate you with DC, but you've been involved in so many corners of the comic book industry, right?
Paul Levitz: Well, I'm kind of an incurable comic fan. My history in the business obviously goes back to doing the fanzines before DC, and I've stayed active outside DC in things like the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund.
And if you track my history in the… if you want to class it as "indie" world goes back to slightly before there was an indie world. I'm staring at a Steve Ditko page from a story we did for Mike Friedrich for Star*Reach, one of the pioneering — Mike used to call it ground-level — comics. It was basically the transition between the underground world and the beginning of the indie world.
They had a memorial for Kim Thompson here in New York a few months ago, and I was looking around the room and looking around the room, and realized that, as Gary [Groth] was hosting it, I was actually the senior contributor to Fantagraphics in the room, after him — from a whopping one- or two-page Harvey Kurtzman panel at the 1971 New York Comic Con that Gary ran in Fantastic Fanzine Special II or something, back in 1972.
I've done a few things outside DC. DC kept me very happily occupied for decades, so that's been the core of what I've done. And I'm still very happy to be working with them, and hope to be doing that for a long time to come.
Nrama: So you're not stopping your DC work because you're on the board at BOOM.
Nrama: One doesn't affect the other?
Levitz: Not as far as I'm concerned, or BOOM is concerned, or I think as far as DC is concerned. They're happy to have me doing things with other companies, I think.
Nrama: Were you looking for a job like this? How did this opportunity come about?
Levitz: Please don't use that three-letter word, "job."
No, I have not been looking for a job. I'm not looking for a job now. I have no intention of having another "job" job again in my career. I think the parole board's met on that issue, and enough's enough.
But I've been doing a lot of teaching, as you know, a fair amount of writing — the part of my brain that hasn't been fully occupied is the part that's used to solving business problems.
So I've been looking, over the last couple of years, as my non-competes became looser, at what kind of opportunities there might be to use those skill sets. I've done a little bit of consulting work, but not directly related to comics.
Once the contracts made it possible, I wanted to see if there was anything useful I could do that way in comics. I told a number of my friends, "I'm available if there's a consulting project, or a board seat in your structure. I'm open to having conversations." And the conversations with Ross led to doing a consulting project for them, and to the offer of the board seat.
Nrama: When the announcement was made, there was a quote somewhere where you said you could find your way around Los Angeles. Are you moving to L.A.?
Levitz: No. God no.
Nrama: I didn't think so! You're a New Yorker through and through, aren't you?
Levitz: I'm a terminal New Yorker, I think.
No, it was simply that visiting them is not a problem — I can find my way to their office without putting the GPS on.
Nrama: So you do have to go every once in awhile for board meetings.
Levitz: Yeah, I think the theory we've talked about is that I'll go out around four times a year and spend some time there. But we'll see how it evolves.
Nrama: I'm sure a lot of your communication will be electronic.
Nrama: I want to back up a second to what you said before about the "business side" of comics. And I remember that everyone involved in the 2006 weekly series 52 said it was your idea to make it a weekly — which was a pretty new undertaking for DC, at least for that time period. And now we hear that DC is adding a third weekly this year, and that weeklies will replace about a dozen of their monthly titles. Since your brain was behind DC's most successful weekly in recent years, what do you think of that kind of commitment to weeklies?
Levitz: Well, if you look at the weekly issue… I was fascinated by the possibilities of weekly storytelling in comics when we went really solidly into the comic shop environment and our customer was coming in every week.
So we tried a number of things, experimenting in that direction many, many years ago — most visibly, Action Comics Weekly, but also the kinds of storytelling we were doing in the Batman books, where one thing led to another and, ultimately, in the Superman books, where we had essentially a weekly comic book that was four different comic books.
A lot of those experiments — like Action — didn't work. We can debate whether it was too early, the wrong content, the wrong format, the sun was rising in the West that day. Mike [Carlin]'s certainly worked well [the Superman editor at the time]. Denny [O'Neil]'s approach to it in Batman, which was sort of a quasi-weekly, worked very well for a time.
I'm very curious to see how the DC ones work. I hope to be involved in one or another of them along the way.
But I think it's a very viable storytelling format. If you've got a reader showing up once a week, telling them a story that connects that way should work. And 52 certainly was an extraordinary success. I think Countdown, while not reaching the same numbers, was a very solid book. And both of them were received pretty well critically, as well as commercially.
So I think there ought to be a good chance for that.
Nrama: You mentioned "consulting" for BOOM!, as well as the position on the board. Have you already started as a consultant on any project in particular?
Levitz: One of the first projects I've done some work on with them was trying to figure out the way to clean up some issues in their various creator contracts, to solidify some things. And that's an area, obviously, where I bring decades of experience in solving those problems.
No creator contract is going to be right for all people and all projects, but the existing Boom one has been pretty good at attracting some people, and hopefully we're going to improve it in some ways that will enable them to reach out to some more people for projects with some good success going forward.
Nrama: Would the move toward something like that be quicker and easier? Do you see the indie element of BOOM! making it more swift to change? Although I'm aware that BOOM has some established licenses as well.
Levitz: Well, some things are easier when you're smaller; some things are harder. I think BOOM! is at a really interesting stage. It's about the size that DC was when I started to get the ability to have any kind of meaningful effect on DC's future, in the mid-'70s. There's a lot of bright people there [at BOOM]. There are a lot of interesting skill sets and talents.
And it's a really interesting moment, I think, in the mix of what's going on in the field, where we have readers coming in looking for greater and greater diversity of material, shopping in many different fashions — and all of that creates a time of real opportunity. The Boom! guys have done some really interesting things in exploring that.
I hope that what I can bring to the picture is something that really is a part of the balance of diversity really brings to a room. It's a good thing when you have a management process that includes people who don't know what's impossible, and therefore have the courage to try things that haven't been tried before. And also when there's people in the room who have tried things before, and say, "well, we tried to attack that problem this way; it didn't work that way. Maybe times have change, but let's think about what the issues were and try to find a way around what the dilemmas were."
There's a value to experience, and a value to fresh passion — not that Ross is brand new to the field; he's certainly got a bunch of experience himself. He's got some young people there who are very fresh to it. And hopefully I add a little something in the mix along the way.