The Bad Times Ahead

Well, if you haven’t been paying attention to comics news this week, you might have missed this scary piece of info — AT&T, the new owner of Warner Entertainment and DC Comics, laid off about a third of their staff, including a ton of editors and their entire merchandising department.

This got immediate comparisons to the infamous DC Implosion of the late 1970s, with Mike Sterling talking specifically about some of the similarities, as well as his thoughts on what it may all mean.

But I want to direct y’all’s attention to a Twitter thread by none other than Gerry Conway, one of comics’ Grand Masters, outlining what he sees as the causes (AT&T has no clue what to do with any of its content-producing subsidiaries and basically wants to treat them the way Bain Capital treated Toys R Us) and the likely future results (very, very little good):

What happened at @DCComics yesterday was probably inevitable once @WarnerMedia became a subsidiary of a tech company uninterested in creating new creative content, and planning only to strip mine existing IP for streaming.

It should have been clear when the incoming AT&T management told the management of the highly successful and profitable @HBO that they needed to upend their corporate culture in order to feed the AT&T cable pipeline with continuous streaming content a la Netflix.

It should have been clear when AT&T replaced the successful management team at @HBO that AT&T didn’t see value in @HBO’s content — only value in @HBO’s *brand*.

The content currently produced at @DCComics or @dcuniverse is of no interest to the tech bros of AT&T — only the brand. Publishing comics is a low profit margin business — the value lies in the IP, and only the IP.

Expect AT&T to do the absolute minimum necessary to keep the @DCComics brand alive for its IP value. Some of the decisions AT&T will make are probably long overdue for a business model tha’s been marginal for decades; this will be brutal and bloody.

This time next year, I predict @Marvel will own about 90% of the new monthly comic market — in which case, retail comic shops are done. @DCComics will probably publish reprints and a handful/dozen of new digital-only monthly series intended for graphic novel release.

When the comic book retail market collapses, @Marvel too will have to turn to a digital monthly/print graphic novel format for a reduced number of titles. It’s simple economics. The business has relied too long on a fragile distribution model. COVID-19 and AT&T have broken it.

In the long run, despite the tremendous personal loss of the people affected by this — and my heart breaks for them, it really does; these are good, worthy people who deserve better — this may be for the best, creatively.

Storytelling in superhero comics has been in a creative, market-driven straitjacket for decades. Pandering to the tastes of a diminishing comic shop readership, relying on marketing gimmicks like variants, reboots and bi-annual “events” to temporarily boost sales.

It’s all had a cost, creatively. A long time ago, in my naif youth, I once argued with Marvel’s head of production at the time, Gentleman John Verpoorten, that some production decision he’d made would have a negative effect on the creative value of the book I was working on.

At the time Marvel was publishing 40 titles or more a month. John gestured at the wall of covers behind him in his office. “Hell,” he said. “If you want to talk about creative value, from a creative point of view we can justify maybe six of these.”

It was true then, and it’s true now. Maybe a diminished superhero comic book market would be a more creative one.

Guess we’ll see in 2021. Till then…

F**king 2020.

So there’s our grim portent of the future. I’m a natural pessimist — or as I like to remind everyone, a realist — so this all makes dreadful sense to me. On the one hand, it would be great for the Big Two to get away from annual crossover events. On the other hand, really can’t say I like the idea of killing off comics shops and original superhero comics as a sacrifice to AT&T’s profit margins…

1 Comment

  1. JD Said,

    August 22, 2020 @ 8:43 am

    I might be checking into some of the Fan-Dome stuff. Maybe they’ll be some new information.