Dan DiDio, Mark Waid, Jann Jones and Matt Brady all sat in on the Sunday afternoon panel, taking part in what developed into a large conversation between dozens of people who shared the same passion for comics.
"This isn't about DC Comics. This isn't about Marvel Comics, this is about comic books," DiDio said. He said that any time members of the DC editorial staff get frustrated and wonder why they're in the business, they get a group together and go talk comics. Everything is up for discussion in those meetings, DiDio said, from the first comic you ever read to the silliest story.
"We do that and remember why we're in the business, why we do what we do," DiDio said.
He went around the room, asking people how long they had been reading. The majority fell between 15-20 years. The youngest reader was a kid named Eric in the front row around 10, dressed in an Iron Fist costume. The oldest was a man named Jim sitting up front, who had been reading for 45 years.
DiDio's first comic was "Amazing Spider-Man" #40. For Mark Waid, it was "Batman" #180. For Jones, it was the "Mad Love" graphic novel. Brady remembered the story and the book, just not the number. His first exposure to the books came in an issue of "Detective Comics" entitled "The Many Deaths of Terry Tremaine."
Around the room, responses covered almost every company and type. One man got into comics because growing up, he was a fan of "The Dark Crystal." Tired of sitting and watching it with him, his mom bought the comic book adaption when it came out. A nearby woman got into comics as a way to flirt with a guy she liked, who worked at a local comic store. One teenager saw the Teen Titans cartoon and then went to Barnes & Noble to pick up the book.
DiDio asked the crowd what they liked about comics, what made a great story for them? "And if you say stand-alone, fun stories, you're lying," Waid chimed in.
Several answers rolled in, with one man saying that he just looks at who wrote it, adding that he would buy anything Grant Morrison's name was on. Another person added that they just wanted to see character development, not the same people in the same situations over and over. That got one of the biggest responses, with several people agreeing, but adding they didn't want just change for change's sake. They wanted it to mean something and make sense, based on the character's history. "I love any comic book story that feels like the writer had something to say," Waid added. "Like Steve Gerber," came the response from the crowd.
DiDio said that Gerber was one of the creators he had really wanted to work with, when he first took over as Editor-In-Chief and he was glad that he had the chance, as he had grown reading Gerber's work, as well ad Steve Ditko's and Stan Lee's.
One issue that came up dealt with continuity and how to address what's come before, without driving off new readers.
"Geoff Johns said it best when I first joined DC," DiDio said. "(He said) everyone in this room has continuity, but that doesn't mean I can't meet you for the first time." DiDio said he doesn't see continuity being a problem, citing some of the early comics he was exposed to, like "Avengers" #100. The book itself was part three of a story, but told it in a way that was easy to understand.
DiDio acknowledged however that people criticize DC for some of their characters that are in multiple books, like Robin, saying that they are written differently and almost unrecognizable from each other. "What you're working with are three different writers with three different skill sets and possibly, three different editors," DiDio said. "Because of that, things take a different tone. We try to make them all feel the same, but it's a tough task."
He added that it was a tough task especially for DC, as they deal with generational heroes. For Marvel, he said, when you say Iron Man, someone thinks of Tony Stark. When someone says Green Lantern, well you've got Hal Jordan, Kyle Rayner, John Stewart, Guy Gardner and the rest.
"One of the hardest aspects of DC Comics is the generational aspect," DiDio said, adding that while other heroes age and change, the "Big Three" of Wonder Woman, Superman and Batman don't. "What we do is keep reinventing the wheel around them," he said, "and that's why I have the running joke that one day, Dick Grayson is going to wake up older than Bruce Wayne."
Another fan from the audience said that he had a problem with DC buying the Charlton characters because they weren't using the ones he remembered. They had taken the names but left out the charm, he said. Charlton's line included Captain Atom, the Ted Kord Blue Beetle, the original Question and Captain Marvel, among others.
"The thing is, when you talk about charm, you're talking about the verbiage and slang and personality of the character when it was written by its creators," DiDio said. "It's hard to capture that lighting in a bottle again. If I had Steve Ditko drawing for DC today, we wouldn't make those changes. If Jack Kirby was still around, do you think we'd be doing anything with the way the New Gods are created? Absolutely not," DiDio said. "(I) wouldn't do it."
A member of the audience said that's why he only reads Elseworlds books, because they're so accessible and nobody has to worry about continuity.
"But we're in the periodical business," DiDio said. "If nothing else attracts you, then I've lost you (as a customer). That becomes a problem." He said that when he first took over, it seemed like the best creators were working on alternate versions of the characters. DiDio said that he would rather focus that creativity into the "main" versions of Superman, Batman and the rest.
Mark Waid's encyclopedic knowledge of comics was put to the test time and again during the panel. Either the audience or one of his fellow creators would make an obscure reference and he would be able to say the exact comic and issue that it took place in. Audience members in the back of the room held up old Silver Age comics they had bought at the show and Waid was able to get it right almost every time, naming everything from "Lois Lane" #111 to "Justice League" #143.
"This is the saddest thing ever," he said. "Ask me who my congressman is and I'll have no idea."
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