FanExpo Canada 2011 Interview: Dan DiDio On DC Comics’ Countdown To The New 52

There are only days – maybe hours, even, if ya wanna be a jerk about it – until DC’s massive New 52 initiative launches. Once Midnight hits on August 31st, there will be no turning back, as the publisher completely reboots their superhero universe for a new generation, launching fifty-two brand new number ones, and (they hope) changing the face of comics forever.

FanExpo Canada, while not exactly the calm before the storm, did give us a chance to sit down with a visibly relaxed Co-Publisher Dan DiDio to chat about his plans in the next few days, how recent (incredibly positive) sales figures have affected DC’s bravado, and a little bit about where they’re going next:

MTV Geek: With about a half a week until New 52, it’s pretty clear what DC’s game plan is, but what’s your personal game plan for the next few days?

Dan DiDio: We’re attacking several problems, or several concerns all at the same time. First thing we’re trying to do is attack the issue of slowly eroding sales. Biggest issue is that, too. First thing you want to do is find a way to strengthen the base of your audience, so that you can bring new people in and get them hooked.

Second thing is to create a diversity across the line, wider than we are – really just, rather than going in with a narrow margin of superhero projects, really open up the breadth, and give the more eclectic corners a chance. Because personally those are the things I love the best. So I’d love to see War books, and Western books, and Science Fiction, and Horror on the line… Because I think that’s just what makes comics fun!

Third is that we have to improve our storytelling. I think we have to improve ourselves visually. I think we’ve all gotten very, very insular, and shrunk the sensibilities of comic book storytelling, and we’ve got to open that back up again. That’s something that we needed to do both visually, and with the way we write our characters as well. We wanted to change the tone of the stories.

We wanted to bring… Fun is the wrong word, but High Adventure, Action, and all the things that used to be in comics. We’ve lost that ground to the movies and video games, and everybody is doing our stuff better than us. It’s time to be the leaders again.

The last thing is that we wanted to find a way to reach as many people as possible. I know we’ve got a strong business in the direct market, but the day and date digital is something that’s essential to the market as well… For areas, and people that aren’t normally exposed to comics, to get them into their hands, to increase the convenience of comics so people can read them on a more casual basis as they have their own handheld devices, iPads, or anything.

Oh, and the actual last thing – which is probably the most important – being the level of professionalism, and how we do our business, too. You know, we’ve all gotten very… I don’t want to say lazy, but we’ve gotten soft in how we met schedules, and how we deliver our product. We broke our contract with our fans. We were out there saying we would be monthly, and to not be monthly… They lose faith in us, and we’ve got to rebuild that faith, and rebuild that story with them again. And rebuild the sense of periodic nature, because that’s what comics are built on! It’s a monthly business, and that means you have to be out monthly.

So, like I said, there’s a lot of different pieces, a lot of moving pieces about what was working, and what wasn’t working in comics. Our goal was, rather than attacking them separately, let’s go at ‘em all at once. Rethink the way we do our business, rethink the way we are. Rethink our characters, and lets go out there and attack it… And let’s go make some magic!

The DC Comics “New 52″ Sampler

Geek: Now, I was at pretty much every panel you guys held at San Diego, and I’ve been to the ones you’ve had here so far, and it feels like the conversation has shifted dramatically, in a positive way.

DD: Oh, sure, well, here’s the fun part about it. When we decided to do this – a group of us decided to do this – we had to sell it to the other departments inside DC. Because there’s a lot of skepticism. It’s “Uh, what are you doing? Are we gonna be able to pull this off? Are you gonna be able to execute this properly?” And we convinced everybody with the reason why we wanted to do it all.

From there, the message goes out to the retailer base, and they were like, “What are you doing?” The news made a big reaction. So we went around in several markets, we sat with several hundred retailers, talked to them, addressed their concerns, addressed their concerns, asked how could we be better… And we were winning them over, they became supporters of the new line.

So then we got to the fans, and we were ready to go for it. And the fans had the same level of concern, they were asking, “What are you doing to the numbering, to the characters, to the costumes?” And once you talk it all the way through, the thing everybody needs to know is… This isn’t a haphazard decision. This wasn’t made overnight. This isn’t a stunt, or an event that’s going to go away, that’s not what this is about. This is an initiative across the company in order to improve the health of the business, and DC Comics. Pure and simple.

So people started to understand what it is we’re trying to accomplish, and then we started focusing on what was exciting them – the positives. And there were so many positives and negatives about what was going on here. I mean, if you’re arguing about Wonder Woman’s pants, and Superman’s underwear – and you’re not even arguing about the characters or the stories or whether they’re even interesting – it’s important to get the conversation back to, “What do you really want to read?” Because ultimately that’s what we want to deliver.

Geek: Well, what do YOU really want to read?

DD: Wow. It’s funny, whenever someone asks the question, I go with one of three or four different answers, depending on what my favorite top five books are. Because whenever I read something else, I get excited about it, or change my mind about it. You’re always kind of spinning them around.

The cover to Frankenstein: Agent of S.H.A.D.E #1

From my stand point… I like a lot of the corners of the DCU. I’m excited about what Jeff Lemire is doing on Frankenstein. I’m excited about Scott Snyder on Swamp Thing. Because these are characters I really gravitate towards. But at the same time, I’ve never felt like our top books have been in better hands. Justice League, with Geoff Johns and Jim Lee. Batman, with Greg Capullo. Scott Snyder, Tony Daniel, David Finch…

The litany of people involved in these things show that we took the time to make this the best that it can be, because the goal is no just to win people for one month, but for a year, two years, forever, however long we can keep our books as exciting as we hope they can be.

Geek: Something I didn’t realize until this weekend, actually, is that it seems like you guys are making an effort to pace out stories in different ways. Jeff Lemire talked about doing shorter arcs and one-shots on Frankenstein, while James Robinson is doing a twelve issue maxi-series on The Shade

DD: One of my biggest problems is the “wait for the trade” attitude. I’ve said that since the day I started at DC. Reason I say that is that it doesn’t mean you can’t build a trade, it just means you shouldn’t write it as if it is a trade. You shouldn’t have page one of part two of a six-part story read like page twenty-three. You gotta continue through.

There are certain things, and certain devices you need to reinforce in every issue to develop that level of understanding of what your character is, what his role is, and actually a level of comfort when you’re reading a book. The most popular characters have signature lines, signature moves, signature pieces, and because they were repeated over and over again. People wouldn’t be repeating Superman ripping his shirt open to reveal the S-Shield if it wasn’t something that wasn’t repeated in the comics themselves.

So we have to find things that are reinforcing who are characters are. Not just once in a six issue collection, but every issue, because that’s what I think really matters for really understand what our characters are. You know, there’s the old expression that every book is somebody’s first. It might have been true once. It hasn’t been true for a while, and we’ve going to make it true again.

The cover to Action Comics #1

Geek: You were getting towards this a bit anyway, I think, but… Will the story beats be repeated in the story itself, or will you start using recap pages?

DD: We’re going to see what works best for every book. The goal right now is… Somebody asked me if we’re going to use recap pages. I said, “I don’t know, if we’re just on issue one, if we need a recap page we’ve probably screwed up our mission.” My goal is never to have recap pages, but I understand the people’s desire. I always call the recap page lazy writing, because I always felt that it always gave someone an easy way to do an essay about what’s going on in the book, rather than what’s going on in the storytelling.

So I think we’d rather try to find a way to make our stories as dramatic as possible, so we don’t have to rely on things like that. That being said, if it does make sense for the particular time, if you’re building to something major, then we’ll use every tool at our disposal to make these books as accessible as possible.

Geek: Let’s talk about the initial sales figures. I can certainly talk at length about my own thoughts on them, but what was your reaction when they first came out?

DD: They were actually stronger than I thought they were going to be, so that’s a good thing. But they weren’t so high that I thought we were going to have inventory sitting on shelves. My biggest concern has always been that people over-order to the point that, even if we have massive sell-in, it doesn’t look like we had sell-through. The goal is always to put out enough books that people are never waiting or wanting, or looking, and I feel that we have a very strong base to work from. And more importantly, I think that’s the real size of the audience, and I have a really good feeling that this might work better than we thought.

Geek: I realize we haven’t even passed the first Wednesday yet, but… Second month?

DD: That’s the hard part! People keep asking, aren’t you excited, don’t you feel relaxed? And I say, “I don’t know!” After Wednesday, we have to put out issue two. And issue two has to be better than issue one. And issue threes got to be better than issue two, and issue fours got to be better than issue three.

You’re going to find some things, as people figure out different ways to work through, and everything is moving at a slightly different pace. But by the time you’re into your third book, you should be developing a rhythm, and understanding what your story is about, where everyone should feel very comfortable with it, and everybody should know everything they need to know in order to read the series.

We want that in the first issue, we want to make sure that’s in the second issue, but it better be there by the third issue, for sure. And from my standpoint, we’re in the monthly business, and the main challenge – the biggest we face out of everything that is out there – is not taking our foot off the gas. We’ve pushed really hard, we’ve been hard on people, we’ve sent a lot of books back, done a lot of rewriting to make sure that we’re doing the best we can do.

That’s not just a stunt for the first issue, it has to be maintained from that issue on. We have a much more sophisticated, much more demanding audience than we’ve ever had before, and we have to meet those demands.

Geek: We talked about this a little bit already, but underrated titles people should be checking out?

DD: I think Frankenstein is an underrated title people should be checking out, without a doubt. I think Animal Man is another one – the two Jeff Lemire books have been great. Gosh, I thought the All-Star Western is incredibly strong. Here’s the thing: one of the things about launching all fifty-two at the same time is that it’s given us the extraordinary opportunity, where we hear retailers and readers buying in to all fifty-two.

This was not our expectation, believe it or not… But I’m not going to complain. The best part is, it gives each book the equal chance to be read. And that’s all you can ask for, you want them to be read, and people can make their decisions based on what they’ve seen. That’s all we can do. It’s our job to make it possible, and I’m so glad we’re getting the books in people’s hands so they can make decisions based on what they’re seeing.

Geek: Looking forward, we’ve been hearing a lot from writers and artists is, “I’m working on something… But I can’t talk about it yet.” So when are we going to start hearing about the Next 52?

DD: The goal is to build a series of books, just the same way a network would build a series of mid-season replacement shows, or a sixth season of a series… We had a lot of projects that we have a lot of faith in that didn’t make the first cut, but it’s something that we want to see on our schedule at some point or another. What we want to do though is give these books their time, and a chance. I don’t want to be talking about the next wave of stuff… Because the first wave isn’t here yet!

Because we get so excited, and because we’ve been living it since the beginning of the year, that we’re very familiar with what’s going on, so we’ve been planning ahead, but we want to get back into the business ahead, take the time to plan them right, to stockpile the books so they can be on schedule. And to make sure they work with everything else that’s going on. So we’re doing all that as we speak.

As to when they’ll actually come out? Yeah, they’ll be next year. As to when next year, it depends on how well the first fifty-two are received.

Geek: Do you think we’ll hear more about them at New York Comic-Con?

DD: I think you should hear more about some of the books here and there. There’s some obvious ones, there’s some really big surprises in there. But I think what’s going on is that we want to put the same level of care and consideration in the next wave, because once that initial trick is over, everything really stands on their own merits. So the second wave books have to be even better than the first wave books.

Geek: Last thing: what are you going to be doing Tuesday night?

DD: I don’t know, what do you want to do? [Laughs] Well, I’m hoping to be part of a kick-off event that’s taking place in Manhattan, after which there’s a store I like to frequent called Zap Comics in Wayne, New Jersey, which I like to frequent, they’re doing a midnight show there, and I’ll be there. Not only will I be there, but I’ll be there with the Wayne Casino poker chips… So whoever travels the longest distance gets poker chips equal to the amount of miles they’ve traveled.

DC’s New 52 launches Midnight on August 31st with Justice League #1!

Watch our video interview from San-Diego Comic-Con with DiDio and Jim Lee here:

SDCC 2011: Dan DiDio And Jim Lee Talk ’The New 52′

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