Interview by Martha Cornog
We can’t go back in time to the Great Library of Alexandria, wave our wands, and reinvent similar Library Wonders all around the world to jump-start a universally advanced civilization in this or another universe. But the archetype-defining DC Comics could and did relaunch its entire superhero universe, crystallized in the “New 52” series that started last month. This includes well-known characters that have been around for decades, like Batman and the JLA team (Justice League of America), as well as lesser-known or newer characters like Mister Terrific and Batwing. What’s more, DC went to simultaneous release for all 52 in both print and digital formats. We caught up with DC Editor in Chief Bob Harras about the series and what it could mean for libraries.
MC: DC describes the launch as a new beginning that builds off the best of the past. The main purpose is to interest new readers in these compelling stories, correct? Starting all over again without 70 years of continuity makes it so much easier to jump into superhero comics. Libraries are all about growing new readers, so librarians can very much understand where you’re coming from.
BH: Yes, much of the impetus for the “New 52” launch is to excite fans and interest new readers in order to continue growing our business for the future. These are stories that are easy jumping-on points, but not all the history is gone. New readers don’t need to know everything that’s happened before, but veteran readers will still find many of the comic book series recognizable. With multiple genres including superhero, Western, and dark and edgy, the “New 52” has something for everyone.
MC: Five African American characters have their own series among the “New 52”: Batwing, Mister Terrific, Firestorm, Voodoo, and Static Shock, picking up from DC’s experience with Milestone Comics in the 1990s. How are your plans shaping up for future diverse characters? Liquid Comics has released a comic about a disabled teen, the Silver Scorpion. DC has no disabled superheroes at the moment now that Barbara Gordon/Batgirl can use her legs again.
BH: We are constantly striving for diversity in our books and with our characters, which is why I’m very proud of the five titles you mentioned. I think we’ve been making great strides in that area—in our intent to reflect society as it is now—but we can and will do better.
And while Barbara Gordon has, indeed, regained the use of her legs in Batgirl, writer Paul Cornell tells me that people should pay special attention to a character called Horse Woman appearing in one of our new titles, Demon Knights.
MC: Right now, the “New 52” are coming out only in comic book form, but most libraries circulate the graphic novel format. Will DC be collecting all 52 series into hardback or paperback trade collections?
BH: Yes, we will. The collections will begin rolling out in May 2012.
MC: Librarians and patrons will surely be interested in the relationship of the “New 52” series to the older DC series. Will DC release a reference document, a sort of map showing how the new series relate to the older ones? For example, Men of War picks up from Sgt. Rock.
BH: We don’t have any document or map planned. Hopefully, the information readers need to make the connections will be in the stories. In Men of War, for instance, all you need to know is that Joe Rock is the grandson of World War If’s Sgt. Rock. It’s a nice touchstone for readers who are familiar with the older character, but a new reader doesn’t need to know Sgt. Rock’s entire life story to enjoy the series.
MC: Does DC plan to keep many of the hardback and paperback titles of the older series in print? A new fan of, say, Birds of Prey may want to read the previous books about when the wheelchair-bound Oracle headed up the team.
BH: Collections of our older series are going to stay in print as long as sales and interest warrant. Hopefully, they’ll always be found in libraries.
MC: Many public libraries circulate eBooks through the vendor Overdrive. Although Overdrive offers a number of comics, none is from DC. Have you thought about making your digital comics available to libraries either through third-party licensing or with a direct library relationship? What kind of arrangement would you like to have with a library to make that work for you?
BH: Hank Canals, our senior vice president of digital, has told me, “We’re exploring many different options to distribute our digital comics to the widest possible audience, including libraries.”
MC: Do you find that your staff and writers/artists read e-comics, print comics, or both?
BH: I would say this is evolving quickly. Up until a few months ago, I would have said the vast majority of writers and artists read comics primarily in print, but with the advent of our same-day digital release program, I think that is changing. The books look spectacular, and it really is a new way both to read our stories and appreciate the fantastic artwork.
MC: Do you have a feel for who your digital readers are: Younger? Older? Die-hard fans? Newbies? In all-print books, voracious readers of genre fiction like romance and mystery have taken to ebooks in a big way.
BH: I really think it’s a mix of all of the above. Our readers are people who are looking to be entertained and excited by great stories, beautiful artwork, and dynamic characters. The great thing about digital is that it gives us the opportunity to reach a vastly wider audience. Our characters are a part of pop culture, but not everyone can get to the bookstore or the comics shop, but now they can download a comic and enjoy it anywhere, anytime.
MC: Digital access to DC comics could draw in more teens and twenty-something readers, but DC doesn’t have many comics for kids other than Tiny Titans. Do you have any plans for younger-age comics?
BH: We’re very excited by Tiny Titans, and we have other projects in the works. We’re keenly aware that we have a lot of younger fans out there who want stories that they can enjoy. It’s an area in which we definitely want to expand.
MC: For many fans, face-to-face relationships in social centers have been an important part of experiencing comics. Historically, this has happened in comics shops and at comics conventions, but now it’s in libraries also. Do you have ways you’d like libraries to attract and encourage new comics readers in a social setting? Parties? Signings? Art exhibits? Mini-cons?
BH: I think any of the above would be fantastic. Comics fans are above all readers. If local libraries provided a venue for fans to share their excitement, I think those libraries would discover they’ve opened their doors to a new generation of patrons.
MC: What do you wish libraries understood better about comics, the comics industry, and DC Comics?
BH: I would hope libraries understand that comics, and DC comics in particular, do not fit under one single definition. Comics can be about Superman battling aliens in a big, blazing cosmic adventure, or they can equally be about Swamp Thing learning about his inner humanity in a quiet story about loss. Comics are about characters so compelling that readers come back month after month, year after year, to see what happens next.
|Martha Cornog is a longtime reviewer for LJ and, with Timothy Perper, edited Graphic Novels Beyond the Basics: Insights and Issues for Libraries (Libraries Unlimited, 2009).