DC Comics will be moving its remaining New York operations to the
Warner compound in Burbank, California. This was the big news in
the comics industry last week and it came as absolutely no surprise
to me. I’ve been saying for years DC has become little more than,
primarily, exploitable properties and, secondarily, cheap research
and development for its parent company. Whatever profits DC makes
from its comics is likely eaten up by garish promotional campaigns
and excessive salaries for its excessive number of executives.
There was much weeping and wailing in comicdom as news of the move
hit the comics press. There were predictions of staff layoffs and
other calamities associated with the move. As callous as I can be
when it comes to DC, I do feel bad for anyone who loses their job,
even those demonstrably bad at them, or who must uproot their lives
to move to Burbank. Whatever my feelings towards DC as a company
and certain individuals employed by DC, I don’t wish that kind of
hardship or uncertainty on anyone.
I would not be surprised if, once the move is completed, DC reduces
the number of titles it publishes. I wouldn’t be happy about that,
but I wouldn’t be surprised. I’m hoping the lower cost of DC doing
business in Burbank will keep borderline titles alive. I may not
like many of the current DC titles, but they are generating checks
for a great many writers and artists and such.
Some of the sadness over DC’s impending move comes from people who
cite the company’s eight-decade history in New York. For many of
them, New York is the Mecca of comics publishing. For many years,
if you wanted to work for DC or Marvel, you had to relocate to New
York. I get the historical nostalgia. I had the same regard for
New York as the home of comic books when I was younger and somewhat
less foolish than I am in my dotage. But, for me, nostalgia gives
way to cold and hard facts.
The history of DC Comics, like the history of the comics industry
in general, is the history of creators being cheated and mistreated
by publishers. I don’t need to recite the litany of creators who
were screwed over by publishers. You know them well and, however
much some soulless bastards attempt to justify such treatment, you
know it was wrong. It’s why we have the Bill Finger Award and, if
you think about it, why we probably need similar awards for comics
artists, colorists, letterers, production people, etc. As much as
New York might be the city where Superman and Batman and Spider-Man
and so many other classic characters were sent out into the world,
it is also the home of countless tales of misery inflicted on the
creators of these and other characters. If you’re a regular reader
of this bloggy thing of mine, you know I have not been reticent in
sharing such tales with you.
Perhaps I would be distraught about DC’s moving from New York if I
loved New York. I don’t. In the past, I theorized a main cause of
DC and Marvel super-hero titles becoming so dark and unpleasant was
because their editors lived in New York.
When I first moved to New York to work at Marvel Comics in 1972, I
was excited. Over the next couple years, I enjoyed living in New
York. But, over those same years, I began to feel less comfortable
living and working with people to whom rudeness was a way of life.
All I wanted to do was make the best comics I could and enjoy what
I’d believed was the greatest city in the world. Though my future
might have been uncertain when I moved back to Ohio the first time,
I felt nothing but relief when I left. When I moved back to Ohio
the second time, after having moved back to New York at the behest
of DC, I felt like an idiot for not recognizing how much I did not
love New York.
I’m not denying the excitement of my initial visits to and move to
New York. Before I went to work for Marvel, I was thrilled to get
the tour of DC Comics and the offices of MAD and Murphy Anderson’s
studio. Even the ramshackle offices of The Monster Times, where I
went to get payment for things I had written for the paper, had a
certain scary charm to them.
When I lived in New York, I had an apartment whose previous tenants
had included Damon Runyon and one of the creators of Hair. Before
I met my beloved Barb, I dated some amazing women who were probably
way out of my league but who were very happy to spend time with a
guy who wasn’t from New York. Even New Yorkers aren’t always fond
of their fellow New Yorkers.
That excitement wore thin after a few years. Oh, I still get some
nostalgic twinges. I’m currently reading Humans of New York, that
great collection of photographs by Brandon Stanton, and I remember
with great pleasure the sheer variety of the humans I used to see
and know in the city. I’m hoping to visit New York in early 2014
to see some dear old friends I don’t see often enough. But I can’t
imagine ever wanting to live there again.
Digression. I’ve only been in New York City twice in the past two
decades. The first time was because I was a guest at a convention
held in a church basement. I had dinner with Paul Kupperberg and
Paul Levitz. If I was staying past the weekend, they invited me to
visit the DC offices. I declined. Paul and Paul were just about
the only people I knew at DC Comics and I was already spending
quality time with them.
The second time was to attend the 2011 New York Comic-Con. I made
the trip to promote the Grim Ghost title I was writing for the new
and short-lived Atlas Comics. As much as I hated the convention,
I loved seeing so many old friends. Though NYCC seems to have made
considerable improvement since 2011, seeing old friends remains the
only good reason I can think of for ever visiting New York again.
End of digression.
I’m kidding. I have one more digression.
Back when I was on good terms with DC, this would be in the 1980s
or thereabouts, I used to try to convince Dick Giordano and anyone
else who would listen that DC should move its offices to Cleveland,
the city where Superman was created. I offered what I considered
to be great reasons for such a move.
The cost of DC Comics doing business in and its employees living in
the Cleveland area would be a fraction of the expense of New York.
For what DC paid in rent, it could have owned an entire building in
downtown Cleveland. DC’s employees would be able to buy very nice
houses in very nice neighborhoods. Most important, though I didn’t
usually include this on the list, I felt not living and working in
New York would give DC Comics a new and better perspective on their
comics, their readers and the world. DC could escape that New York
dickishness and find a nicer way of life.
To the best of my knowledge, no one at DC ever seriously considered
my suggestion. Instead, DC is moving to Burbank.
Finally getting back on topic...
DC’s move will be good for the company, though not always in ways
I might personally consider good for its creators and its readers.
DC’s micro-managing editors, which I believe are a leading cause of
how bad their comics are, will find many kindred spirits in La-La-
Land. After all, in Hollywood, everyone holds meetings and gives
notes on everything - Crafts Services thinks the third act needs a
lot more action and little sandwiches - so these editors can live out
their fantasies of being Hollywood players.
DC will certainly have access to more writers from movies and TV.
This can be a mixed blessing.
DC may be in a better position to elevate their status within the
Warner community. Maybe, someday, we won’t see shows like Beware
the Batman or Young Justice treated with disrespect. Maybe someone
will take a hint from Marvel and take closer looks at more of DC’s
lesser-known characters. Who would have thought Green Arrow could
translate into such a riveting series?
I think the change of scenery could be good for DC Comics. There
is a lot of creative energy in Los Angeles, even if some of it gets
directed into insane projects and pursuits.
I don’t think I’d like living in Los Angeles any more than I liked
living in New York, but I have some love for that L.A. atmosphere.
When I think of Los Angeles and Hollywood, I think of the closing
lines from Pretty Woman. Not the absolutely killer “She rescues
him right back” line, but the words of a street philosopher as the
credits start to roll...
Welcome to Hollywood! What's your dream? Everybody comes here; this
is Hollywood, land of dreams. Some dreams come true, some don't;
but keep on dreamin' - this is Hollywood. Always time to dream, so
keep on dreamin'.
Four decades working in the comics industry hasn’t crushed my basic
optimism. Despite my relationship with DC Comics, I hope the move
will be good for them. I hope their freelancers and staffers will
be happier. I hope their comics will be better.
I’ll be back tomorrow with more stuff.
© 2013 Tony Isabella