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Welcome to the ninety-ninth 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.

Next week should be the big one. No idea what’ll be in it yet though.

UP THE GARY!

[Green Light]

One of my all-time favourite comics artists, Gary Erskine, is to draw the first four-issue arc of “Jack Cross,” one of Warren Ellis’ upcoming DC books. Look for it in 2005…

AUSTEN’S POWERS

[Yellow Light]

Chuck Austen’s run on “Uncanny X-Men,” “Exiles,” now on “New X-Men” and especially on “Avengers,” has been derided by many. Most amusingly here, here and, oh look, now his recent “Avengers” piece has been pulled apart in a similar manner. However, Austen has been seen as a safe pair of hands, and while critically he hasn’t matched up to his previous work on “Metropolis,” he’s kept franchises going, hasn’t missed a deadline and has maintained sales on titles, if not setting them on fire.

But is it fair to blame Austen for all that may be lacking with his work?

On Joe Quesada’s message boards, user el123chico wrote, “I spoke with Austen at the Dynamic Forces Fan Fest and he definitely did not seem happy with a lot of the editorial decisions that forced some of the storylines he wrote. Remember, Morrison and Claremont were basically given free range to do whatever they liked, while Austen was basically grounded and limited in what he could do.

“And honestly, could anyone tie up Morrison’s run? I don’t even think editorial knew what he was doing.”

This thread has also linked to some earlier posts on the Nightcrawler forum by the user known as Bamfette. Bamfette is a confident of Chuck Austen, though she often talks freely on the forum.

So, regarding the bizarre reappearance of Xorn, back in March she wrote, “no, the return is a whole ‘nother can of worms, and another decision by editors in an attempt to ‘save’ um… well, you’ll see. it’s big and will make people a whole lot more mad than the stuff with Gambit. and i don’t know why the solicits say ‘return’ it’s not a return of an existing character, actually. just a copycat character.

“really, the books are being almost written by editors again…”

As to Chuck’s motivation when writing X-comics, “…before anyone says ‘well if he hates it so much why doesn’t he refuse?’ it’s just not that simple…. if he did they’d refuse to print it, they could change it to fit their needs anyway without asking him, could fire him for being uncooperative, whatever. he doesn’t have absolute control over the book, never did. that’s the sacrafice you make when working with company owned characters. and i think when they started telling him what to write starting with Angels (yes, the whole Romeo and Juliet thing and Josh having the same powers as Warren was the editors idea, not Chuck’s.) he thouht ‘ok, i’ll do this one for them…. then it will be back to my own stories’ and he was actually pretty happy with how Angels turned out in the end, even tho he wasn’t keen on the idea at first. but then every one since then has been the editors. for the transitionary issues, that is perfectly understandable. they are being written as an introduction tothe relaunch so you know, it’s to be expected. but he even had an argument with them there, and got a compromise. atleast this way he has a bit of control over the details ot make it work as best he can…. the ‘return’ character he says he’s found an explanation that works, (it reeeeeeealy doesn’t make any sense on the surface. if he says he found a solution that makes sense, hes sure more clever than i am, ‘cus i can’t make any sense of it.) but i don’t know what it is.…”

There was a spate, during the 90’s, when ex-X-book editor, then Editor In Chief of Marvel, was accused of basically writing the X-books, and it was his demands, reflecting licensing’s wishes that led to Claremont’s decision to leave, then crossover after crossover, with the toyline leading the direction of the book more than the writers or artists.

And even more recently, Bill Jemas was seen as a heavy hand on certain titles he felt he had an interest in. But even then, that was with a creative eye, rather than one solely influenced by the market.

Now, it seems much of the decisions from above come down to beliefs about avoiding any possibility of bad publicity, keeping the licenses sweet for the movies and upping sales in the short term, at the expense of the quality of the work where necessary. And when even Chuck Austen is complaining about editorial interference, well… die cut covers are next, you know this.

FRESH FROM THE OVEN

[Green Light]

At the Museum Of Comic And Cartoon Art, Kyle Baker recently showed off his latest project – an animated Cowboy Wally short feature.

I am so jealous of you New Yorkers. Grrr.

IT’S FUN TO STAY AT THE I…C…A

[Green Light]

Mind you, London’s not so bad. Its premier venue for the expression or art in all its forms, the ICA, is hosting ComICA again with another astounding run of events. Entitled COMICA: CONFESSIONS & CONVICTIONS and running from June 5-13 2004, the list… well..

There’s the European premier of the film, “The Mindscape Of Alan Moore” from director DeZ Vylenz, including a pre-screening panel discussion with Dave Gibbons, David Lloyd, Jose Villarrubia and Oscar Zarate.

The creatorsof South African comic “Bittercomix” talking with Serbian comics writer Aleksandar Zograf about how comics can contribute to major political changes.

The launch of the new McSweeney’s volume in London, edited by Chris Ware and featuring stunning comics creators. Both Chris Ware and Seth will be there to pull the ribbons. Seth is also launching the collected “Clyde Fans” and an illustrated prose novel of his father’s Great Depression memoirs, and Chris Ware has a documentary about himself.

Then Craig Thompson, author of “Blankets,” talks with David B, creator of the much anticipated “Epileptic” graphic novel, José Villarrubia gives a computer colouring workshop and a slide lecture history of gays and lesbians in US comics, and launching his reinterpretation of Alan Moore’s “Mirror Of Love,” mobile phone comics (will this bring Warren Ellis down again?), Al Davison and Ilya on autobio comics, Glenn Dakin, Carol Swain, Woodrow Phoenix, Chris Reynolds and other ex-Escape artists on their current careers, Sylvain Chomet on her comics and the movie “Belleville Rendezvous” with Joann Sfar and Louis Tronheim, and, well, stacks more.

I’ll be there for as much of it as I can. If you’re in London, it would be a crime not to.

Box Office and Enquiries on 020 79303647

CROSSGENERATION EX

[Yellow Light]

Broken Frontier’s recent thread with Ron Marz discussing his time at CrossGen has refused to lay down and die.

Indeed, it’s just kicked up a notch.

Writer Ron Marz started the game sayingm “I do think the two biggest mistakes were the inclusion of the sigil as a unifying theme and, even more so, the expansion to way too many titles. But, these were decisions made from on high. The creative staff’s opinions were solicited, but not always followed.”

Artist Andrea DiVito followed with, “Too many titles, too many characters that were ‘all-powerful’ and bidimensional. But most of all, too much control on the titles from management, being the boss or second in command does not make you a writer.”

And Drew Geraci added confirmation with “remember Ron looking exhausted some days because he had the burden of shoehorning good writing around the directives of an arrested adolescent, a gym teacher and an dull writer who’s managed to loiter around the industry (on and off) for 15 years. Make your own conclulsions about whom I speak.”

Art director and artist Andy Smith joined in with “What do you have with a dicktator for a boss, I hope I spelled that right, and an ex-gym teacher in an executive and creative position….a recipe for success…not.

“I know lot’s of people that have read comics thier entire lives, but that doesn’t mean they know how to run a company and write or control the direction of comic books.”

As the list of ex-CrossGen staff slagging off the company grew, so did the allegations.

Geraci added, “We were browbeaten scapegoats because management couldn’t sell a contrived micro-managed line of dull books. Easier to chew out a pack of passive artists than forces beyond your control, like an indifferent marketplace.

“The place was not as open to creators as the bill of goods we were sold suggested.

“How else do you explain an absolutely pointless book like ‘Crux?’ If Waid and Epting were on a half-hour car trip to a comic convention, they could’ve come up with a superior book by themselves, but that was one of those Sigil-verse timeline books that was dictated to them.”

Back to Ron Marz.

“It’s not an accident that for a period CG’s best-selling titles were ‘Sojourn,’ ‘Ruse,’ ‘Way of the Rat,’ ‘Path’ and ‘Scion’ — all books that downplayed the overt sigil connections. I also suspect that if ‘Path’ had been set in historical Japan, ‘Rat’ in feudal China or ‘Ruse’ in actual Victorian England, those titles would have been more accessible to a wider audience. If everything looks and smells like Edo-period Japan, but you use gobbledygook names like Shinacea and Nayado, it’s off-putting to the wider audience.

“Rightly or wrongly, there was an impression that the CG Universe was a place of muddled continuity that expected readers to pick up every title to piece together the whole picture. That wasn’t true for books like ‘Scion’ or ‘Ruse.’ However, if someone’s first CG exposure was ‘The First’ or ‘Crux’ (or, God forbid, ‘Solus’), that impression was nothing but fortified. And unfortunately, impression plays a big part in buying habits. A lot of people ‘heard’ that the books didn’t stand alone, so they didn’t try any of them. It was CG’s responsibility to make sure that impression never even got started. But it did.

“‘Meridian’ sold well as a trade, but it wasn’t the best seller (as was widely reported). ‘Sojourn’ was, at least in the direct market and book trade. Considering ‘Meridian’s’ popularity, particularly with fans who weren’t traditional comics readers, less ‘uberverse’ stuff in that book would seem to have made sense. In other words, Meridian was the worst seller in the direct market, but did well in trades, an indication that its readership was more interested in ‘Meridian’ specifically, and less in the big picture.

“Unfortunately, it got tied into ‘Sigil’ and ‘The First’ more than once.

“As far as George [Perez] on ‘Solus’ … yes, it was a disaster. Plain and simple. One that a great many people on staff warned against. Quite a few tales to tell over how that one went down, but I’ll keep them to myself since I don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings. It’s enough to say that George was the biggest bullet in the CG gun, and we shot ourselves directly in the foot with it.”

At which point, ex-CrossGen marketing director Ian Feller decided to do some extra-curricular work.

“Hello Ron, Drew, Andy, Andrea and all my other fellow former co-workers that may be here somewhere. Very interesting discussion going on here. I’m a little shocked to read how horrible and stifling CrossGen was for all of you. And how much disdain there is for some of our other co-workers.

“While I agree that the majority of the poor choices were handed down from way on high, no one forced anyone to remain there if they felt so strongly about how terrible the books were or how poorly the company was run. I don’t remember, but two people leaving because of those reasons. It seems to me that I’m reading the rants of a bunch of cry babies. For all those years it was very easy to take the easy money and tow the company line and not express your negative opinions. Even with NDAs people still did it when they felt strongly enough and wanted to stand up for it. But now that times have changed, how easy it is to spew venom.

“I loved my time at CG and all my co-workers as family. Wouldn’t it have been just as easy to say nothing? What are you gaining from trashing what we all built? I don’t get it.

“In the early days, CG took no-names and the downtrodden, who in a lot of cases were cast off by the big 2, and turned them into creators the fans want to see. As horrible as you think your time there may have been, remember where you were before you came there and how much better off you are now. Don’t piss on my memories.”

But this just kicked off new flows of urine.

Andrea Di Vito started with “i’ll make it simple for ya, these are not your memories , you never were in our shoes.

“These are my menories and if i wanna piss on them i will.

“There are good things and bad things about Crossgen, like any other experience. Point is, we are merely discussing why CG failed, if you care to join in the discussion you’re more than welcome but keep in mind that with a few exceptions, there was no ‘Easy money’ for the artists, we worked harder than any of you management guys.”

Drew Geraci – “You weren’t a creator, so how do you know how we felt? I know I just trace, but it was a more creative position than yours. No, wait, I forgot my station, forgive me: Aren’t you the gentleman behind the spectacular sales-breaking Code 6 titles (‘Code 6,’ another in CG’s long line of titles you have to explain to the potential buyer)? I’m just glad you don’t pick my oranges here.

“Two people that you know of left for those reasons. Most got out without too much grumbling because the disappointment level was so high it was painful to talk about. I know, I was on the floor, not sheltered in the front offices.

“A lot of us sold our souls for money, there’s no doubt, myself included. If you consider me a crybaby, so be it. Your opinion, while curious, is coming from one of the luckiest people in comics. You think your track record’s going to get you into another comics company? I think you were insulated and caught up in the fantasy that CG was going to crush Marvel and DC. I remember you gleefully predicting DC and Marvel’s demise. In fact, you’d counted on that as part of your strategy. Very pollyanna-ish.

“Of course you loved your time at CG. You were one of the few of the annointed lapdogs who fed Mark whatever he wanted to hear. If Mark was steered by the right people, maybe we would’ve been spending less time telling ourselves we were great and actually making inroads in the marketplace. A lot of people, yourself included, acted like tenured professors who thought they’d have a job forever, so why agonize over results? We former freelancers were far more concerned with the stabilty of CG, as we’ve trained ourselves to be skeptical. I swear on a stack of Forge and Edges.

“Before CG, I myself was on the fast track at DC doing ‘JLA’ and ‘Nightwing,’ (both of which I still get royalties from!) which you may have overlooked, as they were in the Diamond top ten and fifty, respectively. However, I understand you had to routinely skip the top 100 searching for CG books. Once in a while there was a blip where a first issue or ‘Sojourn’ would squeek in there. Hmm, I wonder who inked that the first year?

“A lot of us took a major speedbump in our careers that we’re still overcoming to re-establish ourselves to the mainstream. During my CG tenure, I turned down several offers from other companies, and although CG’s money was better at the time, career-wise I’m now having to re-establish myself after a 3-year exile catering to a hardcore readership of 10,000 or so.

“You had Waid, Epting, Marz, Guice, Eaton, Dixon, Land, Johnson, Perez, Sears, Peterson, and other incredible talents and still managed to turn off readers in droves. The brand name stunk on ice and was given lots of time to catch on. You were one of the four ‘dullards of the apocalypse’ as I called them that assumed the buying public was too stupid to understand how brilliant the books were. I think you know the other three. By the way, I can write my own press releases and get my own interviews. It’s not brain surgery. On the foosball table I accept you as a master, but I can represent myself pretty well thank you.

“Can’t help myself. Still too much toxic Kool-aid in the system I’m ashamed to say.”

Scot Eaton – “As a guy who left Crossgen at a time where he was told by everyone involved he was making a huge mistake, as a guy who didn’t say much when he did it; I stand with Andrea. 100%. I stand behind what Ron wrote, Andy wrote and even this rambling diatribe that Geraci wrote.

“Maybe the problem is, as you mentioned, too few of us said a thing. We always just kept working.

“What does it say about Crossgen that Scot Eaton, no name, downtrodden and cast-off by the big two, packed up his wife and cats and bags and moved back to Vermont in the February of 2003?

“It says that starting my career over again was a better bet than Crossgen.”

Keep checking the original thread, this one could run and run.

WHAT HAVE YOU DONE FOR ME LATE-LEE

[Yellow Light]

Are you enjoying your Jim Lee “Superman?” Maybe it’s time to think about rereading a few. I understand Jim Lee is already starting to run behind schedule.

Thankfully DC arranged a schedule far in advance for the Italy-dwelling Vice President. But even that can only take so much… and they do have a contingency plan.

I understand Lee is now solidly sitting at the drawing board to keep things back on track and avoid such an event. Scott Williams and Alex Sinclair are on hand to pick up any slack.

Come on Lee! You can do it!

APPARAT CHIC

[Green Light]

This appears to be the logo to the Warren Ellis imaginary comics week, Apparat, that’s been announced all over.

BOOKS, ETC.

[Yellow Light]

Amazon’s advance-listings of graphic novels give us some clue for Marvel’s upcoming schedules.

August

“Avengers: Lionheart Of Avalon”

“Captain America & The Falcon: Madbomb” (Jack Kirby)

“Marvel Age” (Sean McKeever, Makoto Nakatsuka)

“Marvel Age: Spider-Man, Vol. 3”

“Thanos: Epiphany”

“Uncanny X-Men: Bright New Mourning” (sic)

September

“Daredevil Hardcover”

“Marvel Knights 4”

“Manga: Emma Frost (Karl Bollers)”

“Marvel Age: X-Men”

“Ultimate Fantastic Four: The Fantastic”

October

“Marvel Age: Mary Jane”

“Venom: Run”

November

“Avengers: Once An Invader”

“Avengers/Thunderbolts: Best Intentions”

“Captain Marvel: Odyssey”

“Marvel Age: Fantastic Four”

“Marvel Age: Spider-Man” (Todd Dezago, Mike Raicht)

“Pulse: Thin Air”

“Supreme Power”

“Witches”

“X-Statix”

December

“Alpha Flight: You Gotta Be Kiddin’ Me”

“Cable/Deadpool: If Looks Could Kill”

“Captain America & The Falcon: Two Americas”

“Excalibur: Forging The Sword”

“Exiles”

“Incredible Hulk: Big Things”

“NYX”

“Spider-Man/Doctor Octopus: Year One”

“Uncanny X-Men: The End Of History”

“Venom Vs. Carnage”

“Wolverine: Return Of The Native”

“Wolverine/Punisher”

These are often inaccurate, especially when schedule is considered. But there a good guide as to what you might expect to see in the near future.

JE SUIS LE MEILLEUR LA EST A CE QUE JE FAIT.

[Green Light]

It appears the editor-in-chief of Panini France (the company that once belonged to Marvel itself and now publishes Marvel comics in French) has announced in an interview for a French comics magazine that Jean David Morvan and Philippe Buchet (writer and artist of “Sillage,” published in English as “Wake” by NBM ), are the first French authors who have signed to do original projects with Marvel characters for the local market. In this case, a 44-page Wolverine story in the traditional Franco-Belgian format: big oversized hardcover. This experience is only the beginning. 20 contracts have been negotiated with other Franco-Belgian authors to do more stories with renowned Marvel heroes. Panini plans to publish at least 6 of these albums in 2005.

CUT THE KORDEY

[Green Light]

Igor Kordey has continued to talk about his experiences drawing “Excalibur” before being dropped off the book and one and a half issues being binned.

You can see his pencils here as well as a PDF of the full pencilled issue.

So lets compare a few pages… Kordey pencils on the left, Lopresti coloured inks (and pencils) on the right. Who wins? And was Kordey’s art really that uncommercial in comparison?

ONI THE LONELY

[Yellow Light]

Those Rolston Spidey sketches from last week’s LITG were originally for a Mary Jane project that Marvel had asked Oni to recruit for and manage.

I understand this was part of a second attempt for some kind of Marvel/Oni relationship after the first attempt failed after Jemas asked Oni to jump too many hoops.

The second post-Jemas attempt failed because everyone from Oni that Marvel would have liked to work with turned out either exclusive with DC or declined to work with Marvel due to past experiences…

FLUID VERSIONS

[Yellow Light]

“Amazing Fantasy” Vs. “Spider-Girl.” It’s the grudge match anyone who cares about female versions of Marvel’s top character is taking sides on. But is it a fair fight?

Tom DeFalco was allowed not to change his character’s name to Spider-Woman and has said that Marvel will decide whether or not to continue “Spider-Girl” after issue 81 in July – the month after “Amazing Fantasy” is published.

I understand that the star of “Amazing Fantasy” will be called Spider-Girl and that it’s being announced as a “reintroduction” of the character

With “Spider-Girl’s” 75th issue (launching her new black costume) suddenly missing from the comprehensive Spider-title solicitations for June at Marvel.com, and “Amazing Fantasy” getting sales boosts with limited cover editions of “Ultimate Spider-Man” being tied to its sale, could it be Marvel are giving “Amazing Fantasy” a boost while playing down “Spider-Girl” on it’s big day? Just when a decision about the future of the title is due?

WANTED STINKS!

[Green Light]

The “Wanted Dossier” came out pretty recently. And it stinks.

No, really. I don’t know what they printed it with but dear me! The stench! Crack the cover of that and you wince. I know some people say that a bad comic can really stink up a store, but I never took it literally.

One to triple bag, I think.

DEZ’ KIN

[Green Light]

I understand that after the success of their COMIX history of underground comics, Dez Skinn’s Quality Communications is working on a number of followup projects.

These include “Preaching To The Converted” by Tim Pilcher, a companion to the “Preacher” series with extensive contributions from Ennis, Dillon and Fabry. There’s a book on the history of Marvel UK, of British Sci-Fi and Horror Comics and more to come.

COMIX is also planning a launching ceremony at the above-mentioned ComICA, with Gilbert Shelton flying in to do the honours.

FRAZER ERASER

[Green Light]

LITG’s favourite son, Frazer Irving, has a new strip in the upcoming “Judge Dredd Megazine,” which I’ve stolen from his hard drive for a sneak peek.

Written by Si Spurrier, is this a Raymond Chandler-style Dredd?

YOU BLACK THE ATTACK

[Green Light]

Here are a few pages from Robert Kirkman and Cliff Rathburn’s upcoming “Brit: Red White Black And Blue,” due to ship in August.

LOST MY HEART…

[Green Light]

Tony Lee, Jim Brady and Sam Hart are doing “Starship Troopers.”

Met Sam in the pub last week. Haven’t seen him for seven years. He’s really come on quite a way. Here’s their stuff.

MAUS TRAP

[Green Light]

Around London in Wednesday with not much to do?

BBC4 are recording a Battle Of The Books programme with Art Spiegelman’s “Maus” going head to head with Thomas Kenealy’s “Schindler’s Ark.”

Recording from noon to 2pm in Putney in front of a live TV audience, Kev Sutherland of Comics Festival fame will be interrogated by Mariella Frostrup (and how many of us have had *that* particular fantasy?) on “Maus'” attributes and comparative superiority.

Audience tickets can be acquired free, by calling 0141 331 0450

JUST ONE MORE PLUG

[Green Light]

We’re keeping up with the charity project “Just One Page” piccies. Here’s a preview of the cover

and a rundown of how it’s looking

There’s a full cast list here. Copies can be preordered for £5, $10 or 10 Euros, or find it at the Bristol Comic Festival in a couple of weeks.

RECRUITING IN THE GUTTERS

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.

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