Updated: Oct 30
It wasn't all fun and games at DC Comics in the 1990s! Sometimes you got caught up in clumsily played office politics with individuals who didn't think anyone else was clever enough to see through them. An excerpt from my comic book career memoir, Panel by Panel: My Comic Book Life, a work in progress, coming soon to Kickstarter. Some names have been omitted so as not to give them any more attention.
Thirty years on, I’ve lost the thread of the tangle of office political intrigues, but it seriously blunted the otherwise fun work of making comic books. Jim (Christopher Priest), Michael (Golden), Kim (Yale), and I were being told by our group editor that Jenette, Paul, Dick, and marketing director Bruce Bristow somehow had it in for us, but what he was really trying to achieve was the autonomy to take the group off into its own little corner to develop whatever he wanted without interference. Group meetings that were supposed to be for developing new books and creative issues were spent instead listening to him strategize about manipulating the system.
It was probably just as well we hadn't wasted our time developing anything. I didn’t hold out much hope of of whatever we might have pitched getting approved anyway. One by one, then together, we had been in to see Dick about the tense and sometimes even hostile working environment, and we were given assurances that relief was coming, we just had to be patient and wait for the slow turning wheels of corporate bureaucracy to grind through the process. But once the dust settled the group would certainly be disbanded. Nobody was terribly specific about where that would leave Jim, Kim, and me.
Golden, who didn't harbor any ambition to advance through the editorial ranks or even to have a day job for very long, went back to freelancing. The situation came to head at the group meeting with the bosses during the annual editorial retreat. Instead of presenting our slate of new projects, the editor aired his grievances with the administration. When Jenette asked the rest of us if we agreed with his assessment, Jim spoke for the group. He said the editor was our direct report, the prism through which was filtered corporate decisions and mandates. "The prism is cracked," he told them, but we were still obligated to follow his lead. We were just waiting for a clear direction from someone in charge.
Jenette suggested we take a short break then so the group could figure out how we wanted to proceed. As we filed into a small conference room, we all expected the editor would go off on us for not backing him. Instead, he turned to us with a big smile and and an exuberant, "That was great!" He thought Jim had just pretended to be disgruntled to show the executives how their policies had caused a division among us Merry Band.
When the dust settled, the editor was no longer in charge of the group. He got to keep his job title but no longer had anyone reporting to him. I don’t remember the timeframe, but he left DC within the year.
The rest of us were told to keep working on our respective books, including the now limping Impact Comics line, and to come up with a group publishing plan of our own. Jim had seniority, so he was put in charge of the group, which now also included Alan Gold, who had come to DC a few years earlier out of traditional book publishing, a man with a quick wit and a bone dry sense of humor.
The publishing plan we came up with was pretty ambitious, featured multiple phases, new lines of comics, and an attempt at reviving some neglected genres. We investigated new retail opportunities, talking with the vice president of a company that stocked the magazine and digest racks for supermarket and big box store chains to find out what it would take to get our product into the coveted point of purchase pockets next to the cash registers. We worked on the plan for the imprint we called Prism Comics for months, wrote, refined, rewrote, and wrote again, honing and polishing until it gleamed like silver.
Then we turned it in and waited. And waited. And then the day came when we were called in to discuss our proposal. It was a fairly short meeting, consisting of, “Nice work, some interesting stuff here, but Kupperberg, you’re going into the DCU, Owsley you go here, Gold there, Yale over there, thank you very much."
I can’t say if it was management’s intention all along to keep us busy dithering with a plan they never had any intention of approving, or if plans changed between when they told us to start and when it was finally submitted, or they just weren’t interested in what we finally had to offer. But ours was not to reason why.