THE COMICS INDUSTRY ICON-IFIES ITSELF
On Friday afternoon, news broke of Marvel's new "ICON" line. Marvel plans to launch its new creator-owned line with two big titles: Brian Bendis' POWERS and David Mack's KABUKI. Both have done prominent work for Marvel, and both still keep their toes in the independent arena. It seems like a win/win scenario for both the company and its creators, but it brings a whole host of other issues to light. The reactions the story received on Friday afternoon were particularly informative. Some things that people assume or wish for are based on pie-in-the-sky thinking, while others just assumed the sky was falling for Image, Bendis, Marvel, or the industry in general.
Here, then, is my attempt to make sense of it all. How does this move impact Image? Or Marvel? Or the comic books, themselves? And what do the reader reactions on Friday say about the state and health of the industry?
And why, in the end, does the whole thing tick me off terribly? Read on.
THE WIN/WIN SCENARIO
This is a big win for Marvel. They finally get to start a creator owned line, which is something that Joe Quesada has always wanted. They do it with a big bang, bringing in the hottest writer in comics today and a Marvel stalwart, to boot. They do it with two long-lasting and respected books. They have guaranteed sellers here with little overhead.
This also gives Marvel the opportunity to keep their current crop of creators happy. It gives those creators -- especially those laboring under exclusive contracts -- the chance to create their own books and sink and swim on their own, while staying close to home and sticking to the terms of pre-existing exclusivity contracts.
ICON gives Marvel a new front to compete against DC on. This isn't necessarily a challenge to Vertigo, but rather to a more general mix of DC books. It's not just Vertigo that has books with creator participation or total ownership.
For POWERS, in particular, it brings a bigger spotlight to the title's relaunch. The new #1 issue is sure to have extra sales from all the publicity this move brings, plus new readership just for having the Marvel logo in the corner of the cover. It simplifies certain things, I'm sure, to handle all future comic book business matters through one company rather than two. I wonder how long it will be before the catalog of KABUKI and POWERS titles winds up at Marvel now.
It appears to be a win/win deal, right? For Marvel and MOB (Mack/Oeming/Bendis), it sure is. But it reveals a number of ugly things about this industry, and raises a number of questions.
First, let's look at what this move means to Image Comics.
IMPACT TO IMAGE
Jim Lee's departure from Image was a much larger concern for the company than the MOB crew's. If you don't know how Image is structured, I can see where you might think this is the end for the company, but it's not. Image makes the same amount for an issue of POWERS as it does for an issue of SPAWN or an issue of A DISTANT SOIL. The creators pay a flat fee per book. When Jim Lee took WildStorm and its dozen titles to DC, Image lost 12 (I'm guesstimating) books' worth of fees. That hurt. When KABUKI and POWERS left Image last week, Image lost two books and two fees. In the current marketplace, that is easily replaced.
What Image did lose was a certain amount of credibility and stability. Stability because the odds are not good that the next book Image starts up will last 40 issues. Most Image books of recent memory are lucky to make it to their sixth issue. The extra effort it will take to find and usher through the replacement titles will be somewhat costly and eat up time on the back office staff's part. Credibility because POWERS and KABUKI, no matter their ranks on the sales charts, are respected books. Their creators are award-winning and their reading audiences are relatively diverse. Image loses those eyeballs for the ads in the back of the two titles that might direct people to other Image books.
The bigger blow is the potential future impact of Marvel's creator-owned line. Putting aside for the moment any question as to Marvel's commitment to the line, you have to look at what new Image President Erik Larsen's stated goals are for his company and how ICON impacts those. In an interview with CBR at the time of his ascension, Larsen said, "I'm much more from the mainstream, funny book, end of things. The thought was that if I was in charge and running the ship that perhaps some of those avenues can be opened up a bit more. That's kind of what I'm looking at, to be able to say that we've got different types of creators coming in and kind of rebuild some of the luster that Image has had in the past and more of the kind of books that excite me as a reader."
In other words, Erik Larsen's Image Comics would be looking to bring creators in from the "mainstream" world of comics publishing to do more mainstream titles at Image. Previous Image Publisher Jim Valentino, naturally, gravitated towards the more independent creator, while Larsen's roots are firmly in the Kirby dynamic and the Big Two publishing world.
It seemed likely that some of those big names from Marvel that want to do a creator-owned book between issues of X-Person would be offered a home at Image. Soon after Larsen's new position was announced, Image solicited John Romita Jr.'s THE GRAY AREA. It looked like the dream was possible, and the first book was already lined up. (Granted, that deal had to have been in place before Larsen became President, but timing is everything and this looked good for Larsen.)
When Marvel suddenly announced their own creator-owned line last week and grabbed comic's most in-demand writer from Image to bring his book over to them, that sound you heard was the cannonball shooting right across Image's bow. Image's foothold in that world was just ripped away. If Marvel offered the same deal as Image, why would a Marvel creator want to risk his relationship at home, or worry about fostering a new one elsewhere? ICON seems like the perfect one stop publishing solution to a publisher previous unable to accommodate a creator's every need.
The question for Larsen now is, how can his angle on Image Comics come to fruition if a part of his future plans have just been chopped out at the knees like this? Aside from abandoning the plan and offering more newbies the deal of their young lifetime, let's look at what Image can do to replace their newly-missing books, rebuild confidence in their brand, and sell more books.
Marc Silvestri is finishing a run on NEW X-MEN right now. While his iron is hot, it would be a wise career move not just for himself but also for his company (Top Cow and Image, both) to start drawing a book a little closer to home.
The next big trick would be to keep Romita Jr. on board with his book, THE GRAY AREA, even if it's just this one mini-series and nothing more.
Finally, start bringing in A- and B-list creators from DC and elsewhere. (Is there an elsewhere?!?) Find people with a hunger to create and own their own book in their spare time who are currently on assignment at the Big Two, or (better yet) who are just between titles. Let them lend their good names and prestige to new projects at Image while benefiting from all the powers that creator ownership bestows upon them.
The trick with all of this, of course, is that most of the biggest names in comics are under exclusive contracts already. Image couldn't bring their books in even if they wanted to.
The big problem in this volatile market is that you need to find people who are willing to work for free on the front end, in exchange for possible money months later. This calls into question the whole Image system. Is it antiquated? Is it going to run contrary to the needs of the company today? When the company was founded, the system was a steal for the creators. All the comics were selling hundreds of thousands of copies. Printing an Image comic was akin to printing money. Today, it's not such a sure thing. Reaching the break-even point can be difficult, particularly for a color book. POWERS, itself, didn't do it with the first issue, until an overship program was put into place for it and word of mouth spread.
Thus, Image tends to attract creators with sure-fire sellers (like GI JOE or TRANSFORMERS) looking for some help in publishing a book, or novice creators who can work for little or no money. I suppose there's also a third category of people looking for Hollywood money. Since Tinsel Town options comics now based on their solicitations, it's not a bad scam to try out.
Yes, there are also creators who believe in their work and want nothing more to do it for a living while retaining control of everything surrounding their creation. In the end, those people hope their books are successful enough to land a job with Marvel or DC and make some real money and raise their Q Rating with a run on SPIDER-MAN or WOLVERINE.
Doesn't this all sound so cynical and pessimistic?
In Rich Johnston's "Waiting For Tommy" interview last week, Larsen indicated his preference for the current Image system, but wouldn't rule out changing it or adding a second system to make a more attractive deal to creators who might not be willing to put up all their work in exchange for nothing promised. CrossGen tried one such system with its CODE 6 imprint. It didn't last long enough to give us a true impression of how well the system worked, but it would be interesting to see what would happen if another company, like Image, gave it a try.
Such a plan, however, requires a lot of capital to get started in funding the comics and initiating relationships in other media to exploit the properties. It's also anathema to some of the principles the Image Founding Fathers espoused as they left Marvel. Mostly, though, I think it's the logistical nightmare that prevents it from happening. CrossGen could do it because they had the office staff already set up and running.
Image is not without its share of potential superstars, however. Robert Kirkman is one of the busiest men in comics, most of which come out through Image. THE WALKING DEAD is one of the best reviewed and commercially best received new titles for Image in quite a while. With an upcoming stint on CAPTAIN AMERICA and other offers no doubt in the works, there's no reason to think he wouldn't be Image's next golden boy. HAWAIIAN DICK author B. Clay Moore has some buzz behind his name, and Mark Ricketts (NOWHERESVILLE) is likewise headed to Marvel for a stint on IRON MAN. That wiley gang from the south at Gaijin Studios are producing a book for Image right now with THE RIDE. Frank Cho keeps his home base at Image with LIBERTY MEADOWS while branching out to other companies for covers and mini-series work. Image's output isn't all semi-warmed over manga and anime clones combined with mixed media stripper stories. It only seems that way sometimes.
Like I said before, however, the trick isn't in amassing best selling books. The trick to Image's long-term stability and financial security is to have a number of merely profitable books that attracts other creators and makes Image a safe haven for creators to flock to. Image is designed to pay for itself and nothing more. It's a catalyst and an assisting agent for creators.
Some have pointed to Diamond's 5% sales rule as a point of concern for Image Comics, but nobody really knows what the contracts state between the two companies. At a time when companies were going exclusive to distributors, everyone signed up with contracts with varying terms. Most famously, DC's included an option to buy Diamond at some point. Less talked about is the way the covers on PREVIEWS are doled out to the companies which are exclusive to them, including Image, Marvel, DC, and Dark Horse. CrossGen hit over 5% of the market share at one point and remained in the back of the catalog. So who's to say that Image dropping below 5% will lead to their dismissal to the back of the catalog? We have no idea what the contracts between the two companies state.
That said, I'm sure Image would prefer to have a more thriving business, with a busier and more robust office staff on hand to help usher through their books.
MARVEL'S CREATOR-OWNED SEE-SAW
While the press release issued by Marvel on Friday proudly declares this to be Marvel's first creator-owned line, most of the netizens responding recognized that line to be the piece of crap that it is. Marvel had the Epic line in the 80s and into the early 90s, which published books like ALIEN LEGION and GROO THE WANDERER that were creator owned. Both are being reprinted today by other publishers, and MORITURI is even making its way through Hollywood.
Marvel tried to bring back the imprint during the Jemas administration as a way to bring in new creators, originally gleamed from the world of the comics press. Newsarama's Mike San Giacomo and Comics2Film's Rob Worley were among the initial group to get books green lighted. THE COMICS BUYER'S GUIDE's John Jackson Miller got his book, CRIMSON DYNAMO, published. That led to a stint as writer of IRON MAN. Daniel Way's creator owned book, GUN THEORY, even lasted two issues before Marvel politics killed the line. Chris Eliopoulos' creator owned DESPERATE TIMES contract had been signed, but was virtually ripped up, and the title landed back at Image for a short time. John Romita Jr.'s THE GRAY AREA was lined up to be an Epic book, before Marvel decided they didn't want to publish work owned by the most loyal creator the company has had in the past 20 years. It, too, wound up at Image.
That's the point at which the "suits upstairs" handed down the directive that Marvel didn't publish creator-owned books that it couldn't profit from on the Hollywood backend money. The results of the SPIDER-MAN, X-MEN, and HULK movies led to spectacular profits for the company, which now saw publishing as a means to an end.
When Bill Jemas left his position for a new one in marketing, new Marvel Publisher Dan Buckley came in and did the same thing all other company vice presidents do: Destroyed everything he could about the previous administration, both the good and the bad. That included the end of Epic, with a weak anthology issue printed to burn off the material that was already in house.
Epic was dead.
Somewhere, somehow, though, corporate Marvel decided it was OK to print creator-owned books again. It's too early to tell how this came about and what the deal is, exactly, but Marvel joined back in the game. Perhaps the thought of losing projects by the likes of Mark Millar, Grant Morrison, and Romita Jr. finally spurred them into action? In any case, the name "Epic" wasn't used, presumably because Marvel wanted to distance itself from its grandest failed experiment in recent memory with a new imprint name. Thus "ICON" is born.
Assuming for the moment that the ICON deal is to-the-letter equal to the Image deal, there's just one big question on the table: How long will it last before the next decision is handed down from upstairs to kill it?
There is a lot we do not yet know about the deal. Early public statements posted on the respective creator's message boards answered some, but left plenty of others still open. Quesada has said repeatedly that he doesn't like to talk about contracts in public, so it seems likely that we'll need to rely on Bendis or Mack slipping out the details in the days and weeks to come. I'm sure they'll all be doing interviews with the comics press. We might need to read between the lines for details. I'm sure Rich Johnston will do his usual great job with that.
We know that Marvel is publishing POWERS in the same format and at the same price as Image. To the reader, nothing changes buy the logo in the upper left corner of the cover. That hardly seems Marvel-like, does it? What does Marvel get in return? Is it enough merely to keep their creators happy? Will the company's controlling interests, which famously don't want to bother publishing anything they don't own and can't turn into big Hollywood money, really want to bother with these books as a gift to loyal creators? Color me cynical.
Is Marvel providing any sort of editorial assistance, such as traffic control or -- for POWERS, in particular -- a human spell-checker? (Jamie S. Rich has already said at the Oni boards that he's still on board with POWERS. But is one man nearly enough to handle all of Bendis' scripts' spelling errors?)
Or do Bendis and Oeming just hand in each issue on CD to Marvel and skip right past any quality control agents?
The latter would be particularly ironic. That's what Epic was supposed to be. Choosing to rely on new talent, however, meant spending more money editorially babysitting that talent to create books that fit into Marvel's editorial mandates. That, combined with the abysmal sales figures and political pressure from above, sunk the latest Epic experiment before it got out to sea.
The long-term outlook is also clouded at Marvel. Image has been around for better than a decade now with the same financial deal in place. They've weathered the bust and the low markets. Their owners are committed to the system that's in place, and have stuck to it through thick and thin.
Marvel had one attempt at a creator-owned line scuttled last year AFTER contracts were signed for books such as DESPERATE TIMES, and even AFTER books were published such as GUN THEORY. Marvel is not a private company. It's answerable to its share owners, ultimately, and can easily fall victim to the whim of its senior officers. See how easily they've changed gears from In Your Face and Out With The Old to Chris Claremont Doing The X-Men Again, and everyone back in costumes and avoiding thorny issues.
Do you want to bet your franchise on that not happening again? Bendis and Mack just did.
Likewise, Marvel doesn't do re-orders. They're not likely to over ship too many books. Those two policies alone might have doomed POWERS at the start.
Bendis has stated that the existing POWERS library will continue to be produced through Image, but for how long? Marvel is trying to increase its presence in the book market, and POWERS would give Marvel a nice six volume series to put out there. Is it just a matter of time before all POWERS trades are shifted over?
And who's next for ICON? While it doesn't seem likely that Marvel will put out another open call for books like they did with Epic, I wonder what creators they're talking to now. Will they continue to expand the line from within to reward their loyal creators? Or will they include "outsiders" in on the deal who might be popular enough to raise awareness and respectability for the line?
The biggest question everyone is asking right now is, "Will GRAY AREA be resolicited next under ICON's banner?"
BLAME THE READERS
Here's where my head hurts. Sales on POWERS are about to go up because there will be a new logo in the corner. That's a given. Check out the message boards around the web on Friday to see the smatterings of fans who are talking about their excitement for a book they've never bothered with before, but will add to their reserve list right away because it's under the Marvel banner. I have yet to see anyone ready to drop it due to this move. The closest they come are vague warnings to Bendis against Marvel's fickle business plans.
Why is it, though, that the logo counts for so much? Why are people so blind?
Nothing's changing. There is literally no single difference between Image's POWERS Volume 2 #1 and Marvel ICON's POWERS Volume 2 #1, besides a small logo on the cover, the content of the ads at the back of the book, and a new location in Diamond's PREVIEWS catalog. Or, more accurately, Diamond's Marvel's MARVEL PREVIEWS catalog.
We're far past the days when a dedicated Marvel Zombie could collect everything their favorite company produced. I remember reading a couple of letters in COMICS BUYERS GUIDE to that effect back in the early 1990s, when Marvel attempted to flood the market. Today, you'd be hard pressed to afford to keep up with the Spider-Man books, let alone the X-Men and Avengers titles.
What's even funnier to read on the boards are the predictions by readers of what might happen next. That includes everything from Bendis doing more JINX stories to Image being dead. Both are laughable, particularly as a direct result of these two titles jumping ship. This isn't a seismic shift for either creator. By all accounts, it's business as usual, just with a different company.
This is all just one more symptom of the sick marketplace we're stuck with. I don't want to get into one of those endless blogger battles of why superheroes dominate the marketplace. It would be hypocritical to blast comics readers for it. Better than half of the books I read every week are superhero-based. (Sadly, reading even 25% non-superhero comics probably puts me on the far end of the bell curve these days.) Who am I to judge, though? Read what you enjoy.
But the imminent demise of CrossGen -- and, yes, I think it's over for the Tampa compound -- is the event that is setting off fireworks in my mind. Finally, we had a publisher that tried something different and took all the chances we wanted a publisher to take. Finally, we had a publisher that put all its comics on the web, gave away comics in popular non-comics magazines, put together lesson plans for schools to use comics with, placed comics on DVD in major chain outlets like Toys R Us, produced the material reliably and on-time in a variety of genres aside from superheroes, and produced trade paperbacks for both the bookstore and direct market on a dependable schedule. The publisher was well funded with long-term plans and no immediate need to be profitable.
And people took every chance they could get to throw stones, and then laugh when the first cracks began to show. None of us knows everything that happened on the inside. CrossGen probably expanded too quickly and some financial problems doomed them. But look at the sales figures on the monthly books in the direct market. They weren't nearly enough to sustain the economic model that the company tried to survive on. And these were all for books created almost entirely by ex-patriots of the superhero system at DC and Marvel. Only one book made the top 100 comics through Diamond, and that's the one with the prettiest female on the cover posed in swipes from swimsuit magazines.
They tried to start over last year by disassociating the books more strongly from the Sigil concept and by giving them a more earth-based genre flavor, with books like EL CAZADOR and KISS KISS BANG BANG. Both are excellent books, but neither took off as much as CrossGen needed them to.
People didn't buy them. Retailers didn't order them. Neither saw them in the back of the PREVIEWS catalog, or cared to look for them there.
It gets worse on a book like POWERS, though, which is up front in the catalog, has been featured on the cover of it, and has continued for so long in the same spot and on a mostly reliable schedule. Just because Marvel is publishing it now, a few thousand extra readers are going to come read it. I don't blame Bendis for moving the book. He's keeping creative and financial control, and adding sales in the meantime. Makes perfect sense to me.
But what is wrong with comic book readers today that it's the logo on the cover that counts for so damned much?
It's gotten to the point now where I'm strongly considering taking a month to write Pipelines that don't include a single Marvel/DC review. However, I don't like to discriminate solely on the basis of company, and I know I'd probably lose half my audience for that.
See? I'm part of the problem, too.
We're in a stagnant direct market of our own making. Risk-taking is not rewarded. Good works aren't rewarded. The system is flawed at every conceivable level. Nobody is to blame; everybody is to blame. It's enough to make you sick.
REASONS FOR NOT BUYING AN IMAGE COMIC
Let me try this another way. The following are some of the reasons I could conceive of for a comic reader to pick up POWERS through Marvel, but not Image. Some of these have even appeared in message board postings on the internet this past weekend.
* "It's not going to last." It's true that most Image books don't reach double digits these days. Only SPAWN and SAVAGE DRAGON have made it past 100. POWERS, however, has lasted four years already with no threat of cancellation past its very earliest days. If you're just catching up, all of the POWERS trade paperbacks are still in print and available through Image Comics. The book has both lasted and remained readily avalable for all readers.
* "It's too expensive." Image books start at $2.95, then jump to $3.50 and up for special editions or low-sellers like CAPES. Marvel, on the other hand, has some $2.25 and $2.50 books. POWERS isn't going to be a $2.25 book, however. In fact, given Marvel's price points right now, it's more likely to increase by four pennies to $2.99 a month than it is to drop down from its current $2.95 price point.
* "The publisher isn't stable." Image has been around for more than 11 years now. It's survived multiple ups and down, including the departure of four of its Founding Fathers. (Silvestri, Lee, Liefeld, and Portacio. The last is a technicality, and the first came back pretty quickly.) It has a business structure that will survive, so long as it produces enough books to generate the income from fees to keep the central office going.
* "They destroyed the industry with their house style and multiple covers in the early 1990s." This is called silly grudge-holding. Get over it. Marvel is guilty of all the same faults, though. If the book moved to DC, perhaps you could make this argument, but even DC wasn't pure in those days. They did, after all, kill Superman. In polybagging.
* "I'm a Marvel Zombie." Do those still exist? If you're keeping the blinders on to the rest of the industry in your desperate attempt to worship only at the altar of Chris Claremont's creations, or Stan Lee's verbosity, then -- well, it makes sense, logically, that you wouldn't consider POWERS until now. On the other hand, I think it makes you a narrow minded simpleton.
* "I didn't know it existed." I'm not buying this one. POWERS, itself, has been on the cover of the PREVIEWS catalog multiple times. Image's listings are smack in the middle of DC's and Marvel's. You can't order the Big Two's books without flipping past Image. And Brian Bendis is the most recognized name in comics these days, with his Marvel comics usually in the Top Ten on Diamond's monthly best-sellers list.
Look, POWERS is continuing at Marvel with the same creators, in the same format, at the same price point, starting with the same storyline, sticking to the same schedule, and probably even the same title logo. The single difference in this equation to the reader is that there's a different "I" logo in the upper left corner of the cover.
That's it. And I bet sales go up for it. This industry disgusts me.
BLAME THE RETAILERS
We hear from the comic book companies that their audience is the retailers. In a non-returnable market, it is the goal of a publisher to sell as many book as possible to the retailer. It's up to the retailer, then, to sell the books to the audience. Those sales will work their way back up to the publisher in the form of next month's order sheet.
But there are too many retailers who don't order books that don't come from the Big Two, or from companies that aren't in the front of the catalog. Some retailers with Diamond accounts aren't comic book stores, per se. Some have accounts just for the trading cards and various exclusives. Others, though, pretend to be full service comic shops. Even then, the numbers of supposed full service retailers who don't order from the whole catalog is astonishing.
There has to be a certain give and take between retailers and readers, though. One can inform the other. Sometimes it works. Sometimes it fails. My local comic shop, for example, recently put out its stock of Humanoids hardcovers on sale for clearance. They just didn't sell. And it's not that my retailer didn't try. Those books showed up in the front of the store on display with the other new arrival trades as they came out. A healthy number of them remained on the shelves, available for whenever another reader glommed onto them. The reason why they didn't sell well, I suspect, has less to do with the format and more to do with the material. Some of that European material plays very strangely to American tastes. I love the format, but even I never picked up more than half the books that publishers like NBM and Humanoids produce. DC seems to think the only problem is the format and is shrinking the books down. We'll see if they're right. Somehow, I doubt it. Still, my retailer tried something different. Good for him. He who dares, wins. Right? And if a book I want to buy comes out from either company, I know I can pre-order it with confidence that my retailer will get it for me.
Given the point of this column, it's ironic that some comic fans will be giving these Humanoids books a shot for the first time just because DC is distributing them. However, there are plenty of logical reasons for this now -- starting with size and price point -- that might make the book more appealing to a different audience. The parallels to POWERS thus fail.
The point is that there is money to be made for retailers who work to introduce new material to their readership. If ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN and DAREDEVIL are selling well in your store, why not try to push a little bit of POWERS to those readers of the appropriate age? At the very least, let those readers know that the guy responsible for writing the books they enjoy is also doing another superhero -- yes, superhero -- title with another publisher.
It works in the opposite direction, also. If you're a reader who enjoys Bendis' material, but can't find it, you have to let your retailer know you want it. A guaranteed sale is a much easier risk for a retailer to take. A retailer who doesn't take that risk isn't going to stay in business very long.
Yes, there are retailers who don't look past the front of the catalog, or even past the Big Two portion of the catalog. Those retailers have to be educated, or have to be replaced. Your dollars count. Vote with them. Support another retailer. Go mail order. Whatever is takes.
IN THE END, WHAT DOES THIS ALL MEAN?
Marvel has a creator-owned line now, which is a very good thing for as long as it lasts.
Image has a monthly book and an irregular series of mini-series to replace on its schedule. Give them time and they'll get there. (I give this attempt at Image Avengers six issues max, though.)
Readers should see no change, besides a slight delay on the second POWERS #1.
The direct market is broken at every level.
And it only took 5500 words to explain it.
THIS JUST IN
Those Images fees lost from KABUKI's departure have just been replaced. See how quickly the comic world works?
Special thanks to Fanboy Rampage for being everyone's one-stop ICON news outlet last Friday.
Next week: A lot of overdue reviews, I hope. I enjoyed the HELLBOY movie and I'll tell you why next week.
P.S. Congrats to Patricia and Eric!
Over at Various and Sundry this week, I explain why I don't enjoy THE DAILY SHOW anymore. Plus, the AMERICAN IDOL discussions continue to heat up, Alexa ranks VandS, silly computer mistakes, silly spam spellings, secrets of THE APPRENTICE, and more.
Nearly 500 columns are archived here at CBR and you can get to them from the Pipeline Archive page. They're sorted chronologically. The first 100 columns or so are still available at the Original Pipeline page.