Jim Lee and Daniel Cherry open up about DC’s future

Jim Lee and Daniel Cherry open up about DC’s future

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DC Kremlinologists rejoice! For the first time in a long while DC CCO Jim Lee and sr. vp and GM Daniel Cherry III have given an interview. The Hollywood Reporter’s Borys Kit spoke with the duo on DC’s publishing plans, the coming Discovery take over, digital comics and much more.

It’s Lee’s first interview about publishing in a long time, and, I believe, Cherry’s first public appearance since taking over as GM of DC about a year ago. With The Suicide Squad opening this week and garnering critical acclaim, there was a window of optimism to talk about all the changes the company has undergone – and give some thoughts about how the publisher stands in Warners’ evolving corporate structure. DC has had many layoffs and a lot of upheaval, but Cherry’s strategy there is “Fewer, bigger, better.” Do more with less.

DC also seemingly remains core to Warner’s plans for media – they recently hired former USA network exec Jeffrey Kaufman as vp of editorial programming strategy, as a liaison between creative affairs and publishing, to help shepherd more comics into media development.

Of course you’ll want to read the whole thing, if only to see what corporate buzzwords are in fashion right now, but a few takeaways.

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Cherry reiterated that he is a comics fan, and says he regularly goes to comics shops to see how things are going. He outlined a four part strategy: Reach, Relevance, Responsibility, and Revenue. Reach is about becoming a global brand – people around the world read DC Comcis now. Relevance includes knowing that “yes, that means we have great theatrical productions and animation that engage with the fans, but we believe that the cornerstone of this entire story is the comic form and the stories we’ve inherited.”

As for responsibility:

We talk about being “fan first.” We do listen. We also listen not just the core but the casual fan, and want to have product to meet them both. … And it’s our job to keep it vibrant and expand it through new channels. Mobile, digital, and global are really important for the next generation of fans. There are a lot of young fans who don’t have a history of going to comic book shops so how to meet them where they are? How do you build that bridge? It may be with content that is easiest to find, which is on their phone.

That last sentence seems to be a direct reference to the popularity of Webtoon/Tapas – DC already has been cooking up something with Kakao, although apparently only in Korea. During any of the interviews I did during last year’s comics shutdown, I often suggested that if DC really wanted to launch webcomics relevant to younger audiences, they should do them in the scrolling mobile format. I guess great minds think alike.

Daniel Cherry was asked directly about digital vs print and stated what we’ve all learned during the pandemic: people still like reading things on paper, and “that is where the core of our community is.” But digital has its place.

When you think of digital as an extension of the passion we have to the core market, it’s not a replacement of that physical book. It is a way to create an onramp. It’s a way to accelerate fandom.

This seems to be a reflection of reality, although DC made a very aggressive attempt to push digital first last year, retailers and readers pushed back, and that idea seems to have receded a bit.

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Lee was asked to comment on the constant rumors that Warner Media doesn’t get publishing and that DC was an endangered division – something he sounded a little shaky on a year ago –  but he restated the long held belief that comics are great for for IP development:

Lee: Occasionally you will run across that article or tweet and I have to bite my tongue to not jump into the conversations. It’s the furthest thing from the truth. If anything, it’s the exact opposite. The comics that we publish, the core canon we establish in comics, is driving everything that we do across DC in media. We are constantly referring to the characters as we build DC beyond the publishing world.  Having publishing is vital to our future.

As for the folks running DC, Lee says that Jason Kilar, the current CEO of Warner Media, is a fan who can even quote earth numbers.  “It’s great to have a leader at the top who is that supportive and real champion for DC. If anything, he wants the truest representation of the DC Universe in anything that do, comic books, media productions.” Looking at the change from AT&T to Discovery ownership, which is expected to take place sometime next year, he said “Past the initial surprise of the announcement, at the end of the day, we’re still moving forward, trying to reach the goals and objectives we have for ourselves.”

Both Lee and Cherry affirmed that sales have been a pleasant surprise. “Our numbers are higher than expected and physical copies are doing great,” Lee told THR.  “Retailers are in a really strong position right now.” He also said that creator owned projects like The Nice House on the Lake, would continue, but in limited numbers. “[W]e’re still going to be doing creator owned books, but it probably won’t be on the same level that existed before, with the Vertigo imprint. We’re picking and choosing the right projects that will make the most impact.”

Also, many a little ominously, he said that with Kauffman’s aid, DC has been creating content “with that express purpose of being used in media productions.” Remember guys: the story has to come first!

So nothing too bombshelly here, although accepting the reality about digital comics seems to be a bit of an evolution. I’ve heard mostly positive things about Cherry in the year since he took up the role of general manager – although mostly second hand and vague reports. The guy knows how to keep a low public profile. But in this, his maiden voyage as a spokesperson for DC, he said all the right things. Onwards to King Shark Week!

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