This is eightieth 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.
Yes, I did QVC for Nick Barrucci. It’s true, I sold signed copies of X-Men 2099 live on British TV to an audience of about seven who then proceeded to spend hundreds of pounds on signed Stan Lee items. And yes, I’d do it again. It is an odd experience, running two miles across a park on Boxing Day at 7.30pm because the programmes been brought 2 hours forward to 8pm, and I’d mixed up which bridge the QVC studio was on (Chelsea, not Battersea), no trains were running, taxis were all absent and the buses had packed in for the night, knowing in half an hour I’m meant to be live on the telly in front of the nation. Still, I’d do it again.
Also on Channel 5 last night when they repeated that Spider-Man documentary. Andy Warhol can go swivel.
I must have got the selling comics bug. Look! Over 170 items on eBay already, and I’ve got another fifty to put up later this week. A few proper and diverse bargains from “Magneto Rex” to “Odds Off,” from “Youngblood” to “Love And Rockets Bonanza”…
I’ll get my coat.
THE WORST KEPT SECRET IN COMICS
“Buffy The Vampire Slayer” was basically X-Men: The TV Series. In terms of relationships, story construct, plot devices and dialogue, Chris Claremont and John Byrne’s “Uncanny X-Men” proved a strong influence, as did related series such as Alan Moore, Jamie Delano and Alan Davis’ “Captain Britain.” Joss can not only write X-Men well, he’s been doing it for the last seven years. Still doing it with Angel and Firefly. And loads of people watched it around the world. So now he gets to bring some of them to the X-Men – a title they should feel very at home reading.
As for impact – when JMS took over Amazing Spider-Man, he doubled sales from 50,000 to 100,000. Kevin Smith did a similar feat with Daredevil and Green Arrow. This is the test – can Whedon, with a larger and more diverse fanbase than both, perform a similar feat to the 130,000 selling New X-Men? It’s entirely possible. With “Ultimate Fantastic Four” recently getting over 200,000 for its first issue, the possibility of a content-fuelled comics boom may well be a reality, and 2004 could kick it off.
Whedon on X-Men has been a dream for Joe Quesada – and something he’s been pursuing since before Grant Morrison took over the title. Joe Casey believed himself to have been the second choice to Joss while Grant Morrison was on the X-Men. And finally, years later, Joe Quesada has got his man. However, it seems there’s something to come first…
Except, you see, Neil Gaiman denies he’s agreed to anything like this, although he has heard this very same twist on the old rumour very recently. The problem is that we’ve both been hearing it from people who should be in a position to know. Wishful thinking on Marvel’s part? A false leak intended to trap the unwary?
Gaiman tells me he’d be too busy anyway, and while he has another comic project planned for Marvel after “1602,” it will be in the future. Like, quite a way away. A bit like Sydney in that respect.
However, whoever’s on the book, it looks like X-Men fans may have a little longer to wait for Joss Whedon than they may have been expecting.
SERIOUS AS CANCEROUS
Which also happened to be the nickname chosen by some basketball player. Cue lots of peculiar women chasing Micah Wright on AOL claiming he’d fathered their children.
Micah has changed his AOL instant messenger name.
ELLIS’ NEW THING
The only games magazine I can bear to touch these days, “Edge,” also mentions he’s writing for what is reputed to be a “GoldenEye” killer, “Cold Winter” for the PS2. Damn you Warren, can’t you persuade them to release a Gamecube version? Just for me? No?
Damn your eyes.
Well, here are a few more details. The 12 issue arc will be called “Pop Will Eat Itself” and will be a satire on the comic industry’s current fixation with 80s revivals.
UPDATE: Ed Brubaker has replied on Millarworld, saying “I just want to go on record as saying my ‘Authority’ run is not going to be called ‘Pop Will Eat Itself.’ I was talking drunkenly to some stoners at the Isotope signing and rambled a bit about the themes I’d be exploring, which I shouldn’t have done, but I’m not doing a parody of the 80s revival. It’s going to be a blast, and I hope there’s humor in there, because it’s the Authority, but I’m not doing a parody or a lampoon.”
Did I say parody or lampoon? Surely not… but you heard it here first folks. LITG sources, nothing but a bunch of stoners talking to drunk comic book pros. I can live with that.
To be fair, he was only a Plastic-Man replacement, and now that old Placcy has been re-embraced by the comics mainstream and Grant Morrison, Elongated Man’s raison d’etre has been wobbly of late which may have prompted speculation.
If it happens, expect it to happen in DC’s upcoming “Identity Crisis” event. Although very, very few have read any of it so far…
NOT WORK FOR ‘HIRE’
BMW’s agency seemed interested in co-operating with such a venture. And so the team set about creating proposals, with many pages of drawn, coloured and lettered art. There were many meetings where the process of putting together comics were discussed, as well as budgeting and distribution. Meetings with Diamond were arranged between all three parties continued for quite a while.
In fact BMW’s agency decided that it was such a good idea, that they dropped the team of creators and went to Dark Horse. Look forward to Dark Horse’s “The Hire” later this year. Just without a certain team of people who put in the time, money and effort to get it off the ground.
Jason Henderson, who apparently initiated the project, would only tell me “Hey, that’s what professionals sometimes do. They made a business decision. We gave them an eight-month course in making comic books and at the end they decided someone else should get the contract, and sometimes that happens. Luckily since there were no non-disclosure agreements involved, we can at least talk about what we’ve learned from the process. Because are you kidding me? Greg Scott and JD Mettler and Tony Harris? The samples are spectacular as the book would have been.”
Let’s have a look…
DECK THE HALLS WITH LEGLESS EDITORS
And since this was at Dan Didio’s instigation, everyone took up the spirit of the thing. The Superman editors especially were reportedly unable to leap tall buildings at a single bound. Or even make it across the hall without bumping into things.
One associate editor was heard calling up freelancers directly afterwards to berate them, while giggling.
The next day, someone threatened to be even later on books next year…
I love a happy ending, don’t you?
A VERITABLE PANACEA
He has a number of comic book interests. Such as representing Michael Reaves on comics and interactive project – with something rather colossal on the horizon, consulting on marketing communications for Intec Interactive on their Digital Comic Books campaign, increasing their mass-media coverage, is VP of marketing for Fog Studios… and also consults for theglobe.com and the Shin Do Kumate World Martial Arts League. Okay, that’s not comics, but it shows range, hmm?
HERE BE DRAGONS
“Back in 1987-88, Steven Grant, Steve Gerber, Frank Miller and Brad Munson got together and publish a newsletter for comics professionals (a paper one in ’88 — the Internet itself had yet to really exist). They called it WAP! (Words and Pictures), and published, what about a dozen issues over the next couple of years. Logo by Bill Sienkiewicz, political cartoons by Dave Sim, articles by just about everybody active in the biz at the time. Great fun and much shouting ensued.
“The major theme of WAP! was creator rights and self-determination. They even did a whole issue on self-publishing, with major pieces written by the few folks successful in that field at the time — Dave Sim, Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird, etc. Grant and I got to be friends; WAP! eventually folded for lack of time (Miller was moving into screenwriting and going all Martha Washington, Gerber was moving into TV, Munson into the music industry, etc. etc.), but the bug was planted: Grant and Munson started speculating about the ‘ideal comics company’ — an independent company that could use the direct sales market, but allow for creator’s rights.
“Enter Flint Dille. Flint had been peripherally involved in the (then dying) animation and (then moribund) comics industry for years, primarily because of his connection to TSR. Flint was the brother of Lorraine Williams, the woman who owned and ran TSR in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin at the time, and had much clout with her. He was living in L.A. and trying to get a variety of media projects involving TSR properties off the ground: D&D cartoons and movies, interactive games (at the time SSI was doing a successful line of combat-sim games for the PC; Flint was involved in those). Lorraine considered him a Young Genius, the scion of the family who just hadn’t quite found his niche yet.
“Grant and Munson had planned how to get a company off the ground by buying into some existing properties. TSR had them. They submitted a modified business plan to them, through Flint, that suggested they produce four comics a month- some based on TSR properties, some newly developed material, in 4-6-issue arcs; to then be repackaged and republished as graphic novels (a novel idea in 1990). Munson (not Grant) wished to include text pages with battle stats for comics characters so gamers could use them as characters while playing RPGs. And there’d be plenty of cross-advertising out of TSR product. Munson met with Lorraine and others; and went through the plan, the Board approved it, and suddenly … there was a company. Munson was publisher; Grant was Creative Director… and Flint was General Manager. You can see where this is going can’t you?
“Flint’s various other-media projects would run out of the same Sepulveda offices, collectively the operation was known as TSR/West. Dark Horse was just getting off the ground at the time, building its rep and stability on ‘Predator’ and ‘Alien’ adaptations and showing how well graphic novels could do. Frank Miller and Brad Munson were pushing hard at Orion to let him do the ‘Robocop II’ comics adaptation that he had written — but they wanted more up-front money than they could find; so it went to Marvel without Miller. The direct sales market was, as it turned out, at its height … and TSR had a healthy relationship with Simon and Schuster and various distributors because of its successful paperback book series, edited by Mary Kirchoff. The whole thing seemed like a good idea at the time…
“… Except for two things.
“One: TSR’s major, best-known licenses — ‘Dungeons & Dragons,’ ‘Dragonlance,’ ‘Forgotten Realms’ and all connected worlds — were under the control of DC at the time, where they were producing a series of three or four half-successful comics. After much back-and-forth and mumbled assurances, it became clear that TSR wasn’t going to pull those back: they would only get the remaining licenses, the less-successful or long-dead products: ‘Buck Rogers’ (which had and still is owned by the Dille Family Trust since it was, ahem, acquired by Flint’s ancestors, and for which they were preparing a new RPG launch), ‘Sniper,’ ‘Agent 13’ (a 1930’s pulp-homage spy thing), like that. None of the sword-and-sorcery stuff.
“Two: Flint. They thought Flint was going to simply share offices and support staff and serve as the prime liaison with TSR/Central. Instead, Flint was to be the Boss of Bosses — he would decide what books were published, who were hired, where the offices were, etc. etc. And as became clear even as they were recruiting artists and writers, his ideas about everything from creator’s rights to page rates to content were entirely different than Grant and Munson’s. He proceeded to load the staff with friends – the one assistant Grant and Munson brought in fled in a matter of weeks. They spent hours and even days discussing abortive movie, TV, and game projects, and dickering over the standard contract they would offer to writers and artists. They spent weeks setting up a print production process running through their offices, only to be told that TSR/Central would handle all that, on their own schedule (even though it was longer and more convoluted; even though they’d never printed comics in their lives). And it became clear: if there was a Flint vs. Anyone decision to be made, the decision would be made in Flint’s favor.
“It was a very rough year. There was so little to choose from in the TSR leftovers that they created new concepts for the TSR line: ‘Intruder,’ a “wanderer in multiple dimensions” story, ‘Warhawks,’ about a platoon of time-traveling mercenaries, ‘R.I.P.,’ a horror anthology, .. and were told that comic #4 would be ‘Buck Rogers.’ No arguments. There were ‘B’ stories there as well, but the salvaged notion was that they wouldn’t do superheroes — they’d appeal to the genres that gamers respond to: SF/fantasy, war/combat, horror/fantasy, and … well, ‘Buck Rogers,’ like it or not.
“It wasn’t long before the four-story arc concept was forgotten. There were no assurances that any of the storylines would be turned into GNs anymore. S&S had originally been willing to distribute into (the then dying) bookstore market; they backed away when it came time to solicit, and TSR let them (though they had tremendous clout with them at the time) — so they were back to an all-direct-sales product.
“Finally, months away from launch, and on the verge of soliciting the first issues, the next bomb fell: DC was grumbling about TSR ‘competing’ with them … so they could no longer call our products ‘comics.’ They didn’t want to offend DC. Instead, they would now be called ‘Comics Modules.’ The covers would be altered to make the look more like games than comics (including a horrible hexagon-grid logo-frame-thing that was supposed to look like a gaming grid-map), and the gaming content would be beefed up. Of course the comics shops hated this idea — they didn’t sell gaming product, damn it (remember — this is 1991, way before ‘Magic: the Gathering’ and the collectible/gaming crossover market.) They were confused as to whether it was a comic (based on a whole bunch of new, non-superhero concepts) or a game (which they weren’t interested in), and they ended up under-ordering until they could see them. A sampling campaign was suggested — sending out black-and-white issues to all the shop-buyers — but never got off the ground (they didn’t want to spend the money back at central; their new Marketing Manager, signed on by Flint, didn’t think it was necessary).
“Stephen Grant saw the hand-writing on the wall. He cut a deal to continue writing ‘Intruder’ and something else — I forget what — as well as be ‘Editorial Coordinator’ for a couple of the other books, but worked from home. Munson resigned within the year. Flint wanted even more of his own people, and he got them.
“The first few issues of ‘Intruder,’ ‘Warhawks,’ ‘R.I.P.’ and ‘Buck Rogers’ were published a few months later, without Munson’s name and with Grant’s only on the books he specifically wrote. When the ‘Agent 13’ came out, TSR Production standards were peculiar enough to that the ‘Is it game? Is it comic?’ debate continued and the books were shelved all over stores, depending on whether it was seen as a comic or a TSR game product. Sales were pretty abysmal; the reorders after issue #3 guaranteed the silent death of the line, one of the early deaths in a decade where everybody from First Comics to Eclipse to blah blah blah also came and went.
“At the time, TSR was the Big Dog in gaming — something like 70% of the market, a huge line of books, and full ownership of GENCON, the large gaming convention in America. Wizards of the Coast was this tiny little Pacific Northwest company doing card/combat games. But it was only three or four years later that WotC’s ‘Magic: The Gathering’ came along, and the long-predicted slide in RPG’s finally began. After years of trying to build their properties into a DC-like Properties Machine, Lorraine Williams ending up selling TSR to upstart WotC for $25 million. Only a very few folks followed the sale from Wisconsin to Washington State … and Lorriane Williams and Flint Dille weren’t among them.
“Flint is still in Hollywood now, married with a couple of kids. He seems to have done some game design here and there; He wrote the screenplay for the animated feature ‘Fievel Goes West’ and some video-inserts for Playstation games. Just this month a novelization of the Playstation game based on ‘Batman: The Animated Series’ was published; Dille is the co-author with Devin Grayson, and authored the ‘Game Story.’
“Lorraine Williams moved to Germany shortly after the sale of TSR in 1997. Her whereabouts are unknown.
“Marketing Manager Justin McCormack was a marketing director for Marvel for quite a while, and is now with EMAP Petersen.
“Some time after Peter Adkison’s WotC bought TSR, Hasbro bought Adkison’s WotC. He left the company a couple of years ago, an extremely rich man. He still hangs around the industry, and seems to be enjoying himself.
“Brad Munson went back into ‘regular publishing’, wrote ‘Inside Men In Black 2’ for Sony and Del Rey last year, and consults in publishing and marketing.
“Steven Grant writes comics and a fun Internet column.”
My source “took a glance at the Roaring Studios and Devil’s Due Web sites; I see that ‘Dragonlance’ #1 and #2 are comin’ in early ’04. Good on ’em. ‘Dragonlance’ was one of the licenses held away from TSR/West 13 years ago; DC gave it up shortly after TSR/West folded … but that was then and this is now. Though the rep and recognizability of the D&D name has dwindled tremendously, Sword & Sorcery in general has become a standard and rather robust sub-genre of its own, and plenty of non-superhero comics sell regularly now, while in 1991-2 virtually nothing north of Will Eisner reprints was selling if there wasn’t a superhero on the front. And ‘Dragonlance’ as a name is pretty cool; the product looks decent. It may attract Sword and Sorcery fans apart from gamers based on its concept alone. I wonder what other moribund TSR properties might rear their ugly heads?”
How about Buck Rogers anyone? Anyone?
RECRUITING IN THE GUTTERS
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Be seeing you.