DC’s Paul Levitz is transitioning from his role as President and Publisher of DC Comics to a new one as writer, contributing editor, and consultant (see “Warners Forms DC Entertainment”), a continuation of an incredible 36 year history with the venerable comics publisher (see “'One of the Best Jobs on the Planet'”). He's been there roughly half the life span of DC Comics, which is turning 75 next year.
One project from 2009, Watchmen, demonstrates the scope and reach of that career. The original Watchmen comic series, from the mid-80s, was made possible by the network of comic stores serviced by the direct market distribution system, which Levitz helped nurture. It could never have been sold through the newsstand distribution system of the time because of its content. And although Jenette Kahn, who was Publisher at the time, certainly had a lot to do with it, Levitz also was a long-time supporter of expanded creator's rights, which gave rise to material like Watchmen.
The collected work, the Watchmen graphic novel, owes its long life span to the graphic novel format, which Levitz championed and made key to DC’s business. The expansion of graphic novels into bookstores was also a key initiative of Levitz’s tenure, which gave the book much of its astounding upside surrounding the movie’s release.
The fact that a major film adapting Watchmen was finally made was a reflection of the strong ties Levitz helped build with the movie-making apparatus of DC’s corporate parent, and the fact that it didn’t suck was reflective of the care with which media deals were done, always protective of the company’s jewels.
Having seen what a once in a generation pop culture phenomenon looked like (Levitz was there during the craze created by the 1989 Tim Burton Batman movie), he jumped on the rapidly growing sales of the Watchmen graphic novel, which were already ratcheting up by last summer. DC printed an unprecedented number, put them everywhere, and sold somewhere north of a million copies of the book during the 12 months surrounding the release of the film this spring.
And to close the circle, DC created programs to try to introduce the new readers brought into comics by Watchmen to other material they might like, to keep them coming back for more comics.
The whole Watchmen phenomenon was a beautiful thing, and it looked easy, but it took decades to put the pieces in place to make it happen, and Levitz was right there in the middle of all of it.
Here’s the timeline of Levitz’s history (so far) at DC:
On staff as a part time Assistant Editor, and begins appearing on the masthead.
Goes full time as Editor and Editorial Coordinator.
Becomes Manager of Business Affairs
Becomes Vice President, Operations
Promoted to Executive Vice President.
Begins managing editorial as well as business operations.
DC President and Publisher
Writer, Contributing Editor, Consultant