Today marks a day of change for DC Entertainment. In some ways those changes haven't been as drastic as expected, but for some units of the comics publishing and media division of Warner Bros. things will be very different from here on out.
The short list of notable moves includes the relocation of DC's digital and administrative departments to Burbank, California while publisher remains in New York and the parallel shuttering of two DC imprints – most notably the La Jolla, CA-based WildStorm brand whose books will either be cancelled for the time being (in the case of the struggling WildStorm superhero universe) or shifted back to DC proper (in the case of the more lucrative licensed comics program). Many questions linger thanks to these changes, including which employees of DC will be asked to move or be let go and which comics and characters will live on in the months ahead.
To get an early glimpse at what this all means for the company and to learn what the next step in the process is, CBR News talked with DC Entertainment President Diane Nelson who's just completed her first year at the helm of the company. Below, Nelson explains why it took this long to set the company in its new geographical form, what the changes mean for DC's growing relationship with Warner Bros. proper and what will happen next for the company's many employees from coast to coast.
CBR News: Diane, for months we’ve heard various rumors about changes at DC. Some turned out to have some truth, while others were completely wrong. What I’d like to get from you is what can you tell us about what was discussed internally and how did you come to the conclusions you did regarding which divisions would and would not move out West?
Diane Nelson: We spent the time necessary to look at every part of the business, which includes, of course, but is not limited to the operations, the geography, the financials and the people – and I want to make sure it’s clear the people don’t come last, they come with the greatest emphasis – and we looked at every possible scenario of how we could structure this. We didn’t rule anything out and we didn’t feel any pressure to make an impulsive decision to prove anything to anyone else. We just set-up the organization that we felt would be most successful in the future.
How seriously was a move of DC Editorial considered?
Everything was considered carefully and thoughtfully. Nothing was ruled out. It was all looked at.
That’s where the greatest concern, speculation and anxiety came from...what ultimately drove the decision to keep DC editorial where it’s been from the start?
What we’ve actually announced today is a little more nuanced than that, as I know you know, but we’re doing this to protect the legacy of what made the New York DC Comics operation great in the past, which is, again, inclusive of but not limited to the culture of publishing in New York, the creative relationships with people who live and work here...but we also thought about factors like how and with whom do we want to be working more closely with in Los Angeles with our colleagues at Warner Bros. and how do we ensure, no matter where we ended up, that our publishing operation, which includes physical and digital now, is closely connected and integrated with the efforts that Geoff Johns is leading to take our stories and characters into other media. We want editorial to see what Geoff is doing and Geoff to see what they’re doing, which is what his role is all about. And it puts the onus on all of us to be present in both offices. We looked at factors like where our digital business will be going and where our colleagues in digital distribution at Warner Bros. are going – and again, as well as the existing operation here that works really well here in New York.
I think anyone who insists they could articulate a black and white simple answer to either what we were intending to do or should do doesn’t understand the complexities of a business like this.
In the PR it states feature films, television, digital media, video games and consumer products as well as the company’s administrative functions will relocate to Burbank. There is, of course, also the news about the shut down of Wildstorm that came shortly after the initial announcement. While I understand you can’t discuss the status of specific employees, what can you tell us about how many people this affects at DC and how many will be moved, how many positions will be restaffed locally and how many positions will be eliminated?
Unfortunately or fortunately I can’t go through that with you because what we’re beginning today is a pretty unique process of talking with all of our employees personally, one-on-one, over the course of the next few days to work with them on each of their individual positions. So there’s a spectrum of things that are happening for various employees – there are promotions, there are offers of relocation and unfortunately there are some layoffs to come. Until that’s all sorted and people have had time to consider their individual opportunities and we confirm all that, which will take us a few weeks, we aren’t going to be able to discuss specifics.
What I can say is that the Los Angeles and New York offices will generally be weighted equally, meaning one is not a satellite of the other, or will not be. How that sorts out in detail we need a bit more time to get to first.
Can you address the question of whether or not the Wildstorm offices in La Jolla will be closed?
Wildstorm, as an imprint, will not continue independently. The characters will continue to be important and there will be plans for them that we’ll talk about in the coming months, and many of the people there will have opportunities to be a part of DC, but those specifics are being worked out right now.
In the press release it says consumer products is moving to LA, does that include DC Direct group? This is just speculation on my part, but with consumer products moving to LA this sounds like an opportunity for greater integration with feature merchandising and things of that sort.
I’m not sure what that would be referring to, exactly, but Warner Bros. obviously has a meaningful consumer products division and the part of DC that works closely with Warner Bros’ consumer products are likely to be in the Los Angeles office, but you may be referring to DC Direct and you may be referring to other licensing initiatives and unfortunately right now I can’t get in to the specifics of that. I do think it would be fair to say that we’re looking for every opportunity to work more closely with the Warner Bros businesses, consumer products is just one, and we are going to work more closely with them.
This is not a cost cutting initiative and it is not a situation where we are assuming DC functions into Warner Bros. We’re looking for opportunities to work together, not to collapse DC in to Warner Bros.
When DC Entertainment was announced a little over a year ago, the immediate expectation was a lot of change on the publishing side. While there have been changes, notably the announcement of DC Co-Publishers Dan Didio & Jim Lee and Geoff Johns announced as CCO, the amount of change hasn’t been as dramatic as is often seen when a new executive comes into a company. Is this a fair perception, or are there things changing behind the scenes the average fan doesn't see?
Both. It’s a fair perception, and there are lots of things changing behind the scenes. The good news is that there was an awful lot working right at DC. We’re not throwing out the baby with the bathwater. We’re looking for how we set up for more success in the future and in some cases that means reorganizing to work more effectively together within DC and changing the culture in a positive way so people feel safe and are encouraged to be creative and take business risks and to look for opportunities to grow and to be more collaborative. Those are the primary things I and the executive team have been working towards, but I find it amazing that people would assume there would be more dramatic change when there’s so much that’s working well. I have the best executive team in the business working with me. We’re changing a lot, but we’re also keeping what works.
Why now? Was it just that it took this long to figure out how you and your team wanted to reorganize, or is there anything to the fact that almost exactly one year after you took on this new role that these changes are being made?
Actually, it’s almost ironic that it’s a year later. It took the time it took to look at it as carefully as we did. I’m just glad it didn’t take longer than this. I do wish it didn’t have to take this much time, but I also have absolute confidence that we took the right amount of time to do it right and to consider all the important factors.
One more question on a related topic. Last week Warner Bros. CEO Barry Meyer was quoted as saying a spread sheet detailing Warner's plans for the DC superheroes relating to how they're marketed, represented and sold to the public will be made public later in the month. While the specifics we’ll probably have to wait on, can you tell us when to expect that? Has this been one of the primary focuses of your team over the last year?
First, Mr Meyer, by his own admission, was misquoted, so we’re not going to be making that announcement in the next month, but we will be discussing a lot of our content plans before the end of the year. It won’t necessarily be exhaustive, and it will not be limited to a theatrical slate, but at the same time that we’ve been looking carefully at the organization, everyone’s been working very hard to keep the business moving in the direction we want – everyone in particular being Geoff Johns who has a lot of great stuff with our divisions. So, you will hear more about that before the end of the year.