Another collective "Whoa" erupts as industry reacts to DC news

Still reeling from last week's big Marvel/Disney news, the comics industry was shocked -- shocked, I tell you! -- once again with today's announcement from Warner Bros. Entertainment about the restructuring of DC Comics into something called DC Entertainment. These corporate shuffles can take months to work out from conception to whenever they are finally announced, so it would be a huge stretch to say this was some sort of reaction to the Disney-Marvel deal, but the coincidental timing is pretty amazing.

"I always wondered when Warner Brothers would figure out that they owned DC Comics," blogger and retailer Chris Butcher posted today. "Turns out? September 9th, 2009."

The restructuring seems to be a move to make it easier for the company to move its DC properties into the movie/TV/video game/what-have-you pipeline faster. Laura Hudson at Comics Alliance summed it up earlier today:

One of the biggest problems for DC in terms of making movies had been that while Marvel had their own film division, Marvel Entertainment, DC didn't -- and their ability to champion their own films suffered for it. Fortunately, it seems Warner Bros has finally figured out that this isn't the most efficient structure for creating blockbusters. Now, the new DC President will "report to Jeff Robinov, President, Warner Bros. Pictures Group, in order to best capitalize on DC Entertainment's theatrical development and production activities," which seems like a pretty direct nod to creating a more streamlined movie-making process.

Tom Spurgeon speculates this may be a reaction to Marvel's major moves on the film front over the past few years:

If anything, I would assume this is response to the longstanding perception that DC Comics has been lax in their development of hit movie properties in comparison to Marvel. Whereas for some the gigantic success of The Dark Knight seemed to "answer" Marvel's somewhat of a surprise hit with Iron Man, it also threw a spotlight on the lack of a partner property of that stature or a serious development plan for the line in general.

So maybe this means we'll see more of a strategic direction in terms of translating their comic properties into films. But what about the comics themselves? Well, the big news on that front is Paul Levitz stepping down as publisher and president. Which is good news for Legion fans, it seems, but as for the industry itself, we're losing a strong voice and champion in the upper levels of Warner Bros. Retailer Brian Hibbs comments on the announcement and how it might affect the direct market:

I think Paul is a Class Act, and there's nothing more that I fear than Warners completely ruining the DM. I'm absolutely shattered by this news -- I was hoping we'd have AT LEAST another decade with Paul at the helm, and now everything -- everything -- is up in the air.

Chances are that, by 2012, nothing in comics will even remotely resemble what it does today.

Writer Mark Evanier also says it isn't good news for the industry:

Meanwhile, I think those of us who care about printed-on-paper comics will see this day as a turning point ... or maybe a downturning point. Publishing comic books has not been all that important at either DC or Marvel for a long time. Movie deals, TV shows, videogames, branding, licensing and all the other ways to "monetize" beloved characters have all yielded a lot more cash lately...and by a Hulk-sized margin. Batman used to be a comic book character that also generated revenue via its appearances on TV, in movies and by adorning toys. Now, it's a multimedia property that brings in dollars from a great many directions, one of which happens to be the publishing of comic books.

So the question for some of us becomes: How much interest will DC have in doing that, in publishing comic books? Paul was great at dealing with the movie deals and the videogames and the merchandising but he was also a publisher of comic books. He learned the business when that was Job One and everything else was ancillary income. The same question hovers over the recent Disney-Marvel deal. Disney hasn't cared for a long time if there were Mickey Mouse comic books being published or not. Will they care if Amazing Spider-Man comes out every month? Will they care when sales decline? Keep in mind we will probably never again see the day when there'll be a thousandth as much money in publishing Iron Man comic books as there is in one good Iron Man videogame.

Evanier has more comments about Levitz himself, as does Vertigo's Karen Berger, while Kiel Phegley rounds up comments from industry pros.

John Jackson Miller, meanwhile, notes that comic companies "have been part of corporate America for a long time, answering to boardrooms of people outside the industry" and looks at the relative upside of the industry:

More importantly, at this time in history, it's not a bad time for a publisher to be considered something more than "just a publisher." Thanks to the happy historical accident of the comic-book direct market and its non-returnable marketplace, comic books are probably the healthiest sector of the entire magazine industry: The vast majority of our publications are pre-sold, and as noted, trade paperbacks give us a place to continue profiting from our past works. By contrast, the returnable magazine market is in a shambles, and book publishing is facing challenges of its own. These are good times to be considered not just a company whose business is putting ink on paper, but a foundry of ideas.

Newsarama's Vaneta Rogers talks with both Levitz and Diane Nelson about the changes ... in addition to referencing the Minx line at one point, Nelson also says she isn't there to fill the role of publisher:

"There is a reason that I am not, nor could I, take on the role of publisher moving forward, nor do I intend to," Nelson told Newsarama Wednesday afternoon. "I'm not looking to stick my nose into an area where I'm not needed. What I'm hoping to do, and what this move by the company is about is taking DC as an entity and as a holder of wonderful stories and characters and focusing on it, prioritizing it, and working more effectively with it throughout Warner Bros. and Time-Warner."

Update: CBR's own Jonah Weiland also spoke with Nelson about her new role; she confirmed that they will indeed look for a new publisher and talked a little bit about DC's strengths:

Jonah Weiland: Diane, what do you see as DC Comics’ greatest strengths and assets today?

Nelson: It’s a reflection, I believe, or at least it’s consistent with what Warner Bros. has cared about and stood for, that we are a talent-friendly company and are a place that values creators. I think the depth and breadth of the DC library and all of its imprints give us a real advantage over any competitor, however you define them. This isn’t just about the biggest or most well-known properties -- those will clearly be a part of our initiative -- but it can equally be about much lesser known properties that we incubate and build throughout the company, and it can be and should be about the acquisitions of new properties and characters. We are a content company and we’ll be even more focused on that in the future and that’s on a Warner Bros. and Time Warner level. I think recognizing the value of what our creators have created in this library and treating them carefully for the long term is the single greatest thing we have to work with here.

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