Dyson Voices: Comic Book Legend Paul Levitz
The comic book writer, editor, and former executive of DC Comics looks back on his career and discusses his creative inspirations, personal motivations, and exciting aspirations for the future.
Paul Levitz is deemed a legend in the comic book industry for his creative contributions to the DC Comics organization. Recently inducted into the Eisner Hall of Fame for his outstanding work as writer (Legion of Superheroes), editor (Batman), and president of the organization, Levitz’s award-winning book, 75 Years of DC Comics: The Art of Modern Mythmaking, features in-depth essays chronicling the history of DC Comics and its plans for the future as a leading publishing organization. Jenna Spillo ’21, communications, spoke with the Brooklyn, New York-born creative innovator recently, and discussed his experiences in the publishing industry, and as a Pace University faculty member and advisor.
Recent inductee to the Eisner Hall of Fame and Pace University publishing professor Paul Levitz
Spillo: When did you know you wanted to be in the publishing business?
Levitz: I tend to trace it back to watching my parents do the public school PTA bulletin on the dining room table. Before long, I was doing my own unofficial class magazine, and not long after that, my first zines about comics.
Spillo: Who were your biggest inspirations when you were growing up?
Levitz: Inspiration for this stage of my career came from having some great teachers, including the now legendary Frank McCourt. Two early mentors in comics were Joe Orlando, a legendary cartoonist (Tales from the Crypt, Mad, National Lampoon) and Jenette Kahn, who was DC's publisher at the time.
Spillo: Tell me about your most memorable experience in the comic book industry.
Levitz: There are too many to list, but I would include being told by a Kosovo mayor at the White House that a landmine-awareness comic we created had saved lives, being on set working on movies like The Dark Knight, seeing my stories brought to life by artists whose work I had grown up on, and being inducted into the industry’s hall of fame this year.
Spillo: What one experience or lesson has most helped contribute to your success?
Levitz: Probably my time at Stuyvesant High School. The students there respected any area of activity, as long as you were very actively engaged, so my comics fanzines were as socially acceptable as, say, David Axelrod’s political leanings, or Eric Lander's obviously amazing work in biology. It motivated me to believe in the possible.
Spillo: If you had to choose, which of the comic books that you have worked on would you say is your favorite?
Levitz: There's an origin tale of the Justice Society of America that's a favorite, and a Legion of Super-Heroes arc entitled The Great Darkness Saga, which readers have clearly identified as my best.
Spillo: What was it like to lead an organization like DC Comics?
Levitz: On one level it was massive chaos with me vaguely in charge, and on another, enormous fun because the characters enabled me to be involved with–and learn about–a very diverse range of industries: movies, TV, animation, video games, toys, apparel, amusement parks, and on and on.
Spillo: You were recently accepted into the Eisner Hall of Fame, recognizing your outstanding contributions to the comics industry. What does this honor mean to you?
Levitz: It's a lovely recognition to join such a small and illustrious group, and particularly heartwarming because so many of the people in it are great creatives who I had the chance to work with and become friends with along the way. I came into comics very young, just as the founding generation was aging out, and it's incredible to be honored alongside so many of them.
Spillo: What kind of interaction do you have with fans?
Levitz: I love meeting my readers–who have gone on to all sorts of incredible careers (a New York Times best-selling novelist, jazz legend, priest, and NASA scientist are among some of the more colorful)–and just hearing what they say about how my work has touched them.
Spillo: Looking back on your professional career, what would you change?
Levitz: There are one or two things I left undone, and you can always look back on stories and wish you'd done a better job, but I've had such an amazing run. I could not have wished for more.
Spillo: How did you come to Pace University?
Levitz: When I got up from my desk as president and publisher of DC Comics, I sent letters off to schools that had publishing or writing programs. Sherman Raskin, who headed Pace’s MS in Publishing program, invited me to join his advisory board, and after getting to know me, asked me to create a course on the graphic novel.
Spillo: What advice do you have for young writers looking to work in comics or graphic novels?
Levitz: Most of all, become a writer. Don't be form-specific. Over the course of a writing career, most of us work in different media and forms. Read incessantly, write constantly, and don't get frustrated by rejection.
Spillo: Aside from your work, what is most important to you?
Levitz: My children.
Spillo: What are you currently working on?
Levitz: Lots of teaching, a new comics miniseries called The Visitor, a graphic novel about to be announced, a couple of not-for-profit boards [including the Dyson College Advisory Board], and the board of a mid-size comic company called Boom.
Spillo: Looking ahead, what do you plan to do next?
Levitz: More teaching, more writing, and whatever seems amusing!
About Jenna Spillo: As someone who loves to write creatively, I have always had an interest in the visual and liberal arts. From a young age, one of my favorite activities has been writing stories, songs, and poems. Although I have never had a solid answer for people who ask me what job I want to have when I am older, I have always known I want to find a career that allows me to write. I ultimately decided to study media and communications because it offers the freedom to try out many different forms of writing. Talking to someone as experienced as Paul Levitz was an inspiring opportunity that touched on the creative energy and mindset needed to succeed as a writer in any field.