Sad days at DC Comics

If you follow any of the big news sites, you will have heard the news – Warner Bros are laying off something like 800 employees from various divisions, with DC losing around a third of staff. Worst hit is DC Collectibles, which is being shuttered, while the DC Universe app team is also badly hit. The comics division is reportedly losing Editor-In-Chief Bob Harras, Global Publishing Initiatives chief Bobbi Chase, Senior Story Editor Brian Cunningham, Publishing Strategy Supremo Hank Kanalz and Executive Editor Mark Doyle, among others. Jim Lee steps down as publisher, but remains as Chief Creative Officer, acting as a liaison between DC and other WarnerMedia divisions. Heidi MacDonald of The Beat, who is doing a great job of reporting on the situation, says a new publishing chief is being brought in from the world of eSports, which is apparently a thing.

It seems that, as often happens, the people to go are among the best paid, which goes along with them being the most experienced hands… lower level editors seem to have survived what people are calling the DC Bloodbath.

I really feel for the victims of this corporate restructure. In a memo to staff before details began coming out, new WarnerMedia CEO Jason Kilar, in messianic mode, made it sound like the coming changes were a wonderful opportunity. The lack of empathy for the people he was about to sack is as shocking as it is sad; good people who have given years to DC – Production Manager Jeb Woodard and Collected Editions Senior Editor Scott Nybakken have a combined 37 years – are losing their livelihood at a truly desperate time. These are people who could easily have followed corporate instruction as to how the company should be steered in future, but of course, it’s all about the bottom line.

There is some good news among the grimness, which I first saw at Bleeding Cool – Rich Johnston has been carefully following developments. He tells us that Marie Javins is going to head up DC Editorial, alongside Michele Wells. Javins went from Marvel colourist to editor, then took a few years off to globetrot. She was brought into DC temporarily a few years ago to oversee the Convergence event which filled the schedules for two months as the company moved from New York to Burbank. The creative success of the project – there really were some brilliant books, search this site with the Convergence keyword – resulted in her being kept on at DC, eventually becoming Digital Comics chief, overseeing some of the great weekly books I’ve been reviewing for the past three months.

I’ve previously argued for her to be DC Editor-in-Chief and I won’t be surprised if she makes comics lemonade from this very sour situation. The Convergence titles, deliberate throwbacks, yet have a freshness to them, showing that the likes of a traditional Marvel Family series and classic Superboy still have a place. The Digital books have continued in a similar vein, giving us stores with traditional trappings that somehow feel very Now.

Wells, whose Twitter account tells us she’s now VP & Executive Editor, has been in charge of DC’s Young Adult graphic novel line, and I’ve been very impressed by the likes of Zatanna and the House of Secrets and Anti/Hero. I’d love to see her get a few YA and younger comics on the DC publishing slate.

Sadly, the smart money seems to be on a period of retrenchment, a combination of WarnerMedia bigwigs not being interested in the comics – if it’s not streaming, it’s not there – and the comic sales not being impressive enough to demand attention.

And yet it’s still early days, with details to be settled and announcements to be made. Things that were believed – the closure of MAD! magazine and DC’s Creative Services division – have been officially contradicted. There’s the chance that some of the people said to be leaving will negotiate other roles.

What does seem very likely, given the promotion of Javins, is further expansion of the digital line. Pundits are also pretty sure there’ll be more collaborations with Walmart after the success of the DC Giants. That would likely mean a wider variety of material from DC Digital First to fill them, which would suit me as lately the likes of Flash and Aquaman have disappeared, with publishing wallflower Harley Quinn and her Birds of Prey filling the gaps. I’m definitely for more books being available at newsstands, at a better price point so more kids can try them, but I don’t want DC to ignore the Direct Market retailers they’ve worked with for so many years.

Rich Johnston is convinced there’ll be a culling of DC Universe’s print line, with what remains featuring a greater proportion of Bat-titles, because (insert ironic tone here) that is exactly what the comics industry needs to invigorate it.

Really, it’s a case of wait and see – as I write, the new publishing chief, apparently a man and due to start in September, hasn’t been named. It could be that he’s an eSports fan who also loves comics, and has a vision as to how to take DC Comics forward. Perhaps this new DC Implosion will result in a Big Bang of creativity.

Right now, my thoughts are with the ladies and gents who are losing their jobs. Heidi MacDonald says they’re on up to three months notice, which makes a nice change – don’t victims of corporate firings usually have to clear their desks the same day, before they’re escorted out of the building by Security? I wonder if any mischievous messages will make their way into comic books down the line… Anyway, good luck to everyone in finding a new job speedily, and the best of luck to the folk who remain at DC.

Meanwhile, what are your thoughts on events at DC this week? What do you think could happen, best and worst scenarios? How can DC recover from this ‘streamlining’? You’re smart, let’s hear your ideas!

UPDATE! The Hollywood Reporter now has an interview with Jim Lee, clarifying that Marie Javins and Michele Wells are currently ‘interim appointments’ and he’s still Publisher.

11 thoughts on “Sad days at DC Comics

  1. DC has already flipped off retailers with their new distribution set up earlier this summer. I haven’t read anything on how that affects the UK and others, but retailers I know are now buying barely enough DC to cover what they know for sure will sell (out) because of shrunken price points, increased shipping, and being in direct competition with the 2 distributors. That said, I hope this leads to a massive turn around as I’d been losing interest in anything they publish (especially the batcentric titles). I wish most of the personnel well and hope they find work soon.

    I’d not picked up any of the new digital line, I’ll check them out.

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    1. Thanks for your comments, Zylla, I hope you enjoy dipping your toes into the DC Digital waters – if you like Diana, Wonder Woman: Agent of Peace #4 and #7 are especially good… #7 is written by DC Associate Editor Andrea Shea, who is hopefully still OK.

      I read that DC had extended its deal with Diamond UK until the end of the year, after that, who knows?

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  2. I think the DC flip-off was double, because regarding the distribution changes they wrote to retailers “The change of direction is in line with DC’s overall strategic vision intended to improve the health of, and strengthen, the Direct Market as well as grow the number of fans who read comics worldwide.” Yes, and Richard Nixon said he was not a crook. It was corporate double-talk, meaning the opposite of what they stated, adding insult to injury. Did anyone in the Direct Market believe a word of that?

    As with the way Supergirl went, in a toxic situation once things go bad they only keep getting worse.

    There is a WARN Act that requires a 60 day notice when there are plant closings or major layoffs, but I don’t know if it applies to this case. Rather, I wonder if people are being asked to finish up the books solicited for October and already planned for November, to help transition to whoever will be replacing them. In a field like this with very tight deadlines, you can’t just drop work in progress and expect the remaining overworked and more junior-level people to get all the material to the printer on time. Books already often reach the printer within hours of the final deadline. The only solutions would be shipping delays, or instant cancellations with no story conclusions. But I wouldn’t be surprised if some storylines are forced to end early, followed by title cancellation, and that the 90 days will be spent working out those early endings.

    In white collar professions, there are no rules. Usually people are given 2 weeks’ pay, but may or may not be asked to continue working for that period, and some are indeed escorted out immediately.

    BTW Javins is the editor on all the Death Snyder books – do you still feel happy about her? 🙂

    This eSports person – the connection I see to the industry is that the person will have expertise in the production, delivery and marketing of digital content.

    Worst case and best case scenarios? I’m too depressed to describe my worst case in detail, but I assume it would be the cessation of print, or the reduction of it to include only the 1963 Justice League roster. I can’t go on a diet of purely the YA and the daily Digital First material – those can only be an occasional side dish for me.

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  3. Hi TN, cheers for that. Heidi MacDonald mentioned the WARN business, I expect that’s the sole reason they’re keeping people on… I’ve never known corporations particularly care about overworking younger staff in order to make print deadlines. Sadly.

    I can forgive Javins the Death Metal business, it’s one big concept that’s gotten out of control, likely because it’s bringing in cash. It’s coming to an end, after that she’ll be far too busy to be involved in any sequels. The nature of the project means it’s likely going to go away. I’ll look on her involvement with DM as an aberration unless evidence to the contrary mounts up.

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  4. I read about this going down last week, and when you combine this with the decision to leave Diamond because they wanted to keep publishing titles during the lockdown despite the fact that worldwide, the economy is not in an ideal place due to high unemployment, it just looks like DC’s royally ****ed for the foreseeable future. You really hate to see this, especially the massive amount of layoffs, and I have feeling this is only the beginning. Seeing as how AT &T just bought TimeWarner/WarnerMedia, having new owners makes me leary. Disney’s been the exception so far (and for now) when they bought Marvel and generally left the publication portion of Marvel alone. But I’m not so sure the new owners will extend the comics side of DC the same courtesy. Now of course, this will also be an opportunity to re-evaluate and restructure and come back stronger, albeit in a totally different new form. I’m thinking, as has been already theorized, that means a push for comics to be published digitally more so than paper print, since cost can be cut and saved. That means even more focusing on trades and OGN in order to get the most out of that particular medium, but gradually phase out printed monthlies in favor of digital copies instead. I think that’s the business model the industry’s been steadily heading towards anyways for a while now, but with DC, it’ll become a model of how they do business going forward, with other publishers and companies eventually falling suit in order to survive. I guess we’ll see.

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    1. I fear you’re right about the downplaying of print; I buy my comics digitally for the sake of storage and speed, but don’t want to see print disappear… OK, modern comics don’t smell as good as ancient ones as they age, but still! And the idea that while easily assembled trades of current books continue to appear, more labour intensive, expensive-to-produce collections of older material may vanish, is pretty horrifying. Thanks for your input, Dale.

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      1. No problem. Yeah I think that last part you just mentioned is eventually going to happen. That’s the price of “progress” I guess.

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  5. A somewhat positive interview with Jim Lee. Yes, still a bit rough, but he states that the reduction is likely somewhere in the 20-25% of books, which is better than I think we all thought. Good news too: the return of Milestone. Some other positives in the piece as well, such as the replacements for Bob Harras…
    https://www.hollywoodreporter.com/heat-vision/dcs-jim-lee-companys-future-we-are-still-business-publishing-comics-1307413

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Made me much happier as well. Though I dread more Batman books, I think we will continue to see some good content like Suicide Squad, Aquaman, Hawkman, and others (hopefully new Batgirl and Supergirl books!) once they ‘relaunch’ after Death Metal and Endless Winter.
        And here’s hoping the Batman Who Laughs Goes Away for a long time.
        And this line: “It was about aligning the books to the franchise brand content we’ve developed and making sure that every book we put out, we put out for a reason” suggests to me that we maybe WILL see a new Supergirl book by the time the next season of the show rolls around…I hope!

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