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Known Unknowns (And A Little Nostalgia, Too)

Comics, FYI
Known Unknowns (And A Little Nostalgia, Too)
By Graeme McMillan • Issue #20 • View online
Why isn’t Comixology making more of its change in leadership? Plus: A Milestone Milestone, and Watchmen is somehow still being mined for DC Universe stories.

So. what to make of the news – announced via personal tweet, as opposed to any official statement; we’ll get to that in a second – that David Steinberger is leaving Comixology, just weeks after its unsuccessful relaunch as something folded deeper inside the Amazon brand?
After looking into things a little, the best I can offer is: That’s a very good question.
In his Twitter thread, Steinberger – one of three co-founders of Comixology, alongside John Roberts and Peter Jaffe, and the last to leave the company – said that he’d been asked to lead “a new Amazon-wide initiative that is too good an opportunity to not take.” He didn’t elaborate on what that initiative was, of course; instead, he named the two men taking over from him, Tom Ashley and Jeff DiBartolomeo, and said that he’d continue to act as an advisor to the company moving forward.
“I’m extremely confident in Jeff and Tom, the rest of the Comixology leadership team, and the many passionate, comics-loving employees that strive day-in & day-out to make everyone on the planet lifelong fans,” he wrote. 
After talking to sources close to the company, I was told that neither Comixology or Amazon would be issuing any kind of official statement about the personnel change – something that seems unusual for a company’s head stepping down in this manner. Also missing was any kind of information about who Ashley and DiBartolomeo were, beyond Steinberger’s description of them as “long-term Comixology leaders.”
That last part is, with a little sleuthing, easy enough to address: Tom Ashley’s current title at Comixology is Head Of Product, UX, and Subscriptions. He’s been with the company for a little over eight and a half years, at least according to his LinkedIn profile. Jeff DiBartolomeo, meanwhile, is currently the company’s Chief Technology Officer. He’s been with the company in that role since August 2013 – the month that Ashley also joined the company, it seems – after spending more than a decade as a Senior Vice President of Consumer Technology at HBO. (I actually found a press release announcing his hiring, which references preparing for an anticipated iOS 7 release that fall. Nostalgia!)
This means that both have been at the company since before the Amazon buyout – that happened in April 2014* – which arguably qualifies them as being long-term enough to be meaningful as new leaders for the company in the current climate to a certain demographic suspicious of the company’s direction… or, at least, long-term enough to reassure those concerned that Amazon is phasing out the old guard at the company as it gets absorbed into the larger Amazon apparatus. 
As I wrote about last month, it’s too early to have hard figures on how the new incarnation of Comixology is performing in terms of sales, but certainly anecdotally, it’s something that a lot of people are concerned about. Similarly, there’s a lot of chatter going around about Comixology staffers looking at the possibility of jumping ship for opportunities elsewhere, although that is all secondhand at this point, at best, and should be taken with no small amount of salt until proven otherwise. In other words, things weren’t looking too good for Comixology in the last few weeks, even before the CEO and co-founder left without even a company press release to talk about what was happening or who was taking over.
This is a real promotional photo of Steinberger from a decade or so ago; who doesn't want three screens to read comics on?
This is a real promotional photo of Steinberger from a decade or so ago; who doesn't want three screens to read comics on?
On the one hand, all of this might be meaningless in the grand scheme of things; I can think of a number of times when the perceived wisdom or industry chatter was entirely wrong about a particular topic**. On the other, it’s particularly easy to believe that things are in disarray at Comixology right now when the CEO leaves and it’s only public knowledge because he tweeted it out… especially when his departure comes just weeks after the, shall we say, flawed rollout of the Comixology relaunch. (Clearly Amazon has no problem with him, however, if he’s off to head up a new line-wide program for the company; let’s take that on face value and assume that he’s left on his own terms.) 
So, to get back to where we started: what to say about the news that David Steinberger is leaving Comixology? Like I said, that’s a very good question. All I can with any kind of certainty is that, with a customer base that’s still upset about the loss of the old storefront and changes made to the app and a number of publishers concerned about the lack of consultation into something that will significantly impact their sales – not to mention the increased focus the company is likely to receive in the near future now that it’s squarely part of the Amazon brand – there’s a fair chance that Steinberger might have gotten out while the going’s good, and won’t envy his replacements that much, at least in the short term.
As before, consider this story definitely one that I’ll be returning to in the weeks and months ahead. 
* I was amused to find a post from Vox dated a month after Comixology’s buyout, which complains that Amazon had “gutted the app […] and in doing so, alienated publishers and rabid readers alike.” The more things change, etc. (It’s referring to removing the one-click purchase option.) 
** One time last year, I spent months chasing up a particular story that turned out to be utterly wrong, despite multiple secondhand sources claiming otherwise. One day, I’ll just send out a newsletter about the stories that got away, and the ones that didn’t really exist in the first place.
Thursday also saw the announcement of the first wave of creators chosen for The Milestone Initiative, a new program created and run by DC, Milestone Media, and Ally for new and emerging writers and artists. When first announced at DC Fan Dome last year, the idea felt like a revision of DC’s Talent Development Workshop, which ran for three years from 2015-2017; that’s maybe a simplification of what’s actually going on here, though — this 10-week program, which is split between virtual learning and an in-person portion in Burbank, California, is apparently set to include speakers from DC and Milestone, as should be expected, but also from the Kubert School and, fascinatingly to me, Ally itself. Why is that interesting, you ask? Well, because Ally is actually Ally Financial Inc., a financial services company focused on increasing economic mobility in traditionally underrepresented communities.
From yesterday’s PR: “Ally’s team will be providing participants with the financial lessons needed to set them up for success as they embark upon their creative careers. Ally is currently surveying the participants to gauge the financial topics most important to them and will tailor the curriculum to their needs.”
Don’t get me wrong: I think hearing from the likes of Jim Lee, Denys Cowan, Marie Javins and WarnerMedia SVP Karen Horne will be great and informative. I’m sure that the classes of improving your craft and learning the history of comics will be useful and instructive. I really do, and I’m very glad the first wave of creators will get to enjoy all of that; I’m mildly jealous of them, I admit. However, including instruction on the financial realities of trying to make it as a freelancer and creator, and helping the creators succeed in the world after the program…? That’s the game changer to me. 
Class begins next week. Here’s hoping we hear more from everyone involved before too long.
Also from DC this week, we saw the first interior pages from next month’s Flashpoint Beyond #0, which surprisingly made the project seem less like a sequel to 2011’s Flashpoint and more like a surprise follow-up to Geoff Johns and Gary Frank’s Doomsday Clock, which ended in 2020. Sure, the promotion still centers around Flashpoint Batman*, but the preview pages also featured two characters created for Doomsday Clock (Mime and Marionette) while also referring to two more, including Clark, the son of Watchmen’s Dr. Manhattan. (Yes, he’s named after Superman. The end of Doomsday Clock was a trip, my friends.) It also referenced Janey Slater, Dr. Manhattan’s girlfriend from Watchmen. So… that’s something.
While it’s possible, even maybe likely, that the Doomsday Clock material is a Macguffin in order to get to the meat of the main series, it’s nonetheless unexpected to see it at all, simply because… hadn’t DC moved past trying to make Watchmen happen like this? Didn’t the HBO show and then Tom King and Jorge Fornes’ Rorschach demonstrate a way to do Watchmen without slavishly attempting to recreate the original and/or tie it into regular DC continuity, but instead trying to follow the spirit of the original? Didn’t we learn anything from seeing Dr. Manhattan tell Superman that he’s learned what optimism now and sorry for that rewriting of continuity stuff? 
Suffice to say, my interest in Flashpoint Beyond is now higher, if only to see what the hell is going on and if it’s as weird as I’m expecting. In that case, I guess the preview pages did their job just fine.
* The Flashpoint Batman thing is genuinely weird to me; he’s been a pretty continuous presence in DC’s comics since he reappeared in Tom King’s Batman run, having subsequently shown up in both Infinite Frontier and Justice League Incarnate, where he was seemingly killed. Is he actually interesting to everyone else and I’m the only one that doesn’t get it? 
Did you enjoy this issue?
Graeme McMillan

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