So Long and Thanks for the Fish, Man #060: Dear Dan

Dear Dan,

First off… is it OK to call you Dan? Probably not. We’re not close friends. We’re not really even acquaintances. At best, I know some people you know really well, and you’ve come by my little table in Artist Alleys now and again, but I’m getting ahead of myself. Yeah, Dan seems a bit too informal. So, I apologize. Mr. Didio, I felt it necessary to write to you a complicated mélange of thoughts today. I’d seen — thanks to my blown-up social feeds — of your recent (likely undesired) conscious uncoupling with DC Comics. Admittedly when I’d seen the news, it came on the back of Ethan Van Sciver claiming he knew someone who knew someone at AT&T who was threatening to blow up all of DC publishing if 5G doesn’t go over well. That bit of foil-hattery on top of your release was a bit too much for me. I logged off, and moved along.

And as it happened, my feed stayed choked with DiDio Dictations; lovely words shared by the multitude of industry veterans I’m lucky enough to have known long enough to be worthy of personal Facebook friendship with. And each of these creators detailed both their love and respect of you, and the work you did. It began to gnaw on my subconscious a bit. And here I sat, looking over a picture of Pop Culture Squad’s Bob Harrison posed with you, and it — combined with the words of Scott Snyder, Gail Simone, Art Baltazar, Will Pfeiffer, and more — finally able to come to grips with what all I wanted to add to the mounting mass of mentions and manifestos.

First and foremost: Thank you.

When you joined DC in 2002, I was two years into college. My best friends and I saw you and Bob Wayne be the emcees at the Wizard World Chicago DC panel. There, you took in stride the tough Chicago crowd’s applause and jeers with each new slide in your deck. Bob would chime in “Vote with your money!” and then you’d carefully drop in a mention or two for your favorite characters getting a little extra love just because. And it was here in these sweltering sessions of future books I would buy, that the bug truly bit me. I want to work for DC Comics. I told it to myself often. I had no idea how to go about doing it. Where to even begin. And to approach you? Well, I wasn’t that stupid.

I was stupid enough to locate Paul Levitz’s home phone number (thanks Yahoo Directory Assistance!) and ask him how to break into DC Comics. He actually gave me decent advice before asking me how I found the number, and to politely never call him again. Fair.

In 2008, I formed a studio with those same friends who sat with me in the Donald E. Stephens ballroom to listen to you prattle off book pitches. We released our first book, The March: Crossing Bridges in America through Mendoza Publishing. Shortly after that we took the deeper dive, and started self-publishing. We also learned to cut our teeth in Artist Alley, pitching our book much the way we saw you do it. Of course, it was a bit harder selling our stories of no-name characters than you likely had, peddling out Superman and Batman books. But I digress.

The same year DC started giving out those plastic Green Lantern promotional rings — I’m guessing around Blackest Night — we were shilling our wares at C2E2. It was a lucky year for us too, as Reed Pop granted us an Artist Alley table, instead of the small press booth they duped us into purchasing several years prior. And by complete luck and happenstance, there you were… casually walking the Alley. Stopping at tables. Shaking hands. Being your jovial self. Matt, our resident artist and shy boi goaded me to grab your attention. Kyle, our consummate and fearless salesman pleaded for my restraint. Kyle himself was apt to pitch at literally any sentient being who came within earshot, and notoriously was bad with faces (meaning we pitched to Tom Brevoort, Paul Levitz, Bob Wayne, Ross Ritchie, and Mike Richardson half a dozen times each to Matt and my amazement over the course of a decade). Somehow, you cut through the chafe, and he definitely knew you. And he definitely knew you had about as much chance buying one of our books as we did writing one of yours (see: none). But, hey. What did I have to lose?

“Dan—” I started, “why don’t you come hear our pitch. It ‘s better than those penny plastic rings!”. You stopped. You smiled ear to ear. You. Walked. Over. To. Our. Table. “OK, boys. Let’s hear it.”

I went into autopilot, and gave our spiel. I ended, as we always do, with the price and final question. “The book is only $5 here at the show, and if you get it here, you’ll get it signed by the entire creative team that worked on it!”

“Only five bucks? Sure!”. Out came a crisp $5 bill. A book and sticker pushed to your outstretched hand. “Wow! And a sticker? That is way better than a cheap-ass ring! Have a great day boys!”

And you were already shaking Art and Franco’s hands before I could move.

Matt, Kyle, and I stared at one another in disbelief. For the rest of the con, we peppered our pitch with “… and even Dan Didio picked one up!”. I’d like to think in contributed to our sales hitting a record high that year. 27% more books moved than the previous year in fact. I have all our marketing and sales data in a spreadsheet in case I’d ever needed to interview with you. You know. Just in case.

Seeing your tenure terminate at DC Comics made me think back to that sale, yes. But more so, in seeing the outpouring of affection for you, came stark realizations. Even when I — as a columnist for Mike Gold’s Comic Mix — would drag your name through the dirt (and I did it a few times… sorry), I did it out of passion I felt for your publishing. I’d made no bones about always being #TeamDC as a fan prior. It was that pride that made me feel (like so many) a sense of ownership over characters I had ownership of. When you downplayed Kyle Rayner and Wally West over Hal Jordan and Barry Allen. When you put Aquaman back in an orange shirt, and gave him a water hand. When you canceled anything with the Metal Men in it. Or Animal Man. Or Nightwing. I spat my hate with love. Because I’d seen you be a fan while still needing to be a business. Respect. A common thread.

Because you didn’t just anger me. You helped bring literally the best stories I’d been privy to in my generation to life. Your hand helped steer the ship to produce series like H.E.R.O., All Star Superman, JLA: The Nail, The Outsiders, and countless others. You broadened the style of art in your books far beyond Marvel (by my estimation), and proved DC will always have characters that translate into different mediums better. And while plenty have made hay on your riskier moves, or somewhat predictable cycling (EVENT! Spin-offs, Cancelations, Return to Normal, Rinse, Repeat)… hindsight is 20/20. I don’t fault you for the choices you made. Perhaps you weren’t able to truly control the market as much as we fanboys thought possible. It matters not.

Whatever your future holds, your legacy is secure. You put a stamp on characters and a universe several times over. You experimented. You challenged fans and creators alike. And you did it all with a smile on your face. It’s hard to fight that spirit. And whether it was your time or not? I hope behind closed doors and depowered devices you’re still smiling— knowing that sitting in the chair you’ve been in as long as you have has a butt groove in it that won’t fade for a good long while.

I hope you actually read your copy of The Samurnauts, too. If you didn’t? Well… least you have time to do so now. And should you discover you lost it? I’ll happily send you the whole series on the house. It’s the least I can do.

Just ask Paul Levitz for my number.

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