Last July, it was announced that DC’s Writers Workshop would be making its return, with Scott Snyder taking the instructive lead once more. The move comes, at the time of this writing, four years after the most recent run of the workshop in 2017. As an initiative that quietly disappeared without any (publicly) given reason, its return, coming straight off the heels of Snyder (seemingly) wrapping up his grand narrative vision at DC, does raise some questions. What caused the workshop to come back? Was the workshop effective the first few times it was run? Most importantly, what became of the alumni of the program?
The Workshop-to-Writer Pipeline: The Intent
The Writers Workshop was one half of the larger DC Talent Development Workshop initiative alongside the Artists Workshop, which ran from 2015 to 2017. There were two classes held in 2017, as opposed to previous years’ one class per year.
According to an article from The Hollywood Reporter, the Writers Workshop is described as “a virtual class that runs across three months”, in which attendees work with workshop leader and instructor Scott Snyder (best known for his seminal Batman run, as well as spearheading the direction of a large portion of DC’s comics universe for the past few years, and an instructor at various colleges in New York) on various skill-enhancing tasks. A 2016 announcement notes that Geoff Johns and Jim Lee would also take part in the workshop in an instructorial role; however, it’s unclear if Lee instructed the Writers Workshop or the Artists Workshop.
The intent of the DC Writers Workshop is tough to gauge at first glance, as on the one hand, it’s an opportunity for writers to hone their skills while working with industry talent, but on the other, one might assume that it’s a pipeline for DC to bring new writers into their roster. However, execution tends to contradict theory, as we’ll get into later.
The Hollywood Reporter article offers the best look at the innards of the program itself, as getting into contact with alumni of the program informed me that, of those who returned my emails, they were all sworn under NDA to not disclose any details about the workshop itself. It’s not all-too-surprising that a workshop conducted under the corporate umbrella of DC Comics Inc. (and by extension, Warner Media, LLC (and by further extension, AT&T Inc.)) would be protected under an NDA, but it does raise some questions about what material within the workshop itself was deemed intellectual property worth protecting. The article does describe attendees submitting “two or three scripts for group critique” as one of the main activities of the workshop, and in a 2018 interview with workshop alumnus Aaron Gillespie, he mentions that editors would sit in on each workshop session to offer feedback.
Nevertheless, the most interesting element of the workshop isn’t the NDA, but the caliber of the writers chosen to attend the program itself. That’s not to say that the chosen attendees are amateurs by any means— it’s quite the contrary, actually. The Writers Workshop seemed to prefer writers with a significant amount of previous experience, from having a few indie books under their belt, to winning Bram Stoker and Peabody Awards, to having worked for DC in the past; the bar for the workshop seemed to be much higher than just “aspiring writers”.
With a skilled roster of selected candidates, the question then shifts back to the intent of the workshop. Did the workshop exist solely to enhance the skills of its attendees, prepare them for a future career writing comics for DC, or serve as PR fodder for DC? Well….it’s complex. The Hollywood Reporter article mentions that Bobbie Chase, DC’s VP and Executive Editor of Young Reader & Talent Development, would work with DC editors to place workshop alumni on DC comics projects after they completed the workshop. The aforementioned application submission website has a section in the interview describing the goal of the workshop too. It notes that after finishing the program, “the Talent Development group will help the successful participants to obtain a position on a DC comic in the current lineup”, immediately followed by a statement telling applicants that there’s no guarantee that they’d be chosen, but they would be put up for consideration amongst DC’s editors. However, on the FAQ section of the website, in response to a question regarding attendees receiving payment for attending the workshop (they didn’t get paid), it notes that “The endgame for the Workshop is to get you hired on one of our comics.”.
One Half of a Talent Workshop: The Other Side
As mentioned above, the DC Writers Workshop was only one half of the larger DC Talent Workshop program. The other half was the DC Artists Workshop, which was run over the course of three weeks, with attendees being relocated to DC’s Burbank offices. The now-alumni were instructed by Andy Kubert, Klaus Janson, and (potentially) Jim Lee, culminating in DC’s then-annual New Talent Showcase one-shot. The one-shot saw the artists pairing up with writers from the Writers Workshop to showcase what both sets of alumni had learned at the workshop. The application process was similar to the Writers Workshop application, with the key difference being drawn sequential work being submitted for the portfolio section of the application, rather than unillustrated scripts. The submitted pieces did not need to be previously published, as was the case for the writer’s side of the application process. Like Writers Workshop alumnus, future DC projects were not guaranteed.
Breaking In: The Application Process
As discovered through an archived version of the application submission website, the application process for the Writers Workshop consisted of four parts, submitted through an online form: A resume, a cover letter (which they describe as a 2000-character (or one-page, double spaced, 12pt font) short composition), published writing examples, and the submission agreement. The resume section required two separate resumes submitted for two-person teams applying for the workshop. The short composition required applicants to describe why they wanted to become a DC comic book writer, and how their background would add “a unique perspective” to DC’s publishing portfolio. For published writing examples, a preference was placed on comic book work, but applicants were required to submit two pieces of published (emphasis on published, as DC wouldn’t take any pitches or anything that hadn’t been published for legal reasons) fiction work. Submissions also needed to be in English.
The FAQ section of the website notes that international applicants needed a passport and visa to travel to the United States, which is odd considering the entirety of the workshop was conducted online. While DC freelancers were allowed to apply, DC employees were prohibited. Industry professional recommendation letters were allowed in 2016, though optional; however, this part of the application was removed from the 2017 application, as industry professionals were inundated with requests for recommendations from people they didn’t know. The FAQ also notes that less than half of the chosen workshop attendees in 2016 had a recommendation letter, which helped in making the decision to take the recommendation out of the application process. However, they did allow applicants to mention industry professionals they knew at the bottom of their resumes.
The submission agreement, the final part of the application process, comprised of three criteria in order for the application to be accepted:
- Submitted material must have been published work written by the applicant, which doesn’t infringe on the rights of any third party.
- Acknowledgement that DC’s only obligation with regards to submitted material is to review it for the sake of considering and accepting the applicant to the workshop, and that DC has no obligation to conduct the workshop.
- All material submitted must be electronic, and will not be returned by DC to the applicant. DC is also under zero obligation to return any physical material that the applicant might send to them.
Where They Are Now: The Artists
Aneke (Class of 2017)
Latest Project for DC: Future State: Batgirls (Artist, 2021)
Latest Comics Project: Future State: Batgirls (Artist, DC, 2021)
Barnaby Bagenda (Class of 2015)
Latest Project for DC: High Level #6 (Artist, 2019)
Latest Comics Project: High Level #6 (Artist, DC/Vertigo, 2019)
Jan Bazaldua (Class of 2016)
Latest Project for DC: Suicide Squad Most Wanted: El Diablo (Artist, 2016)
Latest Comics Project: Star Wars (2020) #11 (Artist, Marvel, 2021)
Juan Ferreya (Class of 2015)
Latest Project for DC: Catwoman (2018) #25 (Artist, 2020)
Latest Comics Project: King in Black: Thunderbolts #3 (Artist, Marvel, 2021)
Isaac Goodhart (Class of 2017)
Latest Project for DC: Flash Facts (Artist, 2021)
Latest Comics Project: Flash Facts (Artist, DC, 2021)
Meghan Hetrick (Class of 2015)
Latest Project for DC: Sensational Wonder Woman #2 (Artist, 2021)
Latest Comics Project: Sensational Wonder Woman #2 (Artist, DC, 2021)
Minkyu Jung (Class of 2016)
Latest Project for DC: Titans (2016) #30 (Artist, 2019)
Latest Comics Project: Magnificent Ms. Marvel (2019) #18 (Artist, Marvel, 2021)
Sonny Liew (Class of 2015)
Latest Project for DC: Eternity Girl #6 (Artist, 2018)
Latest Comics Project: Adventure Time Season 11 #6 (Writer, Boom Studios, 2019)
Sam Lotfi (Class of 2016)
Latest Project for DC: Superman: Man of Tomorrow #9 (Artist, 2020)
Latest Comics Project: Last Stop on the Red Line (Artist, Dark Horse, 2020)
Matt Merhoff (Class of 2016)
Latest Project for DC: Suicide Squad Most Wanted: El Diablo and Amanda Waller #6 (Artist, 2017)
Latest Comics Project: La Muerta #1 (Cover Artist, Coffin Comics, 2020)
David Messina (Class of 2015)
Latest Project for DC: Red Hood: Outlaw #41 (Artist, 2020)
Latest Comics Project: 3 Keys (Writer/Artist, Shockdom, 2021)
Ibrahim Moustafa (Class of 2016)
Latest Project for DC: Mother Panic: Gotham A.D. #6 (Artist, 2018)
Latest Comics Project: Count (Writer/Artist, Humanoids, 2021)
Amancay Nahuelpan (Class of 2017)
Latest Project for DC: DC Love Is a Battlefield (Artist, 2021)
Latest Comics Project: DC Love Is a Battlefield (Artist, DC, 2021)
Siya Oum (Class of 2016)
Latest Project for DC: Future State: Black Racer (Artist, 2021)
Latest Comics Project: Future State: Black Racer (Artist, DC, 2021)
Priscilla Petraites (Class of 2017)
Latest Project for DC: Batman: Gotham Nights #20 (Artist, 2020)
Latest Comics Project: Chariot #1 (Artist, AWA, 2021)
Khary Randolph (Class of 2015)
Latest Project for DC: Truth & Justice #4 (Cover Artist, 2021)
Latest Comics Project: Excellence #10 (Artist, Image, 2021)
Max Raynor (Class of 2017)
Latest Project for DC: Challenge of the Super Sons #7 (Artist, 2021)
Latest Comics Project: Challenge of the Super Sons #7 (Artist, 2021)
Lalit Kumar Sharma (Class of 2016)
Latest Project for DC: Nightwing (2016) #46 (Artist, 2018)
Latest Comics Project: Daredevil (2019) #9 (Artist, Marvel, 2019)
Domo Stanton (Class of 2017)
Latest Project for DC: Represent! #6 (Writer/Artist, 2021)
Latest Comics Project: Represent! #6 (Writer/Artist, DC, 2021)
Annie Wu (Class of 2015)
Latest Project for DC: Black Canary (2015) #12 (Artist/Cover Artist, 2016)
Latest Comics Project: Black Widow #3 (Variant Cover Artist, Marvel, 2020)
Lynne Yoshii (Class of 2016)
Latest Project for DC: Gotham City Garage #9 (Artist, 2018)
Latest Comics Project: Nuclear Power (Artist, Fanbase Press, 2021)
Where They Are Now: The Writers
David Accampo (Class of 2016)
Accampo has continued to work in comics, but primarily indie comics. According to his website, his most recent releases have been his One-Shot Horror series, which he publishes through Comicker Digital. He hasn’t written for DC since the workshop ended.
Sanya Anwar (Class of 2017)
Anwar works as a freelance comics creator and illustrator to this day. Her website lists various work she’s done in recent years, with a focus on illustration. She’s done covers for Dynamite, Titan, Archie, and more. Her most recent written work is her webcomic, 1001. She hasn’t written for DC since the workshop ended.
Vita Ayala (Class of 2016)
Ayala has made a name for themself as an up-and-coming hot talent, landing titles like New Mutants and Wolverine: Black, White & Blood. Ayala still continues to do work for DC to this day, with their most recent work for the company being Future State: Batgirls. They are currently working on Static for the 2021 Milestone reboot for DC.
Emma Beeby (Class of 2016)
Beeby has primarily worked in British comics since attending the workshop, with regular appearances in 2000AD magazine as a writer. Beeby also wrote Mata Hari for Dark Horse’s Berger Books imprint in 2018. She hasn’t written for DC since the workshop ended.
Ryan Cady (Class of 2017)
Cady works in mainstream comics to this day, with credits at Marvel, DC, Image, and Archie. He co-wrote Poppy: Genesis 1 and Poppy’s Inferno with popular YouTuber Poppy in 2019 and 2020 respectively. His most recent credit for DC was a backup story in Future State: Green Lantern #1, which came out in January of this year.
Joey Esposito (Class of 2017)
Esposito has been working in comics since attending the workshop, though in my research, I couldn’t find any recent work aside from Captain Ultimate #6, which Esposito co-wrote for Soup Dad Comics in 2018. All other work listed on his website predates his time at the DC Writers Workshop. He hasn’t written for DC since the workshop ended.
Aaron Gillespie (Class of 2016)
After completing the Writers Workshop, Gillespie had a brief two-issue stint on Green Lanterns before moving onto co-writing a New Challengers reboot with mentor Scott Snyder as a part of DC’s “New Age of Heroes” initiative in 2018. Since then, he’s written for WWE comics, as well as writing a short story in DC’s 2019 Mysteries of Love in Space anthology.
Owl Goingback (Class of 2016)
Goingback hasn’t written any comics since the end of his time in the workshop, with the 2017 New Talent Showcase one-shot remaining his only comics-related credit to date. Goingback has found success in the prose realm, with his novel Coyote Rage winning a Bram Stoker award in 2020. He hasn’t written for DC since the workshop ended.
Erica Harrell & Desiree Proctor (Class of 2016)
Writing duo Harrell and Proctor have found work writing for Skybound’s Walking Dead: Saints and Sinners, as well as writing for Disney on shows like Just Roll With It. The duo announced that they would be co-writing a new book for Fanbase Press titled Nuclear Power, with artist (and aforementioned DC Artists Workshop alum) Lynne Yoshii. The release was originally scheduled for October of 2020, but the release has been pushed back to April of this year, through Comixology. They haven’t written for DC since the workshop ended.
Hena Khan (Class of 2016)
Khan has worked in the prose market since her departure from the workshop, with a focus on middle-grade novels. Her latest book, Amina’s Song, came out on March 9th of this year. According to her website, she hasn’t written any comics.
Robert Jeffrey II (Class of 2017)
After the Writers Workshop, Jeffrey went on to write a one-shot comic titled RET:CON for 133Art, before moving into prose with his contribution to the 2020 anthology Dark Universe: The Bright Empire. Jeffrey currently serves as the Editor-in-Chief of Black Sci-Fi.com. He hasn’t written for DC since the workshop ended.
Phillip Kennedy Johnson (Class of 2017)
Since leaving the Writers Workshop, Johnson has been quite busy. Writing for a variety of publishers, Johnson secured himself an eisner nomination in 2018 for Adventure Time Comics #13, and is now set to helm both Superman and Action Comics for DC, as well as Alien for Marvel.
Joelle Jones (Class of 2016)
Jones has made a name for herself within DC’s writer ranks. After illustrating a couple of arcs of the Rebirth-era Batman run, she wrote and drew the 2018 relaunch of Catwoman up to its 18th issue. Her most recent efforts include creating Brazilian hero Yara Flor as a part of DC’s recent Future State initiative (a subject of controversy which you can read more about here).
Al Letson (Class of 2016)
Letson has been busy writing plays and conducting podcasts in recent years, as well as hosting shows on public radio. His website hosts two comics he’s worked on, both having come out before his time at the workshop, though it appears he hasn’t worked in comics since the workshop ended.
Ryan Lindsay (Class of 2016)
Lindsay has worked primarily in indie comics in recent years. He released Beautiful Canvas with artist Sami Kivela for Black Mask Studios in 2017. He recently put out SHE: At the Tower of All That Is Known for ComixTribe in January of this year. He hasn’t written for DC since the workshop ended.
Michael McMillian (Class of 2016)
One of the few writers on this list to have a wikipedia page (and the only one to have starred in What I Like About You and True Blood), McMillian currently hosts a podcast. He wrote the Rebirth-era Nightwing #21 in 2017 and Adventure Van for Golden Apple Books in 2018. He hasn’t written for DC since the workshop ended.
Michael Moreci (Class of 2016)
After the workshop, Moreci bounced around DC for a while, co-writing Archie Meets Batman ’66 with Jeff Parker, as well as issue #43 of the Rebirth-era Nightwing run and issue #26 of the Rebirth-era Superman run. Since then, he’s found a name for himself in the indie world, with titles like The Plot, Archangel 8, and Wasted Space. Aside from the occasional appearance in annuals and seasonal one-shots, Moreci recently wrote The Lost Carnival: A Dick Grayson Graphic Novel for DC’s YA-centric OGN line in 2020.
Veronica Muniz-Soto (Class of 2016)
After significant research, no information could be found about Muniz-Soto online. The most significant information able to be found was a wordpress account and a name in a comics society founders’ lineup.
Tony Patrick (Class of 2016)
Patrick went on to co-write the Batman and the Signal miniseries with mentor Scott Snyder in 2018, then wrote a backup in Dark Nights: Death Metal Robin King in 2020 for DC. He also took part in the Dead Beats musical horror anthology in 2019.
Matthew Rosenberg (Class of 2016)
Rosenberg has written several books, primarily for Marvel, with recent ventures including a co-writer credit on Amazing Spider-Man and writing the critically-acclaimed Hawkeye: Freefall. As for DC credits, he wrote a John Constantine short story in the (I swear this is the title of the book) Dark Nights: Death Metal The Last 52: War of the Multiverses one-shot anthology in 2020 and a Grifter backup story in Future State: Dark Detective in 2021. He currently features in the Batman: Urban Legends anthology, writing more Grifter stories.
Erica Schultz (Class of 2016)
Schultz wrote the 2018 annual for the then-running Daredevil series, as well as Twelve Devils Dancing for Action Lab. Her Comixology original Forgotten Home was nominated for five Ringo Awards in 2020. Schultz currently works at the Kubert School and is active in comics, with the Workshop New Talent Showcase being her latest DC credit.
Christopher Sebela (Class of 2016)
Sebela’s work has been nominated for the annual Eisner awards numerous times, with his ongoing series Crowded taking the majority of them. Sebela worked with DC Artists Workshop alum Ibrahim Moustafa on the Eisner-nominated High Crimes for Image. At DC, Sebela worked on Injustice: Ground Zero in 2016, two issues of Suicide Squad Most Wanted: El Diablo and Killer Croc, as well as three issues of Detective Comics in 2017, the latter five issues of the Rebirth-era Blue Beetle run and two issues of Harley Quinn in 2018, and an Aquaman short story in Dark Nights: Death Metal The Last Stories of the DC Universe, which came out in December of 2020. He is currently working on a plethora of indie books, notably the final volume of Crowded.
Adam Smith (Class of 2016)
Smith has worked in indie comics since leaving the workshop. His most recent releases were At The End Of Your Tether for Lion Forge and Beneath The Dark Crystal for Boom Studios’ Archaia imprint in 2019. He hasn’t written for DC since the workshop ended.
Magdalene Visaggio (Class of 2017)
After leaving the Writers Workshop, Visaggio wrote backup stories for DC’s Young Animal Imprint’s Eternity Girl. In 2018, she put out Vagrant Queen for Vault, which was then adapted into a Syfy tv series, before returning for a second volume at Vault. Her most recent work for DC was Jinny Hex Special #1, which came out in December of 2020.
Measuring Success: The Stats
So how have the alumni of DC’s Talent Workshop fared in the years since their involvement in the program? While several Artists Workshop alumni have found work at DC after their time in the workshop, with quite a few having credits as recent as this year, the Writers-Workshop-To-DC-Writer pipeline has incurred different results.
In order to measure the success of the DC Talent Workshop program as a whole, a metric needs to be established. Is its success measured by the subsequent success in the comics industry of the writers who took part in it? That’s a rather unfair metric, as several workshop alumni have gone on to find success in other mediums. Even of the participants who continued working within the comics industry, several have found success outside of DC. So the best metric for success here would be DC’s goals and expectations for the workshop itself.
As mentioned before, a heavy focus was put on transitioning writers over from the workshop into their current writer roster, though not guaranteed. In practice, of the twenty-four writers to pass through the virtual halls of their Writers Workshop, only nine have written for them within the past year, and of those nine, only three are currently working on ongoing DC print periodicals. That’s a 13% retention rate in the four years since the workshop last closed its doors. In comparison, of the twenty-one artists that went through DC’s Artists Workshop, twelve have done work for DC within the past year (a 57% retention rate). If DC’s goal was to truly introduce new blood into its freelance writer roster, then one might consider this a failure by that metric.
While this could lend itself to the nature of the work and the higher demand for artists in the mainstream comics industry, this is also the same DC that continues to give Dan Jurgens, who wrote The Death of Superman twenty-eight years ago, opportunities to write stories about the future of the DC Universe. While it might be a part of a larger conversation about the lack of social security and the state of work-for-hire in the mainstream comics industry, the truth of the matter is that the majority of DC’s current writer roster hasn’t changed in several years, with a particular few having stuck around for decades. Suffice to say, DC had to have known this back in 2016-2017, primarily because they were the ones handing exclusivity contracts to many of those writers. They especially had to have known this when they specified that post-workshop opportunities were not guaranteed for workshop attendees in the application process itself.
Looking Back At The Workshop: The Present
So then, why run the workshop? Though part of me wants to assume it came from a place of altruism (and for figurehead Scott Snyder it very well might have been), in the corporate context of DC Comics Inc. (and by extension, Warner Media, LLC (and by further extension, AT&T Inc.)), the workshop being more than just a PR boon becomes far less plausible. Most, if not all, coverage of the workshop online tends to be positive, with it being seen as an opportunity to break down the barrier to entry for fledgling writers, with very few questioning its results.
While getting feedback from alumni was difficult as a result of the NDA, responses from workshop alumni with regards to their feelings about the program have been mixed. While some praised the learning opportunity that the workshop offered, others don’t look back on the workshop all too fondly. One even remarked that the workshop felt like a promotional campaign conducted by DC for free coverage, with the company going back to “hiring the same six dudes they always do” shortly after the workshop ended. But with a new iteration seemingly coming in the near future, how have things changed?
The Road Ahead: The Future
The DC of 2021 is not the same as the DC of 2016 and 2017. 2020 saw 25% of its staff being laid off, including Editor-in-Chief Bob Harras, as well as the departure of Co-Publisher Dan Didio. The corporate restructuring of DC has left it in a far different position than it has been in recent years. As Scott Snyder takes his self-proclaimed break from writing for the company (aside from finishing up American Vampire 1976) to presumably work on the next iteration of the workshop, another major PR opportunity initiative for new writers to join DC’s writer roster has arrived in his absence: Future State.
In a promotional pamphlet advertising the then-nascent event, two pages are dedicated to showcasing the “next generation of DC voices”, with a tagline describing them as “up and coming” talent. At first glance, it seems fine; a nice snippet introducing new writers into DC’s writer roster. But then you notice the past credits of each writer, listed under each writer’s entry in the pamphlet. Of the nine writers listed, four have worked in DC’s animation department, working on shows and movies such as Batman:Under the Red Hood and DC Super Hero Girls, while the other five happen to be well-established authors themselves. While not as laughable as say, calling 20-year industry veteran Patrick Gleason an up and coming “Stormbreaker”, this is just another instance of DC trying to appear forward-thinking, while reaching backwards (a critique that can be made of the whole Future State event itself, but that’s for another time).
However, DC has been making some moves towards bringing in newer writers, albeit for their digital comics. Their digital-first comics have had a higher ratio of newer voices compared to their print comics, perhaps because of the lower risk factor of publishing digitally at a lower price than in print through the direct market. With the future of DC’s output starting to lean more towards digital anyway, could this be the push DC needed to finally introduce a proper pipeline for new readers? Could the revived DC Writers Workshop now be a pipeline for new alumni to write digital comics for DC? Or is this all just smoke and mirrors, another PR stunt parading as progress, while being inexorably stuck in the past?
It’s incredibly difficult to trust in corporate altruism in a world where Jim Lee is able to mask-off admit that the comics side of the DC corporate structure exists primarily to farm new IPs and ideas for adaptation into other media. How is DC supposed to assuage us that the return of the Writers Workshop isn’t simply an attempt to regain public favor through a seeming act of kindness after a rocky 2020?
Should the DC Writers Workshop return, can applicants feel comfortable applying to a workshop whose details they’re not allowed to talk about? Can they feel comfortable working for a company that kept Scott Lobdell in their employ for almost a decade (and giving him opportunities that could have gone to newer voices) despite the numerous allegations against him? It’s hard not to come out of this feeling burned. There’s so much information yet to be uncovered, which may never be uncovered at all, and it’s frankly all so disappointing. A lowered barrier to entry shouldn’t feel like an illusion. Perhaps that’s something that DC should take with them back to the drawing board.