The comics industry woke up with an overwhelming collective sense of sorrow this morning, as people absorbed the news that as much as one third of DC Comics’ editorial staff was laid off yesterday amid huge cuts at WarnerMedia in general. DC was hit hard, losing almost an entire level of editorial executives — but many familiar industry figures were also let go. As scattered as people are due to COVID-19, the comics community felt yesterday intensely and came together to urge support for most who lost their jobs.

But what does it mean…and where will DC go? Some other news and reports before I get to what I’m hearing:

§ As reported by Comicbook.com and confirmed by my sources, DC will hire a new “business manager” to run the publishing side of things. While no one knows much about this person, he is said to come from “the world of eSports.” This sounds like a horrific fit, on paper, especially after comics’ hot stove league spent years trying to figure out who would succeed the DiDio/Lee two-headed publisher set-up. I often guessed that it would be a Warners suit, but again…not like this. I hope that this situation is better than it sounds on paper.

• It’s not exactly clear what Jim Lee’s title or position will be, but reportedly he will oversee DC’s liaison with other WarnerMedia divisions. This is actually a job he was already doing, technically speaking, as DC’s Chief Creative Officer. I’m assuming he’ll continue in that role.

• THR’s McMillan and Kit report that as much as a third of DC’s editorial staff was laid off. I’m told that mid-level and junior editors were not touched. THR also reminds us that other divisions at WarnerMedia were also hard hit, with DC Universe being practically wiped out as it is folded into HBO MAX.

Roughly one third of DC’s editorial ranks are being laid off, according to sources. Insiders also say the majority of the staff of the streaming service DC Universe has been laid off, a move that had been widely expected as WarnerMedia shifts its focus to new streaming service HBO Max. “DC Universe was DOA as soon as the AT&T merger happened,” said one source.

• As reported by Variety, DC was not the only division hit, with high-level personnel being let go elsewhere. 

As part of the DC staff cuts, WarnerMedia’s hundreds of layoffs included several senior level executives at Warner Bros., including Jeffrey Schlesinger, the president of Warner Bros. Worldwide Television Distribution. Ron Sanders, who served as president of Warner Bros.’ worldwide theatrical distribution and home entertainment and executive vice president of international business operations, as well as Kim Williams, EVP and CFO of Warner Bros. Entertainment, are also exiting.

Variety also got a more positive spin on things than most outlets:

But a source tells Variety that through WarnerMedia’s streamlining efforts, the DC brand will actually be expanding, with DC chief creative officer Jim Lee overseeing creative of all DC-related growth in the company.

I’ll have more on that below, but I have also heard that there could even be new hires in the future.

• Newsarama reports that those laid off will remain for another three months, although that sounds gruesome for morale.

Newsarama has also heard from multiple sources that staffers are being given three months before their positions are eliminated, although we have not confirmed that at this time. 

The California state employment law (DC is located in Burbank, CA) known as WARN (Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification) requires a 60-day notice to affected employees of a “plant closing or mass layoff.” DC has seemingly given their affected employees 90 days. 

• DC Editorial will be headed up by Marie Javins, currently Executive Editor of Global Publishing Initiatives and Digital Strategy, and Michelle Wells, Executive Editor, DC Children’s/Young Adult. The move is seen as interim, for now, but don’t be too surprised if it lasts. Javins is probably the most respected editor in the business, and someone long trusted by both creators AND Dan DiDio and Jim Lee. Wells was brought on board to spearhead the Zoom and Ink graphic novel lines — now known as DC’s young readers books. She has a strong background in YA publishing, including five years at Disney, and seems well equipped for this promotion, having shown a LOT of enthusiasm for DC’s YA lines in the time she’s been there.

That DC Editorial will now be run by two women for the first time in 80 years is something deserving its own post.

• Similarly, Nancy Spears, the VP of Sales will be taking over that end of things — which she actually has been doing for a while. With the departure of VP of Marketing and Creative Services Jonah Weiland, Albert Ching will be taking over Marketing. Obviously this is a very, very different look for DC from anything else that has ever been seen before.

• Unfortunately, I’ve also heard that two of DC’s most prominent Black executives were let go. Not a great look.

• Black Label is likely being phased out. The removal of editors Mark Doyle and Andy Khouri, who headed up DC’s mature label effort, is a big flashing arrow at that conclusion. Announced projects such as the highly promoted Rorschach miniseries by Tom King and Jorge Fornes will continue, and Black Label will remain a “label” for collected editions. However, WM’s President, Global Brands, Franchises, and Experiences Pam Lifford, who oversees DC,  is said to dislike the more mature approach to comics. And no, this isn’t just because of Batman’s full frontal back in the day. 

• As news was breaking of all of this yesterday, the overwhelming feeling was of doom and gloom among DC insiders, with several people suggesting that this was just paving the way for DC to license out their comics publishing within a year or two. I’ve been told by high-ranking sources within DC that this is not accurate at all, and that there is a plan moving forward. I’ll have more details on that after the dust settles, but digital and Walmart, the two bugaboos of DM retailers, may be more important in the future and what this means for the DM is also deserving of another post.

• I think it’s pretty clear from all of the foregoing that DC’s kids and YA books will be more important going forward. DC’s collected editions department was stripped down with Group Editor Jeb Woodard and senior editor Scott Nybakken — a 25-year DC veteran — among those laid off. While the priceless backlist will stay in print, expect cuts in the number of graphic novels DC puts out monthly.

• How many books will DC be publishing going forward? That is not at all clear, although it is going to be smaller. Will it just be a token smattering of titles to support DC’s efforts on HBO Max? Or something more robust?

• I’m told retailers have mixed feelings about all this — some are drinking heavily from the “I told you so” teacup, following DC’s move away from Diamond to its own proprietary distributors, Midtown and UCBS. Others think a decline in the amount of product DC ships every month will be a huge blow to their already COVID-cut business.

• How much of this is COVID-19 and how much was planned in advance? From everything I’m hearing, it was a unique brew of factors. DC had been thinking of leaving Diamond as far back as the DiDio/Nelson regime, but obviously the ravages of COVID-19 on AT&T/Warner’s global businesses necessitated cuts in many divisions. AT&T’s emphasis on streaming is real, and changes in the business plan were inevitable.

• It hasn’t escaped the notice of many observers that those cut were mostly long-term and/or high-level employees with big salaries and pensions. They are always the first to go in such times. Still, the sheer swath of cuts indicates the thinking that an entirely new regime for DC was needed.

• Things I don’t know but would like to — so feel free to email me, anonymously if needs be — just what is the feeling inside ATT/WM about the DC characters? Obviously it is still a huge priority for the studio with irreplaceable characters like Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman and potentially Aquaman and more. The exec who championed The Snyder Cut for HBO is gone, but it’s still huge for DC. The TV arm remains successful and more important than ever to HBO Max.

• And of course the biggest question of all…what does Pam Lifford want? I’m told the decisions on how to reshape DC were all hers to make. And the book on Lifford is that she’s more of a toy/licensing person than a publishing person. All of her most significant moves to date have been regarding branding of the characters with an eye to pajamas, lunch boxes and so on. Will John Stankey, Jason Killar and Ann Sarnoff continue to see comic books as very cheap R&D and keep the comics line healthy?

Or will they just license out the DC characters to IDW, Dark Horse and Boom for publishing?

Obviously COVID-19 hasn’t helped any of this, and things are still fluid. You’ll be hearing more about this in the days and weeks and months to come.

 

 

30 COMMENTS

  1. I hate to say it, but some parts of it make a lot of sense though it’s going to hurt a lot for many people. I like the idea of putting women in charge of the publishing line for a change, though I have to admit that I’m not getting good feelings regarding Pam Lifford’s priorities.

    It’s very much a wait and see for me, though I don’t see it being at all positive for the direct market.

  2. “That DC editorial will now be run by two women for the first time in 80 years is something deserving its own post.”

    Didn’t Jenette Kahn have the title Editor in Chief for awhile?

  3. @Daniel
    Jenette Kahn held the title of publisher at DC, I don’t think that she ever held an editor title at DC.

  4. “It’s too bad Karen Berger couldn’t come back and run the whole shebang.”

    What does she know about e-sports?

    Seriously though; what is Warner’s incentive to keep producing new monthly comics? It’s certainly not for the money they make, and most of the people who watch the movies and TV shows don’t read them.

  5. from a corporate perspective comics publishing is too small of a niche market to be involved in anymore. Licensing them out to a speciality brand like IDW or DarkHorse makes more sense, and DC editors can just become brand managers and approvers. So yeah i agree with what you’re saying here…expanding the DC brand could very well mean that comics will be another category of licensed merch as they refocus efforts on bigger media things.

  6. “Seriously though; what is Warner’s incentive to keep producing new monthly comics? It’s certainly not for the money they make, and most of the people who watch the movies and TV shows don’t read them.”

    Cynically? As an IP farm for more profitable ventures like movies, video games, toys and TV shows.

  7. But really how many IP worthy new characters have there been in the past 20 years?

    Look at ‘Stargirl’. A lead character from the 1990s and pretty much everyone else from the 1940s.

  8. Look at ‘Stargirl’. A lead character from the 1990s and pretty much everyone else from the 1940s.

    A lot of them are from the 80s, actually.

    But as to your question, both Marvel and DC’s adations have taken quite a bit of influence from stuff published in the last 20 years. The MCU had a definite Ultimate influence as well as stuff from Bendis’ New Avengers and Brubaker’s Captain America, and the last 2 Avengers movies both pulled stuff from the Hickman run. Black Panther had stuff from the Coates run and Captain Marvel pulled from the Deconnick stuff. And now, going forward, there’s about to be a Disney+ show starring Ms. Marvel, a Hawkeye series that looks to be heavily inspired by the Matt Fraction run (and co-starring Kate Bishop), among others. And of course, one of the most high profile launch titles for Sony’s new PS5 is a Miles Morales video game.

    DC’s stuff may not be as big on new characters, but it’s definitely pulling influence from the modern stuff. Pretty much every animated or live-action Harley Quinn appearance now is based on the Palmiotti and Conner stuff, and the Shazam movie was a straight up adaptation of the New 52 origin. And you also have the Jessica Cruz Green Lantern popping up in cartoons and such. Blue Beetle too.

    It’s clear Disney and WB look at the comics as R&D.

  9. Hot take here (obviously a big shake up that will end up affecting many workers and my buying habits over the next few years – called market evolution): Pam Lifford is absolutely right about this point:
    “However WM’s President, Global Brands, Franchises, and Experiences Pam Lifford, who oversees DC, is said to dislike the more mature approach to comics.”

    The superhero comics medium was birthed and thrived under the notion of appealing to children and younger readers with fantastical stories of bravery and action. As each new jaded generation of fans and writers has shepherded the medium, comics have gotten cynical, self referential, “real”, and overly convoluted. Look at the multi generational rise of Disney and Disney culture. They focus on quality stories of wonder and inspiration. Their aesthetic appeals to children and parents. They embrace cross media initiatives. And like it or hate it, they have turned superheroes into another of their tools with the acquisition of Marvel. And they continue to market those movies and IP’s to children and young adults. DC has to reorient itself to a globally relevant, young reader/consumer oriented, inspirational enterprise to see growth. The Watchmen fans are getting older and will die off, and rather than making Superman, Teen Titans, Booster Gold into dark characters, they should be finding ways to make them all appeal to children first and foremost. It’s going to be ugly and I may not like it, but the Lifford era has to usher out the grim and gritty “realism” that plagues the main comics and movie lines of the last era.

  10. And just to clarify, I don’t mean they need to publish all ages kiddie comics, like the Marvel line at IDW. I mean DC needs to market their ongoing comics, action figures, dolls, prose books, movies, cartoons, and merchandise first and foremost to children and younger audiences. Find the audience in comic shops, in school libraries, on iPads and YouTube, in theaters. You’ll keep the parents and lifelong fans engaged too. But you’ve got to market young, at the age group that doesn’t care about realism, sexy variant covers, and Twitter.

  11. “DC’s collected editions department was stripped down with Group Editor Jeb Woodard and senior editor Scott Nybakken – a 25 year DC veteran – among those laid off. While the priceless backlist will stay in print, expect cuts in the number of graphic novels DC puts out monthly.”

    This strikes me as telling. For a good while, the conventional wisdom in comics publishing has been that the book market is where it’s at rather than the traditional periodicals. You can argue how well DC may have capitalized on that market opportunity over the years, but that this DC division — the folks who create book format stuff — has also been decimated suggests that the ultimate powers that be don’t see the value of creating stuff for that book market. And if they don’t quite value the book market — arguably the publishing sector that is growing, is most interesting, has the most opportunity, etc. — then, yeah, it doesn’t sound great for their valuing publishing overall.

  12. This strikes me as telling. For a good while, the conventional wisdom in comics publishing has been that the book market is where it’s at rather than the traditional periodicals.

    It is, just not for collections of floppies. Their YA OGNs are doing well.

  13. Bummer about Black Label. Clearly, from a licensing standpoint, when trying to make toys and PJs, a mature superhero story isn’t helping. However, the VERY adult Harley Quinn show on HBO Max has been making waves, so clearly there is a place for adult cape stories.

  14. “DC’s stuff may not be as big on new characters, but it’s definitely pulling influence from the modern stuff.”

    Over the last 30-plus years, writers and artists have been reluctant to create new characters for DC and Marvel, because those companies will own the characters. They know what happened to Kirby, Ditko, Siegel and Shuster — hell, just about everyone in the “work for hire” era except for Bob Kane and Will Eisner.

    “rather than making Superman, Teen Titans, Booster Gold into dark characters, they should be finding ways to make them all appeal to children first and foremost.”

    After the “dark” Perry Mason reboot, I expect Ricky Ricardo to be revived as a Cuban drug lord or gun runner.

    “It’s clear Disney and WB look at the comics as R&D.”

    Yep, and it’s been that way for quite a while.

  15. “the VERY adult Harley Quinn show on HBO Max”

    Pardon me while I laugh hysterically. People who think anything involving Harley Quinn is “adult” need to read some real books or see some real movies.

  16. “[…]Pam Lifford, who oversees DC, is said to dislike the more mature approach to comics.”

    Wondering if this means that DC’s Wonder Comics imprint is slightly safer than some of the other titles.

  17. Gerry Conway, who the dinosaurs here (like me) will remember as a prolific comic book writer of the ’70s and ’80s, tweeted:

    “What happened at ⁦DC Comics yesterday was probably inevitable once ⁦WarnerMedia became a subsidiary of a tech company uninterested in creating new creative content, and planning only to strip mine existing IP for streaming.”

  18. “After the “dark” Perry Mason reboot, I expect Ricky Ricardo to be revived as a Cuban drug lord or gun runner.”

    Please make a dark, gritty “I Love Lucy”! Imagine: Ricky the struggling musician, turning to side hustles, getting recruited to drug smuggling through the Copa Cabana by Fred. And Lucy, runaway daughter of an upstate crime boss, playing the mousey “housewife”, but secretly running her own hustle with Ethel and other ladies in the book club. Maybe she starts to become internet famous through Instagram skit videos. Ricky gets discovered thorough a viral video, and the couple must learn to go straight or be sucked back into their criminal underworld roots.

  19. BTW… The WARN Act is a Federal law, not a law of CA. One basic element of the law is either the employer giving sixty days notice of a mass layoff or violation fines of sixty days pay to employees. Some employers will give the employees sixty days notice and let them stay on for sixty days. Some will just pay the employees the sixty days pay and tell them to leave right then and there. I once got substantially more days and more severance pay due to a former employer blatantly violating the WARN Act and wanting to avoid a very nasty lawsuit from me. Folks, it pays to know the law!
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Worker_Adjustment_and_Retraining_Notification_Act_of_1988

  20. An addendum/correction… I see that CA and other states in the union have leveraged off the Federal WARN Act and instituted legislation of their own.

  21. Other interesting tweets from Gerry Conway:

    “This time next year, I predict Marvel will own about 90% of the new monthly comic market — in which case, retail comic shops are done. DC Comics will probably publish reprints and a handful/dozen of new digital-only monthly series intended for graphic novel release. …

    “In the long run, despite the tremendous personal loss of the people affected by this — and my heart breaks for them, it really does; these are good, worthy people who deserve better — this may be for the best, creatively.

    “Storytelling in superhero comics has been in a creative, market-driven straitjacket for decades. Pandering to the tastes of a diminishing comic shop readership, relying on marketing gimmicks like variants, reboots and bi-annual “events” to temporarily boost sales — It’s all had a cost, creatively. … Maybe a diminished superhero comic book market would be a more creative one.’

  22. I can actually see the wisdom there. Focus on character and story. Never mind line-wide connectivity, world-ending events and variant covers. Also, maybe Nightwing or Green Arrow or Aquaman don’t always need an ongoing. Maybe there’s room to promote the limited series format or graphic novel forward as the preferred forms of the storytelling engine, rather than the endless parade of ongoing monthly series that will end in cancellation nine times out of ten.

    Perhaps make a concerted effort to promote the horror, sci-fi, war and yes, even western characters (for those who want to read them) to broaden the genre pool to pull from once more. And maybe, just maybe, DC can get away with having less superhero comics. Seems to work out okay for Image, IDW, Dark Horse, Boom, Valiant, etc. Less may ultimately prove to be more.

  23. Geoffrey said: “Perhaps make a concerted effort to promote the horror, sci-fi, war and yes, even western characters (for those who want to read them) to broaden the genre pool to pull from once more. And maybe, just maybe, DC can get away with having less superhero comics.”

    I’d love to see this. But most comic shop customers are superhero fans with little interest in other genres. They might occasionally read a Star Wars comic, but that’s about it. If you want to sell comics in other genres, and to a more diverse audience, you need outlets other than the specialty stores.

    The industry’s focus on the direct market killed off the horror, sci-fi, war and western comics in the early ’80s. (Romance comics were already dead; they bit the dust in the late ’70s.)

    Marv Wolfman recalled that his horror comic Night Force (1982-83) sold well on newsstands but died in the comic shops. DC ignored the newsstand sales and canceled it due to the poor shop sales. The company had decided the direct market was the future, and they were going to give fans what they wanted — which meant superheroes, and not much else.

  24. Culling a shit ton of low selling books makes perfect sense. And on paper, low selling books can’t possibly have the kind of profits that appeal to bean counters at a company drowning in debt and whose profits at the new purchase is taking a beating from Covid.
    There’s a bunch of low level employees being let go but also being let go is a huge number of senior people. Somewhat troubling.
    R&D, pardon the expression, intersects with sales. DCATT is focused on numbers, Marvel is doing a movie based on characters that never, ever sold well for any significant period of time, the Eternals. So maybe there’s value to poor selling books. (Let’s say Eternals grosses $1B. Query how long it takes a great selling book to make the same profits.)
    To say poor morale a/k/a three months of hell is an understatement. Anyone who’s ever worked for an asshole can empathize.

  25. It’s about money. It’s always about money, it’s only about money. Fans love the books and the characters, they are passionate about them. The corporate world loves and is passionate only about the money. If they think they can make more money by producing only Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman books and farming out every other character to other publishers than that is what they will do. It’s always and only always money.

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