Why DC's Diane Nelson Is the Most Powerful Person in Comics

Diane Nelson
<p>&ldquo;Our feature business is just going to get more and more aggressive -- I think it&rsquo;s the best time really for DC in the history of the company as long as I&rsquo;ve been here,&rdquo; says Nelson.</p>   |   Christopher Patey
Rich Johnston talks about 'Bleeding Cool Magazine's' Top 100 Power List

The Hollywood Reporter’s most powerful comic writers list wasn’t the only comic-related power list to be published this week; Bleeding Cool Magazine also released its third annual Top 100 Power List midweek, running down the most powerful figures in the comic industry — whether they’re creators, editors, executives or even journalists. (Full disclosure: I make an appearance at the bottom end of the list, something I personally consider a flattering mistake.)

The list is created by Rich Johnston, who’s been writing about the comics industry for two decades. “I’m talking to publishers, retailers, distributors, stores all the time and getting nods and winks to how makes a difference to their comic book lives,” he says about the list’s creation. “I try and see who makes the biggest difference to the comic books I go and pick up from my local store every week, and that comes through a gathered knowledge across the industry of who does what, where and how much of an impact it has. Comparing a hot artist against a backroom executive is hard — but it can be done.”

In fact, executives make up the top ten of Johnston’s list, with the only creator visible — Geoff Johns, who also appeared on THR’s powerful comic writers list — present as much for his duties as DC Entertainment’s Chief Creative Officer as his work on Superman and Justice League. For those who judge “power” solely as whether or not a comic series by a particular creator is selling well, the list may come as a surprise.

“People in the comic book industry only see power as it affects them individually, rather than everyone else,” Johnston argues, remembering a discussion with one publishing executive who lobbied for another executive within her company to be included. “I pointed out that while they were important within the company she worked for, they had little or no effect on the actual comics that came out.”

Despite what fans may think, he says, most creators have little power outside of the series they actually work on (“with notable exceptions,” he quickly adds. “Never underestimate the creator who everyone wants to work with and can suddenly call the shots”). “An editor-in-chief can affect many more [series],” he points out, “and when Marvel Studios boss Kevin Feige decides to make an Inhumans and a Guardians Of The Galaxy movie, suddenly that affects half the books being published by Marvel.”

Feige only comes in fifth on the Bleeding Cool list, however, with DC Entertainment co-publisher Dan DiDio, attorney Marc Toberoff, Marvel Entertainment publisher Dan Buckley and DC president Diane Nelson ranking higher. Nelson, Johnston says, takes the top spot this year for the impact of a decision made at the end of last year.

“It was her decision to move DC Comics lock stock across the country from New York to Burbank that gave her the top spot,” Johnston explains. “It was a policy she had been pushing for, for a while, to bring everyone under one roof with Warner Bros, but had received massive resistance from the staff. This was the year that she decided that enough was enough and she was going to do it anyway.”

But is a cross-country move for one publisher enough to make her the most powerful person in comics? For Johnston, the answer is emphatically yes. “Most DC employees won't be going with the company, so it's a radical change not only to DC but the other New York comics publishers — and the other Californian publishers,” he reasons. “The balance of comics power has shifted, the flow of employees has shifted and none of the comics creators seem to have a clue what is going on. It's the biggest single decision in the comic book industry, she made it, and now everyone else is scurrying around like termites in a hill that's just been moved a few thousand miles west.”

“For once, it was all about the comics and not the movies,” he says. “Though, that will come.” When it comes to comics influence within larger pop culture, he likens the industry as a sleeper cell. “It goes on its merry way, reacting to the world around it, doing its best. And then one of its fans does on to become a rock star, a movie director or an A-list actor, and they bring their love of those comics with them to a new medium — with a lot more money, fans and appeal. But the comics keep on publishing, inspiring imagination in people who will rock the world in 20 years time.”

Bleeding Cool Magazine No. 13, featuring the 2014 Top 100 Power List, is available in comic stores now.

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