The Creative Churn at DC Comics

Ranting. We all like to do it, especially in an internet forum. But what good will it do if it falls on deaf ears?

I was super ticked off last week when DC announced, on the same day that a preview ran for “Actions Comics #19” in the back of all their books, that incoming writer Andy Diggle was out. Then, in what seemed like a domino effect, Joshua Fialkov walked away from 1/26th of DC’s publishing line or half of the Green Lantern books, whichever fraction works best for your sense of humor.

Upon hearing this, I took to my keyboard and pounded out a very long, irate column. Thankfully, better judgement and observant editorial questioning prevailed, and I held back from publishing it. I took time away from comics in order to really evaluate the situation and try to see what was happening to my favorite publisher of super-hero books, DC Comics.

I was pointing everywhere. The writers were to blame, the editors were to blame, the culture of comics were to blame, etc.—basically, trying to see who to focus my anger on. Thankfully, the anger subsided and actual thinking went into looking at the situation. I was frustrated because I want some good comics and quality books to come forth from DC, and I haven’t been enjoying myself in the past year of books I’ve been buying nearly as much as when the first few months of the New 52 really reignited my interests in comics. (I even took the relaunch as a way to start blogging about comics; that’s how much it got to me, and I just enjoyed everything.)

The first clear thing I saw after my Hulk-induced rage was Rob Liefeld’s Twitter. Here is a creator who co-founded Image comics who still enjoyed working on super-hero books with the Big Two. Yet when he left DC, he had some choice words for those involved. Pretty much since then, any DC news that broke out about behind the scenes squabbles, creators leaving, books being cancelled, or even some announcements for new books were commented on by Liefeld.

There is one quote in particular that I want to pull from all of them to look at. After hearing about Diggle and Fialkov leaving, he stated: “This, ‘hey we need you to change what you planned and we approved, cuz we have something better…again’ at DC is exactly why I fled.”

That is very telling. This is something that, if true, would be something that drives a creator crazy. With DC wanting books out like clockwork, late night, last minute rewrite sessions aren’t something that creators get paid overtime for—and that isn’t even considering time for the artist, inker, and colorist to do their jobs.

This sounded familiar to me. Bleeding Cool then looked at a quote from Writers on Comics Scriptwriting, a book written by Mark Salisbury where he went around and interviewed a lot of great creators on what influences them and how they broke into comics. There was even a second book, Writers on Comics Scriptwriting 2, both books of which I own and recommend, that talked to even more creators. Bleeding Cool chose to quote an excerpt of the book from Joe Kelly, writer for the X-Men comics in the ’90s era where Bob Harras, current DC Editor in Chief, was in charge of the X-Men books at that time. Seriously, take some time to read the article right here.

Does that sound vaguely familiar to what is currently going on at DC? Well, honestly it sounds like what happens with any editor/creator collaboration. Harras at the time was under immense pressure to make comics for Marvel that sold. The bottom line was what Marvel wanted, and they were trying anything in order to recover from Marvel declaring bankruptcy in late 1996. So one can understand that there was pressure, and Harras probably wanted to guide the books along the right path to make money for the company, which is probably something that helped get him promoted to Editor in Chief over at Marvel. There’s nothing wrong with that. That was simply Harras doing his job.

Cue to 2010 and DC’s approach to top Marvel in the sales chart by hiring Harras to be the first Editor in Chief for DC since Jenette Kahn held the position from 1981 to 2002. It wasn’t too long after Harras came aboard that the idea of the New 52 was starting. In fact, go to this Newsarama article in June of 2011 where Harras and Executive Editor Eddie Berganza talk about the approach to the New 52 and how it came to be. While planning the September relaunch, DC’s editorial team constructed a timeline that details the universe’s history. Everything from the past that editors thought was integral and important was kept. When asked “Is there an over-arching editorial edict, or are the ‘rules’ what individual editors and writers want them to be?” Harras responded, “I think there’s an overarching discussion. This was a well-thought-out approach to all our characters across the line. But we also looked at events that happened in the past that we wanted to incorporate into current storylines that were going to be part and parcel into our ongoing stories….”

Looking back, it is a rather strange way of saying how much editorial is involved in the books. In light of writers walking off, it sounds really strange but familiar.

A little more research was done. A flash in my memory reminded me of the Life of Reilly column, a story about the behind-the-scenes action during the writing of the Spider-Man Clone Saga in the ’90s. It is a rather long read, and I highly recommend checking it out here when you get the time.

The interesting part surfaces around Part 22. At this point in the story, Bob Harras had just been promoted to Marvel Editor in Chief. Harras had some suggestions for the direction of the book and even vetoed some the previously approved and established story direction for the book. Writers such as Dan Jurgens even left the Spidey books after Harras made some major changes to the direction of the story, forced writers to delay the ending of the Clone Saga so it wouldn’t interfere with the Onslaught event over in the X-books, and even changed the big reveal of the villain responsible for the whole Clone Saga storyline.

Flash to the future and Fialkov and Diggle have faint echoes of each other’s statements that creative and editorial direction were going against the grain of what they were writing. Cue previous exits by George Perez, Rob Liefeld, and to a certain degree Gail Simone. With the exception of Simone, each creator left with a bitter taste in their mouth for DC comics, as their runs were seemingly cut abruptly short and fingers pointing towards editorial on the way out.

For the most part, it seems we hear about writers leaving the books. We actually hear a lot about artist fill-ins but rarely a word on editorial interference from the artist’s side. Well, if writers are the ones who are caught with their stories changes, that means they can’t get their part of the job done for the artist to work on the story. How many guest artists have been on a DC book? Has there been any artist for a DC book who has been the only artist for that series since the first issue that they drew? Take a look at inkers as well. How many books suffer from multiple inker syndrome?

I would expect some artists not being able to keep pace with a monthly book. I can understand breaks from time to time, especially considering how few DC books have actually run late since the start of the New 52. But these many guest spots, across the whole line? That has to be a symptom for something.

I’ve been struggling to come up with even one example of an artist who has been on since issue #1 for any DC book since the very start of the New 52. That’s rather telling.

Also on my book shelf is a copy of Come In Alone by Warren Ellis. It is a collection of his columns with the same name that he used to run on cbr.com. In one interview he had with Mark Waid, the subject of Bob Harras was brought up. There are a lot of interesting tidbits, but the one that stands out for me involves Waid’s take on how Harras handled the very popular X-Men property back in the ’90s: “Marvel had the single highest-profile comic book in the Western hemisphere, X-Men, and Bob did everything imaginable to make it completely incomprehensible and inaccessible to new and/or casual readers. Everything.”

In the first month of the New 52, I picked up twenty-two books. Last month I only bought eight. I’ve dropped a lot of books due to a drop in quality, change in creator, and convoluted storylines that rehash previous storylines or lack in any character progression. I couldn’t really put a finger on why things took such a turn for me, but I’m beginning to look and point in a particular direction without anger clouding my vision.