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Waiting For Tommy XXV
By Richard Johnston

Interview with Jim Lee
RICHARD: Okay, well let's look at DC, Recently you've been drafted on board to draw Batman. Batman. What does it say about the current state at DC that it needs the likes of Frank Miller and your fine self, to lift the status of a comic featuring one of the most famous characters in he world to a decent level? That without your input Batman would be selling less than Universe X or Marvel Team-Up? And how do you believe that such icons can regain their sales without short-term creative fillips?

JIM: It's been said that DC's greatest weakness is also its greatest strength. DC's the biggest company. That means it's not as nimble as say, the new garage band company du jour, but when it has a hit, it does a great job in delivering the goods. We have the infrastructure, manpower and the capital to make big things happen... big things which no other company out there can replicate to be quite honest.

And I think people greatly underestimate the ability of DC to address the issues you raise, Rich. There will be changes, it's just not going to happen overnight.

RICHARD: Obviously you're party to a lot more than me, Jim, but it hasn't happened for a long time.

JIM: It's not rocket science to say that there are three components to a book's success. And I will speak generally here as I am not directly involved with the DCU other than my work on Batman.

In no particular order: one--the character or high concept, two--the talent, and three--the marketing.

Item one is a no-brainer. DC has those in spades. Superman and Batman and Wonder Woman are the holy trinity at DC and are some of the best-known brands/icons/what-have-you in the world.

Items two and three are a little more difficult to pin down. DC has some great writers and gifted artists. Many are under exclusives. Are they necessarily on the best projects for their given talents? It's an arguable point. I think you will see editorial better utilizing their talent in the coming year. It's about finding the balance between working with talent on projects that they are passionate about, but at the same time, finding the best guy for the best job. Also in finding the balance between shipping titles on time and using, say less reliable talent on more anticipated projects. It takes more planning and work to have for example, Jeph and me working on Batman months and months in advance, but that bet has paid off. It wouldn't surprise me if DC had more pre-planned events like this in the works.

RICHARD: Jim, you're a Vice President, it shouldn't surprise you.

JIM: And I know you can read between the lines [laughter]. Item three--marketing. It's all about the 'mo. I think we were caught a little flatfooted in recent years and perhaps a little complacent in that Marvel was such a mess for so long. In my opinion, we've not kept our fighting form while we were waiting for the next bout. Being privy to some of the DC gameplan for this year and into the future, I can promise you it's not going to stay that way. I've never seen the kind of activity and plans in store for DC marketing for his year. No doubt 2003 will be the tell of the tape and fans will be the ones to benefit the most.

Moreover, I think it's a mistake for companies to ape one another. I like the fact that the top companies in the business all have different approaches to the very same artform and business. It makes for healthy competition and in as small of a business as we are in, I think there is that danger that everyone ends up playing ball with the same style which only makes the game dull. So while Marvel has "ultimatized" and reworked a lot of their continuity for some dramatic sales increases, I think DC has wisely handled Batman. We quadrupled sales without resorting to variant covers, retconning or renumbering. The fans are there and a lot of the ones who left the hobby are coming back. That's what you get when movies like Spider-Man hit big. It may not bring in substantially more new readers, but it has bringing back those fans who had left comics.

THE DARK KNIGHT STRIKES AGAIN HARDCOVER – SIGNED VERSION
Both DKSA and Batman have shown that DC can sell comics as well as or better than anyone else in the business today. Again, I think DC could look to a lot of talent who were labelled as deadline risks and stockpile or inventory 12 issue arcs for later publication. Certainly if DC can push these new storylines out on time, it would distinguish them from many of our competitors. I think continuity should be simplified without being thrown out and each title, particularly those dealing with the same character, should have a separate point of view aimed at different readership groups. For example--Superman should be about the superhero Superman and how he deals with huge world threatening events. Adventures of Superman could be about what it's like to be the man of tomorrow and explore his relationships with Lois, Jimmy, Metropolis etc.

Action Comics could deal with Superman and how he relates to other superheroes... like a team-up book. It's very competitive out there, and I think we need to refresh or update our lines more often so that the titles seem continually new and exciting every single year.

RICHARD: I'll state here and now that if someone starts a Superman's Psychiatrist book, I'll buy it. There's a lot of jam tomorrow you're speculating about here, as you've said, you and Wildstorm have been a part of DC for five years now. You're vice-president of the biggest comic book publisher in the USA, as I keep mentioning. What do you believe you can do to revive the glory days of a decade ago for the industry as a whole?

JIM: First off. I don't think we as an industry can on our own recreate the "glory days" of a decade ago. That was an unnatural period because there were forces beyond our control jumping into our hobby and supercharging it. Business in the 90's would never have been as big if the card speculators had not moved in so aggressively into comics. And I'm not convinced that reviving those days is in the best long-term interests of the business. Yes, absolutely, we need higher sales. Yes, we need more new readers... more kids, more female readers. But books being bought and flipped by the case without ever having been read... hmm, no thanks.

But as far as what I can do... I think I am most effective when I draw more books, more stories. It means I have more pull with the retailers, my bosses, my employees, other professionals, Wizard, the dotcom sites, the fans, what have you. It gives you the chance to have your ideas listened to...it gives you the chance to set into motion whatever agendas or plans you might have. And you build on your successes. Batman averages something like 150,000 copies a month now. My goal on whatever my next high profile project would be to reach the 200,000 sales plateau. The industry can build and grow, but I think we need consistent work, on time books and great stories that fire up the imagination. (Cue Rocky Theme music)

Continued here...

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