Talking To DC About Stuff Like That – Jim Lee, Geoff Johns, Dan DiDio, Diane Nelson And The Other Two

Well that was a conversation I never thought I’d have. I just spoke to a round table of the DC’s new High Five – Jim Lee, Geoff Johns, Dan Didio, Patrick Caldon and John Rood, with Diane Nelson on bass. The fact that they actually invited me into such a conversation indicates a change. And I’m sure they were well aware of how this would come over to me – and to you.

I’d like to apologise to Patrick Caldon and John Rood for not addressing enough to those guys – that’s my weakness, I don’t know enough about your roles, your background or your personas. Soon I’m sure I’ll get a better grip and I’ll be photoshopping ball gags onto your faces just like the good old days.

But I did have some niggling questions to ask and I did get answers. I even managed to write some of them down. I’m sure I missed all the big ones and didn’t seize on the right opportunities and, two hours later, I know there’s questions I wished I’d asked but there you go.

As everyone in the room introduced themselves, it did feel like I was undergoing the interview from hell. But that was okay, so did they.

I asked about the role of Executive Editor – now it seems abandoned by Dan DiDio in his new role as Co-Publisher. Were the duties being shared out or was there a new hire for the role to be announced. Dan DiDio told me (yeah,  know, doesn’t that feel weird?) that this is still a transitional period and that this kind of question will be sorted out as the new team comes together. I pointed out that that was a hell of a politician’s answer, Jim Lee told me that they’re all in politics now.

I asked how they could explain that Paul Levitz used to be President and Publisher, one man doing the whole job, yet they now felt they needed to divide the job between six people, and that it felt top heavy in comparison. Diane Nelson, President of DC Entertainment told me (I know, it doesn’t get old) that this is a bigger job. a more complicated job, expanding beyond publishing comics across media and into digital publishing. And that the team had been put together for their different expertise in different fields.

Which brought me onto a long standing rumour – that Paul Levitz and DC Comics did not believe they owned the rights to the back catalogue of DC work, and that explained why DC created Zuda and has not yet put existing print comics online. Something Jim Lee, new Co-Publisher, was happy to trash. Certainly Lee doesn’t believe there’s a legal issue at stake here, he puts it down to DC continuing to research possibilities and not yet being happy with the recreated comic book experience online. But indicating that this may be changing.

I wanted to ask about the roles of other specific employees at DC in the light of this news, Diane Nelson let me know I wasn’t going to get any answers there. And doing a Paxman would probably have been counter-productive.

Then there were the issues of conflict of interest. Such as Geoff Johns, new Chief Creative Officer, and his part-owned comic shop, Earth-2 in California. Was the position compatible with co-owning a store – and might Geoff feel forced to sell it so soon? Absolutely not, said Johns. He believes a stake in a store not only educates him as to the needs of the market, but lets the direct market know how important it is to him – and Johns loves the direct market. Nelson added that this issue had been raised at Warner but that the company was supportive of Geoff.

On that point I asked about other conflicts – the roles of executives giving themselves creative work, and the likely extra remuneration this would generate for each individual. Once commonplace, it has become frowned upon of late – and with more creatives taking executive roles, was this an issue?

Nelson said DC didn’t comment on executive contracts but did emphasise that Warners wanted Geoff Johns and Jim Lee working creatively on the books – that was kinda the point – and this was all covered by the contracts. This wasn’t a case of editors giving themselves extra work, this was part of the whole creative plan.

I did want to know what the reporting structure was – DC and Warner’s organisations have been described as byzantine by me enough times – and by Nelson herself in another interview – and she told me that all five report directly to her, which is as straight forward as it gets. I raised the point that this kind of structure can create schisms and asked if she was a Solomon figure here, but she emphasised that she had specifically picked a team that was complimentary to each other not competitive. Which is a very different attitude to what DC has experienced of late where competitory approaches were encouraged in some kind of survival of the fittest bear pit approach.

I asked about the rumours that now is a very good time for an artist to approach DC, that a massive expansion is taking place regarding the publication of comics. There was no real comment, but Dan DiDio wanted to stress that the company is opening new doors and listening to new projects. Something I can confirm talking to othr creatives who, if a little unsure, do seem as excited as everyone in the room seemed to be.

Didio also wanted to stress the importance of Vertigo’s American Vampire half of which is written by Stephen King, (Jim Lee was keen to mention Scott Snyder as writer of the other half and Rafael Albuquerque as artist) as the only comics project that King is actually writing, as in Page One, Panel One… which brought me on to ask about rumours that a change in Vertigo creative contracts had seen familiar Vertigo creators leave the company. DiDio denied any Vertigo contractual changes (though given time I would have retorted that confirmation of those changes from said creators, subsequent creators and other executive DC staff) but emphasised all sorts of new possibilities with all sorts of people.

The DC High Five have been talking to lots of people today. There will be accusations of spin, of evading real issues, or presenting a facade.

But only last year DC Comics representatives would not contact me directly – in one case asking retailer Jim Hanley to pass on the message that if I pursued a Collect Hitman In Trades campaign in my column that they would specifically guarantee that Hitman would not be collected (Hitman is now being collected in trade paperbacks.)

This is not the DC Comics I spoke to today. Anything could happen. As I said, concluding the call, at the end of a long hard slog for them all, this is a Brand New Day.

Okay, I should have said Brightest Day but it was gone midnight for me, I was up at six and I want my bed.

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