With apologies for being a day late, and late in the day, we get back to our regular bi-weekly “20 Answers, One Question” with DC Universe Executive Editor Dan Didio.
For this installment, we pulled questions from the last request (trust us – there were more than enough), and asked a little bit of everything, more often than not, asking the questions exactly as they were posted.
So – if you’re set, dig in for some DC news, and a lot of information on the inner workings of DC Comics.
1. Starting off with a topic that touches on a subject we spoke about last time, Scott Kolins writing and drawing a Solomon Grundy miniseries… What drives a decision to do a series or a new project more, the passions the creators have for the character, or the corporate desire to get a particular character/product into the marketplace?
Dan DiDio: Well let’s use Solomon Grundy as an example. Solomon Grundy – a mindless brute, a dangerous character. We didn’t really have that type of character inhabiting any of our series right now, so we thought it would be interesting to bring Solomon Grundy to the forefront and see if he can fill that role in our storytelling. People will ask, “Where’s Swamp Thing in the DCU?” and one of the things that we thought we could do with Solomon Grundy that can be interesting, that can be part of the DCU, and maybe fill that need that people are looking for in a more brute-like character such as Swamp Thing. I’m not saying, mind you, that Solomon Grundy will be like Swamp Thing in this miniseries, but that he’s a type of character that’s similar to Swamp Thing.
So we look at the various pieces – we look to see which characters seem to be breaking out on their own, we look to see whether or not there’s more story to be told with particular groups or particular individuals, and we build series around that and where we think the fan interest lies.
NRAMA: Sure, but if, for example, you had Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely beating down your door to do an Inferior Five project – given their fanbase and talent they bring to the table – how does that weight against putting them on something like the Inferior Five?
DD: It depends on what their interests are and how long we think we can support a series. Something like an Inferior Five is an interesting concept, but there doesn’t seem to be a pressing need for it. A lot of times, when the talent comes to us with a particular character, we can talk it through to see if that character warrants its own series, and whether or not we have enough story to support that series. If we come to the conclusion that there is enough to go on, then we’ll push it ahead.
REBELS #1In working with Tony Bedard on R.E.B.E.L.S., for example, Tony really found a great hook for the series, and he found a way to expand upon the concept and drive it into several directions at the same time that we feel have the potential for growth, not only in that book alone, but in other books around for it as well. That’s a ‘win’ for us – that’s something worth trying, something worth taking a chance on. It’s not that there was an overwhelming desire for a R.E.B.E.L.S. book out there, but we saw enough in Tony’s writing and Andy Clark’s art to realize that it has potential, and we should give it a big push, and that’s what we’re going to do.
So – to bring it all together, it’s based on the passion we see behind the project, the interest in the outside world about it, and more importantly, whether or not we feel the story is compelling and sustainable.
2. Let’s get into the larger plan for the Teen Titans and the larger Titans franchise. March sees the debut of the new Teen Titans lineup, which looks interesting in a “Let’s bring in the new guys” way. Since the Teen Titans have been in that mode a lot recently, let’s talk about that first – fan expectation and desire versus what you see as good story and shaking things up. Judging by feedback, at least by what we see at Newsarama, if Teen Titans fans had their way, any version of the team would have Robin, Wonder Girl, a Flash, and probably Superboy in it. This lineup doesn’t have that at all. What’s the thinking when you take a chance like that?
DD: The hope is that we’re telling stories that are exciting, and people are buying in to the Teen Titans franchise. The good thing is that when you have characters like Blue Beetle, Wonder Girl, Red Devil, Miss Martian and others that inhabit the world of the DC Universe, there’s no place else to see them other than the pages of Teen Titans. So we can take a lot of dramatic, storytelling chances with them and we can show a lot of things happening to them, without having to coordinate it through several books.
When characters like Robin or Kid Flash are not available at the moment, this gives us the chance to let these other characters open up, tell more story with them, and hopefully develop the same level of fanbase that Robin, Kid Flash and all the others did on their own terms. What happens is if those characters from the team’s other eras do return to the story, we can bring new readers back in, but also have the potential to spin off some of these other characters, if we’ve been successful in building a fanbase for them.
I hate to say it, and it gets me in trouble, but I have to use my Marvel reference with this one again – from what I understand and what I’ve read, Avengers, with Iron Man, Hulk and Thor wasn’t nearly as possible as it was when they introduced the team of Hawkeye, Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver. They were supporting characters at best at the time, and they were all considered villains, but they came into the Avengers team, and because they weren’t appearing anywhere else, they were able to tell these incredible stories with them that caught everyone’s interest, and the book really took off at that point.
What I always hope, and what’s always the hope, is that we can take some of our supporting cast members and be able to tell strong, compelling stories with them, and hopefully people will get as excited about them as they did with the characters as they did with those in Avengers, years ago. What we’re seeing more and more, and this isn’t a surprise to anyone, is that it’s getting harder and harder to introduce a character in their own solo book or series if they don’t get the sampling that we hope for from readers. But if we start them, or put them in a series which we know has a pre-sold quality like Teen Titans of Justice League, the hope is that the people who buy Teen Titans and Justice League will read these books, enjoy these characters, and want to see more with them, even if it’s outside of those series. That’s what we’re always striving for.
3. Let’s talk about Wonder Woman. As we’ve mentioned before, she has the one title compared to Superman’s 2-3 and Batman’s 2-ish. Two questions – first, can you answer conclusively if we’re going to see a new Wonder Woman series this year, and second, why do you think she has such a hard time getting respect, and earning a comparable-sized audience from the fans? Not wanting to go all James Brown here, but is it just a man’s world?
DD: Part one – I’m hoping that we’ll get to a point relatively soon where we’ll be able to have a second book or series that comes from Wonder Woman’s world. Whether it’s a second Wonder Woman series, or a book that’s built off of characters that exist in her “universe” is something that we’re still discussing and developing.
As for past history – Wonder Woman in the ‘40s supported two series, but since then, she’s pretty much been a single-book character even though, as you pointed out, the other members of the Trinity have been able to support multiple titles. That’s just reality. Given that the marketplace has changed – Wonder Woman fans are vocal, but the level of support for multiple series isn’t there to the extent that it is for the other characters. So the goal is, if there’s only support for one book, we better be damn sure it’s the best book possible that we’re putting on the shelf, which I think we’re doing right now.
If there are other opportunities – whether it’s All Star Wonder Woman, or another project coming later we will try to address Wonder Woman in a way that allows us to make sure we are always telling compelling stories with her, and it’s always something that someone wants to buy in to.
4. We’re heavy on process questions this time…what goes into the decision of making a book an ongoing or a miniseries? As someone in the last question thread asked, why is R.E.B.E.L.S. an ongoing when it’s an untested property, where it might be as successful or more successful as a miniseries?
DD: A miniseries has a more definitive conclusion than an ongoing series story arc does, naturally. If we know that we have a particular story that we want to tell, the length of the miniseries is determined upon the size of the story. As we’re adjusting our schedule, you’re going to see more one-shots and oversized one-shots, more three-part miniseries rather than six parts. Right now, we’re trying to build our series in the best way to support the story possible. Why is R.E.B.E.L.S. an ongoing? Because R.E.B.E.L.S. has an ongoing story, one that will play out from 2009 into 2010, with the hope that it won’t just be about R.E.B.E.L.S., but there will be other one-shots and miniseries that will support the overarching story that will be taking place in R.E.B.E.L.S.. That’s the gameplan with that – but we look at everything case by case to see how strong of legs the character or property has, how long it can support a series, and more importantly, how much story we have to tell. That’s what goes into the decision on whether it’s an ongoing series, miniseries, one shot, or we don’t bother at all.
5. What’s the process for finding new talent to bring in to DC these days? With Marvel, the line seems pretty clear – they seem to be pulling a lot from accomplished independent creators as well as screenwriters that are part of the extended Marvel “circle.” With DC, how do you go about that?
DD: I receive over 300 comics a month, so I’m flipping through those, hearing what and who’s getting buzz, I’m getting e-mails on a consistent basis. The bottom line is that I don’t take unsolicited material. I only look at published materially, really, to see whether or not there’s strength there. And also – most importantly – to think that it’s just me, that is erroneous. I have a full editorial staff who are constantly out there looking for new talent. Every one of our editors is empowered, and makes it a priority in their job to go out there and find new talent to bring into the mix. We’re always trying to freshen the pot while also trying to keep our strong producers producing.
The hard part is really the venues where we can try them out. That’s what’s so wonderful about our Holiday Specials or our one shots or miniseries tied to events, because they allow us to get new faces into the mix where there may not be an opening in the line otherwise. Don’t get me wrong – we do a lot of inventory material as well, but if you have faith in someone, you want to throw them into the deep end of the pool as quickly as possible. Case in point – Andrew Krysberg. He did a great job for us on Justice League Classified, a great job on Batman: Confidential, so now he’s the writer on Green Arrow/Black Canary and from there, Superman: World of New Krypton.
6. In general terms, what’s the process for determining where things are going as a line? Big meetings? Small meetings? You come in with a plan and bang your shoe on the table?
DD: All of that, expect the show part. I usually wear sneakers, and the wouldn’t make that much noise if everyone was talking [laughs].
But it’s a group thing – there’s a lot of thought that goes into every decision. It’s listening to what the interests of the creators are, and the stories that they want to tell, it’s working with the editorial teams in how the books are being molded and shaped, it’s working with everyone that’s involved in the process. Paul Levitz is involved in the decision making process also – he’s aware of what we’re doing, and has a say in what we’re doing and things of that nature as well. So it’s a full process for the whole team. Whatever we do, we’re weighing all the options in putting together a plan.
NRAMA: How would you rate your batting average for the decisions that you’ve made with the group?
DD: For what season? [laughs]
NRAMA: If these decisions are made by the group, does the group them come back together and evaluate how things worked out and how things went, or is there more of a focus on continuing to move things forward?
DD: We’re always evaluating, every step of the way. It’s hard for me to put a percentage on it – I’m sure there are people who are reading this who will be more than happy to do it for me – I look at the whole of everything that we’re trying to accomplish. Even now, we’re trying to anticipate what might be a difficult time in 2009. We don’t know how the economy is going to affect our comics, so therefore we have to be smart in what we produce, and produce material that people want to read, pure and simple.
Batting average is hard for me to say, because there’s rarely a decision I regret making. We’re always trying different things and always trying to push new directions and new projects. Whether or not they succeed, that’s another argument, but when we go into things, everything we go into is with the best of intentions, with the belief that we’re going ot be creating something that people want to read, and coming back to our comics week in, and week out. We take some real risks, and we take some easy roads, but when you’re putting out between 55-60 titles every month, you have to have a wide breadth in what you’re trying to accomplish. You can’t play it safe across the entire line. You can’t take risks across the entire line either, nor can you only take risks with the stuff that nobody wants to see.. You have to take the risks with the things that people do want to see. So you’re going to be exciting people and upsetting people simultaneously. Success or failure is based upon how that is proportioned out. The greater the amount of success shows us that we’ve excited more than we’ve turned off. The greater the amount of failure shows us that we’ve turned off more than we’ve excited. We’ve run the entire gamut in the time that I’ve been here. We’ll continue to push both ends and probably have a great deal of success and also a great deal of failure in the time, but none of it will be due to the notion that we’ve not trying to do the best job possible.
7. In the decision-making process – in other industries, you always hear about focus groups – bringing an idea to a group of potential customers and see what they think about it. Do you have anything like that at DC? I know you have the panels that you like to do on Sundays at conventions, and see feedback in letters and message boards, but do you have any direct way of reaching out to fans and saying, “this is what we’re thinking of doing next year – how does it strike you?”
DD: No – we don’t. When I worked in animation – on the ABC Saturday morning lineup, we used to do focus testing for all of our Saturday morning cartoons. The reason why we did it, and the reason why you see it with other products and not comics primarily is because the amount of investment that is made on each individual show is greater than the investment than what we make on an individual comic book. Therefore the risk is greater, so in television, we were trying to reduce the level of risk by going out to focus groups, and going out to see if people think they’re on the right track for the material or not.
Like I said, we’re creating 55-65 comics on a monthly basis – on a non-returnable basis – so we can see how the sales work. Also, by putting out these 55-65 different books in different directions with different voices and different tonalities, that’s 55-65 different opportunities there – in some ways, that’s what a focus group does. If I put out 55 books, and I find a key group that’s working better than others, we build around those that are working. In some ways, that’s like a focus test.
Again though – the investment we make in creating comic issues and even in new series is much less than in creating a new product line for a detergent, or starting a new television show. Our risk is reduced on the individual title basis, so we’re able to try a lot of things at the same time to see what works best.
8. A question that I thought was interesting that the person was already thinking this far in advance – every year at conventions, DC has promotional buttons as giveaways. Have the designs been settled on for this year, and if so, are they going to be the various insignia of the Lantern “colors?”
DD: Ha! Of course there will be pins. But not the Lanterns – we’re still going to be tying in with the Bat-books this year, and the pins will be reflecting some of the changes.
9. As a person asked – the solicitation for Legion of 3 Worlds #5 confirm that the Legion will be spinning off into Adventure Comics. What can you say about the Legion of Super-Heroes in Adventure Comics?
DD: What I can say right now is that Legionnaires will be featured in Adventure Comics and in Superman. Those storylines, featuring those characters tie into their other appearances that we saw in the Superman mix earlier. It’s all made clear in Adventure Comics #0.
10. Is there more clarification that can be given on Trinity – such as when it starts coming to a close, will it tie in to the larger DC Universe when it does?
DD: It will be reflected in the DCU continuity, there will be product that spins out of Trinity, and it will also have larger ramifications in the following year.
11. Will Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely be working together again at DC?
DD: I know they live close by each other. I know they talk a lot together. I know they enjoy working together. As a matter of fact, I think that everyone’s in agreement that when they do work together, they make some of the best comics out there, so the idea that they wouldn’t work together again at some point seems ridiculous, and I do hope that they work together again at some point, and I hope it’s at DC.
12. The editorial pacing of 2009 – New Krypton is winding down, but you’ve got Battle for the Cowl, Flash: Rebirth, Blackest Night, a R.E.B.E.L.S. kind of event around it, Wonder Woman with the Olympian…
DD: And don’t forget “Death Trap” in the Titans books.
13. Exactly – there seems to be a full-on embracing of this method of telling stories in these “enhanced” arcs – there’re more than an arc within the series, but less than a full-on crossover event. This all still dates back to Sinestro Corps?
DD: Yes. A lot of it dates back to how Sinestro Corps War performed. It’s always interesting to me when people used to compare Amazons Attack to Sinestro Corps War, and ask why we promoted Amazons Attack, but not Sinestro Corps War. We promoted Amazons Attack because it was a standalone miniseries that crossed over with a couple of other places during its time. When Sinestro Corps War was created, it was created as a storyline within Green Lantern and Green Lantern Corps. It was a really good, compelling Green Lantern story. As it grew, and people started to respond to it more positively, we created the specials and started to grow the story around it. But in the end, it was a Green Lantern story.
So what we’re doing now, with Blackest Night, which is probably the largest “company-wide” crossover you’re going to see coming from DC in a quite a while…we’re building towards Blackest Night because it affects other titles, not just Green Lantern. But at the same time, we want to tell the big story, the compelling story with all of our different characters. To that end, we want to make each individual franchise as important and as valuable as possible, because when you do bring them all together, your story then takes on the greater weight of all the characters rather than just having the event itself prop the characters up. The characters then enrich the series, rather than having to be supported by the series.
We want to make everything stand alone and feel important, and feel that it is all a part of a cohesive universe, and that’s one of the things we’re working very hard to achieve right now in the post Final Crisis world.
And I never thought I’d bring up Amazons Attack again… [laughs].
14. Another direct question from a reader – under your stewardship, Jack Kirby’s creations have taken on a central role in the DC Universe, with writers like Grant Morrison reworking them for a new generation. When you think of Kirby, though, you think of creativity unleashed – he created worlds that characters still live in today. And here you have Grant re-working Kirby’s creations, Geoff re-working Green Lantern and Flash. I don’t know if you agree with the premise or not, but it seems that there are periods of tremendous creativity in the industry – the superhero portion for the propose of our conversation – and periods where those things that were created are played with, shined up, moved around, and touched up a little…
DD: First off, let me answer the guy who wrote that question: Listen Kieth Giffen… [laughs]
In the conversations we’ve had, I agree – we seem to be just going back to the pot of characters that we have, rather than trying to enrich the pot over the years. The one thing that I see – let’s start with the Kirby characters. When they were created, the Kirby characters were this incredible work, full of personalities and characters, as well as unfulfilled promises. To be frank, a lot of the series ended way earlier than they should have, and a lot of the ideas were never really seen all the way through completion. Plus, the idea was that when Kirby was creating these characters, a lot of them fell off to the side of the DCU, rather than being integrated into the DCU when they first appeared. You might have had a Superman or Jimmy Olsen appearance, but it felt rather disjointed form everything else that is going on in the Superman comics at the time.
One of the goals that we’ve been trying to achieve, from Infinite Crisis to Final Crisis has been trying to find a way to take all these various ideas, all these different companies that were acquired, and amalgam all of them into the DC Universe and make them feel very cohesive with a shared sensibility, so they feel like they all came from the same world, and not from multiple worlds. If this was another time, Kirby’s world probably would have been its own multiverse world thanks to the different feeling, style and tone that it set. He would have had his own world that started with the New Gods and ended with Kamandi, with all of the other creations fit in between.
When you compare the DC Universe and the Marvel Universe, one of the great things about the Marvel Universe is that they all came from one place, and they grew outward organically from one spot. With the DC Universe, we had our own universes, not to mention characters from various companies pushed together trying to build one world. The goal for us has always been to try and make that one world truly is one world, rather than the world of Captain Marvel, the world of Charlton or even, Kirby’s world.
So that’s one of the big things that we’re trying to do with Grant and other creators working on what you described as moving things around and shining them up – you’re absolutely right. That’s exactly what we’re trying to do, with an eye on a cohesive whole when they’re done.
Now, for the second part of that question – you’re right – we need to enrich this world. Once it’s brought together and feels that it is one same place. So again, Keith Giffen [laughs] we do need to add to the pot. That’s one of the things that we’re always in discussions with creators about, to try and bring new ideas, fresh ideas and ways to enrich the universe.
At the same time, and we’re going off track on what the person was asking – it does seem that there have been points in DC’s history that were punctuated by intense periods of creativity. Without making this a judgment on any creators who have worked since, or are working at DC now or to imply that your best days are behind you, I think that you’ve yet to see another period like the late ‘80s where there was such a groundswell at the same period of time…
DD: But you can say that about any company…
15. Of course you can, but what do you think are the ingredients that allow for that? What are the ingredients that allow for the environment where you can have, with a short period of time, Sandman, Watchmen, Dark Knight Returns, Ronin, Man of Steel, a Killing Joke, Perez on Wonder Woman and others?
DD: I think you had a more patient audience that was willing to stick with a product longer and were willing to give it a chance to grow and breathe. Like I said, I had a lot of faith in the Blue Beelte series, and felt that, even though it was a different takre and different interpretation, it found its legs, but unfortunately, the sales did not support it. But we still support the character, and woill find places for him.
16. So there’s no time for slow growth, or seeing something start small and grow?
DD: I wouldn’t say there’s no time, but there’s far, far less time than we had then.
There’s also more opportunities for creators in how they can publish their material. It’s not just about DC or Marvel or some other company becoming the “next” place with all the acclaimed books from new creators. There’s self-publishing. There’s online comics. There are smaller publishers. There are so many ways to get their products out there right now that, creativity-wise, what brings most people to DC is their desire to work with our characters, so therefore it’s no longer necessarily about coming to us and telling a story with a character that they just created – although we have places where creators can do that, and have done that very successfully – but they’re mostly coming to tell the Superman story that they’ve always wanted to tell, or the Batman story that they’ve always wanted to tell. So that also limits what comes in the door.
And also – post market exploitation. DC is still a company, and in today’s marketplace, we’re seeing more and more that if a creator has a project that they are serious about, they’re going to nurture that and carry it along as far as they can themselves before they enter it into a corporate situation. It’s just the way of the world.
Realistically, what we try to do, and what we have done, and this is all due to Paul Levitz – he has gone to immeasurable lengths to try and make creators feel welcome here, to bring them in the door, and more importantly, create situations where they are able to benefit from the successes that we’ve had as their bring their projects to DC, and we will continue to do that.
But like I said, a lot of what creators coming to DC today is about is wanting to work with the characters they love and grew up with, and I don’t want to discourage that. When you have that level of passion and interest, you want to find the best way possible for people to tell those stories.
17. Any chance that we’re going ot see the Doom Patrol again? John Byrne brought them back and then Geoff Johns helped refresh them for the modern-day DCU, and since then…not much. Anything on the horizon?
DD: You got it – Doom Patrol’s coming back.
18. Where? When? How? What?
DD: All of those can be answered in a question session later. [laughs] But it will be back in 2009.
19. Another question directly from a reader – they said that while they enjoy most of the comics they read, they like seeing someone stay with a series for a long run. Gail Simone’s Wonder Woman was cited by this writer as something that should have her locked into a 5 year contract, and Legion of Super-Heroes is a book that seems to only really shine when the writer is allowed to make long-term plans. Is this even possible in today’s market?
DD: I understand why they’re asking that question, and I understand the passion behind those kinds of questions, and I agree with them in principle. I think that the level of consistency and continuity is wonderful in terms of long-term writing, but I also know the challenge to maintain the same staff for an extended period of time. It’s my belief that as long as the person has good stories to tell with the character that they’re writing, they’re on the book. Changes are never made arbitrarily – every decision that’s made is discussed between my office, editorial and the talent themselves. In some cases, it’s the hard choice where we have to make the talent change, and in some cases, it’s the talent that chooses not to continue with the book. We never go into anything – well, rarely go into anything, with the idea that the person is only there for the short term, unless that’s agreed to up front.
NRAMA: But there have been instances where creators left rather…quickly…
DD: Yes, in several cases, you may have seen us make moves with the talent, but as we were working our schedule, we were working with people who were helping us fill the slate and help us build it, but once we had a clear direction, we looked it over and we always want to go with what we deem to be the best talent possible for the story and characters and job at hand, and that’s what we do.
Like I said, I agree in principle – we want people to be on for the long haul and provide that consistency, and we always strive for that, and we never go into any situation with any talent with the belief that they are short term, unless we agree to that up front.
20. Last question – this is something that keeps coming up when we talk about Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman possibly being replaced for the coming months, Barry Allen coming back, Hal Jordan being back, and more. You refer to the “definitive DCU” when you talk about the place that things are building towards. Is that a real place, or is that something that you will always be moving towards?
DD: That’s a great question. I believe it’s a real place that we will always be moving towards. I know in my head what it is – I think everybody has their interpretation of it. There are classic interpretations of our characters, there are discussions about characters on the second and third tiers, but the reality is that the one thing that is right about the DC characters is that when you mention a name to people who aren’t familiar with comics, they know who that character is – for everybody from Superman to Aquaman. We want to make sure we have the version of character that is the most recognizable to the largest number of people. That’s something that we’re always working towards.
That being said – in the process of that journey, if we find something that stands out or breaks apart and really takes on a life of its own, we will continue that story, because part of the creative process is being able to follow the natural flow of the story and pick up on things that are getting positive reaction all the while keeping the character’s forward motion.
So we’re always looking at things and we always have that goal in mind of where we’re headed. Whether or not we’ll achieve that goal is the question, just like the question of when we’re going to end all our stories. The day we end all of our stories is the day we stop publishing our books. One of the fears that, I think probably almost subconsciously keeps us from reaching that definitive, “iconic” place is the fear of hitting the endgame.
But as for what people may see as changes that could alter that “definitive DCU” or iconic state, to say that we’re always going to follow one path to reach one specific point though, that limits your opportunities, and I never want to do that in our job to tell the best stories possible.
Oh - and as for my question this time - since this is the first week we've had a chance to talk since the holidays - what did you get for Christmas that was cool?