It’s getting to be a weekly thing that DC Comics has died… yet again. This time, though, there was some real damage done. And it makes me worry about the comics industry.
Last week, AT&T/Warner Bros. announced that there was some serious cutbacks happening in DC and its related organizations. Some of what’s going on is still shaking out, but several of the bigger names in DC’s administration received notice that they were being let go, reportedly including Bob Harras, DC Editor-In-Chief; Hank Kanalz, SVP Publishing Strategy & Support Services; and Bobbie Chase, VP, Global Publishing Initiatives & Digital Strategy. Apparently, up to 20 percent of DC’s staff were being laid off. Jim Lee remains DC Chief Creative Officer.
Rumors swirled about Lee’s status, which included everything from his being let go to being promoted. In an interview with Hollywood Reporter, he said, “This week has been a really heavy, difficult time not just for me, but for the entire organization. We’ve said goodbye to people that have been huge contributors and who have helped define and make DC what it is today.” He added, “We are still in the business of publishing comics.” Lee said that the company would be continuing to expand its focus on digital comics, international offerings, and their attempts to market their comics to “regular” bookstores and other venues.
A day or so later, word was released that DC was cancelling several titles, including Hawkman, Teen Titans, Suicide Squad, John Constantine: Hellblazer, and Young Justice.
DC Universe is also having its original content shifted away into the HBO MAX streaming service, moving forward. There’s a lot of debate as to whether DC Universe will continue to offer its other services, such as message boards and online comics, or will fold up altogether.
Other changes may yet come in the days ahead.
‘DC IS DEAD’ AGAIN
Instantly, the chorus of voices that have, on a regular, almost weekly basis, announced that DC was dead were at it once again.
I mean, many of the same people who said this when Diamond closed during the pandemic, when DC stopped using Diamond to ship most of their product, and whenever DC makes any sort of change. You’d almost think they hated DC or something!
Look, this is indeed a terribly rough time for a DC fan like me. I am still grieving over the loss of Hawkman, which was one of my very favorite books since it debuted. I know the sales weren’t as high as many of us wanted, but I hoped it would gain some traction. Now I’ll be back to buying multiples of ANY time the character appears in a DC comic to continue to show my support for him.
The creators who are leaving DC have been making some wonderful product, many of them for years! I hope they will find other gainful employment, and soon! Man, I’m going to miss their work!
From my perspective, DC is actually hitting the industry’s changes head on. Are these tough experiences? Absolutely! Do we know exactly what will happen moving forward? Not at this point! But the business of making comics is in a transition period. The pandemic has increased the speed at which some of this is taking place. Do I like it? No! But sometimes you have to take the hurt with the change to survive.
I used to work for a well-known metropolitan newspaper. I was hired to process ads coming in using Adobe Acrobat’s PDF format. They brought on several of us around the same time, and we had like 30 of us in the department. Now that group is down to like 4 or 5 people with computers taking over a LOT of the functions we previously performed. I could see the handwriting on the wall, so I took early retirement after being there about 10 years. It hurt to leave a lot of co-workers who had become good friends, but I was either going to get out of the train’s way or be run over by it, so to speak. I got out of the way. DC is trying to jump on board the train to survive.
Comics are not the only industry facing massive changes. A lot of offices are now having most of their employees work from home, something I’m also doing more. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
Many times in this column I have tried to work through what the industry is facing. For 10 years or more, I have been asking professionals what the future of comics is. Every single time, I got the answer, “I don’t know.”
Again, people are wondering if digital is the future. I still don’t see that happening because a lot of people still want that “hands-on” experience of holding a comic when they read it. Also, collectors want print versions where condition matters. In a digital copy, that means almost nothing. However, when you take out the costs of printing, shipping, and otherwise handling paper products, well, you might make money! It’s something we need to talk about, if nothing else.
Some folks are saying that DC isn’t supporting the local comics shops like they should. I know this is tough to consider, but what if, at some point, the future of comics is NOT in our LCS’s? I mean, sales of comics were MUCH higher when there weren’t any comics shops! Now, I don’t want that to happen at all, but we have to at least consider those changes.
When comics were available in supermarkets and drug stores and through street vendors, they used to sell a LOT of copies. They were more readily available to the public, and they cost a lot less. Now, you must seek out a local specialty shop to find them, and that’s not always easy. Naturally, that’s meaning a reduction in output and profit. It used to be that a comic could sell over a million copies per issue. Now, it’s fantastic when one sells over 100,000 copies–a tenth of what they used to sell. And with the cost of printing, paper, and delivery up, it’s a struggle for everyone to stay afloat.
I’m pulling for the future to include my LCS, but what if comics were available to more people through big chain stores, like we see with some companies today? Would that attract more buyers? Or are things better happening through smaller, more specialized shops?
WE NEED TO BE TALKING MORE, YELLING LESS
I firmly believe that, as an industry, everyone involved in comics needs to be open to putting everything on the table to survive. And that means we should be willing to examine every part of the process openly. Personally, I don’t want to see ANY comics company go under or struggle.
I remember when Marvel declared bankruptcy not that long ago. (That was before Disney bought them.) Some people cheered. I didn’t. I think competition is good for comics. This notion that DC must go under, like everyone else, so that Marvel is the only producer of comics is a death knell, I believe. If Marvel is the only company making comics, some harbor the idea that the industry would suddenly explode because there would be no competition.
I don’t buy that notion. At all.
What DC is going through right now, in my opinion, is what other companies will have to face soon if they aren’t already dealing with it in private. I’m optimistic that DC will continue to tell great stories for years to come.
I could list all kinds of examples of changes in many industries that people have scoffed at. One day, I went to my local record store to find they sold NO plastic albums, only CDs. Now THOSE are largely gone, replaced by digital files. And music or record stores? I can’t remember the last time I saw one!
If you blink, you just might miss some changes coming our way. The pandemic is only speeding up this process, I believe. Instead of fighting each other, we ought to be pulling together and laying every single card on the table for open discussion when it comes to comics.
If we don’t do that, I fear this industry we love so much will go the way of the CD or the wall phone. We might only find comics in museums instead of our neighborhoods. I don’t want that to happen. If you prefer Spider-Man or Batman or Image or Indie comics, you should be talking with other fans as we try to keep this storytelling mode alive. I believe it is in serious danger right now. Really.
What do you think? Is what DC is going through unique to them? Or will the comics industry be better off if DC and other companies were no longer making them? What can be done to keep comics going and even thriving? Whatever your opinions, please share your thoughts in the space below!