ECCC: Sunday Conversation with Dan DiDio

As with last year's Sunday Conversation panel at the Emerald City ComiCon, the atmosphere was loose and informal, and the panel got off to a humorous start as DC Comics Senior Story Editor Ian Sattler joked with a fan whose cell phone was ringing. Sattler told the fan to get his friend "Dan," who was apparently on his way to the conference room, to bring coffee and donuts for the panelists.

In attendance was Sattler, DC Senior Vice President/Executive Editor Dan DiDio, editor Michael Siglain ("52," "Detective Comics"), and "Tiny Titans" scribes Art Baltazar and Franco Aureliani. After Baltazar and Aureliani took the stage, Sattler congratulated them on "Tiny Titans" appearing on the New York Times Best-Seller list. DiDio took the opportunity to mention that Baltazar and Aureliani would be taking on the writing duties for another of DC's kid-friendly titles, "Billy Batson and the Magic of Shazam," since writer/artist Mike Kunkel has fallen behind and DC is committed to putting the book out on time.

"The next step is Oprah," Aureliani joked about their newfound success.

Sattler then added, "Billy's magic word is now 'Oprah.'"

"This is easily my favorite panel that we do," Sattler said, taking the reins while DiDio - who normally leads these discussions - grabbed a seat amongst fans in the crowd. Anyone who's heard or seen DiDio in person knows that he doesn't need a microphone to be heard, and he used his booming voice to constantly chime in.

More laughs were had when DiDio, decked out in the same Mariners hat he wore to last year's Sunday Conversation panel, tried frustratingly to have the audience identify the symbol on his t-shirt, which stood for the Metal Men team member Gold.

"First of all," DiDio said, "this is the Periodic Table symbol, so all you guys who don't know your chemicals? You're in trouble." The room erupted into laughter.

When Sattler asked the room how long they had been reading comics, it was DiDio who was the clear winner (a convention first!) with 40 years of comics fandom under his belt.

"I started back in the '60s with the Spider-Man cartoon and the Batman TV show," DiDio said.

As Sattler posed his next question, asking what people's first comic was (a staple of DC's Sunday Conversation panels), the mysterious "Dan" showed up to join his friend, and DiDio insisted that they join the panelists on the dais. Much to Sattler's disappointment, Dan #2 did not have any coffee or donuts with him.

Dan #2 said that he got into comics after picking up Garth Ennis' "Hellblazer" run during a down part of his life, and his friend - who was named "Moe" - said that he started reading comics after the first wave of Marvel film adaptations.

The conversation was sidetracked by a debate on whether or not superhero comics should require a sense of easy accessibility to draw in new readers. "When has any comic been a good entry point for readers?" Sattler mused.

"Action Comics #1!" DiDio joked.

Sattler's point was that part of the fun of getting into comic book mythology is painstakingly reconstructing the backstory and context by reading older issues and enveloping yourself in the fictional world.

Suddenly, the panel was interrupted by another fan's cell phone ringing. Sattler immediately said, "See if he can get us the coffee and the donuts."

"Can you get coffee and donuts for the DC people?" the audience member asked over the phone. "They're all laughing at me."

On a sincere note, DiDio told the crowd that "[With] Sunday Conversation, I really like to get a level of feedback from the fans about what they love about comics. A lot of people think we're doing things in a void, but one of the reasons we go to ComiCon is to get your reaction to what we do - what you like, what you don't like. At the end of the day, you decide what we're creating: when you stop buying it, we stop producing it. It stops coming out. We listen to every comment. We can't do everything for everybody, but we are listening to what people say, and what they like."

DiDio talked about his excitement over DC's upcoming slate, singling out Greg Rucka's Batwoman story that will be running through "Detective Comics" starting in June. This provided one fan the chance to explain his skepticism over DC's use of the character, and his distaste for what he felt was the exploitative use of female characters in mainstream superhero comics.

Siglain, who is editing the series, said that "[Rucka's 'Detective Comics' with Batwoman] is one of the most stunning books I've ever worked on." Both Siglain and Sattler agreed that it will feature the best work of artist J.H. Williams' career "by far."

"Why a Batwoman?" The audience member asked. "What's this character supposed to do for the genre?"

Siglain said that "timing is perfect for this book right now. Nothing is arbitrary." He added, "There's a very specific reason why Batwoman and why 'Detective Comics.'"

"We went out of our way to introduce Batwoman as a hero first," said DiDio, who was obviously fired up about the issue, expressing his frustration with online commentators who are unhappy with DC's handling of the controversial new addition to the Batman family. DiDio addressed the larger issue by saying that "everything that we do in comics when you get down to it is exploitation," but added that "we're in a place right now where we have a more mature, sophisticated audience."

"Don't make him angry," Sattler joked.

When some of the attendees brought up the difficulties inherent in following DC's monthly books (versus waiting for trade paperbacks), it mushroomed into a larger discussion on the nature of monthly storytelling and the problems that come with unmet deadlines and delayed books. DiDio said that, despite delays such as the postponing of James Robinson's "Justice League" project, he trusts fans to eventually understand the larger picture.

For Sattler, it comes down to "a choice between making things fit and making things come out on time."

DiDio emphasized that DC makes it a goal to have their monthly and weekly comics worth following as individual issues. "A lot of what we try to do, especially with weekly comics, is create a level of urgency, month in, month out, [and] week in, week out," he said. "I'm hoping that, [with Batwoman] in 'Detective,' that somebody goes, 'This thing is so beautiful, I don't want to wait eight months to read it [in a trade paperback].'"

"There's no right or wrong way" to read comics, Sattler said.

A fan then prefaced a question about the continuity of DC's "Final Crisis" event by admitting that he enjoyed the series, which prompted DiDio to say, "This is Sunday Conversation. No one has to apologize for liking 'Final Crisis.' It's an incredible body of work. There is more story in one issue [of 'Final Crisis'] than most people put out in a miniseries."

Sattler added, "I think that one of the good things about 'Final Crisis' is that months later, we're all still talking about [it], which is something that doesn't usually happen with stories that are as disposable as they can be in comics, sometimes."

This segued into a discussion of DC's big summer 2009 event book, "Blackest Night." DiDio stressed that while it ties-int o story points that have been in developing in Geoff Johns and Ivan Reis' "Green Lantern," the events of the eight-issue miniseries will affect the DC universe as a whole. "It's not a Green Lantern story. It should be [called] 'DCU: Blackest Night.' It is first and foremost a DCU book."

DiDio then laughed and said, "We went to a lot of trouble killing off characters over the past five years," referencing the story's promise that the dead heroes of the DCU will rise.

"So 'Blackest Night' is just to vindicate you?" an audience member joked.

DiDio was then asked about why there was no funeral for Batman after the events of "Final Crisis" #6. "We wanted to get back into the action with Batman," DiDio said, and indicated that DC felt that fans would feel that they had seen too many funeral scenes in comics, given the large amount of heroes who have died in recent storylines.

As for some of the mysteries surrounding Batman's supposed death, Siglain said that "everything will be addressed. It just might not be immediate."

In reference to the last page of "Final Crisis" #7, which showed Bruce Wayne alive in a (possibly) prehistoric cave on an unknown Earth, DiDio rhetorically asked, "Where's the cave?" He then joked, "Arizona!"

As the panel ran out of time, one fan was offered the chance to ask a final question. He expressed his concern over the lingering social stigma associated with reading comic books. Comic fan Moe, still seated with the other panelists said, "Geekdom is on the rise." He noted that the lines for Saturday and two-day passes for this year's ECCC was enormous.

"One million copies of 'Watchmen' sold after the first trailer came out with 'The Dark Knight,'" DiDio said. "Someone's reading these things. We believe we see a growing market."

An audience member jumped in and mentioned that he'd purchased a copy of "Watchmen" at a local Target store.

"It's a sign of the apocalypse, dude," DiDio said.

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