DC Comics Co-Publishers Dan DiDio and Jim Lee Talk BEFORE WATCHMEN at the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books

     April 22, 2012


There’s an undeniable irony to WatchmenAlan Moore’s great critique of the comic superhero, which began as an appropriation of The Mighty Crusaders – now finding itself appropriated by a series of new artists (much to Moore’s chagrin) in the upcoming prequel Before Watchmen.  The seven part series focuses on the principle characters of the comic – Rorschach, the Comedian, Night Owl, Ozymandias, Dr. Manhattan and Silk Spectre – before the events of Moore/Gibbons’ magnum opus.

At the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books, DC Entertainment Co-Publisher’s Dan DiDio and Jim Lee were on hand to discuss the highly anticipated but divisive prequel at a panel called DC Entertainment Presents: Watchmen – It’s Not the End, It’s the Beginning.  The panel and proceeding round table covered a gauntlet of topics ranging from DC’s relationship with creative artists to the financial realities of the comic industry (i.e. why a Watchmen prequel is a good thing) to just why the hell anyone would ever make a prequel to arguably the most beloved comic of all time.  Alan Moore’s specter loomed large over the proceedings – with a series of very pointed questions over Moore’s falling out with DC and his lack of involvement (let’s be honest – outright disdain) with the resulting Watchmen film and now comic spin-offs.  For the sometimes-heated conversation with DiDio and Lee, hit the jump.

Before-Watchmen-imageQuestion: People on your own staff told you not to do this [in regards to a prequel to Watchmen]… Does that back and forth keep you honest?

DiDio: What happened was that when there was some conversation, rumors going around that we were actually going to do this. It was picking up some real speed to the point that a couple folks actually stopped and came into my office and said ‘Hey is this real?’ [And I would respond] ‘I can’t really say but if it was would that be a problem?’ I was more interested in the conversation, of where they saw problems. So therefore we went through it all. One of the things I’ve tried to say to a number of folks is that in a baseball game you don’t leave your best players on the bench. You have to go out with your best foot forward. The things that are most recognizable, that people want to see – so I felt that it was in the company’s best interest to go ahead with Watchmen.

Dan-DiDio-Jim Lee-Before-Watchmen-Los-Angeles-Festival-of-BooksLee: During the market period of [the Watchmen movie] we sold about a million units. And at that point we assumed everyone who was a true comic book collector already had a copy of this trade so the vast majority of that new trade went to new readers and we’re always on the lookout for how do we expand our business… We felt that this would be a great opportunity for us to reach out to the new readers and see if we can convert them into long time readers. You want to lead with your best foot and give them a flavor of something they already know. All the creators on these books sought to match or outdo what was done in the original. I don’t think anyone is going ‘Oh if I’m only fifty percent as good [as the original] that would be great.’ These guys – they’re true artists.

DiDio: And we would not have gone forward if we didn’t think the talent was available to be perfectly honest. That’s actually one of the things that slowed us down. And the talent didn’t want to participate unless they felt they had a key story to tell. Darwyn Cooke was one of the first people asked and he turned me down because he didn’t know what to do with it. And then a year later he comes back and he knew how to make the story work. Then we’re off to the races.

Dan-DiDio-Jim Lee-Before-Watchmen-Los-Angeles-Festival-of-BooksYesterday it was announced that Chris Roberson is no longer working on the ‘Fairest’ arc. [To Lee] As a creator, how do you reconcile what Robison had to say about DC’s stance on creator’s rights?  Note: for those unfamiliar, Robison took to twitter saying that after his ‘Fairest’ arc and IZombie, he would never work for DC again. Much of his issues with DC stemmed from his umbrage with the upcoming release of Before Watchmen. After these comments were made, DC promptly let Robison go.

Lee: I don’t know the writer Chris and it certainly would have helped if I could have talked to him or if he had reached out to me. I didn’t know he felt that way so it was surprising to see that. It seemed odd to me as a creator, I would not publicly state I have a problem with the company that’s paying me to do work for them and I’m going to quit after I do this one project. It would seem wise to me to wait until you finished the project to voice that complaint. You have to imagine from our perspective, for our own internal morale, what does it say for a company to hire somebody who’s that vocally against our principles and yet we’re still paying them. From that standpoint, it doesn’t make any sense.

DiDio: As far as I’m concerned, he made a very public statement about not wanting to work with DC and we honored that statement.

As a creator, how do you reconcile Alan Moore’s disagreement with the project and movie?

Dan-DiDio-Jim Lee-Before-Watchmen-Los-Angeles-Festival-of-BooksLee: It’s interesting because in the Chris example, he alluded to an article in Comics Alliance that goes on about how Alan Moore has been unjustly treated. In this piece of journalism, it only cites interviews Alan has given. People will listen if it’s polarizing and one sided enough. This is not a situation where we have taken things from Alan. He signed an agreement and yet he said ‘I didn’t read the contract.’ I can’t force him to read his contract. So there’s all these things that people don’t know and Alan has said that explicitly – there are all these things that mitigate or go into the analysis. It’s not as clear-cut as people want to make it seem… It’s not a situation where we’re using the characters and Alan’s not being compensated. For everything that’s been done for Watchmen from the books to the movie, money has gone his way. The right amount that he deserves based on the contract. So we have honored that part of the agreement. It is something that can definitely be debated but to say that there is clearly one side that is right, I will dispute that.

How did you guys decide the format of Before Watchmen? The miniseries – how long is it going to take to come out…

DiDio: I love weekly comic delivery. We deliver comics on a weekly basis to stores and I love the idea of having product there every week. That every week you have an expectation to go and a certain book is going to be there and hopefully other books will catch your interest while there.

Dan-DiDio-Jim Lee-Before-Watchmen-Los-Angeles-Festival-of-BooksLee: Retailers love that.

DiDio: They really do. We want traffic into the stores so weekly seems the best way to do it… That’s the first piece of the puzzle. I had worked with Grant Morrison on Seven Soldiers of Victory and it was a really interesting process because Grant had created a style of storytelling that had seven different miniseries interlocking and interweaving but all coming out in different pieces. So we took a snapshot of what Grant did there and brought it over to the Watchmen book. Since we’re doing a prequel we have the challenge of featuring characters before they met so how do we make it feel like a team concept but they’re all still going to be individuals. We realized that Minutemen, Comedian and Ozymandias were lengthier storytelling. They went over a period of time. Minutemen [focuses on] the formation of a team, the Comedian is from the time of the Minutemen to his death. Larger story, more time covered. Ozymandias is about the plotting which is a much longer story. But the other ones are just snapshots of who these characters are. So they only wound up being four parts while the others were six. And then it was how do we roll this out. Also let’s be honest we have talent who are not the quickest of artists so we gave ourselves room for running time. But the way the schedule rolls out we have anywhere from five to seven weeks between books so now the artists can have more time and we hope to maintain consistency of art throughout the series.

Dan-DiDio-Jim Lee-Before-Watchmen-Los-Angeles-Festival-of-BooksWith the original so rooted in the concepts of using ultimate violence to bring about peace – that was very reflective of The Cold War and of the 1980s. With the new stories was it tough to find a way to retain that same period setting and those same themes and make them relevant to the modern problems?

DiDio: The stories actually take place prior to that concept. And it really is much more character based, more so than on a world basis. What we’re really exploring are the individuals, about how they’ve grown and changed over the years, how they might of started off as focused and idealistic heroes and how they change their opinion of who they might be… There’s some really fascinating stories in there of just who they are. But it’s all character based because we didn’t want to approach that whole world building sensibility. We wanted to keep the focus on the individuals. That’s why Silk Spectre’s story is really a coming of age story and the Comedian is just he working his way through government and ultimately how he becomes who he is. It really gets into the psyche and personality of the characters and the goal was for it to remain consistent so it could be read as one unit. So you could read the prequel material and the original and feel that they are the same world but with different sensibilities. We made sure to make it feel different [by] changing the art styles… Each artist has his or her own style. Which is good because then each book operates on its own rather than beholding to a style that might be too rigid for the stories we are telling.

Dan-DiDio-Jim Lee-Before-Watchmen-Los-Angeles-Festival-of-BooksWhen you have all these different artists and creators and stories on one project, how do you approach the story as a cohesive whole?

DiDio: It’s hard to say that because I’m built to look at many characters as a whole even though they’re operating individually. I look to Superman next to Batman next to Green Lantern next to Aquaman and they’re all operating in the same world to me, even though they’re operating as completely different pieces. And that’s how I see Watchmen. They’re all plugging in on the same way. They’re all in the same world. They’re just their own beast.

Lee: It’s a triptych – three pieces of art that are meant to be viewed separately but can be put together as one. There were discussions early on how interwoven were these storylines going to be but people decided that it was more [important to focus on] tonality than direct storyline…

Before Watchmen hits comic stands in June.


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