The recent news of DC Comics relaunching their entire line has been fascinating to report on and discuss and has dominated much of the conversation here on iFanboy as well as around the comic book industry, but has left us with a lot of questions Yesterday we had the opportunity to sit down with DC Comics Editor-In-Chief Bob Harras and Executive Editor Eddie Berganza for 15 minutes and ask some of the more burning questions on our mind. As you read the interview below, the key things to note are the level of commitment they're making to the idea of digital comics and just how excited Harras and Berganza are for this fresh start with all their characters.
iFanboy: Our first question is an obvious one that I'm sure you've been asked already, but… Why?
Bob Harras: You're the first one to ask that. It's amazing (laughs) Why? Eddie and I got to our positions last year and one of the things we started talking about with everybody was…we're fans; a lot of people here are fans and what we love about these characters is, we've got Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern. We've got all these great characters and what we really want to do is expose these characters to a much broader base of readers out there than we currently have. How could we do that? What could we do that would actually create excitement…I use the metaphor, "Party." How could we create a party and invite as many people into this party to really join the fun and experience DC Comics. And that's really how that started, just conversations like that.
Eddie Berganza: And the accessibility, how do you get everybody interested? What is the way to open it up? Like he said, it's the party and opening the doors up and letting everybody just come in.
iF: At what point did this specific idea first come up? How long has it been in the planning stages?
BH: It's been on for a while. It's one of those things where you're in it and you never have enough time but you've had a long time to put this together. It's a process of talking to writers and artists and editors and just getting them all onboard. And building towards September. And that's been the fun. It really has been fun, every morning coming in and seeing what's come in on e-mail, what new art's come in, what new storylines have come in and that's kind of the excitement that's being built and I think one of the gratifying things for Eddie and me has been this sense of excitement and energy with the creators, with the writers and artists and the editors, there's just this sense that we're doing something big here.
EB: Yeah, the energy that you have going with them, the new number ones, the freshness, the fact that a lot of the confinements are gone. It's just, "Here everybody, jump on." And with it, there's been planning. I know from the fan's point of view, they're like, "Oh my god! They're throwing everything out! Nothing counts!" But no, there's storylines that count. Like The Killing Joke is obviously a very big part, if you remember it, it was important to [Barbara Gordon], then we're keeping it and using it as a basis to expand on our stories.
iF: That's really the question then. Up to this point, a lot of the speculation has been that this is a "reboot" and you're wiping the board clean. But then we've heard that some things are staying the same, like most of the Batman books, except that Barbara Gordon is out of the wheelchair. We're seeing inconsistencies in what is actually happening…
BH: As Eddie said earlier, we took a lot of care in building this and one of the things that Eddie and his team took point on was creating a timeline that would be given to all the writers and hit on points that were still very important to the lives of these characters. Things like The Killing Joke is a very important event in Barbara Gordon's life and that's still part and parcel of her life, because we were looking for events that impacted the characters lives and not only because they impacted them in the past but those events have ripple effects in their lives going forward. We haven't thrown the baby out with the bath water. We created a whole world where important events are still part of these characters lives.
EB: Right, like Blackest Night, Brightest Day…you don't have to get rid of your t-shirts. This all happened. (laughs)
iF: How difficult of a balancing act has it been to cater to new fans while keeping your loyal readers happy and not posting on message boards, going crazy?
EB: I think the essence is, and I don't see anyone disagreeing with this, a good story. A good story brings everybody in. It doesn't matter what the timeline is, what they're wearing, if you don't care about the character, you're not going to care about anything. And it's not even numbering. It's making that first issue very important to the character, how it evolves from there, really engaging you. And the thing is, not to be mired in a lot of continuity. I think both new and old fans would appreciate that.
iF: What was the process of picking the 52 titles for the launch in September like? You've got so many characters and so many titles to choose from, there are some that are noticaby missing, others that surprised a lot of people. Did you have a big board with them all?
BH: We had a big board with a lot of things on it (laughs)
iF: I love a big board (laughs)
BH: You know, a lot of things were surprising to us. There were characters that came up that we didn't expect that actually have been some of the more exciting books to come together. One of the things we're building towards is using day and date digital which is part and parcel with September, is that we could expand the genre within the DC Universe. We could do books like I, Vampire and horror books and we could do westerns and that actually freed up a lot of our creators who said, "Oh, I can tell stories like this!" because we're looking at a broader base of readers out there and that was all a part of the big board process.
EB: Even something like Man of War, which is dealing with something that's realistic now, guys in the Army serving. I mean, let's face it, those are our real heroes right now. So to have the ability and a way to get that story to them? That's important too.
iF: Ok, so just to clarify a few things for me: in September, every title will be day and date digital and only Justice League #1 will have the option of a combo pack including the comic and a download code?
BH: Yes, Right.
iF: Alright, so when you're measuring the success of a book, will you be taking into account the digital download numbers along with the Diamond Sales numbers to determine the success of a book?
BH: I think the approach going forward is that they're looking at all our platforms, and sales across all the platforms.
iF: What is the publishing approach for you as editors with a move like this? Is every title an ongoing series, or will we see into next year, some titles get cut to mini-series if they don't sell well?
BH: The intention is that these are all ongoing series. That's always the intention when we go forward with this. Hopefully they will hit their audience and they will be incredibly successful going forward. September is not the end game, it's the beginning of something bigger. We have big plans beyond September, which is part of the fun as well. Everyone is concentrating on September, as they should be, but we're already moving beyond that.
iF: Well, we've seen as fans, from all publishers, a series comes out and gets to 5 issues and sales aren't where they need to be and then it's gone. As fans look at the list of 52 titles and plan their shopping list for September, there's some hesitancy to take on more [titles] because a fan may see a book they think is really exciting, it might not last until April, so why bother? I don't know if that's something you're concerned about and there's a commitment to a time frame, like a year for each title to find their audience?
EB: Right now we have equal value on all of them.
BH: That's how we're viewing them, we're determined that these are going to be exciting books across the board.
iF: You mentioned there were characters and titles that surprised you. Which ones? Were you like, "I can't believe we're doing Resurrection Man?"
EB: I'm happy because I started as the original editor on Resurrection Man, so the ability to come back and do something again and know that you're going to hit a wider audience. I always thought that it was such a simple concept: guy dies, comes back with a new power. I mean, that's really easy. So now to know that someone can download it to their iPad and go to the beach or wherever and be reading it, that's why this is great.
BH: They're all my favorites. I think we've got some great material coming in. There have been unexpected books like Frankenstein: Agent of S.H.A.D.E. or Animal Man, who we're bringing back, they're both by Jeff Lemire and the artists are doing a fantastic job. When those pages come in, we just stop and look at them and go, "This is just astounding stuff. The artwork is amazing." And that's the very gratifying thing about this. That we're just creating a wider breadth of comics, and again, digital is allowing us the opportunity to do that. I can't say that one thing is my favorite, I really have to say that everything that's been coming in has been…like I keep saying, when I open up my e-mail with an attachment, I just go, "This is great." What we've got coming is great stuff.
EB: It's really cool to be in on the ground floor as everythig is coming in, everything is fresh, everything is new. You're getting a new take. There's nothing that feels like, again, that has all that weight of history. t's a number 1, here. It's just fun stuff coming out.
iF: In addition to starting fresh with the DC Universe, you're folding in characters from Vertigo and Wildstorm. Characters that don't necessarily have any history with Superman or anyone else. Is that a challenge to shoehorn them in?
BH: I don't think shoehorn is the term. It's actually fun. It's taking these characters and introducing them into the DC continuity. It's like new kids in school. It's fun to see how Superman or Batman will react to this character, it's that ripple effect that I enjoy. There's something there that is not just the introduction of one character, but his impact across the line. Like, Swamp Thing coming back to the DCU is phenomenal. We've got incredible art coming in every day by Yanick Paquette and just seeing that come together is incredibly exciting.
EB: And to see it grow organically too. We're dealing with one of the characters that grows from something that's been established in the DCU for a while and now this character is going to be part of that. It's not like we're trying to force this in, no, it comes out of the stories that are already in place. It's done really naturally.
iF: Sure, like the reaction I had when I saw the artwork for StormWatch and saw Martian Manhunter in it…
EB: Yeah! That's what I mean.
BH: It comes out of talking about character, what character would work? What would be the ripple effect in this character's life? And that's part of the fun. That's part of what September has been all about.
EB: When you have a book like Legion Lost, which is these heroes coming through time and how that affects what's here. What's that ripple effect and that's what we're playing with because it is a universe we're growing from.
iF: When all the announcements happened last week, there was a lot of attention to not just the titles, but I was surprised at how much attention was paid to the creators. It was almost like baseball draft day…
iF: What was the approach and process for selecting the creative teams for each title like?
EB: It goes back to that big board again…
BH: …Talking to writers and artists about what characters they'd work on? Who would they like to work with? Creating that kind of team concept that you really want. One of the things that has been very gratifying has been having artists and writers talk and really say, "I want to do this type of story and I want to go in this direction," and create that type of energy that creates exciting comics, I think. We had a lot of conversations with people. That was a large part of this process, saying, "What book would you like to do? What direction would you like to go in?" It was all part of a very organized and very focused approach at making September as big as it possibly could be.
EB: There's familiar names, but there's a lot of new names too. It was fun, choosing and mixing up who lands where, challenging them. They felt challenged so you're definitely going to get very different stories.
iF: We've heard that there were creators who pitched and there were teams in place on books and in the days before the announcements, [those creators] got pulled off and were replaced. In some cases were these teams a last minute decision? How down to the wire were some of these books?
BH: Most of those books, it was not down to the wire. I wouldn't say that.
EB: There are 52…(laughs)
BH: Right (laughs) so there's that. I would say the vast majority was not anything along those lines. We were very comfortable proceeding. I think we've got some great stuff.
iF: In terms of some of the missing titles or missing creators, there are alot of people who have been affiliated with DC Comics for a very long time who don't have books. There are a lot of characters who have seen great success like Power Girl and the JSA that were not announced. Are those characters on the shelf for a while and are those creators done at DC?
EB: Well, we're not done yet (laughs) This is just the beginning.
BH: Right, this is just the starting point. That's the exciting part of this. There's events to come. There are things to come, which is part of the excitement.
EB: Stuff's growing. Sure, you're going to want some of the old stuff, but you're also going to want some of the new stuff that you're not even expecting.
iF: So there will be spinoffs, and things will happen naturally as characters get popular?
BH: And as Eddie mentioned earlier, is that reading all these plots and looking at all the artwork is the fun thing and the intriguing thing is saying, "You're doing this and you're doing this, there are ripple effects. It would be great to acknowledge this and see what kind of drama can come out of that type of, not quite crossover, but acknowledgement that these events are happening in the same place." And that's actually intriguing to the writers and artists who say, "Ok that's cool, he's doing that so I'm going to reflect that over here."
EB: They're all in the same world.
BH: Right, it's creating that kind of organic drama that we like.
iF: Imagine we're sitting here a year from now in 2012, and the world hasn't ended, and you're looking back on this, how will you measure what you've done with this relaunch? The reason I ask is because over the recent years, a lot of what DC and Marvel have done with the comics have been dismissed by some as intellectual property farms for movies, cartoons and video games. But this appears like a real commitment to publishing and selling comics as a product. It seems like you're stepping up and saying, "No, we make comic books."
BH: Right, and that's really what we're saying, that we love comic books and that's why we're here. A measure of success? Honestly, my measure will be, are people still excited? Will people just can't wait for the next issue? Will we still have the sense of energy here. That's really my measure of success.
EB: And well, it's the next 52…(laughs)
iF: Finally, as you've come into your new role here at DC Comics and you looked at the work ahead of you, was this something you felt DC Comics had to do?
BH: I think at some ways we wanted, and it wasn't just Eddie and me–I want to stress that, DC wanted to embrace the future. The world is changing. How people get their entertainment, how they read is changing as well. That's one of the reasons day and date digital is so important. We have to embrace the future and that's part of what this is.
EB: And you know, part of this is so exciting. We're both fans and to be on this as it evolves and creates, it's really, really cool and what else can you say about comics but that? (laughs)
Be sure to check out the complete list of the new 52 titles coming from DC Comics this September as well as the epic discussion in the comments section.