Yesterday, CBR presented part 1 of a monster interview with DC Comics Senior Vice President – Executive Editor of the DCU Dan DiDio. And while that wide-ranging discussion touched on most of the marquee characters from DC’s line as well as their chart-topping “Blackest Night” event, there was more to cover last Thursday from DiDio’s office at 1700 Broadway.
Today, our discussion with DiDio turns to his own creative work – namely his upcoming run as the monthly writer of DC’s “Outsiders” series – as well as his and special guest Senior Story Editor Ian Sattler’s theories behind recruiting new writing talent for DC and a succinct summation of where the publisher has been over the past year and where it’s going next.
Kiel Phegley: Speaking of things the fans might have a strong reaction to, you’re going to be writing “Outsiders” soon.
Dan DiDio: Yes! [Laughs]
Phegley: I know you’ve been working a bit more plot-first with Philip Tan so far. What’s it been like collaborating with him on this project?
DiDio: The way I break it out is that I give him a page-by-page breakdown with key dialogue beats of what’s going to happen so he knows what scenes to key on. How the pages break down what Philip is really wonderful at doing, and he helps pace some of those pages out himself. If we’ve got a fight scene, I say, “Okay, you’ve got three or four pages to figure out what happens. You lay it out the way you feel most comfortable.” That’s [resulted in] some of Philip’s finest work so far. He’s constantly playing with ideas, and I have a lot of fun with that. “Outsiders” is a book I’ve loved from when Mike Barr first wrote it. I was a huge Jim Aparo fan, and I was disappointed when “Brave & The Bold” was cancelled, but I was really happy when “Outsiders” started, and I became so invested in those characters. It’s a group of characters I really enjoy, and because of the way people were moving around in their assignments, it became free. I’ve wanted to get involved in this side [of the business] for a while, and I threw my hat in the ring.
Jonah Weiland: Two questions on that. When you first read those “Outsiders” issues and loved them, what was it about them? What was happening right then that made this series something that had such an impact on you?
DiDio: What was most interesting about that book was that it came along at a time when most team books weren’t as explosive as they are now. So when a team came together, it felt like it mattered. And it was something that came from Batman leaving the Justice League. I followed him. “Brave & The Bold” had an artist that I really enjoyed, and this had a bunch of new characters that grabbed my attention. When you had a mix of new characters and more established characters, you were able to get a more interesting dynamic. And the truth be told, what made that book more special to me was that it was the only place you could find those characters. So many times now, you get books where there’s a character who’s appearing in five or six books across the line, and that’s the way things work. But as we were talking about with Aquaman earlier, there are characters who can really only support one series. With characters like Metamorpho who can’t support his own book, that makes this great. It makes it fun. That’s important to me.
And [the original “Outsiders”] was quirky. It had a different voice. This was a time when there weren’t as many team books, and the team books could have their own point of view unique to that book. As we fill the stands with more material, some of those unique points of view become much slimmer, but in those days there was a much clearer direction. That’s one of the things I’m hoping to bring to “Outsiders” – a real clear focus on why they are the Outsiders.
Weiland: For a lot of writers, when they write, they’re in a specific place, be it a physical place or something else. Can you write in the office here?
DiDio: Oh, it’s at home. Always at home. Actually, a lot of it is done on planes because I’m flying around a lot. And then the rest is at home. I just finished up our “Weird Western Tales” #71, and that was interesting because it’s good to put yourself back into a trench to figure out what everyone else is going through. It makes you a little more aware of certain situations and how things are unfolding, and more importantly, aware of the concerns people are having so things can be constructive. When I was working with Jimmy Palmiotti on “Superboy,” we had a story that was literally interrupted by an event, and we had to destroy a script and take half of it into one book and another half into a second book. It was frustrating, and one of the first things I did coming in to DC was not do any crossover events that would be disruptive to the books. The first time we did a crossover was with “Infinite Crisis,” because you have to let the books stand on their own. You have to be aware of that, and you have to understand that everybody’s working very hard to produce the best product possible. They’re very focused and very proprietary, with a sense of ownership over the book. But when you try to build cohesiveness, you’ve got to find ways to work it out. “Blackest Night” is the perfect example. We had enough leeway where people didn’t feel the event was disruptive or that it affected the flow of the material. That’s why we waited to the point that we [tied books in.]
Phegley: “Outsiders” seems like a book where you have that type of freedom, whereas you probably wouldn’t be able to write a book like “Justice League,” even though you’re intimately familiar with everything going on in the DCU.
DiDio: I wouldn’t want to. A book like this is enjoyable because we’ve got a lot of characters you can do something with. I’ve got access to a lot of information – obviously – with what goes on in the DCU, so I can bring it in and enhance this book, improve the sales on the book and make it something that’s other than just stable. It’ll never be “Justice League” or “Titans” – even in its heyday it wasn’t. But it’s something that fills a niche that I’d like us to continue with moving forward.
Phegley: Is there any special pressure on you in terms of putting your money where your mouth is on a monthly book?
DiDio: You know, I’m my own worst critic, to be very frank about it. So, no matter how harsh somebody is, I’m going to be twice as harsh on myself, so it doesn’t matter to me. What I get most excited about is seeing the work that Philip’s doing. That’s what gets me jazzed. We did a DC Nation page – no preferential treatment here – where we just showed Philip’s sketching of the character designs. You felt him bringing a freshness and newness with a couple of new characters being brought to the team. So for me, there’s a lot to be said for working in this fashion because it’s such a collaborative process, and you want to bring the creativity of everyone involved into the fold. It’s a tough thing to do, sometimes, when coordinating all the aspects, but it’s a little bit easier to do here than on a “Justice League” or somewhere else where there are so many things that have to be in lockstep with each other.
Phegley: Speaking of bringing guys into the creative fold, while most of the current DC Comics line is spearheaded by names like Geoff Johns and Grant Morrison, readers have been seeing a lot of newer faces take over titles of late. Matt Sturges has been taking over a lot of books, and I saw you mention J.T. Krul as someone primed for more work. What do you feel your role is in terms of outreach and recruitment, not just on finding new talent, but finding the right books for them?
DiDio: Actually, that’s Ian [Sattler’s] role! [Laughs] That’s one of the things Ian’s been very aggressive on, is trying to find the new voices. We have a wonderful talent pool, but we always have to keep replenishing. What I want to do is to give as many voices as possible a chance to develop and see where they stand. I hate the idea of just throwing people out there to fail or “sink or swim.” It’s not fair. And we don’t have the luxury of being able to test people on a consistent book, so what we do is find ways we can create sample material in order to see what their talents are and what their interests are. And we put them in places that will be under the radar, or in places where the material helps see them through. Once they’ve got their legs under them, then we can move them out to other areas. Matt Sturges is a perfect example. Matt came in at Vertigo, working with Bill Willingham, and now he’s a writing force unto himself, and that’s why he’s launching “JSA All Stars.”
Ian Sattler: And we’ve got Eric Trautman, Bryan Miller, J.T. Krul…
DiDio: Sterling Gates!
Sattler: That’s another perfect example.
DiDio: And Eric Wallace and Felecia Henderson. These are people I want to see working for us.
Sattler: That’s the stuff, when I’m looking at the DCU, that’s really thrilling me – getting these guys to come on and do something that’s working.
DiDio: There’s no greater joy than seeing people you believe in deliver, and more importantly, seeing them get the reaction that validates your early opinions of them.
Weiland: There’s one thing that stands out to me about at least two of the names you’ve mentioned. Matt Sturges was mentored by Bill Willingham and Sterling Gates by Geoff Johns. Is that an approach that should be taken more often?
DiDio: That approach has always been there. You go back to Grant Morrison and Mark Millar, or Mark Waid and Bryan Augustyn.
Sattler: Denny O’Neil and Greg Rucka.
DiDio: That’s true. I didn’t even think of that in that way. And again, we’re not talking about absolutes, but we are talking about places where some people are able to work together, and they just need a helping hand. The silly part about this is that when I was writing “Superboy,” Jimmy was the one who got the assignment, and I was there to help him in the same way that Jimmy works with Justin Gray right now. And Geoff was working under the wing of James Robinson and of David Goyer when he got his start. Again, this is where you can see how things develop. There’s a level of interest people have in each other. A lot of times these days, people come in who might have established themselves in other areas, but a way for someone to come in without those credentials, so to speak, is by working under the wing of established talent.
And in an honest sense, you guys might even have a better sense of how these guys are breaking and what the reaction is than we do. We feel a certain level of pride in finding them, and working with them, and getting them, hopefully, to a level where they’re strong and important cogs in the DC wheel. But you’re out there without that veil of what it took to get where we are. You’re just seeing the finished product. Truth be told, it’s interesting seeing the finished product being as well received as it is right now.
Phegley: Well, the last thing I’d like to discuss is something I wanted to take in two parts. Rather than focusing on talent, let’s focus on the books over the past few months. What are the series that have surprised you – books that have come across your desk and up through the ranks where you’ve said, “I didn’t expect this?”
DiDio: It’s weird for me, because I can tell you how incredibly spectacular “Blackest Night” #5 is, which it is, or how there are pages at the end of the issue which blow your mind and stop you in the hallways, which it does have. That, in some ways, is expected, yet in some ways, it still over-acheives. Ultimately, there’s a certain level of expectation over there. When I see and read books like “The Shield” and “The Web” and I find them to be really wonderful reads…or when I see “Brave & The Bold,” and I see the really wonderful stand-alone issues that Joe Straczynski writes, I go, “My gosh! This is everything I remember about what a comic should be!” That gets me very excited about what I do. I just gave you a copy of “Batman/Doc Savage.” I was trying to get the Doc Savage rights for five years! [Laughs] No lie! And when we finally get the rights and get the book out, you go, “Oh thank God.” Then you read it, and it’s like, “God damn, it’s really good! Brian Azzarello just knocked this out of the park!” Those are the things that excite you.
Again, I’m my own worst critic, so when you see piles of comics sitting around here, one of the things that’s hardest to see is where we might have missed a little bit – things that I noticed that nobody else will see. Or I see where the competition does something really well, and I get a little angry. Or I see where the competition doesn’t do as well, and they sell better than us, and I get angry. Those kinds of things happen, and so the level of enjoyment in reading a comic is sort of lost. But there’s a level of pride in the amount of work being done right now. And I can tell you, I’ve been here almost eight years now, and I can’t tell you a time that I’ve been more proud of the line, the staff, the talent, and everybody that’s been involved, than at this particular moment in time.
Phegley: Now I have to ask the flip side to that question, which is whether there’s anything in your mind that you have been disappointed with or didn’t hit in the way you wanted it to?
DiDio: You know, why focus on that? This is my old analogy about what’s wonderful about working in comics, the same way it’s wonderful working in television – if we have one thing that’s consistent between the two, it’s that we always have another week or another month before we put [the finished product] out again and get it right. If it’s not right this time, you fix it the next time. If it’s not good that time, we do it one more time. I know we have deadlines, and sometimes we’ve got to rush it out. You’re going to be out on a certain timetable, so you’ll never have that luxury to make it perfect – if there is such a thing. But what you can do is say, “If there’s something [wrong] here, I’m always going to be working to fix it. To make it better.” That’s what this is all about. We’re constantly evaluating the stories and constantly evaluating the product and the talent, and the sole reason for that is to make it better.
Phegley: I think that almost wraps it. You got anything else, Jonah?
Weiland: I’ve got one last weird question. What happens on that day when Bob Wayne calls you up and says, “‘Outsiders’ isn’t performing, Dan”?
DiDio: If I felt creatively that the book was not achieving, I would not be on that book. As simple as that. I’d cancel myself.
Weiland: Do you have an idea for how long you want to be on that book?
DiDio: I have a breakdown for the first 12 issues and an annual. You’ve got to remember, I go back to the old school days where you do an underlying story that plays out over a year and then comes to a head in a big, oversized annual, where you’ve got a chance to wrap it all up. That’s something I’ve always wanted to achieve. I feel there’s enough twists and turns along the way that it will hold everyone’s attention, but the proof is in the pudding.