I've gotten asked repeatedly about my thoughts on the news from DC Comics this week, so I thought I might as well spew it out here. I did in fact want a little time to digest things and not just spit out some knee-jerk reaction, hence my running behind the news curve a bit compared to everyone else. But actually, no one's asked me about it at all; I'm just trying to delude myself into thinking somebody cares.
Every time I start rolling things around in my head, the issue of people being out of work comes to the top of my mind. Though the initial numbers thrown out suggested there'd be around 50 people laid off, Heidi MacDonald has recently reported that it looks like it'll be closer to 80 and those will begin on December 27, the first weekday after Christmas. (Two days after Christmas? Damn, that is cold!)
I shouldn't think I need to remind anyone that the job market still pretty well sucks these days. Not only is the official unemployment rate hovering around 9.5%, the average length of unemployment is about 9 months. Not to mention that neither number really discusses underemployment (people who might be working one or multiple part-time jobs but would prefer a full-time position) or those who are out of work but have been out for so long that they've given up looking (and are, thus, not considered in unemployment numbers). On top of all that, I have strong suspicion that anyone working in publishing is going to have an unusually hard time because... well, publishing has had its own problems stemming from before the recession.
A few months ago, I took a count of the number of people I personally knew who were out of work and looking for a job. It seemed liked a number of my friends were posting, "Hey, if anybody knows of any openings..." types of messages via Facebook and Twitter. When I actually started counting those people up, though, I realized that I knew more people looking for work than I did back when I first graduated college and my friends and I were thrust into the job market simultaneously. It's no surprise that one out of every six Americans is now being served by at least one government anti-poverty program.
So my heart goes out to those people who are about to be thrown into a nasty job market. I certainly wish them all the best, and hope that they have some savings and/or a good support network to cushion the blow somewhat.
But here's a related angle I've not seen addressed anywhere yet. Those layoffs? Those are for actual employees. Those are going to be admins and accountants and file clerks and licensing specialists and whatnot. Probably an editor or three. People who come in to DC's offices in New York City to do their job. But what about the comic creators who also suddenly have the rug pulled out from under them? With Wildstorm and Zuda going away, won't that mean all those creators who were working on books under those imprints no longer have an outlet for their work?
It seems like the fans are, by and large, more worried about their favorite books being canceled. Which is disappointing, but not surprising. But the more significant aspect of a book being canceled is that its creators will no longer receive income from producing it. As far as I know, no titles have actually been announced as canceled yet but closing multiple imprints does lead one to that as an almost inevitable conclusion. In some cases, that might be a speed bump for creators as they take their properties to have them published under a new name. Kurt Busiek addressed concerns about Astro City by saying that even if DC didn't want to continue the book under its own banner, other publishers have already offered Busiek the opportunity to take his book to them. But what about books that don't have the longevity or name cache or flexibility as Astro City? The Zuda titles, for instance? How many of the titles that remained after the website was killed will continue on under a DC banner? David Gallaher noted in an email he sent out to his mailing list that suggested High Moon wasn't going to be picked up. Given that was arguably the most successful Zuda title and one of the oldest, it's hard to believe that they ALL aren't being left for dead at this point.
Honestly, I've lost track of how many books and under which imprints DC has currently, but I suspect that we're looking at another 75-100 creators who are going to lose their freelance work with DC on top of the layoffs. Granted, comic book freelancing has never been an especially stable position and having your title canned is always something of a danger, but to have so many of them cut simultaneously? That's going to make it tough for some people to find more comics work. I'm sure not every book will be able to be absorbed by the rest of the comics publishers, and it's going to be hard for those creators to be absorbed if no one picks up their books.
I obviously don't want to discourage any of those people affected, but I'm talking about this because, like I said, I haven't seen anyone else address it. I wish everyone involved the best and want to extend whatever help I can, even if it's just alerting everyone else to the situation.