Plotting out The DC Comics Encyclopedia

Digging into the deepest, darkest corners of the DC Universe, writer Daniel Wallace dredged up an almost overwhelming supply of facts and figures for the new volume of DK Publishing's "The DC Comics Encyclopedia." Wallace, who also contributed to various "Star Wars" and Marvel Comics titles for DK, spoke with CBR News about compiling the tome and the challenge of unifying a scattered, fictional universe.

CBR: How did you get attached to this "DC Comics Encyclopedia" project for DK?

Daniel Wallace: The way it worked was the first edition came out in 2004, and I was one of many contributors. Obviously a lot has happened in the DC comic books since 2004, so they decided to update it.

Where do you start on a task like that?

We started with the base text but changed as much as possible to make it current. I was the sole person who worked with DC on updating it, which really involved going back through the old one, taking out old characters to make room for new characters, expanding the pages, updating artwork in cases of characters who changed costumes and inserting new information about what they've been up to within the past few years.

It can really vary, and it depends what you're working with. For example, let's take Superman. I worked on a number of things, I'm a fan of Superman, but he can vary so much from project to project. There's the DC Comics version, who has gone through a number of changes. DC tries to keep it kind of cohesive. Then you've got a completely different Superman in the movies, and then when Bryan Singer tried to bring that back it was basically a different universe. And then I have also done some work for "Smallville," which is a completely different universe. So you always have to switch around.

But, within those universes, there is some sort of editorial sense of trying to make it all fit. It's not that every time somebody writes a Superman story they reinterpret his origin, but they throw in little twists here. You just kind of have to keep an eye on what's in the wind and what they want to do this month. And keep every version straight, to know what's in and what's out. Be able to tell fans, "This is what you need to know."

There have to be times when you get the book done, and then all of a sudden they kill a character off and your work is outdated.

It definitely happens. That happens all the time. You never quite know. I was trying to get things as up to date as possible. I'd send in text, then I'd want to get it back so I could update it. Eventually, that window was gone. There was a minor character, Copperhead, who had a snake theme, he dressed like a copperhead, and in the original version he was alive. But in the meantime he had been killed. So I rewrote the entry. Then I picked up an issue of "Teen Titans," and he was alive. I don't know how, but he was. It just comes with the territory. I really wanted it to be as current as possible. At some point, the train left the station and we couldn't do anything else.

Do you think these types of books will eventually transition to being primarily online, where they can be updated more easily?

I've certainly thought about that. We've had Web sites out there for 10 years where you've had fans researching information. I've always thought at some point we won't need these books. But what I realized is if you just want to know who Copperhead is you can go online, but the reason there's still an audience for the book is it's an encyclopedia. There's something about it being bound and hardcover and you can flip through it. It's an act of feeling the weight and the paper and turning the pages and browsing through it. It's a different experience. If you wanted to buy it only as a reference, you're not going to buy it for that reason. But if you want to buy it to spend time with it as a book, you continue to do it.

I have not seen that go down in the past 10 years as more and more information has gone online. As a reader, I can attest to the fact that that's true. There's something about ink on paper that's almost a luxury feel. It's the difference between finding information and reading.

By this book, though, you were sort of an old hand at this kind of project?

I've done a lot of different books, specifically "Star Wars" books. I've written over a dozen "Star Wars" encyclopedia and guide books, like "The Essential Guide to Characters" and "The Essential Guide to Droids." That experience lent me to being one of the contributors. I'm also a big fan of comic books, so I got onto the DC project. After that I ended up working on "The Marvel Comics Encyclopedia."

Now I'm back to DC again. It's been fun, I like all these universes. It's always fun to immerse yourself in whatever universe it is again. You really have to dive in and start to know the entire thing inside out.

What other comics-related projects have you done?

I worked on a number of "Superman Returns" books, including "The Art of Superman Returns." Previously, I had written in magazines on "Indiana Jones" and "Smallville." It helps that I'm a fan of these things to begin with, but I also have the skill of remembering lots of facts and figures. It's very organizational-based.

You have to make it feel very cohesive, even when it's not.

When did you get into this type of writing?

I've been doing this stuff for about 10 years now, but I had some background in writing, in newspapers and various fictional things. Not very high scale. First and foremost I was a fan. This was the mid-'90s when the Internet fan communities were starting to take off. I had gotten online in the net's infancy and met a lot of people who were also fans. Fortunately that coincided when "Star Wars" was getting back off the ground. I got to know some writers, and they saw some of the things I was creating for fun -- including a file of all the "Star Wars" planets -- and it was popular enough that somebody put my name in with Lucas Films. And they asked me if I would be interested in trying out. They were working on "The Essential Guide to Planets and Moons." I ended up winning and that became the first project. After that, I did more.

Absolute Carnage Miles Morales
One of Spider-Man's Oldest Enemies Just Became Carnage

More in Comics