Welcome to the one hundred and seventeeth 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.

As for the traffic lights, RED means that the story is unlikely to be true, and you should read that with that context. AMBER signifies an identifiable agenda/slant or bias in the source that may affect the work, or that the source isn't clear, or another factor that might bring the piece into doubt. GREEN means that the story feels right to me, my gut instinct says go for it. However, as is often the case, while the gist may be correct, the detail may be wrong - and in fact I may be having an off day and the whole thing may be buggered. It wouldn't be the first time.

So there you go.


[Green Light]After his run on "Ultimate Fantastic Four," Stuart Immomen will be drawing "Ultimate X-Men." Brian K Vaughn will continue to write the series.


[Green Light]Kerry Washington has been cast to play Alicia Masters in the upcoming "Fantastic Four" movie.

She's already worked a week on the movie and can be seen in the background in this Hollywood North Report photo.


[Green Light]I hear from a friend that IDT Entertainment have picked up the rights for all the Acclaim characters, to sit alongside their portfolio of work, including Manga Entertainment and their 60 percent of Mainframe and Film Roman.

Apparently it was quite a steal - though much of the existing material cannot be reprinted as they contain appearances by crossover stars Doctor Solar and Magnus, Robot Fighter.

Mind you, someone must be doing things with the latter... I also hear Louise Simonson is writing something Magnus-related... could this be the long awaited iBooks project?


[Green Light]All last week, LITG kept updating with new titbits on Bill Jemas' new entertainment company. It must have paid off because someone decided to forward me a 360epm brochure and press release.

Though Newsarama is currently naming the company 360ep, the brochure has that all important extra letter, as do their e-mail addresses. 360epm.com is registered to the Heroes World guys who are managing Bill Jemas' web presence. 360ep.com is held by a different company held in Arizona that a quick Google search reveals is associated with malware...

So who is involved? Initials on the document include MD, CF, JS and DR... MD is most likely Mike Doran.

In the brochure, the company sets themselves up as agents with a difference. Yes, they're there to sell concepts in to publishers and broadcasters and then out to licensors, internationally to exploitation in many forms.

But they're also involved in creating concepts with their "360epm creator network", and then developing them as commercial properties... and their brochure is more that of a consultant.

Nevertheless, the document does stress the comic book nature of 360epm's business, experience and potential a number of times, as well as 360epm's ability to turn concepts into TV opportunities, funded internationally.

In a press release, Russ Brown, President of the Consumer Products Group is quoted as saying, "The 360epm team brings the unique experience of having been both on the buy and sell sides of the licensing table. On the one hand, licensees see a confusing marketplace with hundreds of studios, publishers, and producers offering thousands of new and established intellectual properties. 360epm cuts through the clutter for our manufacturing clients and finds them the right licenses on the best terms.

"On the other hand, you have licensors who have excelled in their niche - be that toys or TV or electronic games. They have really good properties but get lost in that same clutter. 360epm helps them find licensees to bring their properties into new consumer product markets."

He goes on to add, "360epm believes our relationship with clients should go beyond the drafting of a term sheet. 360epm makes extra efforts and offers additional services not traditionally provided by consultants. When you team up with 360epm, you work with people who are willing to learn from you about your properties and why they appeal to your current customers, and who will in turn teach you what we know about the entertainment licensing market. Together, 360mepm and our clients build long-term plans for sure and steady growth, through an array of services customized to fit their specific needs."

As for Bill Jemas, the release claims, "CEO Bill Jemas has recruited some top writers and artists from the comic book and consumer-products industries to help 360epm's clients develop their characters and build their brand identity.

The release concludes, "During the coming months, this 360epm creator network will begin work on an all-new slate of original Intellectual Properties. 360epm will own these new properties, and the creators will own a fair share of 360epm," Bill Jemas explained.

The release also names Alex Hamby, known for HeroRealm, as the company's Executive Webmaster. And that other 360epm members, associates and creators will be announced in the coming weeks.


[Yellow Light]One observation of the current state of the comics industry is that the better selling titles are selling a lot better... regularly topping 200,000. However at the other end, even from the bigger publishers, sales are dropping off a cliff. DC has had real problems launching any new project which isn't an instant top tenner, without any ties to existing lines or imprints... and even then it's not a sure thing. And with Marvel launching five number ones in one week, they've been relatively poorly ordered... and looking at in-store sales, may be slipping down the charts even then. Even books like "Hulk/Thing," "Bulleseye" and "Gambit" are under performing what one might have expected and the Marvel Age tag on "Jubilee" seems to have been an instant death.

On the Comic Book Industry Alliance forum, retailer Cliff Biggers of Dr No's Comics, Games And More made a comment, which he expanded for Lying In The Gutters. He told me;

"So far today no one has bought this week's Marvel dud, 'Warlock.' Everyone who likes the character has flipped through the book and decided not to get it. Three customers who had expressed an interest for pull-and-hold have passed on it... and one customer who prepaid for it said that he didn't want to take it home, even though he had already bought it. 'It's not worth the eighth of an inch it'll take up in my comic box,' he said. It's the same problem that we saw with Silver Surfer; Marvel has taken a character with a long-defined cosmic feel, then they've 'reinvented' it as a concept that has virtually no appeal to those who were fans of the original character. And this has happened frequently enough that my Marvel customers are wary of any Marvel relaunches, and I'm seeing horrible sales on new series that should perform quite well--books like 'Gambit,' 'Elektra' and 'Jubilee' are selling less than mid-line books from IDW, Devil's Due, or Dreamwave.

"I'm having a Marvel UK flashback..."


[Green Light]Grant Morrison's interview in the most recent "arthur" mag makes for fun reading. Grant says, "I'm hoping the prose stuff will be the next continuation of where I want to go. The comics audience is becoming more and more compressed and unpleasant. It's really sad. After I did 'Seaguy' and so many people said they didn't get it, I felt completely exasperated. 'Seaguy' is based on medieval quest literature which always has the young hero setting out and he has his companion who gets killed, the questing beast, but many of my readers seem to now be unaware of storytelling structures beyond the Hollywood three-act, and the literalism is so rife that nobody seems to be able to deal with symbolic content anymore. It's strange. One of the symptoms of schizophrenia is the schizophrenic can't process metaphor. If you say to a schizophrenic 'a rolling stone gathers no moss' he takes it utterly literally! He doesn't see it as having any kind of secondary meaning. My thesis is that everybody's gone kind of schizophrenic, which also explains the rise of reality TV. Because people cannot deal with a symbolic approach anymore-they have to see the 'real deal.' And the real deal is incoherent and it lacks catharsis or dramatic structure."

The cover to "Arthur," going out to 40,000 counter culturalists, is by Cameron Stewart.


[Yellow Light]Last week, I looked at a possible shift to digital inking for more books in Marvel's future. Marvel deny the rumour, though some internal and external sources point to a move towards pencillers are being asked for tighter pencils, so that they will be "enhanced" for around $25 a page ready for printing.

I was also tipped off to a change in the production budget in other ways. Colouring fees are being reduced by half at Marvel, and there has been a move to outsource abroad, or hire juniors for the task. Why? It's getting easier to colour a book these days...

The usual reaction to this kind of news is negative. People lose jobs, or people have to change jobs, but as technology increases, it's luddite to ignore it. And a saving in the production budget can change the profitability level of certain books.

Watch out, the next edition of Photoshop will have an industry rumour monger feature.


[Green Light]I hear 3H Productions, the fan club company who licensed certain Transformers rights, did a bunch of comics to tie into the OTFCC 2004 convention they put on. Recently, after difficulties with fan-merchandise, Hasbro pulled their licence.

As 3H bemoaned their fate, they also informed the creators of the comics that they were unable to pay anyone. And promised payments failed to materialise.


[Green Light]Looks like the Absolute publishing format may be stretching its wings. The oversized encased hardcover (s) may give birth to other, non-Wildstorm projects. I've been told about a "Batman: Absolute Hush" edition, as well as a 20th Anniversary "Absolute Crisis On Infinite Earths."


[Yellow Light]Joe Benitz was originally intended to follow Jim Lee on "Batman" after he left the book. DC were worried about his ability to meet a monthly deadline, but he's now doing a creator owned book for the Wildstorm Signature line.


[Yellow Light]"Nightwing's" 100th issue is rumoured to be his last (though not officially confirmed as such). This has caused a number of people to see it as proof of the rumour that he's the killer from "Identity Crisis." He also follows the classic murder mystery trappings of appearing in the first issue, with a similar trenchcoat worn by the killer, and all the deaths start on the anniversary of his parents' own demise.



[Green Light]Okay, prize of a signed copy of "Holed Up" to the first person who finds the Elle Macpherson picture that was swiped for the most recent "Birds Of Prey" cover image... two signed copies to the runner up.


[Green Light]"Just One Page" kicks off charity auctions of original artwork here, by the likes of John McCrea and Gary Spencer Millidge.


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Be seeing you.

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