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LYING IN THE GUTTERS VOLUME 2 COLUMN 87

Welcome to the most popular and longest running comics column on the internet. In its various forms, Lying In The Gutters has covered rumours and gossip in the comics industry for twelve long glorious and quite scary years.

All stories are sourced from well-connected individuals and checked with respective publisher representatives before publication. Mostly. The veracity of each story is judged by me and given a spotlight – Green is the most reliable, Amber means there’s likely an interest involved or the likelihood isn’t set and Red means even I can’t quite bring myself to believe it.

Lying In The Gutters is for your entertainment. Neither Fair Nor Balanced.

STATE OF MIND

[Green Light]

Before we start, I’m going to the New York Comic Con this year. Flying in Thursday, flying back Monday morning. If you want to meet, greet, share a hotel room, the usual, give me a shout.

DESPERATELY SEEKING STEPHANIE

[Green Light]

Last week: Paul Levitz, in his State Of The Union address, named Stephanie Fierman as one of the people responsible for DC’s success over the last year.

This week: It’s announced that Stephanie Fierman is out at DC.

A week can be a very long time in comics.

However, I understand that Fierman is still on contract at DC for another year and will work on special projects with DC Publisher and President Paul Levitz while she looks for a new position within Time Warner.

HAWKGIRL, INTERRUPTED

[Green Light]

The new DC Previews state that “Firestorm” and “Manhunter” have been cancelled. I understand that “Hawkgirl” is also to join that list.

EMUSIC, MAESTRO.

[Green Light]

After Diamond reported that Marvel were not going to accept retailer returns for their comics damaged due to eMusic inserts, Marvel have stepped up to offer a solution. Marvel are reprinting titles including “Civil War” #6, “New Universal” #2, “Amazing Spider-Man” #537 and “Punisher War Journal” #2, all without those wretched eMusic inserts, and making them available to replace damaged copies. If you’re a retailer, reports those damages now. If you’re a customer, ask your retailer how you can swap your damaged copy for an undamaged one.

I understand that inserts for future titles are being redesigned so that they won’t cause similar problems, and won’t cause the comics to be unstackable on shelves. After the promotional period is over, there will be a six month hiatus before any similar programme is put into practice, and Marvel will talk with retailers first.

IT’S ALL GREEK TO ME

[Green Light]

DC is taking confidentiality to a new level. Last week’s speech from Paul Levitz emphasised that leaking was a big no-no. Well now, there are a number of projects at DC being referred to both in person and on their system as “Alpha,” “Beta,” “Delta” and the like, with only general descriptions and editorial credits to separate them.

INCOMMUNICADO

[Yellow Light]

Brian Bendis states that both he and Tom Brevoort wanted John Byrne to draw a previous version of the “Illuminati” mini-series, but that John Byrne did not return Bendis’ emails.

Over on the John Byrne Forum, Byrne has a different recollection, “I have no idea what this is. I don’t recall Bendis ever emailing me, so?” adding “I can’t go back to Marvel. Marvel doesn’t exist.”

But then again, does anything?

COWBOYS AND AGENDAS

[Yellow Light]

The Platinum/”Cowboys & Aliens” story I’ve been covering seemed to explode last week, which means that everyone did the heavy lifting for me.

I’d previously asked Platinum to respond to the original allegations made concerning the title, one of paying retailers to order the comic in question in vast numbers, to artificially inflate the chart position of their debut book. President Brian Altounian (which sounds awfully like an alien race on “Star Trek”) replied saying

“Hi, there. Adam Rosenblum forwarded me your email from earlier today and I wanted to respond to you directly in his stead. My name is Brian Altounian and I’m the President of Platinum Studios. Before Platinum, I was been an executive at a number of companies in many different industries, from Media to Hi-tech companies.

“As to the news that we offered co-op and to the first discussion on it that ran on LITG, I really don’t see what all the ire around the web is about. We did nothing more than enter into a co-op marketing arrangement with some of the major retailers to promote our inaugural book, ‘Cowboys & Aliens.’ This practice is much like the ones Marvel and DC did back in the late ’80s and early ’90s and much like the same thing done in every retail industry, from music and DVDs to electronics and every industry in between. Trade sales promotion techniques are used everyday to give the retailer an incentive to introduce a new product to their customers. When Best Buy sends out a circular advertising certain products, you can bet they received marketing dollars from the manufacturers to be included in that mailing. How the co-op marketing dollars are spent is entirely up to the retailer, whether they apply it to the retail price of the product or promote it prominently in their store. The bottom line is this practice benefits both the retailer and the consumer (by creating lower price points, both wholesale and retail) while creating new relationships for the publisher.

“In addition to co-op marketing dollars spent with selected retailers, we also inserted full-size posters and mini-posters through Diamond’s Dateline, and created ‘Cowboys & Aliens’ bookmarks for all retailers to utilize. We did not purchase our own graphic novels from these stores just for the bragging rights to be number one. That would be ridiculous from a business standpoint for a comic book that is already in development with a major studio. I would direct anyone who thinks these figures don’t actually come from sales to Diamond PO #0000324619-00. Diamond has RE-ordered 400 copies for stores that have sold out of the book. Also, I would remind readers that Cowboys & Aliens has been online through Drunk Duck since the end of September so both online comic fans and now print comic fans have access to this story.

“Also, on the Entertainment Weekly chart, let me just say that as the title of the magazine implies, news and sales figures are from the preceding week – it wasn’t a Top 10 list of All Time or anything other than the number of units sold for that week. EW cited their source, who happens to publish their top sales items online regularly. As a professional businessman, admittedly new to the comic book market, the fact that this issue about our buying advertising to promote the first book we’re putting on the market simply boggles my mind.

“Please be advised, we have more marketing plans up our sleeve: ‘Unique’ is a three-issue mini-series launching in March, written by Dean Motter, with art by Dennis Calero. We’re publishing the first issue at 48 pages (including 44 story pages) at only $2.99. We think this is great value for the reader, and a great product that retail will be able to sell. We think a double-sized comic by a great and well-respected creative team at a ‘regular’ price of $2.99 is something everyone can get behind. We’re also amazingly proud of ‘Hero By Night,’ by 2006 Comic Book Challenge winner D.J. Coffman, also launching in March. We’re currently weighing a lot of different ad and promotion opportunities for this and retailers can contact us for more information. Know one thing, Rich, that our business model involves bringing together comic creators and comic fans across all forms of media. We believe it helps the industry as a whole and provides a strong foundation for our business and we will take the necessary steps to further that goal.

“Thank you for giving me an opportunity to respond.”

Brian declined to openly address followup questions. But as a professional advertiser and a marketer, I’m fully aware of coop marketing deals, often essential for entering a bloated market but I’ve never seen, in comics or otherwise, a situation where a company has paid a retailer more than the retail price of a product as an incentive to sell that product. The book was already priced low and may have been a loss leader at $3.99. We understand and accept that Sony sell Playstations for less than it costs to make them, on the understanding they’ll make the money back later on the software. That could be seen as the case for Platinum entering the market. But Sony don’t pay certain retailers $800 for every machine they sell.

And no one is stating that Platinum bought its own graphic novels from retailers. Platinum’s version is that they sent cheques to certain retailers who ordered lots of copies of the graphic novel (more on that definition later) to spend on marketing the book or as an incentive scheme, without bothering the Image-exclusive distributor of the book, Diamond.

However, if they had processed the incentive scheme through Diamond, allowing certain shops to give the comic away for free, or at a cents discount, they couldn’t expect Diamond to then count those sales as “sales” in their chart. This would deprive Platinum of a No 1. graphic novel status for December, an awfully useful trophy when dealing with the many multi-media deals that Platinum could make, above and beyond a movie deal, even if it didn’t need kickstarting.

Another issue is what Diamond define as a graphic novel. One of the usual requisites is a price point, and “Cowboys & Aliens” falls below that. It would usually be classed as a Prestige Format title and would be counted as a comic, where sales of 15-18,000 would place it at the lower end of the Top 100. That’s where soliciting through Image, a Premier publisher helps. As a partner with Diamond, Image can pretty much call it whatever they like and Diamond will go along with it. So graphic novel it is.

However, it may have been for naught. I’m told by Diamond contacts that, when calculating this month’s statistics, because of all the fuss, they have chosen not to count the copies ordered by this handful of shops in their thousands, deeming them to be “promotional items,” even though they were bought through Diamond at full wholesale price. And as a result, the book will be entering the charts at a perfectly respectable, and manipulation-free number twelve slot.

Of course, Platinum’s relationship with Image is interesting. They appear in Previews aside from the other Image Central behind one of the founder studios Top Cow, but not actually part of Tow Cow. Nevertheless, some have assumed that Platinum are working with Top Cow on their books – Top Cow and Platinum have had a co-operative agreement for some years and recently Jim McLauchlin moved from Top Cow to Platinum. However Top Cow representatives, when asked, have told me that they have nothing to do with Platinum’s comics, and Platinum solicit through Image Central. However, an email to Image Central tells me that Platinum solicit through Top Cow. It wouldn’t make that much of a difference, only that Platinum seem to get more Previews prominence than Image Central titles, and part of that may be to do with their alliance with Image founder studio, Top Cow.

I don’t suppose Platinum is soliciting through Image without anyone actually having agreed to it, like Michael J Fox in “The Secret Of My Success?” No, I doubt it.

Note: I’m not criticising in any way what Platinum are doing here. They are buying their way into the marketplace, trying to create an artificial splash that exceeds the impact of their creative work, and using that to arrange other-media deals that may secure their financial footing, and bring in a large, diverse line of graphic novels in the process. It’s just fun to examine that process.

And it beats selling yourself to a games publisher, publishing pornography, or relocating to Tampa.

SPOILER-MAN, SPOILER-MAN, SPOILS EVERYTHING A SPOILER CAN

[Green Light]

My good friend Brendon Connelly has some seriously strong “Spider-Man 3” spoilers over on his Film Ick site. You read them, you accept the consequences, you don’t come running to me, alright? Good.

SWIPE FILE

[Green Light]

From a Newsarama interview with Paul Renaud, “Drawing from references has always been a big part of the process. Classic comic-strip artists used to rely a lot on the files they gathered for a job. But I feel there’s a way to do it right, to work from a photo…make it yours. A photo should never tell the way to go. Comics are all about movement and dynamics. Photos won’t help us there. Now about dropping photos into the art, look at what Dave McKean is able to do mixing drawings with photos. I don’t mind an artist using whatever he feels like as long as it works. As long as there’s an artist’s mind behind the process.”

Accompanying Paul Renaud art, with additional art by Brian Stelfreeze from “Domino” overlaid side-by-side for comparison.

Now, there’s been a lot of talk about the “casting” of certain Hollywood actors in the new “Thunderbolts” issue by Mike Deodato. But any actual swiping?

Well, in the role of Thunderbolt Mountain

We present Stargate’s Cheyenne Mountain

Oh, and this is a fun Elektra sketch doing the rounds…

MAJESTIT

[Yellow Light]

Volume 3 of the “Majestic” TPB shipped last week. All fine and dandy, and a followup to the previous volume with lots of good wholesome family fun and Superman appearances.

Except Volume 3 has the added bonus of a Majestic & Zealot short story taken from the “Wildstorm Winter Special” with art by Josh Middleton I think. With plenty of see-through-dress nipple shots, one completely topless shot of Zealot, a rear view fully nude shot of Zealot, and a Majestic and Zealot full figure nude embrace. And no content warning.

Perfect material for any fictitious children who have collected the first two volumes….

TWIN BOOMS

[Green Light]

I understand film directors The Polish Brothers, known for “The Astronaut Farmer,” will be working on new comics project for Boom! Expect news at New York Comic Con to coincide with the movie’s release.

BITS AND PIECES

[Green Light]

Paul Cornell is trying to get “Doctor Who” into the Hit Parade.

A few volumes of “Lost Girls” have been arriving from Amazon UK a year after they were ordered, though the book may no longer be ordered from the site.

Alex De Campi has designed a flyer for her next thing:

Oh bloody hell, another real-life superhero. And this one’s a Geordie Samurai. Superhero Geordie Samurai. Someone trademark that.

A new video from RichAndMark.com – Jean de Tourette.

And the last few hours for a bunch of my eBay nonsense. Help me pay for a New York hotel room.

SMALL PRINT

Discuss this column at the Lying In The Gutters Forum and add your request to what you want from future columns.

Visit my MySpace or my ComicSpace as I discuss next week’s column through the week. Maybe.

Contact me on richjohnston@gmail.com or on AOL Instant Messenger as TwistRich.

You can also write to me at 8 Robin Hood Lane, Kingston Vale, London SW15 3PU ENGLAND

Or call me/text me on 0780 1350982 from the UK or 01144780 1350982 from the US.

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