This is the thirty-eighth weekly episode of Lying In The Gutters, the industry's premier rumour column and gossip sheet. A long time ago, in a Web site very, very far away, I used to write this column under the name All The Rage - and allowed the column to continue with another writer after I left. This week's Lying In The Gutters is a sequel to one of those very columns, and I'm pleased to present a follow up to a man who burnt his bridges talking to me. There is, it seems, life after DC. There's also lots of stuff on "Transformers," "G.I. Joe," "He-Man," "Street Fighter," etc. - hopefully that'll be good for a hit or to, as well as more art previews, a couple of great message board threads and a look at how the axis of the Big two is changing. But at all times, remember the rumour rules. Red light means it's probably bullshit, Yellow light means I think there's an element of truth and Green means you get bet your life on it. Or someone's life. Not mine, I've been wrong before. Take everything you read with a sense of scathing abuse - and if you do repost information here elsewhere, please include a warning to that effect. And a link. Man does not live by hits alone - but I could do with the attention. Blame John Byrne.
My official e-mail address has also changed. Check the bottom of this column to update your records.
TALKING TO JOE ILLIDGE ABOUT... EVERYTHING ELSE.
A couple of years ago, comic book editor Joe Illidge left DC in a flurry of accusations of poor management, institutionalised sexism and racism as well as judgment calls on a number of people and events. It was a textbook example of how to burn your bridges instantly and it still resonates today. You can read it all in the All The Rage column, Talking To Joe Illidge About DC Comics.
I still think it's one of the best columns I've been involved with.
I hadn't heard from Joe in a very long time. I knew he was working in publishing.
Anyway, I got a parcel in the post the other day, with some video tapes, a bunch of comic book pitches and images, and all with Joe Illidge's name attached. I hadn't forgotten him, and clearly he hadn't forgotten me. I read the pitches, watched the tapes, there was a phone number attached and soon we were talking. This is what Joe had to say.
"In late Summer of 1999, Shawn Martinbrough asked a friend of his named Milo Stone, a video game and Web site designer, and myself to meet on a Saturday afternoon for something he wouldn't tell us about.
"Over lunch, he dropped his idea, which was to pool our talents to create a company, the goal of which was to produce properties to sell to clients in industries ranging from television to film to the Internet, because at that time, animated shows on the Web were the big thing.
"My initial feeling was that I'd heard this song before, and had gotten involved in other such ventures with people who turned out to be flakes, and I wasn't interested in dancing to that tune anymore.
"However, Shawn struck me as someone who was just as serious as I was. We'd known each other since the Milestone days when he worked on 'Shadow Cabinet' and 'Static' and I was working in the business department, pre-editorial days.
"By this time, Shawn was new into his pencilling run of the post-No Man's Land 'Detective Comics,' and I had been a member of the 'Batman' editorial group for about a year. It occurred to him that we were using all of our skills on a property that was worth millions of dollars, but we were work for hire, and would never see any kind of reward for our contributions past the work-for-hire and staff paychecks. Hell, why not use some of that energy to start our own company, create our own properties, and get them to a mass audience.
"The thought of creating something that could be around for my kids, something that could get my ideas to millions of people who are interested in stories, and, of course, improve the quality of my life, was something I couldn't resist. And that was the beginning.
"Since then, Verge Entertainment has developed a library of over 30 properties, two of which were the basis of our live-action telefilms.
I asked Joe to explain exactly what Verge Entertainment was.
"VE is a creative production company that primarily develops product for the television and film industries, but also provides creative services ranging from directing and producing storyboards for music videos and commercials to developing video games from concept to post-production and so on.
What role does he and this fellow Shawn Martinbrough play in the company?
"Well, Shawn, Milo Stone, and I all have creative roles we bring to the table in terms of writing, property development, and directing, so as the three sole owners, we're all official partners.
"In title, Shawn is the Head Partner of Verge, and was responsible for storyboarding, co-directing, and co-writing the teleplay for 'Mindgame,' then went on to co-direct 'Heartstrings.'
"My title is Head of Development, meaning it's my responsibility to be the main writer for product like 'Heartstrings,' create properties for the company, and use my editorial skills, developed from the teachings of past bosses such as Dwayne McDuffie and Denny O'Neil, to fine tune properties created by Shawn and Milo.
"In fact, one of our telefilms, 'Mindgame,' was created, co-written, and co-directed by Milo Stone. Milo is the company's Head of Interactive Media, but I call him 'The Hatchetman,' because he's good at cutting out good but unnecessary footage and letting it hit the cutting room floor so our telefilms can be tight and concise."
Okay, I've seen these pilots of "Mindgame" and "Heartstrings." Care to tell our audience what's going on?
"'Mindgame' centers around a group called P.S.I., the Psychic Surveillance Initiative, started in the 60's while Presidents were getting killed and the Soviet Union trained people with psychic paranormal abilities. For years, P.S.I has been working with the FBI and CIA, using remote viewers, people who can mentally see across large distances, to spy and track the enemies of the USA across the globe. Our telefilm is the story of how a young woman is ordered to hunt down her mentor, one of the first trackers for the agency.
"'Heartstrings' goes to the other end of the spectrum, and deals with a date between a couple that seems fine at first, but as the night continues, secrets come out that threaten to break the couple up. One secret in particular, which I'm not gonna tell here, reveals the premise of the series and turns the whole episode on its ear.
"We shot 'Mindgame' in black and white widescreen to make it science fiction noir, and 'Heartstrings' was shot in color fullscreen in order to give it the feel of a regular nighttime soap opera drama."
Why did you decide to produce these telefilms, and why those particular properties out of all the others?
"Well, in the summer of 2000 and 2001, Shawn, Milo, and I went to Los Angeles, California, and met with various executives from film and television companies. Based on a lot of cold calling on our part, we had quite a few meetings.
"People were intrigued by what we were selling, but words on paper will only get you onto the Warner Brothers lot once. After that, you'd better have more to show, or else you're just another group of guys.
"So we took it a few steps further, picked two properties that would a) be ground level enough so we could self-produce them, b) show how diverse we can be with material so execs don't stereotype us since we come from the comics biz, and c) had long enough legs to stand on so that they could go for multiple seasons and possibly spawn spinoff product, much like 'CSI' gave birth to 'CSI: Miami.'
"Any idea for a property must be unanimously agreed upon as meeting the creative and marketability criteria for being a Verge quality idea before it is fully developed. And believe me, we've all had ideas kicked back for the retool and revise. So 'Mindgame' and 'Heartstrings' met that criteria, and were the best candidates for telefilm production."
And now what?
"Well, now, if you go to www.ifilm.com, the premiere Web site in the film industry for independent productions, you'll be able to watch the episodes, and if you go to our company Web site, www.vergeentertainment.com, you'll see the behind-the-scenes documentaries, trailers, and some background material on the episodes.
"Phase 2 is, as your readers are reading this interview, we have videotapes and DVD's of 'Mindgame' and 'Heartstrings' going out to film and television executives."
So why you? What makes you stand out?
"Executives don't like to read, and they have so much they have to read. If we can give them something to watch, it can make things a lot clearer, get some buzz going.
I've had death threats before through this column, so I decided to let that slide. But where was the money coming from for all this?
"All out of our pockets. Let's just say that 2002 was a year of very few luxuries for Shawn, Milo, and myself.
"But I will say this: the combined cost of 'Mindgame' and 'Heartstrings' is less than half of what any of the big two comic companies pay a creative team to produce one comic book."
That… okay, that shocked me. The films I'd seen were certainly of aprofessional quality. And they didn't have some secret mystery benefactor? So had these guys given up on comics?
"Hell, I still buy them every Wednesday, and Shawn still works in the biz. He took some time off after finishing the 'Morlocks' miniseries to help Milo wrap editing and post-production on the telefilms. Currently, Shawn's keeping himself busy inking a miniseries for Vertigo called 'Vertigo Pop: Bangkok.'
Relating to the various pitches they'd sent me.
"Shawn has relationships with both DC and Marvel, and since he was working on the 'Morlocks' miniseries, was inspired to try pitching some projects to Marvel, and asked me to go in as co-writer."
And did he?
"Well, since there's no ill will between me and anyone at Marvel, and Shawn kept badgering, I worked on a few with him, the first of which was for a 'Doctor Strange' miniseries."
"In 2001, that week we met with various execs in Los Angeles, we made contact with John Watkiss, who was working at The Art Academy of Los Angeles. After his stints doing a truckload of developmental art for Disney on 'Atlantis,' 'Tarzan,' and 'The Emperor's New Groove,' he decided to take on a new challenge and start a three year mural project called 'Millennium.'
"So since I had hired John to do some work on 'Detective Comics' based on his 'Sandman Mystery Theatre' stuff, John and I got along well, and we visited him at the Academy. He expressed feeling a fire come back in him for comics work, and after a few minutes, Shawn said that John's style would be perfect for 'Doctor Strange.'
"That's when the wheels in Shawn's and John's heads starting turning, and two weeks later, Shawn and I came up with an idea called 'The Cure,' which would have put the 'Doctor' back in 'Doctor Strange,' but on a cosmic level, and revealed the existence of the other Sorcerers Supreme.
"John read the pitch, and was jazzed enough that it took minimal persuasion to get him to produce artwork for the pitch booklet. I remember when the package came to my job, and I saw the painting and character sketches, and it amped me up. His style really came off as a postmodern Ditko, evoking the old but with new energy, you know?
"So after that, we sat down with a Marvel Knights editor, and he told us straight up, that it would take a lot to impress him, and we understood that, and gave it a shot.
"After not hearing from him for weeks, which is of course, natural, Shawn sent him an e-mail and left a voice mail message. No response. I left him a voice mail message, as well. No response.
"We took it a step further, and left a copy at the Marvel offices for one of his bosses to read.
"A genuine surprise for me on one end, but hey, having been in the biz, I know that there are different kinds of editors who deal with situations in different ways.
"Back in my Batman days, if it involved someone in the business, or someone I sat down with, I gave them the courtesy of a response. Guess that's why when I exited the Bat-office, and left my number for freelancers with any questions, Derek Aucoin, a guy I never gave a panel of work to, called me and wished me well. I was stunned as you could get, but he said that I was always straight with him, showed his work at editorial meetings, and treated him with basic respect.
"It was cool to get that call from him, and it was basically me following the Carlin example of responding to phone messages and e-mails.
"The last thing freelancers, especially established ones, need is to be ignored.
"Anyway, then came the 'Iron Man' pitch. Shawn wanted to line up something for after 'Morlocks,' and he really liked Iron Man, and both of us were big fans of both Armor Wars stories, so we came up with a miniseries idea called 'Armor Legion,' which was kinda like 'The Magnificent Seven' with Iron Man in the natural leadership position. It had everything you need in an IM story: Technology, corporate intrigue, government intelligence in the form of Shield, formidable and beautiful women, locations all over the globe, and characters created for spinoff potential. Hey, if someone's going to let you play in their sandbox, give 'em something to keep for self-profit.
"Anyway, so we sent the package to another Marvel editor, and Shawn sent an e-mail. No response.
"Editorus Ignorus. Again.
"Well, third time's the charm, right?
"Funny enough, the editor to whom Shawn sent the 'Iron Man' pitch walked into the office during the meeting. When Shawn asked him if he ever got the Iron Man pitch and his e-mail and phone message, the editor nicely acknowledged getting all the material, and then walked out.
"End of interlude. So the X-editor Shawn was meeting with told him absolutely NO Wolverine pitches, but either something with the whole X-team or other individual X-Men appearing in the films, but it had to be in continuity. The editor even suggested Shawn pitch him something for a 96 page graphic novel format.
"Shawn admitted to me that he hadn't read anything past Morrison's first arc on 'New X-Men,' so I was the more knowledgeable of us on the goings on with those characters.
"With that, we came up with an idea for a graphic novel called 'Fame And Fortune,' which introduced a new Hellfire Club, one that represented the definition of aristocracy today in the Britney Spears/Prince William era. The idea was to create characters relevant to a younger audience, but mired in the atmosphere and world of the earlier generation of the Club, then send the group in a different direction than the previous generation for a possible 'Hellfire Club' spinoff.
"Once again, Shawn sent off the package, and got confirmation that it was received by the editor. After waiting a while, then trying to get a response, the editor finally told Shawn that it's a really bad time to try and pitch new projects. Basically, a statement that was a contradiction to the suggestion that led Shawn to start developing the pitch in the first place.
"In summary, as Shawn was becoming a filmmaker and growing in that arena, he was getting a bigger picture of the culture that is the comic book industry."
Speak of the devil, in walks Shawn. As it turned out, Joe was briefly at Shawn's place, as the two were involved in a weekend of research at The International Spy Museum in Washington, D.C. A quick phone introduction along the lines of "oh he's the one that." "yes, the British guy" "ohhh, I'd better watch myself" and I took the opportunity. What else did Shawn have in the works in comics beside "Vertigo Pop: Bangkok?"
"Well, my editor at Vertigo says she's pushing for me to do more work in that office, but since nothing's real until you get that call, Joe and I are shopping around a creator-owned, non-superhero property to a few companies. It's occult crime fiction, and so far, representatives from two companies have expressed interest, as we're prepared to spin it out of one of their established properties to help enhance its marketability.
"But, based on recent experiences, I'm prepared for it to be turned down, in which case, Joe, Milo, and I will probably make it our next treatment for a film set in New York City's Chinatown."
Shawn didn't seem the confident creative type I'd pictured. What was this thing Joe had said about getting " a bigger picture" of the comics industry?
"Well, let's put it this way, and it goes back to a lesson I learned from my first dry spell after 'The Creeper' series, but before 'Batman: The Hill,' 'Detective Comics,' and 'The Morlocks.'
"Do not, under any circumstances, put all your eggs in the basket of the comics industry.
"Joe keeps telling me about the work of people like Ellis, Morrison, and Bendis, but then you go on the Web, and some months ago every site was talking about the situation with William Messner-Loebs. Joe's more familiar with the guy's work than me, because even while I was doing more work in comics and certainly now, I'm not that much of a comics reader. Aside from '100 Bullets' and picking up anything done by a particular artist I like, I'm more into films, documentaries, and books. Reading that article about a comic guy who was getting a lot of work at one time and is now scraping the bottom of the barrel due to hard times is a real wake up call.
"I'll always love comics, it's my first love but it's just not a stable industry to make a living in. You can be really cool with an editor or two then they get fired and it's back to square one. Plus, it's never been my way to hang out in the editorial offices to get work.
"That's why for the past few years, I've really returned to my 'illustrative' roots. I've done illustration work for Lucas Arts, Vibe Magazine, Playboy Magazine, and now I'm doing illustration work for Black Enterprise. The pay's better for a lesser amount of work, which is quite likely why people like Rodolfo Damaggio did work on 'Jurassic Park 3' instead of the next superhero project for a page rate. That really bummed me out, I was a huge fan of his work.
"That said, I recently pitched a miniseries to a Group Editor at DC in an attempt to revitalize some of their less popular characters by identifying the ones with marketability, much in the way that Marvel is handling their library of characters now. However, the editor expressed a lack of interest since it didn't involve any of the company's top-tier characters."
And with that, Shawn was gone. So I tried to address some of Shawn's thoughts and concerns to Joe. What were his thoughts on the comics industry based on what had happened recently for him and Shawn?
"Well, like I said, I buy new books every Wednesday at the comic shop, and that's how I show my support. I'm more into buying trade paperbacks these days, which is why I love how aggressive Marvel is with producing collected volumes, 'cause buying a storyline over a six month period and just having to buy more comic book boxes is for the birds. Now, there are still some single issue addictions, like 'The Ultimates,' 'The Filth,' 'Global Frequency,' 'New X-Men,' 'Automatic Kafka,' 'Wildcats 3.0,' 'Stormwatch: Team Achilles,' and not much past that.
"I let the industry slowly fall away from me, like dead leaves off a tree. As I became less connected to what was going to be coming out in the future, I became a fan again, regained my sense of surprise.
"But it's funny. I read that Mark Millar's DC article from this site a few weeks ago, where he takes DC to task for not being able to generate better sales on 'Wonder Woman' or the Harry Potteresque 'Books Of Magic.' Then I remembered a series of articles called 'Pop Magic' that I read from Grant Morrison's site. You know the ones, where Grant talks about the nature of sigils, symbols of power and so on.
"It just reminded me of how few people are actually buying comics.
"I mean okay, if you're talking about sigils of power, one of the most recognizable and ubiquitous symbols on a global scale would have to be the Superman 'S.' If that's the case, if hundreds of millions of people know who Superman is and that he's a comic book character featured in, guess what, COMICS, then why is the entire Ultimate line from Marvel outselling the entire Superman line month after month? Hell, it took Jeph Loeb and Jim Lee to get over that hurdle on 'Batman.'
"If the best comic will only be seen by one hundred thousand or so people, and the worst movies and television shows are seen by millions, then I'd rather try and tell stories on the larger global platform.
"That's the reason why none of the Verge properties are in the superhero genre or, at this point, in comic book form.
"Sure, the success of 'Spider-Man' made Hollywood sit up and take notice, so now we're in a phase where they're buying the rights to every and any superhero and comic book-based property they see, from mainstream product like 'Iron Man' to independent stuff like 'Interman' and 'The Coffin,' but all phases come to an end, and at the end of the day, what's left is adventure, romance, and other genre fiction with real people in regular clothes. What's left is 'Alias' (the television show, not the comic), '24,' 'Sex And The City,' 'The Sopranos,' and 'CSI,' and so on and so forth.
"That's why every Verge property has to be able to cross from one medium to another. Even the crime fiction project Shawn and I developed that some publishers are looking at, was designed to work for film and television just as equally as it could work in the comic book format.
"That's why there are elements to the 'Iron Man,' 'Doctor Strange,' and 'X-Men' pitches sent to Marvel and the 'Master Plan' pitch Shawn sent to DC that will end up on the large or small screen as Verge properties.
"I look at comics like 'Y, The Last Man' and 'Global Frequency,' and you can easily visualize the television shows. As some comic book-based movies have proven, not all costumes look good on the screen.
"It's no wonder that after the 'Counter-X' Revolution at Marvel, Warren Ellis basically abandoned the idea of injecting life into other companies properties, and instead has let his mind explode with stuff like 'Mek' and 'Reload.' 'Reload' could easily be made into a movie.
"'The Filth' could easily be a television miniseries, though you probably know better than me if it would be done justice on the BBC."
I start to remember the problems Grant Morrison had with BBC Scotland over "The Invisibles," but Joe interrupted whatever it was I was going to say.
"And I can't wait to see what Mark Millar cooks up this year, starting with 'Wanted,' I think it's called."
I'd asked Joe how he felt about the industry, but how did the industry feel about him, especially after the way he initially left it?
"As I was leaving DC comics, Dwayne McDuffie told me that he was proud of me for what I'd done and what I'd said, but that I was going to lose friends over it. And maybe that was true, there was one particular friendship I jeapordised. But these days,it's water under the bridge.
"Recently, I went to an informal DC get together to wish Mike MacAvennie well after he was laid off, I met a lot of people there, old colleagues and it was cool to see them, especially Patty Jeres. I said I thought it was weird she was still talking to me, she told me she thought I was a man of integrity. That was good enough for me.
"Any losses I have, the likelihood is they were not of value originally."
And with that Joe was gone. I'd seen the films, they were interesting and unusual. Not what I was expecting, and more than what Joe had explained to me. These were not another retread of the "X-Files" or "Buffy." Not even "Outer Limits," there was something grander in scope here. I want to know where it goes next. I hope I'll be given the opportunity.
The films are available to download at www.ifilm.com. As for how much we'll be hearing more from Verge Entertainment in the future, only time will tell.
I know this though. Joe isn't the type to fade away quietly…
NEW CROSSOVER SPURT
Alright, you've been very good. Here you are.
Just how long will it take nostalgia comic fans to cream themselves when they see this visual?
Blimey, that was quick. Tissues out lads.
Mark Millar has been updating the troops as to his upcoming plans at Millarworld. Yes, this piece has an amber light. This is "tells you six impossible things before breakfast" Millar. He writes, "'Wanted' is a six issue creator-owned superhero series that's about as different from 'The Ultimates' as 'The Ultimates' was from 'Superman Adventures.' It's the sickest, funniest, scariest thing I've ever done and I've been writing it in my head for three years."
"My next Marvel monthly has already been signed for and it starts up early 2004. I start writing in Dec, but plan to actually write a limited thing or too for Bill and Joe to be launched at the same time. Punisher story (which would now run as a mini) came to me entirely on holiday last week, but I really want to do Ghost Rider, too. I've got a great idea for it."
"F (Frank) Quitely is doing some kinda creator-owned thing with Morrison after this short story with me for '411' plus a quick thing for that moody Goth fella Neil Gaiman. Then he's doing a Marvel-owned mini with me and then back to Morrison for, I think, a whole year and another creator-owned thing. No idea what they're about. I'd kinda like him to do my Punisher story -- but only if they let us go Max and we out-Authority what we did on 'Authority.' I've got this opening scene with the Punisher dropping loads of shite on people and then torching it. All heroes should do this kind of stuff occasionally."
And as to the future of his first published work, "Savior," he wrote, "'Savior' stopped at six. I'm condensing a lot of the ideas and doing a creator-owned one-shot very soon, though, and doing this for Image."
And with that Mark gets put back in his box...
I HAVE… THE SIGIL!!!
I understand that Image is losing "He-Man." And that CrossGen has wooed the title and the MV Creations studio that currently creates and holds the license to "He-Man" to their CGE imprint. Also, expect other MV Creations licenses such as "Dragon's Lair" and "Space Ace" to join the big muscled man.
It's not like they're strangers either, MVC's Val Staples was recently seen filling in on colouring "Ruse."
TALKING OF WHICH
I hear they're not the only nostalgia property that might be moving. The latest rumour is that "Transformers" may be passing from Dreamwave's capable hands to Devil's Due at Image.
Is this merely speculation based on the above "Transformers/G.I. Joe" story? Well not quite. But then, neither is it as set in stone as some would have you believe.
"Transformers/G.I. Joe" is a joint venture between Devil's Due/Image and Dreamwave, where each publish a limited series.
The rumour goes that Devil's Due may be hungry for more. That Hasbro have looked favourably over their handling of "G.I. Joe." That this might also smooth over contractual problems regarding Hasbro's deals with Marvel over a "G.I. Joe/X-men" crossover that Marvel were producing. And that Hasbro have been unhappy with Dreamwave over late-shipping, unnecessary changes to characters and darker storylines that could damage toy sales, creative team changes, and falling sales.
And then there were the problems with the Profiles books that radically changed Transformers continuity, introduced sexual reproduction through the "creation matrix," gave Transformers children, proper names rather than codes, made some male characters female and some females male, and Hasbro weren't too pleased.
Dreamwave will be using its in-house writers, Chris Sarracini and 'Brad Mick' to finish the last half of the profiles after Destination entertainment were dropped. Simon Furman, named as being involved in the project, is not.
Certainly, the initial sales on the books were astronomical, but they haven't kept up. The rumour says that "Armada" will conclude on issue 18 because of sales, and this will spell the end for the Dreamwave Transformers licence.