Saturday, August 11, 2007

JLU and Teen Titans Go! Cancelled. New Johnny DC Books announced.


The winds of change have been blowing strongly throughout the mainline DC universe lately, and it looks as if a slight breeze will be moving through the Johnny DC imprint in early 2008 as well.

The changes coming to DC’s imprint for kids are the addition of three new titles: Billy Batson and the Magic of Shazam, Tiny Titans, and Super Friends - all aimed squarely at a younger audience, but accessible to adults as well.

The effort is headed up by DC Coordinating Editor Jann Jones, and we spoke with her about the titles, creators involved and overall initiative.

Newsarama: First off Jann, what was the genesis of this project? What was the idea that got this whole ball rolling?

Jann Jones: When I moved into the role of Coordinating Editor and started doing the sign off on the kids’ books of the Johnny DC line, I saw that they were really good, solid books, but I didn’t feel like I could give them to a four year old or a five year old, or just any kid in general. Despite their connection to the animated projects, they were still dealing with the more serious issues – cases where if the heroes don’t save the day, it’s implied, or shown that people will die. I think that’s kind of heavy to put on a younger audience.

Some of them were very serious in tone as well. They were good reads, don’t get me wrong, and we had great creators working on them, but they weren’t making me laugh. Likewise, I have a very religious sister, and when she would go through my bundle of comics, there was very little that I would feel comfortable with handing her to give to my nephews to read. I wanted to make sure that there was a place for that in the DC Universe.

Also, I’ve been on the convention circuit since 1999 with DC, and I’ve met a bunch of really great people over the years that do material that is what I was looking for. So when the pieces started coming together, the first person who came to my mind was Art Baltazar, who does Patrick the Wolf Boy. His stuff is so sweet and cute, while also being fresh and funny. It’s something that you could give to a kid, and any child will pick that up and be totally amused by it, but I can read it and laugh too. That’s the kind of humor and that’s the kind of storytelling that I’m really going for here.

NRAMA: Before we get too far into things, how will these titles fit within the Johnny DC imprint as it stands? Will they be additions, replacements, or something else?

JJ: We’re going to be losing Teen Titans Go! and Justice League Unlimited in the line that I know of. These titles won’t exactly be replacements for those two, though, they’re something completely different.

NRAMA: So from that original idea of, “I want to see comics like this,” how does that get to two titles coming out?

JJ: Yeah, this is my baby. It’s something that I feel really strongly about. I’ve been reading comics since I was a little kid, and that all fueled me to getting this moving. So when we started looking around, as I said, we found Art pretty quickly, and then, we heard Mike Kunkel might be available, Dan’s first reaction was, “Shazam!”

NRAMA: Meaning the book, not a Gomer Pyle-style interjection?

JJ: [laughs] Right – and Dan has to be careful saying that word, because when he does, lightning starts flying. Anyway, we talked to Mike, and he was very excited about the opportunity, and we all realized that Jeff Smith had laid some really important groundwork down, not only with the character, but how the larger audience is willing to look at him. With Jeff’s miniseries, we really established that we can have different versions of Shazam and the other Marvel Family characters co-existing within the DC Universe at the same time. So Mike is really picking up where Jeff left off and it’s amazing.

NRAMA: To be specific about it – is what Mike doing a continuation of Jeff’s Shazam!: The Monster Society of Evil?, or just reminiscent of it?

JJ: It definitely captures a lot of the family and the fun and innocence of Jeff’s miniseries, but it’s not a sequel – it’s not Shazam 2: Electric Boogaloo, although that is a god title. [laughs]

NRAMA: So we’ve got Bill Batson and the Magic of Shazam by Mike Kunkel, Tiny Titans by Art Baltazar, and what else?

JJ: Super Friends with Sholly Fisch – he writes for CPW – Children’s Publishing Workshop, and he’s working on a lot of our kids’ books now. The characters in that series will be based on the designs from the Mattel toy line. The art on the first issue is by Dario Brizuela, and from there the interiors will rotate between artistic teams – the second issue is by Joe Staton and Horacio Ottolini, but all covers will be done by J. Bone.

NRAMA: So in these titles, well, taking Super Friends as an example, where’s the drama? What are the conflicts about?

JJ: In my books, the danger is more mischief. If heroes don’t save the day, no one’s going to die; a city isn’t going to be destroyed. It’s nothing like that. Super Friends is more about helping in the community and cats stuck in trees and problem solving. This book, in particular, is really geared to a younger audience. Shazam and Tiny Titans, I feel, can be ready by adults and kids and both audiences will find the humor and the joy of the stories. Super Friends really is geared to the3 same audience as the toy line. So it’s an exciting way to fill out the relationship between Mattel and DC, and allow a segment of the company to interact with a licensee in a way.

NRAMA: So is Super Friends a direct tie-in to the toy line, or is it based on the toy line?

JJ: The character designs are based off the designs of the toy line, but I think it really captures the spirit of the line. If you look at the DC heroes in the Mattel line, they look like the Rescue Heroes. They’re kind of bulky and stylized, and this follows that. We definitely did use their designs for this.

NRAMA: In terms of writing these series, you’ve implied that you’re looking for stories that will have a timeless quality to them, a la Jeff’s Shazam!. Were you just that lucky that you found three creators to do the books who can, in your view, handle that style of storytelling?

JJ: I was really, really lucky. I saw Art’s stuff first back in ’99, and Mike’s Herobear around then as well, and was just blown away by it. Both of their works had that feel that I was looking for. I really did luck out to be able to work with these guys.

But to get back to your question, there really wasn’t any question when it came to putting creators together with these books – Art’s stories with Tiny Titans are so funny and cute, and they use all of the things that little versions of the Titans would do. In issue #2, the girls use Cyborg as an Easy Bake Oven. Beast Boy gets a puppy. Everyone learns not to play tag with Kid Flash. It’s little storylines like that that bring in the magic of childhood, that excitement and innocence to the stories. Mike’s Shazam is really this wonderful kids’ fantasy world – what if you were a little kid who could turn into the World’s Mightiest Mortal? Mike brings over that same wide-eyed wonder that he had in Herobear to this.

Also, with the way we’re presenting Tiny Titans, this is the DC Universe’s Teen Titans cartoon. This is what the Teen Titans watch when they’re hanging out in Titans Tower. They’re watching this, and are a little bummed out because they’re not getting any royalties from it.

NRAMA: In terms of storytelling, will these be “done-in-one” stories, or arcs, or a collection of vignettes, or something different?

JJ: For Super Friends, it’s a collection of vignettes, along with puzzles along the way and things to keep kids occupied and hopefully catch and keep their attention.

With Billy Batson and the Magic of Shazam, that will feature one story throughout the entire issue. Mike actually has the first thirteen issues plotted out. That’s a lot about family and teamwork.

And with Tiny Titans, we’re going to have vignettes with repeating gags. It’s really funny – it’s so sweet it may make some people’s teeth hurt, but it’s still very funny.

With both Shazam and Tiny Titans, Mike and Art are taking care of everything, including the coloring, so we’re only doing the lettering in house, so with those two books, you’re getting their artistic vision. It makes it pretty easy to work with, because I get thumbnails along with the script, all in one.

NRAMA: Are you planning to do anything special with the collections of these titles, either in frequency or format? Obviously, with material such as this, the Direct Market isn’t your prime audience…

JJ: Ideally, when the first issue of Tiny Titans and Shazam hit, we’re hoping to have a few complete issues in the can already, so we can present this to the librarians and teachers and get them into schools and libraries on something of an accelerated schedule compared to our other books and series. We definitely have a game plan and see that we need to get them to libraries and schools -0 these are timeless. They can stay on shelves as long as possible, so we’re going to be exploring a lot of different formats to collect these series, because we really feel strongly that this is a niche that needs to be filled in the DC Universe, and the comics that we offer. So – that said, we want to make sure these stories get out and reach as many people as possible.

Source: newsarama