The DC Sunday Conversation: For the Love of Comics panel on Sunday followed the same format as the publisher's similar panels at other conventions, giving fans, creators and editors a chance to talk fondly of their memories of comics and why they love them so much.
But the forum also ended up presenting a chance for Executive Editor Dan DiDio to respond to some criticism among fans in the comics community that resulted from a Newsarama interview with Grant Morrison.
"I'll go into the New Gods story for a second. 'Cause you know what? It's been floating around out there," DiDio said in the panel during a discussion about characters dying and how DC tries to honor and acknowledge old versions of characters when they are replaced with new versions. "We had a long conversation with Grant early on, and he had the new interpretation of the New Gods coming. We knew that's what was coming in Final Crisis. So what we decided to do... and he wanted to really come out strong with the new interpretations. Great idea. And beautiful looking designs.
"My fear was that those people who love the Kirby interpretations would feel rejected, annoyed, displaced, because you didn't see them anymore. You didn't see them. They were gone," he said. "So that's why we created the Death of the New Gods story -- to really give those characters a send-off. So we saw that interpretation come to a clean close. Not just something that would fade away."
During the panel, DiDio walked on the floor of the panel room among fans, talking about memories of comics and what makes them so great. He began by introducing the other panelists:
- Art Baltazar and Franco Aureliani, creators of Tiny Titans (who came to the panel in costume)
- Jai Nitz, writer on the new El Diablo mini-series debuting in September
- Ian Sattler, Senior Story Editor
- Bob Wayne, Vice President-Direct Sales
- Jann Jones, Senior Coordinating Editor (who showed off a sketch she got of "Galactapus"
The panel started with a show of hands from members of the audience for readers who have been reading for 5 years or more, then 10 years or more, then 15, then 20, and so on until one fan was left with his hand raised, having started reading comics over 50 years ago.
DiDio then explained the reasoning for having the panel, which is just to talk about how much everyone loves comics -- any comics. "Do you know that we've had [Marvel editor] Tom Brevoort on this panel twice?," he said. "Once accidentally. We were in the New York show, and Tom walked into the room by mistake, and we brought him up to the panel. And we actually had him sit in on it."
And just as the panel was about to end, sure enough, Tom Brevoort popped his head into the door of the room, at which point DiDio encouraged him to come up front again.
"When you do a panel like this," DiDio said before Brevoort showed up, "and we're actually missing it, although Bob will help the most -- you need either Tom Brevoort, Kurt Busiek or Mark Waid. Because ultimately when we start asking questions about your favorite book, you get confused, but those guys tell you what it was."
"I just offer to sell you a reprint," Wayne said to laughs.
DiDio then asked the crowd several questions:
- Where did you buy your first comic?
Many fans said their first comic was purchased at a grocery store or bookstore. Some people said their parents gave it to them. One person remembered getting a comic at a vending machine -- something Sattler was thrilled to hear because he said for years, he wondered if he had imagined there were comic book vending machines where he bought his comics. "I was afraid comic book vending machines were a hallucination of mine," Sattler said.
Among the answers for the first comic:
- Green Lantern Special #1. "It was fantastic."
- An issue of G.I. Joe.
- Adventures of Superman with the Dead Again storyline
- DC 100-Page Super Spectacular #DC-14
- An issue of Superman Red/Superman Blue
- An old Superman Family
- A Star Wars Special
- How many people have read continuously? And how many have stopped reading and what brought the back?
Fans said they quit because of social concerns, money or other distractions in life. But some comic that caught their eye brought them back.
One fan said he stopped reading comics in fourth grade, but then he started reading comics again because of therapy.
"OK, I'm not going any further with that one," DiDio said to laughs.
The panelists were asked -- what was the first comic you ever bought?
- Art Baltazar: Dark Knight Returns.
- Franco Aureliani: "New Teen Titans when they were looking for the Doom Patrol."
- Jai Nitz: Marvel Team-Up #126
- Ian Sattler: "Something out of a vending machine."
- Jann Jones: The wedding of Jean Grey and Cyclops.
- Bob Wayne: An issue of Superman that showed how the rocket ship that brought him to earth went through some cosmic force that made an imperfect duplicate that crashed on earth and was raised by a family of criminals.
"It was 10 cents on the cover, Dan, and yes, it was bought in 1959," Wayne said.
"That means you were only 20 years old," Baltazar joked.
"Dan, you might want to our esteemed freelance colleagues about who decides how many copies we're making of their comics," Wayne said.
DiDio answered that the first comics his parents bought him was the issue of Batman from the old TV show where the TV says "There's something wrong. There's something different about Batman."
And he also had Amazing Spider-Man #40, which he still has. And his aunt bought him an issue of Action Comics.
"My sister was into the Famous Monsters of Filmland," DiDio said, adding that he was once Monster of the Month in the comic. "There's actually a picture of me in an issue of Famous Monsters of Filmland. I was a 10-year-old."
DiDio's first comics he bought were Hulk #152 and Avengers #100. "When people say to me that comics should be more accessible, this is what I always say. First issue I bought of Hulk, he was on trial, a blind man who turns into a superhero is defending him, the Fantastic Four comes bursting through the doors and I had no idea what they were doing there. The Avengers are there. And I have no idea what's going on," he said.
"The stories are so interesting and compelling," he explained. "And this is what we always say. If you make them interesting enough and compelling enough, that's what pulls you in. And that's our goal. How do you make comics accessible? You make them accessible by making them compelling enough to make people want to read more.
"When I first met Geoff [Johns], we talked about continuity. We have a lot of continuity discussions," DiDio said. "Geoff was the guy who said to me about continuity: Everybody has continuity. Everyone. Every one of you people have something going on. You've had a life in front of the moment that you're at this panel, and you'll have a life after. Everybody had continuity. That doesn't mean I can't meet you for the first time. Right? Seriously. It doesn't mean I'm going to say, 'Oh my God! He's been alive 40 years! I don't want to get anywhere near him! He's confusing!'"
A fan said it would be great if you could start over your continuity. "Yeah, I wish I could, every day of the week," DiDio said as the crowd laughed. "Ultimate Dan DiDio."
"Versus All-Star Dan DiDio," Wayne interjected.
"One doesn't make any sense and the other never comes out," DiDio joked to more laughs and cheers.
DiDio said he stopped reading between 1998 and 2002, which he said is a "tell." "I got tired of all the gimmicks. I got tired of all the covers. I got tired of trying to find all the storylines that weren't there," he said. But the editor said he came back and has since gone back and found some gems that were published during that time period, like Starman.
- Who remembers going in pricing from 20 cents to 25? And how many cut their list at that time because they had to meet a budget?
A few fans said they had done that. DiDio said he did too, but within six months, he'd gone back and bought all the backissues of everything he'd cut.
DiDio said he's always aware that with pricing the way it is, comic books are an expensive hobby. "How do we keep you guys entertained?" he said.
- When you're buying comics, what interests you?
The answers ranged from characters you can care about to great artists to great writing. One fan remembered the moment when Gordon said the Joker stopped laughing. Another said pricing determines what he buys. Another said sometimes the art seems terrible, but once you read them, the art fits.
One fans was asked by DiDio what attracts him to a comic. After the fan was wishy washy about exactly what it was he liked, DiDio interrupted him and asked point blank: "300 comic books on the shelf, what do you pick?"
"Geoff Johns," the fan said to applause.
"We get about 400 books every month," DiDio said. "And it's tough for me to choose. So we're always interested in what makes you choose what you want to read. What makes you go past the other 300 to buy ours. That's our job."
One fan says he honestly reads out of loyalty. "For me, for the last 30 years, it has been loyalty. I've stuck with you guys through thick or thin," he said.
"Are we thick or thin right now?" DiDio asked.
"Honestly? In the 30-some years that I have been reading DC, I have never seen it as good as it is right now. Artists, writers -- all of it. This is the best I've seen it," he said.
Another fan said, "Right now, what I'm looking for is my bag." The guy said his bag was picked up by accident in the other room. But then the fan stuck around to participate and later interjected into the conversation.
One fan said at first it was art that attracted him, but now it's story. He cited Death of the Family as the best storyline he'd ever read.
DiDio asked the panel: "What do you like?"
- Baltazar: I like characters. "If Hulk's on it, I'll buy it." He said he likes big guys fighting. And costumes. "I don't want superheroes buying jeans anymore. I want costumes. Give Luke Cage his shirt back."
- Aureliani: Characters. He said he never knew who creators were when he first started reading.
- Nitz: He learned to follow creators.
- Sattler: He followed characters, but then also learned to follow creators.
- Wayne: He first locked in on characters, but then he started to notice who was editing.
- Jones: She looks for something funny.
At this point during the panel, DiDio accidentally ate a hot pepper from a box that Jones had brought with her. As he struggled with the heat in his mouth and drank water, fans laughed.
- Do fans like continuity?
"Up to a point," a fan said. "I don't care if Superman's left-handed or right-handed."
DiDio asked if the fans knew how old Superman was. Most yelled out ages that were in their early 30s.
"32 like Jesus," Baltazar said to laughs.
So even though Superman has actually been around much longer than that, he's not that old, DiDio said. And he explained that Paul Levitz told him, when he started with DC comics, that there are three levels of continuity.
1) Those things that cannot change about a character, like Superman came to earth in a rocket, or Bruce Wayne's parents were killed. "Essential to the lore. Can never change. If you change that, you change the character," he said.
2) Continuity that makes it bigger. He used the example of Barbara Gordon as Batgirl. She's not essential to Batman's character, but she added to the mythos and "made it bigger and better."
3) "Left hand/right hand we call it," he said, explaining that it's things people write because they have to put a story in a comic. But they are things that are not essential to the character.
He said DC is always trying to figure out whether all of those things should be honored at all times. He used an example of how Levitz wrote a story explaining whey the Legion of Super-Heroes never age -- and after it was printed, he realized it didn't make sense to the characters, so he ignored it. "And that was a choice -- not to undo it, because you don't want to tell a bad story to undo a bad story -- but just to ignore it," DiDio said. "You either undo a story that somebody liked, and you end up making them unhappy, or you just don't refer to it again and keep moving forward. So that's what we like to do and what we try to do."
DiDio said that all the writers think they can make something better. But sometimes they end up compounding the problem. So they try to only use those stories that make sense.
He said right now, one of the biggest discussions at DC is Aquaman. And as he has done at more than one panel this year, DiDio polled the audience about which version of Aquaman they like the best.
"We haven't gotten an answer on Aquaman yet," DiDio said, saying he's done the panel and always asks about Aquaman, but hasn't found an answer on what to do with the character. Then he added with a laugh: "So I just left it to Geoff Johns to figure out."
- A fan asked about why the old character has to die for a new character to be introduced.
Other fans defended that idea, pointing out that even dead characters still show up, such as Blue Beetle being in Booster Gold stories right now even though he died years ago.
At this point, DiDio talked about the Death of the New Gods and his response to criticism that the mini-series came out before Final Crisis, explaining that they felt the old Kirby versions had to be honored, and their departure had to be explained before they were replaced with new versions in Final Crisis.
"We did that with Blue Beetle. We knew a new interpretation was coming, so we had to find a way to bring closure to the story," he said. "And then move on to the next version. We feel like a lot of times we do this, interpretations-wise, because some characters are built in a way that are particular to that time. We have characters created in the '50s, the '60s, the '70s -- and there are different emotions and things going on in the world to create a character. Those things may not exist today, so the character becomes irrelevant. And the way we try to make them contemporary is to change the world around them. But if we have to change the character, we will.
"And I hope people don't think we kill characters haphazardly, or stories go on in that fashion, because it's not true," he continued. "It doesn't work that way. We have long discussions about it. If we don't execute the story properly, that's our fault. It's not that we didn't try. It just didn't come out to the best of people's expectation."
A fan asked if the idea of "ignoring" continuity is why Dr. Light was depowered in one story, but then showed up during Infinite Crisis with her powers.
"We have cases where we just miss it," DiDio said, then pointed out that was why Sattler was added to the DC Comics staff -- to catch continuity errors before they happen. "Ian's job is to coordinate that better."
Fans asked about whether DC has retreats to plan events so that continuity can be coordinated.
DiDio said they sometimes have retreats, but right now, they are trying to allow the comics in each part of the DC universe build their own events within their corner of the universe. He used the example of the Batman books having R.I.P. and the Superman books having an event coming up.
He said that was what made Sinestro Corps so special. It was just a Green Lantern story. Not some big event. However, he acknowledged that someimes that's a detriment because non-Green Lantern readers won't pick up a comic they're not reading if it's an ongoing. He said there is a "cap" to how many of those issues the company can sell, because only a certain number of people will buy what they perceive to be a Green Lantern event.
The decision is happening right now on how to approach Blackest Night -- whether to leave it as just a Green Lantern event and possibly discourage non-Green Lantern readers from picking it up, or making it a mini-series where new readers feel more comfortable hopping on board. DiDio admitted the company is struggling with that decision because they don't want to ruin what made the first event so special, but they also want non-Green Lantern fans to feel comfortable checking the story out.
At that point, a fan yelled out that DiDio should give Geoff Johns a raise. And Gary Frank too.
"We did," DiDio said to cheers from the fans in the room. "We may be many things. Stupid is not one of them."
Jones then told DiDio he needed to get back on track with the purpose of the panel: "Why we love comics."
DiDio asked one last question:
- Silliest story you've ever read?
"One More Day," the first person said, to groans and laughter from the crowd. But later, another fan said Countdown was the silliest.
Others mentioned included:
- An issue of Tank Girl
- The Ambush Bug Nothing Special
- Teen Titans Lost Annual
- Punisher Meets Archie
- An issue of Impulse with Plastic Man and Santa Claus
- Superman vs. Muhammed Ali
- A Martian Manhunter issue with the Chocos
- An issue where Superman and Batman had to beat the Sportsmaster in baseball "or they will meet their doom."
- The Hostess ads
- An issue where Lois Lane became bionic
- What-If? #134
- The DC/Marvel issue where Aquaman smashes Namor with a whale
After this, Brevoort showed up in the door. When DiDio got him to come up to the front of the room, he jokingly had the one fan who called One More Day silly repeat what he'd said. Brevoort took it all in stride, then said the silliest comic moment he ever experienced was "walking in this room right now."