The merger between AT&T and Time Warner into another monolithic media megacorporation has seen a massive wave of layoffs targeted primarily at Warner Bros. this week. One area hit hardest overnight was DC Entertainment, with reports of huge swathes of staff at both DC Comics and DC Universe laid off.
The Hollywood Reporter has word that a shocking third of DC Comics’ editorial staff were part of Monday’s roughly 600 layoffs at WarnerMedia, including editors such as Brian Cunningham, Mark Doyle, and Andy Khouri, the latter of which formed a major part of DC’s complete rebranding and organization of its comics output in the establishment of the Black Label line a few years ago. Senior members of DC’s editorial operations were also not spared. THR notes that senior VP of publishing strategy and support services Hank Kanalz, VP of marketing and creative services Jonah Weiland (the founder of comics journalism site Comic Book Resources, who had only joined DC in 2019), and VP global publishing initiatives and digital strategy Bobbie Chase, who has helped spearhead DC Comics’ hugely successful push into YA and kids-focused graphic novels in recent years, were all let go.
Editor in Chief Bob Harras—who has faced scrutiny for years (along with others) for his alleged protection of employees like accused sexual harasser Eddie Berganza and admitted sexual harasser Scott Lobdell—was another major departure as part of the layoffs. However, Jim Lee, DC’s chief commercial officer, remains in place. Comicbook.com reports that AT&T, for reasons inexplicably unknown, is looking to bring in a general manager “from the world of esports” to replace this lost editorial talent, indicating a grim prospect for the publisher, even as it continues to mine its decades of work for new film and TV properties.
DC Comics was not the only part of the wider DC Entertainment umbrella that was heavily hit by the layoffs. DC Collectibles, the merchandising arm of DC that creates action figures, statues, and other collector memorabilia based on DC properties that have been part of the company for over two decades, has been cut entirely. As part of WarnerMedia’s shifting focus to capitalize on the success of HBO Max, a vast majority of the staff working on the DC Universe streaming platform was also let go. This was something expected and long feared as former DC Universe streaming exclusives like Harley Quinn and Doom Patrol made their way over to HBO Max, in spite of Max’s continued haphazard relationship with access to Warner’s back catalog of DC comics films.
Layoffs in the best of times—spurred often by the misunderstanding of the upper echelon on what actually goes on day-to-day at a company--are devastating. During a global pandemic? Downright cruel. Not to mention these come while DC Entertainment should be celebrating its work: in just two weeks, the company is set to kick off DC FanDome, a 24-hour livestream event promising fans a peek into the future of DC in movies like Wonder Woman 1984 and the Zack Snyder re-cut of Justice League, its aforementioned streaming successes, games like the long-awaited Rocksteady Suicide Squad title, and, yes, its comic books. It’s hard to comprehend the excitement for such an event right now—a transmedia cavalcade that could only exist because of the hard work and legacies of a publisher that has just seen its staff decimated.
But with the compounding factors of the novel coronavirus pandemic’s ongoing impact on the comics industry at large—a shakeup that DC itself was a major part of, ending its long-running relationship with monopolistic distributor Diamond Comics to attempt its own path to distribution as comic book stores began to slowly re-open—on top of this, the industry is facing an unprecedented moment of crisis and loss.
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