It was around Christmas time of 1975 when I began to frequent the DC Comics offices in Rockefeller Center, as I delivered the artwork for "Tales of the Great Disaster" back-up for Kamandi which I illustrated at the onset of my career in comics. The atmosphere at DC was joyous and filled with chatter. Jack Adler advised me to leave a little more room for the lettering on the art and Paul Levitz asked me to join him as he recorded the details of the artwork I'd delivered. Paul was an assistant editor who coordinated the orderly conduct of the flow of work at DC. He exhuded serious intent, as a bookkeeper who recorded the chronicles of the kingdom would.
Upon recording the details of the work, Paul quickly looked at the pages and extended his hand with a smile.
"Welcome to DC", he said. "I hope it'll be a long and good relationship. Nice work."
Paul was being kind. It really wasn't nice work at all, my first professional comic book story. I had drawn it twice because back at Continuity, Neal had looked at the first version and said: "Do you really intend to submit this?"
"Thank you" I answered Paul, realizing that we both understood there was a great deal for me yet to learn about drawing comic books. "I'm just warming up and hope to give DC everything I've got."
Paul Levitz was an assistant editor at DC then, but in every encounter I'd ever had with him, he gave me the impression that he was the one who was minding the store. He had no power plays and employed no inter-departmental intrigues to do this. He simply conducted himself with the authority and concern for the company as if it was his very own - not as if he was merely employed by it.
About a year later, Paul was writing a series of Legion of Super Heroes stories and asked me to illustrate a few. We sat in his office discussing the plots he had in mind for the main stories, after which he asked me if I had any ideas for backup features. He particularly wanted to write such a story with Princess Projectra and was willing to share in the conceptual chores. Until that time I'd had no involvement at all with the writing of any of the books I'd drawn. I appreciated the confidence Paul had extended with his request and thought about it for a moment.
"I'd like to see a story where the hero's own inner conflicts and their own super powers turn on them and become the villain they need to contend with." I suggested.
"That's an interesting idea." Paul said, "Let me see what I can do with it."
A week later, Paul handed me a script for the Princess Projectra back up feature. It was very well plotted and I was duly inspired with how he brought such a rough concept to life - and by being credited with having provided the concept for it. As I began to pencil the work, it took upon a life of its own. The script was written in plot outline form, what we called "Marvel Style" in the creator's community. Out of the 7 story pages, 4 of them were layed out as splash pages. I knew Paul would not be happy with this. I attempted to change a couple of the pages but came to a decision that this would be the best way to tell this story and I resolved to try to convince him of it.
"How can I write something like this?" Paul said as he looked at the pencils. "I need more detail to tell the story."
"Look Paul," I pleaded. "I tried to break it down a little more but it just works better this way. The concept carries it through and any more detail would only weaken it."
"Let me see what I can do with it." He said.
A week later, Paul told me that the script worked out very well and that he was very happy with what I'd done with the layouts. The Final Illusion soon became a fan favorite amongst the Legion work I'd done.
Skip forward to around Christmas time of 1977. The day after the the night of the peacemaker, following the summer of 77 on 45th and 9th when I spoke on the radio in Larry Hama's room. Continuity was buzzing and it seemed that everyone in the industry had come into the studio to see if the rumors were true that Mike Nasser said he was the Second Coming of Christ on the radio. I sat in the back in my room most of the day. Someone, not from the studio, came in and said loudly: "This story in Star*Reach. It's not funny!" I wasn't laughing either, I thought to myself. By evening time, Neal came back and saw that I'd spent the day not doing anything at all. Marshall Rogers and Mike Hinge were in the room and Larry Hama was in his room next to ours. Neal hovered over me:
"Listen Mike, you might have something to say but you have to use your wheels to say it. The comics are your wheels. You have to use your wheels, Mike."
Larry burst out of his room: "Why are you encouraging him like this?"
"Because" Neal answered him. "One day Mike's trip to California will become the basis for a religion."
"I can't believe you just said that", Larry said in a huff and went back to his room.
I had no intention of making a religion, just the opposite actually. But Neal was right, I had to use my wheels. Some time later Sal Quartuccio came into the room and asked me to produce an 8 page black and white story for his Hot Stuff publication. Anything I wanted to do, he said. I spent the next two days producing the work which appeared in issue # 6. 12 Parts: A Story of the Revelation. Almost finished with the story, Neal appeared in my room again.
"Is this a paying job?" he asked.
"You know Sal doesn't have much of a budget for Hot Stuff." I answered.
"Don't you think you should be making a living, like everybody else?" Neal said. "Why don't you call Paul and see if he has a paying job for you at DC?"
I wasn't sure then if I needed to make a living like everybody else - but I trusted Neal. He understood more than anyone else what was on my mind. He even seemed to understand it more than I did. I called Paul and he invited me over to DC. As I walked into the offices with my long hair and beard and black British civil defense coat, I saw the looks of everyone in the offices and the hallways. News gets around fast in the comics. Marty Pasko cracked a forced smile and said "Hi Mike". I walked by feeling like an Alien who'd walked onto the wrong movie set.
Paul was straight as an arrow. Unshaken by my appearance, he handed me a 30 page script for a Batman Special.
"It's a giant size book" he said "Marshall's also doing a story for it, along with a very good new artist who just started working with us, Michael Golden. Look it over and let me know if you like it."
Hang the Batman became my wheels for the next two months. Julie Shwartz was editor of the book and every time I'd bring him new pages, he found something funny to say so I wouldn't look so serious. It didn't work. I found myself drawing Batman like I'd never drawn Batman before. Everybody was happy. Paul Levitz recorded the details of the pages I brought into the chronicles of DC Comics.
Skip forward about 8 months in the summer of 1978. I'd just come back from another trip to California with more wheels. An 11 page story titled Whole Parts which I produced in Santa Barbara. After stopping at Continuity, my next stop was to see Paul Levitz. I walked into DC Comics without an appointment, straight to Paul's office, pulled out the story and laid it on his desk.
"This is a title." I said.
"This is a splash page."
"This is a prologue."
"This is a three panel sequence."
"This is a caption."
"This is a sound effect."
"This is a main character."
"This is a background."
"This is an epilogue."
"Publish this.." I said, "..and you'll sell more copies of it than anything else you've ever published."
Paul was frozen in his seat and he wasn't biting. I reached for a pen on his desk and wrote a note on his memo pad telling him that he'll be joining us when we sail off to Titan, the moon of Saturn, one day in the future.
Paul remained frozen. My mission was accomplished and I walked out of DC Comics' offices.
Skip forward to January 2004. The Cassinni-Huygens probe was sending back images of its landing on Titan. The images showed Titan to have rivers, clouds, an ocean and a rich topography. Neal Adams wrote on his web site that it looked as if we were coming into a landing at a familiar coastline on Earth. I thought of Paul Levitz and the note I'd written him 26 years before. I then wrote an open letter to Paul reminding him of that note and how he was a creator at heart and distributed it all over the comics internet forums. I asked him to think well of his brethren the creators because we were finally beginning to come together to make all of our dreams come true. I didn't have to do it really. Paul already knows all this.
Paul Levitz knows he's a creator at heart.
Paul Levitz. Portraits of the Creators Sketchbook.