Rich Johnston of comic book news and rumor site Bleeding Cool, who broke the story before DC Entertainment president Diane Nelson confirmed it officially, calls New York “the ancestral home of comic books in America.” DC’s comic book production has been headquartered in NYC for more than 75 years, as the city has long been a center for the publishing industry. Ever since Major Malcolm Wheeler-Nicholson founded the company in 1935 as National Allied Publications, Manhattan has been the center of American comics.
“And to this day,” Johnston wrote, “Marvel and DC sit cheek by jowl, with Archie Comics down the road and Dynamite just over the state line. As a result, it’s a major social centre for comics, with artists both mainstream and indie setting up shop around the outskirts.”
Recently, however, the balance of industry power has begun to tilt west. DC and Marvel, the “Big Two” comic publishers, are both owned by companies headquartered in Southern California, with Marvel’s recent purchase by Disney, and DC having for years been a subsidiary of Burbank-based Warner Bros. In addition, the third biggest comic book company, independent publisher Image, which now produces The Walking Dead and other non-superhero hits, is based in the San Francisco Bay Area.
Warner had already reorganized DC Comics into the larger DC Entertainment, and moved most of that new company out to the parent company’s Burbank home in 2010. Jeff Robinov, who was president of Warner Bros. Pictures at that time, said relocating most of the company would result in a “seamless, cohesive unit that will bring even more great characters and content to consumers everywhere.”
However, even as multimedia operations such as digital moved west, along with administration, the editorial portion of DC’s print business stayed in the east. There was a lot of speculation then that the whole operation would be moved, but this remained the status quo for years, with the New York offices not only administering comics publishing, but also Mad Magazine and the separate Vertigo Comics line.
Vertigo had been especially important in the evolution of modern comics, with Executive Editor Karen Berger credited with using the line and its predecessors to create an adult audience for what had previously been considered almost exclusively a children’s medium. During her tenure, she also launched the careers of those comics creators who have arguably found the most popularity in other media and the larger culture, including Alan Moore, Neil Gaiman, and Warren Ellis.
Berger has also been cited as one of the major champions for keeping DC Comics in the city that inspired Gotham and Metropolis rather than letting it go out to Hollywood, but her departure earlier this year seems to have paved the way for this move. The remaining major figures in the comic publishing unit—including artist-turned-co-publisher Jim Lee, longtime editor and co-publisher Dan DiDio, and Chief Creative Officer and bestselling writer Geoff Johns—are all either oriented towards Southern California or already headquartered there. Robinov is no longer in charge at the company, and current CEO Kevin Tsujihara has emphasized the importance of developing DC’s characters to the company as a whole, making the move seem inevitable.
Johnston’s leak of the story seems to have triggered an email from Nelson within the hour to employees of DC, who emphasized that it would be neither a sudden move, nor the occasion for firings. “Everyone on the New York staff will be offered an opportunity to join their Burbank colleagues,” Nelson wrote, clarifying that the plan was to make the move in 2015. Still, some think that this may be a way of losing employees who have been at the company too long.
Since its bestselling “New 52” revamp of its entire line of superhero comics, DC has gained a reputation for negative editorial interference with writers and artists, to the point where Nelson forced co-publisher DiDio (the former editor-in-chief) to apologize publicly to creators at a creative summit for aborting storylines after they had already been approved. Even after the apology, the problem has continued, with the most recent example creative team of Batwoman quitting in protest because of editors cancelling a previously agreed upon story, refusing to allow the lesbian main character gets married. More than one industry insider has taken to Twitter to suggest that the move might be an opportunity to clean house, removing editorial staff who continue to frustrate and second-guess creators.
Marvel writer Jonathan Hickman, currently the architect behind the company’s Avengers books, expressed this sentiment in a tweet, which his colleague, Fantastic Four writer Matt Fraction countered, saying that “never before in the history of comics has a greater opportunity to cherry pick editorial staff existed.”
However, despite these suspicions, Nelson’s email went out of the way to reassure employees. She also noted that the move “is not imminent and we will have more than a year to work with the entire company on a smooth transition for all of us, personally and professionally.”
Some have made the point that this transition does not represent a huge change to the way creators work. Writers and artists have long been sending their work in via email and corresponding with editors and production remotely.
Consolidating around the attached films and television programs is also a logical business move. Even the bestselling comic books sell in the tens of thousands, usually at $2.99 or $3.99 a copy, while superhero films routinely bring home profits of $100 million, with megahits like Marvel’s The Avengers and The Dark Knight bringing home five or six times that.
Legendary artist Neal Adams, known for his work on Batman and many other major DC and Marvel comics characters, told the New York Daily News that, “There’s such a focus on film and television nowadays, why wouldn’t they want the people making the decisions (about comic book characters) out on the West Coast?”
Marvel and Archie show no signs of leaving Manhattan, despite Marvel’s greater recent success in translating its characters to the big screen. Moreover, for most fans of DC, the move should have no effect on the comics they read. While DC Comics employees may shortly be enjoying the Hollywood sun, Batman is unlikely to leave the dark, grimy, and New York-inspired confines of Gotham City any time soon.
Written By: Jeremy Forbing