This is seventy-fifth 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 professional and reader 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.
The traffic lights are there for your own protection. The Red light indicates that the content of the piece is most likely a mixture of agenda and confusion. Amber means at least the agenda is tempered by facts. Possibly. And Green means it's true.
Probably. Ah, you never know. Could always be a first.
If reprinting from this column, please only reprint a relevant portion of an article and include a link so people can get the rest. That way, glory lies.
Apologies for any delay, but we've been celebrating a little known British festival called Thanksgiving. Oh, I know you Americans have your version, but ours predates it a little. It's to celebrate the fact that one day, a bunch of killjoy, puritan, know-nothings decided to leave our country in a boat. There was much rejoicing, and we've kept up the celebrations since. I wonder what happened to them?
IS MARVEL THE NEW DC?
Last week's column repeated and challenged an observation that Dan Buckley was doing a Paul Levitz impression. Well, could it be that Joe Quesada is doing one of Bob Wayne?
I have been told that Marvel are operating with an "official wall of secrecy" right now, that Quesada has explained to creators that he wants to close off all leaks in the wake of Bill Jemas' demotion. It's possible that it's more complicit, there is a tendency to be more loyal to Marvel now that Bill Jemas, seen by many as a micro-manager of late, has moved his sphere of influence. Indeed, Quesada himself has been told by Marvel executives that he's to be held responsible for such leaks - more so now that Bill Jemas is no longer involved. And the editors have been informed by Joe.
Expect rottweiler Mike Doran to be on the case even more in future.
Is it working? Could well be, there are a few sources who may have been less forthcoming of late. And I've been very good about not reporting the New X-Men writer - so it looks like I've been managed well by Joe. Marvel's pet poodle, that's me.
Mind you, I did get to hear about this story, didn't I? Unless it, too, is a fake…
VAMPIRES IN THE BOG
The set of "Blade" 3 has been struck down by a mystery stomach virus. Director, crew, some actors, all unavailable on set, as they're holed up straining in the toilets. Cut to queues of vampired up extras outside the door. Not pleasant all round. Wesley Snipes, unaffected by this bowel-liquidising invader, ascribes his immunity to "pure, dumb luck." Damn daywalker…
Next door, Luke Perry, shooting his comeback vehicle and JMS headed "Jeremiah" on the next-door set, had this reaction to the series being cancelled in mid-shoot: "I don't wanna talk about it. Fuck off."
"No comment" is the standard response, Luke.
At Wizard World Chicago, Brian Bendis came up to me in a jovial mood, telling me that I'd failed to report in advance his and Mark Millar's upcoming "Ultimate Fantastic Four" series (true) and chastised my skills as a rumour columnist. I could only hold my hands, admit my failings and tell him all I knew about was his upcoming "Secret War" series. It was like pressing a pause button on a man's face…
Well now the whole world knows. And Gabriele Dell'Otto is ensuring that everyone knows exactly how it was done by putting up layouts to the promo images at his new Web site.
Right now anyway.
For more, click here
Good to see Marvel's increasingly bizarre relationship with Amazon continues. Take "Manga: Marvel Tales Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man." By Stan Lee and Udon Studios, apparently this is a top secret project that penciller Mark Brooks has been working on - a few pages were seen in Chicago. And now it's out there for the world to see, if you know where to look… well to be ordered, at least.
Talking of which, do you like Sentinel? Go here.
WAITED FOR THE TRADES?
And, of course, it's not just Marvel. Many (including Warren) have speculated about the TPB-possibilities of his DC minis, seen as too small to justify trades, as well as the Prestige Format Planetary comics, at a wrong price point/print size to justify reprints, and too many in stock for a trade.
Well, Amazon can help out here. Currently planned are
"Planetary: Crossing Worlds" - I can confirm that this is collecting "Planetary/JLA," "Authority/Planetary" and "Planetary/Batman" for April.
A trade collection of "Reload" and "Mek" for April
A trade collection of "Red" and "Tokyo Storm Warning" for May
The best thing about the last two? They're flip-books!
The existence of "Crossing Worlds" may also bolster Warren Ellis' case to get the Transmetropolitan prestige format specials collected in a trade paperback form too. After all, "Wildstorm have done it…"
UPDATE: I've been told by DC sources that news of some of these trades went out as part of DC's Direct Channels to retailers and press alike a few weeks ago - just that no one seems to have picked up on it. Least of all "Red" artist Cully Hamner who posted to Millarworld saying, "You know, considering that I'm half of the creative team that owns 'Red,' it'd be nice if Wildstorm would bother to consult me about this. I'll admit that I'm a bit put out by the idea of a decision being made about format without even asking me, especially when they're contractually bound to do so...
"Gonna have to have me a talk with someone on Monday."
He then followed up with, "As someone else said, it's probably a trial balloon of some sort.
"But if it isn't... well, no one should be making any format decisions with regard to any printing of 'Red' without consulting Warren or myself, and if Warren has agreed to this particular thing, then no one's talked to me about it, and that ain't cool. I sure shouldn't be hearing about it first on the Internet. So, I'll see what's up tomorrow."
It's not a trial balloon, Cully. But it does sound like a damn fine idea.
MOVING TO THE SUBURBS
There have been a number of high-profile defections from Image Central of late, and license holder after license holder sets up on their own, moves to a new company or consolidates with ex-Image studio Devil's Due. With Dreamwave, MVC, Devil's Due, Roaring Studios and Udon taking projects to Image, then withdrawing them, what's going on? And why does Image turn from an attractive proposition to a turnoff?
Multiple people from various companies as well as freelance creators have been on hand to talk. Initially, Image Comics looks like one of the best deals in the land. In return for a fixed fee, Image will publish a comic book, utilising all its printing, distribution and promotional discounts as a result of economics of scale, and the content provider keeps all profits above that fixed fee - which even includes a Previews ad. There is no other publisher that offers such a deal and it's the reason the Image founders and the first guests to Image got so rich so quickly. Even minor inkers on minor titles could make more money on one comic than they might in many years elsewhere.
Sales have decreased since then, but the licenses have brought with them a license to print money, in many cases. "Transformers," "He-Man," "GI Joe," "Streetfighter," there's nothing a toy or game license from the eighties won't fix, it seems. And Image seem like just the people to give the content providers the lion's share when they bring in the big bucks. Although licensed titles pay an increased fee to Image for some reason…
So why arrive, then bid farewell? Here are a few of the more common complaints I've been hearing.
Firstly, some cite they feel there's a lack of promotion. Despite what some might view, press releases for Image Central comics by Image Central are not seen as forthcoming by some. Studios and creators have complained they sometimes have to issue them themselves, rather than rely on their publisher. Fair enough, some would say, welcome to the modern world of comics. However, while they were encouraged to promote their own titles by Image, they were then often chastised when doing so. Promoting the studio or the imprint involved with the book over and above Image is a common cause for a bollocking - and identity is a key thing many of these studios hold dear. Udon recently cited their desire to have their logo on the front of the books - a no no with Image. Although Image have always been emphatically upfront about this.
Overprinting and non-overprinting is a bugbear I hear a lot. It looks like Image can't win on this one. It seems that earlier decisions within the company were made to overprint to an excessive degree. Readers fed up of not getting new Marvel comics might not see why this is a bad thing, but for the Image system, creators who bring a book for Image might lose out - if a book is a moderate success instead of the expected huge success, Image is stuck with a load of books that count against the book's profit, so it doesn't make money and the creators make little or nothing at all. And the chances of a trade paperback with so many original issues yet to be sold become slimmer and slimmer. This is the most common accusation I've heard sent Image's way - that such overprinting decisions were made without creative consultation.
Now, I hear the opposite. They now strongly advise against overprinting at all, and throw up barriers to creators or companies who do want to overprint a certain amount - even when the studio really wants to.
Image also pay creators a couple of months after books ship. While this means that the money gets paid when Image have received payment from Diamond, this is still slower than other similar companies. And reorder payments used to be paid every six months, although that has now become quarterly - which includes orders for subsequent printings. So a comic that sells low initially but then becomes a hit with repeat printings, may take a while to pay. And if a book sells out through reorder in a couple of weeks, it would still take three months for that payment to come through. And since trade paperbacks make most of their sales through reorders, that situation can escalate. Image do print heavy on the trade paperbacks, but put the whole printing bill against initial reorders, so that there will be little if any initial payment to the creator or studio, and it may be a while coming.
Image insists on handling advertisements for Image Central books, but have a reputation for typos, wrongly-used logos and pre-press errors… although earlier material from the studios themselves might help that. And the "included" Previews ad always used to be a page per title - but during the summer when a number of defections were decided upon, Image had so many books out, a few ads had to be shrunk to half pages. And a few people weren't happy about it.
Printing prices for comics are another common complaint, in that they seem to vary considerably and estimates for costs are unreliable. There have been cases when a product has been printed only to find that they sell them for less than they cost to produce - which wasn't known beforehand. Complaints about Image invoices are that they're very hard to unpick, and find just what is being charged. Communication problems then lead to shipping delays…
Publishers looking to raise revenue through running adverts in their comic have more problems. They can't advertise toys in Image books, possibly due to conflicts with Todd MacFarlane's lines. But how many of those comics licenses are based on toys, or have toys associated with them? An instant revenue raiser there, cut off at the knee stumps.
One common theme is that while a lot of these problems seem minor, they only find out about them afterwards. And the reason people are shifting publishers is that other companies are offering solutions to these problems, and slightly less jam today instead of lots of jam tomorrow.
I heard about a Devil's Due creator-owned title called "Kore." Anticipating orders of 10-15,000 for an unknown product, Devil's Due decided, with Image, to overprint massively, despite the risks and costs.
They decided to print 50,000 copies of issue 1, massively overship to Diamond accounts, flood the market and make a real impact in shops. This may have been a crazy plan, but it was seen as a good stunt to get interest, exposure and make sure that everyone who wanted to buy a copy, could get a copy, and hopefully lift subsequent sales above the usually expected 10,000 mark to, say 25,000 - which would be a real hit in terms of creator-owned projects at Image Central.
The comics were printed well in advance, so that retailers would have a copy of the first issue even before they ordered, and 5000 copies were sent out to Diamond accounts, the rest kept in storage.
The book was ordered at 10,000, as expected (with 5,000 already in the market's hands). However, Diamond won't allow an overship of more than 100%. Image Central people knew this, but hadn't told Devil's Due, despite the excess printing and overship plan being discussed and agreed.
Image refused to pay any compensation.
The trade paperback is due to be published in February. But if you want a taster of the beginning of the story, I know this little warehouse…
But can anything change? You never know. After a piece in LITG about MV Creations, creators of the "Masters Of the Universe" and Rob Zombie comics, who recently have found more trouble at CrossGen, talking about financial problems with Image, MVC's Val Staples told me when I asked about Image Comics that Jim Valentino contacted MVC and said that things are much better now. That outstanding issues including payments have either been resolved, or are in the process of doing so.
Val tells me "In conjunction with us printing our own books, Images' payments have helped us make considerable headway in catching up payments to our creators and we're still on track to have things caught up around the holidays. Can't complain about that! :-)"
It appears that Image weren't themselves aware of some of the problems their studios were suffering. A little more communication both ways could solve wonders.
One thing that seems clear. Image provides initial opportunities for many who might not find them elsewhere, and certainly not on such generous terms. However, many of the people who join Image Central are relative "newbies" at comics publication and may need more of a helping hand - but maybe without the handcuffs common at other publishers. It could be that a simple FAQ would help from Image's side to counter what might be a combination of assumption, naivety and inexperience on the part of different people. And there's the inbuilt danger that if companies do make a lot of money through Image Comics' deal, they're suddenly in a much better situation to set up on their own.
But of late, there's been more or a rush to the door than the other way round. It can't help that the natural state of a licensed title is to decline in sales. Initial interest can often revolve around the novelty aspect of the book as fans of the license rather than regular comic book readers are attracted. There's a drop-off period that is only to be expected… scapegoats may need to be found. Is Image Central that current tufted horned creature? It doesn't help that the Image Central fee stays the same even as sales drop, so it increases as a percentage of revenue.
But, again, to be fair, if you can look past any such problems, and play the long-term game, Image Comics do offer the best deal in the marketplace. It's just that not everyone has the ability to instantly profit from it.
OFF THE SHELF
Reports from around the USA come in, indicating that the likes of Walden Books and Borders are limiting the amount of space American graphic novels are getting, in favour of more manga trades from the likes of Viz, Dark Horse and TokyoPop. In some cases, the superheroes, the fantasies and the licensed titles have vanished completely in favour of the East Asian Invasion.
Why? They sell, obviously.
How long before those Marvel Manga Tsunami and other books get shrunk and revamped for this market?
And how long before Dirk Deppey links to this piece?
So. You're a Steve Niles/Ben Templesmith fan, you're on disability benefit and you're about to be evicted from your flat. They send you a cheque.
Sometimes being on the Internet is a wonderful thing.
Ever fancied a look inside a comic creator's own comic collection? Legally? Without breaking into their house, rifling through their closets or doing a Wally-Wood-through-the-skylight?
Well, you can! The rather wonderful Roger Stern is selling his comic collection on eBay, and there's some pretty nice items there already. So go round, have a snoop, maybe put in a bid or two. I have!
Another one of those Marvel comic stories that someone should have caught and given a suitable warning over?
Hmmm. I can't see any interpretation of that that says Havok isn't planning to urinate Iceman a new body.
And as for the Shakespearian allusion, looks like Austen's upcoming "Uncanny X-Men" arc is going that way too… from Previews…
"The X-Men find themselves caught between an ages-old family feud, with two young lovers - one human and one mutant - trapped on either side."
Yeah, but did Shakespeare ever create characters entirely out of urine? Indeed he did not! Shame really, might have livened up Richard III a tad.
COMPANY PAYS CREATOR SHOCK
Andy Mangels writes to say that MV Creations, mentioned in this column for non and late-payment to creators, has told me that despite some delay, he's been paid in full for his CrossGen work he did for them. When MVC haven't even been paid themselves. "Not often you see companies doing that nowadays." Too true, Andy.
Well, despite breaking the "Bizarro" 2 news on last weeks' column, seems people involved have been talking about it for ages. Just I (and others) haven't been paying attention.
Actually, Evan Dorkin's been referring to this for months on his weblog -- he has a couple of scripts in it, as well. And Don Simpson's been showing around his story about Batman installing software on his computer for months.
Clearly, this is becoming The Column You Can Safely Ignore.
FRANK AND DARING
Everyone knows Frank Cho has been working on a Marvel project for "Shanna The She-Devil?" Well, pages have been doing the rounds… featuring a totally nude Shanna fighting Velociraptors in an old Nazi lab.
Will the NEW New Marvel management team be happy publishing this? Will they get Bill Jemas to draw underwear on her? Or possibly rejig the speech balloons for maximum coverage? Let's all find out together.
FINGER OF WRATH
Danny Fingeroth writes to confirm Fred Hembeck's story that the "Spectacular Spider-Man" issue of Assistant Editor's month was edited by the usual editor. Him.
And that this was true of all the comics from that theme month.
Danny tells me "In fact, the editors actually did go away (to the 1983 San Diego comicon and then to Marvel Studios in L.A.), but the realities of print schedules meant that the issues that were edited to a greater degree by the assistants actually came out a couple of months after Assistant Editors Month."
Danny Fingeroth is currently the editor in chief of Write Now! Magazine from TwoMorrows and the author of the upcoming "Superman On The Couch: What Superheroes Really Tell Us About Ourselves and Our Society," due in Spring 2004 from Continuum Publishing.
"Reaper" is a new Image book, created with full art and lettering from Cliff Rathburn and written by Robert Kirkman. A Middle-Earth style fantasy, with an assassin hired to take down the world's dictatorial and domineering ruler, so that another may take his place.
It's going to be solicited for March 04.
KNICKERS TO THE LOT OF YOU.
I'm not exactly sure how official this CBR merchandise is. But if that's the price, I hope Comic Book Resources are getting a decent sized cut…
See here for details.
[Editors Note: This is definitely NOT official CBR swag, which of course can be purchased in the official CBR Store. Sorry, no boxers. - J]
I hear a little rumour about the previously mentioned sequel to "Formerly Known as the Justice League," namely "I can't believe it's not the Justice League."
I heard the plot involved going to Hell to rescue Guy Gardner.
Please be true. Please be true.
CARY ON SCHEMING
According to the Dark Horse write-up in Previews for the "Conan" series, when Cary Nord was nabbed to draw the series, he had no other comics work on his schedule.
Um. Wasn't he meant to be originally drawing "Cla$$ War," only for Com.X to lose another talented artist from the book to the yanks? Slightly revisionist history there…
ATTACK OF THE CLONES
Last week's Halloween visual of Darick Robertson all Jedi'ed up attracted some fun attention.
Thanks to Frank McGarity…
Thanks to James G Vitus
Oh yeah, yeah, thanks to Anthony Taylor.
RICH REVIEWS STUFF
Oh you thought that was it? No, sorry, decided to talk about stuff. That's right, comics rumours and gossip isn't enough, it's time for me to start reviewing this and that.
Universally panned Richard Curtis film is bloody brilliant. Yes it's cheesey. Yes it's schmaltzy. But it's terribly engaging, doesn't always take the easiest route, and incredibly quotable lines, has swearing children, comedy foreigners, and has show-stopping performances by Bill Nighy (my tip for the next Doctor Who) and Emma Thompson. It's also full of every decent British actor with a high profile for the last year or two, and the bloke who used to play Rab C Nesbitt. Go as a couple, or go alone with the biggest bucket of popcorn in the fucking cinema.
BRITISH SEA POWER
Do you like David Bowie? Do you? Wish he were a band rather than a singer? Do you? Well, go see this lot then. David Bowie by way of Beautiful South's sense of design and a little Pulp-style inventive lyrics - "If the past is like a foreign country, why can't we go there, like we used to?" Oh, and stuffed owls, foliage and crowd invasions by the drummer.
If you read comics, are under thirty or can remember when you were, and have a DVD player that can play Region 2, then you have no excuse for watching this most essential of sitcoms. No laughter track, directed like a horror movie, it's a flatshare sitcom written by the stars, with superbly thought through characters, a true sense of what it's like to be young and making a life for yourself that's destined for doom, and there are comic books in it. One of the flatsharers, Tim Bisley, is a comic book artist, The actor and writer, Simon Pegg is a comic book geek. And it's ace.
Buy it off www.amazon.co.uk or www.ebay.co.uk or something, or get a British mate to buy it for you in the Virgin Megatore sale. Or get Bob Wayne at DC Comics to tape you a copy.
If your DVD can't play Region 2 DVDs, then you really should have bought another DVD player shouldn't you? What were you thinking? No "Spaced" for you.
Old people have sex. No, it's true, they do. And occaionally with younger people. This film takes aspects of "Lady Chatterley's Lover," "Friends In the North" and "Bridget Jones" and weaves. Recently widowed, The Mother enters her fucked up children's lives in the hustle and bustle of London and manages to fuck them up even more, before leaving. Philip Larkin was never proved more right. Bleak with occasional shards of light, and one incredibly insightful poetry reading.
It's a word that Rich Johnston claims to have come up with in his Waiting For Tommy interview with Joe Casey, to describe the widening scope of the superhero story into stories about people who aren't, or aren't always, heroes. He's stretching rather, not to mention this annoying third person schtick. Next Wednesday, Micah Wright, and no new words. Promise.
TWO FROM THE BOTTOM
A new feature. Comic book creators I drink with, whose work I can give plugs to. Editors, if you see these people's names fall on your desk, remember to go "hah!" Alex Di Campi and Tony Lee this week, more next week. Anyway, I had a little chat with them on Thursday.
ALEX DE CAMPI
Alex de Campi is a London-based writer who has mainly been working in children's animation, and has both a film and a series in development with European studios. Her first love is comics, however, and she hopes to announce her first major comics project soon. "I grew up on Claremont's 'X-Men,' but then comics went out of my life for a while. Then, four years ago, a friend was moving barracks and gave me a stack of everything produced by 2000AD, Vertigo and Wildstorm between 1995 and 1998. That and Commando comics got me hooked again."
Alex is a little too literary - her idea of fun is doing a graphic novel adaptation of Goethe's "Faust," and her comic scripts contain as many nods to Kurt Weill as they do to Keith Giffen. "The result of wasting a fine Princeton education! Mind you, the things I'm pitching now are pretty straight down the line, mainstream superhero stories."
Alex isn't one for spoiling what she's pitching - even to the extent of names, so they won't get mentioned here. All I can say is that she shows an extreme sense of energy on the page, a fine knowledge of characterisation and narrative, and an annoying use of comic book tricks that I'll do my best to steal.
So how would she characterise her writing style? "What I try to achieve is a story you can enjoy primarily as a densely plotted piece of pulp entertainment, but which also whispers - not shouts - of deeper themes." And which other comics writers does she rate? "Garth Ennis when he's being subtle is world-class, but it's a rare thing; Kurt Busiek when he's writing his own characters; Mike Carey when he's on form - 'Morningstar Option' is still the best-written miniseries Vertigo ever published."
There are photos here.
You know, I'm really starting to feel like Warren Ellis right now. Okay, onto someone ugly.
Tony Lee is a relative newcomer to the comics scene - it was only Easter that he first met with Marvel and DC and his first major work is "Unlimited X-Men," solicited in February. It's a jump in the deep end for a writer with only a ten-year-old four pager and an upcoming "Trailer Park of Terror" tale to his name, but his upcoming projects list is a veritable who's who of publishing, with a variety of creator owned and company owned franchises.
Of course what I'd never do in such a situation is dig up the four-page story that appeared in the middle of the first issue of "Comics Speculator News" from ten years ago, that I remember buying for the Simon Bisley cover, and then never buying again.
Oh go on then. If he is stupid enough to leave them lying around on his Web site… as he says "it was originally a 5 page story with a great twist, but then editorial changes made it 4 pages - and rather than allow me to rewrite it, just wiped a page and tacked a werewolf on the end..."
Tony is currently writing Mythlands with Owen Gieni - it stars a new character that would have appeared in a "Warrior Nun Areala" mini before Antarctic scorched their line. Apparently the heroine in question bears a vague resemblance to Avril Lavigne... It's not coloured or lettered yet but it's on a very important desk at the moment - can't say any more yet. There's also something rather pretty called "Hunters Moon."
As for "X-Men Unlimited," I've read the script for the "Sage" story from issue 1. I may also have spilled brown sauce on it - but that's the problem with reading script in a pub. Sorry Tony.
He's also talking about writing a mini series set in the "Evil Dead" world…
RECRUITING IN THE GUTTERS
If any creator or studio would like to share their recent experiences with Image Central, please do. If anyone has stories to share about Hank Kalanz, now's the time. And if any C-list creator or above (you know who you are) has any Epic pitches to share, write in.
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:email@example.com (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.