DC Comics Co-Publishers Dan DiDio and Jim Lee met with press outlets at Comic-Con International Thursday morning to discuss DC’s new "Rebirth" initiative, as well as new upcoming titles and plans for their creator-owned Vertigo imprint.
“This has been an interesting year for us, and it's only half-over,” DiDio said of "Rebirth," which was announced in March at WonderCon. “There was lots of excitement — and tons of skepticism.”
Yet the Geoff Johns-led revamp “more than 100% exceeded our projections,” DiDio said, with DC’s sales from just the first week of August nearly matching those of the entire month of April.
“It's a wonderful testament to the strength of comics, and it's a wonderful testament to the strength of our characters,” DiDio said.
Lee said that “we had a rough go of it last year,” saying that during last February’s ComicsPRO meeting, it was immediately apparent that “people were not happy.” But he said that with "Rebirth," sales numbers for second and third issues actually grew beyond their debut numbers, bucking the industry’s usual trends of attrition.
While Lee said that "Rebirth" was meant to incorporate previous continuity rather than erase the "New 52," DiDio said that certain characters had become “unrecognizable” due to constant new twists, and this had affected sales. By working with Chief Creative Officer Geoff Johns to refine DC’s superhero lineup,
“'Rebirth' is us renewing our vows as to what the core conceits of what our characters are,” DiDio said. “And I think the fans are recommitting to our characters because of that.”
Lee praised Johns, saying his knowledge of DC’s roster as Chief Creative Officer was crucial towards establishing a direction for the publishing line.
“Geoff is great at deconstructing characters — he knows the characters inside out,” Lee said. “And he's great at challenging you about what is this story about, why should we care about these characters.”
Lee added that Johns’ involvement was a major selling point to retailers who were weary from diminishing sales during Convergence and the DCYou initiative.
“Number ones create interest, but keeping readers to issue #5 is going to be story,” he said.
DiDio and Lee also discussed Wonder Woman's 75th anniversary, as well as upcoming titles such as Hawkman/Adam Strange, Deadman, Vigilante and He-Man/Thundercats. When asked about when readers might see the resurgence of Milestone characters, Deathstroke writer Christopher Priest said he was meeting Milestone's founders next week.
"We're still talking with [Milestone co-founder Reginald Hudlin] — he just produced the Oscars, he's directing a movie based on a former Supreme Court member," Lee added. "We talk once a week or so, so it's still moving forward, albeit at a much slower pace."
When asked about DC’s commitment to diversity, DiDio said that diversity in both characters and creators was paramount to the company. He said that due to the “huge push” for female creators, “now it’s a part of the conversation,” with more women becoming regular names in the talent pool.
DiDio also said that he was excited about African-American writers joining DC, including Christopher Priest, who begins his run on Deathstroke next month.
“Christopher Priest said he wanted to work on something other than African-American characters — we said, ‘duh,’” DiDio recalled. “We thought you didn’t want to work at DC, to be honest — nobody had reached out.”
To that end, Lee added, DC’s Talent Development Program, led by Vice President of Talent Development Bobbie Chase, has taken steps to find diverse voices from other media and working with creators like All-Star Batman writer Scott Snyder to train them in comic books' style and structure.
“It’s not just a passive program waiting for people to come to us,” Lee said.
A question about whether Poison Ivy might make a return following her recent miniseries by Amy Chu and Clay Mann led to a deeper discussion of DC’s trade paperback sales, and how the publisher navigates its own comic book stories among its film and television counterparts.
“What we've seen traditionally is a book sells poorly as a periodical, it seeks poorly as a trade... the only difference you see is on the cusp books,” DiDio said. While the publisher is still waiting on trade sales before making any decisions on Ivy’s adventures, “a Midnighter book in particular, it's been very well-reviewed, that's one of the few times we've seen the reviews help the trade sales.”
Lee, meanwhile, said that adaptations of books currently in trade such as Vertigo’s Preacher or the first volume of Suicide Squad don’t adhere too closely to the printed text, but that that was actually to the benefit of the books.
“That's awesome for us as publishers... we don't have to be slavish to their continuity.”
DiDio and Lee also confirmed that more original graphic novels would be arriving, including Jill Thompson’s Wonder Woman graphic novel A True Amazon, as well as more installments of DC’s Earth One lineup.
“Material that inspires media sells better than media that is derivative of media,” DiDio said, adding that while comic books are “a drop in the bucket” compared to television and film in terms of sheer numbers, “What we do in comics is to inspire others to be creative… the source material, the inspirational material is clearly the comics.”
Asked about Vertigo’s future, Lee said, “it’s looking good,” citing Paul Dini and Eduardo Risso’s autobiographical Dark Night: A True Batman Story and Joshua Williamson’s upcoming Frostbite, as well as Jamie S. Rich’s promotion to Group Editor.
“It's a challenging time for creator-owned comics,” Lee said, describing Image’s model as a “disruptive force,” but said that Vertigo’s connection to Warner Bros. as well as DC’s publicity wing provides a strong platform for creators looking to tell their stories. “Vertigo allows them to come in and develop the idea, and have the confidence that it'll get the right push.”
When asked about the CW’s impact on DC’s line, Lee said that DC will continue to create digital-first content to bring in the millions of viewers tuning in, but that as a whole, the publishing line would continue taking its own initiative. If DC attempted to hew closely with their TV counterparts, “we would have to create the content ahead of the show, and if it doesn't resonate you're stuck with a lot of continuity,” Lee explained. “The things that sell well for us takes a leadership position.”
That said, DiDio added, DC has seen a resurgence with some corners of its back catalog. Supergirl, which moves to The CW in the fall following its first season on CBS, also has led to a reprinting of Sterling Gates and Jamal Igle’s run on the book, while trades of The Flash have now reached multiple printings.
“We’re finding out what stories they're going back to, and going back in our back catalogs to see if there is anything we can get to bring in more readers,” DiDio said.