It’s a bad sign when the boss of DC Comics has to publicly reassure people, “I don’t think [our parent company] want to stop us from publishing comics.” But that’s one of the prevailing messages from Jim Lee’s recent interview with the Hollywood Reporter, attempting to debunk some misconceptions following the extensive layoffs at DC, Warner Bros., and other AT&T subsidiaries last week.
Jim Lee is a comic book artist and editor with an extensive history at both Marvel and DC. He was among the co-founders of Image Comics back in the 1990s, and for the past 10 years, he's been one of the leading executives at DC. At the moment he's the company's chief creative officer, shepherding DC through some troubled times. The Hollywood Reporter interview highlights a key problem that the publisher is facing: While DC Comics is a hugely popular and influential brand, the actual comics are only a fraction of its business. And its parent companies AT&T and Warner Bros. seem more interested in prioritizing bigger, more lucrative projects like movies and video games.
One particular quote is being shared widely on Comics Twitter because it feels depressingly revealing. When asked to debunk the rumor that "AT&T hates comics and wants to get out of the comic business," Lee responded:
"I don’t think they want to stop us from publishing comics. Comics serve a lot of different purposes and one of them is it’s a great way to incubate ideas and creating the next great franchises. We want to continue that. Why would you want to stop that? Why would you want to stop creating great content that could be used across the greater enterprise?"
In other words, the publisher's key worth is as a content farm for more "important" and profitable spinoff media for AT&T. This quote suggests that Lee is having to make a business argument for the concept of comics having a place on the Warner Bros./AT&T foodchain, rather than comics having an intrinsic worth as an art form. In turn, this attitude will surely have an effect on which creators continue to work for DC Comics, and what they're allowed to create.
As it stands, 20% of DC's staff has been laid off, and Lee states that "the bottom 20%, 25%" of low-selling DC comics will be canceled. It's a dispiriting situation to consider in the light of next week's DC Fandome online convention, which will feature a guest list of famous stars, mostly from the TV and film industries, promoting DC franchises like Batman and Wonder Woman. It really is true that none of this could exist without the original comic books. But at the moment there's a real sense that AT&T treats DC's publishing wing as a necessary evil, rather than the foundational base of the entire brand.
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