Later this year, DC Comics will invite readers to explore the mysterious new characters born of their top artistic talent -- and a little thing called "Dark Matter."
The publisher made its pitch for a new epoch of comics creation with that branding Thursday before the Chicago Comics & Entertainment Expo (better known as C2E2) at Diamond Comic Distributor's Retailer Summit. The initiative will launch with six new series featuring new creations created by some of the publisher's top talent including John Romita Jr.'s "The Silencer" with writer Dan Abnett, Andy Kubert's "New Challengers" with Scott Snyder, DC Entertainment Co-Publisher Jim Lee's "The Immortal Men" with James Tynion IV, Kenneth Rocafort's "Sideways" with Dan DiDio and Justin Jordan on writing duties, and Tony Daniel's "Damage" with Robert Venditti; alongside the previously announced "Dark Nights: Metal" event from Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo.
Lee's publishing partner Dan DiDio took the stage in front of an assembled crowd of more than 100 comic shop owners. He explained that this initiative will launch on the back of already-announced event projects starting with the "Dark Days" one-shots, but unlike those comics, Dark Matter won't be a series title but more an overarching name for the era of comics DC hopes to start. DiDio compared their plan to DC's own Silver Age reinvention of characters like Flash and Green Lantern, the Marvel Age of the 1960s and the birth of Image Comics -- eras that helped the industry grow and learn how to be better. The books will begin to arrive in August and roll out through December of this year.
At the forefront of this new era will be a veteran pool of artistic talent the publisher is trying to put more centrally into the creative process -- the previously mentioned artists the company refers to as their "DC Master Class," led by the quartet of Lee, Kubert, Capullo and Romita.
"There's a certain art that makes comics great, and we want to makes sure we build on that sensibility... that's what DC's Master Class is," DiDio said, in what will surely be read in part as a rebuke to the well-traveled quote from top Marvel Comics executives that artists can no longer be relied on to boost comic sales in the direct market.
DiDio then rolled a brief video featuring the first four artists explaining the idea of the Dark Matter branding. Lee stated, "Dark Matter is a return to bringing both the writer and the artist to the fore," adding that the process of collaborating in this manner "creates something different that maybe fans of this generation haven't seen before."
Kubert said over art of the team concept "New Challengers," "Being part of this initiative is pretty amazing for me," while Romita teased only the logo of "Silencer" saying, "The process hasn't changed much from [how I create] characters, but the results are going to be amazing."
Capullo will first deliver "Dark Nights: Metal" -- a comic he promised will reflect "a new attitude" at DC while Lee summed up the initiative as one that will "keep pushing things forward to take chances and keep creating new characters."
The four artists then took the stage with Lee joking, "I want to say that I get a warmer reception as an artist than as the publisher." He then went on to explain that when DC approached these new series, they brought the art talent together with writers in a summit that was meant to conceive new characters and series from the ground up. Lee stressed that bringing the artists into the creative process early helped visualize the new creations from the very start, describing it as, "A lot of writers and artists all in one room going round robin... and you could feel the energy in the room as people talked to each other and about ideas."
The panel then talked about how they themselves learned the craft of comics storytelling -- an art that the DC Master Class program hopes to pay forward in the same way several of the assembled learned from their own fathers. Kubert noted that he learned from his father Joe: "Keep it simple, keep it clear." He also said that the images of him in the video show that he still works at his father's drawing table -- one the elder Kubert bought from late legendary artist and former DC Publisher Carmine Infantino.
Capullo said he learned from the veterans when he was breaking in, particularly Larry Hama who pointed the artist towards his famous "Silent Interlude" issue of "G.I. Joe" saying, "You really don't need the words." Capullo said that he also learned storytelling pointers from John Romita Sr. who emphasized that visual storytelling is like directing a film on the page. "Writers can have brilliant ideas, and a lot of their ideas would work terrifically on film but less so on the limited format that is our page... it's good to have a writer that's flexible and doesn't treat you like a trained monkey...Comics is a collaborative effort."
Lee learned from Romita Sr. and Carl Potts at Marvel, and he wants to "impart that knowledge and pass it along" in the future by adding more artists to the Master Class stable -- up to 20 by year's end. DiDio said he wanted the program to replicated the in-house mentorships of previous generations. "We want DC's Master Class to have as many artists as possible and to be the master class of comics."
The quartet discussed the give and take of the comics collaborative process, with Capullo relating the now well-known story of how he butted heads with "Batman" writer Scott Snyder early in their partnership after the scribe demanded too much detail from Capullo's page designs and panel layout. "But if you're willing to put your egos aside and only care about the end product... there is no reason to be the guy who wants to call all the shots," he said, noting that as soon as the pair got into a shared groove, they became great friends and turned out the work of their careers.
Kubert noted that he's finished drawing "Dark Knight III," written by Frank Miller and Brian Azzarello and scheduled to wrap with issue #9 on May 31. Romita related that when he worked with that legendary cartoonist on Marvel's "Daredevil: Man Without Fear," that project similarly ballooned past its initial planned length because Miller let him take control of the storytelling as an artist and collaborator. "Man Without Fear" was supposed to be a 64-page one-shot, and Romita was given 12-pages of plot from Miller to draw from in "Marvel Style" storytelling, but "As I was working on it, one line [of text] would turn into 12 pages [of comics]."
After the shop talk ended, the panel broke and retailers were given an ashcan mini-comic showing off character designs from the six Dark Matter series.
Keep reading CBR for more on Dark Matter, and more from C2E2.