Johnny DC, DC Comics' line of all-ages books that includes such popular titles as "Supergirl: Cosmic Adventures in the Eight Grade" and "Billy Batson and the Magic of Shazam," serves as the perfect gateway books to get kids hooked on and invested in the comics medium. But as the creators behind the line noted at a panel at last weekend's New York Comic Con, the Johnny DC books can also be read and enjoyed as standalone, continuity-free tales of the DC Comics characters that many adult comic book fans grew up reading and loving.
"It's its own functioning universe," said Senior DC Editor Jann Jones, who edits the Johnny DC line. "There's room for everything, that's the beauty of it. So you can find your favorite characters, who may not be around anymore or may have changed."
Along with Jones, in attendance were Landry Walker, the writer of "Supergirl: Cosmic Adventures in the Eighth Grade," and Eric Jones, the book's artist; "Superfriends" scribe Sholly Fisch; and writer Art Baltazar and artist Franco, the creative team behind "Tiny Titans."
"How many people are here because they are already fans of comics for all ages?" Walker asked the audience, to which almost everyone raised their hands. "What we need everyone here to do is put those comics in the hands of people who wouldn't normally raise their hands when asked that question."
Jones said the all-ages line is an integral part of DC because it gets young readers caring about and interested in the characters, which hopefully leads those fans to start exploring some of DC's other titles' as they get older and their tastes mature. "Not a lot of kids are going into comic book stores nowadays," Jones said. "So it really is up to adults to put comics in the hands of children."
All the creators said they strived to make the all-ages titles appealing to both children and adults, and Pixar and Disney films were constantly cited as examples of stories that work on "two levels;" they can entertain and capture the imagination of children, but they are also smart and sophisticated enough and contain enough "inside jokes" that adults need to get caught up in the story as well.
"For way too many years we had no kids comics at all because everybody was busy trying to create comics for grownups," Fisch said.
Jones called DC's all-ages books "palette cleansers" because they aren't laden down with years and years' worth of continuity, but instead told standalone stories that are "fun and you can just laugh at and read and enjoy."
"There need to be good comics for kids," Jones continued. "There's something wrong with the mentality where it needs to be dumbed-down and just silly."
At the same time, Jones said, older fans seem to gravitate to the humor and sense of fun in the all-ages titles. "We get so many people coming up to us and thanking us for doing these books. People do want that levity. They want to laugh. They want to see that Beast Boy puppy."
Jones said that she gets so excited whenever new "Tiny Titans" pages from Baltazar and Franco arrive at her office, she usually winds up running through the halls of DC Editorial showing them off to the company's other editors.
The panel then took questions from the audience.
A fan asked Baltazar and Franco if they were planning on doing anymore "Patrick the Wolf Boy" comics. The duo said they do plan on continuing the series, but because it's a creator-owned project, they do it entirely on their own time. Right now "Tiny Titans" is consuming the bulk of their time.
Another fan wanted to know how the all-ages line deals with current DC continuity, citing Black Adam, who murdered an entire country during "52," yet still appears in "Billy Batson" as an amusing, slightly silly character. "What Black Adam did in '52' wasn't very nice," Jones said. "We gave him a timeout for that."
Walker said that if done right and if the characters are treated respectfully, you can have divergent interpretations geared towards certain demographics. He cited Batman as an example, particularly how he was portrayed in last summer's blockbuster "The Dark Knight" and how he is currently portrayed in the Cartoon Network's "The Brave and the Bold" series. "Those two versions of Batman are completely different, but you don't hear a lot of people complaining," Walker said.
Jones then asked the audience what they wanted to see in the Johnny DC line.
A fan told Franco and Baltazar that his girlfriend, who doesn't generally read comics, loves "Tiny Titans." He then told the panel he wanted to see Young Justice trade paperbacks, a request echoed at other DC panels throughout the weekend. Jones said she would see what she could do.
Another fan asked whether Trigun will ever take over the world in "Tiny Titans." "When Raven's 18," Baltazar said. "Because he's the most evil guy on the planet. But he's a dad, too, so he's kind of chill right now."
Several members of the panel joked that, if the fan wanted to see a truly evil Trigun, to check out the character's appearance in regular DC continuity.
A number of fans asked if there were any plans to expand the all-ages line anytime soon. Jones said that she would certainly like to - and that she had a wish list of what characters she would like to get the all-ages treatment next - but that it all depends on time, as she has plenty of other responsibilities at DC that keep her pretty busy and she can't devote the bulk of her time to editing the all-ages line, despite how much she enjoys doing so.
"I would love to expand the line, I really would," Jones said. 'It's something that we want to invest in. Because we think it's really important to make you guys fall in love with them now, so that you are invested in them."
Walker said "Superfriends" #14 would be chalked full of super-animals - Krytpo, Streaky, Bathound, a veritable animal Justice League - "because people like super-animals."
A fan said that he gives kids comics instead of candy on Halloween, as a way of trying to get them interested in the medium, but that there's not that many all-ages books he can give away. He wanted to know if DC would consider printing a free Halloween special to serve as a giveaway.
Jones passed the question off to Steve Rotterdam, DC's Senior Vice President of Sales and Marketing, who was sitting in the audience. Rotterdam said the topic had been discussed internally at DC several times before, but that without securing the right sponsors or advisers, it was difficult to make the economics of such a giveaway work.
When will the next issue of "Billy Batson and the Magic of Shazam" come out? Jones hid behind the podium for a moment, then said that she had spoken with series creator Mike Kunkel and that the next issue is almost done. She added that Kunkel has a day job and a family, and both those combine to keep him pretty busy, and that he feels really, really bad about the delays himself.
"We are working on it. We really are. He feels terrible, but he is at the drawing table," Jones said. "Mike is amazing. When you look at the amount of detail that goes into those pages, it is stunning."
After the panel wrapped, Rotterdam told the audience that DC had printed a number of issues of "Supergirl: Cosmic Adventures in the Eight Grade" that they intended to hand out at the panel, but due to a shipping error, they hadn't arrived yet. Instead, he gave his card out to ever member of the audience. "Send me an email with your address," Rotterdam said. "I'll send you three copies of the book. You can keep one, but you have to promise to give the other two away to children, because it's up to us to put comics in the hands of children."