Interview: Dan DiDio (DC Comics Senior Vice President and Executive Editor) – Fickleness and Fascination

By - June 9, 2009

Dan DiDio stays busy. As the executive editor for DC Comics, currently their senior vice president, he coordinates more comic books than most people ever read. Before comics, he worked in television. The year after joining DC, he’d already earned recognition as Wizard magazine’s first ever Man of the Year in 2003 for his work running the company’s DC Universe titles.

Dan DiDio

Dan DiDio

When I met Dan at WonderCon in San Francisco, he stayed on the move, going from one conversation to another at DC Comics’ big booth. He was curious about the line of research I was doing at the time, interviewing creators about fan behaviors and surveying fans on a number of different topics. While asking fans to rate their own personalities for qualities like extraversion and emotional stability, our research team also had them rate their favorite characters, which meant they each had to name a favorite character. When I mentioned to Dan that a huge percentage of the characters named came from DC, he wasn’t surprised, but that was because of where we were. “DC has a big presence at WonderCon,” he said, “so you’re going to see more DC Comics fans. If you went to a convention where Marvel had the bigger presence, you’d get different results.”

I asked what had surprised him about fans’ behavior, particularly in how they act toward the creators.

“Loyalty and fickleness,” he answered. “They come side by side, how about that? They are intensely loyal, but incredibly fickle. So what they do is if they find something they truly love, they ride with it as long as they can, if it breaks from that paradigm, then they are more apt to change their buying habits.”

Dan speculated on how the fan base had changed over time. Because he had worked in television rather than comics, he had a different perspective on how the comics industry had changed because for part of it, he’d been an outsider looking in. “It’s just hypothetical, but the problem is, earlier on when they were in the newsstand business, you had much more of a turnover in the audience. And they always used to say that they turned over in the audience every three to five years. When you move to the direct market, everybody got in to a much more regular buying habit and the new audience didn’t come in, the old audience stayed with you. One story that was told to me by one of the writers once who sat in on an early meeting, they did a lot of research on the fans’ median age, which was about fifteen years old. They said, ‘Okay, well we’re working toward a fifteen-year-old fan.’ Then three years later they did the same research and they found that the average age of the fan was about eighteen years old, and everyone went, ‘Wow, now we can write older stories.’ The argument was that yeah, you can write older stories because you’ve got an older audience,” but if the audience on average aged three years while only three years had passed, Dan considered that to be a problem. While the comics were managing to retain existing readers, they weren’t gathering new ones. The comics could only mature to a certain degree before they would leave all audience behind. It remains a great concern for the comic book publishing industry.

On a final note, I asked Dan what it took bring out the fanboy in himself. He told me that while he has enjoyed meeting many different people in the business, they’re still just people. “I’ve only ever asked for one autograph, and that was John Romita, Senior’s.”

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