DC Comics Publisher and Chief Creative Officer Jim Lee recently discussed the recent layoffs at the company and the future of DC Comics.
Speaking with The Hollywood Reporter (THR), Lee stated, “This week has been a really heavy difficult time not just for me, but for the entire organization.”
“We’ve said goodbye to people that have been huge contributors and who have helped define and make DC what it is today,” he stated.
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He would specifically be asked if DC Comics is still publishing comics. Lee answered, “Absolutely. One hundred percent. It is still the cornerstone of everything that we do. The need for storytelling, updating the mythology, is vital to what we do.”
He then added, “The organization leans on us to share and establish the meaningful elements of the content that they need to use and incorporate for all their adaptations. When we think about reaching global audiences, and we see comics as helping drive that awareness and that international brand, it’s very much part of our future.”
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Then Lee shockingly revealed just how bad their lineup had been performing. He also detailed they would be reducing the lineup significantly.
Lee stated, “That said, we will be reducing the size of the slate. But it’s about looking at everything and looking at the bottom 20 percent, 25 percent of the line that wasn’t breaking even or was losing money.”
Lee would try and put an optimistic spin on the dismal state of their lineup, “It’s about more punch for the pound, so to speak, and increasing the margins of the books that we are doing.”
The fact that a quarter of their lineup doesn’t make the company money is shocking in the fact that Lee admitted it. But Lee and former DC Comics Publisher Dan DiDio had previously detailed in 2018 that things weren’t all that well for the comic book industry specifically DC Comics.
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DiDio explained at the time, “It’s a lot of products. There’s still a finite dollar in the marketplace, at least in the direct marketplace, that we see it recycles through. The base price for periodical comics now is $3.99, for the most part. I have to believe that some of that money goes to buying books at a higher price [rather] than buying a wider set of books that are out there.”
He also admitted that there was a sense of contraction in the business, “We’re just keeping an eye on the market itself. That’s one of the reasons why we’re trying different initiatives in other areas, because if there is a sense of contraction taking place, then we’ve got to show growth in areas that we think there’s opportunity, like the young adult market.”
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Later he claimed that the first issue of Three Jokers sold over 300,000 copies and that every issue of the Joker War storyline in Batman has increased in sales numbers.
The last reported sales numbers from Comichron came in March. Batman #90 shipped an estimated 87,385 copies and Batman #91 shipped an estimated 88,735.
Those books were the 2nd and 3rd most shipped books behind Marvel’s Spider-Woman #1. That book shipped 142,089 copies. The Joker War storyline didn’t begin until Batman #95, which debuted in July.
He then noted that they plan to align the comics with franchise brand content. It’s unclear what this means and Lee doesn’t really explain it. He states, “It was about aligning the books to the franchise brand content we’ve developed and making sure that every book we put out, we put out for a reason.”
When asked about promoting Marie Javins and Michele Wells to interim editors-in-chiefs, Lee committed the company to “diversity and inclusivity.”
He told THR, “We thought it would be a great pairing to bring them together to help draft and organize the content we’re doing along these lines. Across digital, across global, we want to make sure we have diversity and inclusivity, and making it in a way that we have authenticity to the storytelling that we’re doing.”
“It’s really about consolidating all of our efforts and having every editors involved in all these directives and also organizing, broadly speaking, in content that is for kids 6 to 11 and then 12 to 45. It’s about consolidating format and oversight to a smaller, more concentrated editorial group,” he elaborated.
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Lee has made similar remarks about diversity and inclusivity in the past. Back in February at C2E2 he detailed what DC Comics’ editorial focus would be saying, “Our focus in talking to editorial team is to continue what we’ve done best: Character-driven stories, pairing right creators on right characters, and developing characters that are inclusive and diverse.”
While Lee announced that their publishing line will be significantly reduced, he did state that there is not a “pencils down notice.” He said, “Everyone has been notified to keep working on all the projects that we’ve already greenlit and started. To that extent, there is no change.”
THR would then ask Lee about a rumor that AT&T wants to get out of the comics business. Lee responded, “I don’t think they want to stop us from publishing comics. Comics serve a lot of different purposes and one of them is it’s a great way to incubate ideas and creating the next great franchises. We want to continue that. Why would you want to stop that? Why would you want to stop creating great content that could be used across the greater enterprise?”
As for DC Universe, Lee confirmed it would be migrating to HBO Max.
He explained, “The original content that is on DCU is migrating to HBO Max. Truthfully, that’s the best platform for that content. The amount of content you get, not just DC , but generally from WarnerMedia, is huge and it’s the best value proposition, if I’m allowed to use that marketing term. We feel that is the place for that.”
He added, “In regards to the community and experience that DCU created, and all the backlist content, something like 20.000 to 25,000 different titles, and the way it connected with fans 24-7, there is always going to be a need for that. So we’re excited to transform it and we’ll have more news on what that will look like. It’s definitely not going away.”
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He then discussed DC Direct and noted that they will be changing their business model to higher priced collectible with a focus on licensing.
Lee explained, “It’s about evolving the model. We want to produce those collectible and serve those fans, but we will probably shift to a higher price point collectible and more of a licensing model, working with manufacturers we already work with.”
“From a consumer point of view, there will not be a change or drop off in the quality of the work they are seeing. Behind the scenes, how we create it and how we get it to them is going to change. We still have our principal lead of DC Direct, Jim Fletcher, with the company. He will be showcased in a fun panel with J Scott Campbell at Fandome,” he added.
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As for the future of DC Comics and where Lee sees the company in two years, he believes it there will be more international content as well as more digital content.
Lee elaborated, “When you talk about growing our business, both physical and digital, to me the opportunities are global. That’s what we’ll be focusing on.”
“Sometimes that takes the form of content that we take here and translate and sell in other marketplaces, but we want to partner with creatives in various territories and unlock stories that feel authentic to their marketplaces with characters that they can embrace as their own, and look for opportunities to take those characters and seed them throughout all our mythology,” he explained.
As for their digital strategy he explains they hope to follow the example of Injustice where he claims it outsold Batman the year it debuted. It’s unclear if he’s referring to just digital sales or overall sales. Regardless, he hopes to translate digital success to print success like Injustice explaining, “And when we took that content and reprinted it in physical form, we sold hundreds of thousands of units. It was as big of a hit in physical as in in digital.”
He adds, “We’ll take the most successful books and repackage it as physical books.”
Lee also admits that they will focus on digital sales over physical periodicals, “I think there is definitely business to be had in physical periodicals. But that said, I think there’s greater upside in digital because we can go to a more global audiences and the barrier to entry, especially in this pandemic, is lower.”
“It’s a lot easier to get digital content into the hands of consumers that want to read stories. We want to lean into that and think thoughtfully what digital content should be, what it should look like, the format,” Lee concluded.
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What do you make of Lee’s assessment of DC Comics and his plans for the company moving forward?