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This is the seventy-seventh 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 professional and reader 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.

The traffic lights are there for your own protection. The Red light indicates that the content of the piece is most likely a mixture of agenda and confusion. Amber means at least the agenda is tempered by facts. Possibly. And Green means it’s true. Probably. Ah, you never know. Could always be a first.

If reprinting from this column, please only reprint a relevant portion of an article and include a link so people can get the rest. That way, glory lies.

DISTRIBUTION WARS II

[Yellow Light]

What would happen if there were more than one major comics distributor again? Carrying some of the big four, currently exclusive to Diamond Distribution?

When Bill Jemas and Joe Quesada were in full swing together at Marvel, the book distributor went toe-to-tow with Diamond Distribution to be the exclusive distributor of Marvel Comics. It was confirmed by many that CDS had the gig with Marvel, and Bill Jemas was believed to be confirming this to a number of industry figures. I reported the story at the time, only to see it fall apart half way through the week when it became clear that Marvel had been using the CDS offer to get a really good deal with Diamond. This exhibited itself in new trade terms, and a very significant injection of investment from Diamond into Marvel’s bookstore plans, which saw its cashflow increase dramatically.

During the original Distribution Wars, DC, Dark Horse and Image signed exclusively to Diamond, Capital City got Kitchen Sink and a few smaller companies, and Marvel went their own way buying distributor Heroes’ World, before that imploded and Marvel went cap in hand to the now victorious Diamond, on a less favourable deal than others. The opportunity from CDS saw Marvel and Diamond renegotiate their contract, so that Marvel had equal or better deals than the other exclusive companies, with Diamond.

Now, years later, it’s time for the return of CDS. Burnt by their initial foray into the direct market, they are engaged in a long-term plan for two years time. Which may well include discussions over a new exclusive distribution deal with Marvel Comics.

NORMAN CONQUEST

[Green Light]

Norman Mailer does comics. No honestly. See a preview here …

Something tells me Alex Ross’ job is safe.

ROARING WHEELSAdded 12/15/03 3:45 PM PST

[Green Light]

I understand Roaring Studios has the licence to Robert Jordan’s “Wheel of Time.” Pictures follow…

CUNNING AND FREEAdded 12/15/03 3:45 PM PST

[Green Light]

Art from an upcoming grafiksismik Zorro project…

TALKING TO TONY CAPUTO ABOUT NOW COMICS

[Green Light]

RICH: Tony, it’s been a while since NOW Comics was a prominent name on the comic stands. Can you tell us a little history about the company and what led to its cessation of publication?

TONY: It’s a very long story, one that only a handful of people know. Not even NOW employees because this was only discussed at executive meetings and events. NOW Entertainment Corporation (1991-1994) had a parent company called General Learning Corporation. GLC was a family operated business, with the son recently appointed President. Kelley Communications, a direct competitor in California filed bankruptcy and the son thought it an excellent opportunity for a massive expansion.

You’d think at first glance that GLC was hugely successful – 140 employees, 40,000 square foot offices in a high profile northern suburb and they produced the Driver’s Ed magazine for most high schools. I thought they were, but they were financially crippled by their clients, who didn’t pay on time. They saw NOW Comics as a cash-cow, in 1990 bringing in millions of dollars. The son’s plan was to hire all the regional sales people from Kelley Communications and use NOW money to fund the cost of the people and regional offices. This was due to the fact that GLC was tapped out with all financial resources.

I think there were seven sales people and offices and when these people only brought in one client (that paid very slow), the overhead killed them and it took NOW down with them. In a strategy of survival, they brought in a silent investor. Very business and very ruthless. Because I gave away majority interest in the company in 1990 in order for the company to survive, it was now three against one. When the silent investor was going to take NOW public, he demanded 75% of all the stock so what ensued was a lengthy legal battle because they attempted to shrink my shares down to 2.9% (from 20%) and I wouldn’t sign the papers. It’s gets ugly from there and very boring.

What happened to NOW Comics 1.0 (1985 to 1990) is another more exciting story and the main inspiration for my screenplay called FOUR-COLOR, INC.

RICH: Well, we wouldn’t want to spoil the ending. What is the current version of NOW Comics working on… currently?

TONY: There are a few deals in the works, but no licenses, just original material. There are also plans for animation and game development. This is not forever, just for now (no pun intended). After a careful evaluation of NOW’s extensive history with licenses, it’s always benefited the licensor more so than the licensee and here’s why:

Question: How much did the licensor of Green Hornet (Leisure Concepts, Inc, NYC) make on licensing Green Hornet before I paid them $1500 for the license to publish a Green Hornet comic book?

Answer: $0

Question: How much did they make after I published the comic book?

Answer: About $7 million dollars

Question: How much did NOW Comics get from that?

Answer: $0

After publishing licensed properties for about eight years, I used to say that licensors should pay the comic book publisher to publish their intellectual property because comic books are very powerful springboards and billboards for them. We brought GH back to life and in return, we had the privilege of paying them to publish the comic book, and bringing it back to life. Isn’t licensing grand? 😉

RICH: An interesting idea. Might try it myself… so what scale of operations are you envisaging for it?

TONY: I’m trying to follow the steps of NOW Comics 1.0, which was far more successful then NOW Entertainment Corp – from humble beginnings to twice the size of NOW Entertainment Corp. I’m following this strategy because I will NOT give up majority interest in NOW Comics ever again. You wouldn’t believe how many people have approached me to make NOW huge again, just because they read it in my book HOW TO SELF-PUBLISH YOUR OWN COMIC BOOK. “You did twice before and you can do it again because all this other entrepreneurial experience you’ve had with the Internet.” Yeah, sure, fine, but I stay in the driver’s seat. Comic books are a small part of the overall business and the kind of money needed to create a large comic book company today is far more than a decade ago. Besides that -and more importantly-They want me to give up my creative stuff to run it again. Sorry. Not this time.

RICH: So how will that operate within the current market – what opportunities do you see?

TONY: The Internet has created a channel directly to the consumer-offering the opportunity of bypassing distributors and retailers. This was never possible, economically, a decade ago. I don’t believe anyone has taken full advantage of what the Internet can do for them..

RICH. So what are your long term plans for NOW? What lessons can you learn from past NOW experience, or the likes of CrossGen?

TONY: After two versions of NOW Comics, and helping three people with their technology ventures I can tell you that I know what to do more so than when I was 23 years old. As far as CrossGen. It’s ridiculous to speculate anything that’s going on there because you’re not in the executive meetings. Most of the time what people perceive to be true, is not. For example, most people believe that NOW Comics 1.0 stopped publishing because they went on newsstand and newsstand distribution has killed many a comic book company. That’s just not true. Out of the 1.1 million comic books shipped out the last Friday of every month, 55% went to the newsstand where we had one of the best sell-throughs in the industry (remember we dealt with hot licenses mostly). Newsstand made us huge. What hurt NOW Comics 1.0 was the lack of capital, Glenwood distributors going bankrupt owning a bundle, Continental Bank (the only banking relationship NOW had) also filed bankruptcy and threw us to First Bank who serviced huge corporations and not the entrepreneur. There comes a time in every company’s lifecycle when it outgrows the entrepreneur physically, emotionally and mentally. It becomes an entrepreneurial entity that struggles to become a corporation. I’ve seen it happen many times (not just me) and offered consulting services and even free advice. Fueling immense growth from cash flow is the hardest way to run a business. At the size NOW Comics 1.0 was, it’s insanity, really. I didn’t know then what I know NOW (pun intended ;-).

The following are images from Tony’s upcoming graphic novel Vespers.

 

 

INCENDIARY COVERS

[Green Light]

Isn’t it fun when art goes astray? Here are two pencil pieces intended, I believe, for the “incentive” covers for “Cobra Reborn” and “G.I. Joe Reborn” by Talent Caldwell and Francis Manapul respectively.

Retailers get them when they order “a bajillion” copies of the standard comic. I think that’s the official figure, anyway…

And if that’s not enough, here’s a copy of “G.I. Joe Reloaded” 1’s cover by Adi Granov.

MAD REALITY

[Green Light]

There is currently no Anglophone publisher for “XIII,” the hit French comic which has recently found much fame outside Europe as a cross-console and PC action adventure game, distinctive with its “comic book,” cell-shaded look. To the extent that some reviewers have said it should be turned into a comic book.

If anyone wants to make some easy money, they should look into the UK and US publishing rights.

THE NAME’S BOND.

[Green Light]

Who was that character in British soap opera, “EastEnders” recently? A Mrs Bond? “My name’s Shelley.” Si Spencer, ex-Vertigo boy and current “EastEnders” writer strikes again.

PIECE OF SAMMY

[Green Light]

Azad, the writer/artist of the Image comic “Sammy: Tourist Trap,” is currently revealing the cover to his upcoming prequel one-shot… in bits. Join the fun here.

OH SURELY NOT THE UNLIMITEDS NEXT?

[Yellow Light]

When the Epic imprint hit the skids and approved proposals started being jettisoned all over the place, a branch of comfort existed in the “Unlimited” line from Marvel, anthology books that would feature short 11 page Marvel stories that were eagerly still welcoming fresh blood, both writers and artists.

This week I’ve repeatedly heard that creators who seemed to be having a good relationship with Marvel haven’t heard anything for a month – that it’s all gone radio silence over there. Which is a little familiar, because that’s what happened with Epic as well…

COSTUME PEEK

[Green Light]

For those desperate to see a sneak peek of Blue Beetle’s colour change on his costume, there was a preview cover featuring the design at the back of the last issue of “Formerly Known As…”

Versions of the front cover to the last issue also seemed to be a bit unsure about whether Blue Beetle wore boxers in the preview…

Or briefs in the published…

The new look…

MATRIX KEEPS ON GOING AND GOING

[Green Light]

After the successful Matrix trade paperback, the Wachowski Bros. Publisher, Burlyman Entertainment is going to publish a couple of new, non-Matrix comics from Stevce Skroce and Geof Darrow..

DAGGER BLOW

[Green Light]

A Newsarama interview on the redesign of Cloak And Dagger for “Runaways,” caused Brian Vaughn to go all Warren Ellis on a reader’s arse.

When talking about the redesign of Dagger’s costume, reader Rob Jesnon wrote “Gah! This doof has obviously never heard of double-sided costume tape. He needs to take a damn theater costuming class before he tries to redesign a costume that doesn’t need fixing.”

Brian replied “Rob – I’m the ‘doof’ who suggested a costume tweaking, so I deserve your ire, not Takeshi. If our mail is to be believed, ‘Runaways’ is read by many more young female readers than dirty old men, so I didn’t think our audience would mind two extra strips of fabric. Sorry I didn’t attend theater costuming class. I think I was getting laid that day.

“Knows he will regret posting that,

“BKV ”

Nope, I can’t see the problem, Brian.

TRANSFORMERS CANCELLED

[Green Light]

The UK version that is.

What misleading headline? Where?

Accoriding to Panini’s website, the recently released Issue #9 of “Transformers Armada” will be the last for the forseeable future. Tom O’Malley is quoted as saying, “I regret to announce Panini’s recent decision to close the ‘Transformers Armada’ comic. Issue 9 will be the final issue. I’d like to thank our loyal readers for sticking by us, and all the artists, writers, inkers and colourists, and everyone else, who helped make the comic possible. Hopefully this will not spell the end of Panini’s relationship with the Transformers, so watch this space in the future!”

Looks like it’s back to eBay for our robot-following hordes for now though.

FOUR MORE

[Green Light]

Fancy a look at what the Fantastic Four Movie Teaser Poster will look like? A tease of a tease? Latino Review claims to have the image…

COMICS, MUST ADVERTISE

[Green Light]

Did another one of those advertising campaigns for comics again at Waiting For Tommy – Ban Comics this time. And look forward to Peter David, Adam Fortier or Jimmy Palmiotti this Wednesday… spin the Waiting For Tommy wheel of fortune!

TWO FROM THE BOTTOM

There is a grand old man in the pub on Thursdays. Word is that he’s over forty but he looks in his early thirties and has the musical tastes of someone just that bit younger than me, which is very annoying. But Adrian Brown does not want to work in the comics industry.

He wants people who work in the comics industry to donate a bit of their time.

The time it takes to do a convention sketch or to write a few words about their favourite comics. This is for a charity comic book called “Just 1 Page 2” (or J1P2) which will be a convention sketchbook for the 2004 Comics Festival in Bristol, England.

In 2001, he edited the first Just 1 Page comic which had a theme of “Comics Heroes”, which had contributors such as Duncan Fegredo, Warren Ellis, Al Davison and Mike Carey (and even someone calling themselves “Rich Johnston”). Phil Winslade and Steve Gerber even debuted their collaboration on Howard the Duck in “Just 1 Page.” Various other artists then supported the project by sketching in copies of the book at the Bristol event: Eddie Campbell, Bryan Talbot, Dave Gibbons and Charlie Adlard. And all of the original art was auctioned for charity.

The theme for the next issue will be British Comics. But that’s as wide a description as you want it to be! Not only characters from “The Beano,” “2000AD” or “Viz,” but also John Constantine, Modesty Blaise and Captain Britain.

This time all proceeds will go to the Trinity Hospice Charity. You can find out more by emailing Adrian via Just1Page@aol.com and by checking the online flier.

RICH JOHNSTON ANTICIPATES STUFF

MONOLITH

I read the first double-sized issue of “Monolith” by Jimmy Palmiotti, Justin Grey and Phil Winslade the other day. It’s rather good.

Okay, so I’m a sucker for modern takes on the Golem, especially when mixed with other aspects of comics and fantasy (“Kavalier And Clay,” “Feet Of Clay,” “Ragman”). And this does New York tenements, buildings and estates that all three also used rather well too.

There are signs this might become an inner-city Man-Thing, but then it’s pretty much open as to which way it could go. Which, for a DC Universe comic these days is rather unique.

PRESS GANG DVD SEASON ONE

In the late eighties, I fell in love with someone off the TV for the first time. Her name was Julia Sawalha, she played the character Lynda Day in the Kids’ TV comedy drama “Press Gang” and I’ve had a thing for bossy women ever since.

Since then the writer, Steven Moffat, has gone on to create fine farce sitcoms “Joking Apart” and “Coupling.” “Press Gang” excels in fine dramatic and narrative structural twists, the kind of dialogue that Joss Whedon would one day become master of, and an aura of something more suitable for a late night adult audience than the kid’s timeslot it was stuck with. Imagine “Saved By The Bell” by Larry David crossed with “Degrassi Junior High” by Quentin Tarantino. You wouldn’t be far off.

Julia nowadays appears in “Absolutely Fabulous” and knows not of my still burning love. Co-star Dexter Fletcher to the likes of “Lock, Stock.” The rest – Gabrielle Anwar, Lucy Benjamin, Sadie Frost, Mmolki Christie, Paul Reynolds have found differing levels of success elsewhere.

Fourteen years on, “Press Gang Series 1” is about to be released by Network Video. Although the listing says Region 2, most of Network’s output is actually Region 0 and no one bothers to check. 300 minutes long, £20 though everywhere online will discount that, come revisit my TV-watching childhood.

RICHARD HERRING’S WARMING UP EVERY DAY

One of my favourite comedians writes a daily weblog as a technique to avoid writers block. Warming Up is obsessed with conspiracies involving the people he sees around him every day, the car licence plate number game, his weight, a variety of towns he believes hate him, his rises and falls through broadcasting, the translations of his stage shows into Nowegian and much more. He’s been doing it for over a year, pick a month and gorge.

RECRUITING IN THE GUTTERS

If any creator or studio would like to share their recent experiences with Image Central, please do. If anyone has stories to share about Hank Kalanz, now’s the time. And if any C-list creator or above (you know who you are) has any Epic pitches to share, write in.

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.

Discuss this column on the Lying In The Gutters Forum.
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