Comic Fodder

Hiring Policies for Writers at DC

Author's Note:
After writing this column, I realize that this may be the column I've written where I probably know the least about the subject, and may come off as quite the blowhard. Please feel free to comment, either fact or opinion, and shed some light.


Last week I got into a chat with FanBoyWonder over at his blog. He was discussing the Baltimore ComicCon and Didio's group of writers, and I couldn't help but chime in.

To put this into context (because you might not have followed the jump), FBW said this:

The make up of the Baltimore panel appeared to represent the state of DC Management—each creator up there was more or less talented (some more some less than others) but each is beholden in some manner to Executive Editor Dan DiDio—they’re all “Dan’s Guys.”

and

The fact that a proven talent like John Ostrander can’t get regular work from DC but the DC Nation panel consists of all “young turks” beholden to their “Czar” says that DC Management enjoys like-mindedness. It’s tough to think outside the creative box in an echo chamber.

...and then goes to to make a terrific analogy to DC and the New England Patriots, which I wish I'd thought of, but didn't.

I've harped on this before, but now I'm dedicating a whole column to it. I'm not commenting on Marvel's policy, mainly because I just don't follow Marvel closely enough to have a feel for what they do. They seem to be out of the business of letting DC discover, nurture and develop talent into a name, then throwing big contracts at DC's talent, as was the case around the Jemas years (which you have to admire in an underhanded sort of way).

State of the Nation

DC currently has Geoff Johns, Grant Morrison and everybody else...

Whatever Azzarello feared was coming to pass when he wrote "Architecture and Morality" at the hands of Johns, Morrison, Rucka and Waid didn't ever really come to pass. And, it seems, Azzarello may have had his sights pointed at the wrong guys when he made villains of the "52" team.

As of today, Rucka is only tangentially associated with DC, coming back to work on "Final Crisis: Revelations" (which this writer is enjoying), while Waid has publicly stated his frustration in trying to meet the needs of the DC audience. His return to The Flash was anything but a fan favorite or critical darling, and "Brave and the Bold" started strong before sinking in sales.

Instead, it seems that as of today, DC is relying on Johns and Morrison to provide some basic direction and a handful of other utility players to manage the rest of the DC Universe, many of whom seem to be, as FanBoyWonder notes, "Didio's Boys".

Some will argue that McKeever, Simone and others are good writers. And they well may be, but you also have to ask how compromised are these writers? McKeever's Teen Titans is directly edited by Didio, and Simone seems to be writing Wonder Woman almost as a favor to Didio so she can go off and work on "Secret Six" (one imagines her stint on Action Comics and The Atom may have shown her to have vulnerabilities at DC). McKeever is somewhat untested at DC, but the title seems to be in a slow sales decline since Johns' departure.

Others, such as Beechen, Bedard, Palmiotti and Gray... all seem to have some fan base, and some comic experience, but don't generate much in the way of fan devotion. They seem to get stuck in some sort of rotation on existing titles with a built-in fanbase. And, of course, Didio has been trying (for reasons really clear to nobody) to bring TV writers to comics, despite the failure of Bilson and DeMeo on "Flash: The Fastest Man Alive" (writers of the short-lived Flash TV show of more than a decade prior), and lukewarm reception of Michael Green to the DCU on "Batman Confidential" and the continuity-busting "Superman/ Batman".

And, let us not forget the abortive attempts to bring writers like poor Jodi Picoult onto a title, in the middle of a doomed cross-over, to write a multi-issue run which she didn't finish...

There are some veterans back at DC. Giffen has been startlingly omnipresent, Shooter is on Legion for the next few months. But others have been given a shot (with little or no hype... see Ostrander's "Suicide Squad"), while Starlin seems to have a deathgrip on DC's cosmic stuff with less than amazing results.

Just... odd.

Secret Origins

So where do writers come from?

For most of my life, it was believed you sent scripts to some submissions department at DC and Marvel, and somebody might read the script and give some talented, lucky kid a shot. Of course, all of that was managed by technology. You had to:
(a) write the story
(b) get the story on a type writer (which meant typing, which used to be considered a skill)
(c) presumably photocopy the script so you'd have a copy and one for the publisher
(d) Place it in the mail
(e) Hope for a phone call but expect a rejection letter

This practice made it possible not just to be a fan, but to always wonder... if you got off your duff, if you might not be able to join the crew at DC or Marvel's seemingly raucous bullpen.

In 1998 or so, DC realized that something had occurred called "the internet", possibly also tied with something called "lawsuits", and they pulled submission information from their website. No doubt the new ease of submission of electronic documents was overwhelming DC, and lawyers fearing legal action from the now older and more entitled fanbase might begin suing for similarity of stories they'd submitted and what hit the printed page. While DC might win the suits, the expense of putting potential suits down no doubt played a contributing factor.

Add in the ease of simply using experienced writers versus training writers, and DC's decision makes some logical sense.

Today, DC would have readers believe that the pathway for success and getting to write "El Diablo" is to start writing independent comics and hope to make the switch over to DC. It's not entirely dissimilar to DC's approach of the 1980's to simply look across the pond and hire writers from successful UK-based comics (landing them Alan's Moore and Grant, Morrison, and others...). But, as mentioned above, apparently being an anonymous writer on a TV show is also like writing gold in the eyes of Dan Didio... (see the unparalleled success of the current run on Wonder Woman).

There is, of course, the matter of getting your indie comic noticed by DC. There's also being able to afford the financial outlay for producing your own indie comic, getting it done with an artist that doesn't flake (while working for free, most likely). Anyway, its a lot of hurdles that don't make a lot of sense when you look at what the job actually entails. There's nothing wrong with rewarding the Ahab-like quest for getting an indie comic published, but it assumes a lot of intermediate steps that have nothing to do with spinning an engaging Batman tale.


Puzzling Evidence

What's most curious is that DC seems to follow the description of insanity: Repeating the same mistake over and over and expecting different results.

DC has been happy to stick with the same guys who've been floating around with mediocre sales and whose major opportunity to reshape the DCU, Countdown, has already been erased into continuity oblivion.

What, exactly, is Didio holding onto? What initiatives have he and Jann Jones (whose every DC Nation column and convention comments make me cringe) worked on to identify, hire, and develop new talent? What is the policy at DC as per editors seeking out new and exciting talent for the books in their stables? Why does DC believe that repeating the same sales figures, over and over, with ever diminishing numbers, is okay? Why TV writers?

Why is Judd Winick given new series? How does one come to the conclusion that the guys who write the rape-tastic Jonah Hex should be the masterminds behind the new Power Girl series?

And to point to a writer I'm warming to: Where did Matt Sturges come from, and why is he the exception to the rule (my Austin contacts tell me he was an engineer at an eLearning company prior to his work at DC and Vertigo)?

Breaking the Entropy

A while back, Marvel announced it's Young Guns initiative (for artists) in which they said "these are our new, young, guys who you don't know, but you will". The effort didn't really take off as a selling point, suggesting Joey Q and Co. mistook great internal policy for a selling point, but it at least signaled that Marvel was neither sitting on its laurels, nor looking only to its remarkable past. Today, many of those artists are working on Marvel's most high-profile work. Of course, some of those guys (Yu, Ferry and Olivetti come immediately to mind) had cut their teeth at DC... But...

What steps is DC Editorial doing to make sure they're finding new talent? Is Zuda acting as any sort of recruiting ground, or is it just a publishing experiment? Where are the new, hyped talent? And who is responsible for recruiting? Where is the concentrated effort Didio could have been bringing to DC to create the next generation of DC instead of praying that Morrison and Johns would pave the way and utility writers would be able to keep churning out the same old same old on the rest of the line?

Perhaps that's been one of the major notables of the Didio era. Survival of writers doesn't seem to depend nearly as much upon sales or satisfied readers as much as who Didio wants close to him. It would be interesting to hear more about what fell out between DC and Rucka (who should be as important to the DCU right now as anyone), but clearly something happened before 52 had officially wrapped.*

But one doesn't see Didio or Jann Jones doing much of anything to make sure DC continues in the tradition of nurturing new talent. This shouldn't change, this HAS to change if DC is going to find an influx of new ideas, continue to bring Moores and Morrisons to our shores, find the next fourteen year old Jim Shooter for Legion, bring a narrative fixer like Geoff Johns or an idea well like Morrison. Or... even someone with an eye for dialog and character like Gail Simone. All people who came to DC more or less prior to Didio's leadership.

DC may do well to consider some form of reader submission once again, scour university writing programs, etc... And may even want to look at treating their hiring like a REAL job. With an editor or two assigned to read (gasp) submissions and writing samples from possible candidates, they have an opportunity of looking beyond the channels they've locked themselves into, and retreading the same territory with the same batch of writers.

Rather than keeping no-buzz writers, bring back back-ups or anthologies where these writers can be tested. Asking for a mini-series commitment or expecting me (as a consumer) to pick up a series I'm not currently reading with a writer I've never heard of is an unlikely sales point. And expecting that I've read their indie work before moving to DC is always a big "if", let alone that they're move to a company with restrictions like DC is going to work terribly well, either...

A "Young Guns" type of event could give readers a sampling of what's possible

So In Conclusion...

There are simply too many writers out there capable of better than what DC currently has in its bullpen, but there aren't enough outlets to give up and coming writers a shot. The current trends for how DC expects to discover talent aren't matching up with what's worked in the past as per recruiting new blood to reinvigorate the company and bring fresh ideas to the table.

One is left wondering why DC uses the pathways its currently enlisting when Didio has achieved seemingly so little in the way of producing new talent with his current MO, and has multiple years of declining sales to show for it.

*Taking Rucka off Wonder Woman may have been one of the greatest editorial blunders of all the very public editorial blunders at DC in the past four years


Questions? Comments? Hate mail?

Come on, I can take it.

=======


Ryan is an Op/Ed columnist for Comic Fodder. He keeps his comics and himself in Austin, Texas where he manages the long running blog League of Melbotis.

He likes Superman.

You can reach Ryan (aka: The League) at theleague.cf@gmail.com

Well, when a team has a losing season, the choice is either, fire the coach, or fire the quarterback. Didio is one of the two, therefore, he must go....

-- Posted by: Mike Shields at October 14, 2008 6:05 PM

Hey Ryan,
Just a quick note of acknowledgement and thanks--the day job is running me ragged so I'll chew on your posting and give a proper reply tomorrow.
Cheers,
FanBoyWonder

-- Posted by: FanBoyWonder at October 14, 2008 9:29 PM

Didio seems to have the ability to write books confused with the ability to write comics. A fanboy like Brad Meltzer might be able to do both, but assuming someone who has written a successful novel can, as a general rule, make the transition into comics, is a little premature without some testing or sounding out ahead of time.

Didio should be aware of the differences in the formats, and be able to better interview book writers to make sure they understand the differences, and can write the story they want in this new environment.

-TP

-TP

-- Posted by: tpull at October 14, 2008 9:44 PM

Honestly, my staple of DC books has remained consistent but it seems to be whatever Gail Simone and Geoff Johns are writing. I never collected Wonder Woman or Green Lantern until they got on those titles. Consequently, I'm thinking of dropping Birds of Prey and Teen Titans as I'm not exactly liking the direction the new writers are taking them in.

-- Posted by: Simon MacDonald at October 14, 2008 10:09 PM

Firstly, welcome to anyone who came over from Occasional Superheroine. Bit of a shock to see something you wrote commented upon elsewhere and to realize that the person you read just read you.

You will want to read Val's column. Truly enlightening for comic nerds such as myself: http://tiny.cc/lX5IY

Secondly, thanks for chiming in, team!

Simon, if you can find them at your library, locate the Wonder Woman trades by George Perez, Jimenez and then Rucka. Pick up the middle-stuff, too, if they have it. Simone's WW is getting back to that quality of work, but there's a lot of love in those other creator's takes.

I miss being thrilled that a new issue of WW had hit the stands.

-- Posted by: Ryan at October 14, 2008 11:02 PM

I read a bunch of the George Perez WW after Crisis and I quite enjoyed it. I'm going to have to track down the Rucka stuff someday.

Trust in Gail, it is all building to something special.

-- Posted by: Simon MacDonald at October 15, 2008 2:08 PM