End of an Era

I had no inkling that going to DC Comics for meetings today would prove a stroke of lucky timing. While meeting with Chris Cerasi on a project we’ll talk about in a day or two, I received a call from DC’s President and Publisher Paul Levitz. He heard I was around and could I stop up?

So, I took a break from the meeting and wandered upstairs and saw his secretaries prepping envelopes and clearly something was going on. I had already seen the rumblings at Nikki Finke’s column and Rich Johnston at Bleeding Cool suggested I should keep my ears open.

When I was ushered into his office, Paul let me know that the time had finally come. The management changes, to be formally announced soon after, would mean that he was leaving staff and would return to being a writer. Later, I found out he was moving immediately onto Adventure Comics, returning to Superboy and the Legion, characters he is intimately connected to. But as we chatted, he told me of other stories he wanted to write, one with a cool premise. We chatted a bit but I knew he had tons of letters to sign and more people to personally notify before facing the staff en masse.

This is a seismic change for DC, for Paul, and for the industry.

Paul was one of the movers and shakers in New York Comics fandom when I first met him around 1971. I actually traveled to his home on several occasions to help collage issues of The Comics Reader but each time circumstances prevented that from happening. There were many other times visiting his home was fun and enlightening. By then, he had nabbed a staff job at DC and never left. Our occasional calls involved him talking about the work he was doing on staff and how weird it was.

In the summer of 1980, when I was graduating college and wasn’t starting at Starlog Press until September, Paul hired me as a summer temp, initially to help research and write a property catalogue for foreign sales. I wound up working more with Joe Orlando and the nascent Special Projects Group which was a tremendous learning experience.

Anyway, Paul and I have been a part of one another’s lives for a long, long time and I was proud of watching him grow with DC and work to keep the company a positive environment.  He was a terrific partner with Jenette Kahn and it took some time, but together, they put the right elements together, creating an inviting environment that led to that magical period that gave us Camelot 3000, Ronin, Crisis on Infinite Earths, Dark Knight, Watchmen, Byrne’s Superman revamp and the Perez-led Wonder Woman revival. Talent never had a better friend than Paul who annually has doled out bonuses to people whose contributions were seen in other media despite no contractual obligations.

In 2002, he became president and publisher and in many ways, he was a steward, continuing the work he and Jenette started and protected the company from the upheavals of the Time/Warner merger and the more disastrous TimeWarner/AOL combination. Being president, though, took him further away from the characters he loved, the talent he cherished and saw far too many nights on the road, away from his own growing family.

The changing mass media and entertainment landscape has become a foreign land and it was deemed new management was necessary to move DC Comics to the next level. DC Entertainment is an evolutionary step and Paul gets to return to his other love, writing. He gets to stop the grinding commute from home to the office and one day in the months ahead can wake up one morning and not have to make that trip. Instead, he can pad across the hall to his amazing office and fire up the computer and indulge his passion.

It’s a necessary change and one that will make DC a more potent player in the transmedia world. The new president hasn’t been named and it sounds like that’s an announcement for another day, perhaps months from now. My guess is that it will be 12-14 months before the dust fully settles and changes are visible to the consumer. Heck, staff may not see a difference in their day-to-day lives for months to come.

What I do know is that DC has lost its last guardian. He was the last executive to have the power to prevent misguided interpretations of the characters that remain the building blocks for the company. The freelancers have lost someone who has been scrupulous in seeing to it they get every nickel they’re entitled to and helped craft the first royalty plan and creator participation plan. His depth of knowledge of the company’s history and much of the character histories will be gone from the halls, forcing the company to compensate him every time they need to pick his memory, which will no doubt continue to happen long after the transition is gone.

The time may have come for the change but not all change is for the better.  Personally, I suspect Paul will be fine, happily reading at his leisure and writing some good, solid stories heavy on plot and character. DC will be a far different place in the months ahead and there’s no guarantee what will come next. Paul, like the rest of us, will have to sit and watch from the sidelines.

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