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    Dan DiDio on DC’s 2017: “We’re Always Trying to Be a Little Bit Better”

    By | January 16th, 2018
    Posted in Interviews | % Comments

    Every year the Multiversity staff votes on our top publisher. This year, DC took the award handily. Then we always open it up to our readership to vote, and they had the same reaction. They also voted in, 61% of our readership decided DC was the top publisher of 2017.

    To celebrate this, in late December, DC co-publisher Dan DiDio sat down with me to talk about the year that was, and tease a little bit of what 2018 might bring. If you prefer to listen, rather than read, this interview was featured on the last DC3cast of 2017.

    Thanks to Dan and DC for setting this up – we hope this becomes an annual tradition.

    Looking back on the year, what are some of the highlights for you, and what do you think next year DC can do even better?

    Dan DiDio: That’s a great question because you know what? I mean every year we’re always trying to be a little bit better. As the market gets more challenged, things change. We’ve always got to try to right the occasion. That’s the fun and the burden of being in the periodical business. You’ve always got to put a book out every month, and you’ve always got to try to be a little bit better than the month before. That’s what makes our jobs fun and exhausting.

    For me, this was a really interesting year for us. We had a lot of things that worked really well and we were really happy to see. I think starting right from “Dark Nights: Metal” with Scott and Greg, I think they really created, crafted a story that is just, completely just far out crazy, but more importantly, just pushed the boundaries of our universe and started taking us into new places, which I felt that we desperately had to, we had to find.

    Even though we see things like multiple interpretations of Batman, you can’t argue that there’s a freshness to this storytelling, and just a manic craziness that I think’s quite endearing. That’s been really enjoyable for us.

    Then I’m going to go over to something that started as a drunken conversation in Baltimore, which was “Mister Miracle.” Tom King and I were at a bar at one o’clock in the morning at the Baltimore Comic Con. I went to him, and I asked, you know I had told him I had loved what he had done over in Marvel with the vision. I said, “Could you bring that same level of creativity here at DC?” He said, “Give me a list of characters.”

    After talking, he settled on Mister Miracle, and I think you can’t argue that the end results were nothing less than spectacular about how he pulled that book together, so that’s been great.

    You know, the interesting thing about “Doomsday Clock” is that there was such a high level of expectation with that project that it was almost doomed to disappoint, but in the complete opposite. I think it over-achieved on every level, and I think you’ve seen Geoff Johns transcend and evolve at a writer and moving in ways that I think is above and better than anything else he’s done at DC. Again, that gets me excited.

    The kid in Dan DiDio gets most excited about all the crazy stuff that we’re doing, constantly pushing the envelope, things like “The Kamandi Challenge,” the [Jack] Kirby books that we did to celebrate his 100th birthday, the books that we do with Hanna-Barbera, the lines that we’re about to push out with the ‘New Age of Heroes.’

    Anything that feels new, fresh, and different is stuff that I gravitate towards. Even though we might not get the same level of sales success that we hope for, I think Young Animal is a great statement to make with our line because it shows the breadth and scope to the DC characters and heroes to the types of stories we can tell, so there you go. That’s my two-word answer, in 2,000 words.

    Looking at the DC line, there is a lot of diversity right now among DC books, whether it’s the ‘Rebirth’ stuff, the Hanna-Barbera stuff, Young Animal, this new age of heroes. When you’re looking to next year, where do you see the most energy being pushed?

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    Is one of those, to you, in need of the most I don’t want to say TLC, but where do you see your energies going in 2018?

    DD: You know, there’s a lot of energy coming in. There’s a lot of great stuff coming up for this year. We’re looking, I mean it’s interesting what you said because you touched upon something very important to me, which is that Jim [Lee] and I as publishers of DC are not just publishers of DC Universe. We’re publishers of DC product, DC Comics. There’s a wide breadth of material that we constantly push out, and we push out to diversity in different ways and different styles.

    There’s been a lot of talk about us getting into the young adult business. I think that’s something that we’re going to go after in a big way next year. I think we’re also trying to find things…we’ve loved the idea of the popup concept for Young Animal.

    Young Animal's Tagline

    There might be other popups in the future, finding top creators that we can curate a list of books around. I think that’s really interesting and exciting because you get a real sense of vision and clarity and the name recognition of the lead creator brings people to books that they might not normally read. That’s exciting.

    The “New Age of Heroes” books for me, it’s new characters. Anytime you try to introduce new characters into any universe these days, you’re challenged, but I think it’s a challenge we’ve constantly got to face and constantly meet head on. We need to grow.

    ‘Rebirth’ was able to rebuild and re-establish our core conceit, but now we need to grow out of that and we’ve got to grow beyond that and just show that there is no…nothing’s confined in the DC universe, that we’re constantly expanding, constantly growing, constantly evolving along with it. That’s what that’s going to do.

    You know what? I’m not talking about the big one. We’ve got Brian Michael Bendis about to join DC Comics. The books that he’s about to step on and the voice he’s about to bring to the line is in every sneeze of the business, a game-changer. It changes how we see DC Comics. It’ll change how people see DC Comics. I think ultimately, I think we’ll all be not only just DC but the entire industry can benefit from this type of change and growth.

    You know, I don’t throw around this name lightly, and I think there’s a world of difference here. This announcement, to me, reminds me of Jack Kirby coming over to DC in the early 70s. It’s that level of name recognition of a creator with one publisher.

    When you bring in Brian Bendis, do you have just…do you give him carte blanche, say, “What do you want to work on?” Or, when you were thinking about this, did you say, “Oh man, I want to see Bendis on X book.”

    What is it that you do to prepare to bring in a name of that caliber over to DC?

    DD: It’s interesting because the funny part for me is that I didn’t know Brian at all until we started talking and tried to set up this deal in relationship. When we finally started talking, the level of things we had in common, the level of enthusiasm he has and the love of comics, extraordinarily infective, and something that I gravitate towards immediately.

    I’m really happy to say that the books and the ideas that he had were completely in line with what I had hoped for, and ultimately the titles he’s settling on are titles that I hoped he was going to take. It all worked out better than I could have imagined.

    That’s good to hear. That’s very exciting for fans to hear. You know when we’re talking about DC talent, there’s been this real nice wave since Rebirth of some creators just, in my opinion, getting their due. People that have been great for a long time, someone like Dan Abnett has been writing comics for a very long time, has risen to a new level with his “Aquaman” and “Titans” stuff.

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    Jorge Jimenez over on “Super Sons” is just doing exceptional work. When you are looking at talent out there, do you tend to take a look at the creator in terms of their talent, or how they would fit on a book, or both?

    DD: It’s interesting because ultimately we spend an inordinate of time discussing this, as you can imagine. It’s almost like you’re playing fantasy football in some cases. The perfect match of the perfect time, the perfect way to set up a lineup, and hopefully it succeeds from there, and sometimes you just catch lightning in a bottle.

    What we’re doing is we’re spending more time talking with the talent. It’s not just about pitching stories. It’s about understanding who the characters are before you step onto the book. Make sure that we’re in agreement with what our interpretation of the series is going to be, what the goals for the series are, what the goal is for the characters in the series. What is he trying to attain? What is he trying to do? What are the challenges he’s going to meet along the way?

    I think once you start to come in agreement with that, all the other pieces start to fall into place. The more defined and the more clear you are in the character’s goals and who he or her is, I think the better the book is. Ultimately, there brings a consistency in the character’s actions and behaviors because they’re clearly defined about what their role in their series is.

    What’s a book you think didn’t get its due in 2017? What’s a book you wish more readers picked up from DC?

    DD: Interesting question. I don’t know, you know I’m a sucker for the Hanna-Barbera stuff. Again, like I said, when the DC stuff is clicking, it’s harder to find some of the stuff that’s on the edges, “The Jetsons” did an amazing job for us. I love “Scooby Apocalypse.” It’s lots of stuff.

    My pet project, which has been “The Kamandi Challenge,” it’s always a tough sell. That’s one of the reasons why we’ve never done an ongoing series with [Kamandi]. If anything, if you pull a book together once you see the collection, the level of talent that has been associated with that book is really just a snapshot of a who’s who of the creators for this particular period of time in comics.

    I mean it’s funny, I just got the last issue of “The Kamandi Challenge” on my desk this morning, and the book came to a close and we had to make some artistic changes at the last minute, but I got a Frank Miller cover, I got Jill Thompson, Ryan Sook, and [Jose] Garcia Lopez on the inside. That’s not too shabby, you know what I mean?

    That might be the understatement of the year.

    DD: You know, and when I see a book like that it might not hit the sales numbers we hoped for, but boy oh boy, did it achieve all the goals that we set for it. We’ve got to accept that as a win too, in places.
    We can’t make people buy our books, but all we could do is make the books the best they could be, and in this case I felt these guys really made this book the best it can be, you know.

    In talking about sort of the overall strategy of Rebirth and of the way DC’s doing business right now, we’ve seen, since ‘Rebirth’ started, a number of books shipping twice a month. This is something that I think a lot of fans have a knee-jerk reaction against, because it seems like this will lead to more fill-ins, this will lead to…for whatever reason, there’s a negative association with it. I think that overall, at least for me as a reader, it’s changed the way I read. Now I find that a monthly book sometimes, I have to go back and refresh my memory on what happened, because I’m used to this sort of double shipping standard now.

    Now that this has been tried out, now that we’ve had a year and a half or so under your belt with this, what do you think the shipping schedule looks like for the future for DC?

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    DD: You’re still going to see double ships in there. You might not see as many. It really depends upon the talent and what our expectations are. Truth be told, let’s talk about Batman because that’s always the easiest one to address.

    Batman, and Superman for a long period of time, had four titles. They were four separate titles, but there was four Batman books. There was one Batman book a week. You had “Batman,” “Detective Comics,” “Batman Chronicles,” you had “Legends of the Dark Knight,” rotating litany of titles, varying, but nothing sold as well as “Batman.”

    For the second place, nothing sold as well as “Detective.” We thought by doubling down on the “Batman” and “Detective” titles, we were providing the same number of Batman books per month as we were doing before that.

    Number one, we had a chance to hold a much bigger audience, because the primary titles just sold better. The second thing is we were able to really move through stories and give a much quicker sense, like you were saying, so that there was a better pace to the storytelling and if somebody wanted to read Batman, they know they were investing in two stories per month rather than four. If they were real, all-in Batman fans.

    I think there’s a sense of we’re constantly feeding the beast. What’s been great is that we’ve done DC, you know dating back to 2006, 2007, we’ve been doing weekly series for quite a while. We have built that muscle on how to maintain a schedule and consistency on almost on a weekly basis.

    In some ways, for some of our guys, going to twice monthly was actually a break because they’d been working on weekly schedules up until that point.

    We had, I polled some of our staff of things they wanted me to ask you about. Two different people asked a really fun question, I think, which is we’ve been seeing a little bit of expansion of sort of stories that take place in alternate realities or whatever, but the term ‘Elsewords’ has not been around for a while. Will we see ‘Elsewords’ in the near future from DC?

    Gotham by Gaslight, one of the more famous 'Elseworlds' tales

    DD: It’s so funny. We were looking at what the interpretation of ‘Elseworlds’ means right now. The funny part is, by putting all those stories in continuity, they’re no longer ‘Elseworlds,’ they’re part of the consistent universe, they’re just existing on a different plane. They’re not really ‘Elseworlds’ anymore.

    What are ‘Elseworlds?’ In some ways, if you look at what Sean Murphy’s doing with “Batman: White Knight,” that could be determined to be in ‘Elseworlds’ today. High-end talent, a very clear, distinctive take on the character that’s consistent with who he is, but also twisting the universe and telling different types of stories that you can’t tell within the normal confines of continuity.

    For all intents and purposes, we’re presenting ‘Elseworlds’-style products without the banner. Whether or not that name returns, we’ll see. At this point, it’s really just getting out there and telling the best stories possible, as simple an answer as that seems.

    I first met you at my local shop the first night of the New 52, Zapp Comics in Wayne, New Jersey.

    DD: You’re a Zapp guy! Shit, okay, cool beans. Say hi to Corry for me!

    Yeah, yeah, I’m a Zapp guy. You handed me a Wayne Casino token that night. Before the shop opened, there were a number of fans milling about, and you were holding court, as you tend to do, answering questions.

    Somebody asked, “What’s going on with Shazam/Captain Marval?” You said, “Big plans, don’t worry.” I’ve interviewed you twice, now. You’ve said, “Big plans, don’t worry.”

    Now I understand that obviously things come in waves, things come and go, but it seems to me like this is a marquees character that we really haven’t seen a lot of.

    I’m not going to ask when Shazam is happening, because I know that’s a question that I can’t possibly get an answer to. I’m just curious as to where your mind goes, or not just you but where the DC mind goes with a character like that. How do you balance finding the right story versus letting somebody sit on the shelf, maybe for too long?

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    DD: In this particular case with Shazam, we have the right team, we’re just waiting for them to be available. That’s one of the cases there. With a lot of this stuff, it’s interesting with characters like Shazam, and you know what, there’s a couple of books that constantly come up, Shazam, Legion of Super-Heroes, and Justice Society of America.

    A couple of those are actually tied to an event story that’s taking place right now, and hopefully we’ll be able to come out of that in a way that gives it a lift, and hopefully brings new attention and new eyes to those books so they can live a long, healthy life.

    With Shazam, we’re really just waiting for one particular creative team to come free. They’ve expressed so much interest in it that we’re just holding it for them until that period of time.

    Brian Salvatore

    Brian Salvatore is an editor, podcaster, reviewer, writer at large, and general task master at Multiversity. When not writing, he can be found playing music, hanging out with his kids, or playing music with his kids. He also has a dog named Lola, a rowboat, and once met Jimmy Carter. Feel free to email him about good beer, the New York Mets, or the best way to make Chicken Parmagiana (add a thin slice of prosciutto under the cheese).