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September 9, 2009

Warner Creates DC Entertainment; Levitz Steps Down As President, Publisher; New Honchos Recognized


Now that's a response. Only it's not really a response to Disney/Marvel, because Time Warner doesn't work that way and nobody works that quickly. Still, what a ten-day period.

The president of the newly formed company/division/whatever is Diane Nelson, the current head of I think Warner Premiere but best known as the longtime shepherd for the Harry Potter franchise's interests at the mega-corporation and as a past executive vice president in charge of global brand management. Current President and Publisher Paul Levitz slips into a role the press release describes as "writer, contributing editor and overall consultant" -- or perhaps that's a title, I don't know. Nelson will report to Jeff Robinov, the president of Warner Brothers picture group, who recently re-upped with Warner after lengthy negotiations. Unlike the Disney/Marvel deal, these exact moves or their rough equivalent have been rumored for some time, and news broke ahead of the press release this morning.

If anything, I would assume this is response to the longstanding perception that DC Comics has been lax in their development of hit movie properties in comparison to Marvel. Whereas for some the gigantic success of The Dark Knight seemed to "answer" Marvel's somewhat of a surprise hit with Iron Man, it also threw a spotlight on the lack of a partner property of that stature or a serious development plan for the line in general.

imageThe comics side of things will probably bring its immediate focus to Levitz's departure from his current positions, as he's one of the big-time movers and shaker in comics over the last few decades and is an iconic example of a certain type of fan and fanzine maker turned company executive. Expect a flurry of testimonials and perhaps multiple interviews and/or statements from Levitz, probably with an exact assignment or two outlined. When gossip at San Diego last July turned to the possibility of Levitz stepping aside -- I'm not going to BS you to think I had any special knowledge of this, we've been having this discussion for five years -- one mainstream comics writer made me laugh by saying they thought Levitz might be better suited to being an ex-executive at DC than he was to his then-current role. This person didn't mean that as an indictment past being funny and outrageous in saying it out loud, but I think they were serious in their acknowledgment of the work Levitz has done behind the scenes and where his natural interests seem to lie.

I'll give the general implications some thought, the same way I'm still wondering over the other major corporate comics news of the last 10 days. My initial reaction is that unlike Marvel/Disney this isn't about buying a brand and a way of doing things, this is about a certain level of change being deemed necessary concerning an item (several items) of potential earning power. Granted, to supplement the long-running picture of DC as an entity at Warner that's done everything it can not to be noticed, the fact that it has finally gained major notice through a corporate restructuring around itself might not be the bad thing some thought it might one day be, due to the perceived value it has to the company right now.

With that in mind, if I were an individual creator who worked mostly for DC, I might be a tiny bit more nervous than my Marvel counterpart was last week in terms of my future with the company. Levitz's statement that there might not be long-term relationships with talent that fails to sell takes on a whole new meaning when we learn the guy who said it was tucking a newspaper under his arm and getting ready to head out the door. Yet I would also imagine that there will still be a lot of comics published there (the statement says as much) and that these books could conceivably be more vital to the overall company bottom line and perhaps even more focused as a result. I certainly wouldn't be anything more than a bit cautious and curious: the future may be in some modest way less certain than it officially was a week ago, but nothing indicates radical change, either. Far from it. In a way, the hiring of Paul Levitz the writer suggests as much in terms of the immediate future as the departure of Paul Levitz the publisher.

What worries me with both of these big industry moves as they might have an effect on comics publishing is that this surge of energy from the top down eventually has to reach into a distribution and sales system that is either peach-fuzz nascent (on-line), assailed by outside wounds (book publishing) or abused and weakened and made fragile by years of corporate abuse (the Direct Market). So not only do you have to consider the force of change from these moves, but you have to hope, I think, that we will also see delicacy and precision and an ongoing value for same due to an understanding of their role in making those steamrolling cultural phenomena. Is that kind of cautious maneuvering possible in the age of entertainment properties as juggernauts and leviathans? I dearly hope so.
posted 11:30 am PST | Permalink

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