New York Comic Con’s Sunday Conversation With Dan DiDio panel began as the DC Entertainment Co-Publisher himself took to the stage to speak with fans and answer questions about the New 52. Joined by moderator and DC VP of Marketing John Cunningham, Cunningham took a minute to highlight the DC Comics NYCC app and the We Can Be Heroes campaign to help fight hunger in the horn of Africa, in which DC will be promoting different packages of awards for donors over indiegogo. Cunningham also plugged the DC All Access webseries launching October 15 on DC’s website, showing the behind the scenes of DC Comics.
Cunningham then led the audience in a round of applause for DiDio. Announcing that it was DiDio’s birthday, the audience broke out into a chorus of “Happy Birthday” as DiDio grinned.
“Getting older by the second!” he joked as the audience laughed. While Co-Publisher Jim Lee could not join them, Cunningham told the audience than rather then do the regular Meet The Co-Publishers convention panel they were taking a retrospective look at DiDio’s life, bringing up a baby picture of DiDio as the room cracked up.
“Oh dear god!” DiDio laughed as Cunningham showed a picture of him as a young man in an entirely denim suit, followed by an image of DiDio’s first rejection letter for a story he pitched to DC. Ending the slideshow with images of DiDio in modern day the room cracked up as Cunningham showed cartoon images of DiDio that fans and artists had made and DiDio in a shirt that read “Dan DiDio Must Die.”
“I think its cool to trace how you got to where you are today,” Cunningham told the laughing DiDio.
The audience cheered as Cunningham pulled up a last image of the characters from “Reboot,” the very first computer-animated TV show DiDio famously worked on before moving to DC Comics.
“I was an executive and creative would try to push things through, not listen…it prepared me for comics life in an interesting way,” DiDio joked.
Reminiscing about working at ABC, DiDio told the room after the show was cancelled YTV in Canada picked it up where he spent the next two years working on that, moving onto “Beast Wars,” “Max Steel,” “Action Man,” “Barbie” and many other animated kids shows.
It was shortly after that DC President at the time Paul Levitz brought DiDio into the company as executive editor.
“Don’t blame me, blame Paul Levitz for everything I’ve done,” DiDio joked again. More seriously he told the room that when he came on there was a “mash” of different universes and characters, like Wildstorm and the Charlton characters. DiDio wanted to unify them into one simpler universe.
“That was ultimately how we got to Infinite Crisis,” DiDio said, adding that he and Levitz began by breaking down the timeline of Marvel Comics, “So if it feels like Marvel, that’s why,” DiDio said. The two then pulled inspiration from the various eras as to how to restructure the DC Universe as a cohesive whole, DiDio calling “Infinite Crisis” one of his proudest moments.
Looking at a slide from “Batman: Hush” DiDio explained that at the time prestige books were the norm for creators who wanted to do different stories, but Lee was insistent of keeping “Hush” as a Batman book. “Because Batman was going so big and bright it felt like DC was winning,” despite otherwise dismal sales numbers for the other books, DiDio said.
After that the momentum picked up as Greg Rucka, Judd Winick and others began taking over books and driving sales.
“We knew we wanted to build that momentum…and then we shot Blue Beetle in the head,” DiDio said as the room laughed and groaned. “We wanted to make a character sympathetic before killing them and we did that with Blue Beetle and we succeeded, we did that with Stephanie Brown and succeeded.”
Taking a moment to speak about Brad Meltzer’s “Identity Crisis,” Cunningham stated that he felt that book felt like it was bigger than a regular event or crossover.
“We have that dramatic scene with Sue Dibny…I can say here, there was no one here who took that lightly at DC Comics,” DiDio said, touching on the rape of the character. “I think that’s so important to say…the fact that everybody had such a visceral response showed it was done well.”
“The worst thing that could happen in comics is apathy…I’d rather people scream or cheer,” DiDio said, adding that DC loses fans over fading interest in titles, not outrage.
Recalling a moment when the editorial staff had to change book titles last minute, DiDio turned back to “Infinite Crisis” to explain that the story where Wonder Woman killed Max Lord almost didn’t happen, despite having books that would have spun out of it already planned. They moved forward with the book despite last minute rush over art, and the DC Universe moves into “52.”
Looking at “52” DiDio listed off problems wrangling creative teams and last minute changes, adding that while they didn’t have much time to put each issue together, “What we did have was four intensely good writers,” DiDio said, naming Geoff Johns, Grant Morrison Greg Rucka, Mark Waid and Keith Giffen.
“This was the book everybody wanted to fail,” DiDio added, praising JG Jones’ covers. “He was drawing some of the covers before they were written…the whole thing with Red Tornado and the Aborigine that was a sketch he did they pulled into the story.”
The room applauded as the two showed an image of “All-Star Superman,” DiDio naming Morrison as a “fan boy at heart.” The two also showed an image for “Batman R.I.P.” and “Final Crisis,” Cunningham explaining it was rare at any company to let a creative unfurl a story over six years and let it lead and influence part of the main comic book universe.
“Everything up to the moment Damian died was in the original pitch, it was a five year plan,” DiDio said, adding that the biggest tweak on that story was changing Damian from a clone to Batman and Talia’s son.
Displaying an image of the Metal Men DiDio laughed and admitted that while he got along with writers artists mystified him, recalling a time where he went to hang out with a group of artists as they drew together. After being bored watching them draw for an hour without speaking DiDio left.
“Then the next day…they were all raving, it was great hanging with you — they hadn’t said a word to each other!” DiDio laughed.
Praising editor Mark Chiarello, DiDio spoke about “Wednesday Comics” and his Metal Man story drawn by Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez, calling it a “personal highlight.”
Finally moving onto the New 52 DiDio told the room, “Before the New 52 it always had to reboot and its for one reason: Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman.”
Explaining that while the rest of the DC Universe could change, the Trinity “never changed” and even aged slightly, so DiDio felt they had to keep rebooting the entire universe to get back to the status quo of the main three characters.
“Guess what? Seventy-five years of storytelling can’t be told together…but the real reason behind the New 52, we were in a retailer conference, between Marvel and DC nobody had put out a book that sold [well],” DiDio said, pointing out that all gains at DC were due to price increases.
“One retailer goes, ‘I hope I’m still in business next year,’ and I was like holy shit…we’re living on their backs and if their backs are gone, we’re exposed,” DiDio said. Taking time to make a quick joked about Marvel Comics DiDio told the audience that cancelling books was a big part of the creative process, adding with a laugh, “They do it every week!”
Turning back to the impetus for the New 52 DiDio explained that the reason they renumbered “Detective Comics” and “Action Comics” was to prove that they were dedicated to relaunching the entire universe, not just some books.
“One of the things I’m most proud of the New 52 is…the main ‘Batman’ book issue #24 sold 135,000 [copies],” Cunningham said as the audience applauded. The VP added that he felt the event lifted sales for everyone in the industry.
“Marvel got into the game more, Image went in, we can’t do half the books they do…it’s about diversifying the ways, it’s not just about DC Comics,” DiDio agreed. “One company can’t be hot all the time…so its good that other people pick up the slack.”
The audience clapped as the two brought an image of “Sandman Overture” up as DiDio hopped over to the Vertigo imprint. “As exciting as Neil [Gaiman] is just as exciting is Scott Snyder and Jeff Lemire,” DiDio said to more audience applause, highlighting the importance of bringing in new talent to the industry.
Opening the floor up to fan questions, the first fan to the microphone asked how DiDio squared away declarations of support for new talent and creativity with the editorial edict to get rid of all marriages that was part of the reason JH Williams and Haden Blackman left “Batwoman.”
“These are about superhero comics…I don’t want to read a book about a marriage. This is personal, but what I want to read a book about is how they are balancing all elements in their lives,” DiDio said, adding that he felt the best superhero stories did not focus on relationships but focused on the characters.
“It doesn’t mean DC won’t have married characters, that’s ridiculous,” DiDio said, explaining that they were still interested in building relationships between characters. “We’re two years into the new continuity, why rush things?”
“It’s not set in stone…we want to develop relationships before we start marrying people,” DiDio added.
A female fan to the microphone told DiDio that in nearly every reboot or big event he had presided over such as “Identity Crisis” the universe lost prominent female characters or characters of color and disabilities. She then wanted to know how that meshed with DC wanting to highlight diversity. DiDio pointed out DC carried more solo female titles than other comic book publisher. DiDio also took a moment to explain that the very first conventions he attended and comics we read were all because his handicapped sister brought him along.
“She’s the one who inspired me to read comics, to work in comics…she passed away very young but she was my inspiration…we are not ignoring anyone, we are still building things,” DiDio said as the room applauded.
Another fan to the floor microphone asked DiDio to defend the fact that there were so many creators vocally leaving DC or being fired from DC.
“Creators have always been taken off books and walked off books. There has always been change,” DiDio stated. “Because of social media that information gets out quicker than before.”
Telling the fan that DiDio had old copies of the “Comics Journal” he continued, “Inside the ‘Comics Journal’ there were people speaking badly about each other…creators talking about the evil DC and Marvel…it’s all a part of it,” DiDio said.
“It’s not being done maliciously and its always being done with the best interest in mind…I couldn’t be happier with the creators working now and there’s something big coming your way,” DiDio said, ending the panel to audience applause after being told they had run out of time.