DC profiles: Karen Berger and Jeff Robinov

Kremlinologist alert!

§ Dave Itzkoff profiles Karen Berger, now departed from Vertigo, and the changing face of risk-taking at DC. Of course everyone will be quoting this part, so I will too:

Ms. Berger said she noted changes in DC’s priorities in recent years. “I’ve found that they’re really more focused on the company-owned characters,” she said. DC and its Disney-owned rival, Marvel, “are superhero companies owned by movie studios.”

Dan DiDio, the co-publisher of DC Comics, said there was “some truth” to these feelings of a shifting landscape, which he said were industrywide. For comics published by Vertigo and by DC, he said: “There’s not a challenge to be more profitable out of the gate. But there is a challenge to be more accepted out of the gate.”

Mr. DiDio said it would be “myopic” to believe “that servicing a very small slice of our audience is the way to go ahead.”

“That’s not what we’re in the business for,” he added. “We have to shoot for the stars with whatever we’re doing. Because what we’re trying to do is reach the biggest audience and be as successful as possible.”


Oh man, I’ll toss that one over to Tumblr and watch the fur fly. But in the meantime, as has been pointed out here, nearly a third of DC’s “Essential Graphic Novels” are Vertigo or proto-Vertigo books, so there is a path to earning out—but it isn’t a quick one.

§ Across the nation, Kim Masters looks at one of the biggest question in showbiz: is WB Studios head Jeff Robinov on the way out? As everyone has been saying, it all depends on MAN OF STEEL, but there’s a lot of inside baseball stuff as well:

Another factor in this equation: rumors about Robinov’s prickly behavior in the wake of Tsujihara’s appointment. Many suspect — fairly or not — that those are part of a strategy to portray Robinov as unfit for the Warners culture. And there may be other subtle signs that Robinov’s prerogatives are being sapped. In Tsujihara’s recent restructuring following Rosenblum’s departure, DC Entertainment president Diane Nelson went from being a direct report to Robinov to being a direct report to both Robinov and Tsujihara. And despite Robinov’s previous opposition, Warners is in talks to change its position on the Producers Guild of America’s certification program.


Masters’ piece is inconclusive—it could go either way, it seems, although everyone I’ve spoken with seems to think Robinov is on his way out no matter how far the Man of Steel soars.

Meanwhile, Diane Nelson isn’t in a terrible position in all this. She’s also been made President and CCO of WB Interactive Entertainment, so her duties are expanding beyond DC Entertainment.

We Can Be Heroes.jpg

On a hopeful note, the Heroes for Hope campaign using the JLA to raise money to fight hunger in the horn of Africa—an effort spearheaded by Nelson—has won two Halo Awards for excellence in cause marketing. The DC campaign won Silver in both Best Cause Marketing Print Campaign and Best Cause Marketing Video. Exxon Mobil’s “Let’s Solve This” won for print campaign and Ford’s “Warriors in Pink” won for video.

Comments

  1. Rich Johnson says:

    I guess they forgot that when DC decided to give Amazon their top 100 graphic novels exclusively on the Kindle that 45 of them were Vertigo titles. Also missing from the memory banks is that DC’s first and only book to hit the NY Times Bestseller list — not the graphic novel Bestseller list — was from Vertigo.

  2. Dean Hacker says:

    Nearly all the Home Runs that DC has produced in the last 30 years were Vertigo, or proto-Vertigo titles. Other than a tiny handful of very old superheroes (i.e. – Batman, Superman, Green Lantern and Green Arrow) those are the only DC Comics that have been exported to other media. Nothing else that DC has done has escaped the comic shop bubble in a long, long time. Add that to the dominance of Vertigo and proto-Vertigo titles in the DC backlist and I literally cannot understand that attitude DiDio is expressing.

    For better or worse, Vertigo was the most mainstream aspect of DC Entertainment.

  3. Synsidar says:

    About the only way for DiDio’s comments to not be read as idiotic is for his use of audience to mean superhero comics fans. Vertigo’s publications weren’t aimed at those readers, as the monthly sales statistics showed. If shoot for the stars is just routine hyperbole–it would be interesting to talk to him specifically about marketing, the size of the audience, and whether shoot for the stars means getting as much money as possible out of the base readership or reaching beyond them.

    SRS

  4. george says:

    DiDio is expressing the blockbuster mentality that has infected comics and movies alike. If they don’t think it will draw a huge audience and make a huge amount of money, the powers-that-be are not interested. They’re not interested in cultivating an audience that will be loyal over the long term. They want an instant payoff — as unlikely as that is, given the shrinking readership.

    Berger’s comment that Marvel and DC are “superhero companies owned by movie studios” is on target.

    I also agree with Dean Hacker’s comment — “For better or worse, Vertigo was the most mainstream aspect of DC Entertainment.” Vertigo WAS mainstream, because it drew readers from outside the enclosed, inbred world of superhero fandom.

  5. george says:

    I have mixed feelings about Vertigo’s decline. It published some excellent stuff, mixed in with some wretched, nihilistic comics designed to impress snarky, cynical college kids. A real mixed bag, as I guess every imprint is.

    As for Berger, I remember Gerard Jones’ comment that she pampered her beloved British writers, and allowed them to do as they pleased. But American writers found that Berger was one of the most demanding, most hands-on editors they had ever encountered.

  6. Torsten Adair says:

    Here’s the elephant in the room, for both DC and Marvel:

    Serial superhero fiction does not survive long on the shelves.
    Take a look at titles published five or more years ago.
    How many of those collections, collecting stories first published in a monthly series, are still in print?

    Perhaps Grant Morrison’s Justice League stories from 1997. A few events from Superman and Batman (Death of, No Man’s Land, Knightfall). Green Lantern? Flash? Wonder Woman? Nope.

    Maybe there are digital sales, but I suspect that is part of the long tail.
    Backlist, the evergreen titles of a publisher, are self-contained. They are usually written by one author over a long period of time.

    Superhero comics are soap operas on paper. How many people watch old episodes of General Hospital, let alone care what happened years ago?

    Maybe DC keeps pushing forward, showing a profit. But that is a short-term strategy, as there is a growing gap between the evergreen reprints and the New 52.

  7. george says:

    “Superhero comics are soap operas on paper. How many people watch old episodes of General Hospital, let alone care what happened years ago?”

    Well, someone is buying those Showcase and Archives (from DC) and Essential and Masterworks volumes (from Marvel). Granted, those books largely reprint the “classic” stories from the Golden and Silver ages, which a lot of people are interested in reading. And the reprints are a blessing, because few people can afford the back issues.

    I don’t know if similar interest exists for reprint collections of stories from the ’80s to the present.

  8. Torsten Adair says:


    Mr. DiDio said it would be “myopic” to believe “that servicing a very small slice of our audience is the way to go ahead.”

    DC’s audience, or the general populace?
    Because it seems that DC is servicing a very small slice of their potential audience.

  9. Torsten Adair says:

    But even those Essential/Showcase reprints… how many stay in print? How many print continuing storylines? (Trial of the Flash was the only one I can recall.)

    Does DC still produce Archive volumes, or have they shifted to the Deluxe editions? Crisis was 25 years ago… Aside from Booster Gold, I haven’t seen many 1980s Showcase volumes. Or many reprints from that era.

  10. george says:

    The Essential and Showcase books print entire series from the beginning. Every issue of Amazing Spider-Man through 1984 has been reprinted in Essential volumes, and every Uncanny X-Men issue from 1963 to the early ’90s. That’s a lot of “continuing storylines.”

    I haven’t kept up with the DC Archives series — they’re gotten too expensive for me — but they seem to come out occasionally.

    I haven’t seen many 1980s Showcase volumes either, but at least they did bring out a thick book of Amethyst, Princess of Gemworld issues.

  11. Earth-2 Chad says:

    As a longtime DC fan, I have to say, the past few years have been sad to watch. In addition to Vertigo, I also appreciated their multiple attempts at other imprints. Yes, DC has produced a virtual Sargasso Sea of failed imprints — Piranha, Paradox, Helix, CMX, Minx, Zuda — but we got some enjoyable books out of it: Why I Hate Saturn, Transmetropolitan, Road to Perdition, Epicurus the Sage, the Big Book series, and Stuck Rubber Baby, to name just a few. Didn’t DC publish “Understanding Comics” for a little while after Kitchen Sink went under?

    The way DiDio and co. talk these days, I think we’ll never see those attempts to expand DC’s reach again. Which is mostly fine — that stuff exists at Image, Dark Horse, IDW and elsewhere now, while Fantagraphics and Drawn & Quarterly are still chugging along — but I’m feeling nostalgic for the days when DC would regularly take a swing at something beyond the direct-market mainstream.

    To go back even further, to the days before sub-imprints, I can’t imagine something like Wasteland, the John Ostrander-Mike Gold-Del Close anthology, existing at DC today, and I think the company is the poorer for it, no matter what the dollars and cents may tell them.

  12. George, those Archive editions may be reprinting ongoing series, but (for the most part) they are not reprinting ongoing serials, not as we know them today. DC didn’t get into the neverending approach to storytelling until the 1980s, and even Marvel (who pioneered the soaperheropera) published mostly self-contained and 2-or-3-part stories that could be read on their own before the Claremont era. So those Golden/Silver reprints are not “continuing storylines” like the ones Disney and Warner are putting out today.

  13. Dean Haspiel says:

    Glad to see Karen Berger get acknowledged in this way. Working with her put me on the comic book map. I would follow her anywhere.

  14. “Mr. DiDio said it would be “myopic” to believe “that servicing a very small slice of our audience is the way to go ahead.””

    Along the lines of what Torsten said – who is their target audience, anyway? It’s not grown-ups who have followed their stories for years, because they’ve jettisoned anything recognizable from most of their characters…it’s not kids, because parents aren’t going to buy this gory, violent, sexed-up stuff they are publishing today…is it teenagers? College kids? Where exactly is the “big slice” of the market?

    Jon

  15. george says:

    “George, those Archive editions may be reprinting ongoing series, but (for the most part) they are not reprinting ongoing serials, not as we know them today.”

    In other words, they’re not reprinting ARCS, the current name for what Stan Lee used to call “continued stories.” And it’s not correct that Marvel’s Silver Age series were self-contained or ran for 2-3 issues. Serials like Hulk and Thor sometimes ran a dozen stories in a row with cliffhangers.

    I’ve read that in the early ’80s, Jim Shooter imposed a rule that stories could be no longer than 2 or 3 parts, but I don’t know how rigidly that was enforced.

    I doubt many people will buy reprints of arcs published from the ’80s on, because the original issues can be had cheaply. DC published a few New Teen Titans Archives, but the fans I know avoided them, because they could buy the back issues for less money than those pricey hardbacks.

  16. Synsidar says:

    Superhero comics are soap operas on paper. How many people watch old episodes of General Hospital, let alone care what happened years ago?

    Marvel and DC are in a bind when it comes to publishing stories featuring their beloved characters, because the character-centric stories eliminate a large chunk of the potential audience. The commercial fiction alternative, situation-based stories that don’t have continuing characters, can attract more readers, and even become best sellers, but that requires luck, perhaps a big-name author, and successful marketing. If Marvel and DC were to publish OGNs featuring their heroes in close-ended stories that featured dramatic developments, they could alienate the soap opera readers without attracting genre fiction readers–and OGNs that flopped would be expensive failures.

    There probably isn’t a good solution, since creating original superheroes in OGNs isn’t an answer. Perhaps cinematic technology has made superhero movies so much more watchable than comics are readable that superhero comics are just on the way to obsolescence.

    SRS

  17. I think this is what is referred to as “The New Normal.”

    The Old Normal was fun while it lasted.

  18. george says:

    “Along the lines of what Torsten said – who is their target audience, anyway?”

    If you believe the surveys, the “average” or “typical” DC reader is a 30-year-old male. And it’s the same for Marvel. I would assume that’s who they’re catering to.

  19. Scott says:

    Got a job editing at one of the biggest comics companies in the world right out of college and gained great success in NYC literary circles by championing the work of other people. Doesn’t see why comics all need to make a profit. Must be extremely nice to be in her shoes.

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  1. [...] he kind of has a point. Heidi MacDonald rightly notes that Vertigo books make up roughly one-third of DC’s list of essential graphic novels, but [...]

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