Comic Book Day: Getting Brave and Bold with Jim Lee
By Dan Casey on August 15, 2012
After hitting the restart button on its entire universe and creating a series of controversial prequels for one of the most popular graphic novels of all time, DC Entertainment has had one hell of a year, to say the least. Now that we can finally exhale after all the Comic-Con hype and the anticipation of seeing The Dark Knight Rises, it’s time to focus on what’s ahead for these purveyors of printed power-wielders and to reflect on the experiments of the past year. For example, this September will see the launch of DC’s “Zero Month,” a celebration of the one year anniversary of the New 52’s launch and means for new readers to catch up via #0 issues telling stories of the team’s pre-launch history. Luckily, I was able to sit down with co-publisher Jim Lee to pick his brain on what fans can expect going forward and his thoughts on how brave and bold DC has been.
Jim Lee: Well, you know, we’re actually right in the middle of it. We don’t really go back and reflect too much because we’re continually adding to and evolving the New 52, but I’d say the launch was spectacular. We’re very happy with how it started; it got unprecedented attention and coverage, and the results in terms of the sales have been tremendous, so we’re very happy with that. But, we’re not resting on our laurels. We’re looking at the entire line and trying to come up with the right mix of genre books, superhero books, the price point – all that stuff. The bottom line is “what can improve?” So, in September, we’re doing Zero Month, where we’re renumbering all the books to #0 and making a really easy jump-on point for new readers, as well as lapsed readers who are just now coming to New 52. You can look forward to four new books – Talon, Team Seven, Phantom Stranger and Sword of Sorcery. All of these fill particular niches and touch upon particular corners of the universe that DC’s famous for.
N: Of the New 52 titles, which have been unexpectedly successful?
JL: Books that have outperformed maybe the initial expectations of what we thought the fan base would be…certainly Scott Snyder’s Swamp Thing and Jeff Lemire’s Animal Man have captured a very strong following already. That’s not something you can necessarily predict and it’s half the fun of putting these books out, seeing how all the chips fall.
JL: It’s been really positive. Obviously, there’s a lot of controversy, just like New 52, but we knew that going in. But, we also knew that we had assembled a great team of creators to work on the books and we knew that they would deliver and the fans would respond favorably. You know, it’s very hard to imagine something you haven’t read or seen yet, but we always knew that we had that in our back pocket. Wait ’til the books come out, wait ’til the books come out, and then we’ll talk about how they’re doin’. In that respect, the response has been tremendous and the books are doing very well.
N: Of the Before Watchmen line, do you have a favorite title?
JL: That’s a good question. Rorschach is a gutsy book, man. Tremendous art by Lee Bermejo. Ozymandias is also really terrific – Len Wein and Jae Lee is just doing killer, superb artwork on that. Really just the best artwork of his career, honestly – kind of a naturalistic style, beautiful layouts. Silk Spectre by Amanda Conner and Darwyn Cooke. Amanda has really done some tremendous layouts on it. It’s a really poignant story; it has a lot of heart to it, so I don’t know. Every single book – The Comedian from J.G. Jones and Brian Azzarello, they’re just killin’ it. Darwyn Cooke is, y’know, the guy is a machine. He does everything on the book and he’s always giving us new angles and new perspectives on what we thought we new. Not just on Before Watchmen, but on New Frontier and in general where he’s delved deeper into the mythology and extracted cool bits of story and character development. They’re all masters, like JMS [J. Michael Straczynski] and Andy Kubert, working with his father, Joe Kubert, on Nite Owl – that’s a coming-of-age story right there and it’s interesting to have the subtext of working with a son on that.
[EDITOR’S NOTE: Unfortunately, legendary comic book artist Joe Kubert passed away on Sunday, August 12, 2012. We salute the man and send our deepest condolences to his friends and family.]
JL: I almost feel like the more I would urge them to check it out, the more they’d be resistant. I think you need to just let people process what the project is, the ramifications of it, and let them come to their own terms. Maybe it’s not today, maybe it’s when the trades come out, maybe it’s in five years when people look back on it and say, “Wow, that was a lot of brouhaha over…” Time gives you a lot of perspective on things, and I think time will look favorably on this project.
N: And I agree with you there. A lot of folks tend to forget that Watchmen wasn’t originally released as a trade; it was episodic, which can color one’s perspective.
JL: Exactly. It can totally change how you approach the material.
N: One of the bigger news stories recently was about Green Lantern – Alan Scott – coming out as gay. It was obviously a huge deal seeing as he is the first major openly gay character in the DC Universe. Some readers were miffed that he’s not in the “prime” universe, but rather on Earth-2. How do you address those concerns?
JL: You know what? To us, Earth-2 is one of the New 52 books. The multiple earths have been part of DC Comics’ DNA and what makes it’s different from other comics is that all of these are important. Earth-2 and the earth on which New 52 takes place – they’re all paramount and they each interface with other books, even though it’s on another alternate earth. It shows that it’s significant. I think that’s honestly a little nitpicky. It’s like saying that Superman: Earth One or Batman: Earth One, the graphic novels, aren’t as good as other works because they’re not on the “true Earth,” and they’re tremendous stories. There’s always some negative to any positive you can conceive of, and, to me, that seems a minor quibble.
N: This last year has seen DC embrace the digital comics format vis-a-vis apps like comiXology. What do you think of digital comics? Is that the future of the medium or is it just an alternative means of consumption?
JL: It’s not that everything will become digital comics and that’s the future of the industry, and there won’t be any more print. Look, when I was a kid, they said computers were going to make paper go away and now there’s more paper than ever. So, to me, there will be a hybrid – and there is a hybrid – it will be an evolution of what we have now. There will be print for those who like picking up a physical copy and there will be digital for those who like taking their collections with them. They’re not apples and apples. They’re apples and kind of oranges. The reading experience is different, the double-page spreads are different. You’re not turning it page by page, so, to me, I think there’s room for both, and having that choice allows us to reach more people and gives people more incentive to read comics.
N: You’re very busy as a co-publisher, but you still find time to do covers for things like Legendary Comics’ Tower Chronicles. Do you find that your prefer wearing one hat over the other? How do you balance those responsibilities?
JL: I don’t think I could do one at the exclusion of the other. I find that being on both sides of the fence gives me a unique perspective of the business and also creatively. They exercise some of the same muscles, but in different ways and it’s a great way of keeping yourself fresh for both. Doing the creative work is very rewarding and fulfilling, but I also like being able to help shape DC Entertainment and the industry through broader entertainment like digital comics. It’s great to have your hands in both pots.
N: I had the chance to speak to Darwyn Cooke a while back and we were wondering about the possibility of a Minutemen animated series. What do you think?
JL: That’s really more of a question for Geoff Johns; it’s more of his provenance. My stock answer to these type of questions is, of course it would be great to see all that type of stuff. In a perfect world, we’d have every cool version of every cool story brought to life as games and TV, but my focus is more on the print/digital publishing side. That’s where we get tremendous joy and fulfillment. We look to the comics as a source material, so the fact that Warner Bros. or DC are working on other iterations is just gravy.
N: You must be buried in comics, so tell us – what are you reading and enjoying right now?
JL: Actually, I read all my comics on the iPad because I travel a lot, so it’s impossible to grab all the stories. It’s nice to be able to read an interview with the creator, download it right there and check it out. That’s not just for DC; it’s for any publisher that makes their titles available digitally. The “Night of Owls” storyline – I really admire what Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo are doing with Batman. It’s very, very hard to introduce something into the Batman mythology that feels like it should be there and is new, but they did it poise and ease. I’m in awe of them because they were able to do it so easily and so convincingly. That’s a great storyline; everyone should read it.
N: Apart from September’s “Zero Month,” is there anything we can look forward to in the coming months from DC?
JL: That’s pretty much it. Of course, we teased “Trinity War,” which is coming in 2013. August’s Justice League #12 is going to look into that, so that’s an important issue. Obviously, Neil Gaiman’s return to Sandman is going to be tremendous. Get Jiro! from Anthony Bourdain and Joel Rose – it’s a great read, it’s kind of hilarious and Mad Max-ish at the same time. It’s a cool look at the food scene as perceived by a comic book mentality, so you should check it out.
For more on “Zero Month” and the happenings at DC Entertainment, check out its website. What is your favorite title from New 52/Before Watchmen so far? Quemment below and let us know!