ICv2 got a chance to talk to DC co-publishers Jim Lee and Dan Didio at Comic-Con in our annual conversation about the state of the market and DC's place in it.  The backdrop for this conversation was very different from what it was a year ago just before the launch of the "New 52" and DC's new digital strategy.   In Part 3, we talk about gay characters, creator right, and upcoming projects.  In Part 1, we talked about the changes in the market over the past year and Lee and Didio's roles as co-publishers.  And in Part 2, we talked about the quest for new readers, maintaining momentum, title counts, and the impact of digital.

Gay characters in comics have been a big topic of discussion over the last few months.  On our site, we have some people whole heartedly endorsing it, saying it creates a more inclusive product.  Others who say it has none or even a negative effect on sales.  We had one retailer from the middle of the country write in and say it slowed down sales on some products.  Overall how do you evaluate the impact of this broader set of characters in terms of sales?  Where is DC headed in terms of openly gay characters in its mainstream comics?
Lee:  You can't shy away from making the comics reflective of the world we live in.  That's why one of our mantras is to have that level of diversity, not only in terms of the types of characters we have, but the storylines, what kind of stories we're telling.  I can understand that it's controversial and sensitive and it mirrors the same sort of discussion that you see in your local newspapers and online, independent of whether there are gay superheroes or not.  To me I think DC Comics has always been a leader.  You talk about characters being heroes doing the right thing and sometimes the right things aren't the easiest things to do.  I think in that respect these are positive developments even if everyone doesn’t necessarily agree.

Didio:  My opinion on this is if you look at any form of media right now we’re trying to keep in step with the world around us.  The whole goal in the "New 52" is to be contemporary and give a snapshot view of the world around us.  This deals with not just gay characters, but African-American, Asian and that we have to be as diverse as possible, not just to reflect the world around us but also our audience.  We want to make sure we’re always keeping up with the times in the stories that we tell.

Lee:  I would also add that it's not like the whole, entire pantheon of characters went one way or the other.  There are still so many characters.  Some seem to be focused on one character out of thousands of characters, and to me the greatest thing about the DC universe is that it is so broad and diverse.  It has something for everyone.

Another recent issue is the overall narrative on the relationship between companies and creators.  DC is part of a big company and part of that narrative relates to litigation over the Superman rights, which has been going on forever; the issue with Chris Roberson; Beyond Watchmen and some of the reaction to that.  Can you talk about where DC is in terms of its relationship to its creators and how you react to criticism about the relationship between you and your creators?
Didio:  I don't feel we need react to criticism about our relationships, because we have a very strong leg to stand on in how we've always dealt with them.  One thing that DC has always been on the forefront in is trying to develop strong creator rights within the body of our work and within the characters we create.  We give equity in characters, we do creator owned series, we do a whole lot of things for creators that if they’re looking to publish their original thoughts they feel they have a proper forum and then can be fairly compensated for it.

Jim and I were just talking about this during lunchtime.  Realistically creator rights has always been an issue in comics.  This is an issue that constantly recurs and constantly happens and you find there are always creators that outgrow the work-for-hire business and need to create and express themselves in their own ways and they’ve always found ways to do that.  Jim is even one of those people in the creation of Image Comics, to be perfectly honest.

It's a cyclical thing.  It's an issue that constantly comes back.  We hear about the great jobs and the great books that creators might participate in, but what we don't hear about are all the books we've invested in over the years that never delivered, where we've invested in the talent and the time to make sure they had the opportunity to tell the stories they tell.  It's a very big picture, and it's a very complex issue that can't be boiled down.  One thing I feel the most strongly is that I feel extraordinarily confident that we do everything we can to make this a very creator friendly company, to make sure they have an opportunity to tell the stories they want to tell with our characters and also in their creator owned stories too.

Lee:  Having worked both on creator owned comics and had my own company and obviously being co-publisher at DC Entertainment, it's really a trade-off.  Owning and controlling your own character, you have to be careful what you wish for because there’s a tremendous amount of work that goes beyond the creative, as anyone that creates their own company knows.  To me, one of the benefits of working at DC is that you have this incredible infrastructure, you have all these talented people working in marketing, sales, production, editorial that are essentially your team going to bat for you.

Then you have access to these iconic characters that everyone knows and loves, and it is a great place to tell stories.  If you look at some of the best stories told throughout the history of comics, a lot of them are from DC, and to me, it is a great place to work.  The great thing about being a comics professional today is you have that option--it's no longer that you can only work for one company or the other unless you choose to.  Decades ago there was a stigma crossing company lines and going out and doing something on your own was not even something that was a valid option financially.  That has changed and yet we still have some of the best talents working for DC, and I think that's a testament to the things that we offer any creator that is looking to make a career in comics.

What are you most excited about coming up in the next 6-12 months?
Didio:  Zero month I'm excited about because it's a great jumping on point.  And what we're trying to do almost every quarter is to create what we call that one moment that galvanizes the universe with its story and its direction throughout the DCU.  But also how could we not be excited about the stories we're about to tell with Sandman, the continuing stories we're doing with Before Watchmen, and a lot of the books we have coming out next year?  I feel it's a really good time to be reading DC.

Lee:  What's not to look forward to?  I'll go outside publishing just a little and talk about the Injustice game we've been demo-ing here.  I'm a big gamer.  It's interesting as the level of technology rises and you're seeing things on the big screen or in videogames, it's influencing the way we draw and tell our stories.  If you look at the action of comic books, Injustice takes it to the next level and completely supercharges it.  I'm already thinking about cool visuals to incorporate into the comics and that’s something I'd like to talk to editors and other creators about.  Look, everyone else is taking their game up, we've got to deliver something in our art that they can't get on the big screen or they can't get from playing a videogame.  I look forward to that because it's something that's challenging us on a print and digital level in publishing to make our work more exciting and more attractive.

Click here to go pack to Part 1.

--Interview by Milton Griepp