Long-time DC co-publisher Dan DiDio's 18-year career with the comic book company ended surprisingly last February, just a few weeks before the rug was pulled out from under the Direct Market comic book industry due to coronavirus.
In a three-part conversation - his first print interview since his DC exit - DiDio and Newsarama are taking a look back at the ups and downs of his long career at the comic book publisher.
In part one of our conversation we discuss his early years with DC, his way up the corporate ladder including the time he thought he was being fired but was instead offered a promotion, and why he didn't like Elseworlds and wanted to tell the best DC stories in the main publishing line.
In part two we talk about his relationship with longtime DC writer-editor-president-publisher Paul Levitz, the still-and-always controversial New 52, and his editorial issues with Wally West and Dick Grayson.
In the final part three below, DiDio tells us what he's contractually-able regarding his feelings about this DC exit, his thoughts on digital publishing and what he considers the highs and lows of his career.
Newsarama: Dan, we were just speaking about death [laughs], let me flash all the way to the end here. You and I have already established prior to this conversation that you can't talk about your departure from DC in specific terms.
Dan DiDio: You're associating that with death?
Nrama: But there is an emotional aspect you said you can talk about.
Nrama: What were your feelings on that day? What were your feelings the next morning? You're waking up in a different place. What did it feel like?
DiDio: My feeling was "today is the day." [laughs] Simple as that. It's always going to come. Look. You're always prepped for exit. I'm a long term corporate employee. I've worked in a lot of jobs. I've left on my own. I've had positions eliminated from underneath me. It's part of life.
I like to look at the positives. It sounds hokey [laughs], it sounds really hokey, I know. But I worked at DC Comics for 18 years, man. Dude, I got to be publisher, things that I'd never thought I'd ever achieve in my life. To tell you the truth, I feel that I did so much of what I wanted to do, and worked on so many characters. Somebody asked me, "Is there something you didn't do?" I was hard pressed to find something that I didn't get a chance to do. Hell, man, we found a way to redo Green Team! Come on? Seriously! Inferior Five, and all these other things, all these wonderful, crazy concepts.
The fact that you got a chance to be involved with so many characters, work with them, and maybe help reinvent them a little bit, reinvigorate them, or introduce them to somebody brand new, what's there to complain about, honestly?
Quite honestly, sooner or later, it's going to have to end. [laughs] It's going to. Just like in life, you don't really pick the day. [laughs]
Nrama: Late in your tenure at DC, and certainly more after you've been gone, there seems to be more of a push from DC towards digital content, 'Digital First,' so on and so forth. Was that a priority you were getting from upper management? Is that indeed a direction it's going?
DiDio: It's hard for me to say. Realistically speaking, I leave DC and within three weeks, the world shuts down [owing to COVID-19]. Think about it. I’m sure a lot has changed all across the business world in that short interim.
It's hard to make any comments and statements about any choices that are being made now. There are a lot of intensely qualified and talented people at DC, and quite honestly, they're working the numbers. They're working the things out. They have to do what they believe is best for DC and the business. I know that the driving principle behind their choices is numbers, it's data. You have to understand, what they're doing is based upon information that I'm just not privy to. So you have to go with it.
And just like everything, I'll go to the simplest denominator in all this, which is that content is king. I say this over and over again. What we need to do as an industry is build products that people want to read. The delivery system's a delivery system. You know what I'm saying? It's a way to get to the content.
If it's not what they want to read, the delivery system isn't going to make or break any projects. As a matter of fact, it's not going to do anything, because the interest isn't there. Nobody's buying just because it's digital. There might be people buying just because it is print, though.
Now, I think everybody's going to be challenged to really go out there and do their best work, because I'll say this. In every interview, I've talked about it. I'll say it here again: The world that existed prior to the pandemic, if people believe it's going to be the same world after it, they're wrong. Something has to change. Something has to adjust. The world is changing. People's interests are changing. People's time is changing, and we have to change with it. We've just got to make sure we present material that is enjoyable, exciting, and more importantly, accessible.
However you do that, that's ultimately in the hands of the companies that are controlling the product.
Nrama: We had the conversation just after you left DC, and you were getting ready for whatever the next chapter in your life was going to be. And then, yes, the world goes to hell. You were just about to launch, and the world went into shutdown. What will a next chapter for you look like?
DiDio: It's interesting... I was planning to spend some time at home. Little did I know, I'd be locked in my house. Too much! [laughs] Now I want to travel. That's not happening now, either.
One of my first loves is animation. I still enjoy comics. I enjoy some quiet time, too. There was a point there where I realized that this is the first time that I haven't had a steady gig since I was 16 years old.
I just turned 60 last year. There's a lot of little things that I’m thinking on, which hopefully come to fruition, but I'm enjoying some of the peace that comes with it right now. How great is that, yeah? It doesn't hurt. It doesn't hurt to slow down every once in a while.
Nrama: Can you turn around and take a look at a couple of high points from when you were at DC? The, "Man, I'm really proud of that" moments?
DiDio: Yeah, there's a lot of those. The 52 weekly series that everyone told me couldn't happen. I loved when Grant Morrison did Seven Soldiers. I thought that was brilliant, just the unfolding nature of that.
Geoff Johns, his relaunches of Teen Titans and Green Lantern are still high points for me. I loved working with so many intensely incredible people. Geoff was one, but I also worked very closely with guys like Judd Winick and Greg Rucka, especially in the beginning. which was just as special
Honestly, the New 52, we're all very proud of that, regardless of whether it was up in five years or not. The audacity of that, what it stood for, and the success of that at the beginning is something to be very proud of. The biggest pride comes from the fact that you got a chance to be involved in these stories and storytelling. Somebody said to me, "Your name will be in the masthead, in the byline, of thousands of books." I never really thought of it in that way at the time, but that's humbling in its own right. It's a piece of history.
The funny part is now I go back and look at all my old comics, and I look at those old names in the masthead, and I got a chance to work with those guys, so many of my heroes and idols that I grew up reading. That's a thing that's exciting, What more can you ask? I would have been happy with a year's worth and I got 18 years' worth of it.
Nrama: Cool. If we're going to flip Two-Face's coin over to the scarred side, are there "Holy s---, I wish I could have that moment back?" What are the low points?
DiDio: Yeah, there are low points. It's hard to say. There are times when you just took your eyes off the ball, or you went against your instincts. There are a couple of mistakes I made early on that I’d love to take back.
Honestly, the mistakes I'm more concerned with don't deal with products, but people, and relationships that I could have managed better. If I knew more at the time, or maybe if I wasn't as headstrong as I was in certain places, I could have done better.
You always hope that people understand that these aren't personal arguments, it's discussions with the best interests of the product in mind. Sometimes, I could get a little headstrong because I only saw the books or the character; I didn't see the people, and I didn't realize the effect I was making. Maybe there might have been a better way to do things.
Dan at the end of 18 years was a different Dan than started at the company. That's for sure. There's a maturation and understanding that comes along with it, but that's life. That's not just working in DC. I probably have more regrets in life than I do in work at DC. [laughs]
Nrama: Is this your confessional? Do you need to say you're sorry to somebody?
DiDio: No, I'm good. The people that matter to me, the people that I really care about, we've made our peace. There's one or two people in particular that I really had to work things out with, and we got there. I'm really in a good place now.
Nrama: DC has now dissolved what was a 24-year exclusive relationship with Diamond as its distributor for Direct Market comic stories. This happened after you left. Do you have any thoughts on it?
DiDio: Oh, not really. There's been an evolution in the business. Like I said, there must be governing factors within today's environment that are probably motivating and driving a lot of decisions. Since I'm not privy to that information right now, it's hard for me to comment on it.
Nrama: You're still writing Metal Men, correct?
Nrama: What does it feel like? Is it like you've got to show up and give your girlfriend a kiss on the cheek once every month even though you're broken up with her?
DiDio: It's really weird, to be honest with you. I'd like to say it wasn't. It took me a little while to get back into that headspace of writing again, but now that I'm doing it, the truth is that I'm enjoying what I'm doing. I love these characters.
I'll give you a little piece of background: [Artist] Shane Davis drew me into issue #7 before everything happened. So after everything happened, I tweaked some dialogue to make fun of myself. It’s funny, because I wasn't sure there was going to be an issue #7. After everything happened, I offered to wrap things up by issue #6, and they could kill #7. But I tip my hat to Jim Lee, he said, "Nope, we're finishing this, 12 issues."
I'm thankful for the team and the folks there, letting me see it through to the end. I had a very distinct story that I wanted to tell. I'm hoping to bring some level of closure, not just to that story, but also to my tenure there, when I bring that book to its conclusion.
Nrama: Well, thank you for the collector tip on issue seven. Greatly appreciated.
DiDio: [laughs] That's OK. I don't think I'm collectible, by the way. I don’t know how valuable. [laughter]
Nrama: Probably find at least two or three people to agree with that.
DiDio: I think I could find many more than two or three.