JIM LEE Talks Digital & Print Innovations in BATMAN: ARKHAM ORIGINS, SUPERMAN UNCHAINED
CREDIT: DC Digital
On Tuesday night, DC Comics announced their next stage in digital publishing, the two-pronged attack of DC2 and DC2 Multiverse.
The first is not exactly anything new; Marvel Comics has been running similar digital exclusives under the “Marvel Infinite” banner since Avengers vs. X-Men, and before them Reilly Brown (who incidentally wound up helping out with an Infinite or two) had pioneered the format with his digital-exclusive book on comiXology, Power Play, amongst other indie creators who were excited to try something new.
The second, however, is a completely different way of presenting comics digitally. DC Comics found that their digital-first game comics, based on the Arkham series and Injustice: Gods Among Us video games, have sold particularly well, especially around the launch of the games. So they decided to take DC Digital further into the realm of games, adding interactive elements, divergent paths that users control, soundtracks, sound effects, and limited motion.
For more on the new digital approach, why they’re so focused on the gaming (and other external, as in new-to-comics) audiences, and what they’re doing to make print comics cool, too, we spoke with DC co-publisher Jim Lee shortly after the presentation. DC Entertainment president Diane Nelson also helped us out with some more information along the way.
Newsarama: Jim, starting with the basics, you mentioned the existing success of the Injustice digital-first comic as part of the inspiration for these new initiatives. One of the perhaps surprising successes of Injustice is its international sales – are these platforms being developed for a worldwide launch?
Jim Lee: Yeah, it will be worldwide. I don’t know if we’ll be gearing specifically for an international audience; it’s hard to say exactly who that international audience is. I think about 10% of our digital customers right now are international, but we don’t know if those are expatriates, foreign readers that have command of the English language or whatnot. I think the big one is just people who love the characters – so that could be anyone really. I wouldn’t limit that to just the international audience.
Diane Nelson: If I can add to that, I think Jim’s point earlier about the rising tide lifting all boats is good for us in a lot of ways, including internationally. Digital offers us new audiences geographically as well as demographically. It’s exciting! We have a lot more to learn about who these people are, but some of the statistics I mentioned in the presentation are indicating very clearly that it’s a different audience from the print readers, and that’s really cool.
Nrama: Since you are seeing a big success as well with the Warner Bros TV projects like Arrow and Smallville, there’s a small Warner film project coming out in about a week and a half called Man of Steel. Would you guys be looking towards tying these new digital initiatives to DC films as well?
Lee: I think ultimately. These projects have been in development for a long time. We’re actually doing a lot to celebrate Man of Steel and Superman in general for his 75th anniversary. There’s a digital comic that David Goyer scripted that’s being released through vudu and Walmart, there’s Man of Steel Day at your local comic shop, there’s uh…
Nelson: (interrupting) Superman Unchained!
Lee: Superman Unchained, which I can’t forget! (laughs) Probably the most important of all the Superman activities.
So yeah, there’s nothing to restrict us from doing that. We’ve had a great working relationship with Warner Bros. It’s something that we’ve done not just for this project, but for several years – with Arkham Asylum and Arkham City we did a lot of prequel and interstitial content with them. This, to me, is an evolution of that collaboration with our sister division.
Nelson: When I think what the right medium tie-in was, initially, video games really lends itself nicely. Maybe film will, television has, but it’s really all about the right story, the right character, organically, as opposed to force-fitting cross-promotional opportunities. We always look for those, as Jim mentioned, but it’s not necessarily a foregone conclusion that we would lift from Man of Steel if it might not… part of it is, do we have the story elements that would make for a compelling story in this format? I’m not sure Zack Snyder is ready to go there yet with what might fill-in beyond Man of Steel, but we’ll ask ourselves those questions, definitely.
Nrama: So Batman is first for both DC2 and DC2 Multiverse, but obviously not the only thing you’re working on in that medium, right?
Lee: Yes, I would say you’re correct in that assessment.
Nrama: Jim, shifting focus a bit, you’re also doing some fun things for print comic readers, like the big fold-out poster in Superman Unchained #1. How will that be placed in the issue? Is it a tear-out poster, or what?
Lee: You know that sticky goo they used to put in the back of magazines where they used to paste in CDs and stuff like that? It’s that kind of adhesive. It’s almost like dried Rubber Cement, that kind of material, so you can easily take it out and place it back in.
But it’s not just a poster. It’s actually – you have to read it. It’s a poster that has narrative captions, so you read it, then flip it over and the other side is a poster and you have to read that too. Then fold it to put it back in. It’s not something you do on the subway, when you’re taking a ride. You need to have a little table space for that one.
Nrama: So of course it’s a little funny for me to ask about that at a digital event, since that’s something clearly geared towards print…
Lee: Yeah, I mean, to underscore what Diane was saying, we’re not just trying to innovate in the digital space, we’re trying to do that in print, not just with cool posters – we’re not just doing that in Superman Unchained, but there’s other things we have in the works.
Nrama: Like the Green Lantern fold out in Geoff’s last issue.
Lee: Like the Green Lantern fold out, exactly. Or for Villains Month in September, we spent a lot of time vetting that technology that creates that 3D effect, that 3D motion technology. It’s super difficult to create, it’s super time-consuming. We had to create those covers way in advance. Just to launch that stuff created a lot of extra work, but at the end of the day it made for a really compelling project.
Nrama: Think there will be anything digital-focused for Villains Month as well?
Lee: (smiles) Um… I can’t say at this point. You know, a lot of times – you want the digital to succeed on its own, or you want the digital to help promote the print. The question is if you start doing things that are digital-first, are you really helping push print product with that at that point? Retailers might perceive that as cannibalizing interests or sales. It’s a fine line you need to walk with promoting print with digital and vice-versa.
Nrama: Back to DC2 Multiverse, what new things are you going to be doing to try to get that in front of gamers?
Lee: Well, the great thing is, we’re part of a company that owns a gaming company! And Diane was just recently promoted to oversee the content for Warner Bros. So I think there’s a lot of things we can do, like I said before, we’ve been working with them for years now on creating content for them, to help co-market and flesh out the worlds that the video games create. We anticipate doing much more of that using the Multiverse technology.
Nrama: It looks like a lot of fun, like the old “Choose Your Own Adventure” books.
Lee: Right – the thing with “Choose Your Own Adventure,” and the reason we didn’t say that is because it has a very young connotation to it. To me, this has a much more sophisticated interaction with the story, and it’s more organic – you don’t jump out of the experience by having to find a page number. It’s an immediate thing – you click and it launches that sequence of events.
Plus, it’s reciprocal. We collect the data and the feedback from the choices people are making, which will then determine what content the readers are liking, what future arcs to develop, what characters to develop more of. So it’s interactive not just on the screen, but interactive between us as publishers and the readers that buy and read our DC2 Multiverse stories.
Nrama: It is interesting that you saw the digital success with the game tie-ins, and rather than just enjoying that you are moving towards something like this.
Lee: Yeah! You know, it’s the natural progression of this. We have a longterm gameplan, and it’s independent of what our competitors are doing. We’re mindful of what they’re doing and always interested in seeing what they have, but we have a definite philosophy and approach to it, and DC2 Multiverse is just the next evolutionary step in that overall rollout of digital product and innovations.