Since the announcement two weeks ago that DC Comics was being swallowed up by a newly-formed DC Entertainment to bring it more into line with the rest of Warner Brothers’ corporate properties, fans have been a little curious as to what that means. Will Diane Nelson, the president of DC Entertainment, be as good for fans and creators as was the ousted Paul Levitz, her counterpart when it was just DC Comics? Will DC’s successful DC Direct toys and direct-to-DVD animated films be abandoned for something similar, but with more mainstream appeal?
The reality of it seems to be that even DC Entertainment doesn’t know for sure. Diane Nelson talked to Newsarama about her view of the future—which is both murky (in the sense that she’s had the job for a week and a half and doesn’t have a lot of concrete plans yet) and optimistic (she thinks she can take back market share from Marvel without surrendering what makes things like the Vertigo line and “Wednesday Comics” work). And while there’s a lot of talk about DC characters being “brands” that can lend themselves to movies, videos and entertainment in non-comics media, Nelson herself says that at its heart, DC is a publishing enterprise.
Newsarama: Do you think your history with the “Harry Potter” license—a genre-fiction mainstay with an army of crazed fans who the movies had to appeal to—will help you at DC?
Diane Nelson: I think that my history at Warner Brothers in general whether it’s related to “Harry Potter” or any of the other DC and non-DC-related brands that I’ve been fortunate enough to work with, what they point out is how beloved they are and how large the fan bases are; so I think having an appreciation for the fact that fans feel a sense of ownership of our brands—it never fails to surprise me how invested fans are behind these brands. What I hopefully bring to the party is an appreciation for the importance of these fans, and of being respectful to the storytelling and creators who bring these brands to life. That’s probably the common thread. The DC Universe animated made-for-videos are a great, specific opportunity to offer fans something that they might not have gotten otherwise; it’s also proven to be a great business for Warner Video and Warner Premiere. So I think when we keep the fans in mind we realize it can be good for everyone.
Nrama: Comics never recaptured the print market after the crash of the 80's. How do you plan to retool DC Comics to re-ignite the interest of the non-traditional comic reader?
Nelson: Publishing as I’ve said is going to continue to be the foundation on which DC Entertainment is built; DC Comics is a publishing company first and foremost; the whole publishing industry is going through enormous change and struggling but it would be my absolute intent to figure out if there are ways to not just support and sustain the existing business, but grow it so that’ll be a huge part of what we look at for the future.
Nrama: What specifically is your view of the various DC comic lines as they exist now, in terms of branding and marketing? Will we see a greater integration of DC, Vertigo, WildStorm and the film unit or will they stay more or less static?
Nelson: There may well be opportunity to do more umbrella branding of DC Comics and DC Entertainment that could benefit us with consumers and retailers; it’s premature for me to say whether that will be true or not but it certainly will be one thing we look at. But I think the very nature of what a brand is, whether you’re looking at an individual brand like Batman or an imprint brand like Vertigo or WildStorm or Mad or the DC Universe titles—brand strength comes from a strength of continuity as to what that brand stands for. It’s premature for me to make any judgments about whether the resources within editorial can benefit from being more integrated. Time will tell about that, but I don’t think it’s a natural conclusion that there’s more to share among those, because they’re very different brands in and of themselves and the stories and characters underneath each one are uniquely related to that brand. I would never toss them all in one pot and call them one thing; I think that would be devaluing the huge equity that comes with each of the brands you’ve mentioned.
Nrama: What is your view of the function of DC Direct? You’ve got other companies in the mix that make the “mainstream” toys for K-Marts and Wal-Marts, but your own company serves the direct market and the hardcore fans. Do you think the DC Direct strategy will be changing at all?
Nelson: It’s really premature to say; I’m just beginning to think about what’s going to be right for the business moving forward so I think a lot of these questions we’ll have to revisit in the coming months because we’re not going to put forth what our strategy is yet; we just have a lot of work to do in the coming weeks.
Nrama: DC has been more experimental and creative in the last few years—with Vertigo, with handing off major projects like “Final Crisis” to certifiable mad geniuses like Grant Morrison, and with “Wednesday Comics”—but Marvel has been more financially successful. Do you have a plan in place for taking back market share without surrendering what makes DC uniquely appealing?
Nelson: Yes, we intend to do both. There’s not a plan in place because we just announced this ten days ago. So we are going to look very careful at the organization and how we make sure that we are set up and that the resources are there for the folks at DC Comics to be even more successful in the future working with Warner Brothers and from a standalone standpoint but we have no specific plans yet nor would I be ready to discuss them here if we did…but clearly growth and market share are some of our key drivers and we also recognize what’s special and unique about the characters and brands that comprise DC Comics and have every intention of protecting, maintaining and building those.
Nrama: A number of analysts over the years have credited Avi Arad and his ability to make the comics people and the film people work well together with the success of Marvel since they emerged from bankruptcy. Do you have an Avi Arad-type picked out, are you looking for one, or did you get hired because you can be the “person in charge of developing properties?”
Nelson: We have some people who do a version of that I suppose. Gregory Novak has a small team and they’ve done a wonderful job of liaising with the Warner Brothers businesses as well as other studios to bring the intellectual property that is part of DC to life in other mediums but clearly we’re going to look at what we can do even more effectively for the future. I will have a big role in that and we will be setting the organization on a path where that is a big part of their focus so yes we intend to do that but it’s again premature to talk about how or with whom.
Nrama: You told the Comics Alliance earlier this month that you “can’t underestimate” the relationship between the stories being told in the comics and the licenses, movies, etc. How does that jive with the originally-announced idea of leaving the comics to the comics people?
Green Lantern, Flash Writer Geoff JohnsNelson: There are a tremendous number of people both at DC Comics on staff as well as creators who work with DC Comics who have expressed to me already even in the few days that have gone by since we announced this, their desire to help build DC Comics and its characters across all screens. So I don’t have any concern about our ability to rally people—credible people who are deeply knowledgeable of the characters and the stories—to find a way to tell those stories across any of the mediums that we focus on. That actually is going to be the least of my concerns , I suspect.
Nrama: How fine does your interest go? Are you involved in things like deciding what stories become direct-to-DVD movies, or helping DiDio determine which books get canceled? A lot of comic book people are wondering why mega-popular stories like “The Judas Contract” and “The Great Darkness Saga” are back-burnered to make room for more Superman and Batman. Those franchises are already healthy; imagine if DC could pull an “Iron Man” with the Legion of Super-Heroes!
Nelson: We’ll figure that out as a team. There’ll be a lot of people weighing in on what the right approach is for all parts of the medium. But we’re about ten days into this so my primary focus right now is putting together our business plan and looking at the support that the DC Comics organization needs to do the best job they can.
Nrama: Besides the big-budget superhero movies that are tent poles for everyone but slow and expensive to make, what are the chances that as DC and WB become closer-knit, we’ll see more of the direct-to-video animations that presumably make less actual dollars but a higher margin?
Nelson: The DC Universe Animated made for videos which we do in cooperation with Warner Animation are very intentionally scheduled at 3-4 a year depending on whether or not there’s a theatrical tent pole release in a given year in which case we may choose to do four of them a year. That is, there can be opportunity for a fourth title when we have something as big as a theatrical tent pole. That is a very strategic plan; we have good reason to believe that fans have an appetite to support that and that makes real sense given the nature of the product and retail and the fan appetite. It wouldn’t necessarily bear out to suggest that that quantity of product is what we would do in any other business because we’ll need to look at each business on its own merit and determine what makes sense—how many titles can be done well—that’ll be a key part of what we figure out but the focus and the level of support that you see behind the DC Universe titles, we’ll bring a similar level of support to each of the businesses and mediums and then we’ll do what’s right for those particular businesses.
Nrama: When John Lassiter took over Disney’s animation operations, he got a lot of credit from fans and critics for immediately halting their barrage of shabby, DTV sequels and putting a rule in place that sequels would be much more vetted than they had in the recent past. The idea was, diluting the brand with mediocre sequels might load the coffers today, but it diminishes the company image and makes it harder to have a truly remarkable success in the future. To what extent is deciding what DC properties DON’T belong in other media—or for that matter in regular publication—harder than deciding the ones that do?
Nelson: I don’t think so, yet. I think when you have as many great characters and stories as we do within DC, clearly there’ll be situations where we have to make choices that a particular property doesn’t make sense for a particular medium but the nice thing is because we’re not just about theatrical films or just about made-for-videos, we’re actually looking to tell stories across each of the platforms that exist within Warner Brothers, there’s a lot of opportunity to tell different types of stories and that’s just opportunity. It certainly hasn’t occurred to me that there’s going to be a negative to that yet.
Nrama: The last question – and it has to be, or else friends of mine would think I wasn’t myself—who would I have to bribe, and how much, to see a live-action “Booster Gold”?
Nelson: [Laughs] You would have to bribe [name redacted], so I’ll leave that to the two of you!