Op/Ed: DC Comics - NEW YORK CITY or HOLLYWOOD? A Debate

Op/Ed: DC Comics - NYC or HOLLYWOOD?

Newsarama note: A Thursday, September 16th report by the Hollywood Reporter cited comments by Warner Bros. CEO Barry Meyer suggesting DC Comics would play a much bigger role at the film studio moving forward, involving a more “entrepreneurial” rather than “custodial” handling of DC’s rich library of intellectual property.

That, along with a promise of an “organizational announcement” reportedly to come this week, has led to increased speculation about possible relocation of DC Comics production offices from its original and current home in New York City, to offices on Warner Bros. Burbank Studios lot.

Newsarama thought it was about time to weigh in on the issue. We asked two of our contributing writers, one a resident of Hollywood, CA. (Tom McLean), and the other a card-carrying New Yorker (Michael Avila) to present their best cases for where DC should ultimately stay … or go …

Why DC Should Move to Los Angeles

by Tom McLean

The comics’ business began in New York City, but it’s been slowly moving out west ever since the late 1960s, when Jack Kirby packed up his pencils and left the Big Apple for the Golden State. The trickle of talent moving west became a flood in the 1980s and 1990s, with major operations including Dark Horse Comics and most of the Image Comics creators setting up shop out west. The rise of the comic book movie only accelerated the shift, with industry leader Marvel’s well-established California presence based out of the modern and picturesque Raleigh Studios in sunny Manhattan Beach. With DC Comics morphing into DC Entertainment, it could only be a matter of time before it bids adieu to its New York City offices to be closer to parent company Warner Bros. in beautiful downtown Burbank, Calif.

Here are four reasons why DC Entertainment should move its comic book publishing operations to California.

Reason 1: Hooray for Hollywood!

When Warner Bros. announced the reorganization of DC Comics as DC Entertainment, it was with a very clear goal stated directly in the original press release as follows:

“DC Entertainment, a separate division of WBEI, will be charged with strategically integrating the DC Comics business, brand and characters deeply into Warner Bros. Entertainment and all its content and distribution businesses.”

So if the future of DC Entertainment depends on getting into bed with the movie and TV divisions of Warner Bros. — all of which are located in and around Burbank — it’s better to get a place together than to hope your long-distance relationship will beat the odds.

Sure, it’s easier than ever to communicate cross-country and around the world with modern technology, but it’s hard to be the life of the party and schmooze with the A-list of movie stars, directors, writers — or even the agents and managers who put the deals together — when you’re phoning in from three time zones away.

Reason 2: Everyone’s already here

Talk of a move sparked as soon as Warner Bros. put L.A.-based executive Diane Nelson in charge of DC Entertainment and was stoked further once California boys Jim Lee and Geoff Johns were added to the top of the masthead. Even N.Y.-based Dan DiDio has roots in Los Angeles, where he worked for years in the television business before landing his gig at DC Comics.

Aside from the personal wear and tear of constant cross-country travel, the executives they report to also are all here.

And does anyone really think support for keeping DC in New York will last long past the first time WB chairman Barry Meyer or president Alan Horn are told, “Jim Lee’s not available to discuss that movie deal because he just got on a five-hour flight to New York”?

Executives aside, the creators of most of DC’s top books also are already in California. Just looking at the writers of DC’s top comic books, Grant Morrison, J. Michael Straczynski, James Robinson, J.T. Krul, Christos Gage, Adam Beechen, Paul Dini, Sterling Gates, Joe Casey and Len Wein all live close enough to hop in the car and be at the Warner Bros. complex just off the 134 Freeway at Hollywood Way within an hour (traffic permitting, of course — this is Southern California).

And with comics increasingly looking to TV writers and screenwriters to pen comic book scripts, that talent base also is at its deepest and most vibrant in and around Hollywood.

Looking beyond Los Angeles, being just down the road from the Bob Hope Airport means the major comic book talent pools in San Diego (where Jim Lee’s Wildstorm division operates), San Francisco and Portland, Ore., are practically neighbors in air travel terms — and in the same time zone.

Reason 3: It makes financial sense

While New York is awesome, it’s also expensive. And the DC offices, which it shares with MAD Magazine, occupy three floors of the office tower at 1700 Broadway, directly across from the Ed Sullivan Theater where The Late Show with David Letterman originates.

Throw in the expenses related to ferrying execs like Nelson, Lee, Johns and DiDio from one side of the continent to the other, plus the need for large portions of the staff to attend major West Coast conventions such as Comic-Con in San Diego and Wonder Con in San Francisco, and the plethora of office space Warner Bros. already owns in Burbank and the overhead savings look significant.

Reason 4: Change can be a good thing

All businesses have an internal culture that includes an institutional resistance to change. So if WB and the DC Entertainment executives are serious about transforming the company and maximizing its potential, the changes brought on by a move to Los Angeles gives them the best shot at re-shaping the company into a new image.

Yes, a change can be tough and surely will be too much for some. If DC does move out west, some longtime employees will decide to find work elsewhere rather than uproot their homes and families to move across the nation. That will open up some opportunities for new blood — and new ideas.

Even those who do make the move, such changes can be invigorating and create opportunities for new ideas. It gives management an unprecedented chance to reorganize and re-orient the company’s priorities that no number of teleconferenced meetings or retreats can offer.

In the end, the chance to reinvigorate the company with fresh talent and ideas that a move brings may be the most important and profound thing to ever happen to DC Entertainment — especially if those opportunities are taken full advantage and give the company a foundation on which it can build its next 75 years.

Why DC Should Stay in New York

by Michael Avila

If some of the whispers are to be believed, then it's just a matter of when (not if) before DC Comics pulls up the moving vans, types Burbank into the GPS, and heads West. Not a great many people would be surprised if DC pulled up stakes and left Gotham. DC Entertainment is all about leveraging the DC Comics library into multimedia franchises, so the West Coast suits understandably want the intellectual property they want to plunder, close by.

As my colleague Tom McLean points out, the comics industry has had a long infatuation with La La Land.

Jack Kirby, as he did with most everything else, blazed the western trail by relocating there after leaving Marvel in the late 1960s. Stan Lee followed suit in the early 80s. Modern-day maestros such as Jim Lee and Geoff Johns also call sunny SoCal home. Those two gentlemen just so happen to be hugely important to DC right now, being DC's Co-Publisher and Chief Creative Officer, respectively.

While there's nothing wrong with having a strong presence in Los Angeles, DC moving out of its longtime lair at 1700 Broadway to go Hollywood would be a misjudgment that would rival the decision to have Josh Brolin spit out a crow in "Jonah Hex."

You want specifics? Here you go, four reasons why DC Comics should stay in New York City.

Reason 1: Don't Abandon Your Roots

DC has been entrenched in Manhattan for 76 years, to the very beginning of the Golden Age of Comics, when it was known as National Allied Publications. It was here during WWII paper shortages, during the Fredric Wertham-fueled backlash that nearly crippled the industry in the 50s; it launched the Silver Age in New York City, and even survived the infamous DC Implosion of 1978. Change is a good thing, as Mr. McLean points out, but not when it's just for sake of change or for economic expediency. Tradition should matter at least a little, as should history. This is where comics were born.

DC should remain here now as the comics biz enters one of the most important periods in its history, as digital comics seem to be the potential Killer App the industry has been searching for ever since it shot itself in the foot with the multiple covers nonsense of the 1990s.

There's something else.

Batman may live and fight crime in Gotham City, but he was born in Manhattan. The urban jungle is where most of DC's greatest heroes — okay, I'll concede Green Lantern and the fighter pilot in the desert angle — were conceived. Sure, They live in Metropolis and Central City, but New York is in the DNA of a great many DC characters. The city has given life to countless other heroes — just about every big hitter on the Marvel roster, for example. Why would you want to move your comics company away from the inspirational super juice that permeates the crisp air here?

Put it another way: How many great comics, really great comics, from any publisher, were inspired by Los Angeles? And sorry Mr. 'First Post' on the message boards, The Champions and The West Coast Avengers don't count as 'great.'

Does this mean only comics creators who live in NYC can come up with great stories? Of course not. Alan Moore creates magic living somewhere in the sticks of the English countryside. Geoff Johns can write the hell out of a story criss-crossing the country on a plane. But it certainly helps. Your environment informs your writing, just as much as memories and ideas. I'm admittedly biased, but I don't look forward to the Titans fighting bad guys in the Valley.

Batman don't surf, dude. Plain and simple.

Reason 2: Beware the Hidden Costs of Moving

Ever been ripped off by movers? You know, you call a company up for a quick one-day move from your old place to your new apartment, get a flat-rate price, only to get a bill for three times the estimate at the end? It happened to me years ago. These guys charged me for every single piece of tape, they boxed up everything but my boxes so they could charge me for individual boxes, and because all my stuff was locked in their truck, I had no choice but to pay. A horrible experience, but one I learned greatly from. The 'Buyer Beware' lesson is an essential part of life.

Sure, DCE could save a lot on talent travel costs by moving the comics division to LA. But whatever money it would save in the short run would be offset by the marginalizing of the comics business in relation to the movies. The argument that 'everyone's already in LA' applies to the films based on DC characters. That's one of the problems I have with the move. Everything seems to be about the movies, and the TV shows. What about the comic books DC Comics puts out? I'm not trying to sound naive here. I am well aware that DC Entertainment's mission statement is to squeeze DC's library for every multimedia dollar it can get. I applaud that type of capitalism. But I don't want it to come at the expense of the comic books. And that's what I fear will happen with this move.

And by the way, did I miss the newspaper articles declaring that Los Angeles is suddenly so affordable? Last time I checked, people in Manhattan didn't need to buy Earthquake insurance or need to pay through the nose for car insurance. You know why? BECAUSE WE DON'T HAVE EARTHQUAKES AND WE DON'T NEED CARS!

Reason 3: Stay in the Deep End of the (Talent) Pool

I'll see your Grant Morrison and JMS, McLean, and raise you a John Romita Jr., Adam/Andy Kubert, and I'll throw in a Frank Miller, too. Look, there's no doubt a lot of great comics talent lives out west. But the fact is, the sheer number of comics writers and artists who live in the Tri-State area (NY/NJ/CT) is staggering. Not just young bucks trying to crack the door into the industry, but the rising stars who are the future of comics.

In this high-tech age of email and Skype, location isn't quite as important as it used to be. But it still matters. Pressing the flesh at a local watering hole or a convention with a prospective writer, artist or inker is not to be underestimated. Moving 3,000 West could conceivably put DC at a competitive disadvantage. Probably not with the upper-tier talent, who are typically locked in to exclusive deals. I'm talking about the mid-level and up-and-comers who are necessary to crank out the number of titles DC puts out.

And the argument that DC would have access to all the screenwriters and TV writers who want to do comics doesn't really work for me. After all, how many film & TV guys have proven reliable at meeting comic book deadlines? Whatever publicity guys like Damon Lindelof and Kevin Smith (not to pick on him about this, because he has worked hard to rehab his deadline rep) bring to a project is undermined by the fact that they can't finish it on time.

If DC moves to California, it's going to create a vast distance from the always active talent pool of people that live in NYC who dream of writing Batman or Booster Gold. You don't think Joe Quesada and his Marvel crew will see an opportunity to gain the upper hand on securing those undiscovered gems?

One other thing. Moving from NYC to LA would most likely cause for a large exodus of people from the company who can't or won't uproot their lives for such a drastic relocation. Tom is right to say that it could lead to an infusion of fresh blood, always a good thing for a large, established company. However, large established companies become that way because of the in-house talent that knows how things work.

Look at the NFL. The most successful teams, the Cowboys, the Patriots and the Steelers, did it not by spending tons of money on the free-agent market, but by drafting players and nurturing them. If too many valuable people decide not to make the move to LA, then DC could find themselves with a talent deficiency that could prove costly.

Reason 4: Protect Your Turf

If — and if the scuttlebutt is to be believed, and it's really a case of when — DC Comics gets the word to move, it will largely be because the powers-that-be at Time-Warner want their potentially lucrative in-house Intellectual Property … well, in house. With the Harry Potter franchise winding down, Warner Bros. needs to reload its blockbuster weaponry. Since no one not named James Cameron or Christopher Nolan seems to be able to get an ambitious original idea greenlighted by a studio anymore, comic book films represent Hollywood's last Big Bet.

With an enormous library of characters that offer cinematic potential too tantalizing to resist, DC now holds an inordinate amount of importance in the TW conglomerate. That's why Diane Nelson, who helped spearhead the Potter property to billions in profits, was put in charge of the DC Entertainment.

Already you can see her influence being felt. "Green Lantern" doesn't hit theaters until next summer, but there are already Hostess Green Sno-Balls coming out, and a Six Flags rollercoaster on the way. Flashcakes look pretty tasty, too. That's Hollywood marketing 101. Well done. Any tie-in between a comics’ character and Hostess is fine by me.

Clever tie-ins aside, if I'm Jim Lee and Dan DiDio and Geoff Johns, I'd be fighting like hell to stay in New York for the simple reason that I wouldn't want to be so close to people who want to influence the comics’ publishing business —  a business the Hollywood crowd might not be fully versed in. I would be fighting to protect my turf, the comics’ turf, like the barons used to defend their land from the royals in the medieval times.

Moving to California would only bring DC Comics even further under Warner Bros.' thumb. If you think that won't change DC Comics as a whole, you're crazy. If you think it wouldn't impact the kind of risky books that made the Vertigo imprint so irresistible, you're doubly crazy.

To the folks who run Warner Bros., DC Comics may simply be a content farm. An incubator for potential big-budget extravaganzas that could sell lots of toys, games and apparel. The open question is, do they also share our four-color love.

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