I don’t generally run rumors, but this one is too interesting not to talk about.

The Doomsday Clock for Comics involves a couple of different scenarios: Marvel and DC stopping publishing physical periodicals and going digital, or just giving up on new comics as their corporate overlords begin to wonder why they are publishing floppies at all.

Part of these scenarios – discussed for decades – involves Marvel and/or DC moving to the West Coast. This has been chewed over by  the Comics Hot Stove League for years and years.

BUT, part of it came true.  DC Comics did shut down their NYC office and  move to the West Coast and at first they seemed to be a shiny, trendy toy in Diane Nelson’s portfolio, But with the Coming of the Telephone People (H/t The Ankler) the bottom line has gotten a lot more finite at AT&T/Warmer Bros.. Recent changes at DC seem to be the start of a complete realignment of the division, and the more DC head Pam Lifford talks about “the direct market” the worse it sounds.

Not too long ago I was lunching with a colleague who mentioned hearing a rumor that Marvel is also moving its comics offices to the West Coast. Since this rumor goes around like clockwork, I dismissed it at the time. But I did keep asking around.

I am told that everyone is whispering this now.

Is it true? Well, Marvel denies it. So it isn’t.

But it is CERTAINLY being talked about. Something is up.

Marvel’s current offices in Midtown NYC are fairly awful (although improved since I wrote that piece 8 years ago) so some would welcome new shiny offices. But, playing out the idea behind the scenario, it would also mean more oversight from Disney corporate, inevitable downsizing, and, quite bluntly, the end of the magical ideal of the Marvel Bullpen. It’s an ideal that Disney has used in promoting the whole Marvel Mystique in the MCU and beyond. But with Stan Lee dead, maybe no one needs that mystique any more.

If Marvel did move to the west coast it might not be so bad. Several of the DC staffers who made the move were really happy with it. In fact, Mark Chiarello always looks happier than I’ve ever seen him and…oops.

I’ve long said that I thought Disney would like the idea of a creative “Bullpen” to match the idea of a creative “animation studio” or “Pixar” – it fits into the whole Magical Kingdom schtik. Marvel’s publishing office is run so cheaply that it isn’t a huge expense – and the division is profitable. So not moving it makes a lot of sense.

Perhaps this all speculation over a move stems from the coming Disney+ streaming service, which will have a LOT of Marvel content, most of it reportedly coming from Kevin Feige and not the Ike Perlmutter aligned Marvel TV arm.

Maybe it’s just doomsaying because comics must be dying.

As usual, comics aren’t dying, comics will be fine, and they will survive whatever disasters in distribution befall us.

But between the prevalence of the West Coast rumor and DC’s cutbacks (supposedly more coming very soon), I would have to say that the Doomsday Clock for the periodical has moved several seconds closer to midnight.

15 COMMENTS

  1. Why would moving to the West Coast mean giving up on the “magical ideal of the Marvel Bullpen”?

    Marvel last had an actual Bullpen — at least as Stan tried to invoke — in the 1950s. In the 60s and later, it’s just what they called the Production Department, and surely they’d have a production department in LA, mostly-digital though it would be.

    Given their office moves over the years, any actual physical space that was “the Bullpen” has changed many times, and any “magical ideal” of it was in our heads anyway, and could still be there in California.

  2. I’ve read the Glassdoor reviews about the current Marvel offices, and that killed the magic of the Marvel Bullpen setup right quick.

  3. “As usual, comics aren’t dying, comics will be fine, and they will survive whatever disasters in distribution befall us.”

    That’s like saying pro wrestling will survive if WWE ever goes out of business. Technically, it’s true but I don’t think fans, anyone in the business, or anyone who wants to be in the business will be terribly happy if it comes about.

    Mike

  4. Comic books will live forever because of trademark and copyright issues, and the anim/movie studios have to get their ideas from somewhere

  5. If Marvel wanted to recreate the bullpen, they should see if the old CrossGen building is still available…. ;-)

    That said, I don’t see how Marvel continues to justify paying Manhattan levels of rent for multiple floors of offices in this day and age. I’m shocked Perlmutter didn’t move them out of there a long time ago.

  6. Comics will survive in some form. But the monthly periodical may be in a downward spiral that can’t be reversed.

    In my lifetime I’ve seen Charlton, Dell, Gold Key, Harvey and Warren go out of business — not to mention all those indie companies of the ’80s (First, Pacific, etc.) Marvel and DC will likely survive because of movies and merchandising. Whether they’ll still be printing comics on paper in a few years — who knows?

    I’d advise every comic shop to diversify big-time into trades, graphic novels, games, used DVDs, whatever. Otherwise, they’ll be decimated when the pamphlet finally bites the dust.

  7. I reckon just don’t be afraid to give kids that are starving for material, Carl Barks and Curt Swan comics (or, whatever the updated equivalent might be). If they’re going to be appreciators, that’ll do it. If not, wasn’t meant to be.

  8. We’ll see what happens. But the talk about “they should have done this decades ago” is absolutely awful and indefensible. Real people, real lives, real jobs on the line.

  9. Hey @hypestyle,

    I am not sure that is indefensible. I know that these are people, but if hard choices aren’t made sometimes the whole business suffers. Watching this happen right now at a company I work with. Failing to let people go and move offices may actually bring the company down. These are ‘nice’ people, but just not producing enough to justify the costs. This causes losses for the company and no one is happy. I have been on both ends (being fired and watching a company fail due to NOT firing) so I understand sensitivity.

    I can’t really understand why Marvel doesn’t move the offices to somewhere near LA, but cheaper. I look at Arizona, New Mexico, Nevada, Oklahoma, Utah, Indiana and Texas very near by. You could still contract with the top talent anywhere, but move production and editorial to a location where you can take cost cutting (office space, salary, benefits, etc.) and reinvest that into longer term thinking. That way it looks good for shareholders as you create sustainable success.

    Running to CA instead of NYC is leaving one high cost area for another. It just doesn’t make sense. There are a lot of great workforces out there for PRINT and DIGITAL production outside the coasts. That is what most of that staff is doing since all the creative is freelance.

    I work in PR and love it (4% tax rate for companies), but the distance from the West Coast may be an issue.

    I wish some executives would start thinking about this – i.e. how to build a story that (a) wall-street could believe in while (b) strengthening their publishing business. I would hate to see DC and Marvel become liscensors and not comic publishers.

  10. I assume they’re moving to California to be closer to the movie, TV, toy and videogame/internet industries. That’s where the money is these days — not in printed periodicals.

    It’s ridiculous to ask people to pay $4 or $5 for a floppie, when they can buy a used trade for about the same (or just a bit more) and have more reading material.

    “I know that these are people, but if hard choices aren’t made sometimes the whole business suffers.”

    A hard choice would be the people at the top of these companies admitting their incompetence and resigning. But that’s not gonna happen.

  11. In reality anyplace you have a group of creative people forming behind one leader with a vision can be a Bullpen or a Termite Terrace, Or a Paris cafe between the wars where a bunch of ex-patriot writers got together, or the Inklings… That’s all you really need; enough people who can create given the freedom to create. For a long time Stan gave the writers and artist that freedom and the Bullpen was there. But as with all of the others times change, people age and move on and eventually die and so does that special place that was created by all of them.

    I really don’t see the kind creativity coming back to marvel. Focus group/market tested scripts and time tested characters with only a little variation on theme now and then; that is what I mostly see out of marvel. Moving it all to the west coast would just cut the freedom a little more, think of Hong Kong and China to get the idea. The World of Lilly Wong was never officially canceled because China said so, but everyone knew why it was canceled. If there is ever going to be creativity in comics again I don’t believe it’s going to come out of marvel or dc. I am sure however we’ll get the crossover events and reboots on a regular basis.

    Then again since I can’t afford comics anymore, I’m looking at this from the point of view of the fisherman who’s seeing a fished out lake go dry.

  12. I think there’s a very good reason to move Marvel to the West Coast. Most of the movie stars who play our favorite marvel heroes AND villains are California based. This would allow them to come into the offices and exercise some control over the writers and editors crafting these comics. Imagine an Iron Man comic that had input from Robert Downey Jr. A Doctor Strange comic co-plotted by Benedict Cumberbatch. I’d kill to read a Black Widow series with Scarlet drawing the covers. Some cross-energy would do everyone some good.

  13. This would be bad news for those whose relationship to people who make comics is akin to that of a remora to a shark.

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