Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Keeping Up With The Jones: Corporate Restructing and DC Comics

This is going to be a bit lengthy, but this is big enough news to warrant it. As I said on Twitter earlier, the sounds you've hearing today are the sounds of the other shoe dropping in the comic industry. This shoe is probably going to bounce for a while too.

First, let's go to the official announcement from Warner:

Burbank, CA - Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. (WBEI) has created DC Entertainment Inc., a new company founded to fully realize the power and value of the DC Comics brand and characters across all media and platforms, to be run by Diane Nelson, it was announced today by Barry Meyer, Chairman & CEO, and Alan Horn, President & COO, Warner Bros.

DC Entertainment, a separate division of WBEI, will be charged with strategically integrating the DC Comics business, brand and characters deeply into Warner Bros. Entertainment and all its content and distribution businesses. DC Entertainment, which will work with each of the Warner Bros. divisions, will also tap into the tremendous expertise the Studio has in building and sustaining franchises and prioritize DC properties as key titles and growth drivers across all of the Studio, including feature films, television, interactive entertainment, direct-to-consumer platforms and consumer products. The DC Comics publishing business will remain the cornerstone of DC Entertainment, releasing approximately 90 comic books through its various imprints and 30 graphic novels a month and continuing to build on its creative leadership in the comic book industry.

In her new role, Nelson will report to Jeff Robinov, President, Warner Bros. Pictures Group, in order to best capitalize on DC Entertainment’s theatrical development and production activities and their importance to drive its overall business with each of the divisions of Warner Bros.

Nelson will bring her expertise and more than 20 years’ experience in creative brand management, strategic marketing and content development and production to ensuring DC Entertainment’s dual mission of marshalling Warner Bros.’ resources to maximize the potential of the DC brand while remaining respectful of and collaborative with creators, talent, fans and source material. Additionally, Nelson will continue to oversee the franchise management of the Harry Potter property, which she has done since 2000, and also continue to represent the Studio's interests with the author of the Harry Potter books, J.K. Rowling. Nelson will segue from her post as President, Warner Premiere but maintain oversight responsibilities of that division. (An executive succession plan for Warner Premiere will be announced shortly.)

Paul Levitz, who has served as President & Publisher of DC Comics since 2002, will segue from that role to return to his roots as a writer for DC and become a contributing editor and overall consultant to DCE. This transition will take place as expeditiously as possible without disrupting DC’s business operations.

You can click here for the rest of the press release.

This last part is, to me, pretty damn huge. Paul Levitz is no longer President and Publisher, while someone who's experience is with brand management and marketing will take over as President of the newly named DC Entertainment division. What does this spell for creatives at DC Comics and its various sub-labels? Not sure yet, and really only time will tell but to me this doesn't look like good news for fans of DC's comics. Why? This looks like DC has been further relegated to an R&D position within the Warner corporate structure. Putting a brand manager in charge of a comic company is great for corporate synergy and leveraging the visibility and clout of the brands of the comic company but it doesn't speak to the creativity that goes on behind those "brands" in the first place. It may not end up with the monthly comics being given a second class status over the importance of the brands and characters, but it doesn't look like a rosy future for the creative end of things at DC.

Now, let's look at Paul Levitz's open letter of resignation in its entirety.
Dear Friends,

Thank you for your efforts, your support, and your contributions to DC Comics over the long years that I’ve had the honor of serving as part of DC’s leadership team. Together, our staff, creative contributors, readers, retailers and business partners have helped bring us to the beginning of what looks to be a new golden age for comics in the United States, and one that will bring more respect for the talent and the medium.

It will come as no surprise to anyone who’s heard me answer a comic convention request, 'When are you going to do more Legion stories?' that I’m going to step away from my executive desk in coming months to resume my writing career, in comics and hopefully other forms as well. One of the lessons I learned from my many great teachers, from Frank McCourt through Joe Orlando and Jenette Kahn, is that creative work is more enduring than executive acts, and I look forward to adding to the stories I’ve told. Expect to see my byline at DC, as it has appeared for almost 37 years, adding what I can to a mythology and company that has my enduring affection, and expect to see me around the world of comics, which I hope never to leave. I already hear Karen and Dan sharpening their blue pencils with glee, waiting for my first pages.

DC will remain in the hands of the people who have had ultimate responsibility for its success throughout the past two decades, the management team of Warner Bros., headed by Barry Meyer and Alan Horn. They have encouraged our growth as a creative enterprise, and I have confidence that the people they will select to join the DC team, beginning with Diane Nelson, will do their best to make DC a success. While that transition process is taking place, I’ll continue to run DC until the baton can be carefully passed, and afterwards will have a role in which I can provide my advice and help.

On a personal note, I deeply appreciate the warmth and friendship I have found in these halls since my first visit, as a 13 year old comics fan. The relationships I have made here, including one that began in a DC circulation meeting and developed into the first DC marriage in four decades (thereby rebooting a grand tradition?), have been and will remain central to my life.

And now, if you forgive me, the future is calling.

While it is great for comic fans (in the short term at least) that a writer like Paul Levitz is returning to a job that he loves, and will write a group of characters that he loves and has been a guiding force in the creation of. All well and good from a creative viewpoint. From a corporate viewpoint? I don't know. Imagine if a bank president showed up to work to be told by his bosses that from now on he was going to be working in the cafeteria instead. No, no...why would he continue to be paid the same or have the same responsibilities? Exactly. Going from a President within the corporate structure of Time/Warner to being a freelancer again is quite a drop. Sure, there is severance and such but going from being a President with a steady, good income to being another freelancer isn't exactly a lateral career move.

An interesting question is: How will this impact the creatives who do all the work that has led to these powerful brands? Will we see an end to creator-owned titles through DC and its sub-labels like Vertigo and Wildstorm? Will creators have second thoughts about working in a corporate structure that may be top heavy, with brand managers deciding what should be in monthly titles rather than editorial and creative teams working on the books? OK, so that's more than one question. But this is a big deal if you're a comic fan.

Another BIG question is: How will this impact Disney's acquisition of Marvel? Is Disney going to decide that in order to stay competitive they aren't going to be able to be as "hands off" as they have been saying they will be in the day to day of Marvel? This has just made an incredibly huge impact on the landscape of comics, both for fans and businesses. This is going to mean that there is going to be a lot coming out over the next few days, weeks, maybe even months.

Here's a link to an article at Newsarama with quotes from industry people about this news.

This is big.