If you’re on the Internet and interested in comic books, there’s one name you definitely know: Rich Johnston. The author of CBR’s own LYING IN THE GUTTERS is the premier comic book rumor/gossip columnist, engendering cheers and scorn from fans and creators alike. Through all of it, Johnston’s maintained an endearing sense of humor and managed to release quite a few comic books to the market. With his parody of Marvel Comics’ “Civil War” hitting shelves in October from Brain Scan Comics, and entitled “Civil Wardrobe,” Johnston’s set to again ignite a lot of discussion among fans and surely receive some more of that ire from writers & artists everywhere. CBR News spoke with Johnston about “Civil Wardrobe” and his history in the comics industry.
“About ten years ago I wrote and drew a comic called ‘X-Flies’ that parodied a popular television series and comic book of the time,” he explained. “It was the year of the boom, it did rather well and gave me the opportunity to make some really bad jokes and not lose money. Since then I’ve written and drawn a few comic books for a few publishers – ‘The Factor,’ ‘Holed Up,’ ‘The Flying Friar,’ ‘Chase Variant’ – but a low market doesn’t provide that much of a chance for new works without losing money – at least initially – and I’m on the whole mortgage-and-a-kid road now. ‘Civil Wardrobe’ was just a silly name I was playing with, until I realized how it could provide the perfect opportunity to be an extension of LYING IN THE GUTTERS, commenting on and sending up much of the current mainstream industry, from the propensity to revamp and redesign, to huge overarcing plots to Superboy punches. And also the opportunity to ask lots of artists I knew if they’d draw a character each.”
If you haven’t been reading “Civil War,” the basic idea is that a tragic event involving superheroes leads to the deaths of innocents and to the public wanting superheroes to be more strictly regulated by the government. In turn, the government creates a superhero registration act and heroes are divided on that. In “Civil Wardrobe,” Johnston is taking a similar tact, as he explained, “The Old Fanboy Warriors meet in one of their parents’s basement to discuss what’s wrong with comics. It’s a familiar conversation that, sadly, is interrupted half way by a mystery assailant who blows them all up. As a result, the President passes the Decompression Act, on the basis that if the Warriors’ story had been decompressed, it could probably have stretched to at least six issues and a trade, giving them an extended lifespan. This splits the superhero community in two… as they start to redesign, revamp and rename to meet the challenge.”
The Marvel Comics crossover asks fans “Whose side are you on?” and “Civil Wardrobe” is no different. When CBR News posed the question to Johnston, he was quite clear on his position in the very real “decompression” debate. “A nice mix, I reckon. Neither one, nor the other. I like Bendis and Stern. Ellis and Slott. Millar and Byrne. Variety, variety, variety. Of course, in the world of ‘Civil Wardrobe’ I’d be branded an equivocating traitor.”
Just as with “Civil War,” the humorous “Civil Wardrobe” is packed to the gills with a plethora of characters, all of whom should please long time comic book fans. “Osama Bin Hulk, Black Panda, Captain American Idol and Thor of The Church of Scientology have proved popular from previews,” said Johnston. “I think the Jailbait Avengers may be worthy of their own fansites though.”
As one might expect from Johnston, the book is a satire and he’s proudly ignoring any type of subtlety. “It’s very, very, very in your face,” said Johnston. “Being hit on the head with a sledgehammer is the level of subtlety I’m going for. It’s about all of the megacrossovers. As for ’52,’ not for now – maybe I’ll do a sequel to Civil War, ’53.'”
Those who’ve seen the solicitation for “Civil Wardrobe” know that Johnston has amassed quite an army of artists to aid him with the book. He admits that some artists he pursued were exclusive to a single company, which made things a bit more difficult, “But I have a certain amount of charm and dogged persistence,” said Johnston. “And when Fred Hembeck said yes, I knew that this was going to be great. And the list is great – Kaare Andrews, Darick Robertson, Ashley Wood, Lea Hernandez, Mike Netzer, Mark Stafford, Frazer Irving, Billy Dallas Patton, Natalie Sandells, Sam Hart, Bevis Musson and more. They have all have really thrown themselves into this.”
Being the man with all the secrets, and far more than ever make it into print, Johnston has a unique position in the comic book industry, though he doesn’t quite see it that way. “I’m not exactly what you’d call in the industry,” contended Johnston. “LITG basically pays for my comics – and that’ll do. Weirdly I am getting more comic industry work of late… must be something in the water. And there’s competitors all over. Not just the obvious ones, but the rise of blogs and messageboards has presented new challenges. Always snapping at my heels or taking chunks out of me. Just means I have to try and run faster. It’s a good time to be a gossip column reader. Me, I read Heidi [McDonald, author of “The Beat”].”
It’s easy to forget that Johnston has done some serious work like “The Flying Friar,” currently published in Italian and looking for an English publisher, and Johnston has similar offerings in the works. “I have a couple of serious comic book concepts along those lines, as well as some very silly things in the works,” he teased.