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This is the eighty-second chapter in the latest volume of the long-running gossip and rumour column for the comic book industry. Over ten years damnit! Written by British comics commentator, me, Rich Johnston, it’s read by comic book professionals and readers alike. Loved and hated equally, every Monday (ish) it brings the stories not-quite-ready-for-primetime, a look behind the curtain, a sniff of the toilet seat, the worst and the best that the comics industry can inspire. Go in with your eyes open, your blinkers off and a peg on your nose.

And this week, it’s a guaranteed Dazzler-free zone. Oh, shut up.

AVI, AXEL AND HULK ON VIAGRA

[Yellow Light]

One of the repeated stories in last year’s LITG was the rise of Avi Arad at Marvel. Head of their West Coast division, Avi Arad has been a constant figure in Marvel’s expansion into other media, such as film and TV, over the last two decades. And now, with the success of the Marvel feature films, he’s been rewarded. His influence stretches over the entire company, and most especially it has been felt in the Publishing division.

Bill Jemas and Avi Arad were at loggerheads very early on, but Jemas has the support of the board. As the movies succeeded, that support switched, and Jemas was left isolated and eventually squeezed out, demoted from Publisher and executive to his current Marketing role.

And Arad’s influence is felt throughout the Publishing line. After George Clooney declined to play Nick Fury after his people read the Ennis/Robertson series “Fury,” Arad has been making sure none of his precious movie deals get scuppered by other actions on Marvel’s part. And so the dead mutant return of Princess Diana was X-orcised from “X-Statix.” Certain other internally-controversial series were “postponed.” The creator-owned Epic line was abandoned due to Arad’s stated desire “we don’t want another Moonshadow” (the title originally published by Epic over a decade ago, then more recently republished and collected by DC Vertigo). Who knows what other decisions were reversed before they made it to Previews.

Basically, aside from the Epic and Tsunami titles, pretty much every series or title from Marvel that’s been cancelled or postponed over the last year has not been over sales, but content.

This includes the recent cancellation of Peter Bagge’s “Incorrigible Hulk.” Over at the Comicon Pulse messageboards, Fantagraphics’ Eric Reynolds confirmed that it was Marvel, not Bagge who pulled out of the project – “I can tell you unequivocally that Marvel pulled the plug, not Bagge. Whether this is because they put the ‘dip’ in ‘dipshit’ or just because they’re a bunch of pussies remains open to debate.”

Another poster on the same thread indicated it was over content issues.

When Marvel last published Peter Bagge, in the “Meglomaniacal Spider-Man,” Bagge’s take was way out there. A revisionist Randian vision of Spider-Man playing off Stan Lee’s business image and Steve Ditko’s philosophical beliefs. It got CNN coverage, sold out, and was considered a critical success. But that was in Jemas days, where Marvel were far more experimental in the way their franchise characters were portrayed, even when the first Spider-Man movie was on the screen. And in “Incorrigible Hulk,” he’s a viagra-taking loon. Axel Alonso had to push hard to get the book on the schedule, even when Jemas was in charge.

In a recent Newsarama interview Axel Alonso (editor of “Hulk,” “Spider-Man,” “Incorrigible Hulk” and “Meglomaniacal Spider-Man”) said “I don’t get my panties in a bunch if the Hulk shows up in “Avengers” and fights She-Hulk. I don’t care. Neither does Bruce. There’s plenty of room for different visions, and ultimately, you can vote with your wallet on what you like or don’t like.” The cancellation of “Incorrigible” tells a different story. And as for “Ant Man”… is that being pushed as an option somewhere? If Daniel Way’s recent Pulse interview is an indication of content, who knows.

Things have changed. The consensus, both inside and outside of the company is that a profitable Marvel has become more conservative. While they are still pursuing outreach programmes, they are on more traditional business lines. And the success of the movies has put the characters in a position where the belief is they can be “harmed” by an off-the-wall portrayal of them in a comic book.

Sales are up. The industry is booming. Things are good. Yet ironically, the moment where Marvel is in a financial position to take more risks, is the time when they choose not to. And only when they’re bankrupt will you see projects like, well, at the risk of repeating Matt Brady, “Rawhide Kid.”

Marvel are producing some extraordinary superfiction comics. “Hulk,” “1602,” “Supreme Power,” “New X-Men,” “X-Statix” and more. But where are our gay cowboys, dead princesses, cold war dinosaurs, bizarre acts of violence and sexuality and philosophical cartoony tracts? Hmmm?

Sales will often excuse all manner of sins. But I’m told that at Marvel right now, the belief is that anything selling under 80,000 copies is a waste of time.

AND LIKE DC CAN TALK

[Green Light]

Mind you, it’s not like ever-experimental DC have an untarnished rap sheer right now. Lying in the Gutters has repeatedly reported on some of the stuff lying in their drawers never to be seen. And on a Comics Journal thread devoted to the “Incorrigible Hulk” cancellation, Tony Millionaire announced that, after hanging onto it for ages, DC Comics have passed on a Batman/Robin book by Tony Millionaire and Chip Kidd. With their past work for Bizarro Comics being considered the star piece of that volume, disappointment was rife.

James Kochalka added “I’m glad I decided not to let DC have the new superhero book I’m working on. They were taking too long to decide, and I got tired of waiting, so I offered it to Top Shelf.”

As for “Incorrigible Hulk” being jigged about with and published elsewhere, Peter Bagge added “I’ve been paid in full for my Hulk funny book. It also is completely finished, and there is a good chance it will see print somewhere down the road, I’m told. So we shall see…”

DEAD SPECIAL

[Green Light]

The “Shaun Of The Dead” trailer went live this week. Andy Diggle, myself and Natalie Sandalls appear as zombie extras for a tiny scene, and you can see the joy here.

It looks like an extra-special episode of “Spaced.” If you have never seen the stunning British sitcom SPACED, then go here and here. You have been told, repeatedly, don’t blame me.

UDDER UNDER SQUEEZE

[Red Light]

Buying comics companies used to be quite the thing. You weren’t anyone unless you’d bought a publisher or a distribution house. But while Heroes World, Wildstorm, and both DC and Marvel themselves made the headlines, there are always the ones that got away. A lot of companies look into purchases that never happen.

This week, a very popular piece of gossip among select industry professionals concerns a rumour that Top Cow were negotiating with DC Comics to buy them out last year.

While this rumour is well sourced, it’s also one that Matt Hawkins at Top Cow has officially denied.

Hawkins states, “This is completely untrue. We have signed a deal with DC on an agency level where they represent Top Cow for foreign translations, that’s it. DC has the best international translation business for American comics. John Nee and I’ve known each other for over a decade and he and I started talking about this in San Diego and we signed a deal with DC in December when our deal with our other agent expired. Rumours have flourished and I’ve been asked this a lot. John and I had a lot of meetings at cons and every time he and I were seen together someone made a comment about how we were being bought by DC.

“Just so you know, we already have an existing equity partner Eidos PLC and we have since 1998.”

Indeed, I believe I broke that last part back in 1998…

Nevertheless, it’s interesting to see how this agency relationship has been transformed by Chinese Whispers. The rumour, fairly consistent from diverse sources, states that Top Cow went through Jim Lee for a similar-but-on-worse-terms-deal to the one Lee had with Wildstorm. That Paul Levitz had to decline the opportunity to Jim Lee, citing little advantage that they didn’t already have with Wildstorm, and the arranged deal with Michael Turner’s Aspen. But that wasn’t before DC got to have a good look at Top Cow’s financial books, including their current arrangements with Image.

It’s more likely that parts of the actual deal between Top Cow and DC were mistaken for a potential buyout, and the rumour spread from there. So consider it stamped on, with a heavy Doc Martens boot.

A PATCH UNDER THE SUNGLASSES?

[Yellow Light]

After hearing repeatedly varied rumours on my end, Neil Gaiman has confirmed to me that yes, he is considering a Nick Fury miniseries for Marvel to follow “1602” at some point.

He tells me “There have been lots of talks with Joe about things I might do for my Marvel Project #2, and one of the things talked about, because I enjoyed writing him so much, has been a Nick Fury project, which might do a number of things either with the 1602 Fury or with the Marvel one, or with both.

“But nothing’s been decided yet. It will probably be several months before anything is decided, because I’m trying to get ahead on the novel I’m currently writing. So at this point it’s amber.”

In love it when pros start using my ratings systems… however, repeated rumours that Nick Fury is to be portrayed as a “gilgamesh,” an “eternal champion” and that the current Nick Fury is the same character as the 1602 Nick Fury in a Michael Moorcock inspired sense of whimsy, Gaiman describes as “bollocks.”

Neil also adds “I suppose I should also point out that it’s quite likely that when I actually figure out what Project #2 is, Fury won’t be in it at all; it’s one of several things that’s been discussed, that’s all.”

UP FOR GRABS

[Green Light]

The comic book rights to “Sheena, Queen of the Jungle” are currently available.

So, you know, if anyone wants to run a more-official spoiler for Marvel’s upcoming “Shanna” series, well, the ball’s in your court.

I am told that fans would be disappointed if she were no longer sporting her leopardskin bikini.

HITCH IN TIME

[Green Light]

I understand that Bryan Hitch has drawn 41 pages in the last seven weeks. Could this be a return to a… wait for it…. Monthly Ultimates book? It could well happen…

DISCOUNTING DISCOUNTS?

[Yellow Light]

Paul Levitz gave a “State Of DC” address to his troops a week-and-change ago – nothing too revealing, though. However there was a little ruction when “Compgate” was raised in the question and answer session. When asked if DC Comics could officially obtain a discount at a local retailer for its employees instead of the now-discredited comp system, there was a vocal “NO!!” from VP Marketing Bob Wayne, but Levitz allowed the possibility to be considered if were a more effective solution…

There are of course ordering dilemmas such a thing may cause to New York City retailers. Paul Levitz does have a desire to be open to staff concerns (though some have cause to doubt that) and Bob Wayne does like to stir it up – and not everyone gets his dry wit…

FLOODING OF THE NILES

[Green Light]

What is it with Top Cow announcing series written by Steve Niles that he then has to deny he’s actually writing? First it was “Aphrodite IX,” and now it’s “Darkness.” And, reportedly, Niles is “pissed.” The US definition there, not the UK one.

I know they want him to write for them. But there must be better ways of going about it.

Matt Hawkins tells me, “Regarding Niles, it’s simply overenthusiasm to work with such an amazing talent from our editorial team, believe me it won’t happen again. I think this has only happened to us twice in the 5 years I’ve worked here, it is kind of silly that it happened with the same guy. We’ll be announcing his replacement on that arc sometime in the next week or two for “Darkness.” Historically, work-made-for-hire relationships have always been verbal agreements on our part. This has actually pushed me to create a letter of engagement that freelancers will have to sign prior to doing work-made-for-hire work for Top Cow. I’m sure you’ll be telling me next week that freelancers are up in arms about this now, heh. Sometimes you can’t win.

DAN AND ROB – IT WAS MEANT TO BE

[Green Light]

Dan Fraga, the man who accused Rob Liefeld of physical and emotional assault, and who Rob Liefeld accused of betrayal and incompetence, is now inking “Youngblood Genesis.”

Don’t you just love it when a couple make up and get back together?

SPAWN TO RUN

[Green Light]

Todd McFarlane’s new publishing plan will see his comics line pulled back further.

Expect flagship title “Spawn” and spinoff “Hellspawn” to “merge” into a new title. And for “Sam & Twitch” to go to a black and white format.

HE-MANAGEMENT

[Yellow Light]

Rumor has it that Mattel, the brains behind the relaunch of “Masters of the Universe,” are pressing their weight against Val Staples and the staff at MVC. From what I can gather, Mattel is not allowing Staples to write certain stories – despite the fact that the recent “Rise of the Snake-Men” mini-series was supposed to be where the comic split into a different canon than the new cartoon. If Mattel is putting their foot down, this could mean that this “split” is not as definite as it seemed to be. This all apparently stems from rights to the Masters of the Universe property being owned by several companies, and Mattel being a licensee of various channels of the property. It is unclear when this complication came to the forefront.

The “Masters of the Universe Encyclopaedia: Season One” has been delayed, due to “legal problems.” When asked about it on the He-Man Forums, Staples replied simply: “Can’t talk about it for a few days. Sorry.” We’re still waiting.

For the past year, Mattel’s support of the new “Masters of the Universe” franchise has wanned. The action figures have been vanishing from the racks, with retail stores like Wal-Mart, Target, K-Mart and Toys ‘R’ Us dropping the line. The Snake Men figures, that were to tie into “Rise of the Snake-Men” episodes and comic mini-series, have yet to see the light of day (with the exception of a few leaks). Also, a third season for “Masters of the Universe” has yet to be confirmed. It seems, despite a lot of publicity from Toyfare magazine (best toyline of 2002) and a ton of hardcore fan support (phone-ins, e-mails, letters, buy-a-figure-day, buy-a-comic-day) that the “Masters of the Universe” relaunch is fading fast. Most fans are blaming Mattel, because figures, news and even support have barely been avaliable from the start – especially figures that aren’t He-Man and Skeletor variants.

Recently, when a Larry DiTillio-written episode of “Masters of the Universe” was rewritten in some areas, DiTillio spoke out on the forum and told forum members his original version. Within 12 hours, though, the thread was deleted. More Mattel censorship?

Mattel, who in the beginning managed to give fans and collectors infrequent updates, are keeping their lips sealed at this point. While there is news of busts and statues on their way from the 4 Horsemen (formerly of the Todd McFarlane fame and the re-designers of the new characters), nothing has been confirmed at all regarding the toys or cartoon (despite recent rumours). The Toyfair next month in NYC is where a lot of things regarding the fate of “Masters of the Universe” will be revealed, considering that it had been the He-Man hotspot for the past two years.

BETRAYED GENERATION

[Yellow Light]

CrossGen’s reputation for paying people worsens. If such a thing were possible. I hear that past creators still owed money have seen payment deadline after payment deadline whizz by without word from CrossGen. MVC, the studio responsible for “He-Man,” “Dragon’s Lair” and more are still yet to receive payment, and have performed Herculean tasks raising capital in a continuing effort to catch up payments to their own creators, without receiving the revenue from CrossGen intended to do so. Rumour has it that, after being pressed legally, CrossGen is even trying to delay paying MVC. I understand that the only people CrossGen intend to pay anything to are those who CrossGen want to get more immediate work out of – but even then it’s not straightforward.

Reports flood in that CrossGen has been hounding some creators to turn in pages, even while ignoring any of those creators’ requests to be paid for past work, sometimes into the tens of thousands of dollars, as if one has nothing to do with the other.

In other cases, I’m told CrossGen has sought work from individual artists belonging to studios to which it owes many thousands, trying to circumvent the process and avoiding the possibility the studio might say “pay us and you can get more work”.

CrossGen’s behaviour of late has not only been financially unfortunate, but seems to have been based on a house of cards, built from broken promises, refusal to communicate, favouritism, stubbornness, deception and downright obsfucation of a reality they are all aware of, but refuse to admit to.

SKIN DEEP

[Red Light]

“Under The Skin” appears to be a new title from CrossGen, to be drawn by Greg Tocchini. How do I know this? Well, in what may be a bid to see some actual payment from the pages, they’re already being sold on eBay before publication, here, here and here.

CrossGen deny knowledge of the project, or working with the creator…However, they do think it all looks rather spiffy and sounds like a great title.

ABANDONED GENERATION

[Yellow Light]

The cancellation of the “Gen13: October Surprises” trade paperback, the second planned Chris Claremont Gen13 graphic novel, represents the death of the franchise – for now. The book, once the best selling comic, has floundered since J Scott Campbell left the book. A creative upsurge under Adam Warren was abandoned, and the book has failed to hit its creative or commercial stride since. In the new Warren-Ellis shaped Wildstorm Universe, there’s little room for the title and we may not see this once-chart-strider for a long while…

REBEL WITHOUT A PAUSE

[Green Light]

Busy boy James Jean will be the new cover artist for Palmiotti, Grey and Winslade’s Monolith. Here are the covers to issues six and seven.

Also look for covers to “Fables” 24, 25 and “Batgirl” 51…

ULTIMATE EXCLUSION

[Green Light]

Just got my latest batch of comics and graphic novels from Comix-Shop (who’ve just had a spiffy revamp) and noticed something about the new “Ultimate X-Men” comic by Bendis and Finch. Is it just me, or is Brian Bendis not credited on the inside, but Mark Millar is? Did Marvel just cut and paste templates from the last “Ultimate X-Men” trade and… well. Forget?

Thankfully, they got it right on the cover.

ANTHOLOGY AMBIVALENCE

[Yellow Light]

There have been a few growls about the Avatar fundraiser anthology mentioned last week. Raising money for CBLDF and ACTOR, I understand it was originally a project started by poster to the Brian Bendis message board. A lot of fans and amateur pros signed up, submitted their work and had it accepted… a few weeks later after they’d made further enquiries, it turns out the material had been bumped without explanation. And last week’s article gave that explanation – the number of pros getting involved so that much of the amateur work got kinda squeezed out.

Feelings are mixed, naturally the anthology has to succeed and raise as much money as possible, and names are the way to do that. But it started out from the fans, and now those fans have been pushed to the side as it’s taken on a life of its own…

SMALL FRY

[Red Light]

There’s been a rumour running around the industry recently that Green Lantern penciler James Bosch is better known as James Fry, penciller of titles such as Liberty Project, Spider-Man, Excalibur and (my fave) Concrete Jungle – written by fellow name-changer, Priest.

DC Comics have, however, officially confirmed that Fry and Bosch are separate people – though some people at DC were surprised to hear that, so convinced were they by the rumour.

So… which of the above is actually using a pseudonym? And who is it?

ONE FROM THE BOTTOM

[Green Light]

Working Title Comics is a Web site dedicated to hosting and advertising comics on the Web, for free. There is no charge to the reader and no charge to the creators to have their stuff up on the web. The project spawned out of the MillarWorld boards and has been going strong for around eight months now. With pro endorsements from Ethan Van Sciver, Robert Morales, John Rozum and Eddie Deighton , as well as from several Internet columnists.

They even have a stick figure comic with Mark Millar calling Grant Morrison a cunt 45 times. How can you go wrong with that?

The site is recently refurbished and relaunched. Go see.

WAITING FOR TOMMY-LESS

[Green Light]

I had to take a break on Waiting For Tommy last week – pressures of work and more got a little too much. Hopefully should have the likes of Mike Carey, Peter Bagge and William Christensen in the upcoming weeks though….

THE QVC II

[Green Light]

No, I’m not doing another QVC UK. British citizens will be spared the joys of me trying to flog signed “X-Men 2099” issue ones. Instead, your host Nick Barrucci will continue to embarass himself my mispronouncing Mark Millar’s name from 9-10pm, January the 22nd, in what will look like an episode of “The Sopranos” gone horribly, horribly wrong. Call in and ask him tricky, borderline illegal questions on my behalf. He’s jetlagged, he’s American, he’s fair game as far as I’m concerned.

RECRUITING IN THE GUTTERS

If you’ve got a story, talk to me. Your identity will remain anonymous unless you wish otherwise. You can choose a pseudonym and join the ranks of the Gutterati. Or be a demon reposter, join the Gutter Snipes and spread the word about stories in this column across the Internet, where relevant. Then tell me where you’ve put them up – the more mainstream the better!

You can contact me at:

  • mailto:rich@twistandshout.freeserve.co.uk (which often gets full, but it’ll reach me during the day)
  • AOL Instant Message me at TwistRich
  • 0780 1350982 (01144780 1350982 from N America)
  • Anthrax packages can be sent to 8 Robin Hood Lane, Kingston Vale, London SW15 3PU, ENGLAND

Be seeing you.

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