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.
After speaking with DC Entertainment President Diane Nelson, CBR News caught up with DC Comics Co-Publishers Dan Didio and Jim Lee for word on how the moves will affect publishing across the board. Below, the pair discuss the fate of specific series caught in between imprints, the role digital comics will play for new and licensed content and how they want to rally their staff to take on 2011.
CBR News: Gentlemen, today's been a long one for you, I'm sure, and this is the end of a long waiting period on the future of DC. Now that the news has solidified some, what is the mood for you at DC in New York?
Jim Lee: Honestly, I have a feeling that a lot of our answers are going to be similar. It's not something we can discuss at this point. We're still in the middle of this entire process of talking to employees, so for us to discuss and speculate on what the mood and atmosphere is would be unfair to all the people we haven't had time to talk to yet. We knew going in that this would be a several day event, so it was critical to us that we speak to people that are affected in one-on-one meetings. That takes time, so unfortunately while we're ready to talk to the press, it's to a very limited degree at this point.
Dan Didio: I thing the one thing that we are looking at is that we're able to address a number of the issue or questions that have been asked over the last few months head on right now. As Jim said, it's important for us to speak to people one-on-one because we want to be able to address each person in the most proper manner possible.
It's got to have been a hard thing for the two of you over the past months to continue to work on the books while only you were involved in the discussion. As I'm sure you know, a lot of the speculation involved DC moving its publishing division lock, stock and barrel to Burbank. Did you guys act as an advocate for New York or the move? In other words, what was your role in talking to Diane and Warner Bros. about all the possibilities on the table?
Lee: I think part of our role was to take a look at every scenario. That was part of the reason why this analysis took as long as it did. I think when you look specifically at publishing, there are benefits to having it in L.A., but they are outweighed obviously by the wealth of internal assets and expertise you have here at 1700 Broadway. I think we all came to the agreement that this makes the most sense for all the different departments at DC, and the ones that were most easily realigned and restructured with Warner Bros. in Burbank made the most sense to relocate out there.
Didio: Also, there's a lot to be said for everybody working side-by-side in one location. Just that level of interaction and being able to walk down the hall to talk to each other – there's a real value in that. But as Jim said, the true value and the heart of the company is in the employees, and we tried to address a scenario where we took that asset to heart and the value that they bring to heart. We're hoping that in this solution we came up with, we can retain so much of the strength and power and history of what DC Comics is.
One specific piece of the news that came out today was the idea that WildStorm as an imprint and a brand would be winding down for good in December. Jim, I know that's a big thing for you as it was your company and on the page your characters. To start on the comics side of that front, I know there are some comics slated to come out from WildStorm that wouldn't have finished their run by December – things like "Victorian Undead II" and "Ides of Blood." Will these series just shift their cover branding to DC in January and continue as planned?
Lee: Correct. The WildStorm imprint's books will continue or end in December, and then starting in January you'll see a DC banner on those licensed books.
People have been wondering after "Astro City" which was one of the last creator-owned books going at WildStorm. Are you looking to bring that into the DC publishing brand as well?
Lee: We're having discussions with Kurt [Busiek] on that. It's a creator-owned book, so his input is invaluable and essential. Until we have finished that dialogue – and of course we weren't able to share all this with him before the announcement – we won't be able to have an official statement on that.
Whoever they may be, all of the folks moving on to Burbank will be part of this new digital unit. Diane spoke to Dan having a strong role with print and Jim playing a big part in digital. How does the divide help you get more comfortable in your roles as Co-Publishers?
Didio: I threw out my computer! [Laughter]
Lee: Honestly, we've been working pretty tightly hand-in hand...not literally hand-in-hand. [Didio Laughs] But we've been working together from the get-go. There was never an intention to divide the business by print and by digital. If anything, we want to integrate the two and make it a whole. I think the danger in having a primary digital business in Burbank and a primary print business in New York City is that you have that schism or that divide, but we both recognize that we'll be traveling a lot back and forth. Our goal is to make the two work together and to have it be an additive process – to really make sure that one side of the company knows what the other is doing. That's something we've been doing from the get-go. Dan sits in on digital meetings. I sit in on the print meetings and editorial meetings. We're really trying to have editorial plans across all channels and all platforms that work together.
Didio: And to touch on everything Jim said and put a bit of a bow on it, digital publishing is not separate from print. Publishing is not just collected editions and periodicals. It's everything working together. And as we see this marketplace and the challenges within it, it is our interest in order to expand our business, to grow our business and get the most for our characters is to take concepts and ideas and work all together to exploit them in all channels to reach the largest audience possible. The only way we can do that is in concert with the two offices, not independently of each other.
You mention the state of the market, and the press release mentioned that the current state of the business made it hard to keep ongoing titles like the WildStorm universe books going, though it also said Geoff Johns has an eye on them for down the road. Still, sustaining more different ideas over the long term seems very hard. How does a digital unit help with that? Will we see a chance for some projects to start in digital and move to print? What's the permeability there?
Lee: I'll give you an example: if there's a hit TV show, and we decide to pursue that license, then digital comics would make a lot of sense because it might be a show that appeals to certain crowd that doesn't go to the comic shop. That said, once you have those digital issues, you can collect them and go into print, selling them in comic book shops and mass market retailers where your casual buyer could see it and pick it up. I think there are certain instances like that where you're talking about video games and other new media that allows us to get new fans into comics – those are the growth opportunities for digital.
And obviously, as the technology evolves and the creators get more involved and more savvy in creating new content and new story narratives for that form, I think that's where you'll see a lot of exciting things developing in digital.
What will be your part in terms of the Burbank move and working more hands on with the different divisions of Warner Bros.? What is publishing's role in feeding in to that bigger entertainment giant across media?
Didio: That's a lot of what Geoff Johns is going to be bringing to the table. Geoff is intimately involved in a lot of the things going on in the DC Universe, and he's making strides in multi-media on the film and television side. We're finding that these things are naturally integrating without having to force it because so many of the creators who are involved in the process are used to working in multiple areas.
To wrap up, what is the next step for you guys as Co-Publishers from setting up the Burbank division to keeping the trains running on print?
Lee: We've already laid a lot of groundwork for our 2011 plans. A lot of that is on the digital side, but there's a lot more. We've got a lot of plans in store for some cool editorial content whether it's print, digital or multi-media. I think this has definitely been a big part of our focus but not our sole focus, and we'll see these other plans come to fruition early to mid-next year.
Didio: And from where we stand right now, the good part is that we have full confidence that once we're through with this transition period, all the energy of the company will be focused on creating the best product possible. More importantly, we've built and we feel confident that the departments are set up for success in the future.