DC’s Jim Lee on Returning to the Comic-Con Floor and the Magic of James Gunn


The announcer is blaring over the speaker system that Preview Night is about to begin at San Diego Comic-Con. In minutes, the floor will see tendrils of people spread down paths and alleyways, slowly at first then in a deluge, putting to rest any theory that a lack of actors would make people stay away from Comic-Con. People are here for cool collectible merch, and they will soon line up and jostle for it.  

And Jim Lee, president, publisher and chief creative officer of DC Comics, is totally OK with that. Lee is on the second floor of the DC booth, tucked in a back corner of the convention hall, taking in the colorful view of the floor.

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“Comic-Con is the event of the year for us, and we wanted to basically show up for the fans,” Lee tells The Hollywood Reporter.

Attendees buying collectibles at the booth.

Attendees buying collectibles at the booth. Borys Kit/THR Staff

DC Comics is back on the floor after sitting out last year’s post-pandemic return. Coupled with virtual Comic-Cons during the pandemic, the company hasn’t been present as a physical force since 2019, an epoch in today’s fast-moving times.

But DC also has an undercurrent of energy running through it. While the recent movies being released by parent company Warner Bros. are not sparking box office lightning, the new slate of titles that will serve to launch a movie universe by DC Studios heads James Gunn and Peter Safran has fans talking. And that, in turn, has sparked a renewed interest in the comics.

“It’s amazing to have partners in Peter and James, particularly James. He was a comics fan growing up and knows our mythology inside out. And having that kind of ally in the live-action space allows us to really leverage what he is doing and allow us to market and sell comic books to new readers,” says Lee. “These are people who are interested in his movies, his TV shows, and if they want to take a deep dive into these characters, he directs them to the comic books.”

Without divulging figures, Lee says that certain titles have seen double- or triple-digit growth in sales since the duo took charge of a newly integrated screen division. One book, The Authority, wasn’t even in print when Gunn revealed it was getting the big-screen treatment.

Despite the excitement for the movies and TV shows, comics and publishing are still the engine for the other media divisions. Hence the focused presence at Comic-Con. This year, DC has a lean and mean presence that is just focused on the publishing side of the business. It’s not part of a larger Warner Bros. footprint, it’s not part of some large DC presence that incorporates a slew of movies and TV shows while making some space for comics and collectibles. Yes, there are two costume displays from two upcoming movies, Blue Beetle and Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom. But the focus is on comics and the publishing event dubbed Dawn of DC, and the iconography of artists such as Dan Mora and Daniel Sampere abound in around booth.

Costumes for Blue Beetle and Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom, and worn by actors Xolo Marduena and Jason Momoa respectively, stand tall at the DC booth.

Costumes for Blue Beetle and Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom, and worn by actors Xolo Maridueña and Jason Momoa respectively, stand tall at the DC booth. Borys Kit/THR Staff

“At the end of the day, there’s the business of DC and then there’s the content engine that creates all the DC content, from the comics to animation and movies and stuff like that,” says Lee. “But it’s that connection between comics and media that we’re celebrating here.”

Todd McFarlane, creator of Spawn and head of McFarlane Toys, checks out the wares at the DC boot

Todd McFarlane, creator of Spawn and head of McFarlane Toys, checks out the wares at the DC booth. Borys Kit/THR Staff

There is a signing booth that Lee and other artists will be putting to good use in the coming days. There is a fun activation with partner McFarlane Toys, the company run by Lee’s former Image Comics partner Todd McFarlane, which allows a photo op by letting fans step into a giant action figure toy box. And then there’s the merch.

For years, comic publishers and other companies flat out gave away product, convention exclusive or not, in a bid to generate marketing buzz. But then companies such as Lego, Hasbro and Funk began selling Comic-Con exclusives.

This is the first year that DC has gone all in on exclusive or limited-edition items, offering comic books, action figures, hoodies and pins, among other hot collectibles. There are also resin statues of key DC moments going for $499.

“The trend has been for exhibitors to have exclusive product as a way to driving fans to their booths and also underwriting the cost of being at a show like this,” explains Lee. “But it’s also a great way to stoke fandom. People go online, they go to Discord channels, they talk about what they scored at Comic-Con. They wait long lines to go into Hall H or to meet creators and celebrities, and they also wait in long lines to buy exclusive merchandise.”

One of the limited statues for sale, this one modeled after the cover of Action Comics no. 1.

One of the limited statues for sale, modeled after the cover of Action Comics No. 1. Borys Kit/THR Staff

One area in which DC has been leading the charge is the digital realm, and not just in digital comics. The company has partnered with Cartamundi for a line of hybrid trading cards named Hro. The cards are already a massive and addictive hit with fans, and the company is stoking interest with, you guessed it, limited cards set at its booth.

“Physical superhero trading cards have been around for decades, this is just a really elegant hybridization of that business into the digital space, not leaving behind the physical collectors,” explains Lee. “It gives you the option of trading one or the other or both. Cartamundi found a way to make it work for both kinds of fans.”

The reemergence of the booth comes as DC is in the middle of its publishing initiative, Dawn of DC, relaunching titles over a yearlong period. It’s become de rigueur for the Big Two, as DC and Marvel are known, to revamp their titles every few years in a bid to generate excitement with readers.

DC did it previously with initiatives The New 52 in 2011 and then with DC Rebirth in 2016. But New 52 was done in a five-week period, and Rebirth in three to four months. Dawn of DC is a more measured approach. There may be less overall hype, but the interest is sustained over a longer term, with Lee noting the time frame allows the company to market the titles properly and gives retailers a chance to plan ahead.

“First issues are highly collectible, as you know, but if you have too many in one month, you suck up all the dollars that are in the marketplace. Which is great if you get them all, but there are limits to people’s budgets,” notes Lee.

Lee says the results have been strong so far. Superman books are performing well, titles have gone to second printings, and even eclectic books such as Doom Patrol have found an audience.

Says Lee: “We’re super excited about the results, and we haven’t even gotten to the Batman piece of it yet.”


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