SDCC 2018: DC For Everyone Talks Black Label, Young Animal, Vertigo & Zoom

by Noah Sharma

On Sunday of San Diego Comic Con 2018 DC Comics assembled Lee Bermejo (Batman: Damned, Joker), Cecil Castellucci (Shade, the Changing Woman), Marley Zarcone (Shade, the Changing Woman), Magdalene Visaggio (Eternity Girl), Mark Russell (Exit Stage Left: The Snagglepuss Chronicles, The Flintstones), Art and Franco (Tiny Titans, Superpowers), and Danielle Paige (Mera: Tidebreaker) to discuss creating a DC for everyone.

The panel began with a look at DC’s Black Label imprint. “When they started announcing these imprints, every single one of them had me excited,” said Bermejo. Black Label is intended to be a place for legends of the industry to play with all the toys in the DC toybox. Bermejo feels that the ambiguity of continuity in books is a huge benefit to the line. He sees Batman: Damned as an evergreen title that focuses directly on the story being told. Castellucci, Zarcone, Visaggio, and Paige agreed, saying that DC’s history is a fantastic opportunity to pack their stories with

Damned is a supernatural murder mystery featuring Etrigan, Zatanna, and more. He says that it is very much connected to Joker and that will become more and more apparent. He says to keep an eye on the bridge on the final page of Joker.

Castellucci adores the freedom of working on Shade with Zarcone, likening it to a dance. The series comes to a close next month with Shade, the Changing Woman #6, but Castellucci says that she has absolutely no regrets, she got to do exactly what she wanted, down to the final page she planned before the first book was released. Zarcone spoke about referencing the classic Shade runs, saying that she particularly wanted to pay homage to Chris Bachalo, an eternal inspiration for her.

Visaggio says that she’s wanted to tell something resembling Eternity Girl since she was twenty. “The fact that I got to do that at DC, blows my mind.” Visaggio says that she feels that Sonny Liew is “honestly the best cartoonist in the world,” citing one page in particular. Visaggio wrote a fairly simple four panel page where a character was confronted with a slew of alternate versions of herself, but Liew returned a stunning two page layout.

Asked about Young Animal, Castellucci felt that the pop-up imprint concept allowed DC to ebb and flow with the tide. For Visaggio it’s overwhelming to wonder how these books will be remembered years from now. “There was a feeling,” Castellucci said ,“that each of these books would be some kid’s ‘book’, the one that’s part of the DNA of their storytelling forever.”

Mark Russell is examining the limits of superheroes in Second Coming from Vertigo. The book is a religious satire about Jesus, basically grounded after his crucifixion for not aligning with God, the Father’s retributive ethos, and returning after God sends him to learn from a modern superhero. Despite the irreverent tone, it’s clear that Russell has great respect for Jesus’ loving approach. Russell is apparently notorious for talking about politics and religion among his peers, but “what else is there? I’m not going to talk about my porcelain,” he rebuked.

The cover to Green Lantern/Huckleberry Hound by Sam Basri

Russell also writes Exit Stage Left: The Snagglepuss Chronicles. There wasn’t a lot of continuity or story to base a Snagglepuss story off of, he’s a gay icon and he uses a lot of theater terms. That was enough. ‘If he was in the theater, why is he making cartoons now,’ Russell wondered. Russell feels that any story can be great if you take it seriously and so he based Snagglepuss on the life of Tennessee Williams.

Russell has one more Hanna-Barbera story in him too. Green Lantern: Huckleberry Hound, art by Rick Leonardi, is about Huckleberry Hound and John Stewert having a chance encounter at a bar in 1972. John’s just become a Green Lantern and has to deal with the troubles of the world with a power ring on his finger but no ability to use it in the current political climate. Huckleberry Hound, on the other hand, is at the tail-end of his career, having made some comments about the president, and his meeting Stewart forces the cosmic lawman to determine whether he’s dedicated to justice or law.

Asked what they would do with a DC/Hanna-Barbera book, the panelists all gave their own answers. Paige said she’d try The Jetsons meets Dark Shadows. Zarcone wants Peter Potamus and So-So/Solomon Grundy. Russell wants Hellblazer/Scooby Doo. Black Canary/Tweety Bird says Castellucci. Lee Bermejo wants anyone with Muttley – maybe the joker. And look for Gorilla Grodd/Magilla Gorilla from Art Baltazar whenever DC wises up.

When he was told about the DC: Zoom line, Baltazar interrupted to demand that he needed to work on Superman. He got his wish, with Superman of Smallville arriving next June. The book sees Superman starting middle school. The costume came from asking his actual preteen son what he would wear if he was Superman. Lex Luthor is in the book, but he’s not evil, “he’s just suspicious.” Clark doesn’t know anyone at his new school except for his childhood best friend Lana Lang. Art echoed the great Maurice Sendak, saying that he doesn’t write books for children, he just writes books that he knows children will enjoy.

Interior art from the upcoming Mera: Tidebreaker by Stephen Byrne

Danielle Paige’s first comic, Mera: Tidebreaker is coming April 2019. Paige was asked to bring her YA skill set to comics and was offered a list of characters. Unfailingly she pitched “Aquaman as the Little Mermaid” – Aquaman: A Whole New World. DC wasn’t opposed but Paige, interestingly, said that Aquaman didn’t come from the ocean and that DC won’t allow any continuity where Arthur Curry doesn’t grow up in Amnesty Bay. The Peter David Aquaman fan in me weeps. Nevertheless, Mera did grow up in Xebel and the drama of her needing to kill Arthur to prevent him ascending to the throne but falling in love with him struck Paige. “I like the idea that she won’t just be Aquaman’s girlfriend anymore.”

Visaggio loves how DC is letting new voices find their spin on classic characters, pointing out the shift from the old paradigm of taking creators off of their creator-owned concepts and asking them to write under the limitations of continuity.

The panel spoke about the moment of being young and finding the book that gets you. “It’s an introduction to being powerful,” said Paige.

Bermejo felt that the key word for the line is evolution. Stories are constantly evolving and fighting that isn’t an effective strategy. It’s dangerous, he says, for stories to become stagnant and codified and this is a turn away from that from DC.

Covers used to be a very different part of the book, before the internet and easily accessible solicitations. Nevertheless Bermejo feels that covers have a unique power in the modern world. With so much noise bombarding us, covers have to cut through the noise. Over the years, many people have argued, in good faith and bad, that comics fade – that comics have a short shelf life and shouldn’t be treated as too “precious”. That’s something that Bermejo can’t really accept. “There are comics that have been on my desk for ten years.” The chance to make something that will have that long lasting impact, even to one person, motivates Bermejo and encourages him to be ‘precious’ with his work, explaining his attachment to evergreen comics from earlier

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