One of the pillars of my belief system is that I always assume whatever Rob Liefeld says is wrong. It’s gotten me this far. When Liefeld went on a Twitter rant in August, announcing his departure from the New 52 due to editorial interference, I assumed he was deflecting. Liefeld has been known to be hard to work with since his early days at Marvel and the formation of Image in the ’90s and I assumed this was another moment of the impetuous writer and artist trying to play at biting the hand that fed.
But, what if he was right? What if editorial oversight isn’t just letting DC bully writers with Liefeld’s name recognition but also anyone willing to sign on for a project?
Two notable creators left DC this afternoon: Andy Diggle, who was solicited for an upcoming run on Action Comics, and Joshua Hale Fialkov, of I, Vampire and solicited for a run on Green Lantern Corps and Red Lanterns in June. Admittedly, I was more shocked by Fialkov’s announcement, as he had received critical accolades for I, Vampire and had garnered excitement for both series in the Green Lantern family after having been announced for the job only a month ago.
While not speaking to media outlets, Fialkov released an abbreviated version of his reasons for leaving the company on his blog. He writes:
“There were editorial decisions about the direction of the book that conflicted with the story I was hired to tell, and I felt that it was better to let DC tell their story the way they want. I’m grateful for the opportunity and I’ll miss working with the entire Green Lantern team…This was not an easy decision to make emotionally or financially, but, I’m sure it was the right decision for both me, and for the Green Lantern books.”
So, what could those plans possibly be? I wrote about DC’s push for increased serialization as well as easily marketable crossover and event stories as they pertained to Death of the Family but Fialkov seems to be pointing to a much more endemic problem in the company, one that Liefeld and Diggle both alluded to. Writers don’t seem to have any control of the properties they’ve been contracted or hired for.
Bob Harras has held one of the most public tenures as Editor-In-Chief at DC and he’s certainly not a name that brings a smile to the faces of a lot of comics fans. Presiding over Marvel during the company’s near bankruptcy as well as the rightfully maligned Clone Saga and Heroes Reborn, Harras has run something of a lodge club at DC since he rose to the editorial position in 2010. While he was clearly comfortable with co-publisher and former co-worker at Wildstorm Jim Lee, Harras seemed to want to get the band back together and brought over plenty of old names from Marvel’s dark days to fill out the New 52, including Liefeld, Scott Lobdell and Fabian Nicieza.
Now, I’m not saying there was anything wrong about Harras early decisions involving the New 52, particularly who would be writing it. Harras assuredly wanted people he knew who would be able to roll out the new initiative rapidly, with the New 52 launching less than a year after he took the position. My problem is those people weren’t going to challenge Harras and it certainly could have had an influence on a sense of editorial control from on high.
Harras is most at home when he’s tapping into the same forces that mired Marvel in a creative and commercial flop. In a monthly interview on Comic Book Resources, Harras and Editorial Director Bobbie Chase discussed Liefeld’s allegations about editorial control over creators. Harras skirted the question once, saying:
“We’re not going into any specifics, because we can’t address any specifics because of those involved. The thing is, we want everyone who works for DC to be as happy as possible, to feel the creative process is as enjoyable as possible. If there are communication problems with talent, we will always work on it to improve our messaging, but on the whole, I think sometimes there are going to be disagreements. Sometimes there are going to be agreements — it’s all part of the editorial process. But as in anything, it’s something all of us can improve on in terms of communication.”
Harras seems to stress a team spirit in his first quote but he doesn’t really say anything. Of course there are going to be agreements and disagreements in the editorial progress but the way he says it seems to stress that there’s a right answer and a wrong answer to those disagreements. The goal of editorial isn’t to keep the creative process “as enjoyable as possible” but to work together with creative, making a project that suits both the publishers as well as the goals of creative. The role of an editor isn’t to be a mediator or judge but rather to be a co-creator in a work. Harras doesn’t seem to see it that way and he points to editorial successes in the New 52, namely a consistent shipping schedule and the success of massive crossovers, to try to strengthen the relationship between creators and editorial, saying.
“…Everyone should be trying to improve all aspects of communication. Everyone should be looking at the process and ways to improve. But in general, I think we’ve got a very talented bunch of creators working with us, putting out the New 52. We have exciting books every month, and that’s what I want to concentrate on. You always have to look at how you can do things better, but I’d also like to focus on what we do well, which is creating stories like “Death Of The Family,” and even “Rotworld,” that’s exciting fans…”
I think both Rotworld and Death of the Family were underwhelming tie-ins, one designed to boost the sales of a pair of critically successful niche titles and the other to continue to boost the sales of one of the company’s best selling titles, with Scott Snyder being involved in both crossovers. It’s more consolidation with the company putting Jeff Lemire, of Swamp Thing, of additional titles that seem to flag behind, including Justice League Dark and the new Constantine. Both are solid writers and both are company men, willing to be involved with massive tie-in projects such as Snyder and Lee’s forthcoming title Superman Unchained, released at a time obviously intended to capitalize on the release of the “Man of Steel” film.
I don’t want to frown on Snyder, Lemire or any of the other talented writers and artists who have turned in great work under Harras, Chase and the New 52. Some of them, including Snyder, have defended editorial against Liefeld and others that have berated the changes in DC but there’s a feel of that control. I don’t think Harras is a puppet master and I don’t think he’s willing to dip into the work of his bestselling projects but I do think Harras has encouraged the long form storytelling that he was involved in at Marvel’s worst.
There’s nothing intrinsically wrong with that approach from a commercial stand point and, as an editor, that’s one of Harras’ biggest concerns. I understand that and don’t blame him for that. My problem is that this approach doesn’t allow for creativity. Writers and artists with a unique perspective like Fialkov aren’t welcome at the table when their ideas don’t fit into a very narrow view for the company and it’s a narrow view that desperately needs widened if DC wants to succeed.
In last week’s interview at CBR, Harras mentions that he wants the New 52 to be open to more than just Batman and Superman titles, saying:
“I think what you’re going to see moving forward, like we’ve done already with the New 52, is that there’s always going to be a mix. We’re not going to give up on the idea of trying new things, new types of genres that led to things like “Animal Man” and “Swamp Thing.” We’re going to continue that: a nice, healthy mix of the bigger heroes, and some new heroes as well.”
It’s a nice thing to say but it implies a necessary risk and it doesn’t seem to be one that Harras is all that interested in taking. Creating comics that allow for consistent growth as well as fan interest and sales requires a partnership between writers, artists and editors, with each being willing to make the sacrifices to create the best products possible. That requires fearlessly allowing creators to tell their story without interference, oversight or the editorial demands.