Around this time last year, we saw many groundbreaking changes occur for the major comic book publishers. Marvel, of course, grabbed the bigger spotlight with the news of their purchase by Disney for $4 billion.
DC, however, had made it a point to slowly show its hand by first unveiling the new division known as DC Entertainment. Rumors came about the rest of the year of new positions and changes that would involve putting more focus on the creative direction of its TV and movie properties. As 2010 dawned, we then came to learn those changes involved Diane Nelson heading up DCE, Paul Levitz stepping down as president, Dan DiDio and Jim Lee as co-publishers, and Geoff Johns as Chief Creative Officer. DC and Warner Bros. were making it a point to mean business when it came to making the most of the many years of characters and storylines they had under their belt.
Then yesterday, the kid gloves came off:
1) DC first announced a bi-coastal move that involves relocating the multimedia portion of their business to Los Angeles while keeping their comic publishing division in New York City. Says Nelson, “Our two offices will stretch and build their respective areas of focus, while prioritizing and aggressively striving to connect and cooperate more strongly than ever before between them and with their colleagues at Warner Bros.”
2) We then learned that Wildstorm, the long-standing studio that helped get Image off the ground running in ’92 and was then purchased by DC in ’99, would close shop by the end of the year and fold into the DC Comics imprint.
3) Lastly, as one would expect from a big move to LA and shutting down one of its studios, there’s talk of an estimated 20% layoff in DC’s divisions. Whether this includes the predicted current employees who would not want or be able to make the trip to the West Coast remains to be seen.
My two cents? It’s no surprise it would come to this. Re-structuring always involves shifting positions and studios and unfortunately also means layoffs. The minute we heard DC Entertainment was created last year, this was bound to happen. One will only hope this results in a more focused direction for its TV, film, and, of course, the comic properties. TV is definitely not an issue if you look at how well their DC animated offerings have been as of late and you can make a case that Smallville has had somewhat of a mini-revival after Geoff Johns put his influence into play.
Films are a different matter. The Green Lantern film coming next summer might change the perception that DC and Warner Bros. can only do Batman flicks as of late, but we’ve known for the longest time that the focus was lacking on what else they could turn into film properties. Marvel is definitely ahead in that chess match, but if you hear what Nelson has to say about the competition, there doesn’t appear to be one. Probably the best thing to say at this point.
As for Wildstorm? I’ll confess to not being well-versed in that universe, so it’s hard for me to judge whether I’ll be missing out on anything. Its early days gave us Alan Moore’s imprint, America’s Best Comics, which had a great impact in the beginning with League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Tom Strong, and Promothea. It also brought The Authority and a more adult tone to the superhero team-up book. Warren Ellis and John Cassady’s Planetary explored a great deal of comic book history and pop culture. In recent years though, I can only recall Ex Machina as the one book that stood out to me. Granted, this doesn’t mean Wildstorm’s characters will go away forever, but it’s hard pressed to say how much can be done to create interest for future generations.
One thing’s for sure – I’m sad to see much amazing talent be let go. I wish them the best in finding future work and hope the gifts and skills they bring to the industry overall will not go unnoticed.
What’s your thoughts on all the changes?
Not much to pick from this week due to my lack of reading time, but I did think of one favorite of mine from Brian K. Vaughan, who you know well from Y: The Last Man and Ex Machina.
This standalone graphic novel speaks highly about the invasion of Iraq in 2003 and what it is to really earn freedom through the eyes of four lions that escaped the Baghdad zoo. Great pacing and characterization, as you would expect from a talent like Vaughan, and equally exquisite art from Niko Henrichon. There’s a good few political metaphors you can grab from this (it’s about the invasion of Iraq, so not surprised there), but ultimately it speaks volumes about the price of freedom and whether it’s given or earned. Go check it out!
I routinely get asked what’s so fascinating about reading stories of spandex-clad super-heroes in the comics. I’ll get remarks that it’s just “nerd” material, just for kids, or that I need to get outside more. Granted, I do question at times why Superman wears red underwear outside his costume, but hey, he’s still fully clothed and that’s all that matters…
There’s a lot to be said about the comic book itself and what it brought to the table throughout history. When people were first introduced to Captain America in the 40’s, it was a response to our fears about how the U.S. will fare in WWII. When the X-Men were introduced in the 60’s, it spoke volumes about the racial prejudice prominent to that period. Then there were the stories that brought things down to a more personal scale. Spider-Man brought us a character that not only fought crime, but dealt with real-life issues most high school and college students could relate to. The Fantastic Four showed us that even super-hero families have relational issues and can still work them out. Combine these with the sci-fi aspects that comes with being super heroes and you can see why comics have outlasted economic turmoil and critic bashing over the years.
Of course, being that comics have been a visual medium for the longest time, there comes a time when the emphasis on art is stronger than emphasis on writing. Enter the early 90’s. Artists became superstars. Publishers produced hundreds of covers for almost every single issue. It was the “in” thing to collect and sell at later times. Storytelling took a back seat while artwork helped rack in the dough.
Then the market became saturated with thousands of useless issues that weren’t being collected. Consumers realized the deteriorating value behind these issues. Retailers and publishers lost millions. Marvel declared bankruptcy in 1996. The bare-bones storytelling became more noticeable and many fan-favorite characters suffered via cancellations. The industry started to re-think the direction behind its heroes as well as other areas they can explore.
The mid 90’s started to show the potential of the medium through Neil Gaiman’s Sandman, which Mike touched upon in our first podcast.
It was a different approach, delving into and re-inventing the mythologies Gaiman wanted to play with. It went away from the conventional super hero books and showed that comics could be as just a respected reading medium as any novel on the bookshelves. DC took notice and created its “Vertigo” line to accommodate creator-owned lines and new universes.
Fables, Y: The Last Man, Ex Machina, and more would help in grabbing old readers disenchanted by the old superhero stories and new readers looking for innovative storytelling. The superhero books would follow after DC and Marvel discovered a new crop of writers that could re-invent their images. And while today’s sales numbers may not reach the numbers the 80’s and early 90’s brought, comics are getting a new kind of respect that has resulted in writers being offered TV gigs and comic properties becoming high-grossing movies.
My next few posts will highlight the books I feel are helping to realize the medium’s potential. Feel free to suggest any you feel deserve to be up on that list. Enjoy!
Show runs about 40 minutes.
Lots of Green Lantern talk this time around, Secret Ninja powers, Comic book vs. waiting for the collected story lines in a graphic novel. A look at the DC catalog they slipped in my comic bag. Ideas for what to read after you watch Watchmen. Some of the bad Alan Moore movie adaptations, and no wonder he wants his name removed. A little bit about the Joker graphic novels out there. Ex Machina, which is written by Brian K. Vaughan (LOST), who also wrote Y The Last Man. Marvel also slipped a history of Wolverine into the bag so we get into Old Man Logan which looks like I’ll pick up.