“In this year on March 1st came at last the Passing of King Elessar. It is said that the beds of Meriadoc and Peregrin were set beside the bed of the great king. Then Legolas built a grey ship in Ithilien, and sailed down Anduin and so over Sea; and with him; it is said, went Gimli the Dwarf. And when that ship passed, an end was come in Middle-earth of the Fellowship of the Ring”.
Today is the final day of DC Entertainment’s New York office, long located at 1700 Broadway, opposite the Ed Sullivan Theater where the Beatles took America and Stephen Colbert will soon take up residence. DC will now be located in Burbank, near its Warner Brothers parent company.
After 18 months of slow, agonizing attrition, the final New Yorkers, those who chose not to make the move to the new Burbank offices, will turn off the lights, shove the last color xerox into the shredder and move on to their new lives. I understand that Mad Magazine is staying in New York, and Marie Javins is shutting down some convergence stuff before she to goes off to the Grey Havens, but this is really the end of an era.
Usually when I say someone retiring is the end of an era, I mean that the way that person did business is gone. In this case I really do mean it is the end of the era of New York publishing in general, and New York comics publishing in specifics. From its sleazy, pulp infused beginning in the offices of Harry Donenfeld and Major Nicholson Wheeler, to the shops of Iger and Fox, on through the legendary Camelot of the Marvel Bullpen, the confident smiles of Continuity Studios, the DC implosion, Marvelcution, the Crisis Era, the evolution of stats to FTP servers, from men and women with bottles of india ink bowed over pages of art to men and women with wacom tablets fixing pixels, New York was at the heart of the American comics industry.
Although by the dawn of the direct sales era, Marvel and DC were the only publishers left in New York proper, they still loomed large in the freelancer’s ambitions and the readers’s imagination. For decade, a visit to the city by an out of town creator might include appointments at both Marvel and DC, in olden days merely wandering the halls in search of a friendly editor; in newer times appointments, visitors badges and close supervision were more the order of the day. (I’m not sure anyone is actually allowed in the Marvel offices any more.) People still visit the offices of Marvel and DC—mostly movie stars and wrestlers, based on the photos I see on my Twitter feed—but for freelancers it isn’t the kind of cozy home away from home that made certain editor’s offices a hang out spot as welcome as the corner bar or coffee shop.
One of my first visits to the DC offices was in the 80s before it moved to 1700 Broadway. Hanging out in Mark Waid’s office he told me it was my lucky day because Steve Ditko was coming by to drop off some work a bit later. Needless to say, I hung out until the moment arrived, shaking the great man’s hand awkwardly. Ever the professional, Ditko dropped of his pages, mumbled you’re welcome and then left. Later in the day I stood in front of a wall of covers as some guy named Mike Mignola analyzed their compositions.
An earlier visit (I’m too shy to say what year) was to interview Marv Wolfman, who put up with my fangirl interrogation with more courtesy than he had any need to. During the ordeal, a tall, gaunt young man arrived to shoot the shit, introducing himself as Frank Miller. I think he had read some of my writing in the Comics Journal and as I stammered my admiration of Daredevil, he said he liked my writing. I definitely wrote all about that day in my diary that night.
Many years later—after I had actually become Marv’s assistant for several years, sitting in an office in Burbank not far from where the new DC offices are located—I actually got a job at DC Comics itself, and 1700 Broadway became the daily destination of my commute. I’m not going to lie, the brief three years I worked at DC were miserable, definitely as much for the people I worked with as for me. But there were fun times, despite it all. Crashing Letterman rehearsals with Martha Thomases. Listening to anime soundtracks in Andy Helfer’s office. Working with incredible creators like Brian K. Vaughan, Warren Ellis, Darrick Robertson, Rodney Ramos, Devin Grayson, John Bolton, Sean Philips, Dylan Horrocks, Philip Bond and many more. Giving some people their first notable jobs, like Pia Guerra and Giuseppe Camuncoli. My first assignment there was editing the Space Ghost Coast to Coast comic, and I got Andy Merrill who wrote it and did the voice of Brak, to record the outgoing message on my answering machine. That was fun and I wish I had a recording of that recording!
Even when I worked there, 15 years ago, DC’s 1700 office space already seemed to be some kind of throwback to a previous era of corporate life. Every other place I’d worked had open plan cubicles and doors with windows for all but mega boss level execs. At DC even assistants had a solid door that could be shut for total privacy, creating a little world where you could tear your hair out over late freelancers or office politics. (Sometimes the doors didn’t shut enough; on one of my early, journalistic visits to the office, through a door left ajar I was amazed to see someone—Joe Orlando?—taking a full on nap, face down on his desk.) A stat room—outdated even when I worked there—adorned with an 8-track tape was one of my particular favorite places. A hallway leading to the ladies room near the Vertigo offices was what I called “The Hall of the Failed Imprints” with the logos of Impulse, Piranha, Helix and more in a stately parade. A giant framed cover of a book called Leave it to Binky with the image of a man mistakenly kissing a fish suggested that humor comics had once been popular and I theorized that they could be again, but I was seemingly alone in that belief.
The years I worked at DC happened to coincide with the lowest depths of the US comics industry since Wertham. Sales were awful and morale was low around town—Marvel was coming out of bankruptcy and had some good stuff in the Marvel Knights line, but that was an outlier. I was convinced that graphic novels and the alternate esthetics of the indie comics world would help rebuild the audience that had fled in droves following the speculation bust earlier in the 90s, but finding a way to actually put that conviction into action wasn’t easy in an industry where risking any money whatsoever was a pipedream.
But I survived, comics survived, manga brought in a whole new readership, Bill Jemas’s daring moves at Marvel perked up the interest of some new and lapsed readers; DC figured out how to get the Wednesday crowd totally committed with events like the original 52, and movies starring Spider-Man, Batman and the X-men proved that the characters had legs outside the pages of deconstructed periodicals.
And a new boom was made, much of it coming out of the offices at 1700 Broadway.
I’ve written a lot about the politics of DC’s New York offices over the years, but the short version of the story I always heard is that Warner Bros. always wanted to move it to the West Coast, or at least had an inkling of wanting to do it. And Paul Levitz, the Gandalf of this particular tale, knew it, but always stayed one step ahead of those plans. When Levitz left all the way back in 2009 and Diane Nelson took over, moving the offices to the West Coast was once again considered—and a whole west coast office that was staff-ready was already built— but Levitz, or someone, had signed such a long lease on the offices that to break it would literally have cost more than the move. So it took a few more years before the plan could finally be announced, in the fall of 2013.
And then the long goodbye began.
I think the last time I was actually in the DC offices was five years ago, to see the late Jerry Robinson talk about his iconic Joker art he was selling. Over the last few months, I had a lot of plans to go up to DC for one last visit, but I could never bring myself to put it on my calendar. I guess it would have been too sad to actually see in real life. My Facebook feed has been sad enough over the last few months, with questions about Los Angeles real estate, then photos of packing, goodbye parties, and status updates located at LAX. The new DC looks to be an interesting place, with a lot of new attitudes and definitely some changed procedures. I’ll put up all the speculation I’ve been saving up about the future of DC in a later post, but for now, it’s time to end this era.
Visiting a publisher’s offices is a boon to a freelancer’s career. It makes you a face, not merely a name attached to an e-mail. You get so much more accomplished in the same room, rather than via electronic means. Assignments result from those visits; bumping into an editor in the hall can bear more fruit than a stack of pitches.
I was offered the writing gig on “Superboy” when I was up at the office, the editor essentially saying, “Hey, we need new, regular ‘Superboy’ writer. Do you want to do it?” I said yes, and started on it shortly thereafter. It was that simple.
Dan DiDio had some of the best packing up photos of all on his FB page.
Computers for the last remaining New York employees were removed Wednesday, just leaving more clean-up, as wistfully chronicled by Vertigo’s group editor Will Dennis, who is not making the move.
Life goes on, and I’m sure we’ll look back on all this as an exciting new era for DC in years to come. Eventually people who remembered DC being in New York will be vastly outnumbered by people who only heard about it, and Will’s Roy Batty quote will be entirely accurate. I send my best to those who are leaving their jobs, and to those who took the move to the West. In the movie “Wild” there’s talk about coming to a “fork in the road” in life. This fork was more corporate than most, but instead of dreaming of a thrilling job at a New York publishing house, kids will now dream of a thrilling job at a small division of a movie studio. And Batman will still throw up his Bat-signal.
Anyone who knows me, knows I have a Lord of the Rings quote for every occasion, and here’s the one that kept going through my mind as I wrote this, from the end of the chapter “Lothlórian”:
At the hill’s foot Frodo found Aragorn, standing still and silent as a tree; but in his hand was a small golden bloom of elanor, and a light was in his eyes. He was wrapped in some fair memory: and as Frodo looked at him he knew that he beheld things as they once had been in this same place. For the grim years were removed from the face of Aragorn, and he seemed clothed in white, a young lord tall and fair; and he spoke words in the Elvish tongue to one whom Frodo could not see. Arwen vanimelda, namárië! he said, and then he drew a breath, and returning out of his thought he looked at Frodo and smiled.
`Here is the heart of Elvendom on earth,’ he said, `and here my heart dwells ever, unless there be a light beyond the dark roads that we still must tread, you and I. Come with me! ‘ And taking Frodo’s hand in his, he left the hill of Cerin Amroth and came there never again as living man.
Heidi MacDonald is the founder and editor in chief of The Beat. In the past, she worked for Disney, DC Comics, Fox and Publishers Weekly. She can be heard regularly on the More To Come Podcast. She likes coffee, cats and noble struggle.