DC Entertainment, publisher of Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman, announced it has signed an exclusive five-project deal (including at least two original book projects) with Frank Miller, acclaimed creator of the bestselling Batman graphic novel, The Dark Knight Returns. The deal will be announced during the DC Publishers panel, which will be livestreamed from the WonderCon convention in Anaheim, Calif., on Saturday.
As part of the new deal Miller will write Superman Year One, a new standalone graphic novel with art by John Romita Jr., in a story that DC says will redefine the Man of Steel for today’s fans. Also part of the new deal: Miller will write his first YA graphic novel, an untitled work with art by Ben Caldwell, that will star Carrie Kelley, a young girl first introduced in The Dark Knight Returns, who succeeds Robin as Batman’s partner.
In a phone interview, DC copublishers Dan Didio and Jim Lee (who is also one of DC’s most popular artists), emphasized that the new deal with Miller is one part of several ongoing initiatives (which include several new imprints) to focus its publishing on the book trade and to better position DC Entertainment in an evolving North American comics marketplace. Long dominated by sales of monthly superhero periodicals via comics shops, the American comics industry is beginning to acknowledge a future that will be defined by new readers looking for book format graphic novels.
“We’re looking at our business strategy and how the market and our fans have changed," Didio said. "We’re developing a new strategy about how we deal with all our characters and we want to get the widest audience possible.”
DC's new strategic initiatives are aimed at increasing its profile in the book trade, Didio and Lee said, and will include superhero and genre comics works published via a series of “pop–up imprints” aimed at young readers and adults. Miller's deal is only one part of the initiative. The beginnings of DC's effort to focus its publishing program on the book format, Didio and Lee explained, goes back to 2008 when DC switched its distribution in the book trade to Penguin Random House Publisher Services. The switch to PRH, the publishers explained, was the first step by a major comics periodical publisher to add a serious book program and that process is speeding up now.
“PRH is a wonderful partner and this is a natural extension for them. They have coached us for this new approach.” Didio said.
In 2015, in partnership with Random House and Mattel, DC launched the DC Superhero Girls line of superhero graphic novels, prose works and merchandise for pre-teen girls, an successful effort that will become a part of DC's newly announced young reader imprints. Indeed, the Pop-up imprints mentioned earlier began in 2016, when DC hired pop music star Gerard Way (he once interned at DC and eventually won an Eisner for writing indie comics for Dark Horse) to head its Young Animal imprint, a line of edgy, eccentric superhero comics aimed at a contemporary market for adventure stories.
Miller is a superstar comics writer noted for iconoclastic takes on superheroes. His deal can be seen as another step in DC's effort to beef up its trade efforts with renowned comics authors that also have consumer appeal in the book trade. The house is also recruiting noted book authors. Over the last month DC announced plans to launch two young reader imprints focused on graphic novels: DC Zoom (for middle grade readers) and DC Ink (young adults), imprints that have recruited noted middle grade and YA authors such as Laurie Halse Anderson (Speak), Melissa de la Cruz (Au Pairs), and Mariko Tamaki (This One Summer) to produce new graphic works.
In early March the company announced that bestselling author and longtime comics writer Neil Gaiman would return to DC to head the Sandman Universe, another new DC imprint devoted to Gaiman’s Sandman fantasy series. Gaiman will oversee and plot a series of titles that will be written by noted sf and fantasy authors Nalo Hopkinson and Kat Howard, and comics writers Si Spurrier, and Dan Watters. And, about a week ago, DC announced Black Label, an imprint that will allow authors to write “meaningful and impactful” versions of DC characters, Lee said, that will be released as standalone graphic novels. Black Label titles will be written by a mix of comics writers like Miller (his Superman One will be published under Black Label) and such star indie comics authors as Kelly Sue Deconnick, who will write a new Wonder Woman graphic novel.
And, continuing these efforts, in the spring, DC will begin releasing four hardcover book collections of its popular Dark Metal series, a new Batman series about a dark universe linked to a mysterious metal underlying the multiverse of DC characters.
All of these activities—switching trade distribution, broadening its focus on girls with new book format-focused imprints as well as signing star writers like Frank Miller—revolve around a specific goal: creating a book trade presence to satisfy a new generation of comics fans looking for graphic novels in a variety of genres.
“We’re becoming a book publisher” Lee said. “We’re bringing in new talent with their own audiences to attract readers we haven’t had before.”
“We want to branch out. We know how to service our core market, the comics shop market,” Didio said. “But we see our numbers in the book market. We sell more graphic novels than periodicals and we want to produce books with a long shelf life,” he said.