During Comic-Con International in San Diego, CBR writer John Mayo spent 52 minutes (yes, that was intentional!) interviewing DC Comics Executive VP-Sales, Marketing and Business Development John Rood and Senior VP-Sales Bob Wayne about the publisher's September relaunch plans.
The pair spoke with Mayo about the then-newly-christened New 52, from the publisher's expectations on a creative level and its plans for the Vertigo line in the immediate future and beyond. They also delved into Flashpoint's place in launching the line-wide overhaul, the challenge of making the entire line of titles as accessible to both new and veteran readers as possible and much, much more.
CBR News: Obviously, there is a lot of excitement about the DC relaunch. It is a bold and unprecedented move. The switch to the number ones, particularly with the day-and-date digital, was a very smart move, but, I've got to say, a risky one. I'm risk averse enough that I don't know that I'd have had the guts to do that, so I applaud you guys for taking bold moves, because I think that is what is needed.
John Rood: Yeah. We feel bold moves are required at such a significant time when some things could arguably be [called] stagnant and require a shot in the arm. And I'm not speaking of the industry. I'm not speaking of the competition. I'm just talking within DC. We're pretty excited about what DC Comics: The New 52 has done to fire up our editorial process and to fire up the creator combinations. To fire up our storytelling and our visuals and our costumes, everything line-wide. It has met our expectations and far exceeded them.
I can see where culturally, internally, it raises the bar, really. It is kind of a, "You don't have to do things the same way"[declaration] and allows you to, like you said, reset expectations internally.
Rood: Certainly it draws attention to how insignificant a lot of events are in comparison. Just to kill off a character or create an alternate universe or whatever.
It's funny, because I review comics every week and it does seem like over the last couple of years there have been a lot of events, everything from "52," "Final Crisis," "Blackest Night" and the current "Flashpoint" -- there is a sense of stories that "matter" being important, and perhaps from a publisher and creator standpoint, that being interpreted as it has to be a big event. I've been thinking about that a lot and it seems to me, and maybe you guys would agree or disagree, that a story that matters to a particular character in some way is going to carry more weight than a story that is the Pearl Harbor equivalent that everybody is impacted by, but nobody particularly impacted more than everyone else.
Rood: I'll turn over to Bob, but I'll preface it with [saying] we are pretty delighted about how strong Batman and Green Lantern as groups are performing right now. I think a lot of retailers during our roadshow, and a lot of consumers we've talked to, are heartened by the fact that, while this is a line-wide renumbering, it doesn't disrupt the great storytelling of Batman and Green Lantern, in particular. Specifically, we are excited about the new story aspects of Superman manifested in "Superman" and "Action Comics." That is a delightful re-invigoration of what is going on with Superman specific to DC Comics: The New 52. Over at Vertigo, we'll be doing line-wide events in the coming years and franchise specific events with certain key properties of ours. So, we'll borrow that same model for our other brand.
That's good to hear, because I think a lot of people were starting to get a little worried about what would happen to Vertigo now that some of those characters are getting pulled into the DC Universe proper.
Rood: DC Entertainment is three brands wide: DC Comics, Vertigo and Mad, and we are in the nascent days of trying to explain that ourselves and then to the consumers. So I can appreciate why all of the hoopla about DC Comics: The New 52 has taken attention away from Vertigo and Mad, but that is certainly not our intention. I think this booth this week in San Diego will be a wonderful manifestation of our DC Entertainment charge, which is to be a publishing engine that drives the media and merchandise business of Warner Brothers, and it will be a wonderful manifestation of our three brand-wide offering, which has a breadth and depth no one can manage.
Bob Wayne: I think once people who saw the [first] Previews catalog that had the New 52 in it, they saw there is a Vertigo section, there are all these things. These stories are moving forward and next month we'll have the solicitation for the launch of the Spaceman series by Brian Azarello and Eduardo Risso, the first issue only a dollar cover price. Eduardo is coming off one of the really strong Flashpoint tie-ins with the Batman series. There's only so much attention, and we're trying to focus people onto the New 52. I think it is the nature of folks, to go, "Well, does this mean Shade the Changing Man, I saw him in Flashpoint and I see him in this, does that mean that?" But we haven't published "Shade, the Changing Man" as a periodical in Vertigo for a number of years. It is not that the character is leaving Vertigo. The character has been inactive for 15 years. We are trying to bring in people, not just have the people that have been with us for a long time, but bring in people that have never read our comics or have read only a few of our comics and bring them in, even if it is dragging them in kicking and screaming. We want to get them [to be] a part of the experience. Shade, Constantine and Madame Xanadu add another flavor to the DC Comics entire fictional construct. It's entertainment.
It is good to hear you guys have a strong commitment to Vertigo. It has been such a strong line for so long and is a strong brand for you guys to have. When you mention the three brands, you mention DC Comics, Vertigo and Mad. What about Johnny DC? Do you see that as a subset of DC? How do you position that brand?
Rood: I don't consider Johnny DC to be the perfect branding for our kids effort. But to your questions, we are dead serious about doing more for kids and in particular to our retail base of kids comics than we have in the past. To drive a lot of intellectual property across all of Warner Brothers requires we think in adults 13-plus, which is what the DC Comics: The New 52 is. But certainly, we also think about kids and families. We are in the process of re-envisioning what that means in terms of which comic titles we bring out. But the fact that we aren't touting the Johnny DC brand does not mean we aren't thinking and planning quite significantly about a kids publishing line.
That seems like a really tricky area to handle because of turnover in the audience.
Rood: Yeah, it is an elusive 2 to 11 and very differentiated year to year. We are pretty excited about what Cartoon Network is doing in partnership with DC, namely the DC Nation block which will get teased out in November and come on-air in earnest at Cartoon Network in the spring. There are just too many cool products that we are doing with them, be it "Young Justice," "Batman: The Brave and the Bold" and a lot more that the DC Nation block is going to incubate for us that we think we'll have something for everyone. You couple that with Lego Batman and some of the other interactive entertainment products with DC properties in them, and we are going to have a lot to continue to offer kids and families.
Those two properties, "Batman: The Brave and the Bold" and "Young Justice" really show how diverse that young age-set is. Both are great shows, but they are very different from each other.
Rood: And the Green Lantern animated series that is forthcoming adds an entirely different dimension. So we're definitely celebrating the different types of storytelling within DC Comics Universe, [exploring] how many different ways we can tell stories to kids and families.
I think this whole relaunch/renumbering thing, especially with going digital, there are two different segments of the audience you're trying to hit here, and I'm curious as to what your approach is for both. There are those that have been around for a while, the established reader, and there is a certain amount of anxiety with them over how much is going to change, how much is going to stay the same, if I like it now will I continue to like it. On the other hand, because of what you're doing, it gives you the opportunity to reach outside the existing readership which seems to be absolutely essential at this point. "Smallville" ran ten years, there is an awareness and acceptance of comic properties -- how is DC planning to get that potential audience to try the comics?
Rood: I agree with you that there are distinct audiences, the core versus the mass consumer. What I don't want anyone to mistake is that the core is served exclusively by the comics shop channel and the mass consumer is served exclusively by digital. That is not our intent. There are obviously a lot of robust digital sales to core readers that comic shop retailers can capitalize on, and then you have brand-new readers coming to our genre from collected editions or other print sources, not just through downloading comics. While we can make those distinctions about the audiences, it doesn't mean we can make assumptions about the medium the comics are being read on or the class of trade by which they buy them.
There are two subsets of the audience that may be overlapping on how they buy them.
Rood: Yes -- it's a wonderful mixed-economy. We see in DC Comics: The New 52 lots of ways to appeal to both. Obviously, tomorrow's readers are coming to the genre from so many different angles than when I first started reading, so we have to capitalize on the zeal of the "Batman: Arkham City" customer, the zeal of movie-goers this summer who are seeing "Green Lantern" and also "Captain America" and "X-Men." There are tens of millions of them who are telling us with their behavior that they're interested in this kind of storytelling. We think we've devised in DC Comics: The New 52 a way to close this virtual circle, turning today's movie-goers into tomorrow's comic shop visitors, turning today's video game players into tomorrow's comic shop visitors.
Wayne: At the same time, it's not just the people who've been reading our stuff for a long time. We want to maintain people who have come to us recently, through whatever method, and we want to reach out to people who have read our comics at some time in the past and have fallen away from the virtuous path and try to bring back those lapsed readers. If there are people who have been primarily reading other brands of comics, perhaps the excitement of this, all the attention of this, might cause them to reconsider and try some of our titles. We're always willing to help to offer people to color their subscription lists, to add a bunch of stuff, collection maintenance. There's a lot of excitement going on as we exit "Flashpoint." "Flashpoint" #5 has an excellent bridge into the New 52 that I think is going to appeal to a lot of people.
The stuff I have read so far of the New 52 is very interesting. I've read Grant Morrison's first Superman "Action Comics" story, and I wanted to read the next one immediately to see what Grant did next. Full of enthusiasm and ideas. Grant's always been a fountain of creativity and has helped refresh a lot of what we do, but this is so interesting -- and I've been reading Superman comics for longer than anyone on the staff at DC. I learned to read from Superman comics before I started school.
Rood: It's delightful to see how all seven groups of the New 52 titles, each individual title, have entry points for every type of consumer we've mentioned. "Justice League" #1, Jim [Lee] and Geoff [Johns] working together for the first time, that's the core consumer. But to the mass, we've got the best super-heroes together. I notice that across every group in the seven, there's something for everyone. I know that sounds cliche, but it's true. We've made a point that the storytelling has a core appeal and mass appeal, both.
It seems that that kind of editorial vision is going to be crucial to the success of what DC is doing. Even if you can get everyone to try everything out, the proof is going to be in what people read, do they like it, is it accessible. Like Bob said, you can't wait to get to that next issue.
Wayne: That speaks to the perception you raised about the anxiety long time readers may have, and the proof of that is going to be when they read a batch of these books in September. I challenge folks who have already said they're not going to like this to at least read the first batch of these books and see if they're right, or if the quality and the excitement of the storytelling overcomes their concerns. These characters have changed and evolved constantly over time. Nobody says, "When Clark Kent worked at the Daily Star, that was when he was really good. Ever since they made it the Daily Planet, that just ruined everything. When Batman stopped shooting vampires with guns, that's when it all went downhill." When we were doing our retailer road show, I was talking about the shock of going to the spinner rack at the drug store and there was a yellow oval behind the bat on Batman's chest. I thought, what is this? This isn't supposed to be here! Then you open it up and read it and say, "Oh, this is better than last month's."
I think it's partially magnified by the internet in general, allowing that mentality to reverberate quite a bit. To your point about reading it and how it stands up, there was anxiety from some people around "Flashpoint." But I found every one of those titles to be highly accessible, entertaining and well done, with a level of accessibility and interplay between the titles where it's defining a brand-new reality and titles enhancing one another without being redundant. I see this as a first pass on the editorial changes DC seems to be making -- if you can do that through the new number ones, you have a very firm foundation to be building from.
Rood: We're very excited about that, to the credit of Jim Lee and Dan Didio as co-publishers, to Bob Harras, our Editor-In-Chief, Eddie Berganza, the Executive Editor of DC Comics who have taken the vision all the way through to a very exciting reality.
It sounds like you've got a lot of great creators and visionaries behind it. I'm also pleased with the diversity of the line-up. If I had had to pick 52 titles, I don't know if I would have picked "Demon Knight" or "I, Vampire," but that's good because you shouldn't be targeting a line where any one person is going to like everything. There are more readers than just one type, so going for the diversity was a smart move.
Rood: You have to balance what has gotten us here with what you think is next in the hearts and minds of tomorrow's readers. That's not to say to pander to trends. We're admittedly late to the vampire party, as one example, when you factor in television and movies, but just like our move with digital, when we do it, we do it with quality in mind.
Wayne: "Demon Knight" still has story elements that play into prior DC storytelling, and the conceit of the property is that there are certain things that happen in that time period that will have reverberations in the current time, so you have other aspects of various things you'll be seeing, but it's still Jack Kirby's classic creation of the Demon set early in the Demon's career, the same way that the New 52 is set early in the careers of these characters that people think they know and have a great deal of affection for, but you'll be seeing different ripples through that one as well, the same way that our western title with Jonah Hex with Jonah Hex showing up in Gotham just as Gotham is converting to be a major metropolitan area. You'll see reverberations of the founding of Gotham that may be seen in some of the stories that take place now.
It's that reverberation that I've been seeing in the Flashpoint titles, where things in one title are reflected in others, but it's not a crossover where you've got to read the other ones [to understand what's happening]. I'm glad to hear that's what is planned [for the New 52].
Wayne: It's not the kind of thing where you're being beaten over the head with it -- it's just an extra layer of texture that's there to add context and some level of reality to the storytelling. But it's also there so you can say, "Oh, there's that building that I saw in 'Detective,' and now I see how they're building it in Jonah Hex." It's not like you're going to see footnote that say "To see what happens to this building in 200 years see 'Detective Comics.'"
Exactly. It's that extra layer that gives the attentive reader that much more to get out of it so you can have a more rewarding reading experience.
Rood: It's an enhancement that's not intended to cross over. It would be insincere of us to say that someone only gets something out of the New 52 if they bought all 52 of them. We hope they do, but they're not expected to.
My podcast co-host and I are going to buy and review all 52 number ones, so I'm looking forward to how they all play out!
Check back with CBR tomorrow for the second half of our 52-minute interview with Bob Wayne and John Rood, where we get into the nitty-gritty on sales numbers, the danger of the New 52 acting as a jumping-off point and much more.
Listen to the full audio of the discussion on a special Mayo Report episode of the Comic Book Page podcast here: http://www.comicbookpage.com/Podcast/?p=561