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DC Comics’ Head Honchos Talk Reaching for YA Readers and Other New Audiences

DC Comics has been creating your favorite superheroes for over 80 years, from Superman to Batman, Wonder Woman to Aquaman, Matter-Eater Lad to Arm-Fall-Off-Boy! The DC Universe is vast and expansive, with thousands of characters and decades of canon. So what’s it like to wrangle the wild world of DC Comics? We sat down with co-publishers Jim Lee and Dan DiDio at San Diego Comic-Con to get an insight into how they curate the massive landscape of creations and characters, and find out what the future holds for DC.

Lee and DiDio are in a relatively unique position when it comes to the structure of comics companies. The pair are co-publishers, which means that they collaborate on all aspects of the direction that they want the company to go in, overseeing the company’s many lines and establishing tone. Lee explained that they “work together on everything. We don’t divvy up responsibilities. We’re in the loop on everything we do together, even if we both have things that we spearhead and champion.”

Batman: Damned; art by Lee Bermejo

The pair actually worked together prior to being named publishers. When DiDio joined DC as the new executive editor in 2002, he would visit Jim Lee’s WildStorm studio. “We’d be like, ‘Oh, someone’s visiting from New York!’ Because no one would really come out,” Lee joked. “[Dan] had all of this energy and ideas, and wanted to change things up and improve them, which we loved because we were sort of this awkward stepchild on the West Coast. He was our connection with the mothership, and from that initial connection we worked really closely to bring some of that WildStorm energy into the DC fold. So when we were offered the opportunity to work as co-publishers, I knew it would work.”

For DiDio, it’s all about collaboration. “I can’t really define it,” he laughed. “I like numbers. I like how things work. And [Jim] likes all the innovation and the big ideas, the stuff that’s intriguing.”

One of the biggest new initiatives that the pair is spearheading is DC Zoom and Ink, duel lines of Middle Grade and Young Adult books edited by Bobbie Chase, alongside Michele Wells, formerly of Disney. With these lines, they’re aiming to secure the hugely popular YA book market. “I think we’ve been really honest that we don’t have this immediate North Star that we’ve had with other lines,” Lee said. “We don’t personally know exactly what that audience wants, but we know that they don’t want the same thing in a smaller format, with dumbed down vocabulary. That doesn’t work. So we brought in fresh voices to work internally to create a product which will really be something that we’ve never done before.”

Teen Titans: Raven; art by Gabriel Picolo

The other side of the coin is DC’s Black Label line, which will attempt to recreate the glory days of The Dark Knight Returns and Watchmen. Unexpected, brutal, and mature, those comics quickly changed the face of the industry and the idea of who comics were for. “The art in Black Label is explosive and visually exciting,” DiDio said. “That’s what’s going to be distinctive about that—the tone and the maturity.”

When it comes to what the pair are most excited about in the upcoming year, for Lee it’s an easy answer: the new media streaming service that DC launched at SDCC. “It’s all about DC Universe,” Lee said. “On the publishing side, I’m just very excited that we’re getting to showcase the comic books next to the material that they inspired. It’s a subscription service—an all-you-can-eat service—of the thousands of comics that we’re putting on there. But we’re curating the material, pointing out the books that have inspired the films and TV shows, contextualizing the comics in the way that we feel will bring readers to the material. If you’re a casual fan that’s into the TV shows and hasn’t read a comic book, we stand the chance of converting you into becoming a comic book reader!”

Are you excited for the future of of DC Comics? Can’t wait to get your hands on DC Black Label? Really wanna grab some of that good Zoom and Ink? Let us know below!

Images: DC Comics

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