Interview: Paul Levitz on Unfinished Business from Dark Horse

Unfinished Business HC

Unfinished Business HC

Paul Levitz is well known for his work on Legion of Super-Heroes and the Justice Society, he was an editor and President of DC Comics, co-created The Huntress, and more recent work has included The Visitor. His latest project is the Unfinished Business HC illustrated by Simon Fraser and published by Dark Horse. Levitz spoke with Westfield’s Roger Ash about this story in which a priest, a minister, and a rabbi walk into a bar…

Westfield: What was the inspiration for Unfinished Business?

Paul Levitz: Basically the classic gag. There are hundreds of jokes about three or four different religious figures doing something. I probably heard one someday and said “Oh. That could be silly” and decided to play with it.

Westfield: What can readers look forward to in the book?

Levitz: It’s a very different kind of story in that, at least for me, it doesn’t neatly fit into any of the regular categories. It’s got some elements of exploring faith. You find yourself dead and yet you’re being given an opportunity, or challenge, to do something. What do you do? Do you take the challenge? How quickly can you adapt to these bizarre circumstances? And what goes on from there? It’s hopefully a nice human story. Beautiful artwork from Simon Fraser. It’s set actively in New York and there are some gorgeous New York minutes in it. Hopefully people who’ve enjoyed my work over the years will get a kick out of it.

Westfield: Who are some of the characters readers will meet?

Levitz: The rabbi, the priest, the minister, and the bartender. The minister is a gal who is a direct descendant of Clement Moore who wrote The Night Before Christmas. The rabbi is a bit of an homage to a dear friend of mine who passed away a couple years ago; actually just after I had started the project. He had been a Legion fan back in the day and ended up being an English professor down at Tulane for many years. The priest is, perhaps not unusual here in the East, a Catholic man from Africa. I don’t know if it’s true across the country, but we’ve kind of run out of native priests except for the elderly, so we have a lot of international guys coming in. They all are in town for a conference on science and religion as we’re living in a time where science is beginning to be able to do things that have philosophical consequences. As the story starts, they’re walking into a bar somewhere in Manhattan called The Last Resort and the bartender serves them up and lets them know what’s going on.

Unfinished Business preview page

Unfinished Business preview page

Westfield: How long have you been working on this?

Levitz: I think I started about three years ago, actually. Simon Fraser took a fair amount of time to do it. He was interrupted with other projects along the way. The coloring took a while and Dark Horse had it in the system for a little while. It’s kind of crawled along. It’s not like I took three years writing the thing.

Westfield: You’ve mentioned Simon Fraser a couple times. What can you say about your collaboration with him?

Levitz: It was fun to work with an artist who’s here in New York. We spent some time walking around some of the areas that would be scenes in the story. We’d look at places and think “could we play with that?” He’s done a wide variety of work in his career; things like Doctor Who and one of the Kingsman series in recent years. Well travelled guy. He was born in Scotland and has been living in New York for quite a while now.

Westfield: Dealing with religion can be quite tricky. Were there any concerns on your part going into this?

Levitz: I’m not a religious person myself so this is a visit to some foreign territory. I leaned initially on a couple of old friends; the guy I mentioned who the rabbi character is somewhat based on, or at least named after. Another is a high school buddy who became a rabbi here in New York and is now off in Israel. And a friend I made a few years back who is an Episcopal priest but has a day job of being the Episcopal church’s representative to other faiths and international organizations. He’s got many, many friends across the religious spectrum and is very knowledgeable. I’ve had a couple people looking over my shoulder. Any mistakes are certainly mine, not theirs. There were people I was able to rely on for some guidance.

Westfield: Any closing comments?

Levitz: The joy of the time of life that I’m in is I get to do things purely because I enjoy them, not because I think it’s going to be the thing that will pay the rent for the next 20 years. It’s fascinating to just watch the graphic novel evolve and change and the variety of things you can do in the form. It was a little bit of a stretch to try something very different than what I’ve worked on before. Maybe a little more human.


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