Wow, this was exciting! President and Publisher of DC Comics Paul Levitz took time out of his busy schedule to have a chat with the Aquaman Shrine!
I had wanted to interview Paul for a while, since he wrote a solid series of Aquaman tales in Adventure Comics. But then I saw that Aquaman Chronicles editor John Schwirian had beaten me to it, by talking to Paul about those stories in the Aquaman cover feature in TwoMorrows' Back Issue! #27.
Then I realized that, as President of DC, Paul would have an additional perspective on the character apart from that of a writer, so I asked if he would be willing to talk about that, as well. He generously agreed, and here's what we talked about:
Aquaman Shrine: Aquaman was your first superhero story for DC. How familiar were you with the character?
Paul Levitz: Gee, I probably had read all but the twenty or thirty stories from More Fun. One of the first things I collected as a kid was Adventure Comics, so that had led me to have pretty much all the stories that had any meaning for the mythology.
Aquaman Shrine: Did you buy it partly because Aquaman was in it?
Paul Levitz: I was led to it by the Legion, and then went from there in the usual fashion of collectors of "Oh, I've got 150 issues of this, what's the next logical starting point", so I made way back to the first appearance of Superboy in the series.
Aquaman Shrine: You probably don't have too many writers saying that are that excited to write Aquaman.
Paul Levitz: I have to say, it wasn't, "Oh my God, I can get my hands on Aquaman." It was much more at that moment in my life and career, "I can write a superhero and not these mystery stories which I really liked to read as a kid? Please, sir!"
AMS: Was there a particular combo on the character that you really liked, either before or after your time on it?
PL: I was a big fan of when Steve Skeates and Jim Aparo came on it, when Dick[Giordano] took over the book. As an artist, I adore both Nick Cardy and Ramona Fradon--both wonderful human beings and extraordinarily talented artists, so I had loved a lot of what they had done.
The stories in those days, even though a lot of them were by Bob Haney, who was a very talented man, were very much of their time, and I think don't stand up as well as some of the other material.
AMS: I don't know anyone who doesn't like the Skeates/Aparo material.
PL: I really think it was Steve's shining moment as a writer.
AMS: With characters like Superman and Batman, you obviously have one or a team of people who are "steering" the character, thinking long term, etc. Was there ever someone like that for other characters? Is there someone who says 'I'm going to do something with Aquaman down the line' or is it if someone comes up with an idea?
PL: Well, for most of the history of the company, its kind of a Possession is 9/10ths of the Law logic. The editor who is editing the character's principal book tends to be the loudest voice about what they're doing. It varies from time to time, and certainly the way Dan[Didio] is running the editorial department there's certainly a little more centralized control and centralized vision of the continuity and character development that we've had through DC's history.
But if you go back through history, Dick Giordano was the editor, or Joe Orlando, they tended to be the largest voice in the character's destiny at any given moment.
It wasn't usually a big issue through most of the character's history because it wasn't like people were lining up to say "Can I please add Aquaman to this other book that I'm working on?"
AMS: [Laughs] Dan Didio has said on Newsarama and other places that there I guess will be another Aquaman book this year. Is there someone that steers that? Is there someone who says 'We want to get Aquaman in a book again, let's get this moving' or...
PL: Could be. Could be Dan or could be any one of his guys.
AMS: One of the things I've learned from doing this blog is that the character is much more well-known in the outer culture than he is in the comic books.
PL: He's had a disproportionate awareness in large part I think because of Super Friends. That's one of the first superhero characters to get that kind of consistent airing. We had original Super Friends material on the air I think for twelve years--I think at the time the second longest-running Saturday Morning show ever.
It had a tremendous opportunity to imprint on people. And then unfortunately he also makes a good joke, so there's a wider range that knows him from that.
AMS: Do you know what the disconnect is between the people that know him and the reason why he's such a tough sell in the comics? Just in the last five years--or even less than that--I could reel off a few dozen TV shows or movies that mention him or have him in it.
PL: That's different from somebody wanting to buy it. There's a lot of virtues to the character, and he's survived in comics pretty much as long as anyone--one of the five characters in our mythology who went straight through the fifties when pretty much everything else was cancelled.
AMS: You've got Aquaman on a lot of merchandising, there's that new Mattel line...
PL: We've had him in toys now for like, almost thirty years. The first stuff I remember seeing may go back to the stuff done around the time of the Superman/Aquaman Hour, the Ideal toys that were done at the time.
AMS: Does a merchandiser, like Mattel, ask for or accept Aquaman as a part of their toy line? Do merchandisers ever specifically ask for him, or does DC say 'Here's a list.' I mean, obviously they're going to want Superman and Batman...
PL: It's been done every which way. One way or another, you're sitting there, trying to figure out what will make the greatest success at the time.
AMS: As President and Publisher, do you have a specific goal of saying 'Ok, we want to get these certain characters more out into the culture'?
PL: You try and work with the opportunities for each character. If you've got a film or TV creator who are driving projects, and they come in and say, "I'm looking for a DC project to do, what do you have that nobody's working on?", you start a discussion.
Often a guy comes in, I've certainly lived through it many times in my career, "You know I have this wonderful idea for an Aquaman movie, or TV show, or video game", and you see if you can get it some traction.
AMS: And finally, growing up reading comics and writing fanzines as you did, do you sometimes wake up in disbelief when you realize you're the President and Publisher of DC Comics? It seems like an astounding trip for a fan to make.
PL: I've had a very odd life. There's not many people who work as a grown-up in something they were involved with in their childhood.
Kind of like the equivalent on some level--there was a kid I went to Junior High School with. We didn't know each other, who is the manager of the New York Mets. I imagine that's probably the only other kind of way you go through life, and you wake up one morning and say "Hey, how did I get here?" I've avoided honest work all this time.
As a big of a Aquaman and/or comics fanboy I am, one of the things I like to think I always keep my eye on is acknowledging the reality of what it takes to get these books (or toys, or cartoons...) made, and the hard work required to do so from various writers, artists, and editors. It was neat to get a small peek "behind the curtain" of the legendary DC Comics and I really appreciate Paul for taking the time to talk to the Shrine. Thanks Paul!