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Welcome to the eighty-seventh 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.

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So there you go.

If there's a paucity to this column, it's down to not having a mouse till late on Sunday. An amazing bit of kit, the computer mouse, but when the cable is buggered you're fucked. Always have a spare. The same goes for your heart, too.

ADVANCE COMICS

[Green Light]So why did Marvel get in such a legal tizzy over the leaked embargoed Previews solicitations, when Diamond gave out all of their Previews catalogue details less than twenty-four hours later?

Turns out, for some yet to be determined reason, the new Diamond Previews listings went up one week before every publisher was expecting.

Certainly came as a shock to me. Didn't realise the following would leak so quickly…

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AVATAR BABY

[Green Light]I'm writing a comic, "Holed Up" (or "Rich Johnson's Holed Up" according to the solicitations) for Avatar, drawn by Chilean star artist Gonzalo Martinez.

It's an American family sitcom set amongst the separatist community of Idaho. Very much an outside-look-in, what started out as a couple of dodgy gags about gun control soon turned into a look at the concept of family, especially the American family, and how it binds in the most extreme cirumstances.

Imagine "The Sopranos" crossed with the "Simpsons" by way of "Addams Family"… but you know? There's really a lot more of the Waltons in there. Just, you know. With uzis.

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A number of retailers seem averse to ordering past the Premier Comics section. And a number still associate Avatar with their, oh how do I put this, comics with strong female characters with not very strong morals.

But these days, Avatar should be better known for Alan Moore's "A Small Killing," "Yuggoth Chronicles," "Writing For Comics," Mark Millar's "Unfunnies," Garth Ennis' "Dicks" & "303" and Warren Ellis' "Strange Kiss".

But nevertheless, if you want a copy, best to preorder it with a comic shop.

And if you'd like to help out… later this week I'll be starting the Holed Up Army recruitment drive…

For an earlier version of this story see All The Rage.

IMAGE MATTERS

[Red Light]Right then. Image. I understand that Image's other founders, Marc Silvestri, Todd McFarlane and Erik Larsen met at Erik's instigation, to oust Jim Valentino as Publisher, while Jim was on vacation. And that Erik was given the job as a result. But why?

Rather than being told the reason, I've been told what's been filling the gossip rounds are not the primary reasons for the change.

It's not because independent studios have been leaving.

It's not because certain high profile titles have not been high profile enough.

It's not because Image are fearing that come renegotiation, a marketshare below 5% will see them lose Premier Publisher status, and all the advantages and indeed survival, that brings.

So if these aren't the primary reasons, then what is? Certainly Jim Valentino did not leave his position voluntarily. And a number of Image Central creators have also offered a desire to follow Valentino if he moves elsewhere.

There have been more rumours that Marc Silvestri and Top Cow will take over if Erik is unsuccessful in raising the prominence of the company, but Matt Hawkins of Top Cow denies that such a thing has even been discussed.

But that last line in the press release about Jim being encouraged to take a more creative role at Image? I don't think so.

SAVAGE DRAGOON

[Yellow Light]Erik Larsen is using the opportunities these announcements have given him to pimp "Savage Dragon" a lot - and why not? Dragon has turned into a splendid multi-layered piece of superfiction, that looks at the reality of a world overrun with supertypes, and the chaos that ensues.

With sales far below those the quality of the book would suggest, as President, Larsen would be in a better position to promote the book. I hear a number of semi-pro pencillers have been contracted to draw short stories based around Savage Dragon-related concepts such as Freak Force, Richocet and Dart.

Secrecy on these projects is hard to come by, as they're instantly added to those hungry creators' CV…

As for submissions to Image Central, Erik Larsen has some advice.

"When I helped form Image, what I brought to the company was the one project that I felt most enthusiastic about. Not one that I came up with to please a potential publisher or please fans of the book I had been doing--but one that I cared passionately about. That is what I'm looking for. Projects from creators are passionate about them.

"And if you're passionate about girls with short skirts and big hooters--all the better.

"(That was a joke--you do realize that, right?)"

THUNDERSTATS

[Yellow Light]I understand that Udon Studios is to publish a Thundercats ongoing series once DC/Wildstorm drop the licence after their next miniseries.

SECRET CROSSOVER

[Yellow Light]I understand that Gabrielle Dell'Otto, currently riding high with the success of "Secret War" with Brian Michael Bendis, is working on a big Wildstorm crossover project.

ARADICATION

[Yellow Light]Expect some major changes for Marvel in the months to come. Cancellations of books you wouldn't expect. The word I hear is that if there isn't a film deal in the offing for a title, then it had better have something bloody good going for it (basically high sales or an outreach publishing plan) to survive. If you're in the Top Twenty, fine. If you're not, and you're not a Spidey, X title of something being pitched to Hollywood… well then…

What future has "Avengers?" "Iron Man?" "Thor?" "Captain Marvel?" And I hear a Spidey book might be for the chop, too.

Naturally, all businesses are in it to make money. Marvel, however, have shown a past propensity to cancel books that are profitable - but just might not be as profitable as a different book. This attitude looks like it's returning.

However it's combined with high profile events such as "Supreme Power" or "1602," a lot of money, talent and promotion behind a major new comic with less ties to existing brands. While Marvel may be paring away certain sections from their publishing plans, they are planting new roots. As long as they're not creator owned roots…

This summer it's going to be all out war between DC and Marvel.

THINGS CHANGE

[Green Light]Maybe they'll have room for my "Thing" proposal. Basically, the results of the cosmic rays, transforming Ben Grimm into a large rocky version of himself, also reversed his circumcision. Now it's time to put that right again. Guest starring Wolverine.

Surely someone out there would buy a copy of "Fantastic Foreskin"?

Art by Steve Lieber, used by permission of Joseph Ackerman

Sorry.

LEE SEASON, BYRNE SEASON, LEE SEASON, BYRNE SEASON

[Yellow Light]As Image goes through more somersaults, one poster found in Jim Lee's recent foray as editor of Newsarama a small aside that didn't get picked up on. He directly addressed the issue of whether John Byrne was approached to be a "Founding Father" of Image by Jim Lee, an event previously claimed by Byrne, but doubted by Erik Larsen. Byrne claimed that his decision not to go to Image was because he had just signed with Dark Horse for his acclaimed book "John Byrne's Next Men" and was saddened that Jim Lee couldn't see it as an obstacle not to do the book with Image.

Jim Lee's recentish response clarified the story from his own perspective, saying, "No, but I did ask him, and many other creators, to come and join us. Whether he would have been a founding father or [not] would have been a group discussion decided by all of us. At that time, the concept of founding fathers wasn't even existent since we hadn't really grown beyond the original numbers we started out with. John politely declined, but did ask me to jump ship and join him in his fledgling Byrne-verse for Dark Horse and to draw one of his titles. I also politely declined."

From such differing perspectives is enlightenment found.

BUZZ ON BUZZ

[Green Light]I understand that Ian Carney and Woodrow Phoenix of "Sugar Buzz" fame have just finished work on a "Pants Ant" pilot cartoon, for Cartoon Network. It's currently in research…

The "Pants Ant" pilot features a 60s Hanna Barbera style musical number. Impressed CN execs asked who the band was. Turns out it was Mr Carney himself.

So those of you missing your "Sugar Buzz," you now know why you've been on Cold Turkey so long.

BLACKSAD BACKLASH

[Yellow Light]The story last week about Azzarello being linked to an English translation of "Blacksad" by DC Comics before another publisher took the rights, caused quite a bit of heated discussion.

Apparently, DC loved the art of "Blacksad," but not so much the story (there's a general consensus among critics and fans that Blacksad's strong point is the amazing art whereas the story is pretty unremarkable, only there to service Guardino's art. See here). What DC wanted from Azzarello was not a simple "adaptation." Apparently, they wanted him to do a complete overhaul of the script, "que escribiese una historia nueva," that is, "they expected him to write the story anew". Given DC intentions, Azzarello wasn't happy with doing that and refused.

Brian Azzarello is getting a reputation for doing the right thing by people. He even gave "100 Bullets'" artist half of his share in the "100 Bullets" property. Initially the copyright notice "Brian Azzarello & DC Comics" has changed to "Brian Azzarello, Eduardo Risso & DC Comics."

NILES BETTER

[Green Light]A followup to last week's story on "Digital Webbing Presents" - I hear that Steve Niles is doing a feature story in an upcoming issue around August time with Kody Chamberlain. Expect other big name writers to bring attention to the title as well.

DE FACTO

[Green Light]On the Spider-Girl board, Tom DeFalco has been dealing with recent Marvel solicitations for the book… and offering teases as to the fate of the book.

When asked why two issues were being solicited in May, he replied, "Yes, we did. Marvel has a special reason for putting out two issues in May, but I've been told to keep my mouth shut about it."

Later adding "We have been given to at least Issue #81. After that...anything can happen."

But the future all may depend on the reaction to something new happening in the title. He writes, "I'm not really sure. I cannot tell you what's about to happen, but I can say that our book is going to undergo some major changes in the coming months. I don't know how you will react to these changes. (Heck, I'm not even sure how I feel about them!)

"I can tell you that we will make an official announcement on or before the week of March 15. And I can also say...MAYDAY PARKER--Accept NO substitutes!"

But as to those solicitations…

SPIDER-GIRL #73 & #74

Written by Tom DeFalco

Pencils & Covers by Ron Frenz & PAT OLLIFFE

Spider-Girl's hunt for the new Doctor Octopus is sidetracked by Claw, the Cat, a high-tech villain who's faster, stronger, and more agile than our girl! Plus: an unexpected cliffhanger!

32 PGS. (each)/ALL AGES ...$2.99 (each)

Tom replies, "I just LOVE the way Marvel supports this book. If I were doing the solicits, I would have done something like this...

SPIDER-GIRL #73

(Art by Ron Frenz)

"All Men Are JERKS!"

Spider-Girl's hunt for the new Doctor Octopus is sidetracked by Claw, the Cat, a high-tech villain who's faster and even more agile than our girl! Plus: an unexpected cliffhanger!

SPIDER-GIRL #74

(Art Pat Olliffe)

"BURIED ALIVE!"

As Normie Osborn's life grows ever more complicated--thanks to that unexpected cliffhanger--Spider-Girl is buried alive in an underground passage when her old enemy Canis escapes prison and joins forces with Lady Octopus.

"Okay, so maybe I'm not the best when it comes to writing solicit copy--but I wish they just TRY to sell this book!"

And concluding, "Oh, and I guess I should have mentioned that both #73 and #74 are complete single issue stories...though Marvel would have you believe otherwise."

BATTY QUESTIONS

[Green Light]Reaction to the people behind the new Batman film seems to have been very positive. In a number of newspapers, Paul Levitz is quoted as saying "Working with them has been a delight. We haven't been dealing with questions like, 'Is it 'Bruce Wayne' or could it be 'Bob Wayne' instead?'

Address all jokes to DC's VP Sales And Marketing, Bob Wayne at the usual address.

HOW NOT TO GET WORK IN COMICS, PART ONE

[Yellow Light]Earlier this week, TV producer and small press comic book writer Chaos McKenzie wrote a letter to Joe Quesada, Editor-In-Chief of Marvel Comics, regarding his dealings with the now-abandoned Epic line.

He started, "Though I realize emails like these never do anything constructive, and though the rejection itself doesn't upset me - it comes with the territory of being a writer - but the way in which it was handled has left a sour mark on me that I can't be silent about."

Maybe he should have been, Chaos continued, "Consistently in our communications you have referred to me as a 'fan' and treated me without the respect due a professional working on his craft. I feel this has either tainted my interpretation of your comments to me, or has tainted the way you view me in general. I realize my name is not known, but I come from a very large and solid background. I was the youngest television producer in Canada, producing over 300 hours of live television before quitting to work as a writer full time - which I have been doing for three years. I have film, television, theatre, magazine, and newspaper credits - all of which you have been aware of since my agent first contacted you in late 2002. I have less comic book experience, but had many months of experience and tutoring with Mark Askwith and Draxhall Jump Studios. I sold my first comic book works to Humanoids Publishing, a prestigious place to begin a career that I have chosen to focus on sequential storytelling. From a television background, I thrive on the unlimited budget that raw imagination can explode on a comic page, in a perfect blend of word and visual."

The letter continued at length berating the way Joe Quesada and Marvel had handled his submissions, including the proposal that was accepted, he did 6 months of rewrites for and was ultimately canned along with the rest of the Epic line. Further work for "X-Men Unlimited" seems to have been hampered from incorrect briefs, irrelevent notes and confusion.

However, the likelihood of Chaos getting any work at Marvel any time soon now may have been severely dented.

You can see more of Chaos' work here.

CARRY ON CAMPI

[Green Light]A little over a month ago I mentioned Alex de Campi as an up-and-coming comics writer to watch. She has just sent me two pages drawn by Paul Ridgon from a story she will have in "Variance," a new American science fiction anthology, which debuts in early May. She also has two big creator-owned projects about to land on one or two selected desks: a police procedural manga called "Lowlives" (drawn by "Cla$$war" colourist Len O'Grady), and a modernisation of Goethe's "Faust" (drawn by up and coming Brazilian artist Felipe Sobreiro). "And of course there are the eternal discussions with major publishers for work for hire..."

Yes everyone's talking Campi. Especially after what happened a week last Saturday…

LET'S DANCE TO ELLIS

[Green Light]Get down and boogie to the latest hit track from the new "Ultimate Fantastic Four" writer and Deathboy.

COMIC ELECTRONIC

[Green Light]A correction for last week's correction from Dez Skinn on the meaning of 303 in electronic music.

According to every e-mail I received this week, while the military term is correct, musically, the 303 is the Roland TB-303 a pioneering analogue bassline synthesiser. Along with an 808, it is the machine that helped shaped techno back in the late 80's, including being the generator of acid sounds for acid house.

Look, some people care about this sort of thing, okay?

LARRY THE LAMB KEBAB

[Green Light]Larry Young - Man Of Action - Man Of Words - Man Of Mimi - in last Wednesday's Waiting For Tommy.

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