CCI: The DC Kids Panel

DC Comics' kids' comics panel Sunday morning at Comic-Con International in San Diego found co-publisher Dan DiDio answering questions about the recently-announced cancelations of several titles in the Johnny DC line, yet "Billy Batson" artist Mike Norton, editor Rachel Gehrlein and "Tiny Titans" creators Art Baltazar and Franco kept the discussion lighthearted with their usual banter. That and the announcement of a new "Young Justice" series by Baltazar, Franco and Norton gave fans reason to say, "Aw yeah, man!"

Fairly early in the panel, DiDio addressed the subject of canceled titles - the Monday before the convention, DC's October solicitations were posted online, revealing that "Billy Batson and the Power of Shazam" and "Batman: the Brave and the Bold" will be ending. August's "Scooby Doo" #159, though not announced as a final issue, is replaced in September by "Scooby Doo, Where are You?" #1. DiDio said that some of the canceled series would be seeing light again in one form or another and that he'd like to be publishing at least six to eight kids' titles per month. Later in the panel, DiDio noted that having "kids books [numbered] in the hundreds doesn't sound right." Baltazar quickly added, "Except for ours," suggesting he and Franco would like to continue "Tiny Titans" for a long time to come.

"All the kids books are loss-leaders for the company," DiDio said, meaning that they don't make money, but DC is nevertheless committed to their continued publication and is consistently looking to make the line stronger.

The other buzz topic, of course, was the upcoming "Tiny Titans" crossover with "Little Archie." "It's so wild writing about characters that we grew up with," Baltazar said. The first crossover issue ships in October.

The big announcement of the panel, though, was a new "Young Justice" series to tie in with the upcoming cartoon. The series will be written by Baltazar and Franco with art by Norton. "I want to make sure we have the right books with the right teams in place," DiDio said, adding that DC is looking at what properties to tackle next.

When the floor was opened to fan questions, one inquired about the possibility of DC Direct crafting Tiny Titans toys with their pets. "That would be awesome," Baltazar said.

Asked about plans for comics for girls, possibly starring Wonder Woman or Supergirl, DiDio said, "We had a Wonder Woman one that was pitched that we're going to go back and revisit, and we might go back to 'Supergirl's Cosmic Adventures in Sixth Grade.'"

On the possibility of Swamp Thing appearing in a young readers title, DiDio noted, "Swamp Thing had a cartoon for six episodes - I know, because I have all the action figures." "It came out right after 'Super Powers,'" Baltazar added. "He had a Swamp Buggy..."

Franco said part of the appeal of "Tiny Titans" is that each issue stands alone and can address one topic. "We have people say, 'I loved this issue for this, I loved this issue for this.' We had an entire issue where Raven was late to school and used her powers to get to class." DiDio added that he would like to get comics into schools, "but there are some stringent rules" and these may impede the books' ability to be fun (and thus effectively reach kids).

For the final two-issue arc of "Billy Batson and the Power of Shazam," Norton said the idea was to make it big. "I just said, 'How about we just have Shazam fight all the villains who have appeared in the book?' and [Baltazar and Franco] just said, 'hey yeah man!'" Issues #20 and #21 have connecting covers, with #20 featuring Captain Marvel fighting Black Adam and the rest of the cast on #21. "We knew it was ending - #20-21 are this epic story where we're just cleaning house," Franco said.

"We tied in the Jeff Smith series to the Mike Hunkel series to this - if you read it together, it's all one story," Baltazar added.

Asked about the potential for a "Wednesday Comics"-style series for kids, DiDio said, "If we did another 'Wednesday Comics,' we'd likely do it as a digital book rather than a print book." He added that kids do tend to be early adopters and may be interested in digital comics, though some in the audience disagreed. Speaking of digital comics, there will be a DC Kids app released, DiDio said, but he could not offer details on when it will be available. With the app, he said, "You'll know exactly where to go" for age-appropriate comics.

DiDio said there was talk of debuting new kids' series at a lower price point, similar to Vertigo's $1 first issues.

The "Tiny Titans" writers were asked where their catchphrase "aw yeah" originated. "That's just how Art talks," Franco said. "Yeah, man," Baltazar said unselfconsciously. "It's like somebody says, you want a burrito for lunch? Aw yeah, man!"

On the topic of cartoons not currently featured in comics, "there's a real good chance you'll see something Yogi Bear-ish coming your way," DiDio said, which would tie in with the new animation coming later this year. But "the one we hear that everybody wants to work on is Frankenstein, Jr."

Franco, for his part, said he'd love to work on the Impossibles. "Grant Morrison loves the Impossibles," DiDio laughed.

As to why DC's kids' line tracks so closely to current cartoon series, "The reasons we do the comics based on cartoons is #1, kids recognize them and #2, parents recognize them," DiDio said.

Asked whether Geoff Johns, who wrote "Tiny Titans" #25, would return to the series, Franco said that Johns told him "he might come back for issue 50 and bring Jim Lee with him."

"Variant cover? Aw, yeah!" Baltazar said.

Baltazar and Franco recounted a story about members of the Barenaked Ladies stopping by their booth Saturday to pick up "Tiny Titans" volume 3, after which the band gave the artists tickets to their concert. Baltazar and Franco surprised their wives taking them to the concert, then taking them to meet the band. "The cute one kissed my wife," Baltazar joked.

One adult fan was concerned about the need to take children into direct market shops to buy comics, since so many still adhere to the worst stereotypes. "One of the wonderful things about [the Little Archie crossover] is their ability to get into other markets," DiDio said. Archie Comics will be handling the collected editions, which often appear in stores other than comics shops, including supermarkets.

Citing the "Marvel Super Hero Squad" video game, one fan asked when DC might create a game based on one of its Johnny DC titles. "We're in the early stages of discussion," DiDio said, but he's hopeful.

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