Geoff Johns, Jim Fletcher Talk DC Collectibles

Years ago, Shakespeare asked an important question: What's in a name? That which we call a collectible company by any other name would produce equally sweet pieces, right? True, but according to DC Entertainment's Chief Creative Officer Geoff Johns and Director, Creative Services Jim Fletcher, there was a very solid reason to change the name of what used to known as DC Direct.

The in-house collectible company kicked off in the late '90s under the DC Direct banner, making action figures based mostly on Wildstorm and Vertigo characters found in the pages of titles like "Preacher," "Sandman" and "Planetary." Eventually, the company branched out and started making figures, busts, PVC sets, props and replicas of just about every major character in the DC Universe. One of its specialties has been producing figures in the style of specific artists, like the Ed McGuinness inspired "JLA Classified" line, or the DC Cover Girls statues based on Adam Hughes designs created specifically for the series.

Well-known throughout the collectible world, DC Direct is one of the few toy and statue makers that's actually part of the company that owns the characters. And, while DC does license out action figures and some movie and cartoon properties to companies like Mattel, DC Direct's direct relationship with the comics publisher gave it the opportunity to create a great many different kinds of collectibles. At this year's Toy Fair, then-DC Direct showed off a series of figures based on the New 52 initiative, more statues in the Batman Black and White and DC Cover Girls lines, some "Before Watchmen" statues, action figures based on the "Arkham City" video game and even pieces based on the third and final Christopher Nolan Batman movie ,"The Dark Knight Rises."

So, it came as a bit of a surprise when the company announced that it would be changing names from DC Direct to DC Collectibles. Curious about the change what it may or may not mean for upcoming figures and statues, CBR News spoke with Johns and Fletcher about the new online store that allows collectors to purchase everything directly from DCC, the refocusing process that went on since DC Direct-cum-Collectibles moved from New York to California last year and exactly what was the reasoning behind the name change.

CBR News: First and foremost, what was behind the decision to change the company's name from DC Direct to DC Collectibles? Was it a rebranding or, pardon the pun, to be more direct with the name?

Geoff Johns: That's a great question and there's a lot of answers to it. We wanted a name that said what we are.

Jim Fletcher: If you go anywhere outside the people we talk to at conventions and go out to the general public and say DC Direct, you have to explain what it is. If you say DC Collectibles, you already know it's a collectible item that people are going to be looking at and getting their hands on. I think that makes a big difference.

Johns: The other thing is, since DC Entertainment formed a couple years ago, there's been new things in publishing and digital and everyone's looking at every business DC had. DC Direct was a super-important part of the business, but working with Jim Fletcher and his team and [Executive Director of Creative Services] Kevin Kiniry, we wanted to really look at it and figure out where we wanted to take it in the future. With the new name comes a whole new battle plan. If DC's going to do an in-house collectible toy factory, what is that going to be, how can we best do it and what kind of products are we going to do? We're going to do everything that DC does, from publishing to films to video games, even DC Nation shorts -- we have product off that. We're really trying to cover and build off of what the entire company's doing.

The DC Nation shorts all have very different looks and styles. Will you explore different formats for those collectibles?

Johns: We actually have some that we're actually working on now and others we're brainstorming on. It's a big thing we're working on, but I can't give too much away. Part of the fun of the shorts is seeing all these weird characters and well-known characters reinterpreted in different ways.

Fletcher: That gives us a lot of room to expand what DC Collectibles is going to be doing, too, because it won't all be one format.

It seems like another aspect of opening things up would be the online collectible store where you offer everything DC Collectibles is putting out for fans to purchase directly. How early on did that idea come about and were there difficulties setting it up?

Fletcher: We've always had the stuff online. What happened recently was that we expanded the online business.

Johns: Yeah, there's always been DC Direct product online through the Warner shops and stuff. We just expanded to include the entire line that we're releasing.

DC Direct was originally located in New York along with publishing, but it recently moved out to California. Did that move facilitate communication between the various departments?

Fletcher: It's great to have them right here. Having that synergy out here is great.

Johns: Yeah, having DC Collectibles out in Burbank is great. We work directly with the interactive teams, Rocksteady, the studio that does the "Arkham" games, everybody that comes out here and works on DC's stuff. We bring filmmakers, people working on "Man of Steel" -- there's a lot of cool "Man of Steel" stuff coming out next year, and awesome "Dark Knight Rises" stuff. Have you seen that Bane statue, the big one? It's pretty amazing.

Can you say anything at all about the upcoming "Man of Steel" collectibles?

Johns: No, we can't talk about anything, sorry.

Fletcher: That will be coming out next year.

Okay, back to the move from New York to Los Angeles, how else has that changed your working relationship?

Johns: Jim and his team moved out here last year to Burbank into new facilities --

Fletcher: It's beautiful.

Johns: Yeah, it's beautiful out here. To be integrated here and be able to interface with all the different creative components of Warner Bros. and all the studios and filmmakers and video games studios and the animators, all that stuff really helps the speed, helps the quality. You'll see our solicit cycle has changed, which is a pretty dramatic change for us. Things used to be solicited eight --

Fletcher: Yeah, seven or eight.

Johns: -- seven or eight months out. Now, it's four months, right with the comics.

Fletcher: We're able to make better and faster decisions about how much stuff we can get produced that way as well, so that's been big.

I know in the past, say with the Blackest Night or Brightest Day figures, they would wind up coming out a few months after the series had wrapped up.

Fletcher: That will always happen a little bit because of the speed of toy production versus the speed of comic books, but having Geoff and Jim [Lee] right here has been great because we can just run over to their offices and go, "Here's what we're doing, blah blah blah," and get a very fast approval. So, when Geoff keeps us abreast of what's going on creatively throughout the whole company, that's been great. Being out here with these guys, we can really sit down and brainstorm about what we're going to be doing.

Moving fast and working with editorial has resulted in a few website-exclusive figures and statues, including the Flashpoint 4-pack with a brand new Aquaman statue and the Green Lantern Sinestro. Will those be the typical types of exclusives moving forward?

Fletcher: The only other thing we can talk about right now with the online exclusives are the online posters. They're not just posters, they actually are prints on archival paper. They're pretty expensive to produce and they're not comic book covers. They're actually our takes on some DC properties in different kind of art styles. You can keep going to our website and keep looking out for them.

Are you also working on convention exclusives?

Fletcher: Yes.

Johns: Sorry, we can't really talk about it. I was playing around with one today and it's really awesome.

Another recent announcement has been the "Ame-Comi Girls" digital comic based on the series of statues that have been produced for a few years now. How did that come about and how has DCC been involved?

Fletcher: I'm glad the book's coming out. Geoff might have more insight as to when that actually greenlit.

Johns: It got greenlit a while ago, actually. Jim does all the designs of those characters. It's pretty awesome to have a designer in house because we make him redesign characters for publishing too.

Fletcher: [Laughs] That's just recently.

Johns: Yeah, he's a great designer. That's been such a huge success for DC Collectibles. Some of the things DC Collectibles will do is do its own lines. The majority of our stuff will be based on a video game or publishing or a film, but we'll also experiment with other things like props and --

Fletcher: Right, if we have other ideas we want to do we'll definitely do that. [Editor] Jim Chadwick and his crew have been working on the story and the art and everything, so I've seen a lot of that. They've asked for a lot of reference from the statues, so it's been really cool. I grew up reading comics, so it's fun to actually design some stuff and have it made into comics. That's pretty awesome for me. And they've got some really good talent on it; Jimmy Palmiotti is writing it and Amanda Conner's on the book and there's a couple of other artists and it looks really great. I'm pretty excited about it.

When the press release first came out announcing DC Collectibles, Geoff, you were quoted as saying the DC Direct line had been looked over and refocused. Were there certain types of collectibles you realized just weren't working or needed to be altered in some way?

Johns: I think both. In the past, things that were tried like Blammoids or Uniformz, those didn't really catch fire. But I also think that -- Brandy [Phillips] is our goddess here. She has been awesome on actually getting the word out about DC Collectibles.. When the Blammoids came out, they just kind of came out and that was it. What we want to do with Brandy and everyone here is build fan interaction. We're going to try and expand this into a high-end collectibles company like all the other ones out there.

Fletcher: Geoff brought up a good point, because fan interaction is something we really want to return to.

Johns: It's super-important.

Fletcher: We'll be working on that going forward. To answer your other question about formats that don't work for us, it's not so much that they weren't particularly working for us, but we also had other licensing partners [like Mattel] and that's been a really important part of the business overall.

Johns: We don't want to duplicate what other people are doing -- we want to do specific DC products that no one else is doing.

Fletcher: It's more focused. We used to try a lot of different things and like Geoff said, we will be trying to do different things with people who are at the top of their game. We don't need to go back and do the same thing.

Johns: Everything's really done for a specific reason. Every line, every figure, every character chosen, there's a lot of debate and discussion. We'd like to do everybody in the DC Universe, but we've got to pick and choose who we do. Some are well-known characters and some aren't, but it all depends.

Fletcher: Those are some of the fun meetings we're in, when we're wrangling with each other about which [character] is more important. Those are always fun.

Is there a figure that you both are really excited about making that might not fit in just yet?

Fletcher: Geoff really wants Ma Hunkel. [Laughs]

Johns: No, I don't. [Laughs] That's last on my list.

Fletcher: Stargirl is someone we're interested in working on.

Johns: I'd like to do Stargirl at some point, just because of the character. There's a lot of characters we have on the list.

Fletcher: Even when we're doing something like Ame-Comi, we have a giant list.

Johns: There's so many characters I want to see. Most of the ones we want to see as fans -- actually, most of them we're doing.

Fletcher: We've had so many conversations. I personally would like Stargirl.

Johns: I'd love to see a Swamp Thing/Animal Man 2-pack.

Fletcher: Swamp Thing with the wings and the horns, that would great.

Johns: I'd like to see that Star Wars-style line of Green Lantern stuff. There's all sorts of cool stuff you can do. We've talked about all this stuff.

In the past, some of the lines have been based on a particular artist's take on the various characters. Will that still be one of the things DCC does moving forward?

Johns: Yes, absolutely.

Fletcher: The Batman Black and White [statue line] is a great example. That is what that line is for. That line still does really well for us and we'll continue on with that. When it makes sense, we'll still be doing that pretty often. The Grifter bust that just came out wasn't artist-specific, but it's based on Jim's Wildcats. Then there's the Justice League line of toys, which are all based on what Jim is doing with the book. The bust line, that will be what we're considering an iconic version of the character, so those won't be based on any one artist in particular. That will be more an amalgamation of what's going on in the books.

Johns: Our specialty will really be high-end action figures, statues, busts, we'll do props when it makes sense, the prints -- that's really the core basis of the business. We want a high-end collectible product that you can put on your desk. I just tweeted a picture of the Cyborg bust I just got, and it's freaking beautiful. It's a gorgeous piece. Nobody else does it this well. The quality that these guys put out and we put out at DC Collectibles is something really to be proud of. It comes from everybody who loves DC.

Fletcher: The passion for this stuff is amazing. All the art directors working on the projects, they really live through these projects. They all read the comics, know what's going on and love these characters. That shows in the work and makes a big difference.

Johns: The details really matter when it comes to stuff like this. You want people who know it and get it and understand.

Fletcher: Even the meeting we had yesterday with Jim Lee -- we were going over Justice League figures and I had both Geoff and Jim in there talking about the figures. That's why what we do is so authentic.

Having everyone under the same roof and part of the same team must make things move a lot more smoothly than, say, working through a licensor.

Johns: Yeah, absolutely. It's great. Jim and I are almost right next door to each other.

Fletcher: It's pretty cool.

Johns: I can just walk over.

Fletcher: I'm used to working from across the country.

Johns: We've got model shops and all kinds of fun stuff here. We have the graveyard room. We have the largest Batman action figure, I think, ever made.

In addition to working in closer proximity, the New 52 publishing plan must have been another exciting element on the DC Collectibles side because it offers so many different, new takes on characters to interpret.

Fletcher: They gave us more than 52 reasons to get excited. Thank you.

Johns: [groans] Jim always does that. It's impossible to talk about Aquaman with all the puns.

Fletcher: That was great for us to give us a bunch of opportunities to do some new stuff. We got to revitalize the entire bust line because, as you know, we'd gone pretty deep in. With the new designs, we can go back with a real sense of purpose and make the same core characters, and some of the more obscure ones.

You also have the opportunity to go back and tackle some of the Wildstorm characters now that they've been integrated into the DCU.

Johns: We're open to doing anything. Grifter is the first one.

Fletcher: They're all on the list.

Johns: Yeah, they're all on the list.

Fletcher: He's the first one, and that was cool because he's popular among the creative team here. There's a lot of guys -- Deathstroke's new design is really cool. There's a lot of really interesting things we'd like to do. The Wildstorm Universe is great because that opens up a whole bunch of stuff. Honestly, they'll probably show up in the bust, I'd imagine first, at this point.

What's the breakdown right now between digital and traditional sculpting for the figures and statues?

Fletcher: It's definitely a combination. I don't know what the ratio is, but digital sculpting is on the rise. A lot of our top guys are still traditional, but we also have a lot of people using digital as well. It depends on the project, what makes more sense.

I would think that something like the "Arkham City" pieces would be digitally sculpted because they're already created digitally for the game.

Fletcher: That's funny, some of those are, like Mr. Freeze is digital, but Killer Croc is not. It just depends on the sculptor's preference and who we think is going to do the best job on the character. The 52 figures are all traditional, the Batman movie stuff is all digital, the Grifter bust is traditional. You know, a lot of the sculptors we've been using, Jon Matthews, Jack Mathews, Jean St. Jean, those guys are still all traditional. Dave Cortes is a digital guy.

It's cool that you let the sculptor figure out what's the best way for them to go.

Fletcher: That's what you kind of have to do when you're directing the project, you have to play to the peoples' strengths who are doing the piece.

To see what all DC Collectibles has in the works, keep an eye on http://DCComics.com/collectibles, which will be getting a facelift in the next few weeks.

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