Editor’s Note: DC Comics President Paul Levitz discusses The DC Vault project and memories from this year’s San Diego Comic-Con.
by Paul Levitz
A few months ago, Steve Korte sent me off on an archeology mission. For those of you who don’t know the name, Steve is the long-serving Group Editor of our Licensed Publishing team. His crew packages content for everything from calendars to coffee-table books like last Christmas’s MAD’S GREATEST ARTISTS VOLUME ONE: THE COMPLETELY MAD DON MARTIN. Odds are you have a few of their beautiful projects like Alex Ross’ MYTHOLOGY on your shelf, and equally likely you never heard of the steps they take to help introduce new readers to our heroes (there’s more than one way to create a fan).
Anyway, Steve looked at the 1970 “thanks for writing” postcard sitting in lucite in my office, showing off (quietly) my personal connection to the DC offices from when I was 13, and he asked “Any more at home like that?” He didn’t want the similarly-lucite-sealed hard-won Marvel No-Prize resting in front of my bound 30-year Marvel run; just more DC “stuff.”
He didn’t need the No-Prize because there already was a book called THE MARVEL VAULT, done by Running Press and featuring a dash of Marvel history and a handful of reproductions of Marvel “objects.” Now we were being asked to open THE DC VAULT and he wanted to do them one better. As possible pack-rat-in-chief, what could I point him towards?
One set of treasures was right in the office–”ashcan” prototypes of comics used for trademark registration back to the earliest Golden Age. We had survivors like DOUBLE ACTION COMICS and eccentric entries like ROCK ‘N’ ROLL COMICS. Gary Colabuono, a Chicago collector, has written extensively about this phenomenon.
Other treasures were found in the DC library, under the tender care of Allan Asherman, who guards that room with a reverent knowledge of our past. Stacks of old clippings, posters and marketing materials were gone over for possible inclusion.
But what about the treasures we took for granted? My favorite was an example of our DC bullet memo pads, each of which featured about a dozen different characters interacting with the logo from the back of the page (The Joker being crushed by it, Flash running through it, and so on). We used those lovely pieces of Ross Andru and Dick Giordano art to decorate our office doors at 666 Fifth in the 1980′s, and each one was beautifully thought out. We just used them as note pads, though: “dick–I’ll blow up your studio if you don’t get this in by Friday–paul.”
Then there’s the discarded by-products of the work itself. In the days before “limited edition sketchbooks” or “director’s cuts” the material that went on the cutting room floor went out in the trash…much of it incredibly lovely and desirable for collectors, if the company had thought about it at the time. One piece that survived in my art drawer at home was one I had salvaged from trash as an assistant editor.
See, in those days, Carmine Infantino had a very hands-on approach to DC’s covers, whether serving as Art Director, Editorial Director, Publisher, or, ultimately, President of the company. In a newsstand world, catching the reader’s eye with a cover image or idea was a paramount task, and Carmine, as one of the sharpest designers ever to lift a pencil in comics, wasn’t delegating that task to anyone. For almost every issue, the editor would walk down the hall with the
completed black and white original artwork, and then go back and forth with Carmine seeking the perfect cover…which Carmine would then compose, usually in ballpoint pen on a sheet of typing paper. In the case of the one I passed to Steve (one of two or three I saved, out of how many hundreds that passed through my foolish hands), Joe Orlando had taken Carmine’s composition and added more drawing and shading with pencil and non-repro blue marker (a favorite office tool in those years before artwork was returned to the artists), making it clearer for the long journey to Nestor Redondo’s drawing board in the Philippines. In and of itself, it’s a beautiful collaboration between two friends who were masters of the art form…even if neither would have treated it as more than a stepping stone to art.
Old friend Martin Pasko stepped in to supply a historical text laced with personal observations from his days as letterhack to writer and DC staffer, Steve got me to do a short intro (I’m specializing in short pieces these days, I guess), and then figured out how to put as many of the treasures as he could into the book. Look for it in about 4-6 weeks.
Favorite moments at Comicon, not counting the Clampett: commiserating with Bruce Timm about not having time to look through the longboxes for the two TOMAHAWK issues I’m hunting and having him volunteer he was looking for WEIRD MYSTERY #16. I had an early (awful) story in it, so I sent him off a spare file copy. *** Holding Keith Giffen back from announcing we’d do a new LEGION run to a panel room of 700 dedicated Legion fans by reminding him that he’d have to get my wife to agree, and Science Police officers are armed. (Honest, I’d love to do if my travel schedule ever lightens up again.) *** Watching Dave Gibbons meet the Watchmen backstage before their panel. *** Running into Jerry Beck, who served with me on the staff of Phil Seuling’s legendary conventions so long ago, and hearing he’s using his deep knowledge of animation history with my colleagues at Warner Bros. Animation. *** Signing a couple of key contracts, including the one to bring the Milestone heroes into the DCU … seems like there’s always at least one being negotiated down to the wire. *** Working over a promising new writer to teach an old dog’s tricks. *** And opening night, as the crowd poured into the booth, caring about what we do, reminding us about how much our work matters to people’s lives.