Could Shawn run DC Comics?
I’d like to think I could. We’ve had a decade of Dan Didio at DC and things are worse now than when he became the publisher back in 2003. After 10 years of chaos, I believe it’s time for a new direction at the storied brand.
DC Comics needs a publishing professional who truly cares about the characters and their rich history. Someone who respects the source material and all the hard work of the creators who came before them. Someone who wants to work with today’s writers and artists towards creating the highest quality stories for readers of all ages. Someone who respects the artists and the writers and gives them the creative freedom they need to tell the stories they want to tell within the guidelines and standards of good taste.
And most importantly, someone who appreciates and respects all the longtime comic fans and wants to create content they can share with their children as they pass their favorite heroes onto them. An editor who understands that readers form bonds with these characters and won’t abuse the relationship by killing off fan favorite characters for a short-term sales boost.
Moreover, they need someone who understands the business of a publishing world post 2008. That world is a fast-paced place where print and digital publishers must produce strong story-based content to grab the attention of new readers who are being bombarded from all sides by the internet, video games, apps, and other digital content.
Why should that person be Shawn James? On paper I’d like to think I have a lot to offer Time Warners’ struggling comic book division. In a post publishing collapse world, I have worked hard at learning the skills needed to build a publishing brand during my decade building the SJS DIRECT publishing brand.
Since 2002, I have over a decade of publishing experience. Over the course of ten years building the SJS DIRECT publishing imprint I have successfully launched over seven paperbacks and twenty-eight eBooks. I currently manage a catalog of over 35 print and digital titles.
In my efforts to reach a growing audience of new readers over the past two years, I have successfully launched over a dozen eBook campaigns such as the Summer Young Adult eBook Exclusive series on Smashwords, The August Hot N’Steamy Series and Free Weeekend Kindle promotions. These free campaigns have led to numerous customers who come back to pay for eBooks and paperbacks as they continue following stories like the ongoing Isis series and All About Nikki screenplay series.
I have effectively used blogging and social media to promote eBooks and get the word out to readers. In that time I have built up a large audience of readers in the blogosphere and the e-Reading world.
As a writer I understand that story comes first. If I were hired as editor-in-Chief at DC Comics my focus would be on working with writers and artists towards publishing quality stories. I understand it’s stories that sell comics, not events, gimmicks or any other form of marketing. If the stories aren’t good, then the reader has no incentive to buy the comics.
I feel over the past decade storytelling has taken a back seat to marketing at DC Comics and that’s led to a decline in quality for the DC Brand. I’d like to get back to selling comic books in single 32-page issues, not in long over-reaching 100 issue arcs. I know from experience a publisher only has one chance to make a first impression with one story. If the reader doesn’t like the first book, they aren’t going to buy any more in the series. Readers need to be sold in one book, not be forced to by hundreds.
As an editor, I understand that I have to remain objective and not impose my personal preferences on readers. I know that the editor is the readers’ eyes and ears and the person who advocates for them to the writers and artists. They’re the person who makes sure that writers and artists stay true to the characters and keeps the characters consistent so the next writer doesn’t have a bunch of baggage to unload before they start writing the stories for their run on the book.
As a publisher, I’d like to return to a focus to all-ages entertainment. I feel comic book publishers are selling themselves short by targeting readers over the age of 18. I feel they should be targeting readers under the age of 8. There’s a baby boom going on and DC is missing the opportunity to reach those younger readers who could be the twenty million new customers who buy DC for the next twenty-five years. DC Comics should be competing with Scholastic for the independent readers and Young Adult readers, not abdicating these core demographics. These are the readers who made Harry Potter and Twilight multi-billion dollar franchises, why can’t they be targeted by the publisher of Superman and Batman?
My long-term vision for DC Comics is to make it a place where readers of all ages can enjoy comic books in numerous genres. While I’d like to traditional make 32-page comics for longtime comic readers, I’d love to develop an expanded graphic novel program to reach new Independent readers, Young Adult readers and adult readers who are new to comic books.
To reach those readers I’d like to offer them all-new original comic stories are told in one volume. These titles would feature no continuity and the story structure would resemble a screenplay or a novel with a story told in three or five acts. Some comic stories just don’t work in 32-pages. They need a full novel format to be told effectively.
A full graphic novel format will allow DC Comics to reach long overlooked readers who see comics as children’s material. I believe the line between comics and novels can be crossed and it’s possible to get mainstream America to re-think what the comic book medium is. I’d love to launch a series of genre fiction graphic novels in mystery, romance, fantasy and sci-fi.
I also believe the graphic novel will allow DC to reach an audience of parents who want to share comics with their children but don’t want to deal with decades of continuity or a characters’ history. Sometimes people just want a simple Superman story. Or a Batman Story. A Wonder Woman story, a Green Lantern Story or a Flash Story or a Justice League Story. And they want it to start and finish in a single book they can read together similar to the ten-page I can read books I’ve seen for young kids at the Barnes & Noble. Basic stories with characters in classic costumes fighting bad guys, stopping crime and teaching a good moral message. A cheap, easy-to-read trade paperback that can be used as a gateway to reading.
As part of my rebuilding plan And I’d make sure to make every effort to get rid of that Damn New 52 and bring back the classic DC Universe and character designs people have loved for generations. I feel New 52 splits the DC reading audience and alienates veteran readers. I want to bring readers together and I feel New 52 prevents families from sharing DC’s catalog of characters with their children.
As an editior I’d focus less on continuity and more on telling one story at a time. I feel if the stories are good enough no one is going to care about the minutiae of how things fit in historically with other things. From my experience stories are bought in one volume and sold in one volume.
In addition to rebuilding the DC Brand, I’d make an effort to resurrect the Milestone line. I feel that brand is incredibly underrated and has tremendous growth potential. Reading those comics growing up I know that catalog of characters is ready to be taken to the next level. I’d like to honor the late Dwayne McDuffie by making efforts to share his characters with a new generation of readers.
Long-term my Business plan for rebuilding the DC Brand is in two stages:
A hard focus on digital content. Today’s readers want comics on their e-readers or other digital devices. And they want them to be affordable. All eComics would be 99 cents.
In addition to the standard digital comic catalog I’d be offering a free rotating weekly digital comic. For over two years I’ve used rotating free eBooks as a way to win over new readers. And many of the free readers soon became paying customers. I’d love to bring this strategy over to DC to help them build an audience of new readers.
And a renewed focus on print content. Comics have always been best sold in the print medium. However, the way DC publishes comics just prevents them from selling. I would work towards making the comic book industry more in line with the rest of the publishing world so comics could compete with trade publishers.
For example, Comic publishers currently launch new comic series and graphic novels during the busy periods of the year. Today Comics are launched in the slowest months of the publishing year. February, March, April, August, September and October.
Those are DEAD periods in the trade publishing world. Periods where books go to DIE. During those times people just don’t have any money to buy anything and aren’t thinking about buying anything to read for leisure. They’re thinking about going back to school, and back to work. There’s no opportunity to grab the reader.
New comics, trade paperbacks and graphic novels need to be launched in November, December, January, May, June, and July along with all the best-selling paperbacks and eBooks. Periods when people are going on vacation. When they have time to read. When they have lots of disposable income and are willing to part with it.
It’s during these times that new readers discover new writers. And It’s during these times I believe they’ll discover comics again. Especially at Christmastime when people have lots of disposable income in the form of gift cards. Gift Card buyers are more willing to take risks and try new things like graphic novels or eComics. I feel DC should be there to capitalize on that opportunity to gain new readers.
Along with launching product at times where they’d be competitive, I’d like to make DC Comics and graphic novels fully returnable.
On the creative front, If I were hired as editor-in-chief at DC I’d like to extend an olive branch to every creator who has been alienated over the past 10 years. People like George Perez, Mark Waid, Chuck Dixon, Rob Lifeld, Warren Ellis, Greg Rucka and many more. I’d love to just sit down with them face-to-face (even Liefeld) and let them know that the way Didio did business isn’t the way Shawn James does business. That if they came to work for me, things would be different. That I’d stand behind them and support them in their creative endeavors at DC.
And if I could I’d love to promote Gail Simone to an editorial position. Maybe even co-publisher. She’s worked hard over the past two decades and I feel she’s ready to teach some new writers about the craft of comics.
After I reach out to the creators, I’d like to work towards changing the archaic compensation model to give writers and artists the incentive to get creative again in the 21st Century. Today the comic model is work-for-hire. This means whatever work the writer and artist does for DC Comics is the property of Time Warner. This model has all but stalled creativity at the big two over the last twenty years as creators have taken ownership of their best characters and taken them elsewhere.
I’d like to scrap that work-for-hire model altogether. In addition to their fees for work, and the return of their artwork, I feel creators should be given a percentage of any licensing and merchandising in perpetuity for any new characters or designs they create. Maybe if creators were paid for their hard work, they’d have a reason to create some new characters for a new generation.
And I feel creators should get a bonus if a book sells over 100,000 copies. 5 percent for 100,000 copies, 10 percent for 250,000 copies and 20 percent for 500,000 to one million copies. I feel that’d give a creator an incentive to really get out and promote their books at the cons and shows instead of staying home.
And I’d like to make comics returnable. Returnability is what’s keeping comics from returning from grocery stores, drugstores and non comic shop retailers. I believe that comics have to return to retail if they’re going to get the readership back.
And I believe that comics need to return to retail so DC can get an objective assessment of how they do. No one really knows how a comic is doing until the returns come in. Those returns will really tell a publisher if a book is selling or if it’s not.
I really get tired of this false sense of success presented when comic shops buy thousands of non-returnable comics. Only to find out from the shop owners the books aren’t selling when they’re forced to put back issues in dollar and quarter boxes to clearance them. With the shops struggling to stay in business, I’d like to take the heat off them by making books returnable.
Could Shawn run DC Comics? Who knows? I’m just brainstorming ideas of what a Shawn James led DC would look like. Maybe my vision isn’t perfect, but I’d like to think I have something to offer longtime comic fans and families of new readers.