DC Comics Co-Publisher Jim Lee, two of DC Digital’s top people, VP of Creative Services Ron Perrazza and the newly elevated Senior Vice President for Digital Hank Kanalz, along with comiXology CEO and co-founder David Steinberger met during their New York Comic Con panel to discuss the digital future of DC Comics. While they ran down plans for titles that will soon become available through DC’s comiXology app, there was relatively little laid out for what will happen in the next few months and years. Instead, they made it clear from the beginning that what they hope to do at future panels like this one is to get feedback and ideas from fans about what they want, what they’re looking for and ideas to move forward with.
The presentation began with the panelists talking about the more than seven hundred titles currently available on DC’s comiXology app, hi-lighting the fact they went with a day and date release schedule for “Justice League: Generation Lost,” one of the publisher’s current bimonthly titles. The focus then shifted to upcoming titles that will be available on DC’s comiXology app later this month, including “Red,” “Power Girl,” “Starman,” “Hellblazer,” “Sleeper” and “Batman: The Long Halloween.” Kanalz mentioned that they still have a long way to go, with more than seventy-five years worth of backlist yet to become available.
After the presentation, Jim Lee repeated the news that had been announced earlier, that Hank Kanalz had been promoted from Vice President, Wildstorm to Senior Vice President, Digital, which Lee described as an affirmation of just how important digital is to comics. Lee described the current project of digitizing backlist comics as being in a version 1.0 stage. He linked the work that Perrazza and others involved in Zuda had done in laying the groundwork for original digital comics from the publisher to the work that Wildstorm was called upon to do at DC, from the CMX line to the initial work for “DC Universe Online.” Lee explained that what is being built in Burbank is a merging of these two teams.
What followed was not an explanation of DC’s plans for the future, but the group opening the floor up to questions and suggestions from the audience about possibilities. As one would expect, much of the discussion centered around cost, bundling of titles, the possibility of digital subscriptions and complaints about an inability to loan comics out.
One fan asked about the possibility of a monthly subscription service where, for a flat fee, people would have access to all of DC’s archives. The panelists admitted that the idea has been considered, with Kanalz adding, “My cousin runs a Hometown Buffet. It’s a tough business.”
Lee questioned whether offering material for a flat fee is a successful business model, but adds that they have been thinking about how to help people who will buy their favorite comics and would be interested in following, though not necessarily buying, other comics, especially those related to big events. “The fear is that it starts to get complex,” Lee said. “We’ve aimed for a simple experience. You buy it and can read it on any device.”
Kanalz added that one discussion has been about the future of second features and creating a home for them digitally.
With regard to releasing comics digitally on the same day that the comic becomes available in stores, Lee said that it’s an eventuality, adding, “We can’t just flip a switch. It would wreack havoc with the system.” He cited “Justice League: Generation Lost,” which is being released day and date as something that created a lot of anxiety amongst retailers, before becoming a practice that they’ve become comfortable with. More than selling digital copies of the book, going to day and date digital releases is about marketing the book.
Lee then changed topics, telling the crowd his approach to thinking about page layouts had changed because of the way people will read the comic on an iPad or other device. Features like zooming into panels have made him rethink how he works.
When asked if this meant the death of the double-page spread, Perrazza replied no, but did make the point that writing and illustrating a digital comic is different than printed comics print because it’s viewed differently. Lee said that he would get around any such problems by just thinking of it as a single page. Kanalz suggested that the double page spread could be replaced by something similar to a fold out page that readers could track through.
Discussion then shifted to motion comics with Lee saying that while he believes in the format, it hasn’t been very successful for many reasons, including the challenge of marketing them, finding the right length and the fact that fans don’t see them as enhanced comics but as animation and by those standards the quality is bad and the sound is bad.
Lee said that if done correctly, it’s possible to maintain the current audience while grow beyond it through their digital efforts. “If we start doing exclusively digital comics, it’ll be very evident from the marketing why we’re doing that and the reason we have for cutting out the direct market,” Lee said.