DC presented a panel of nine creative minds to talk about the “semi-permeable membrane” between the comic book industry and other entertainment fields, moderated by marketing vice president John Cunningham. The panel included television and “Stormwatch PHD” writer Christos N. Gage, DC’s senior VP for creative affairs Gregory Noveck, “the master of modern horror comics” Steve Niles, novelist Greg Rucka, “Battlestar Galactica” producer Mark Verheiden, animation guru Paul Dini, young adult novelist Cecil Castellucci, Entertainment Weekly writer Marc Bernardin and his “Highwaymen” co-creator Adam Freeman.
“I started doing this in 1988,” Verheiden said, “and the change really started then, when people started taking comics more seriously. The biggest change that’s happened in the last five or ten years is that executives are fans of comic books they bought twenty years ago.”
Verheiden did have one gripe, though. “It still irritates me when they refer to this as the nerd con,” he said. “This is the mainstream con. I hope Entertainment Weekly never uses that phrase …”
Noting that Verheiden was glancing over at him, Bernardin said, “I think we used ‘nerd prom.'”
Rucka wasn’t so convinced that popularity was a good thing. “We may be mainstream, but I think we’re coming up on a point where we’re gonna implode,” the writer said. “We run the risk of getting to a point where we’re pandering. You can argue that’s what they do anyway, and they don’t care. People are talking about how this needs to be two cons, one for comics, how it used to be. I don’t know how I feel about it one way or another.”
Gage talked about why he felt “crossing over” was happening more often. “In general, in terms of the semi permeable membrane, when I was in film school ten years ago, and there were very strict classes in screenwriting. You didn’t write for TV if you did features, until you couldn’t get work any more. It was like a step down. If you wrote for TV, you didn’t write for animation until you couldn’t get work anymore. Now it’s considered an asset. Boundaries in general are being broken down. The studios are saying ‘make money with this guy in any way possible.’ But implosion is a real risk.”
“You guys are loud. You make your opinions known,” Rucka said to the audience, as a reason why Hollywood and the media were paying more and more attention to Comic-con.
“I said for years that comic books are no different from anything else as a source of good material,” Noveck said. “You’re looking for great stories. In my job, Superman and Batman — I don’t have to sell those. When it comes to something like ‘The Losers,’ or even ‘Watchmen,’ it’s taking the material and saying ‘this is a great story.’ ‘Losers’ may not sell ’52’ numbers, but fans loved it. We have a wealth of material. What’s changed also is now there’s a large paper back business. Before people would have to go buy back issues. Now you can go to a book store and buy it. When did Comic-con become Sundance? Hollywood moved down here for the week.””
“… and they’ve shut down,” Niles agreed.
“I think one of the things as writers,” Castellucci said, “you’re interested in telling good stories. Movie companies are going to different kinds of comic books, that’s awesome! You wanna express yourself, and expressing yourself in a novel or a song or a comic book, you’re telling the story in a different way. That’s one of the things I like. I never thought of doing ‘The P.L.A.I.N. Janes’ as a film, but I think it’s awesome if somebody has a vision of how they would do one of my books. I’m always interested in seeing how people change things.”
Rucka said, “I’ve seen a lot of people say, ‘I’m coming up with this so I can sell it as a movie.’ Often, they don’t. Screen writers are looking at comics as a way to get their creator owned movie made.”
“That’s what I did,” Niles said. “I had a screen play sitting in my drawer that I wanted to see come to life.”
“Executives don’t read,” Gage said of people who want to use a comic book as a pitch.
“One asked me if my book was available on tape,” Rucka said.
“No one trusts their own opinion,” Gage clarified. “They can cover their butts by saying it has a built in audience.”
“The Wednesday that the comic came out, Thursday studios started calling. People who wouldn’t take our meetings before. I completely agree with the perspective of executives. They’re gonna put their name and reputation on a project, they wanna pick the one with the least chance of them losing their job.”
Cunningham changed tactics and asked Dini about how the process of creating “Countdown” like a television show, with him leading a collaborative team of writers, was going. “It worked out really well at the beginning, some things worked really well,” Dini said. “We tried to follow some of the TV pacing rules, but I think they’re just different animals. People have come to expect a lot more action, more staggering developments, more twists and turns. We have those in countdown, and we just want to make sure we get there faster. It’s been a learning process.”
Noveck didn’t see crossovers as a deterrent to taking properties into other forms of media. He said, “I’ll take a theme that’s in a larger crossover, and pull out one character and say ‘can we do a story about that?’ I’d love to do a 26 episode arc on Sci Fi with one of our crossovers. Feel free to tell Sci Fi that.”