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LYING IN THE GUTTERS VOL 2 COLUMN 31

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 sources and checked with respective publisher representatives before publication. 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.

LEATHER BOUND

[Green Light]

Batman analogue created by Warren Ellis and Bryan Hitch for “Stormwatch,” before he made “The Authority” title his own and Mark Millar and Frank Quitely got him splashed across the world media as a gay icon, The Midnighter… is getting his own series from Wildstorm. There. Nothing like a ridiculously long run on sentence to announce an LITG scoop.

But, nevertheless, this is the first solo superhero series from the DC Universe starring an openly gay character. Trust it to be the one who runs around in leather all the time.

HIGH TIMES

[Green Light]

The DeGrassi Junior High graphic novels mentioned in LITG recently will be published by Simon & Schuster. There are plans for a big promotional push at Comic-Con International in San Diego next summer, with a panel featuring cast members to hype the comics and Kevin Smith movie. CTV (Canada) and The N (US) will air commercials for the comics similar to the ones made for the “Degrassi: Generations” book and “Degrassi: The Next Generation” agenda aired during episodes this season.

Comics advertised on TV. It’s a rarity.

GREEN MEMORY

[Green Light]

Talking of new series, Marvel recently announced “Busting out from the pages of THE INCREDIBLE HULK, Doc Samson gets his first mini-series!”

Aside from the four-issue Marvel mini-series “Doc Samson” from 1996, of course, written by modern Marvel wonderboy and tenterrific Dan Slott, no less.

Mind you, even Dan probably wants to forget that one…

GRAND SLAM

[Yellow Light]

Adam Fortier came to prominence in comics as a mover and shaker. He negotiated the “Transformers” deal with Dreamwave, and their move to set up as an independent studio, before moving to offer similar services to Devil’s Due and Udon. He continued to perform consultant duties, but last year he set up his own publishing company, based around the Image Comics model of a flat fee system, though more of a “subsidy press” model, while publishing his own books at Speakeasy through Hawke Studios. Recently he announced a deal with Ardustry Entertainment, to exploit multi-media rights.

Last week’s revelations about Speakeasy’s change of business practices in the light of independent publisher shrinking sales caused much comment across the message boards and blogosphere. I took some of those concerns directly to Speakeasy CEO and subject of last week’s article, Adam Fortier.

Note: Speakeasy are publishing a graphic novella of mine, “The Flying Friar,” currently going through the production process. I have no other books placed at Speakeasy.

RICH: Adam, you’ve said that a decline in sales has been down to the current market, and certainly it’s been observed that the current tactics of Marvel and DC are squeezing out sales elsewhere. But do you think that Speakeasy’s decision to increase their publishing line so much did, in any way, contribute to the reduction in orders?

ADAM: Well, I think it’s possible….on the other hand, I think that there are a great many factors, and to pinpoint exactly what happened would be a pretty darn hard thing to do. If we had not published so many books, but the sales still weren’t there, we’d be pointing at something else….

RICH: Well, how about marketing? There has been criticism of marketing levels at Speakeasy, of retailers and fans not being aware, or as aware, of forthcoming books. And that may partly be because of the line increase. Is that fair comment?

ADAM: We simply can’t dictate who will and who won’t listen to us in the industry. I can ask Newsarama for an interview, but they will decide whether or not to write that article. Same thing for Wizard, and anyone else. For the retailers, we’ve called a large list, and it’s up to them to choose to take the telephone call or not, read the mass e-mail or not, etc. We’ve tried to represent each of our books, but the community was more interested in some more than others, it’s a simple fact of life. We can’t guarantee coverage, and we can’t guarantee that x number of people and retailers will know about your book ahead of time, and even if we could, we couldn’t guarantee those people would buy the book.

RICH: People buying the book seems to be a problem… your plan to publish comics that don’t make the commercial grade online is something you’ve said is intended to extend the publication lifespan of a project, so that it can be published in collected form at a later date – if it picks up readers, or gains attention with foreign rights or other media. But there has also been concern that online publication also affect the time covered by Speakeasy contracts that the company can represent the property in such markets. Is there a potential that Speakeasy could grab and hold any rights the creator may have, at one point, wished Speakeasy to represent, for an extended period, as a result of the non-time-specific nature of publication? Could Speakeasy’s publication of a property online impede a creator’s decision to move the book elsewhere?

ADAM: Nope, there isn’t. Our contracts are for projects, not a specific timeline, so it wouldn’t interfere (and they cancel after a certain period of time, something that would happen regardless of online publication). And creators can move future issues elsewhere that aren’t covered in the contract – that’s not a problem at all.

RICH: On that point, if Speakeasy has been allowed by a creator to represent the book for multi-media rights, in exchange for a percentage of moneys received, does the recent tie up with Ardustry create a conflict of interest? Is it conceivable that Ardustry could get a “bargain deal” on a property represented by Speakeasy, that another party might conceivably have paid more for?

ADAM: Again, nope. Well, let me rephrase. It would be the dumbest bloody thing to do. If we do not treat creators fairly in regards to media rights, we simply won’t have the chance to represent others in the future. Reputation is king here, and so you need to take care of as many people as you can, or else you simply won’t have opportunities in the future.

RICH: Okay, listen, there clearly is hard feeling by some Speakeasy creators… although there seems equal support from your fanclub. Certainly this is a situation that no one would have liked to have been forced into. How do you believe the current situation could have been avoided?

ADAM: By not starting a publishing company!

RICH: And seriously?

ADAM: Seriously.

RICH: Any… elaboration?

ADAM: I’m trying to think of a serious answer, but I don’t think it’s a fair question. Was there one thing that could be pointed to that would affect everything, I just don’t think so. There are a number of factors, and even if those factors changed I’m not sure that the situation would. I’ve got to work with where we are and where the industry is and go from there. Too often people look at the situation and try to figure out exactly what went wrong instead of realizing that doesn’t matter, what matters is how you react to the situation.

RICH: Well, here’s a situation. An e-mail has just been circulated to a large number of comic book creators from artist “Dub” from the Grafiksismik studio, a company that has worked on your Hawke Studio work-for-hire titles. I’ll send you a copy. Do you have any comment?

Why I quit comics

During the first half of 2005, I’ve spent several months working for Adam Fortier/Hawke Studios/Speakeasy Comics. Under the deal, I was to co create/design characters for and draw a book (Beowulf) in exchange for a page rate (Ridiculously low one, I shall add) + a % of ownership in the property. Under the deal, my studio (Grafiksismik) was to co-create/design characters for and draw two more books (The Grimoire and Spellgame) in exchange for same. Under the deal, my studio (Grafiksismik) was to completely create and write an original book (The Grimoire) in exchange for same.

Over the months, we provided Adam Fortier/Hawke Studios/Speakeasy Comics with about 200 pages of lineart + 150 pages of colors + 6 issues of scripts + 6 issues of plots before stopping production as it became obvious we were not going to get paid. At the time, payment terms had been changed half a dozen of times (Once per month, generally whenever I asked to get paid), I was asked to sign a second contract that limited my ownership of the properties and even my right to get paid, some payments were already months late and I was forced to take heavy workloads on the side if I wanted to survive and pay my bills, including the bills of other artists working with me on the projects, bills for which I was directly responsible.

In the end, I’ve never signed the second contract, but I haven’t seen a dollar since (8 months ago). To this day Adam Fortier/Hawke Studios/Speakeasy Comics still owes us some 35k in page rates and this has made my life a mess. Part of that amount is owed to Sebastien Caisse, creator and writer of The Grimoire. Sebastien created The Grimoire from scratch, wrote the scripts for issues 1 to 6 and plotted issues 7 to 12 and have yet to received a single dollar of his promised page rate. To my knowledge, Adam Fortier still commission creators to work on The Grimoire, a book I’m not even sure he owns with respect to copyright laws. (Having not met his end of the contract with the original author)

In addition to fucking up my own financial situation, Adam Fortier is responsible for the mess in which other Grafiksismik-linked artists are at the moment. Those people who worked on the books in good faith and gave months of their life to make those series possible are now left with no money, no thank you, no nothing.

Are lying publishers with no honor the only thing left in this business?

RICH: Adam?

ADAM: OK, I’ll bite……

We entered into an agreement with Graf to assist with creating and publishing “The Grimoire” and “Beowulf,” two Hawke Studios books (to explain, I am owner of both Hawke Studios and Speakeasy Comics, although they are two separate entities). We agreed to pay them a page rate (and I have a serious issue with ridiculously low, I know what others get paid, and it’s not far from standard). We were to pay slightly more than 50% of the page rate up front for pencils, and then the remainder after we obtained the funds from Diamond.

When orders came in for the initial issues, we realized that they weren’t high enough to sustain the comics. We then asked Graf to alter our payment agreement so we can be dependent upon the TPB, instead of the comic book being published, as it just wouldn’t cover our costs and we’d be unable to continue. Graf agreed, and Seb offered to be paid when the TPB came out for the writing, as that would ensure the comic book be published.

Now, from the beginning it was a pretty miserable business relationship. I liked the guys, but we had to beg, threaten, and cajole just to get an update on where the books were. They’d miss deadlines, and no word from them. We finally altered the payment system additionally after they were late again with the colors on one of the books (told them half on pencils, half on colors). At this time I believe “Beowulf” was one month late, and “Grimoire” a couple of weeks.

Finally, after issue #3 of “Beowulf” was handed in exceptionally late (and some piss poor pages, as well….same thing with issue #2, but we had to go to print on it) , we fired them off the book. We were told it was so late due to their latest check being 1 1/2 weeks late. Same thing for “Grimoire” colors, so we fired them off issues 5 & 6 colors (please let me point out that at no point in time did we have any issues with “Grimoire” quality, we were always pleased with the artwork, if not the timeliness in delivery).

As for the second contract, it was actually a first one. They signed a deal memo, with the assurance that we would do a contract shortly….they had it since early on in the process, just decided never to print it or sign it.

Oh, another thing. They haven’t been paid in 8 months, which would be April, which is when “Grimoire” #2 was coming out, but have been paid all initial payments for “Grimoire” #1-6, as well as “Beowulf” 1-2…..the numbers don’t jive.

OK, now onto the personal stuff. Well, I think it’s fair to say they’ve made my life miserable before I made theirs miserable 🙂 I would have enjoyed having artwork ahead of time in order to promote the book, I would have enjoyed artwork handed in on time period! I would have enjoyed updates without having to threaten, promises kept, etc. but that’s water under the bridge. When pointing fingers as to who has made whose life worse, go through the e-mails that were sent early into the relationship and continuing until they were finally fired (and at the time they were fired, we owed them around 2K, so to assume it was a ploy just to not to have to pay them would be false).

Onto promises now. When they were fired I told them flat out I was going to use the initial money they were owed to pay the people that I had to bring in to fix all their fuck ups, and they would get paid out of the TPBs as we had agreed upon early on (and the TPBs still aren’t out, are they? “Grimoire” will be soon now, got hooked up in printing, and “Beowulf” had to recover from the lateness, so we’re going to get to that early in 2006). I never once tried to refuse to pay them, nor did I ever tell people I didn’t owe them money, or tell people that Hawke didn’t owe anyone money. I’ve been upfront on this, largely refusing to get into why they weren’t paid in full (I felt it unfair to limit their ability to get future work), and telling them when they would expect to get paid.

Sorry for the long response, but it bloody infuriates me when people want to use a large brush to paint all their problems. Forgetting some conversations, ignoring others, to do anything but admit late product of mediocre quality will usually get you in trouble with your bosses. If I have no honor why did I keep in touch, giving updates, even communicating with their lawyer on my own without being approached?

I could go the easy route in comics and just declare bankruptcy every time things didn’t go perfectly (yes, I’m still owed monies from contracts, honestly about two dozen over my life), that’s pretty much how it appears things are done. It obviously doesn’t pay to keep honoring debts, paying people even though you have issues with them and the quality of their work.

I haven’t walked away from debts yet, regardless of my situation. I believe that when you enter into an agreement with others it’s your duty to honor that agreement, regardless of what it costs you. If you have to sell your house, your car, go without at Christmas, and live off of Tomato paste and water you do that instead of running away from debt. It’s how I’ve lived my life, and how I’ll continue to do it, and I’ll be damned if I’m going to feel bad for it.

I’m sure that Grafiksismik understands where I’m coming from. After all, they had to go through a similar thing from 2004, but I believe worked through some bankruptcy proceedings (renegotiated debt, etc.) I’m sure they’ve paid everyone that they owed money to, never ducked out on phone calls, honored all their commitments, etc. Not sure how all that turned out , but I’m sure it worked out well, as it would be hypocritical to send out such an e-mail when you’ve done worse, instead trying to run away from debts instead of honoring them, regardless of the situation.

That’s it from me. I find most of these statements have equal parts truth and fiction, and no one will ever know really which is which, there’s simply no way to find out the facts definitively. It’s deeds, not words, that will show the truth of matters.

RICH: Adam, thank you for your time.

Speakeasy continue to publish comics and graphic novels. This is their current release schedule.

Subsequent to Adam’s reply, Dub contacted me to say that his letter had not been intended for the press or for widespread distribution. However, a number of the people he’d emailed clearly disagreed and I received several copies over the space of a few hours, as the communication continued to be spread by e-mail.

Grafiksismik’s web presence has been severely curtailed of late. But they still list Speakeasy as a client.

BRIGHTON ROCKS

[Green Light]

I bumped into David Lloyd in Brighton this week. Almost literally, in the very thin and twisty Lanes, just room for my wife looking at jewellery in the window, me to ignore the financial implications of this situation, and the co-creator of “V For Vendetta” to squeeze past.

Naturally the subject of the movie came up. Lloyd saw it on November the fifth, at a special well-timed screening and makes a favourable report. He states there are indeed changes, but that fans of the comic should really enjoy the movie.

With a number of positive reports coming from Harry Knowles’ recent showing, there seems to be quite the groundswell of good feeling for this project.

I have to say, the look of the movie paints a more black-and-white portrayal than that of the comic’s insidious creep of fascism, and I do worry for the central theme of “anarchy” being knocked to the side. But I also look forward to being as entertained by the film as everyone else seems to have been.

BOZTAS BUSTING OUT!

[Yellow Light]

Mark Millar’s Scottish news gimp, Senay Boztas strikes again! Responsible for a number of articles in Scottish newspapers over the last few years pimping Mark Millar’s work, and plumping his bio, now it’s his new Marvel fumetti project “1985” getting the PR treatment with some exaggerated hype. Check Newsarama’s updates for Mark’s corrections.

And although this time Millar isn’t credited for creating the first gay superheroes, apparently he did create Warren Ellis and Bryan Hitch’s Midnighter and Apollo…

Damn it, I want a Senay Boztas of my very own! She’s great!

YOUR ASS IS MINE

[Green Light]

Frank Miller. Dirty old man. In your bed.

SWIPE FILE

[Green Light]

David Finch’s cover to “Wolverine” #173.

Joe Proctor’s art on pretty much every page of the “Wolverine What If?”

SWIPE FILE TWO

[Yellow Light]

Ex Machina” by Brian Vaughan

Green Arrow: One Year Later” by Judd Winick

ARE YOU A TWO OR ARE YOU A SEVEN? TELL ME!

[Green Light]

Are you a comic book publisher down on your luck, looking to expand? Why not consider the power of Sudoku? That’s what DC Thompson, publishers of “The Beano” and “Dandy” are doing, putting in a bid for Puzzler Media, riding high on the success of the Japanese number game.

Surely a company hot on the zeitgeist as DC could publish their own version? Superdoku?

PRIZE WINNERS

[Green Light]

And finally for some Christmas cheer, a very short, very Christmassy, very clever film from my old mucker, music video director Brendon Connelly. John Vs Laura. Send it to everyone you know.

Next week? Because no one demanded it, in fact, some people sent me begging letters not to do another one, but I don’t care, I’m in a sadistic mood, the return of the feared, dreaded and loathed Rumour Awards. Cue Psycho violins.

SMALL PRINT

Discuss this column at the Lying In The Gutters Forum.

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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