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!