Omnium Gatherum #65: San Diego Comic-Con International 2010, Day 1: My Lunch With Dan DiDio

By Vincent S. Moore

Howdy, folks.

Welcome once again to the Omnium Gatherum.

The first full day of San Diego Comic-Con began both earlier and later than I expected. I woke up early enough to get started on my day. But I chose to grab a few minutes more sleep after a long night. When I finally got up and actually moving, I realized I was running late. So I dashed out of my hotel and headed over to the convention center.

Which I hoped would be easy.

And it wasn’t.

By 9 am there was an ocean of humanity in my way.

I arrived at The Antidote Trust booth nearly 30 minutes late but to find my booth mates holding down the fort as the early con goers made their ways to their destinations. I settled in and started the day.

Until my legs grew tired of standing there waiting for interested patrons to stop by the booth. Now, don’t get me wrong. I love comics. I love selling comics, particularly those I worked on and those of my friends. However the never-ending flow of people going by can make one feel frustrated. Working in a comics store, what I see of comics buyers are those who are coming into my place of business to buy comics, whether it be one or many. Being at a comics convention can often mean having to work harder to convince some but not all potential buyers of your wares to actually buy your wares. If you are a bigger publisher, the books can sell themselves. If you are a small publisher, you may have to sell the books above and beyond whatever ways you may have packaged to the book to sell to comics shops. It can feel frustrating and tiring most of the time and satisfying when someone is willing to spend their money on you instead of or in addition to the big boys.

So I took a walk around the convention to see what I could see.

Along the way I bumped into Art Thibert, an old friend of mine, and his family. It was good to see more friendly and familiar faces. They looked good and Art shared really good news that is his to share with the world. Suffice it to say, it is always good to see old friends at these shows. It is a reminder that who one knows is as important as what one can do.

As I would learn again later.

After growing sick of walking the overcrowded floor and buying a couple of comics and an art book, I returned to TAT’s booth.

By the late morning most of the folks who are sharing the booth were there. Not necessarily a bad thing, but the small press booths at Comic-Con are designed to hold two people, maybe three. The Antidote Trust, at the time of my return in the late morning of Day 1, had six people standing behind the table. It was a bit tight. Thank the Buddha we’re all friends and friendly with each other.

One thing that makes the day pass for a dealer is having good company. So many different and wide ranging conversations took place.

For the most part, my day at the booth would follow this pattern. Standing, interacting with customers, walking the floor to stretch my legs. Lather, rinse, repeat.

Except for my second walkabout the convention floor.

On that occasion, the good fortune I’ve been having so far this convention led me to bump into Jim McLaughlin of The Hero Initiative. Jim just so happens to be a customer of Comics Ink where I work. So he knows me. I simply stopped to say hello and had something wonderful fall into my lap.

Jim asked me, after we exchanged pleasantries, if I could do him a favor.

I said yes, after he said he needed to check something first.

Jim asked me if I would be willing to do him a big favor. The Hero Initiative had auctioned off an hour lunch meeting with DC Co-Publisher Dan DiDio. Four out of the five winners were here and ready to go. The fifth was stuck in traffic on his way to the convention center and would miss the meeting. No substitute had been found and Jim was about to ask someone person at the DC Comics booth when I happened to walk up.

Talk about being in the right place at the right time. Or as we Nichiren Buddhists say, I was in rhythm.

I said yes, of course.

That started what was to be the coolest event of Comic-Con 2010 so far.

In time the other four participants gathered in the appointed meeting spot at The Hero Initiative’s booth, we all headed over to the Hard Rock Hotel, led by our minder, a very nice gentleman by the name of Ray. After passing through the mayhem occurring in the vicinity of the Gaslamp Quarter--from product placements to hype events for various shows to the many hangers-on handing out flyers and the like to passersby--and a brief hassle outside the hotel, we entered the Hard Rock and rode the elevator to the 12th floor and our lunch with Dan DiDio.

The room where we were to speak and eat and drink was a elegantly designed place, with lots of metal trim and simple furniture. The spread on the table was typical of this kind of event--fruit and vegetables, finger food and cheese. The bar was fully stocked, ready for just about any demand. And in the corner of the room sat the man himself.

We were all introduced to Mr. DiDio, with Jim starting off by introducing me as a troublemaker. We both laughed. That’s the kind of verbal play the customers of Comics Ink feel comfortable to engage with the guys behind the counter. Although, I thought to myself I hope Jim hasn’t read any of my past columns. Thus marked as the one who might cause trouble and aware of the warning against gauche behavior, I sat down at the end of the light tan leather couch nearest to Mr. DiDio’s chair. Each of the five attendees were more formally introduced to Dan (I mentioned working for Kevin Grevioux when I shook hands with him) and seated and one of the ladies working for the Hero Initiative--Christina was her name, if I remember correctly and if not, I apologize for the lapse--asked each of us for our drink requests. I asked for mine next to last in order (a screwdriver) and with that the conversation began.

I had heard Dan DiDio was a no-bullshit sort of person. He lived up to that statement very quickly.

I found Dan DiDio to be a very personable man, probably typical of someone who reaches the kind of position within a corporation that he holds. His laugh was warm and almost infectious. His manner and delivery straight forward yet friendly. Immediately I felt both at ease and a need to be on point with how I dealt with this man. Also, as with any comics fan on the path to becoming a professional, I wanted to take the best advantage of this shot without blowing it.

Dan started by trying to figure out what our initial questions would be. He did this by simply picking five of the hottest topics in fanboy circles. He did this with humor to lighten the tension. Which struck me as odd. Unlike myself, the four others in the room had paid for this privilege. I would imagine they would have been bursting with questions. But they sat there listening to Dan talk about the struggles to keep fans happy while bringing in new fans.

So Dan started asking each of us what our first comic was. And he said don’t our first DC comic, but our first comic, regardless of company. The first guy said his was the issue of Adventure Comics where the golden age Batman died. My being a know-it-all comics shop guy blurted out it was Adventure Comics #462. Dan said something to the effect of that was mighty Waid of me.

Mr. DiDio moved around the room, asking the same question, getting different answers. As my turn came, I never did answer. Mostly because the conversation started to turn towards other topics. Not that it matters to me. Any reader of the Omnium Gatherum knows what was my first comic; I’ve said it often enough here.

When the conversation truly began, one of the others asked his question about the dropping of the veil between the Vertigo characters and the main DC Universe and whether it would be possible for that to mean the return of Wesley Dodds the golden age Sandman. Dan handled that with a fair explanation about the balancing act between trying to honor some of the original heroes of the original universe and closing some characters’ doors permanently.

Next was a question about the new Batgirl that led DiDio to do his own producer’s commentary, as it were, about the process of creating the new Batgirl. This included talking about the story arc left on “the cutting room floor” where Barbara Gordon would have recovered her legs, resumed her career as Batgirl, only to lose it all and have to train Stephanie Brown to take her place. But, with the success of Batwoman, it was felt two red-headed Bat-related female characters would be too much. So Stephanie got her shot much sooner than planned.

Other questions were asked, about Wonder Woman’s new costume and Superman’s walkabout. Dan answered both with, first, a serious explanation of the hows and whys of recent Wonder Woman history, including the lateness plagued run by Allan Heinberg and Terry Dodson and Gail Simone’s recently finished run. The bottom line of this was the momentum surrounding Wonder Woman after Infinite Crisis was dissipated and lost and DC was in need of something that would rekindle interest in the Amazing Amazon. Enter J. Michael Straczynski. The idea of changing the costume and the origins slightly seemed likely ways of renewing interest in Wonder Woman. Which, for anyone who follows the comics blogosphere, is something that has happened. Oh, and Dan did say the jacket would be gone soon.

It was in the course of answering this question that I saw more deeply into the man. I saw the man who struggled to balance so many different agendas and demands. I saw someone who loved comics and wanted/wants to make the best ones he can. I saw a man who believes in his work but can laugh enough at himself and his job and even at those who buy his product, not in ways that ridicule but in ways that lighten the load and the spirit.

The only question I had to ask, after prefacing it by being open about this column, was how did he deal with the kerfuffle over the death of Ryan Choi.

I am a person of color. Naturally, seeing heroes of color is a good thing to my way of thinking. The more, the merrier. So the loss of one hero of color is felt more powerfully by fans of color than by white fans. But I wanted to know not so much why was this decision made but how did it and the reactions to it affect Dan DiDio.

His explanation, while it didn’t completely satisfy me (aren’t those colored folks ever satisfied?!?), was enlightening as much into the decision making process as it was into his coping strategy for dealing with crazy fans.

Basically, with the return of Ray Palmer, Ryan Choi was redundant as a character. More deeply, DiDio talked about the struggle to bring more characters of color into the DC Universe while acknowledging just how diverse the DCU is today. In addition, he talked about balancing those fans who want and need to list every indignity done to a female character or a character of color as a way of showing they are not represented and those fans who don’t want anymore characters of color in the books. In other words, a task that may have challenged Solomon’s wisdom.

I could tell DiDio’s answers came from a place where he had thought a lot about the issue. Indeed, he confirmed this by mentioning conversations with Dwayne McDuffie about this topic. According to DiDio, McDuffie said one of the problems with introducing new heroes of color is as long as they do not interact with Superman and/or Batman, these heroes won’t and don’t seem real or really matter to fans. An idea that, even as I write this, I’m not sure how to grasp. Mainly because one way of interpreting this statement is to say that no hero of color in the DC Universe matters unless they get some kind of approval from Superman and Batman. In other words, the two great white gods have to give their blessing before being considered legitimate. Another way of interpreting this, a better way, is to say as long as heroes of color don’t interact as equals with Superman and Batman they are not as cool.

I can see that. I may not like it but I can see it.

The conversation continued. Topics such as digital delivery, the comics movies, and others came up and were discussed. However, at this point both due to not carrying any kind of recording device besides my memory and out of respect for Jim McLaughlin, Dan DiDio (it’s kind of hard to ignore someone who says to you during the overall conversation that one piece of inside and insightful information had better not end up in this column), the Hero Initiative and its mission, I will let what else happened remain in that room with those who were there. Suffice it to say, a good and friend conversation about things comics and continuity continued.

Towards the end of the conversation, the five of us took a picture with Mr. DiDio for the Hero Initiative’s website and for posterity. I’m pretty sure you folks will be able to look it and see it on the web either towards the end of the show or before Comic-Con comes to a close. But I also have the memories of meeting with Dan DiDio and the growing feeling (enlightenment?) that he is at heart another fan on his path to making the kinds of comics he and we all can love. It isn’t perfect but he wants DC to always be on the way to perfecting itself and its universe and the ways the company can reach audiences new and old.

With a final shake of hands, I left the room with the others.

I exited the Hard Rock Hotel, feeling grateful I had the opportunity to meet with Dan DiDio in such a setting and, naturally, for the material the meeting would provide for this column. Hey, I gotta be me, right?

I also felt that heavy indeed is the head that wears the crown.

As much as I would love to have that very job, I could see how it ain’t all it is cracked up to be.

After all, Dan DiDio has to put up with us crazy fans.

Keeping that in mind, I would like for all of us fans of DC Comics to take a moment and reflect upon the folks who put up with all of our demands and our bullshit. They are fans too. They are humans as well, with thoughts and feelings and the capacity to do things brilliant and not so brilliant. Like us, the folks behind the scenes at DC are making it as they go along, just like the rest of us. Yeah, I know these editors and creators get paid the big bucks. But in the course of earning those wages, these people also collect the wages of our rage and joy, our sorrow and disappointment at their efforts. So, have a heart every now and then.

Because it takes super people like Dan DiDio to keep our heroes alive and fresh and coming to a comics shop near us each and every week.

Thank you to Jim McLaughlin for even giving me the opportunity to attend. And thank you to Dan DiDio for sharing your time for such as good cause as the Hero Initiative and for sharing your warmth and insights and time with us fans.

Until next time, folks.



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