Industry Reacts to Levitz, DC Entertainment

This morning, DC Comics' The Source blog lit up with release after release outlining the new shape that the just rechristened "DC Entertainment" will take in 2010 and beyond. Much like last week's shocker news that Disney plans purchase Marvel, the word from DC's parent company Warner Bros. on the future of the comics giant represents a game-changer for the comics entertainment landscape.

Compounding that massive change is the fact that legendary writer and longtime DC executive Paul Levitz will step down as the company's Publisher and President to be a consultant and writer, starting with issue #7 of the recently re-launched "Adventure Comics."

With the news already burning up the blogosphere, CBR reached out to a raft of DC talent to get their take on Levtiz's legacy as the leader of DC and what the changes mean for the new DC Entertainment. Be sure to check back throughout the day as we update with more reactions and opinions.

Brian Azzarello (writer, "Joker," "100 Bullets")

"I'm shocked. It's soon. I've known about this for maybe an hour. I don't ever talk to these guys, but if that's what Paul wants to do, that's great. I've had discussions with him about story over the years, and he's always been a good person to bounce ideas off of. He can get to the heart of things and is a good problem solver in that regard. But you should really be talking to the superhero guys rather than me. I wish I had some insight, but I really don't. I don't know. Everybody is standing around shaking right now for two weeks in a row. Will it be business as usual in a month? I don't know. Are we all going to lose our jobs? Hey. [laughs] There's always work at the post office."

Kurt Busiek (writer, "Astro City," "Trinity")

"I heard the news in pieces. 'Hey, DC is reorganizing! Hey, this is going to be the new person! Hey, it's going to be a new entity called DC Entertainment! Hey, Paul Levitz is stepping down and going back to being a writer and consultant!' I was reacting to it as each piece hit, and I've got to say...Warner Bros. is reorganizing DC to make better use of the DC characters across media platforms? Yeah, fine, sure. That's movie stuff. I don't care. Paul Levitz stepping down? That's huge. That's a bigger story for comics than Disney/Marvel, than DC Entertainment, than any of this. Paul not being in that chair, in that office at DC doing that job is going to change comics in ways that there's no way to predict.

"The industry has grown from what it was in the '70s to what it is now largely because of the things that Paul's been involved in. Having gone from a newsstand-oriented periodicals business to a backlist-oriented, multimedia library with royalties and creator's rights and all of these things... there are a number of people who were significant players in making all of that happen, but no one was more significant long term in making that happen [than Paul Levitz]. I'm very excited that I'm going to see more Paul Levtiz writing, because Paul is a terrific writer. But I'm just amazed at the prospect of an American comic book industry without Paul Levitz being one of the guiding forces.

"I think the system we've got right now will continue the way it is, but what's the next big change, and how will that be handled? Paul not only was an innovator, but there have been people over the years who have complained that Paul won't move fast enough for their taste. Paul has always been someone who moves forward deliberately but carefully. And where other companies would move forward and rush into something - committing a whole lot of money to a trade paperback program without building up a backlist to support that program like Paul did - that created financial instabilities that were absorbed by the fact that DC was always there to backstop the system and keep things moving in the right direction. Various developments that could have been created by rushing into the new thing only to watch it flame out and collapse - Paul was the one who kept that from happening.

"What challenges are we going to face next? I don't know who DC Entertainment is going to put into Paul's job. Diane Nelson is going to be the President of DC Entertainment but not the President of DC Comics. Whoever is in that role is going to report to her, and whoever that is is going to have different instincts and different priorities from what Paul had. That's going to be a big change. I don't know what that's going to be. I can't say it'll be a great thing or it'll be a bad thing. It's going to be different. That's all I can say. Five years from now, I think the comic industry is going to be different in a huge number of ways, and it's going to be that way because Paul's not in that chair anymore."

Paul Dini (writer, "Batman: Streets of Gotham" and the "Batman: Arkham Asylum" video game)

Added 09/09/09 3:55PM PST

"[I just got back from a meeting with some folks at Warners animation and ] everybody's excited about it. We're all waiting to see what happens. It's an exciting announcement, and I think it ultimately means good things for DC and their creations.

"Paul is a terrific guy. I've had nothing but wonderful experiences working with him both through Warner Bros. Animation and more recently through writing a number of DC books. He's been nothing but supportive of my ideas and encouraging and a great resource to use for ideas and the history of DC characters. I can't say enough nice things about my experience working with him. It's exciting that he's going to be returning to comics in the capacity of a writer and editor, and he's got a bunch of great stories in him. I can't wait to see what they are.

"I think it's too new to speculate on how things are going to shake down. I've got my eyes on the assignments I'm doing in comics and am really enjoying the three books I'm writing right now - one hasn't appeared yet - and then working with the DC characters in other forms. I'm writing a few more episodes of the 'Brave & The Bold' series, and I just finished the 'Arkham Asylum' game. I have my hands in the DC characters all over the place, so I'm not really concerned with where they're going at the moment. But I think this ultimately means great things for the characters because anything to broaden their exposure to the mainstream is a good thing - to make the public more aware of the characters beyond Superman and Batman. The public knows about DC Comics. The have a general idea that that's the company that does Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman, but I think a lot of the others are not as well known, and I'm hoping these changes can alleviate that. Some of more obscure but just as entertaining characters can be moved to the forefront.

"That seems to be the advantage that Marvel's enjoyed all these years - that they can take more of their characters to other places such as Paramount. If Paramount wasn't interested in Fantastic Four, they could take it to another studio, and that ultimately exposed more people to the diversity of the Marvel characters. I think that up until now, the public has known Superman, Batman, Robin, Wonder Woman and maybe a couple of others, but by bringing them closer to the Warners umbrella it allows the other characters to get out there and find a life beyond comics."

Keith Giffen (writer, "Magog," Levitz's former "Legion of Super-Heroes" artist)

"Everybody else is freaking out and Googling and doing whatever else they do about it. I'm just sitting here writing 'Doom Patrol' and thinking, 'Get a life!' I don't see this changing anything in the way we do our jobs. It sounds like more consolidating of DC's properties for film and for outside exploitation. I don't see anything there that would change the operation of DC putting out comic books except that we are once again going to have Paul Levtiz writing some books, and that is a very, very good thing. When we can get one of the premier writers back in the saddle - I don't know the circumstances, and I'm certainly not going to speculate on them - but getting him back is never a bad thing.

"And right now, it's just everybody speculating. It's a tempest in a teapot, and if I pay too much attention to it my eyes start to bleed. I just hope that everything works out well for everyone involved. Seeing Paul Levitz's name on the creator's masthead again? I'm really looking forward to it. [When it comes to us collaborating on the Legion again] all Paul has to do is pick up the phone and tell me when. And if comic book fandom knows a good thing when they see it, they should be popping champagne corks at the fact that Paul Levitz is returning to the 30th Century. Knowing Paul, it's not like he ever 100% left."

Bill Willingham (writer, "Fables," "Justice Society of America")

"I'm not deeply wired inside to see how it's going to affect DC in the immediate day-to-day, but I don't think things will go on as they were before. This looks like a move not to shake things up or to rock the boat. DC's too big a boat, and you can't rock it. It's not going to be that kind of thing, and 'Do things for now the way they've always been' is going to be the default setting that filters down to people on my level. The biggest thing for me is that I had a hard-won policy of not wanting to work for companies where you can't get the top guy on the phone. Part of this is from coming up in the smaller independent publishers where you're working hand-in-hand with the guys running the business, and there's some accountability there I liked. The thing I liked about working with DC for so many years is that I could get Paul Levitz on the phone any time I needed to. And I didn't abuse that, but it was nice to know you could get the top guy. With Jenette completely preceding him, it was the same way.

"Remember when CrossGen was the big thing? When they were just starting up, it was this cool new idea to come work in the compound or whatever with Mark Alessi. There were feelers put out back then for me to come on board when I was at a convention, and what I did was come back home and called the CrossGen offices to get Mark on the phone. I got the complete runaround and finally was able to get someone on the phone who said, 'Mark doesn't talk to the would-be talent.' I used that as a test for whether or not it was the kind of company I could do business with, and because of that decided I couldn't and was proved correct.

"Now there's a little bit of concern on my part because I don't know the people coming in [to DC], and I'd be surprised if I could just call and get the new president on the line. There's some concern there. When people telling the stories in an entertainment medium can't talk to the people on top, it's never healthy for the quality of work. That's my one personal concern. I don't know that it's going to be a thing, but we'll see. I've enjoyed working with Paul Levitz for as long as I've known him, and I've known him a lot longer than I've been working at DC. So I'm sorry to see him go.

"I think it's pretty obvious that the whole motivation behind this move is to get a greater handle on the 'let's make movies/TV shows/high noticeable things' with DC characters. Until 'The Dark Knight' they were having some hit or miss stuff with their movies, and then that was such a juggernaut. In any corporation, the time that really galvanizes a corporation is when things are going terrible or great. When people look back on this and do an autopsy, I think that we'll see what got the Warner Bros. attention on DC is that the movie made so much money. All the reports I've seen is that the moves are being made to better exploit these stories as movie and TV properties, which I have to admit I think DC dearly needed. It'd be nice to have some real policies in place to better manage this kind of thing.

"'Fables' is probably in there somewhere. DC exercised their option to purchase the movie and TV rights for the book, so they get to run it. They get to shop it and make decisions, and that's how the entire ABC deal came together. That's why I was not part of the deal-making. So I haven't really spoken with the high DC/Warner Bros. muckity mucks other than being told every once in a while that something's in the works.

"At least one of the things they've said is that they want comics to keep coming out. You don't get 80 or 90 comic books out a month by coming in and making sweeping changes, firing everyone and looking for someone else to start doing things. Monthly books are a machine that needs to be fed. So I don't think Azzarello will be working at the post office just yet. I love Brian, but he's kind of acerbic, and I have enough trouble with grumpy bastards at the post office as it is. [laughs]"

Marv Wolfman (writer, "The New Teen Titans," "Crisis on Infinite Earths," "Vigilante")

"For the last number of years, Paul's talked about retiring and returning to writing. This is something he's wanted to do for a long, long time. He was just waiting for the proper time for this to happen. I think he will be happy running the business as long as he has, it's an incredible run considering that without Paul I don't think we would have an industry today. Some people may think that's hyperbole because Paul's a close friend and I've known him since he was 13, but it's not. The decisions he made when the industry was in a lot of trouble and distributors were falling apart is why there is an industry. He made the right decisions. He led the industry to survive at a time when it very well could have gone under. There are things he's done behind the things that ensured there would be an industry, and he expanded DC in ways that comics had never seen before in [the U.S.]

"I think Paul returning to writing is great for him and for the industry. When 'New Teen Titans' was the #1-selling book at DC, the #2-selling book was Paul's 'Legion,' and we were far ahead of other books at DC at the time. He may not always talk about his writing, but I always look at it as the fact that the fans made the decision very clear when they chose Paul's as one of the two top books: it was that good. He's done so much that it's impossible to begin to indicate how much he's done for this industry. He's arguably the most creative, moral and intelligent publisher I have ever known in comics, and I've been in the industry...well, I shouldn't say how long. [laughs] He brought a sense of morality to the industry along with Jenette [Kahn] in returning artwork to creators and starting a creator's rights program. Years when I was not doing well, I was able to live off my royalties and that's because of Paul and Jenette. He is an incredible force for good in the industry and I'm glad he'll stay in as a writer, which is what he's wanted to do for a number of years for himself.

"I have recently spoken with Diane Nelson. I don't know her yet, but in reading about her, I think she understands the DC properties because she's been working with them for a number of years. She's creator-friendly, and that's proven by the fact that she was the point person with JK Rowling, who after six movies is still happy. I don't know if that could be said about any other creative writer after such a big hit. [laughs] That's because Diane was the point person there. I think we're going to see someone who understands that comics has moved outside the 32-page pamphlets, that the characters can be shown in many, many different directions. I think we're moving away from that point - sadly, for those of us who love print - and into a more digital medium. The fact that she was in charge of both DC Premier and the motion comics is an indication of the future.

"A number of years ago we had something like 7,900 comic shops. I believe we have less than 2,000 these days. And though the comics are healthier than they've been in years, they're not nearly where they should be considering how many people went to see the Batman movie or the Spider-Man movie or 'Iron Man.' What we do is loved. The type of material we present is loved by people, but now we've got to find ways of reaching people outside of only the printed comic book. We need to reach people through the digital medium in any possible source. Right now, my old comic 'The Man Called A•X' is on the iPhone because I believe in that. We have to get the material to the people because readers are used to just having to click on their computers and not have to go to the shop. It's sad for those of us who love the printed book, and I hope they never go away and that comics should always be printed, but I think we need to be seeing comics in more than one form."

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