Lying In The Gutters

Mon, March 10th, 2003 at 12:00am PST

Comic Books
Rich Johnston, Columnist

This is the thirty-seventh weekly episode of Lying In The Gutters, the industry's premier rumour column and gossip sheet. So, bemish behemoths, 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 my peers.

My official e-mail address has also changed. Check the bottom of this column to update your records.

MILLAR FOR SALE

[Yellow Light]I understand the launch title for Epic Comics by Mark Millar is called "Wanted."

On his Web site, Millar has described this as "an eight issue superhero series written by Mark Millar, his first creator-owned project since he was nineteen years old. 'Wanted' is the first of three creator-owned series which Millar plans to produce during 2003 in addition to his Marvel work."

And guess what, it's already been optioned…

RETURN OF THE ILLIDGE

[Green Light]The previous story was confirmed in the initial stages of an interview I'm doing with… Joe Illidge.

[Dr. Strange]Regular readers will remember that name. A few years ago, I interviewed him as he left DC Comics, where he was in editorial then licensing. He talked in length about his experience at DC and exposed a fair number of wounds on the way.

Now he's back, with artist Shawn Martinbrough and a bunch of projects. Only this time, they're in film. Check out the debut of their new work at www.ifilm.com starting Friday the 14thof March. And be back Monday for a very special Lying In The Gutters entitled Talking To Joe Illidge II.

Until then, here are some sneak peeks. Trailers for the films can already be seen at www.vergeentertainment.com.

    

FUTURE COMICS WITH A PAST

[Yellow Light]Another blog came into play this week.

A few weeks ago, I received some e-mails making allegations of financial irregularity, sexual harassment and mismanagement at Future Comics, as well as links to rap sheets to ex-employees. Far too tainted with bile, and hey, this was only Future Comics we were talking about, I dropped the story. Alan Donald at All The Rage also seemed to have received the same e-mails, and he wrote a story about how he had received something terribly shocking about Future Comics, but this wasn't the kind of story he wanted to run. After he'd had his cake and ate it, he then printed comment from Bob Layton at Future Comics denying the rumours he wouldn't run. All fun and jolly.

Then this week, it exploded on the Comicon message boards as an pseudonymous figure called Milton Fledgecow, demonstrating a proximity to Future Comics, began making wild and spurious claims about Bob Layton and Future. You can read the thread in its entirety as the likes of David Michelinie, Paul Smith and Kurt Busiek and ex-employees also kick it around the park.

Which is when I started to get interested. As did Rodrigo Baeza, whose weblog unearthed other rap sheets as well as changes in Future Comics employment lists.

Favourite clips from the Comicon thread include

Milton: "Mr. Layton continues to blame his inability to get the books into the retailers in a timely manner on some whacked out theory that everyone is out to get him. I have been to Tampa, and believe me, it's not Hollywood. Layton has a clear case of Julius Ceasar Syndrome, and thinks that everyone in the industry is out to Stab him on the steps of the senate.

"Think of me as an insider, a friend of all of the guys that worked at Future Comics that were burned by friendly 'Bob' the guy that called his retail partner's 'stupid sheep.' Kayla 'Lynn' Weatherford was the operations manager for Future that basically disparaged all the Future Comics employees, that were loyal to him, and her record speaks for itself.

"Ask Dan Jurgens what happened to 'GI Joe,' and ask John Romita Jr. What happened to 'Iron Man.' Ask any business partner he has had in the past."

David Micheline: "Future Comics has actually been victimized for some time by two people who are now ex-employees. And I'd be willing to bet large dollars that they've banded together to become the delightfully-named 'Milton Fledgecow.' Paranoia and conspiracy theories have nothing to do with the situation. The facts--FACTS, for which we have both electronic and material proof--are that before they were let go these two individuals committed numerous illegal and unethical acts including (but certainly not limited to) writing checks to themselves, forging Bob Layton's name on official documents, running up unauthorized bar tabs on Future's American Express account, driving the company van across country with a suspended license, and making off with a leased computer that still hasn't been recovered. They cost Future thousands of dollars, perhaps tens of thousands--we're still finding hidden charges every day and expect the total to rise sharply when we obtain photocopies of cancelled checks that were (ahem) 'lost.'"

Milton: "Mr Layton decimated his own office, if you notice, all of the former employees and some of the artists are gone. How many companies has anyone seen where every single employee is out to get the president? Even Bill Gates can't pull that one off."

One of those employees mentioned by Micheline, Andre N, popped up to answer these allegations, "I promised Bob that I would not disparage Future Comics or him personally on the Internet or by e-mail and I won't, however I would like to respond to the allegations you are making, as it sounds like you are personally attacking me" before denying or legitimately explaining away those charges. He also denied he was behind "Milton" as well as stating that he was told that Future Comics was filing for bankruptcy when his contract was terminated.

Paul Smith "Having worked with Bob, I can only wonder what these people did to get fired. Bob's biggest problem as an administrator is the idiot filter on his hiring radar is broken or set too low. He too often gives breaks to those that don't deserve it and is too slow on the trigger with those that need to be shot."

Kurt Busiek "I've worked with Bob. On an issue of 'Iron Man,' on four issues of 'Avengers,' one of 'The Order' and one of the 'Power Company' launch specials. He did a professional and timely job each time. I'd be delighted to work with him again."

Aberebbi, the three months former CFO and VP of Marketing and Distribution for Future Comics joined in, responding to Paul Smith "I know everyone who was fired there and they were all very capable and excellent employees. I won't allow anyone to disparage them. His one big hire mistake was already pointed out in previous posts. He made the mistake of trusting one person, who stabbed him in the back and was really destructive. This is now public record on the arrest link.

"However, the rest of the people fired did nothing wrong. And unlike the rest of the people here, I am willing to put my name behind my comments. Future Comics is Bob's company and he has the right to fire anyone for any reason. I will not go into it more than that, but the people that left were good people and good employees all the way around."

Charles Waldo " At First I thought Milton Fledgecow, was a code name for Rich Johnston."

Jen Contino " I KNOW who Milton is and it is NOT Rich Johnston."

See? It always comes back to me. You know, I don't think this one is going to go away as quickly as I once thought.

Rodrigo Baeza, in another blog entry also mentioned that Gene Colan, on long-awaited "Tomb Of Dracula" TPB said " Spoke with Marvel this past week. It will be out some time this year."

PAINTING A PICTURE

[Yellow Light]After last week's enlightening report of Salvador Larocca's view about working with Marvel, here's another, this time Alex Ross.

In an interview at Ugo, Alex made some interesting comments about his current relationship with Marvel over the continuing "Earth X" series, now "Paradise X."

"I'll go over the facts. There've been some problems in the relationship. We weren't part of what they were changing the comics into. They are looking for much shorter-run storylines, they don't want any 'what if' storylines, and they have told us repeatedly that if we were to pitch this today, it would never have gotten approved. Despite the fact that we have some of the best trade paperback numbers, we're not a growing part of the company. The story is coming to a close a little faster than we intended. There have been some personal infractions that occurred, and some negativity. If anyone is familiar with the series, they know we normally end on a double-sized issue. We don't have that now; it was taken away from us. We really got hit hard, too, because of the fact that we had a strong-selling book for a long time. Our sales used to revolve between 70 and 80 thousand. Over time, that lessened, but generally we hovered around 50 and 60 thousand. Eventually, this series dropped us below the 40 mark, and what happens then is that we aren't as cost effective. It's something that Marvel is sick of us. I'm disappointed, but I'm not going to lose my love for what we've created. We put so much work into it. There's a very well thought-out universe there that, in many ways, answers some of the biggest questions that have ever been posed in the Marvel mythology. I don't want to see it rushed out the door, but what can I say."

Ross later commented on remarks from Evan Dorkin on his work saying that Ross "bilks" his fans with everything he puts out.

Ross responded, "Let's also consider the mouth it came from. This is a guy that I took the time to do three painted pages of 'Kingdom Come' for his 'World's Funnest' book at DC. So I don't think he should be out throwing a lot of shit my way. Especially when I went to that trouble for him and he didn't do shit for me. Heidi MacDonald at DC Comics wrote an article for The Comics Journal talking some shit about how 'Kingdom Come' is the wrong direction for comics, just trying to pick a fight where there is no fight to be had. 'Kingdom Come' is not how comics are going to be done; it's a one-time kind of thing. Don't get too worked up about it. But Heidi MacDonald was in it. She posed for one of the background characters. She was very willing and pleased to be visually represented, but yet she was also interested in knocking it later. It's been a long time since this article happened and I'm probably forgetting a lot of details, but I don't necessarily care for these guys that I have some association to, that I've done something for, kicking me in the teeth."

When it's suggested by the interview that this does seem to happen, Ross replied.

"It's happened to me a lot, quite a fucking bit. That's why, in a lot of ways, I don't trust a lot of writers in comics. I generally have a very negative opinion. Not as negative of an opinion as Erik Larsen [creator of Savage Dragon] has of writers, but negative. That doesn't mean I disrespect the craft of writing, but I don't care for a lot of people who have made it their craft. To directly respond to what Evan Dorkin has said, it's actually a fair criticism, because I get hit by all sides with all this attention and interest to do my work as a high-end, expensive lithograph. The stuff starts to get priced way beyond what the average consumer of mine can ever get. I've been encouraged to believe that you create different things for different marketplaces. There's going to be, like, five hundred people who follow the Warner Bros. stuff who can afford a $500 lithograph; all you need is that 500 people to make it successful, but yet there's many comic fans who would have loved to have gotten that. Should I feel responsible for the time I take away from the things they can afford? Obviously, in the last four or five years, every comic book I've done has been priced at $10. So it hasn't been your typical comic book price. It's hard to say that I know how to economically respond, except that I know I want to get back to a basic comic approach. I tried pressing the boundaries of what I could creatively do in comics, and usually each and every time it meant more money has to be spent by the consumer. I don't necessarily feel good about that. It shouldn't be said that I don't actively bilk my fanbase myself, more than I am a participant in their bilking. I don't feel good about it, but I was just usually following the path of trying to create as many different things as possible. If people take a look at my productivity in my entire career, they would see that I work my fucking balls off. I create so many different things, so Christ, don't crucify me because those things are really expensive. I'm not setting the prices; I'm just taking advantage of the opportunities. If somebody is going to pay a good price to do a kickass image of a whole bunch of superheroes that you can only get as a high-priced lithograph, I want to do that image, because I am not going to get that opportunity in the $4.95 comic book. I also want to see a well-printed product happen. A lot of times, you have to go up a money ladder to get that thing to occur. When I reflect upon the printing quality of most comics, I cringe. An example is the covers I have done for magazines like Wizard. A lot of times, the printing quality will be up and down. If there's a chance to reprint that chance in a form, all I care about is doing the art. I've been lost in doing that kind of thing.

"I'm a guy who's purely focused on his craft. I'm trying to do the best work that I can. Evan Dorkin [laughs]. I don't think he went to art school. He's a writer and a very funny guy. Fuck him. He's right, but fuck him, anyway."

Alex Ross has never been known for keeping his feelings to himself. But could the disquiet over "Earth X" add fuel to the fire that Jim Krueger is CrossGen-bound?

TOP COW MAKES PLAY FOR DANGER

[Red Light]Much has been made that very recently Top Cow has been making a major play to sign J Scott Campbell up to their creative ranks. With "Danger Girl 3D" not exactly performing gangbusters of late, might this be an opportunity for a Jim-Lee style upsurge on any number of Top Cow characters?

DESTINATION… NOWHERE?

[Yellow Light]Still waiting for the "Transformers Profiles?" A series of books promised from Dreamwave, that were to feature all the different Transformer characters, with a profile for each and a new continuity timeline for them all covering millions of years?

Well.

Destination Entertainment were the company drafted to create this monumental job. It was already pushed back once when Initial orders were low, but the repackaged version was expected to do better.

I understand the project has been revamped from the bottom up. Allegations made include new and contradictory elements being introduced... apparently having a million years of continuity per introduced toy line year was a little messier than first thought. One problem was when some characters became other characters later in the toyline. Optimus Prime, Bumblebee, Jazz, Grimlock, Megatron, Starscream and others were changed over the course of the line and turned into new, more modern toys. Apparently much of the work contradicted Simon Furman's Transformer new history being written in "Transformers: War Within" and the new G1 series too much - a relationship Dreamwave were more concerned about keeping when the issues came to light.

I understand entries for A through M were already done by Destination Nowhere, but it's not yet known whether or not Dreamwave will use those entries in the final product. Much of the text was junked months ago, and although some of the artwork is being redone, it's not going to be late, nor is it being reformatted again.

There will likely be more and generic information rather than the in-depth origins and anecdotes originally promised.

CIVILIAN JUSTICE… SOMEONE PLEASE PUT THIS TRAVESTY OUT OF ITS MISERY.

[Green Light]Well, thankfully so far there's been no second promised issue of Civilian Justice. But hey, this is multi-media where you only need one issue, hell sometimes not even that, to get a film rolling.

Well, they're running around to get game developers interested. And using all that publicity from the useful idiots at CNN, ABC, CBG and Wizard to get deals done.

Thankfully, the amount of information online about what an offensive trainwreck this project is has helped put pay to some of their ambitions.

But I do hear they're working on a second, "better" movie trailer.

Somebody, do the decent thing. Either kill it or turn it into a Marshall Law-style satire.

POWER FAILURE?

[Red Light]There has been concern among some that the DC comic "Power Company" has recently been dropped from the list of titles available on DC subscription ads. Coupled with the rumour that the new "Firestorm" title will be set "after" Power Company has led some readers to fear for the title's continued existence in the light of other recent cancellations.

SHAFTED!

[Green Light]The cover to "Youngblood: Bloodsport" - for wherever, whenever and however it emerges....

[Youngblood: Bloodsport]

SPANISH EYES

[Green Light]As well as publishing "Tomb Of Dracula" in gloriously restored black and white, without the time-and-motion difficulties Marvel US had, Marvel Spain have also been knocking out plenty of Avengers, X-Men, Fantastic Four, Amazing Spider-Man, Thor, Daredevil, Captain Marvel, Nova, Eternals, Black Widow, Captain America...

Maybe time for Marvel US to investigate the source of this cheap Spanish labour and use the restored art for their own projects?

TIME TO START PLEADING WITH YOUR BETTER HALF FOR THE MONEY

[Green Light]Statues of Alan Moore and Alan Davis' most famous comedy couple, DR and Quinch, are to be released from 2000AD later this year for oodles of cash. Meet the pair in person…

    

MIRROR IMAGES

[Green Light]Remember that original Authority art from the other week? Well, an enterprising young chap checked out the original and noted that while President Bush's face was changed to a balding bespeckled geek of a politician, his reflection in Seth's face was not.

See the truth for yourself. Say, maybe he is a seven foot tall lizard after all.

[Authority Panel Detail]

LOCATION MAD

[Green Light]Hey folks, we found Joe Madureira. He's right here.

[Joe Mad Art]

GOT LAYMAN? IMAGE HAVE.

[Green Light]"Puffed" is a new series out later this year from Image, written by John Layman and his new artist find, Dave Crosland.

Have a sneak preview.

[Puffed]
[Puffed]

LIVE… OR AS LIVE AS YOU CAN BE THAT EARLY ON.

[Green Light]At Bristol 2003, Saturday morning at 11am, when all self respecting comic book pros are nursing a hangover… Comix-Shop.co.uk is proud to present LIVE-ING IN THE GUTTERS, the followup to last year's ALL THE RAGE LIVE. What better way to kick off your convention than some tip-top rumours too hot to print!

Oh yes.

FROM KO TO PALMIO

[Green Light]Last week's Waiting For Tommy ran an enlightening interview with Udon's head, Erik Ko, where he described working with Marvel, how Pat Lee owes him everything, the fall of the nostalgia boom, why "Street Fighter" will succeed and more.

Next Wednesday's Waiting For Tommy will be with Marvel Knights co-founder Jimmy Palmiotti. Expect sparks.

AND FINALLY…

The shocking news that parody conglomerate Spoof Central have continued their Warren Ellis-Bextor character at Silver Bullet Comic Books, writing bizarre and often hilarious parodies of Warren Ellis' writing style in his various columns. You can read the latest surreal twisted version of Warren Ellis' writing right here.

RECRUITING IN THE GUTTERS

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:rich@twistandshout.freeserve.co.uk (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.

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