Sunday, November 09, 2008

If I Ran DC Comics...


There's been a lot of discussion about DC Comics lately. Their sales have been in decline. And in the past 5 years, there's been a lot of reboots and restarts and changes in continuity. Some have met with much success, while others have faltered. Dan Didio has emerged as a contraversial figurehead; Some see him as an innovative leader, while others find his editorial approach ... lacking.


This post is NOT about bashing DC Comics or Didio. This thread is to pose a question: If you were to assume editorial leadership of DC Comics next week, what are the top 5 things you would do? Please, let's not talk about firing people. Let's really approach this as a serious look at what YOU would do if YOU were in Dan Didio's shoes.

My approach is mainly concerned with making DC more approachable, cultivating new talent, and moving the characters and the industry forward.

Here's my 5 things:

1-- ESTABLISH A LOOSE CONTINUITY AND STICK TO IT

Issue: DC's continuity has been problematic since the first Crisis in 1985. There have been various attempts to clean it up and reboot and revise histories of certain characters (see: ZERO HOUR, INFINITE CRISIS, LEGION OF SUPER-HEROES). You'd think some lessons might be learned from the messy continuities that resulted Post-Crisis; But in the past 5 years, there's been additional revising and rebooting to Wonder Woman, Superman, The Legion, Hawkman, Power Girl, The Doom Patrol and others.

Continuity could end up being the death of DC. Because they seem incapable of adapting "soft continuity" and letting it be a bit elastic as time marches on. Instead, they seem intent on rebooting and having a Crisis every 5 years, and going back and explaining and re-explaining and re-telling origins and events. It's great to have a sense of history and build on what has come before... but it's bad when you have continuity OCD.

What I would do: Internally, I would create a small "continuity task force" to help DC establish what their current "continuity" is, for their main characters and the DCU as a whole. This would be a small working timeline and "guide" for each of the main offices (Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Titans, JSA, JLA). And then stick to it. It should be elastic enough to evolve with the times, but consistent enough to not confuse readers. And there should be a moritorium on ret-conning character histories.

2-- CULTIVATE NEW TALENT

Issue: Currently, DC doesn't have a strong stable of contract players. Also, spending too much effort in novelists and "Hollywood" talent ultimately delivers dimishing returns.

What I would do: Part of Assistant Editors' duties would be to cultivate new talent. This means being on the lookout for emerging talent on indie titles, Image books, up-and-comers not under contract at Marvel, submissions to DC offices and web comics. The industry has hundreds (thousands?) of people who would love to work at DC Comics, but their submissions go unread, or the up-and-comers are overlooked for the glitter of a "Hollywood" name. As an industry, publishers need to get back into "grass roots" recruitment of talent... and secure the next Robert Kirkman or Dan Slott.

This industry will not flourish with a "Hollywood" guy writing a few comics in his "spare time" every few years. It needs talented, fresh, enthusiastic newcomers who are dedicated to creating comics.

3-- MAKE ANNUALS SPECIAL JUMPING-ON ISSUES

Issue: Annuals used to be special events, but over the years, have been relegated to group events or "filler" tales.

What I would do: I would adopt the "Secret Files" format to Annuals. Each Annual would feature an A-list extra-length story that means something to the ongoing saga of the regular series. The Annuals would also feature updated Who's Who file pages for characters whose histories need updating, or just to give readers a sense of the characters' histories. There could also be smaller/shorter tales that would feature "Lost Pages" (stories never told) or character vignettes. The first page of the Annual would give a rundown of the characters and recent history.

The Annuals would function as done-in-one jumping-on points for new readers. Any time a new reader might be interested in a title, The Annual would be the perfect place to jump in.

4-- DEVELOP A STRONG "HOUSE" EDITORIAL STYLE

Issue: There's just no other way to say this: DC's editorial has gotten soft. I can't recall an era that had so many errors in continuity. And I'm talking about book-to-book continuity as well as individual character histories (this is part of my #1 change concerning continuity...) But also, there are flat-out errrors, even getting character names wrong. And then there's some pretty large "story logic" holes that would not have seen print 20 years ago.

There should also be a sense of fun and community from editors. The way Steve Wacker edits AMAZING SPIDER-MAN right now is a good example of a strong editor. He's brought back editor notes. He's created a fun letter's page. Whether or not you agree with the marriage undo, there's a sense of fun and exciting things happening, and the reader is invited.

What I would do: I would create a number of "new rules" -- a sort of "editorial commandments" for editors, to establish a stronger, more unified, more inviting editorial style across the board...

EDITORS NEED TO KNOW THEIR CONTINUITY: I would create a stronger adherence to the continuity (stemming from my #1 suggestion). Each editor should study the characters they are charged with, and be very familiar with their current status and histories.

EDITORS NEED TO MAKE COMICS ACCESSIBLE: Bring back editor boxes with notes. Don't create comics for 40 year old fanboys. Every issue should ask the question, "is this accessible for new readers?"

EDITORS SHOULD BRING BACK LETTERS PAGES: Dialogue with readers is important.

EDITORS NEED TO KNOW STORY STRUCTURE: No matter who your writer is, or how big a name he is.... if a story has logic holes, they need to be challenged. Editors need a deep understanding of storytelling.

EDITORS HAVE TO MOVE CHARACTER FORWARD, NOT BACKWARD: Nostalgia is great and has a place within stories, But stories shouldn't exist for nostalgia's sake alone. Make sure characters are meeting new challenges, or strive to tell stories in new ways. This also means updating the characters looks to stay modern (X-MEN does an excellent job of this).

EDITORS NEED TO MAKE ALL COMICS LESS "ADULT" IN CONTENT: Less rape, gore and harsh language. Comics can be mature and intense without resorting to coarse content. You shouldn't be afriad to hand an issue of BATMAN or JLA to a 10 year old, fearing the content inside. For that matter, comics can and should be fun. There is room for gritty and realistic, but the overall DC line should also have a mix of different tones and flavors - from light to dark.

RESPECT THE CHARACTERS: These characters have been around longer than you have, and will outlive you as well. Respect them. Stay true to what they are. And don't endorse recklessly killing them, unless there is an excellent story to support it.

COOL IT ON RESTARTS: There has been far too much rebooting and renumbering of DC titles in the last 5 years. Excessive rebooting sort of negates how special #1 issues are. Also, crossovers that promise "bold new directions" get tiresome as well.

This one is a biggie, since there are many smaller issues that need to be addressed. But it all needs to start at DC central. The creators themselves do not all work at DC, and many do not even visit the offices with any frequency unless they live in New York City. It needs to start with the editors. There needs to be a unified standard. I think, in many ways, DC has lost sight of itself. These characters have existed for 60 years and will continue to exist. They need to be cared for and shepharded into the future, yet remain true to their core.

5-- EXPLORE NEW FORMATS AND MEDIA

Issue: Comics sales have been in decline for 20 years. The internet and digital media offer entertainment competition - and at a fraction of the cost.

What I would do: This is quite broad, but I would create initiatives to explore new formats and media. Hopefully, new media formats may even feed more sales into printed media. Also, through new media, distribution can even be cheap. Technology is changing every day, and all printed media needs to look at new forms of media.

That's it. Of course, I've got tons of opinions about the characters themselves, but that's a whole 'nother discussion!

16 Comments:

  • At 11:44 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    I agree with most of what you said, and what I don't is mostly splitting hairs.

    So here's some points frome me:

    1) Editorial Attitude towards characters: While it is true that comics are not a fairy tale and the characters should sometimes have bad things happen to them, they have gone WAY off the board with this one. I would call a moratorium on killing ANY character in the DCU for 3 years (good, bad, or supporting cast) and after that time if someone wants a character to die, they'd better give me a damn good reason why ("Because it will boost sales" is not a good reason.)

    2) Clean up the mess that the Titans books have become. Clean up the rosters, redeem Jericho and Raven, ressurect Terra II (regardless of her origin), redeem Ravager, and set up rosters on both teams that books *want to see*.

    3) Clean up the mess that Identity Crisis made of the morals of so many Justice Leaguers. I'm not suggesting the event be retconned. I'm saying flat out that those involved with the mindwiping, whatever their motivations, realize they were wrong and specifically set out on quests to atone.

    4) Don't be so eager to cancel a book and restart it with a new #1. To do that once is understandable; to do it repeatedly suggests you don't know how to sell books in the long term.

    5) Tone. These comics are, at the end of the day, supposed to be FUN. Yes, they will discuss relevant political issues. Yes, sometimes characters will get hurt. Yes, sometimes the bad guy gets away. But it's supposed to be, overall, a fun escape. We've plumbed the depths of emo angst; let heroes be fun again, and part of doing that is letting them *be heroes again*.

     
  • At 11:58 PM, Blogger Nightwing said…

    great points, anonymous. Many of them would spill out of my "rules", so I did add some for clarity!

     
  • At 2:28 PM, Blogger Avi Green said…

    The main problem is that DC used Identity Crisis to affect the tone of practically their whole universe. To fix the Titans and the rest of the DCU, all damage done during Identity Crisis is what needs to be fixed.

    And then, as to the Titans themselves: they need to bring back cast members like Bart Allen. His death, like quite a few others in recent years, was uncalled for, and without him, that's one more reason why the Teen Titans doesn't feel like TT anymore.

    They also need to quit it with the graphic violence like what was seen recently in TT #62, with the demonic version of Wonder Dog. It's that kind of stuff that's ruined the series.

    Only by repairing the damage done since Identity Crisis, including the joyless, dark-shrouded tone they've adapted since then, will the DCU be enjoyable again.

     
  • At 6:59 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    send this to somebody!

    mb

     
  • At 7:20 PM, Anonymous justin said…

    1) For lack of better words bring back comics that have a one issue adventure. Comics these days have sweeping story arcs that span multiple issues and multiple books to get a complete story. Back in the day Superman met and dealt with Bizarro in one issue, and the next issue was off on a new adventure.

    2) No more death. No more bullets through the head, Black Adam's fist through your chest etc. Back in the day you almost never saw a body, and just because you never saw them again, that didn't mean they were dead. It left things open.

    3) Too many books! I hate to keep saying back in the day, but back in the day, Batman had 1 book, Superman had 1 book, X-men had 1 book, etc. Now Batman has like 6 titles to his name, X-men has even more. Use the KISS method, Keep It Simple Stupid.

     
  • At 9:47 PM, Blogger kar said…

    dude: you mes run dc!

     
  • At 11:16 PM, Blogger D-Man said…

    This was a good thread to begin. I have been a reader since about 1982, and I sometimes feel like a cranky old man when I read the books now. I find myself appalled and disappointed frequently. I guess I continue collecting out of hope that a turnaround will happen. In order of importance to me, here is what I would do:

    1) Stop writing for the purpose of the trades. Writing is a form of artistic expression. Although sales must be a constant, huge concern for a company, I think that any concerns pertaining to length of story arcs need to be secondary or tertiary to the act of writing a good quality story. The pressures associated with cranking out issues seem like they would be enough of a drag for the creative teams without the added constraint of how long a story should last. If that reign was loosened a bit, writers could do a better job of developing subplots. Maybe they would be more willing to look at giving more care to continuity, spelling, and grammar if a pressure were removed elsewhere.

    2) Work on the creative teams to keep them and encourage their development. There seem to be far too much shuffling of creative teams. I say this with a degree of reserve, because obviously if a book is tanking, you would have a responsibility to make changes. But I think artists need some room to grow and develop their skills and their relationship to the book. To me, Tony Daniel is a case in point. It was discouraging to see the changes after he left the Titans. I thought that he might improve further over time, but his artwork on the characters was really nice. I read the book now, and I think differently.

    3) My second point leads to this. If you have a better team behind the writing and artwork, you might see better teamwork among the characters. I love group books more than solos, mainly because the characters can develop their skills and even apply them off one another. It's a good way to explore a facet of a team - teamwork. I haven't seen a good example of it in a fight scene in years. Think of this like a volleyball set for a spike. These days, it's like all the characters in a group just take turns at their own attacks, followed by their own falls to the ground.

    4) One thing that could help the above is if the characters could stop being written for death and incapacitation. I always think that the death of a character is a cop-out. If you're really creative, then deal with the character more creatively. Come up with another means of stopping a villain or of showing a hero in defeat. Someone created the character; even if it wasn't you (a succeeding writer / editor), do the creator the honor of not killing the creation. Editors shouldn't force anything like that for sales. Books can sell without gratuitous violence and death; I'm sure of it. TT 62 made me sick; of course, that wasn't the first time I have felt awful after reading an issue. But if you read the advertising blurb for the issue on DC's website, I think you can see that the resulting scene in the issue was truly repulsive and sickening. The use of foul language isn't really heroic, either. Better writing can replace some of that.

    5) I would pool more energy into the main basis for the company. When your sales dip, of course you have to figure out why. But if you have to scale back, do it right. Don't necessarily fund new subsidiary, expensive products if your basis is suffering. Where does the energy behind your company stem from? If it is the books and the creativity behind them, that's where I think money should go. Distribution would be next. Pull back from movies that are subject to legal battles.

     
  • At 11:40 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    D-Man is right about getting rid of trades. Why buy the comic when you can get the trade cheaper?

    I got a few-
    1) Start building up minority characters without having to ax already estblished heroes. It's was digusting to see the backlash around Firestorm.

    2) If there are too many books-bring back DC Showcase and use it to give new writers and artists a place to write and draw characters. It worked with the last Showcase in 94-97 that spawned series for Catwoman, Robin, Supergirl and Nightwing. I wouldn't mind paying 4 bucks for 64pages.

    3) No more restarts! I spent 5 years collecting Robin and I don't want to start over with a new series.

    4)Give some trades to lesser known heroes. I see Batman all over the place-how about a trade featuring John Stewart, Green Arrow and others?

     
  • At 5:44 PM, Anonymous Phil Watts, Jr. said…

    1. ENOUGH WITH THE LEGACIES. I'd rather Bart go through his maturity as IMPULSE instead of shoehorning him into the Flash legacy. I'd rather have this new Terra have her own name, identity, and history instead of having it all borrowed from the original Terra. Give us something NEW. Have someone go another direction other than 'aspiring to be the next so-and-so'.

    2. If you are going to kill off a character, at least spend some time and effort to develope them so that people would care about them...which is the one thing they DIDN'T do in all those Titan deaths.

    3. There's this guy named Chris Bird who took Marvel's overrated CIVIL WAR and made it READABLE...and he REALLY REALLY wants to write the LEGION. MAKE IT SO.

     
  • At 10:34 PM, Blogger Sarah said…

    You really hit the nail on the head with this one. I love DC and I love their characters, but it's so damned hard to bring myself to read, much less purchase, a comic I know will be disappointing.

    I've spoken with a letterer at DC about the state of the industry a few years ago and I'd say he mentioned everything you stated. I figure if one DC employee felt that way then there's a chance more of the employees feel the same way.

     
  • At 7:48 PM, Anonymous LANCE said…

    Bill I'm impressed with your ideas, very well thought out.

    I think this is also the first time you asked people a question about something and you gave an answer to your own question as well.

    :)

     
  • At 5:56 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    If only it was that simple. Comic readers are individuals, they all have their likes and dislikes in story, artwork, content and tone. If DC followed your 5 Things, we'd be presented by your view of the DCU. I might not like that. If DC followed my 5 Things, you'd be presented with my view of the DCU. You might not like that.

    I agree with much of what you say and disagree with an equal amount.

    To pick up on your issues on new media and new talent, I would like to know how many people are visiting DC's ZUDA site? How more new media do you want? This is a growing collection of free online comics covering many genres and styles. New writers and artists can submit their own material and you can bet that DC is looking at ZUDA to bring new talent into the industry.

     
  • At 1:34 PM, Blogger Hellfyre D said…

    I agree wholeheartedly with what Bill said. I would also like to add:

    Price Points: I understand the growing prices of printing, but maybe it's time to downgrade the paper a bit? Or find some alternative? There should be another method available to make comics more efficient.

    Team Books: Keep a cohesive team in a book. Teen Titans has had the worse revolving door in recent years! To make matters worse, let's accept violent sociopathic characters as "heroes". Riiiiiight. Let's see some heroes return to the fold and actually be heroic!

    Anthology Books: Yes ... it's time to bring back Adventure Comics, Mysteries in Space and Tales of the Unknown. For that matter, it's also time to bring back the REAL House of Mysteries, House of Secrets and Unexpected. It's time for DC to make a new imprint that's about telling non-DCU tales, but also that's not necessarily Vertigo.

    Comics Are For Kids Too: I know Bill said something on this, but I'd like to expand on it a bit. DC and Marvel both produce "kids" lines that have some good talent on it. But it begs a question: If a kid comes in looking for a book to relate to, shouldn't they look no further than Teen Titans? Supergirl? Robin?! Honestly, these comics should tell the tale of a teen in the world of superheroes and should be instantly accessible to younger readers (as well as older). Does this mean "kiddify" them and down play the seriousness? Absolutely not! Take a look at Young Avengers ... there's a book where there were some racier ideas, but they also were teens and acted like so. While I'm not a huge fan of the "I work in movies/TV and thus MUST work in comics" mindset, I think Alan Heinberg struck gold and showed what a Teen Titans comic book should look like.

    No More Unnecessary Deaths/Changes! Why did Connor Kent have to die? I understand not using Superboy ... but why did he have to die? Why did Bart Allen have be aged and die? Why did Doctor Light have to be turned in rapist and sicko? Why is most of the Giffen/Demattis JL team dead?! Is DC that hard up for a storyline that they have axe every character in their way? The same thing can be asked at Marvel. Why was Speedball changed into a S&M reject? Why did the New Warriors have to die? Why would you make a registration act that makes some of the companies beloved heroes criminals? For that matter, why kill Steve Rogers?! For that matter, what's with the consistent retcons? Did we need Vulcan? Did we need Bucky or Jason Todd?

    So yeah, I agree Bill :) And if you ever get to work as an editor at DC, I'd love to work with you to make the DCU a place where heroes are something to look up to again.

     
  • At 2:16 AM, Blogger Nightwing said…

    "Comic readers are individuals, they all have their likes and dislikes in story, artwork, content and tone. If DC followed your 5 Things, we'd be presented by your view of the DCU."

    My approoach is actually the OPPOSITE of that. By loosening continuity, loosening this mega-shared universe, cultivating new talent, and exploring new mediums.... well, I'd be trying to let the creatives tell their stories, and give varying stories at that, so there would be "something for everyone"...

    I think the mediukm is sorely in need of fresh and exciting new concepts.. instead of retreading the 70s for another 5 years.

     
  • At 8:26 AM, Anonymous Vinylhed said…

    I'm loving DC at the moment and would be sad to see things change. The core characters have never been better. Superman, Action Comics, Batman, Wonder Woman and Green Lantern are exciting comics that have me rushing to the comic shop whenever they're published.

    Final Crisis is great and I see nothing in that to preclude me passing that comic to a 10 or 11 year old. Yes, there is some gory visuals, but it's nothing that would give nightmares. There's a growing neo-conservatism that reminds me of the whole "Seduction of the Innocent" debacle. I remember the Runaways storyline from New Teen Titans #26 & #27, that delt with drugs, child prostitution and abuse that was so hard hitting it was almost not published, but eventually was without the comics code stamp. That was published in 1983, I would have been 10 when I read it, and as they say, it never did me any harm.

    I agree that the industry needs to reach out to a younger crowd, but I don't see the content as being a barrier. The problem has been the creation of the direct market. Comics aren't found on the newsstand any more, and that's where I picked up my first New Teen Titans.

    I was sad to hear that Blue Beetle is soon to be cancelled, but I'm afraid it goes to show that a comic designed to be "fun" and "accessable" for all age groups just doesn't have a market.

    I feel my DCU pull list has many tones accross its spread.

    Action Comics
    Superman
    Batman
    Wonder Woman
    Teen Titans
    Titans
    Simon Dark
    JSA
    JLA
    Blue Beetle
    Green Lantern
    Green Lantern Corps
    Vixen
    Billy Batson & The Magic of Shazam
    Ambush Bug Year None
    Booster Gold

    There's something for everyone in there.

     
  • At 10:46 PM, Blogger EoRaptor said…

    Got to agree with every one of these points. Pushing thirty, I look back at the past ten years or so, and just shake my head. The things you pointed out, such as the endless reboots, the plot holes you could drive a mack truck through, and the endless "superhero angst" is just off-putting.

    In the late nineties, I was graduating highschool, and I was just scratching my head at stuff like "rise of the supermen" and "Knightfall." And it's really only gone down hill from there.

    It was pretty much right there that I and many of my friends swore off not just DC; but most of the western comics in favor of Manga. Obviously we weren't alone in abandoning a sinking ship if Sales for managa and against pulp is any indicator. This isn't a Manga Vs Comics manifesto, but I doubt I'm alone in saying that the very problems you mention are why the movement took place so strongly.

    Yeah, I enjoy the occasional story with darker content... but um... hello? What the *bleep* happened to the fundamentals like "Truth, Justice, the American Way"? I consider myself pretty liberal when it comes to what I'll let my younger friends and the kids I occasionally tutor read, and there's a lot of stuff in DC these days that are just off limits. As you say, it has its place, but that place is in a spectrum from Toon Titans right through Rose Wilson gouging her eye out. Right now most of the stories seem to lay at the latter end.

    I've been recently rediscovering the Western books, largely thanks to titans tower and my own interest in fanfictions, :) Sadly, I am reminded why I stopped reading the american books in the first place. Raping nightwing? I'm glad I missed that issue.

    Worse, it's not just in the books, if what I hear about the potential for the new Superman movie is any indication... I was always a superman kiddie, and loved Routh (a fellow Iowan) as the man of steel... now they want to turn Supes into yet another emo wrist cutter? blech!

    I especially have to agree with your points about getting off the Hollywood talent and the writing aimed at fanboys. Yeah it's great that Kevin Smith writes the occasional book, but the vast majority of stuff I find interesting is coming directly from the unsung and unwashed masses, the web comic artists, the convention goers and indies, the fan-fiction authors and artists. (heck, my own deviant profile is full of costume designs and fan fics)

    People who would give their right testical or ovary to get their hands on their childhood favorites, or write their own new and very interesting and relevant stuff, but who can't even get a foot in the door because of what several of my friends call "the conspiracy of pen and ink."

    anyways, that's all that doesn't degenrate into a rant, thanks for the thought provoking :)

     

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