Image: DC Comics

The comic book industry is in the throes of an existential crisis of its own making. With sales down across the board for basically all of the major publishers, shops like Marvel and DC have been scrambling to figure out how to bring old readers back into the folks while also appealing to new audiences—and DC says it finally has a plan.

During a Comic-Con panel this weekend, DC co-publishers Jim Lee and Dan DiDio were brutally honest about the current troubles plaguing DC’s sales and spoke at length about the plans they’re working on to save comics. Comic books, Lee said frankly, are no longer the way that most people are introduced to their flagship characters like Batman and Superman—a major problem for a company literally built and still reliant on those characters’ backs.

For the past few years, as comic book movies have become an ascendant part of the modern pop cultural conversation, comic books themselves have lagged behind. If you’re reading this, then there’s a very good chance that you’re something of a comic book fan who has kept up with events like Secret Empire and Rebirth from issue to issue—but the narrative and logistical complexity of those kinds of portfolio-wide crossovers often alienate casual readers who might just want to pick up a comic with a character they recognize and be able to enjoy reading a story without having to consult Wikipedia every few panels in order to make sense of what’s going on.

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Rebirth, Lee said, was a solid first step towards pulling DC’s comics out of the dark and gritty rut that so many series have slipped into during late ‘90s, and never got out of. But in order to keep moving forward and address a problem that goes deeper than aesthetics, DC wants to begin putting out the best possible stories about its characters as opposed to the most possible stories. The solution? “Evergreen” flagship stories, unbound from the pace of monthly books currently being published.

Said Lee:

“DC approached me and said, how would you like to take some of the stuff that you are working on with Sean [Murphy] and do it a new, prestige format? Instead of doing it monthly, why not do it in this format that would allow for it to be a bigger stage, both for Sean artistically, and to package the story in a new way and then allow every subsequent story that I was going to do with Paul Pope, with Afua [Richardson], with Lee Bermejo, be done in this format that really foregrounds the art – different paper size, different cut, the whole thing?

In that way, it seemed obvious and a perfect solution instead of having them work month-to-month on a normal-sized, conventional comic, we could be some of the first people to try driving in this new lane for DC. I’m really, really thrilled about it.”

According to DiDio, this new project is designed to appeal to a wider audience by being much more accessible, and actually giving the story and art of the books the space to breathe and really resonate with its readers. Gimmicks like ever-increasing profits, variant covers, and events, DiDio said, are a large part of what’s killing the comics publishing industry. This new initiative is being designed from the ground up to avoid those kinds of barriers to entry.

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Obviously, it’s going to take time for DC to fully rethink its gameplan with regards to something as important as this, and there’s no guarantee that it’ll actually work. But it’s an incredibly refreshing to hear this sort of candidness coming directly from executives at one of the two major publishers about the very real challenges it’s facing—and how it’s going to address them.