LEE, DIDIO: Rebuilding DC To Counteract 'Shrinking Market'
10 DCnU Titles now Ripe for Mass Media
When Dan DiDio and Jim Lee became co-publishers at DC Comics last year, they announced that their mantra was "no fear," implying that change was on the horizon for the company.
In September, that promise of change becomes a reality, as DC starts over the numbering of all its comics at #1 and reboots some of its most popular franchises, with a completely new history for its Justice League and a rebooted Superman.
It's all part of a sales plan the company is calling the "New 52," which features 52 new #1 issues that are designed to attract new readers — and to bring back what DC is calling "lapsed" readers who have stopped reading comics.
According to DiDio, DC is hoping the move will counteract a comic book market that is shrinking.
"We need to be the best we can be right now, because if we look around us, we see a market that is shrinking," DiDio told Newsarama yesterday as he and Lee addressed the upcoming changes. "We feel like we're in the position right now that we have the ability to really start rebuilding ourselves and rebuilding the brand and rebuilding our characters for the future."
The "New 52" plan sees the launch of several new programs at DC. Beginning that month, the publisher — which didn't even have a digital program two years ago — will release every one of its comics in digital the same day as print.
Then over the month of September, DC will ship 52 new #1 issues that will reveal the new status quo of the DCU, including a younger, unmarried Superman, a healed Barbara Gordon as Batgirl and a much shorter, more modern history, with superheroes only emerging five years ago.
What causes the changes in-story will be explained in the final issue of this summer's big event, Flashpoint, the five-issue mini-series by Geoff Johns and Andy Kubert that ends on August 31st.
That same day, DC will release the much anticipated Justice League, the new comic from Johns and Lee, who are two of the most respected creators in the business. And the Superman reboot will be guided by Grant Morrison and George Pérez, two of DC's other big guns.
Newsarama talked with the co-publishers to find out more about the initiative, and some of their comments were included in our story yesterday about Superman's changes.
Today, we're sharing the entire transcript of our interview with Lee and DiDio about the changes, including how they hope the initiative will expand the shrinking comic book market and what they will use to measure whether it's a success.
been told there are few if any changes to Batman. So why change Superman so much?
Dan DiDio: It's one of the things we were looking at, how the storylines and characters were working. We saw a number of things we wanted to change with Superman because we've gone down so many roads with the character, in regards to the "Grounded" storyline, we've looked at things that took place with the "War of Krypton." We've looked over the last few years at what we've been doing and the changes we've been making with Superman.
But we also wanted to get back to some of the grass roots of the character. And some of the best ways to do that is to really go back to the early days of the character, where you see him in his formative years, learning his powers, and learning how people react to him, as we'll be examining in Action Comics. But also, we want to re-examine his relationships, because we think there's a lot of fertile ground about him and the people he deals with."
Nrama: But Dan, these changes are huge. There must have been something you felt was just not working with the way Superman was going. Was it too complicated? Did he feel too old? Was it that people couldn't relate to him? Or what?
DiDio: I think in some cases, he felt a little old. We've made Superman such an iconic figure over the years that we've lost some of the character and the ability to tell stories with that character. There's so much continuity that's been built on this character. We really wanted to get a Superman that is more accessible to the audience.
And one of the reasons we did it with Superman is it was done once before, and very successfully. We're hoping for the same luck here.
Dawn of Superheroes
Nrama: There are some mixed signals out there with this language you're using by labeling five years ago as the "dawn of the age of superheroes," which is the time period when the new Justice League and Action Comics take place. We've been told that Stormwatch has a long secret history, and Demon Knights takes place hundreds of years ago. And there's a lot of history you're keeping with Green Lantern. Was it really only five years ago that superheroes "dawned" in the DCU?
Jim Lee: It's really about re-introducing the concept of superheroes in the DC Universe, and doing it in a more contemporary, timely way. Even though you have books like Demon Knights or even All-Star Western, it's not about public recognition or understanding that there are beings amongst us with extraordinary powers.
So I think it's a re-examination of how superheroes are perceived in culture, and doing it through the lens of the modern era versus looking back at the history of superheroes through five or six decades of actual time.
Nrama: Both Superman and Supergirl are playing up their status as this "brooding alien" who feels isolated on Earth. Is this something you feel is relevant now? Something people can identify with — feeling like an alien?
DiDio: A little bit of that is the sense of separation or isolation that people might face when they don't feel like they truly belong or they just really don't know what their full place in society is. And Superman is someone who presents a very public image and he needs to be accepted by everyone, because there might be fear that's generated by who he is, at the start, but there's also a high level of acceptance of who he is.
Understanding his alien nature of where he comes from, and where his roots are, are essential as he makes choices about who he is.
That's one of the things we're trying to explore much more. We've told so many great stories over the years where Superman has embraced his human side and built stories around that side of the characterization. Now we're flipping it around a little bit and really embracing his alien side, so we can understand what it's like to be a man from another world, living amongst men, but not feeling like you're a part of it, but belonging to them all. Yet everyone turns to you for leadership.
Lee: I think the issue of self-identity and knowing who you are is something that's universal, and obviously, it's a very powerful theme. I'll tell you that, on a personal level, as an immigrant that was born in South Korea and moved to the United States, I can very much identify with being part of society, but also feeling like you're an outsider at the same time.
I think characters, not just Superman but other superhero characters, have a very public face and also a private, personal identity. I think it's that exploration between the two that's going to make part of the September relaunch very interesting on a story level.
Nrama: I read a survey recently where people are more connected through the internet now, but they actually feel more lonely and isolated. I guess it's comparable to having that "public" face be different from the private one, and feeling like nobody knows the real person behind the mask, or in this case, the computer screen.
Lee: Sure! Yeah, I read that too! There are a lot of interesting, even oxymoronic things happening in our society right now.
I think that even plays into what I think is one of the most interesting discussions in comics, where, "Is Batman actually Bruce Wayne? Or is Bruce Wayne actually Batman? Which one is the real character and which one's the mask?" I think the exploration of those things is what makes comic so interesting.
Lois and Clark
Nrama: For us married folks, it feels like there's this implication that marriage isn't interesting enough for superhero stories, but is that what influenced your decision to get Clark out of the marriage to Lois? The lack of drama that marriage offers?
DiDio: It's not that marriage isn't interesting. It's just that we want to make the subplots and soap opera aspects of comic book storytelling open and accessible to us. Naturally, as we get older, our lives move on. But we move our characters too quickly, and what we do is limit our stories and story potential by doing so.
He's had so much learning and understanding from the days with his parents, but the rest of the discovery is on his own. If we had him married to Lois right now, he would always have a strong base to work from. We wanted to explore much bigger and wider stories with him. It's really the learning and growing of this character that is going to be the basis for so much of what Grant and George are going to be doing with their series and with Superman.
Lee: I'm also married, and I love it! So I don't think this is a knock against marriage. That said, marriage brings about a certain degree of comfort and security in one's life. If you have a life partner, you always have someone to rely on. So from a story conflict point of view, it makes for a less dramatic story. I think a lot of writers can agree that one of the most dynamic periods of Superman's history was that period where there was a love triangle between Clark Kent, Superman and Lois Lane. There's a lot of tension and interest you create in the characters by having that kind of dynamic.
We're not doing exactly that love triangle. We're introducing other elements into it. Through that, we're really updating who the character is and making Superman a character that you think you know, but maybe not. We have some surprises up our sleeves. And I think Grant has some incredible ideas about not only what he wants to do with Superman but Clark Kent, and really updating the whole mythology so that people can relate to it on a more personal level.
DiDio: When we sat down the writers, we were all pretty much in agreement that this was the best place to go, because it gave us more potential for the stories at the starting point. We needed a really strong starting point here, and we felt this was a great way to do it.
Man of Steel
Nrama: When DC Entertainment was first formed, one of the ideas behind it was to align what you're doing in comics with other media. Was this move to reboot Superman in comics informed or influenced by the fact that the movie universe is rebooting Superman with the Man of Steel film?
DiDio: Not at all. That said, I doubt they would ever start a series or anything where Superman was married at the beginning. You go back to when Superman got married, that was a stunt tied to a television show at that particular moment in time, and when that show ended, the marriage continued. But every other interpretation of Superman that followed did not have them married.
So it just shows you that we do operate at our own rate and in our own rules, and that's the way we operate now.
Lee: I'm very honored and excited to be part of an initiative with a character that is originating in print. This is really about making sure that the source material, which is the comics, remains as contemporary and fresh and exciting as possible.
It's not a situation where the comics are licensed from games, or movies, or TV shows, or animation, where these characters are frozen in time to reflect something that might be a bigger business part of Warner Bros. It's in fact the reverse. It's comics.
Comics are the drivers and the creative content. Comics are where we can take the creative risks and creative chances with the characters. It's our responsibility to keep them exciting and fresh. The overall mission of DC Entertainment is to allow other gifted filmmakers or people who work in games or animation the opportunity to go through and find things in the DC library that interest them and that they think have potential in other media. That's part of the ecosystem we're trying to build.
So it's not about one lining up with the other. It's about keeping what we're doing on the publishing side as relevant and exciting as possible.
Decision to Relaunch the DCU
Nrama: Let's back up to when the decision for the relaunch took place. When Marvel announced their Civil War storyline, they admitted there was a division among people in the room about whether they should do it. I think Tom Brevoort even said on the record that he hated the idea at first. Yet the language from DC feels more like everyone singing the party line. Surely you guys considered challenges to this and had some in-house, didn't you?
Lee: If there was anything, we had questions about whether we're being bold enough, not just in terms of Superman, but across the whole 52 line. We wanted to do a line-wide initiative and really make some dramatic changes that really refocused attention on the characters.
There's always a tendency, with these characters, to play it safe, to hedge your bets, because you know these characters are so well loved that there will be controversy and outcries and all this kind of stuff.
But I really do feel that if you have the best creative team on the characters, you have sound ideas, and you have a great direction that you want to explore, then you should go in that direction.
I remember the last time there was interest in Superman was, like Dan said, the last time, when John Byrne rebooted the franchise. He really took the origin that we knew and updated it and added new subtleties and nuances. For me, that was my heyday of collecting Superman comic books. It really felt like this was my version of Superman. I know it really created a lot of excitement for that character, not just among die-hard DC fans, but across all comic book readers in general.
DiDio: We actually had, last year, a very large writers meeting about the general direction and tone of the DC Universe, and one of the conversations that was the biggest conversation in the room was about the marriage of Lois and Clark, and it was a much discussed topic.
Most people saw the benefits of making this change, because they saw what the story potential was and how much they could open up their ability to examine the character in a bigger way, once we decided to move in this direction.
Oracle to Batgirl
Nrama: Let's talk about the decision to change Barbara Gordon's status from Oracle to Batgirl. Was there any consideration about how this would affect diversity in the DCU, since you're basically eliminating one of your most beloved disabled heroes?
DiDio: I think we have a really strong line that features a wider range of diversity throughout it. And in this particular case, we were looking specifically back at the Barbara Gordon character. And when you talk about Batgirl, whether it's with a casual fan or even to somebody who just knew the Batman character, Barbara Gordon is always the one people default to as "who Batgirl is."
A couple things helped make our decision on this. One is that we felt like Barbara Gordon was always going to be the strongest Batgirl. And we had chances to tell new stories with her too. And also, the role of Oracle as a character in the DCU has changed greatly. When Oracle was first created, there was a sense of an emerging internet, and an emerging world of data out there. A lot of that has changed, and the role of Oracle has changed over the years.
What we needed to do was to continue to make Barbara Gordon one of the strongest characters possible, in or out of the wheelchair. And we felt that this was a strong direction for us.
But also, we're not discounting anything that character has gone through. And we want to make her change and her challenges a part of her story. And [writer] Gail [Simone] is doing a wonderful job with it.
Nrama: We've heard that she will go through physical therapy. Are you confirming that her past disability will continue to be part of her story going forward?
Lee: Absolutely. And I really think because of her past as Oracle, Batgirl will become — no, not become — she will remain one of the most interesting characters in the DC Universe. What Gail has been writing has been tremendously inspirational and exciting at the same time.
"Soft" Reboot and New Readers
Lee: I would say it was all creatively decided, but obviously if you have really strong content and really great creative direction, it's going to affect sales.
On an editorial level, we instinctively knew what was working and what wasn't working. We knew what needed a fresh coat of paint or even a complete overall. I'll use Teen Titans as an example of a concept where we changed it a lot. In that case, we felt that the book should be doing better, and creatively, we felt it was one that needed a shock to the system.
That's what you're seeing. Sometimes we realized we had to take a pretty strong stand and do something dramatically different.
Fill-In Artists and Timeliness
Nrama: Timeliness seems to be a big part of your communication to DC artists and writers leading up to September, and we've heard there's an intent to use fill-in artists whenever needed. We saw some indications that's happening in October, because there are some new names that have shown up to help out. What's the thinking behind how you're approaching book timeliness now, and why is it more hard-line than in the past?
DiDio: It's more hard-line than in the past for several reasons, and one is that it's the largest concern we've heard from retailers on a continual basis. They've been concerned in the past about our inability to put out books on a consistent basis, especially the books that people are looking for.
The reality is that we're in a periodical business. Periodical means that we have to be out every month. We've made a contract with the retailers, and a contract with the fans, to deliver our product to them on a consistent basis, and we should do so.
Over time, we've gotten a little lax in our delivery, and people were willing to wait for books because those books mattered to them. But as it spread throughout the business, people became less patient and sales suffered for it.
We have to rebuild the retailer confidence, we have to rebuild the fan confidence in our ability to deliver, which means we have to hold a hard line and be there.
And a lot of people are just not monthly people anymore, so we have to be smarter about how we schedule our books, how we plan our books, and how we plan who's going to be on them. I think what matters more than anything else is our ability to be there month-in and month-out.
We want to build that fan loyalty again. We want to build that consistency. We want people who walk into a store expecting a comic to be able to find that comic. There's nothing more frustrating for me or any of the fans, I'm sure, to be excited about something then not be really sure when it's coming out.
It's something I feel extraordinarily passionate about, and we're going to great lengths to make sure we hold that schedule.
Some people say to me, how can you guarantee 100 percent delivery? And the answer comes back: "It's our job to do that." We will make sure we will do that, and we'll make sure we don't sacrifice quality or story along the way. We want to make sure that everybody working on the books deserves to be on those books and we're putting out our best products.
Nrama: Jim, I heard a retailer talk about some analogies he'd heard you use where you'd said that if the digital market is like a hair, then the print market is like an 8"x10" piece of paper, which implies the digital market is very small compared to print. What analogy would you use for what you hope to see after this initiative? Will they be more comparable? Will print shrink to expand digital, as many retailers think?
Lee: The ideal state would be for the digital slice to grow, but the overall size of the whole pie to grow as well. We hope and expect the influx of digital readers to be an additive layer of business on top of our existing print business.
That's not to say you're not going to have some conversion of print-to-digital customer. But we've found that the huge majority of print customers prefer comics in print, and they are going to stick with print.
We really feel the digital format going day-and-date, making this accessible to everyone with a portable media device, will allow a lot of lapsed fans and new fans to check out what we're doing in the DC Universe come September, and that level of interest will convert some of those new readers and lapsed readers back into regular readers. And that will benefit the entire comic book business.
So we want the digital slice to be larger, and we want the overall size of the pie to get larger along with it.
Pants and Reaction to Change
Nrama: Jim, you just put Wonder Woman in the pants a year ago. Why the change back to the bathing suit/bloomers look so soon?
Lee: I don't think anything has been officially announced in that regard. I think there have been a couple of interesting images online, but it's something that we'll discuss at San Diego Comic Con.
Nrama: The cover for Wonder Woman #1 used to feature her wearing the pants, but now it's been changed back to being the bathing suit look. Your spokespeople confirmed that was the new cover.
Lee: Yeah, here's the thing... the internet is like everyone looking at tealeaves for direction. There's so much interest in what's going on in September that everyone's looking at every little image and trying to interpret it.
I'll just say, as far as Wonder Woman, it's something we'll discuss at San Diego Comic Con.
The funny thing about what I've seen, in regards to whether she should have the bloomers or the long pants, is that there are probably just as many people who hate the concept of the shorts versus the long pants. There are just as many people who say, "What? No pants? What's going on?"
It's interesting to see how quickly the look for a character can take hold with the readership.
I think that's an important thing to note in all this. It feels like there's a lot of discussion and hoopla about the changes that are coming in September. A year from now, if we do our jobs right, there will be as many people who love what we've done as there may be now who are fearing the changes.
What we accept as the "status quo" for these characters now were big changes at some point. We have to invite change as we go forward in time, because if we don't, they become the pulp heroes of yesteryear. Part of the driving force behind the September initiative is not to rest on our laurels, to really step up and examine every bit of their mythology and look for exciting opportunities to really take these characters in new directions.
Nrama: Is that a goal? To change minds in a year?
Lee: I think it will be a lot quicker than in a year. What I'm saying is that the level of adoption and acceptance by fandom is much more elastic than people think.
Yes, people are surprised by change. People question it. But the truth is, a lot of people will check this material out, and given the line-up of creators, I would not bet against the DC Universe.
I think people are going to be pleasantly surprised by the storylines and new directions, the new looks, and you're going to have some really die-hard DC September relaunch fans come September 2012. I think that's just part of the history of comics, and part of the history of fandom.
Nrama: Dan, how would you describe the overall goals of the September initiative, and how will you measure whether or not this worked?
DiDio: You know, naturally, increased sales is always a great measure for us. It's probably our strongest measure to gauge any level of success.
But realistically, I'm most excited about our ability to galvanize the industry and get people excited about it again, and about what we're doing.
I always say that apathy is the worst thing for comics, because the last thing we want to do is wake up one morning and find out that all the fans have left us. But our goal right now is to find a way to re-energize the business, re-energize our company and our characters.
How do I gauge that? I gauge it by the level of excitement, the level of conversation, and the level of sales we achieve.
We're in a position ourselves for a changing market, but we want to make sure everything we do is in the best interest of telling the best stories as possible. At the end of the day, it always comes down to, what are the stories? Whether we're putting it in print form or digital form. If the stories are there, if the stories are good, people will find them.
We need to be the best we can be right now, because if we look around us, we see a market that is shrinking. We feel like we're in the position right now that we have the ability to really start rebuilding ourselves and rebuilding the brand and rebuilding our characters for the future.Got a comment? There's lots of conversation on Newsarama's FACEBOOK and TWITTER!