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Jim Lee sees 'greater upside' in digital comics, DC scaling back its line by up to 25%

(Image credit: DC)

DC publisher Jim Lee has opened up about the comic book company's future following a round of sweeping editorial changes and layoffs in DC's management and a wave of title cancellations confirmed in DC's just-released November 2020 solicitations, stating that comic books are "still the cornerstone of everything that we do."

Jim Lee in his DC office

(Image credit: Hex)

"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," Lee tells The Hollywood Reporter when asked if DC still planned to publish monthly comic books. 

"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."

However, Lee quickly clarifies that statement by explaining that DC's publishing line will be reduced by 20-25%, a contraction that has already begun as of those previously mentioned November solicitations, which brought the cancellation hammer down on Teen Titans, Young Justice, Suicide Squad, Hawkman, John Constantine: Hellblazer, and potentially Aquaman, which will at least undergo some changes with the departure of writer Kelly Sue DeConnick.

"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 explains. "It's about more punch for the pound, so to speak, and increasing the margins of the books that we are doing. 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."

As for what the future of DC looks like, Lee leans heavily on the idea of digital comic books as the best way to reach fans while maintaining a sustainable model.

"You'll definitely see more international content. You're going to see more digital content. 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," Lee continues. "With digital, that's more of a windowing issue, meaning we'll go out there with digital content and the stuff that performs well in digital also performs well in print."

DC will embrace a model of digital-first content, which it has leaned on heavily since the COVID-19 pandemic has made it more difficult for many fans to go to stores and buy physical product, with successful digital series subsequently seeing print in physical media.

"We're using that as a model as we go out and do more digital content. We'll take the most successful books and repackage it as physical books," Lee explains. "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."

On the management side, Lee states he'll continue on in his role as DC's sole publisher, however, DC will hire an unnamed general manager who Lee states will come on board in September.

Lee sums up his response to those speculating that DC's comic book publishing division will close and that DC's ultimate parent company AT&T want to leave comic book publishing behind stating: "Comics serve a lot of purposes."

"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," Lee states. "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?"

In addition to being a publishing executive, Jim Lee is also an accomplished creator and artist. Here is a rundown of his top 10 creations in comics to date.

Newsarama staff writer who learned to read from comic books and hasn’t shut up about them since.