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LYING IN THE GUTTERS VOL 2 COLUMN 27

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.

This column is late due to returning from a convention, a birthday and general sickness. Live with it. Hope you enjoyed the “Aquaman” TV Series Casting Call updated last Friday. This is written in a haze. I cannot be held responsible for anything convention related within. Best red light it, just in case.

PIER PRESSURE

[Red Light]

Ah, Brighton! The tang of sea salt on the ear. The bright crisp beautiful mornings. The quaint capitalism of the Lanes, the perfection of the pebble beach, the short skirts of the drunken slappers and the bittersweet commentary of the burnt out pier. The southern English coast made a rather inspired position for the inaugural Brighton Comic Expo, organized by Comics International’s Dez Skinn and paid for by his cheque for the “V For Vendetta” movie.

Talking of which, a number of people suggested that, as Alan Moore now wishes his name to be removed from DC projects that he doesn’t own, maybe the next printing of the graphic novel could be credited to “Creators Appearing In Magazine Published By Vertigo.” Yes… we never realized Vertigo published magazines, the only magazine “V For Vendetta” appeared in was Dez Skinn’s “Warrior”… but let’s leave that can of worms alone.

At least until we’ve seen my own suggestion for how DC could amend another of their volumes.

Thanks to Nate Lowry for the photoshopping there.

Choosing the Brighton Metropole Hotel, now run by the Hilton Group, was an wonderful choice. Gave it a sense of slight grandeur and scale – a lower floor with a surround balcony floor gave as much of an event feel as the UK has had before. It let the upstairs small pressers look down on their bigger press cousins. And allowed everywhere be seen at once, even if you had to negotiate several staircases and corridors to get there. It really felt like a baby San Diego, but with more of a concentration on comics.

There were plenty of impressive stands, from “Lions, Tigers And Bears,” to Markosia, to Eaglemoss, to Abiogenesis, to Forbidden Planet, to Knockabout, to NCSoft and a small press section featuring Roger Langridge, Paul Grist and many more. I ended up loaded with comics, some given free ‘cos of what a celebrity I am, like, while the rest I was forced to actually pay for. Pay? Disgusting. I’ll talk about them next week, you know, after I’ve actually read them.

And talking of the staircases, the Dalek at the Marvel UK/Panini stand made an impressive entrance to visitors, as did the comedian operating it. Only one three year old was reported to burst into tears on coming across a real life perambulating Dalek, encouraging vistors to the Marvel UK stand to “subscribe! subscribe!”

There were some teething troubles, there always are, but I found far less complaints and mumbles coming my way than in previous years. Though this could have something to do with the large amounts of cannabis being smoked on the beach at certain points during the day. The panels could have actually been organized – I found myself drafted in twice to compere the Mark Millar panel and the Marvel panel, but I’m an old hand at the latter – although I’m told Marvel’s PR company was fired shortly after the last one. The Live-Ing In The Gutters panel had an appreciative audience, with Alex De Campi, Andrew Wheeler and Liam Sharp on bass. This year it was based around industry feuds, but if you missed it, well, you missed it. Sorry. Maybe a US company will fly me out to do a version over there… though I doubt it.

Although I must report that Alex De Campi’s disparaging comments about the industry’s inability to connect with the bookstore market did lead DC Senior VP Stephanie Fierman at the back to mutter some disparaging comments of her own back at her. Still, the mass audience chant of “Mam Tor! Mam Tor!” gave Liam Sharp a fuzzy glow inside. And Andrew Wheeler’s handling of the Bob Wayne Sarkometer, measuring each heckle, was masterful.

It would be insane to try and recapture the Mark Millar panel in print. Though his tale of underage girls in their underwear posing for photos in Joe Quesada’s office for the covers of “Trouble” just calls for a mention. Oh, as does his haunting mention of creating the superhero photo-comic, “1985” for Marvel, and the chilling appearance of actually seeing The Vulture perched above a corner shop. And the man who is playing the Human Torch volunteering to set himself on fire for a few seconds while the cameras roll. There will be videoblogs from the set of the project, online shortly.

Oh, silly me, and the reminder that in his early career, Bryan Hitch posed as the company model for Death’s Head, walking around signings and conventions in costume. Oh yes, and the image of Jim McLaughlin in Glasgow, outside a pub at one in the afternoon, pissing in the street, while eating a sausage roll in his free hand…

Nah, you have to hear this stuff in person. It’s the only way.

Mark Stafford was hand-selling “Botulism Banquet,” a collection of some of his finest strips from the last ten years, a few of which I’ve had the privilege to publish. Stafford is probably Britain’s greatest unsung cartoonist, an interbreeding experiment between Gilbert Shelton, Hunt Emerson, Robert Crumb and Evan Dorkin – except that it’s all Mark Stafford. He’s getting his big break with Bryan Talbot on a project for Dark Horse… but it may be some time coming. If ever you see this man, give him money and he will draw something wonderful for you.

Signing and sketching at the Mam Tor booth was rather fun. The reaction to the second volume of “Event Horizon,” shipping from Diamond any day now, was overwhelmingly positive and I’ve began working out what I’m doing for the third volume as well. After all, I’ve got that fantastic Moby Dick-meets-Thor story to live up to. Oh yes, I ended up mentoring the “Event Horizon” panel a bit as well, though Liam Sharp did step up. Which reminds me… Liam did say that in his fourth issue of “Testament,” the Biblical story inspired series from Vertigo, it’s full of giant fighting Hebrew robots. That’s a buy, isn’t it?

The launch of the online game “City Of Villians” in Europe was a very popular one. Oh, and don’t be fooled by perspective, this is not an action figure, but a top model poured into the costume. Very expensive – but I’m told the costume cost even more than she did.

DC/Vertigo announced the new series “Faker” by Mike Carey and Jock – featuring a group of students at a Mid-West college, each one with a level of insincerity and pretence who one night, awake to discover they have a new friend who they’ve always known but who seems to have no identity. But with Jock finishing “The Losers” before moving to the new title, a few noticed Jock wasn’t getting the most flattering comic titles to work on of late. Andy Diggle was heard to say that he should write a new series called “Useless Arsehole”…

Although, some were reporting that Duncan Fegredo has already drawn a first issue of “Faker”… another victim to changing DC scheduling?

Brighton reunited Gilbert Shelton and Mark Millar, who had last met over ten years ago. It was at a signing in Paris, a month after the death of Diana. Gilbert took Millar and a few other creators in his small car and they reenacted the Diana run, 120 mph down the night streets of Paris and through the tunnel, counting the pillars as they went.

Shelton also told me about a young man who saw a Fat Freddy’s Cat cartoon on an LSD tab, asked his friend who it was, and basically got into comics over the next few weeks. Maybe that should be part of an outreach programme for more publishers. Stephanie Fierman, take note.

Oh yes, Holly Hunter is the female lead in the movie “Frost Flowers,” written by Mike Carey and being published by “Blue Star.” And the “League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen: Dark Dossier” comes not with a multi-media CD… but a vinyl record. Time to bring your players down from your loft. Or your parents’ loft. Or your grandparents’.

The afore-mentioned Marvel panel was, without my assistance, probably the most forthright and honest publisher panel I’ve ever seen. From the reality of downloadable comics, and Millar’s recollection that Marvel are considering putting all their comics online for a monthly fee, to an acknowledgement of poor product in certain areas, with a guarantee of recognizable improvement across the board in the next few months, to the acceptance of problems with excessive advertising – and the difference writing for DC when you know when the adverts will appear, and Marvel where you don’t – and the frustration that can cause for the writer as well as the reader when writing beats are hurt, everyone who attended got their money’s worth from that panel alone I felt. And everyone left knowing they had to keep a strong eye on the Marvel stands.

Millar also confirmed, for the first time officially, I believe, a widely repeated LITG story that Avi Arad’s stance at Marvel, a more conservative one, saw the MAX line whittled away to very little as a direct result of a multi-million SHIELD movie being scuppered by a comic that sold a few thousand copies – “Fury.” LiTG reported at the time that the movie would have starred George Clooney as Nick Fury.

As always at Britcons, it’s the bar where everything comes alive. Indeed Liam Sharp’s head seemed to explode.

As a wedding party tried to muscle in, the room split, but it was the comic conventioners that had the staying power and, apparently, managed to steal some of the bridesmaids. Bisley and Sharp compared tattoos, biceps and dye jobs, Millar and his lookalikey SFX editor held court, Gilbert Shelton drank to good times with Tony from Knockabout, Dez bought drinks for everyone, the Ganjaman creators held everyone’s attention with a hazy glare, the V forum exuded a self righteous air of authority and wine, Sean Phillips and Charlie Adlard swished their hair in joust, there were clenches, there was a fistfight, beer was spilled, most people ended up slumping into Hilton sofas and Tony Lee was left stranded on a Monday morning until 5am while spare car keys were brought down by train and the rest of the weekend blurs into an alcoholic haze. Good, that’s the way it should be.

They’d better do another one. I hear they can double the size without difficulty.

A NEW MEMBER

[Green Light]

Looks like someone else survived the mutant wipeout. This was the solicited cover to “X-Men” #181, that was labelled “not final” in the name of the file.

This is the final cover another site listed by mistake.

Get in there!!!

BLOW BACK

[Green Light]

Some young wag at Bristol suggested that Frank Miller’s script for “All Star Batman And Robin The Boy Wonder” was revenge at Jim Lee for Deathblow, the character Lee first drew, um, heavily influenced by Frank Miler’s “Sin City” style. Well, in a recent interview, Jim Lee stated that Deathblow would be back, presumably part of the upcoming Wildstorm revival line. I understand it will be from an Italian writer.

As for “All Star,” you’ll be able to read script from the series shortly so you’ll be able to see exactly what Miller told Lee to draw, especially those Vicky Vale pages…

SWIPE FILE PART ONE

[Yellow Light]

We’re all familiar with the Steve Niles’ “30 Days Of Night” comic-that-will-one-day-be-a-film concept, yes?

Well, are the makers of Swedish movie “Frostbitten?”

“”You simply can’t compare Frostbite to any other Swedish film”, says Lasse Lundberg.”

What about an American comic then?

SWIPE FILE PART TWO

[Green Light]

The cover to “Hellblazer” #217 by Greg Lauren.

“Pieta” by Michelangelo

Not the first time of course. “The Death of Captain Marvel” by Jim Starlin.

PHONING IN

[Green Light]

“Phonogram” is a new Image series from two of my pub-mates Jamie McKelvie and Kieran Gillon. They describe it as “Hellblazer” meets “Blue Monday” – music, birds and magic.

Here’s a panel.

Remember when it wins the Eisners, you heard about it here first.

FLYING OUT THE DOOR?

[Green Light]

Last weekend’s “Catholic Herald” contains a 1200 word article on “The Flying Friar.” The article links to the Master List, so British readers can find their nearest comic shop.

Could be interesting if an actual friary decides to make a mass purchase. Probably get mistaken for “Star Wars” fans pretending to be Jawas.

LEGAL EAGLES

I’ll end this week’s column with a return to last week’s legal call for help. It concerned recent moves by Marvel to buy back shares amid falling prices that caused certain investors to kick off about conspiracies.

Jason Wasikowski, a National Client Services Manager, gave us the benefit of his wisdom.

“Marvel announced their guidance for the coming quarter and reported they weren’t going to make as much as they thought. That drove the price of the stock down because people who owned the stock wanted to take any profits they had and run (or sell off a portion to make a profit equal to what they originally invested). That was going to leave plenty of shares out for sale.

“Now Marvel announces they are going to buy $250M of their outstanding shares. Translation: The price is low, so they will use cash they have from revenues to gobble up more shares of their own company. The more shares of their own stock that they own, the more they are actually worth. Sounds weird but here is how it would break down:

“Marvel (the company) holds 30% of the total stock shares out there for their company. Their Market Capitalization (the total worth of the company based on the current stock price multiplied by the number of shares) is 1.38 Billion (USD). Marvel gets to claim $414M in assets (30% of 1.38 Billion).

“What Marvel is being accused of doing is purposely timing bad news with a stock purchase. They give the bad news so the stock drops $1 a share and then buy up more stocks while the price is low. So, with that $250M purchase, let’s say they increase their holdings to 50% of all the stock out there. That would give them assets of $690M. Same company. Nothing different about what they earned in the year, but now Marvel is worth more because they have a bigger chunk of assets.

“With all the big screen movies due for the screen and the influx of cash that will bring, their stock price goes up and with their increased shares, they are worth more. This gives them an opportunity to then sell those shares they bought cheap (at 14.20/share for example) at a higher price (say 20/share) and make a huge influx of profit.

“Sneaky or smart. Not sure if that falls under insider trading though since Insider Trading laws apply to individuals that work for a company profiting off information not available to the public. This is Marvel as a company buying up the stock so those laws may not apply.”

Michael Everett, a general counsel for a Nasdaq company, had a different take;

“Marvel’s most recent fiscal quarter wasn’t so great, but its guidance for 2006 was really bad, and way below what the market expected to hear. Posters on the Marvel conspiracy noted that the 2006 slate of movies should leave them in great shape, but it appears that no one is excited about that particular slate of films (‘X-Men 3,’ ‘Ghost Rider’ & ‘Punisher 2’)… they are not expected to have worldwide grosses to compare with Marvel’s past results and they are not expected to bring in the same licensing revenues as ‘Spider-Man’ and ‘Fantastic Four.’ In addition, Marvel stated that it will not receive much in the way of licensing revenue for the Spider-Man franchise in 2006, which the conspiracy posters decry, but apparently much of the licensing fees collected by Marvel are paid up front, which means that, while we will still see Spider-Man everywhere, Marvel has already seen and reported its revenue from that. In addition, accounting rules regarding licensing revenue may have an effect on their bottom line in any particular quarter. Beyond that, the market views Marvel’s entry into producing its own films as extremely risky, and Marvel entered into a credit facility with terms that some analysts describe as onerous.

“Now with all that said, there is a certain trend to give earnings guidance on the low end… this is because the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002, passed in the wake of Enron, places all kinds of liability on the CEOs and CFOs of public companies, and puts in place all kinds of accounting controls which force public companies to act more conservatively than they have in the past. To a certain extent, all companies lowball earnings guidance, but Marvel’s guidance was considered disappointing by the market even in that context.

“With respect to other points raised: The stock buyback program is not relevant b/c a company cannot earn off its own stock once it buys it back unless it sells it to someone else; and most companies do not pay dividends on their stock these days.

“And finally, a bit of common sense: the company insiders (Perlmutter, Arad, etc.) own something in the vicinity of 30% of Marvel… their own net worth was ‘decimated’ with the poor results and guidance reported, and there is no guarantee of being able to bring it back. Even if they are willing to take a huge hit personally, are they also willing to go to jail for manipulating the market? B/c the laws that force them to be more conservative in their guidance estimates can also send them to jail. ”

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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