Well, the past couple of weeks have certainly been interesting ones in the comic book world. First came the Disney purchase of Marvel, then Warner Brothers’ transformation of DC Comics into DC Entertainment. A few thoughts about both:
My first reaction when I heard the news was, "How will this impact the comics?” But I think (and, really, in the end, what do I know? It’s not like I spend my weekends hanging out with Bob Iger) from Disney's POV it's all about movie and TV franchises and attracting the male version of the Hannah Montana audience. When Variety covered the story, there wasn’t a comic book image accompanying the article, there was a photo of Robert Downey as Iron Man.
That said, I can't help but wonder: if you're Disney and you see an opportunity to sell Marvel comics at your theme parks and then you realize that the vast majority of these books aren't "family friendly" in the least— Well, what happens next? Then I wonder about the comics companies that currently have Disney licenses. I'd guess it's only a matter of time (and expiring contracts) before those licenses end up at Marvel.
One other thing: Way back in the early 90's I got involved with a comic book company, owned by Disney, called Touchmark. Edited by Art Young—who had been Karen Berger's assistant at DC—the Touchmark line was Disney’s bid to enter the "mature readers" comics market. (They’d already started up their own kid-friendly Disney Comics, edited by my old friend Len Wein.) I was doing a graphic novel for Art and Grant Morrison, Peter Milligan and others were contributing to the line. Then one morning someone at the Mouse House woke up and realized, "Hey, we're Disney! We can't put out stuff like this!" and they sold the whole lot of projects to DC. All of that material, including my graphic novel, Mercy, became part of the Vertigo launch some months later. So keep your eyes open for the "Hey, we're Disney!" moment.
For me, the big news at DC isn’t the fact that Warner Brothers is taking a more direct hand in the company’s operation, it’s the fact that Paul Levitz, who’s been with the company for over thirty-five years and has been one of the few constants in a business that’s about as stable as quicksand, is stepping down as President and Publisher. Paul is one of the few people who truly understands the business aspect of comics and yet knows what it’s like in the trenches, as a creator (he’s as terrific a writer as he is an executive). More important (to me, anyway): he was the guy who—way back in December, 1977—bought my first comic book script. Who shook my hand and said “Welcome to the business.” (Read the whole story here.) You can understand why he holds a special place in my heart and why I’m incredibly sorry to see him go.
What the future holds for DC remains to be seen; but it seems, from the little we know at the moment, that this is different from the Disney-Marvel deal in that Warner Brothers is pretty much taking over the whole DC circus. For now, at least, Marvel remains an independent entity with a fat, rich, mouse-eared parent company. Changes might be coming down the line, but not yet. With DC, I think we’re going to see those changes coming much sooner.
Whatever happens, watching both these stories unfold is going to be fascinating.
©copyright 2009 J.M. DeMatteis