Last week, Bleeding Cool reported that Diane Nelson had taken over Alan Horn’s duties at Warner Bros to oversee DC Comics. And since no one’s actually denied it yet, and unofficially everyone is confirming the story, let’s keep running with scissors.
Today I’m taking the incredibly presumptious step of suggesting certain issues that a new overseer of DC Comics might need to deal with, as if I actual have some kind of clue as to what I might be talking about. Admittedly, I spoke to some people who might know whet they are talking about. But then again, they might not.
So Diane picks up a Florentine egg wrap at Europa Cafe, walks through those wide doors at 1700 Broadway, passes Frank in security, and ascends those elevators to the upper floors. What might be on her agenda in her first meeting with DC executives, fresh from a long weekend?
1. Digital Comics. Diane was principal in working with motion comics at Warner, and the sales of the Watchmen digital comic were spectacular both as download and on DVD – digital comics in one form or another is something she’s expressed interest in, and it’s a keen example of cross-department exploitation.
Now it’s been reported that Paul Levitz does not believe DC contracts with creators for much of DC’s output cover or covered digital rights. It’s an approach that may have curtailed digital exploitation of DC print archives, but spurred them to create Zuda to fill the gap, creating original content designed for digital with clear exploitation rights expressed in the contracts. Marvel has had a very different policy, basically believing they own everything, always, forever, in all formats, and don’t even need to pay royalties, or incentive payments, on the downloads, so far. And right now every other publisher seems to be finding ways to put their print published product online in some form.
Clearly DC’s approach is out of step with the current market, or so it seems.
This is especially tricky considering the problems with classic trade paperback reprint rights of materials from 1976-1992. If there are problems with contracts they clearly need sorting out so that all future work incorporates digital exploitation. For previous work, some negotiation or legal work may be necessary. But there is money on the table that is not being picked up.
With Longbox, Kindle, iPhone and the Sony PSP Reader driving online comics, this is probably a number one priority to sort out legal issues and try some digital landscape grabbing before its too late. DC were slow to blog and twitter without strong editorial voices on the company’s message boards. Could Diane look into buying Longbox? Or developing a competitor? Or getting into bed with another publisher and/or device for the DC Universe?
Then of course, there are the illegal uploaders and downloaders. Whether they promote the work or steal its sales is debatable, from a legal standpoint, there’s no debate at all. However, from a pragmatic point, the pirates have proven themselves to archive content using minimal materials, quickly, efficiently, cheaply and with superb quality control. Forget buying Longbox… how about buying the Minutemen?
2. Talent Drift. There have been few big name extra-media talent acquisitions of late, but not too many at DC. Marvel has had the cachet of Joss Whedon, Stephen King, Jon Favreau of late, while DC had Jodi Picoult. Briefly. Could Diane’s relationship with JK Rowling bring her to the world of comics in some form? That would solve DC’s market share problems in a stroke. DC successfully brought Joe Michael Straczynski over from Marvel and have kept Grant Morrison and Geoff Johns relatively happy. But will they be able to hold on to Jim Lee when his contract ends, after losing his John Nee and firing Scott Dunbier? And Marvel seem to have been more successful in developing, holding onto and nurturing hot talent. DC is the company that didn’t publish Bendis’ Batman, that let Dan Slott slip out of their fingers, wouldn’t do a deal with Neil Gaiman over a new Sandman series, and saw their creator-owned deal so neutered by other Warner Bros executives so that top talent like Warren Ellis and Garth Ennis were happier to take projects elsewhere.
3. Disney. Marvel is no longer just the bigger fish that DC was trying to eat. It’s suddenly one of the sharks off of Finding Nemo, with a whiff of blood in its nose. Depending on how it can leverage its new position within Disney, there’s a real danger of DC being forced off the scene. Diane’s skills and expertise have been in cross-departmental projects at Warner, especially the exploitation of the Harry Potter license throughout Warner. Maybe it’s time for DC to start flexing its Warner muscles in a way often threatened but rarely followed through. We’re seeing more and more movie deals making the run up, from Losers to Lobo, from Jonah Hex to Green Lantern, with Human Target and Midnight Mass hitting the TV schedules. But there needs to be real synergy with DC in order to exploit this through the company – and then promote it. Wasn’t that long ago that DC seemed embarrassed by the very existence of Smallville, trying to keep the comics away from this continuity-contradicting piece of loose canon. And licensed titles don’t quite seem to get the support you’d have expected. Expect a much cleverer, smarter tie up with editorial and marketing as these projects bring in audiences. And possibly to other venues than the comic shop.
If only every DC comic could come with a free plastic ring…
4. Superman. Superman Superman Superman. As the case of Warner Bros vs the Siegel estate drags on, DC look in further and further danger of losing certain rights to the character and his history. And there could be nothing more damaging or embarrassing for the company than, say, Jerry Siegel’s estate licensing out whetever rights they end up with to a Disney-funded Marvel. Is it time to finally settle? Diane could well be the one who has to make that choice.
Also, the big decision, which will be Diane’s first con as DC head honcho? Our advice? Dress as a Wookie.