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.