The former DC chief turns 74!
UPDATED 5/16/21: Jenette Kahn turns 74! Perfect time to re-present this piece by Paul Levitz from 2019. Dig it. — Dan
Former DC chief Jenette Kahn is, from a distance, one of the prime engines driving 13th Dimension.
Not through any direct contact, mind you, but through her considerable influence. The big picture is that over 26 years beginning in 1976, she engineered a period of spectacular creative growth in comics. The smaller picture is that era produced some of my all-time favorite comics, highlighted by Englehart and Rogers’ Detective Comics run; Wolfman and Perez’s The New Teen Titans; and The Dark Knight Returns, by Frank Miller, to name just a few.
Oh, and Watchmen, by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons.
That’s just scratching the surface, of course. But the point is that so much of what we write about here – and what you readers respond so strongly to – was executed under Kahn’s watch.
Late in July, we ran a series of 13 COVERS tributes to some of the artists who were members of this year’s Eisner Hall of Fame class. I also used the occasion to republish THE PAUL LEVITZ INTERVIEWS, since the former DC head was also in the group. (Click here.)
But how best to honor Kahn, another newly minted member? By letting Levitz, a longtime Kahn colleague and friend, take the reins. (Levitz became DC president after Kahn stepped down in 2002.)
Over on Facebook, Levitz wrote tributes to his fellow HOF classmates. They’re quite lovely. But the one about Kahn – which Levitz termed “maybe the hardest and happiest Hall of Fame post for me to write” – stands out.
With Paul’s permission, we’re publishing it here:
By PAUL LEVITZ
When Jenette Kahn arrived at DC, comics were at an incredibly low point in America, creatively and commercially. She came from outside the field (a first for a leader at a major company), she was an outrageously young 28 in an aging industry, and she was female in a segment of the market that had almost never let a woman hold a position of power.
Jenette believed in the ability of comics to tell all kinds of stories, and the principle of treating creative people well at a time when comics were probably the least decent creative field in the country. She asked great and provocative questions, and began to create change immediately.
Most important, perhaps, she was possessed of great courage — manifested in championing groundbreaking projects like Frank Miller and Klaus Janson’s Dark Knight Returns (which broke pretty much every “rule” DC had built over decades), or literally riding through a mine field researching a project to use comics to teach kids not to get blown up. Or arguing with a director to kill a bad film version of our characters.
She supported talent, change, and the potential of not only her company, but the art form. Smart and an unconventional thinker, she encouraged diversity in our staff and the comics themselves. And she had no need to garner credit for her efforts.
We bonded early in her time at DC (she always said because I was the only person on the shell-shocked staff who would say no to her ideas), and became a team for a quarter century to both our delight: Jenette’s story strength and ability to work with people leading her to projects across media, my in-the-trenches organizational skills keeping things moving, growing, and more profitable, and both of us working with key teammates Joe Orlando and Dick Giordano (HOFers themselves) and a host of talented executives, editors and dedicated staffers.
Without Jenette’s advocacy, we wouldn’t have broken ground on royalties, more mature content and storytelling styles, working to build the comic shop market, or better treatment for creative talent. If comics fans and historians will look back on DC in the ’80s and early ’90s as a high point in the company’s long and often glorious history, she was the critical catalyst.
And god, did we have fun. From taking the whole company on retreat to break the news that our approaches were changing, to brainstorming radical new projects, to fierce games of Scrabble (I was no match for her or Karen Berger) or poker. Or just kvelling over newly arrived pages of brilliant projects. Not every idea or new hire worked out, but a few revolutionized comics, and with Jenette around there were always going to be more ideas than any company could handle. Or just sharing books we loved.
A woman who brought creativity to everything she did (don’t get me started on her houses), who lured interesting people from every field to her world (you could look up and see anyone from Tom Wolfe to Fab Five Freddy or Patrick Ewing heading down the hall, or Jaron Lanier of virtual reality fame), and who would have made any field she inhabited a better place, Jenette Kahn belongs in comics’ Hall of Fame for a range of contributions unlike anyone else.
— 13 COVERS: A JIM APARO Hall of Fame Salute. Click here.
— 13 COVERS: A JOSE LUIS GARCIA-LOPEZ Hall of Fame Salute. Click here.