DC's Executive Justice League

Since Paul Levitz left his post as publisher of DC Comics with the formation of DC Entertainment in September 0f 2009, who his replacement would be and how they'd affect the future of DC's publishing, creative and business decisions was the #1 topic on the minds of the industry and fans. As it turns out, the pick...or picks made by DC Entertainment Diane Nelson to lead DC into its next incarnation shows equal commitments to continuity and brand new moves for the company.

Below, new co-publishers Dan Didio and Jim Lee and new Chief Creative Officer Geoff Johns (along new executive John Rood) talk first with CBR News about what will and won't change with their new roles, where they'll be making their comics, what new ventures into other media they'll help make, why they're DC's Justice League and why their motto is "No Fear."

Jonah Weiland: First of all, congratulations! I'm sure you've got a million things to do quickly today, so let's jump right into it. The first question posed to CBR right after the announcement went out was for Dan and Jim via Twitter Simply put: what does it mean to be a co-publisher?

Dan Didio: Well, with Co-Publishers for us, I'm going to reiterate some of the points that Diane made to the staff and to everybody. When she was putting this team together, she was looking at the complimentary skill sets that both Jim and I possessed for each other in working together. From my standpoint, I couldn't be happier to be working with Jim and with how we approach our business and how we approach the creative. I really think it helps broaden the appeal and the direction not just of what I know we do well in the DCU or Jim does WildStorm but really across all the imprints of DC Comics. We'll be touching upon Vertigo and MAD as well.

Jim Lee: We've both got a lot of overlap in our editorial sensibilities, and at the same time we both have very distinct points of view editorially, and that will serve the diversity of our line very well. Honestly, we both take part in the relationships with the key creatives out there.

Dan Didio: And what we're going to be doing together is identifying key talent, identify product together that we'd like to work in - I think it's essential that I mention how Geoff Johns is going to be integral to this entire process. Geoff as Chief Creative Officer will really be leading the creative charge across all the lines. And [he'll be working on] not only how they appear in comics but how the apply to movies and TV. You're going to see a full integration of how publishing works with the rest of DC Entertainment in regards to our characters, and while my primary interest and primary focus will be involved in the physical print process, Jim is going to be creating a leadership role in the digital aspect of publishing.

Jim Lee: With our VP of Marketing and Sales John Rood!

Kiel Phegley: I think we all should have guessed something was going on in New York this week as Geoff has been Twittering about taking big meetings in New York, but now that we know what you're doing it's a reminder that the staff is split between the West Coast with Jim and Geoff and Dan and the editorial offices being in New York. How will you guys coordinate the team, and is there a chance now of DC proper moving out west?

Geoff Johns: Well, in the immediate I already travel back and forth so much. You can check my Twitter to see how much I've been in New York for the last year. I'll be traveling back and forth and balancing my time between the two, because my standard role is about working with editorial creatively and still writing and then working in Burbank and beyond to explore all our characters and stories from every imprint outside the comic book pages. So I'll be doing that on both coasts, and I think Jim's going to be traveling. We'll probably have a race to see who gets more frequent flyer miles. [Laughter]

Jim Lee: I already had a little experience with this kind of thing years ago when I lived in Italy for a year. I was commuting back to San Diego every four or five weeks, I'd say, over the course of the year. And also, working on the Sony Online Entertainment game meant a lot of travel to Austin, Texas for me. I look at dividing my time between San Diego, Burbank and New York City - and I actually have an apartment here in the city, and obviously I'll be using it more and bringing my family out here with me during the summers. I'm looking forward to the adventure of it all, and getting to work with top people like Geoff and Dan in editorial...you can't pass that up. It was a great opportunity...

Geoff Johns: Plus, we can write and draw on the plane. [Laughter]

Jonah Weiland: Let's talk about how things will work editorially. Let's use a real-world example with, say, your next big creative retreat. Are all three of you going to be there, or is Dan going to be hanging back and make sure the book stories are getting their books? How will all that work out?

Dan Didio: First of all, the company itself is over 250 people who are intensely qualified at the jobs they're doing. That's the best part about it. As far as we're concerned, even with the executive changes we've announced, it's business as usual here at DC Comics. And quite honestly, if I was just in my previous role here as Executive Editor, I would have Geoff Johns and Jim Lee if he was available here because their input is invaluable to everything that we do.

Jonah Weiland: So all three of you guys are going to be driving the editorial direction of this company?

Jim Lee Correct.

Dan Didio: And let me back that up for a second. i don't want to diminish Karen Berger's role because she is the voice and direction for Vertigo, and while we will be involved in overseeing that, she will still be so integral to everything that goes on there. And that runs the same at WildStorm with Hank Kanalz and at MAD Magazine with John Ficarra.

Kiel Phegley: Geoff, this is the kind of gig that you've been moving towards for a long time, even though you may have never thought you'd have a title as heady as CCO to go along with your plans for the DC characters. What does this new title change for you from your comics work to your growing film slate on a day-to-day basis?

Geoff Johns: In a weird way, it just kind of continues me on the path of what I've been doing and takes me to the next level. I've been spending the last few months working on the Green Lantern film with [executive producer] Donald De Line and the crew over there, and I think this is just literally taking what I've wanted to do and what I've tried to do since I started here and push it all to the next level - everything outside comics and everything inside comics. Again, I've loved working with Dan for all these years, and Jim brings a natural amount of talent. Add that to everyone else on this team, and it's kind of a new day. But for me personally, I'm just excited because what I get to do is work with DC Entertainment all day, and that's all I want to do. I'm continuing the same path I've already been on.

Jonah Weiland: Looking towards the future of DC in terms of the marketplace, we know that you guys - especially Geoff - can be very competitive. The books this team helped put together this year fired some really big shots across the bow at Marvel this summer. Is being #1 in the direct market a big goal of DC Comics within DC Entertainment?

Dan Didio: That's definitely a goal of DC publishing. Our goal without a doubt is to be the #1 publishing company in comics.

Jonah Weiland: And I'm guessing you mean that for every category.

Jim Lee: Amongst comic book publishers, we're already #1. In the mass market not counting manga and that category - we're #1 for the kind of books we do. So yeah, it's across all channels. There's no limit to our aspirations here.

Geoff Johns: I am competitive in a way where I just look at competition in terms of making better products and getting our characters out there more. I've always believed that the DC Universe has more potential, and DC as a whole is a more diverse publisher than any other company out there. That's what is great about it. I spent most of my years in the superhero world, but DC has Vertigo. It has MAD. It has all these other things that make it, quite frankly, better than any other company out there. And I think everybody's extremely competetive in a very healthy, aggressive way - including Warner Brothers.

Jonah Weiland: John, you're the new kid on the block so to speak with this group. What can you tell our readers about your roll here and what your first priority is at DC starting today?

John Rood: This is an industry I'm getting back into, and as you can imagine I'm very excited to return to Warner Brothers. I wouldn't pass up a chance to work for Diane, and the passion coming from across the Co-Publishers in Dan and Jim and then Geoff as COO has been very exciting for us. For me, every way that consumers want to enjoy our unequaled collection of characters stories and franchises, we have a commitment to them to be there.

Jonah Weiland: But is there one thing for you to focus on this quarter?

John Rood: I think it's that imperative to be #1 in publishing. That's got to be first and last. Are we using the resources of Warner Brothers and Time Warner specifically to get this material in all media? The answer is absolutely.

Jonah Weiland: I would imagine that digital comics development falls under your purview to some extent. I'm certain there are specific announcements coming from that space later, how high on the list is that as a priority for 2010?

John Rood: Digital is definitely a priority, but I can't take full responsibility for that priority. The executive team in their own way have a commitment to digital, and all the people I've met out of our 250 are excited to find a way to take their particular aspect of DC Entertainment and go digital with it. The world digital will mean different things to different people. We want to be around that with our publishing product, of course, but also how do we strategize social networking across these great executives and creators that fans want to hear from?

Kiel Phegley: One thing that strikes me about this team on this job is how much you've all been involved with so much stuff - comics, TV, movies, video games, clothing, what have you. It's a lot to unpack and a lot to coordinate. Looking at what DC has been doing over the past few years, is there one specific example of an initiative that goes from publishing across the gamut that you want to model the future off of?

Geoff Johns: I think Green Lantern's going to be the first example of that on a big scale. You're going to see a character who was shepherded from the comic books into a feature film and then through everything beyond that, which everyone's already started to work on. Green Lantern is a great example of that.

Kiel Phegley: On the publishing side specifically, graphic novels and book sales have been very strong for DC in general, and there are new areas you'll be exploring for bringing in readers including the Earth-1 releases and what Jim and WildStorm have done with video game comics like "World of Warcraft." How do you plan on combining all the different pieces you've been working on individually in publishing?

Jim Lee: Well, DC will be one company more so than it's ever been in its history, especially since WildStorm became a part of it. To a certain extent because of the geographic distance, it's been more difficult in the past, but now that I'm going to be here in New York more often and Dan's going to be out on the West Coast more often, we'll be strategizing about the entire publishing line. We're going to be coming to some great conclusions, and the fans are going to be the ones reaping the benefit from that.

Dan Didio: What I said to Jim and what I'll reiterate here is that my goal is going to be that at least one week out of every month I'll spend some time in either the Burbank offices or La Jolla [where WildStorm is located.] There's incredibly talented people over there who are extremely valuable to the overall success of what DC is, and it's essential to make them a part of the overall process.

Jim Lee: And because of the work we've done with video game stuff that falls in with what Geoff's doing, I think we're going to take a very active role in looking at our catalog of characters and identifying what properties will make awesome video games, and then going out there and pitching them like movies. There's a lot of stuff that we can do on that front that we've never done before.

Geoff Johns: We've done so much Superman and Batman stuff that's been such a huge focus for everybody here, but there are also all these other characters and stories we have from every corner of what DC publishes. It's our goal to get it all out there. And that's exciting as a DC fan in general. I'm psyched to see it.

Kiel Phegley: There was a lot of talk in your online statements posted on The Source about how you were excited to move DC as a company forward with some new initiatives and ideas. What's your biggest priority in terms of new things you don't think DC's has done as much with or that you'd just like to see much more of?

Jim Lee: Is this that question in a job interview where they ask you what your worst quality is, and then you go, "Well, I'm very impatient because I'm so hard working"? [Laughter] I mean, gosh...what's not going to be our priority? It's been an amazing couple of weeks for me just talking with Dan and jamming on what we should be doing - not just creatively and editorially but in terms of saying, "We should pitch this to marketing and sales" and coming up with new ways to make the comic experience more exciting for the readers. I don't think we're making a list that goes, "Let's not focus on this for now." If anything, we have so much enthusiasm for all the different thigns we're doing that everything's going to get a lot of love. Including MAD and including WildStorm.

Geoff Johns: Including Vertigo. And as a DC Universe guy, I think we've played a pretty great creative role in the plans we've got ahead for the lifeblood of what we're doing in comic books. It's super exciting. Everything we've got coming up, I'm really proud of - really proud of everything we've done at DC for the last several years and what we've got coming ahead.

Jonah Weiland: Geoff, I know you addressed in your DC blog your creative output moving forward, but I know there are going to be fans out there going, "How can he keep up this level of participation on so many levels of Warner Brothers and DC Entertainment and ALSO write so many monthly comics?" Realistically, do you think you can maintain that level for the foreseeable future, or will we possibly see a reduction in the amount of monthly comics you do once you settle in?

Geoff Johns: I'm pretty committed to what I do, but a lot of what I do outside of writing my comics most people don't know about. The stuff I do working in Hollywood on "Robot Chicken" and "Titan Maximum" and other things outside of that like writing for "Smallville" - I do a lot of that already. What this allows me to do is put all my creative energy strictly into DC. I love comics. There's nothing more I love than comics and specifically DC Comics, so my plan from day one was me saying "I still want to write" and writing continues to be a big part of my job. So for all the people who read my books, they'll still be there.

Jonah Weiland: So for the rest of us trying to keep up and work all day, how do you get it done? Do you have a clone? [Laughter

Geoff Johns: I don't have a clone!

Dan Didio: We'd have found it by now if he did!

Geoff Johns: I just love what I do, and so that's kind of all I do.

Jonah Weiland: For each of you, what is the "watchword" for your work at DC Comics in 2010 and beyond?

Dan Didio: It's very simple, this is Diane's phrase, and we're going to be repeating it again and again - approach everything with no fear.

Jim Lee: It's like Green Lantern. [Laughter]

Dan Didio: Yes. No fear is the watchword. That was suggested to Diane by Neil Gaiman. We feel we've had great success in the last few months of 2009, and we have no fear to try and do even better than that.

Kiel Phegley: Over the past few months as people were waiting for this whole big announcement, the biggest talk was on whether or not the new publisher would be a comics person or perhaps a person from outside in publishing or other media. Obviously with this choice, Diane has gone with a crew who are VERY much connected to and experienced with making comics first and foremost, and making comics as a medium a priority was something that was a major focus of Paul Levitz as well. How do you view your commitment to the medium and the artform over the next couple of years?

Jim Lee: Well, I'd like to modify that statement a bit to include John Rood. He is a comics geek - and someone with an incredible Batman toy collection - but make no mistake, he does come as the ultimate outsider who's and insider. He's got an awful lot of experience marketing this kind of content to demographics that we don't traditionally sell comics to. When you think of how things work in the direct market comic book store, it's a one quadrant space. John has years of experience marketing to young kids and women and urban markets, and we want to tap into that. We're beyond excited about working with him and finding ways to solve these perennial very difficult publishing challenges. But in terms of the team that we have? We're the Justice League! [Laughter]

Geoff Johns: I honestly feel like I've joined a superhero team and ones where every has such an amazing skill set and passion and motivation and background. It really is DC's Justice League.

Dan Didio: From my point of view, I've worked with these two guys since I got here to DC Comics, and I can't think of two better people to be associated with or to lead the core direction of the company itself.

Jim Lee: And it's like Diane said. She picked us with a definite vision of what she wanted DC to be: the ultimate home for creators. She took creators and mixed them with executives and tried to create something unique in terms of a structure that could take DC to the next level. We have expectations we want to fill and exceed.

Thanks for reading! Keep an eye locked on CBR in the days and weeks ahead for more news of the future of DC Comics and DC Entertainment!

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