DC Comics is starting 2011 with a little bit of old school outreach.
The publisher announced today on its The Source blog that later this year it will reinstate letter columns in its monthly DC Universe titles. The program's focal point wll be centered at DCletterspage.com. The traditional first point of connection between fans and editorial, the back-of-issue forum for questions, compliments and complaints was phased out of the publisher's comics in 2002 in lieu of online message boards and other more immediate interaction provided by the Web.
The move back to letter columns came hand-in-hand with a note from DC Entertainment President Diane Nelson where she outlined the major selling points for the company this year, both of which were tagged "DCU in 2011" - a heading the publisher has used for strings of announcements in the past. To help prepare for the expected onslaught of news from DC, CBR News spoke exclusively with DC Co-Publishers Dan Dido and Jim Lee about the letter columns return and how it will work differently from the internet, the publisher's incoming "Hold The Line at $2.99" move to set all of its monthly books at the same price point, their plans to shape but not expand the line surrounding the "Green Lantern" movie, original graphic novels, digital comics and more.
CBR News: To start, the letter columns are back! I know that the traditional back and forth with fans at the back of DC Comics went out as Dan came in as Executive Editor in favor of columns like DC Nation, and I always got the impression that part of the reason was that it was tough to keep the letters pages up to date. Why is now the time to swing back towards that practice, and what makes letter columns a practical part of publishing monthly comics?
Dan Didio: Well, one of the reasons why we're doing it is because the fans have been asking for it, to be quite honest with you. We've been out there talking to readers at different panels and conventions, and we've been getting letters and requests online as well about bringing back the letters pages and bringing back a sense of community to our books. That's something we considered, and when we were rethinking our books and going to the $2.99 strategy, we wanted to make sure that even though the page count went down to 20 pages for the books themselves, there could still be more content or things people could enjoy in the monthly comics. One of those things we went back to was the letters pages. We looked at it and discussed it in terms of coming up with a formula that made the letters pages feel current. We didn't want them talking about things that were three or four months old but things that were just coming out. We're going to be putting a system in place this month to gather information, comments and more to put that sense of community back in our books again.
Part of this must be playing the DC website and the internet in general off what's going on in the books a bit more. The Source has become such a big part of where fans look for things from you guys, in what ways does a 21st Century letter column have to be a hybrid of all the ways you reach out to fans? Is this going to be a mix of snail mail and e-mail?
Dan Didio: That's absolutely correct. It's going to be a little of both, and we'll be gathering our letters both online and through the regular mail because we really want to get the thoughts and voices of the fans out there. We want to have people talking to the editors and have the fans talking to the talent and have the fans talking to each other. We want to impress that that sense of community isn't just online but in the books themselves.
Jim Lee: I think it's interesting in this day and age where people have Twitter accounts and one person's Twitter page is no more special than a celebrity's account in that it's just as accessible, having a comment or a question printed in an actual comic elevates it from this fog of chatter and memorializes it. It makes it a permanent bit of history, and that's something that I think a whole new generation of fans are going to see and enjoy and look forward to. I remember growing up that the letters pages were something very cool when you'd see a lot of recurring names, and each of the books would have a letters page with a lot of character with sometimes the creators jumping in to answer questions. We look forward to recreating that level of discourse and allow people who are used to expressing themselves on message boards and Twitter to be able to see their comments in print. It's something that unique to print again in this world of digital comics.
Dan Didio: And I'll add one thing too: We're looking at the letters pages too as a place where everybody uses their real names. We want people out there to be identified so we can see who our fans are. It's not going to be anonymous because we really want to have that sense of community where people are meeting each other, knowing who they are and enjoying the comics together.
Let's talk a bit about the community and how you've been interacting with them of late. The last time we talked at New York Comic Con, it was just after the $2.99 announcement, and everything on that front was so new people hadn't really processed it yet in terms of how it would affect fans and creators. In the months since then, what is the range of responses you've seen to the "Hold The Line At $2.99" Promotion?
Jim Lee: It's been very well received. Obviously on a fan level, I saw when we announced it on panels at conventions that there was a huge wave of applause. The fans are appreciative of the fact that we're aware we're all in a recession and that budget are getting tighter and tighter. We're not just blindly moving the price point up a dollar every year as we're trying to chase profits. If you look at what's on Twitter or message boards, it's overwhelmingly positive that fans realize we're basically taking a bet that reducing our cover price will increase interest in the comics and hopefully get readers picking up things they might have dropped. But more importantly, we were concerned that for a lot of fans we were breaking them of their love of comics. If we kept increasing the price point on these books, rather than making a decision of whether they'd buy one book over another, they'd just give up the hobby all together because it's too expensive. We really wanted to make the point that DC is very aware of this and that we want them to stay. We want them to continue buying comics, and we want to make that as economical for them as possible.
So I think there are three components to that plan: one is obviously the price point. Two is the content - it's beholden on us to give them comics they want to read. If you talk to some fans, they'll generally pay what they feel a comic is worth. Even if you take a comic and make it $0.99 or free, some books they won't want to pick up. It's important for us not to just rely on the price point as part of this campaign. We have to ratchet up the quality level of the stories we're telling as we make them affordable. And the third point is to give them a jumping on point, a point of access. "This is the first issue of a new story line, and if you haven't been buying this book before because it was $3.99 -Â we're making it cheaper at a point where you can jump into a story line and understand what's going on and get immersed in these characters." That's really the program we're going to be rolling out in the coming months.