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Former DC President Paul Levitz says superhero stories “more appealing to boys”


Well. This sure explains a lot. In a three part interview over at The Comics Journal to promote his new DC book, former DC president Paul Levitz is giving some very soundbites. Levitz who ran DC as president and publisher from 2002 until last year and was a instrumental in making the direct market DC’s main distribution channel, shares his thoughts on girls and superheroes. And they are a little distressing.

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Go read DCWKA’s thoughts, they are most wise.

I’d like to add that for a former president of a major publishing company, he seems particularly dense about the role of editorial.  He mentions the ratio of female editors in the DCU vs. Vertigo (5-10% vs. 50%) as possibly being relevant, but he ignores his own observation about Vertigo editors “screening and shaping” the material they work with.  Whereas DCU editors are ultimately beholden to the company-wide editorial schemes, almost always dictated by men.

I was also surprised he didn’t talk about the tenure of Jenette Kahn as Editor-in-Chief.  After all, Vertigo started under her watch, she brought in writers like Alan Moore and Neil Gaiman who brought new narrative sophistication to comics, which certainly attracted new readers—including women—to the comics form.  Instead, he talks about Dorothy Woolfolk, who I’d honestly never heard of before.

I went back through the first two parts of that interview, and in part two came across some even more “illuminating” comments:

WILSON: In getting into this late 1960s era then, you mention briefly Betty Friedan and the creation of N.O.W., the changes in the larger society that are transpiring, but the connections to the actual books are tenuous at best. I’ve read some studies that say comics have never known how to approach women and women’s movements at the time, simply falling back on parody and failing to match what is going on in society. First, were there any women writers at DC in the 1960s?

LEVITZ: You know, I don’t know on the romance books because that stuff has been so inadequately researched. There certainly were no prominent women writers working in the place by the late 1960s when credits became more common. There was a small number of women who had certain assignments, but not on any of the major projects of that period.

First off, this interview is about Levitz’s book about the history of DC Comics.  He is the last person who should say (or admit) that he doesn’t know about something because the lack of research.  That’s your own damn fault, Paul.  And while I am sympathetic to the challenge posed by the lack of credits, there is also no shortage of lists on the Internet and in comics history books of people known to have worked in the industry, even if it’s no known which books they worked on.  And many of them are still alive and could be contacted.  This doesn’t bode well for the overall quality of the book.

WILSON: Well, on pages 402-03 of your book, you show Lois Lane’s new attitude with Superman, Supergirl and Wonder Woman turning their backs on being superheroes to embrace lives of fashion and romance, and Wonder Woman becoming a mother figure in the Justice League. Looking at them today, through a contemporary lens, are these examples of what you call the generational conflict then?

LEVITZ: If your question is how I see the characters today, we have a great advantage that we have many wonderful women writing and drawing comics, and editing comics, and that affects the whole culture. We’re in a different stage of society.

That doesn’t even answer the question that he twisted the actual question asked to be.  And is it just me, or does that statement come off as head-pattingly condescending towards those same female creators?

WILSON: Let me try to clarify it. Do you see these examples as reflective of what was going on in society at that time or simply parody?

LEVITZ: These were not historical documents. Whether it’s a comic, television show or motion picture, when they mirror society, depending on what the talent and the publishing house are trying to do, they’re funhouse mirrors. They can be showing us an idealization of what the people think is going on or they can show a corruption of it. It’s not intended to be journalism. It’s not intended to be: “This is what the role of a woman today is.” You turn on a television program this evening, randomly, you’ll find most of the women characters doing things related to some of how women live today, but also not. It’s fantasy.

Yet I have no doubt that he probably spent at least five pages on the grand societal significance of the Green Lantern/Green Arrow “What have you done for the black skins, Mr. Green Lantern?” panel.

WILSON: If you look across the board though in media…

LEVITZ: The faster the rate of change going on in society, the more likely you’re going to have significant distortions in fiction because you don’t have a base line….You can’t pick up a 1950s Emily Post book and say that’s how we live now. And you certainly wouldn’t expect it to be how your children would live. Fiction is, of course, going to have a greater degree of distortion during a time of change like that.

I see, he can’t comment on the role of women characters in the books published by the company he worked at for decades because society moved too fast for him to notice!

WILSON: It’s interesting to see how this stuff enters the comics, but also how it’s presented because it usually is very bizarre, very distorted, or oftentimes, reflective of consensus opinions about an issue such as the E.R.A. debates and women’s liberation movements in the 1970s. You mention the romance comics and there seem to be a lot of DC romance comics in the 1960s. Who were the main audiences for these books?

LEVITZ: The company never did market research in those years that I’m aware of. My impression of it was that you were selling them to girls between the ages of 8 and 12 years old.

Well, at least he acknowledged that they were actually selling to girls in those days.

I’m sure Mr. Levitz is a very nice guy in real life.  But I can’t help but be somewhat relieved that he is no longer the president of DC Comics.

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