ICv2 interviewed DC co-publishers Dan Didio and Jim Lee at Comic-Con in our annual conversation about the state of the market and DC’s place in it. In Part 2, we talk about the battles over editorial control of storytelling, DC’s fit for the bookstore audience, the impact of the management changes at Warner Bros., and their top expectations in the next six to 12 months. In Part 1, we talked about the market, the impact of variant covers, finding new customers, the Orson Scott Card Superman story, and Before Watchmen.
There’s been a recent buzz about the degree of editorial control over storytelling at the Big Two and how that relates to the overall use of the intellectual property. Has that changed in the last decade, or is there a different reaction to it? Why is that happening?
Didio: I think it’s actually been a little bit less in the last decade than it’s ever been. There’s always going to be editorial control over our products. As long as these are house products that we’re trying to constantly build, and we’re building a continuous continuity in a continuous universe, it’s important to have that level of parameters and guidelines given to the characters so we know there’s consistency in how they act and behave. We’re always asking the artists and writers to push the boundaries but we also have to establish those boundaries. It’s their job to push against them, and it’s our job to make sure they stay on track with what our expectations are for the series and characters.
Lee: Without getting into the specifics, from the outside looking in, it might look like there’s a string of changes that point to one common theme, as you suggest. But from the inside looking out, you’ll see that each one has a different set of circumstances and conditions that ultimately led to the conflicts or the resignations or changes in creative personnel.
To me it’s the normal course of business in that not everyone’s going to agree creatively what to do with a book. The company has to reserve the right to control the destiny and the futures of the characters, and the creators have to decide if they’re willing to work in an environment where they’re telling their story but in the framework of a universe that has continuity and you have to work with all of these other different creators and editors that would want to control the directions of the characters.
It’s not for everyone all the time. If you look at it that way, you’ll always have people coming in, doing work and then maybe they’ve reached a threshold where they want to have more control over their project and do something more creator-owned.
The great thing about the industry is that we’re at a point now that this is not the only game in town. You can do stuff for Vertigo; you can go self-publish; you can go do a Kickstarter; you can go work at competitors. There’s a lot of freedom for these creators, so at the end of the day if you were working The New 52, you’ve got to love it and thankfully we have a tremendous number of creators that love working in this shared universe, love telling these stories with these characters. We’re super happy with the creative teams that we have on the books that we’re publishing.
Didio: I feel that right now we probably have a stronger bench than we did when we first launched the series. We launched the series really hard and fast and were figuring some of the things out as we went along. The good news is that we’re going into our second year and 60% of our line is still intact. So most of the changes you’ve seen occurred on the bottom tiered books as you’re always experimenting on more difficult titles and trying to find ways to find the right mix to find the best sales opportunity for them. We’re constantly revising the line. We’re always going to take more risks with our line. We’re also going to make sure every book has the best chance possible to succeed.
In a recent Nielsen BookScan Top 20 list (see "June BookScan--Top 20 Graphic Novels"), one Superman book in the Man of Steel month was the only book from the Big Two to make the Top 20. Is your content less suited to the casual consumer who shops in the bookstores? Is the competition tougher? Why isn’t DC stronger at the top of the bookstore charts?
Didio: We’re putting out 24-26 graphic novels on a monthly basis. Some of them break free and some of them don’t, and it really depends on the product. You can point to those months, and I can point to months where we have the Court of Owls books, which are still selling very strong for us in the Batman titles. The Justice League books are out there and I expect to see the Watchmen books out there. We also have perennials on the list on a regular basis.
The one thing that we all have to acknowledge is the strength of The Walking Dead. There was one point, between the hardcover and softcover lists, where ten to 12 of the 20 slots were The Walking Dead alone. It’s an incredible accomplishment by Kirkman and team on that book. Once that series has ended you’ll see that wind down and you see everyone creep back into the schedules again.
We’re on a long ongoing business here. I can’t go month by month; we’ve got to go year by year.
Lee: We’ve had a banner year as far as collected editions and graphic novels go. Even with the loss of Borders, it’s been a huge growth category for us last year and this year.
Didio: Every week Jim and I sit in on a meeting with the sole purpose of what we’re planning to reprint. We have a reprint queue that probably runs three to four months long because of the number of books that we’re constantly putting back on press because of the orders coming in.
Are the changes in management at Warner Brothers having any effect on DC Entertainment?
Lee: [DC CEO] Diane [Nelson] just did an interview with the Hollywood Reporter that I’d point to. Going off what she said, she’s been working with Kevin Tsujihara for a long time and he’s got big plans for DC. She’s in the best position she’s been in her career at DCE. We worked with Kevin when he was Paul Levitz’s boss back in the day. Paul reported to Kevin within the framework of DCE, so he’s very familiar with DC and all the assets we have and the way we operate and run our business. We have the president’s ear and we’re definitely on his radar. If you look at all the things Warner Brothers has planned, DCE, and not just the DC superheroes, but also Vertigo and Mad, are a huge part of the future growth of the company. We’re in the best position in my history at DC as far as our future at Warner Bros.
Didio: It goes to the testament of the strength of us working for Diane Nelson that from the publishing side, we’ve had incredible latitude to do whatever we want, so there’s really no impact on the publishing side. We’ve been able to run full strength and be fearless in our choices and the types of products we’ve been able to do.
What are you most excited about in the next six to 12 months?
Lee: We want to continue building off Vertigo. This was a big year for us. We heard pundits say that Vertigo was running out of steam so this year we really wanted to draw a line in the sand and say "Vertigo is not going away." This is a huge priority for us and with the release of Sandman: Overture, and not just Sandman, we have The Wake and Trillium. We have a lot of things in the pipeline for Vertigo. You're going to see a big resurgence in the attention and sales for that line.
Mad is a continuing effort for us. I’m not at liberty to say, but there’s some exciting stuff in the works for Mad. We spend a lot of our time trying to not just focus on DC superhero line, but all the great assets we have, and what you’re going to see in the next six to 12 months is an expansion of that. When we started as co-publishers, the first year The New 52, then Before Watchmen, then Vertigo and throughout that we were doing stuff with Mad in terms of increasing the frequency of issues and all the hardcovers, but there’s even more activity going on there that will hopefully see the light next year.
Didio: I’m really excited about September and the 3-D motion covers. We took a huge risk with trying to get these done and it was an incredible learning process. We went all in with the 52 books having all these 3-D motion covers. The covers are being shipped over right now getting ready to be processed with the books themselves.
I’m really interested in seeing what the fan reaction is because every time I show these covers and we talk about the books internally and with retailers, they’re extraordinarily excited about it and we hope that the same level of enthusiasm makes it to the fans.
Click here to go back to Part 1.
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