Rich Johnston's one of those guys in the comics industry that you either love or hate. The gossip columnist's LYING IN THE GUTTERS column has been hosted here on CBR since June of 2002, but has been kicking around the industry for far longer than that in previous incarnations. He's regular reading for many comic fans on Monday afternoons and is discussed in the hallways of publishers from the East Coast out to the West. He's both reviled and revered. But come this August, his detractors may have something to celebrate-- he'll be dead (in print), but the "CSI" team will be there to investigate.
No, this is not a joke. It's not April 1 again. It is all true.
The investigation into "Who Killed Rich Johnston" begins this August at IDW Publishing with the debut of the five-issue mini-series "CSI: Dying In The Gutters" by writer Steven Grant and artist Stephen Mooney. The suspects? Comic industry professional you're all familiar with. In an attempt to scoop the scoop master himself, CBR News spoke with IDW's Editor-In-Chief Chris Ryall Friday afternoon to get the dirt on this most unlikely of comic book series.
"We've been doing CSI for about three or four years now. It's probably the longest running book we've been doing and anytime you've been doing stuff for a long time, sales start to flatten out. So, we were looking for ways to freshen up the concept," Ryall told CBR News. "Rather than just invent some new mystery, we wanted to find some way to get comic fans involved who may not pick up the comic regularly. The books seem to sell well through our Web site and in bookstores, but I don't know that it's appealing to your typical super hero fan. So, we were trying to come up with a way that the series might expand its audience a bit."
The idea for the series initially came from IDW's own Ted Adams. "I don't know that he's the first one to want to kill Rich Johnston, but he is the first one who proposed we do it in print, anyway," said Ryall.
"We like Rich and I think we probably have a better relationship with Rich than some people at other publisher's do, but it came out of this idea that we've never done a CSI story set in a comic-con, so why not do something cool at a comic-con? From there the question was, 'OK, fine, but what makes it cool?' What makes it cool if we do it at a comic-con is
if we have real comic creators at the con, which means we should really kill somebody at the comic-con that people know, which means we have to find somebody who would be a likely victim. On a short list of names, Rich topped that list - and also because we thought he'd have the good sense of humor to play along."
The first step in getting the comic made was, of course, getting permission from Rich to use his likeness, and ultimately kill him off. Rich, as you might expect, was all for it. The next step for Ryall was to approach people in the comics industry to join the cast of this comic. "There were a couple of people who were very adamant about not wanting to do it, but there were a lot more that thought it would be a lot of fun and were into the idea," said Ryall. "I made a list of a couple of dozen or more big creators who might want to get involved and I tried to pick some people who I know have been in Rich's column a lot or has had some history with Rich over the past few years. So, we started there and had a lot of takers."
In the first issue alone, readers will see guest appearances by Peter David, Joe Quesada, Robert Kirkman, Ed Brubaker and Jim Mahfood with more creators to come in subsequent issues. "It covers all levels of the industry. We've got guys at the very top like Joe Quesada and guys who are more known as indy creators like Jim Mahfood and everybody inbetween."
But the real question we all want to know the answer to is, has a killer already been chosen? Absolutely. "There were quite a few people who wanted to be the killer, but one made more sense than the others," said Ryall. "I want people to solve it! The pieces are laid out and there will be more clues and suspects each issue. This should be a lot of fun."
Ryall explained that the series takes place at a convention held in Vegas, so one can assume that the London based Rich Johnston's fictional alter ego flew across the big pond to attend the convention. "It takes place at a convention in Vegas, but there's also a parallel story going on," said Ryall. "We didn't want to change the format, we wanted it to feel like a 'CSI' story first. So, it takes place at a con, but there's another murder outside the con that has nothing to do with it, but it's the B story, similar to the TV show itself.
The series shines a spotlight on Rich Johnston pretty significantly, yet his critics may feel he shouldn't be given any more attention than he already gets. How does Ryall respond to critics who may charge something like this helps legitimize what Rich does. "You know, I don't know that I mind legitimizing the guy, to some degree," said Ryall. "I know that
he writes a rumor column, but I also know he gets a lot of his facts straight whether us in the industry like that he breaks stories or not. I think there's no question he actually does some good journalism amongst all his rumors. Sure, I've had problems with him myself in the past when he's spoiled something we'd like to have announced ourselves, but the people who take this so seriously should just relax. It's the comic industry and I think people take everything way too seriously. We found a way to have fun with this and I think it's a good idea. I don't mind legitimizing what the guy does."
The only other hurdle to getting this project made was getting approval from the show's network and licensor, CBS. "They're actually kind of into the idea, too," said Ryall. "From their legal side they have to clear any name that's used in the comic. We create a character in the comic, they have to go clear that. So, as long as we get clearances from these guys, it kind of makes their legal department's job a little easier. From the other side, we presented to them a good story that was a 'CSI' story first and setting it at a comic con was kind of incidental to them. They thought it was a nice hook, but they're more concerned with it being a good CSI story and they think this is going to be that. Rich lends himself well as someone who a lot of people might want to bump off, if they had the chance. At least in print."
The series is written by Steven Grant, who also happens to run his PERMANENT DAMAGE column here on CBR. "Steven Grant doing this thing, who did the last book for us, is perfect for this because not only is he a big comic guy, but he's a big crime guy, so this is the perfect meeting of his two worlds."
But don't expect Grant to be making an appearance in the book. "I said we might give him a cameo in the background, but we didn't want to have him to write himself in. We felt that would be a bit too much of an in-joke."
Look for the mystery to begin this August in "CSI: Dying In The Gutters" from IDW Publishing.