San Diego (CBG) — Among the many panels at Comic-Con International: San Diego, DC provided a different look at its history Thursday evening, July 22, as part of the promotion for 75 Years of DC by Paul Levitz, scheduled for release in November from Taschen.
A promotional flyer for the nearly 800-page oversized book was given to each attendee at the panel, which was moderated by former DC President and Publisher Paul Levitz. who told the audience that the panel featured “every living person, except one, responsible for DC’s direction in past years.”
That panel was a veritable Who’s Who of DC history, beginning with Batman writer Jerry Robinson, moving on to writer and editor Denny O’Neil, former DC President and Publisher Jenette Kahn, artist and DC Co-Publisher Jim Lee, his fellow co-publisher Dan DiDio, and writer and Creative Director Geoff Johns.
Levitz told the audience that, since he had interviewed all the panelists for the book and he knew that most of the audience already knew much of DC’s history, he would ask the panelists to tell a story that they hadn’t told before, a bit of previously unrecorded history and he went in order from the earliest panelist to the most recent to join the company.
Robinson related how, when he came to DC in the early 1940s, he sat in a bullpen where Jack Kirby and Joe Shuster were on his left and Fred Ray and Mort Meskin were on his right. “We all helped each other on deadlines,” he added.
He also told how he and others were knocked out by Orson Welles’ Citizen Kane and were pleased to learn the Welles liked the comics. “He did on screen what we were trying to do on paper,” Robinson said.
Denny O’Neil, who came to DC from Charlton at Dick Giordano‘s urging said he hadn’t initially approached DC looking for work as he was “a scruffy freelancer from the East Village and I thought DC was a closed shop.”
He later found DC to be a “congenial place to work, although most of the older guys went around in suits. Steve Skeates and I, who didn’t wear suits, were told not to go by the DC president’s office, even though his door was closed as we might upset him.”
Of his work with Editor Julius Schwartz, O’Neil said that the two initially approached each other cautiously. “Julie dressed like an insurance salesman and I wore a pirate shirt,” O’Neil said. “I once violated what later became one of my editorial rules when I added something to a Green Lantern script without checking with Julie first. I had a story about how GL created the moon. Fortunately, Julie loved it.”
O’Neil also remembered how, when Kahn joined the company in the mid-1970s, it switched from National Periodical Publications to DC Comics. “She said, We’re DC Comics, we should be proud of that’,” he added.
That brought the focus to Kahn who recalled how, when she joined the company in 1976, they had a Phil Seuling convention scheduled just three weeks later. Unfortunately, due to a hotel strike at the original venue, the convention had to change hotels just three days before the show. “At that show, we filmed Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster,” she said. “I think that’s the first and only time we had both of them on film at the same time. A few years later, when Superman: The Movie premiered in Washington, D.C., Joe wasn’t able to attend, but Jerry and his wife were there and sat in the front row. I remember how he cried as his creation was brought to faithful life on the screen.”
Lee remembered how DC captured his imagination and re-energized his interest in comics in 1986 with such series as The Dark Knight and Watchmen. The industry’s call for a “Creator’s Bill of Rights” was another touchstone at the time that made him think about a career in the industry.
DiDio’s first meeting with DC came when he was working at ABC and came to the DC offices to help develop a Metal Men animated series. “I was more excited about getting a tour of the DC offices than of all the Hollywood people I had met in the past 15 years of my career,” he said. “When Jenette introduced me to Mike Carlin, he asked what I was working on and I said Metal Men but that I was going to do a series with the original robots, not based on the recent mini-series where they were human souls in robot bodies. Carlin said, I wrote that series.’
“Later, Jenette took me out to dinner and was wearing a faux fur coat. When she took it off at the restaurant, she had on a vinyl Batman mini-skirt. I’ve never forgotten that.”
Johns told about how, when he was a child, he would ask for his lunch money for the week on a Monday, go to the local convenience store and buy a box of Little Debbie snack cakes for 99 cents and use the remainder of the money to buy comics.
With so many creators involved in such pivotal times, Levitz then began asking each about turning points at DC that they remembered. Both Levitz and Kahn recalled the institution of DC’s royalty program and creative rights work that revolutionized agreements with creators and brought new ideas to DC that would previously have been published by an independent company.
O’Neil remarked on the change in attitude towards comics from the 1960s, when creators didn’t talk about what they did, to today, when creators are teaching college courses, academic texts are being written about comics, and conventions have taken on new aspects. “While I wasn’t looking, we became respectable,” he said.
Levitz mixed it up for Jim Lee, asking him to pretend it was 10 years in the future and he was looking back at the development of digital comics. What did he see as the turning point in that imaginary decade? “It’s how readers will internalize the reading experience,” Lee said. “It’s more immersive for those who embrace it. Digital publishing in three to five years won’t look anything like it does now.”
Robinson was asked what he dreamed comics could be when he started in the industry. Robinson said that he started out his career as a journalist, not a cartoonist, but he could write and draw, so was attracted to comics. “I was really impressed how the Europeans embraced comics first,” he said, “much as they did with American jazz.”
DiDio’s challenge was, outside of those decisions he does have the power to reverse now, what editorial decision that he couldn’t affect due to the passage of time would he most like to change? DiDio focused on Crisis on Infinite Earths and the revamped DC Universe that resulted from that mega-event. He said that he wouldn’t have allowed the changes and streamlining to have come unraveled as quickly as they did, telling the creators, “This is what we’re doing and everyone needs to stick to it. We’re building for the future.”
As Chief Creative Officer, Johns was asked to point out a turning point in DC’s media involvement. He recalled how, when he was director Richard Donner‘s assistant, he talked to Donner about a possible Green Lantern movie. “He was familiar with Alan Scott, the original Green Lantern,” Johns said, “and I told him about Hal Jordan and all of that story. He pitched a proposal to the studios and one executive said, Can you do it without the ring?’ Now, we have the movie coming and we have the ring.”
Photos (from top to bottom):
Denny O’Neill answered a fan’s question before the panel began.
As did Jenette Kahn.
Jerry Robinson (left) and Jim Lee (right) were also on the dais.