The Column: Issue #3

Fri, August 9th, 2002 at 12:00am PDT

Comic Books
Mark Millar, Columnist

COMIC-BOOK CONFIDENTIAL!

One of the best things about any job is the gossip and comics is no exception. One of the best things about working on the inside is that you get all the BEST gossip or, at least, you usually get to hear about it a day or two before Rich Johnston publishes it in his column. However, some stories just slip between the cracks, some don't seem appropriate and some facts just fail to get out there. I'd like to dedicate this column to the gossip that never quite made it into the public arena. I salute you, slightly-out-of-date gossip. I love you even if no-one else does.

IMAGE COMICS ALMOST DIDN'T HAPPEN

Did you know, back when I was in my late teens and Todd McFarlane was the Spider-Man dude, that the Image founders initially pitched DC Comics months prior to forming the Image label? I only just heard this recently and was amazed to discover that, post-Marvel, Jim and Todd had their eyes on Batman, Rob Liefeld was itching to write and draw the Teen Titans and the other Image guys wanted a crack at Superman, Wonder Woman and all those other household names at the Distinguished Competition. In fact, if you look at the first issue of Youngblood, you can identify analogues of pretty much the entire Teen Titans crew right down to their red-headed archer. DC turning them down, of course, was clearly the best thing that ever happened to these comic zillionaires or poor Todd might be working-up his a Red Tornado revamp even as we speak.

BEFORE THEY WERE FAMOUS

Did you know Alan Moore used to be a garbage-collector? He probably has the longest and most unusual CV in comics including a spell as a grave-digger and a brief stint in a slaughter-house (possibly one of the reasons that he's now a vegetarian). Adam Kubert was lettering Sgt Rock when he was twelve years old, Neil Gaiman was a journalist, Grant Morrison was a civil servant for a year and Alan Davis used to be a security guard in a warehouse. Both Mark Waid and Scott Lobdell did stints as stand-up comedians, Joe Quesada was in a popular NYC band and worked for a while at FAO Schwartz, Igor Kordey was a soldier in his native Croatia, Bill Jemas used to work for the National Basketball Association and Dave Gibbons is a qualified architect. Jim Lee and Mike Turner both trained to be doctors, Garth Ennis and myself both went to university and dropped out before graduating, Frank Quitely used to paint signs (very slowly, I'd imagine) above shops and former Batman-editor Denny O'Neil was a frequent extra in movies and television programmes. Jim Steranko is a former escape-artist (and provided the inspiration for Kirby's Mister Miracle), Ron Marz was a sports reporter, Tom Peyer was a political cartoonist and Dan Abnett was an Oxford academic in the style of the lovable, pipe-smoking Tolkein. Chris Claremont used to be an accomplished stage actor and Jamie Delano was a cab-driver (which is interesting when you consider that neither Alan Moore, Neil Gaiman, Garth Ennis, Grant Morrison, Brian Michael Bendis, Pete Milligan nor myself know how to drive). Jim Shooter, Paul Levitz, Steve Dillon and Bryan Hitch didn't have time to do ANYTHING before comics because the lucky buggers were all working in the industry pretty much full-time by their early to mid-teens.

WHEN THEY WERE FAMOUS

Did you know Lillian Laserson, Vice-President and General Council of DC Comics, used to be an actress and appeared several times on Happy Days as one of Fonzie's girlfriends?

DC ICONS ALMOST LICENSED OFF TO MARVEL

According to Jim Shooter, DC President Sol Harrison approached him in the mid-80s when the sales on their core titles were only twice what they are at the moment. Apparently, the idea was that Marvel (who were enjoying some critical and commercial success under Big Jim) would be licensed the characters for a couple of years to revitalize them before bringing them back into the DC fold. I know a number of other possibilities were being considered at the time (including a revamp of Superman by Howard Chaykin, Batman by Frank Miller and Wonder Woman by Steve Gerber), but none ever came to pass. Interestingly, some of the talent mooted in the Marvel licensing deal actually made it to the printed page in the form of Byrne's Superman, Perez's Wonder Woman and, I'm told, Miller Dark Knight Returns.

OUR MONEY FOR NOTHING AND OUR CHICKS FOR FREE

Every company pays different rates to their writers and artists, but it's interesting how much they vary and how some smaller publisher pay several times what the big guys pay. DC and Marvel, for example, have a top script rate of around a hundred dollars a page (although Marvel can increase this substantially if you sign-up for a couple of books or a more full-time commitment). Wildstorm and Top Cow both have a top rate of around a hundred and fifty bucks a page, even though their books might sell less than half what X-Men or JLA usually sell. Avatar can pay a hundred a page, Harris can go up to around a hundred and twenty five whereas Image sometimes pays virtually nothing up-front, but offer a huge back-end deal regarding royalties and other media exploitation rights. Crossgen's many, many titles might only enjoy a tiny market share (less than five per cent at the moment), but their payment package is excellent in the sense that it's the closest you're going to find to job security in this industry. A pension plan, a health plan, shares in the company and a rumored salary of 100K a year upwards for writing just two titles a month must make them very attractive to those freelancers who are always chasing late checks or waiting for approval on their next mini-series. Royalties vary a lot, too. Harris pay zero, Marvel pay just under one per cent of cover price (for every copy sold over fifty thousand), Wildstorm pay two per cent of cover price (for every copy sold over forty thousand) and DC offer a similar two per cent of cover price (for every copy sold over seventy thousand). Graphic novels have a slightly different deal depending on what your agent can snare you, but a DC hardcover will usually net the writer and artist around a dollar each for every copy sold. Not usually much, I know, but quite substantial if you write another Arkham Asylum and sell a cool 250,000 copies up-front.

MURDERER ON THE MAILING LIST

Did you know a comic-book penciller was arrested and charged with the murder of his wife in the late nineteen eighties? It's probably a good thing I can't remember his name in case he ever comes after me upon release, but he drew a four issue mini-series for DC which was published mere months before he was arrested. The details are sketchy, but rumour has it that he broke down and confessed when police appeared at the door for another reason entirely and even showed them the building site where he'd ditched his better-half in an oil-drum. Inkers shouldn't snigger too much at this, though, because it seems they have a pedophile rapist in their ranks in the shape of some guy who did a lot of inking for Marvel around the same as the Distinguished Competitions bug-eyed killer. Word is he drugged and abused a number of young boys and was only busted when his room-mate came across a video-recording of the dirty deeds.

PROJECTS THAT DIED DURING CHILD-BIRTH

At the height of his fame, Alan Moore was hired by Sex Pistols legend Malcolm McLaren to write a fictionalized biography of Christian Dior called Fashion Beast. He also had a couple of Superman projects which never appeared, one of which was a graphic novel called Superman Burns in Hell and the other being a new, monthly team-up title called Superman Plus (insert childhood favourite here, folks). Both projects were nixed by Byrne's incoming Superman revamp, but Moore was offered the chance to work with Byrne on the team-up title providing he stuck to Byrne's plots. Moore's brilliant reply was that sure, he'd be happy to… providing Byrne inked Moore's pencils.

It's reasonably well-known that DC's refusal to print Rick Veitch's infamous All-Christ issue of Swamp Thing led to a boycott of the book by incoming writers Jamie Delano and Neil Gaiman, but did you know Grant Morrison was offered the book and turned it down too? Did you know Gaiman had a Batman in Arkham Asylum proposal which reached Karen Berger's desk after Morrison and McKean's graphic novel had just been approved? What about Phantom Stranger? Gaiman and McKean had the whole thing ready to go until someone green-lit the character for a DC Universe superhero series and Neil and Dave's concept was shelved. Likewise, Grant Morrison's Phantom Stranger proposal. Likewise, the Phantom Stranger proposal Chris Weston and I pitched many years later. I've heard of half a dozen creators with ship-wrecked Phantom Stranger proposals. What's THAT all about?

Also Missing In Action is a Batman project Denny O'Neil wrote for Neal Adams, a Spider-Man series Grant Morrison wrote for Klaus Janson, a 2099 crossover Grant Morrison and I pitched as a means of re-sparking interest in what was a fading 2099 Marvel universe and, of course, the vaguely legendary pitch for the Superman books Morrison, Peyer, Waid and myself were invited to pitch back in 1999.

MISCELLANEOUS GOSSIP

Scott Dunbier used to wager a regular twenty bucks that Travis Charest would fail to finish a particular page on time and won poor Charest's money very, very frequently. Two DC editors and two DC group editors stand to inherit multi-million dollar fortunes from their parents sometime soon. Chris Claremont once bought a Lear jet and was rumored to have bought one for his Mum too. Alan Moore bought a greenhouse for his Dad when the Watchmen money first came in (not nearly as cool, I know, but the thought's what counts). There are three transsexuals that I'm aware of working full-time in mainstream comics. There are at least two practicing Satanists involved in comics at the moment. Bryan Hitch plays the piano every night before going to bed and lives alone in an immaculately-kept English mansion. Frank Quitely loves both cooking and shopping (one shopping trip he forced me to join him on lasting over seven hours). Surprisingly, both men are enthusiastic heterosexuals.

Jeph Loeb once gave me half of a five dollar bill and told me he'd give me the other half if I stayed on X-Men for more than five issues without going insane. I lost an arm-wrestling competition to a female marine during San Diego Comicon 1997. Paul Jenkins is an excellent golfer. Both Mark Waid and Frank Quitely are very good with their hands and have even built some of their own furniture. Neal Adams had a screen-test for the first Superman movie. Warren Ellis' daughter could play the violin before she started school. Both Bryan Talbot and myself have played chess for money. Chris Weston's Dad was a high-ranking military officer here in the UK. Likewise, Bill Jemas and Jim Lee both come from military families. Dark Horse publisher Mike Richardson is tallest man in comics. Marvel Managing Editor Dave Bogart is the smallest man in comics. Pete Milligan assures me he's the best-looking man in comics. Comic-book legend Julius Schwartz still works one day a week at DC (Wednesdays, in case you were wondering).

THE BEANS I WISH I COULD SPILL

The former boss at a major comic-book company who had a porn collection so huge that it was only beaten in size by the porn collection of his top writer. The company who had a relentless, on-going competition (complete with wall-chart) to see who could seduce any new woman on the staff. The freelancer who indulged in a little cyber-sex with a reader (the transcript of which is now doing the rounds in the female comics community). The well-known comic-book editor who almost lost his job because he was spending so much time in internet chat-rooms when he should have been bringing out comics. The two staffers who almost got fired when they bought copious amounts of porn on a company credit card. The artist who used to get paid in cocaine. The writer who couldn't write a word unless he was drunk out of his face (could be any of us, I suppose). The artist whom literally twelve different writers refused to work with once they heard he was attached to a project (and is still drawing that book today).

The list goes on. But, as you see, I get paid a lot more from Marvel Comics than I do from Comic Book Resources so it's back to the X-Men for me.

SNIKT!

KA-CHING!

Visit Mark Millar on the Web at www.millarworld.biz.

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