Home News Business News DiDio and Lee: “Future cloudy, ask again later.”

DiDio and Lee: “Future cloudy, ask again later.”


Yesterday, ICv2 ran a three-part interview with DC co-publishers Dan DiDio and Jim Lee which is, if not the most substantial comics business site-run interview with the duo ever, then the most comprehensive since the reboot. Brigid runs down all the high points but in case anyone missed it, here’s Part 1, Part 2 andPart 3. It covers everything from the obvious “Why ARE you doing this?” — to questions on mass market, digital, and so on. The net effect, as seen in mainstream interviews of late, is that things weren’t working — the price decrease didn’t bring in enough new readers, stories were flat and piracy is hurting. But there are some familiar themes as well. Asked about The Way Forward, they respond:

Didio:  We’re trying to keep the number of products that we’re doing to a manageable base.  One of the things that we’ve also seen is the need to overproduce to compensate for weakening sales and that’s something that we’re trying to stay away from.  And across our entire line, between the DC Comics products, the Vertigo product as well the support books that we do with the kids’ books and the license in product.  We don’t want to put out more than 80 to 85 titles a month, which is less than what we’re doing now, but we feel it’s a sustainable amount for quality and with the level of interest that we hope that we get from the fans.

Lee:  Our strategy is not to garner as much market share as possible.  I think our approach is to give creators the most bang for their buck both financially and creatively.  When we start thinking about events the guiding rule at hand has to be if you create an event, it has to be creatively driven.  You can’t just decide you’re going to exploit a book across all these titles to have no impact upon what you’re trying to tell on a story level.  I think if we stick to that approach, our readers are ultimately going to be happier and our events are going to be ultimately more successful.

One of the answers that Brigid singled out that we also circled with a highlighter is this exchange:

In these new initiatives you’re undertaking, how is DC changing its approach to getting kids as comic customers?
Didio: Right now we’re determining kids as being teenagers at this moment and that’s where our focus is with the New 52 books. But we’re also still publishing a kids line for 11 and younger, and that hasn’t changed at all. We continue to try to find ways to get those products into other marketplaces as well in order to get them into kids’ hands.

DC’s lack of enthusiasm for building a strong kid audience for their characters is a longstanding tradition, a fact which is puzzling in the extreme, especially given the greater corporate mandate at Warner to exploit these characters in cartoon, toy and tie-in form. It’s also the fastest growing segment of the comics market at this grim time — but then nothing Didio or Lee says gives any indication that they know who their audience — actual or potential — really is in more than a wadded up spitball sense. Lee mentions that digital seems to be reaching a new customer who doesn’t have access to a comics shop and he’s excited by this. Comics retailers are right to be concerned that the laser-focus of digital demographics gives anyone smart enough to use them a powerful tool.

But on the print side, it’s still all a big question mark. And even the frequently-enthusiastic DiDio isn’t sure where the train is going:

Anything we didn’t ask you about that you’re excited about over the next 6-12 months?

Didio: No. Have to see where we stand six to 12 months from now, actually.

  1. reading these interviews, i’m excited by the fact that the people leading DC care about the books as much as most of us do.

    the elephant standing in the room, that for some reason they didn’t remotely address is the huge talent gap between marvel and DC. Up top they’re well matched, but the middle of the line and further down marvel has folks like rick remender, david liss, david lapham, now brian wood, where DC has too many books still written by the likes of scott lobdell, j.t. krul, judd winnick (while guys with huge potential like josh dysart, chris roberson are not writing much at all ). And that very limited list doesn’t include the artistic gap.

    dc: recruit better talent for the second and third tier books and i will buy them also!

  2. So, Johnny DC, when will you announce the tie-in comicbook to the new Green Lantern cartoon? How about Thundercats?

    Also, Johnny, you seem to cancel series as soon as the series ends on TV. Is there a significant drop in sales after a series stops airing, or is it done “just because”? Of course, you still publish Looney Tunes and Scooby-Doo regardless of television…

    Part of me is glad most of the titles are “teen”. I hope that means fewer popping heads and ripped spinal columns. I hope we see a return to the “Spirit of ’86” with lots of creative output and accessible series. I hope it’s like Keith Giffen says…

  3. THEQUESTION: I disagree with the talent gap part of your post…which we both know is a matter of opinion…but Both companies have huge talents working right now…even if you are not a fan of the talent you mentioned at D.C, you cant deny that having guys like Jeff Lemire, Gail Simone, Pete Tomasi, peter Milligan, Scott Snyder, Paul Cornell , Sterling Gates, Abnet and Lanning, , John Rozem and more, arent some of the best talents in comics at the moment.

    D.c. has done an amazing job matching the right talent with the right characters and I give them a ton of credit for it. As far as art, we can go on for hours about that subject …lol.

    i know this is all about taste, but I am really excited about the crew working on the books now and having read a lot of them, really happy with the great job they are doing.


  4. From the ICv2 interview with DiDio and Lee:

    (Lee): When we start thinking about events the guiding rule at hand has to be if you create an event, it has to be creatively driven. You can’t just decide you’re going to exploit a book across all these titles to have no impact upon what you’re trying to tell on a story level.

    How often does a writer come up with an idea for an event by himself, pitch it to an editor, and then have various other people agree that, yeah, that’s a good idea for an event, versus ideas for events arising at group brainstorming sessions or editors deciding on an event and then directing writers to come up with ideas for tie-ins?

    I’d be skeptical about ideas generated by brainstorming sessions, because groupthink and reluctance to criticize discourage negative responses. Thoughtful criticism delivered a week later might be too late.

    It’s fairly easy to come up with an event if something affects the entire universe and heroes are forced to respond to it in various ways. That’s no different from a disaster movie that has people affected by the disaster reacting to it. Those stories are invariably plot-driven affairs, though.

    Events that have character-driven storylines must be very rare things.


  5. The latest Previews (Sept/Nov) shows GL:TAS #0

    Dario Brizuela does the art.

    Six Johnny titles… Looney Tunes cancelled?

    Why only six titles? And why no creator-owned or original works, like “Family Dynamic”?

  6. I’m sat here literally open-mouthed at the “Right now we’re determining kids as being teenagers at this moment ” quote.

    Just writing them off as not important for the continued growth of DC. Sure, they have a line of kids comics. But wouldn’t it make sense to get pre-teens into their new DC Universe? Maybe then DC might actually see some growth in the readership proper.

  7. But wouldn’t it make sense to get pre-teens into their new DC Universe?

    Perhaps they view cartoons, whether they’re broadcast or sold on DVDs, as a more cost-effective way of reaching kids? Kids are notorious for watching cartoons they’ve seen before any number of times, but they (and their parents) don’t react the same way to comics. What is the age point at which an average kid gets bored seeing a cartoon he’s seen before?


  8. jimmy p:

    so honored that you would respond to my worthless post! totally agree that the writers you mentioned (along with you and j. gray) are superb (and i’m buying almost all of their books, though beloved milligan has been inconsistent)…i guess it’s a little unrealistic to expect that all 52 books would have high end talent on them…i mean, can you imagine brian wood on teen titans? josh dysart on men of war? david liss bringing back sandman mystery theater? in the end, we’ll have to actually read the books they’re putting out in order to make a final conclusion!

  9. I find that DC has put considerable effort into promoting stuff to kids. The thing people have to realize is that the kids today do not have the same grocery/corner store access to comics that we had as kids. That used to be the gateway for kids to read comics. While there may not be a lot of comics geared towards kids, DC has stretched out into other avenues though cartoons and books. My girls have been digging the Super Pets books that came out this year. And let’s be realistic, if there were more kid’s comics out there, do you wanna be shelling out $50 a month on just those books alone? The biggest issue regarding kid’s comics that I’m finding is that they are harder to track down because the comic shops don’t order them in the big numbers. It’s understandable with the current market that they don’t stock much of them… maybe DC and Marvel need to create more incentives for these titles to help make them available for kids?

  10. When my partners and I went to the DC Roadshow in Chicago one of my concerns was the lack of all ages material for girls from DC. At the after conference gathering we asked Dan about it, and he asked us about Supergirl Cosmic Adventures, how’d it sell, how’s the trade do…for us. We told him it did very well for us. He replied that the Supergirl Cosmic Adventures series lost a good chunk of money & that’s why we won’t see a sequel to it. And probably not an all ages Wonder Woman book anytime soon….

    It’s a shame…

  11. Targeting teens and forgetting kids for the main line is fine, I guess. We’re in ‘comics are adult’ territory now and there’s no going back, but there needs to be EQUAL focus on those little kids, and because no-one asked me – I got two ideas. Real easy ones.

    1. Original DC hero kids picture books. Stuff that sits on the shelf in bookstores next to Where the Wild Things Are and Animalia. Get kid-friendly artists to do ’em. You know, really stylised, cute but dynamic artists – Katie Cook, Mike Maihack, etc. Give ’em simple morals, make them use their powers in smart, creative ways instead of just punching stuff – solving things with their brains and science! At this age, you can’t rely on an out-of-context bed sheet image, or branded toothbrush to hook the kids, you need story.

    2. Make ONE digest. Just one. You don’t need to shift all 85 books to the supermarket – just one, that has a selection of Looney Tunes, Tiny Titans, Shazam, Supergirl in the 8th Grade (and 9th!! Come on!) and various Batman/Superman/JLA Adventures from the cartoons in it. That’s it. All you need is ONE entry point at that level. Kids (and parents) won’t care that none of it is in continuity, and if it’s a little digest brick at a decent price that the kid can’t destroy – sweet! Done deal.

    This reboot is like saying “it’s not red! It’s scarlet!”

    Same difference.

    Fortune favours the bold, and this isn’t radical enough. (Talking on national TV about changing the costumes? Costumes that change ALL THE TIME? Come on. May as well point out you’re wearing a different shirt than yesterday, and look how awesome it is!!!)

    (Disclaimer: While not radical enough, it is still kinda radical, and I’ll be going from falling out of reading any DC at all, to trying at least 6 titles, so I’m kinda on board – but I’m hardly the person they need to focus on.)

  12. Canaan… it exists:
    1) DC Super Pets, done in the Tiny Titans style, published by Coughlin. There are also the “8×8” square books, 24 pages for $3.99. As well as the beginning reader books, both by HarperCollins.

    2) That supermarket real estate by the registers? It’s GOLDEN. And just as pricey. Also, digest anything gets hidden when placed on a newsstand display (which is why TV Guide is now regular size). DC does publish digest-sized books, which have a longer shelf life, and which are more likely to wind up in school book fairs. For example: Teen Titans Go!, 112 pages, $6.99 Reprints from the comics.

    DC has been publishing magazine-sized comics, and of course, any magazine stand could easily order comics from the same distributor.

    While I doubt a Shonen Jump-style magazine is unlikely, a quarterly “More Fun Comics” would be a good marketing ploy. 200 pages of comics, activities, and behind-the-scenes stuff, sold to parents as a way to keep kids preoccupied on long trips. AND do co-op distribution with an airline… make it part of a travel kit given out to kids in flight. Push whatever WBE has on the air, with a cheap polypropylene bag. (Similar to the CCI bags.)

    Yeah, I’m on your side. I’ve got a nine-year-old niece who loves Wonder Woman. Would be nice if I could find some comics suitable for her.

    Hmm… what if someone licensed kids comics from DC? If DC won’t publish Supergirl: Cosmic Adventures in the Ninth Grade, why not Scholastic or HarperCollins? Since it’s licensed, DC owns the film, and can reprint it later.

    What I would like to see: a Kids initiative as robust as Vertigo. Remember those “comics aren’t for kids” television ads that DC ran? Reverse that. Licensed titles as well as creator-owned (or whatever DC is calling it now with the new contracts) stories. The licensed stuff has no continuity, so no deadline headaches… it’s all inventory stories. Kids don’t care who writes or draws, so use it to develop new talent. (Dan Slott once wrote Ren & Stimpy comics for Marvel!)

  13. RE: the reboot.

    Back in ‘the day’, most of us were *either* Superman *or* Batman fans. I tolerated Batman in World’s Finest. And I read Aquaman only if I had nothing else to read, and I *never* read Congo Bill. Ever.

    When Marvel had so many titles that Stan couldn’t write them all, I stopped reading them. I had better things to do with my limited discretionary income than buy all the comics I needed to understand what was going on in any of them. I pretty much quit reading mainstream comics on a regular basis altogether then, since DC had started doing the same stupid thing.

    I’ll maybe pick up a copy of Superman (the second or third issue) and if I can’t make sense out of what’s going on without having to have read some other series, it’ll be the last one.

    I ain’t about to spend a hundred and fifty bucks a month (assuming all 52 are being published monthly) just to understand what’s going on in one damned comic book. Nor will I have the time to read them all. And neither will any other of the “new” or “lasped” readers DiDio thinks he can get.

    Pandering to the direct market is a dead end. The comic book shop is dead–it committed suicide by driving parents and young children away (exposing a small girl to lolita-anime statuettes may legally count as child abuse in a number of states). After a certain age, one either is a little embarrassed to enter a comic book store, or is too socially inept to realize that he should be (I got nothing against teenage-wet-dream-smut, but displaying it out in the open next to the Archie comics is kinda ewww). The only currently viable distribution outlets are supermarkets (for kids) and on-line (for teens and adults).

    If DiDio wants new readers, he won’t get them by “starting fresh” on September, 2011, because if DC travels the same path, they’ll have the same problem in July, 2012: an eroding readership who relate to reading comic books as a “ritual” rather than the equivalent of reading a cheap romance novel.

    And make no mistake: The comics industry is, or should be, in the business of cheap entertainment, not “art.”

    There’s never been a mass market for “art.”

  14. “He replied that the Supergirl Cosmic Adventures series lost a good chunk of money & that’s why we won’t see a sequel to it. And probably not an all ages Wonder Woman book anytime soon….”

    Yet it’s sales were on par with Tiny Titans and higher than Batman: The Brave and the Bold, with trade sales at the same level as the mainstream title.

    So I call bullshit.

  15. Little kid comics would be wonderful.

    Non-condescending little kid comics would be BEST!

    I have long been troubled by DC’s tendency to make lunchbox heroes the comic books in which people get impaled, torn in half and have continuous stories that go back further than a small kid’s entire life.

    Batman the Brave and the Bold might be the best Bat-book of the last several years on a direct quality level anyway, so I don’t know why DC would want it any other way.

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