This is the forty-seventh weekly episode of Lying In The Gutters, the industry's premier rumour column and gossip sheet. 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 dubious cynicism - 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. Hence why I'm doing a live show at Bristol. Bring your own pole. Now…
Gail Simone is writing a collectable (remember, they're not comics, they're collectables) for Dynamic Forces, namely a "Magdalena/Vampirella/Witchblade" crossover project with Joyce Chin on art and Art Adams on cover duties.
Also, "Agent X" is continuing from issue 13 with Gail Simone back as writer. Maybe. See her new YABS for details. Is it a joke? Who knows? But that UDON art is brand new…
On Millarworld, Ethan Van Sciver wrote, "Hey, I just found out about these Diamond Select Toys New X-men busts. Two have been made so far, one of Wolverine, one of Jean Grey, and although they are both credited as taken from Frank Quitely artwork, they look suspiciously like they were taken from the cover to 'New X-Men' #130, which I drew. I wish I wasn't computer illiterate, so's I could post a side-by-side comparison here, (could someone do that for me, please?) but I'd like to know if my neckhair stood on end for a reason. Not trying to be a bastard here, but A.) I doubt Frank Quitely would care to take credit for my artwork anyhow, and B.) I'd like my name on a sculpture, if it is indeed mine. What do you think?"
Your wish, Ethan…
BLOOD AND THUNDER
Yes, indeed, it seems that the "Thunder Agents" project at DC is, if not dead, flatlined. It's down to DC's decision to pursue an Authority-lite style take being incompatible with the constant demands of the license holders. DC execs are trying for one last electric shock...
LETTERS FROM THE INSIDE
DC's new digital lettering department officially opens today, being headed up by Ken Lopez, their new lettering director.
Lopez will be working with DC editors to help develop a certain DC aesthetic, specific fonts and such. DC are yet to hire anyone else for the department, but I understand the current plan is to start with two or more letterers doing at least half of DC's books. If that goes well, it will mean almost all the books being lettered in-house and changes for other DC staffers.
FUN GAL TO BE WITH
And everyone just thought there were the 'three'.
Arn Saba, creator of eighties indie comic "Neil The Horse" for Aardvark-Vanaheim and then Renegade Comics, went missing a while ago. I enjoyed the comic immensely, but no one I knew has heard anything about him for years.
Thankfully the San Francisco narcotics team helped fill in the gaps, when Arn was arrested for dealing magic mushrooms earlier this week.
Except, apparently, he's now Katherine Collins, successful businesswoman, after moving from Toronto to San Francisco. Read more about it here.
You know, I wonder what Dave Sim will make of this one.
BTW, it appears that Mark Millar's scrambled read of an older column I wrote that mentioned another gender-realignment in comics, that of Jeffrey Jones, somehow took out that it was JG Jones who had the life-changing epiphany. And he's spent the last year telling everyone.
Mark, Mark, Mark, Mark, Mark… you irresponsible rumour monger you.
Apparently the most common reaction he got was disbelief, followed by "Actually, now that you mention it…"
A SCOT ABROAD
Talking of whom.
I ended up erroneously dragging Mark Millar, John Cassady and John Lucas round much of Soho on Friday night. Millar's choice of shirt left him particularly exposed in whichever Chinese restaurant we ended up in. Here are some photos… and can you see Millar's emerging bald spot.
TOLERANCE CUTS BOTH WAYS
It's been brought to my attention that a number of pros have been getting their jollies by forwarding round a certain link to comments made by Roaring Studios' artist Mike Miller on the CrossGen message boards. Lying In the Gutters has recently published a number of pieces, on Roaring's license for "Dragonlance" and mocked Mike Miller for certain homophobic statements and conspiracy theories attributed to him.
But initially I thought the link referred to a conflict between Roaring and CrossGen over the publication of the comics adaptation of "The Hedge Knight" by George R R Martin through Image.
Mike wrote, regarding CrossGen, "We were in discussions with CrossGen to bring THK over there. It was CG's business 'ethics' that made us revoke our offer. It would be ungentlemanly of me to delve deeper into it than that. But they did have the opportunity to publish George R. R. Martin. They soured the deal."
See, just the kind of thing that's my bread and butter.
CrossGen's Ian Feller responded, saying, "I appreciate you being gentlemanly and not delving deeper into this issue. If I recall correctly, it was not you that we were in discussions with, but the publisher of Roaring, Les Dabel. Certain things could not be brought to the table that made publishing a simple adaptation of THK not an option for CGE. How that is souring I don't know.
"Though I must say that what I saw from the series was beautiful and we regretted not being able to come to an agreement. I certainly wish Roaring and yourself lots of luck with the series. I hope this and all the other adaptations you guys produce are successful. Then maybe I can come by the Roaring boards and try to steal them away."
But no, that's apparently not why I was sent this thread. Rather the comments in response to enquiries about squaring his Christian faith with the fantasy-based content of much of his work.
"There is good and bad in every genre. It's the moral of the story... the MESSAGE of the story that makes the story speak to the heart. Stories of redemption, stories of sacrifice, of honor and truth. These can be set in any wild fantastic landscape, with magical beasts and flying carpets... If the story reaches the voice of conscience within you and brings righteous thoughts to mind, it's a 'good' story. If it's just a vehicle for arrogance or violence or portraying evil as good and good as evil, then it's a 'bad' story. IMHO, of course.
"I work at home, so I can be as preachy as I want. lol. Anyway, the Roaring fellows are all Christian, too. Most of our writers as well. Truth be told, it is by the power of prayer that all these great things are happening to Roaring. Things we would think impossible fall into our laps unexplainably.
"Think about this, we haven't published ONE BOOK, yet we have the licenses for many of the greatest fantasy and sci-fi authors of our generation, we have the license to one of the most popular fantasy gaming titles around. Hasbro wants to give us all kinds of property licenses, and is waiting on us to say 'when'. How could a tiny insignificant company with nothing to show every accomplish all that without God?"
I think it's a crying shame that Miller's fellow pros are in such dire need of sick laughs that they'll mock another fellow's beliefs by sending this round with comments such as "Will Miller likewise attribute the fall of Roaring when it collapses into itself amid petty in-fighting and falling sales to a deity?" or by adding further links like this one.
Can't you just leave the man in peace? Or at least put up a better argument?
FALL OUT FELL OUT
Say, you were taken with the graphic novel "Fallout." Say you wanted to see what else, publisher GT-Labs put out. Say you went to buy.com to find out.
Say someone messed up the publisher attribution.
Say you go here, then click on the publisher link…
I do hope it helps sales.
ROBIN SENT TO COVENTRY
I understand, further to previous LITG reports on Jon Lewis leaving "Robin," that Bill Willingham will be taking over as writer.
Remember the story about 88MPH getting the "Ghostbusters" comics licence that LITG printed a few months ago? It's all gone official. Check here for details.
JOIN THE DOTS
It appears that "Hellspawn" artist Ben Templesmith has quit the title with the same issue that Steve Niles leaves. While the press release he issued is nicely non-descriptive, I'm told that having his editor on "Hellspawn" fired and the fact that Brian Holguin had, at the time, not completed any new scripts, may have had a contributory factor.
I also hear that Steve Niles has pulled out of the "Aphrodite XI" project from Top Cow. No details were given.
JAMES ROCHELLE IN LYING IN THE GUTTERS
Apparently, in my list of Wildstorm colourists who'd defected to CrossGen, I managed to miss out one James Rochelle. Sorry James, hope this makes up for it.
TALES FROM THE RIVERBANK
I'm told that Tony Salmons, known for his wide and vared work on "Batman," "GI Joe," "Star Wars," "Spider-Man," "Vigilante" and much more, has an Epic mini-series in the pipeline, around the story of the day the Avengers moved into Tony Stark's mansion.
The team, at that time, included the Hulk.
Oh, what a house guest to have...
CHARACTER THROUGH CONFLICT
Having had last week's story about DC Comics dropping all advertising from Krause (including the Comics Buyers Guide and Comics And Games Retailer) because Krause employee John Jackson Miller's decision to write for Marvel's Epic line confirmed at the highest levels in DC, there's a new twist.
Apparently while John Jackson Miller was in the process of pitching his Crimson Dynamo series to Marvel, he spiked a column written by Brian Hibbs for CGR that was particularly slamming of Marvel's most recent trading terms.
Now, while neither Brian Hibbs or this column accuse Miller of being biased here, it does highlight the perceived conflicts of interest that can inform such decisions as DC's.
Hibbs told me, "Personally, I wouldn't call it 'anti Marvel' -- I was discussing the changes in Marvel's Terms of Sale, and JJ spiked it because he felt it potentially opened up Krause to litigation because I am in a suit with Marvel regarding... their Terms of Sale.
"I don't especially think that the rejection was because of JJ's involvement with Epic. JJ has been an excellent and sensitive editor all of these years, and I trust his ethics. I tend to think that this was just a matter of bad coincidental timing and not a 'suck up to Marvel' thing.
"Having said that, I find the decision to be pretty puss -- Tilting at Windmills (hey, now in TP form too) is, has been and always will be an opinion column, and I'm of the mind that Marvel isn't insane enough to sue Krause over publishing an opinion.
"I've attached a copy of the column so you can read it yourself -- hell, at this stage, feel free and run it. I absolutely stand by my opinions expressed there, though I should point out that I was apparently wrong about them changing and rechanging OIC dates. In that case, however, I plead to misunderstanding what Gui Karyo was saying.
"My last line is probably unfair, but that's what comes with passion -- I would have been happy if the column had run without that last sentence.
"Rich, if you use any of this e-mail, I ask you to use all of it, and not just the (say) first para and change what I'm saying. Thanks."
You can read Hibbs' spiked article at the end of this column.
RUBBING BRISTOLS IN MY FACE
Next Saturday, 11am in the Big Talks Room at the Bristol Comics festival, Comix-shop.co.uk presents LIVE-ING IN THE GUTTERS, a live panel version of this column, featuring all the great comics stories that are *not* fit to print.
Comic industry pros - if you can't attend, but have any stories you'd love to get out there (but not printed) now's your opportunity. E-mail me on firstname.lastname@example.org by the middle of the week.
If you want to catch me at any point, Craig McGill and I will be heading up the Press Room at the City Inn, and you can call me on 0780 1350982.
PLUGS UBER ALLES
I enjoyed toasting marshmallows over the fire with Chris Claremont early this week in the new Waiting For Tommy.
To celebrate Sequential Tart's Fifth Anniversary, they're starting an outreach programme from the San Diego Comic-Con. Find more details on how you can help at the link.
When I'm bored of comics gossip and rumour mongering, I like to look at the music/film/fashion/celebrity scene at Popbitch - why not pop by?
Next week, a number of you Americans will be coming to England for the Bristol Comics Festival. And quite a few seem to be staying in London for a while. As a result, here's a revival of my old "How To Be American In London Without Getting Your Head Stoved In By A Cricket Bat" essay. Cut out and keep.
On tube escalators stand on the right, or walk down on the left. Remember this.
Look right when crossing a road. Really remember this.
Get a Travelcard pass for as long as you are staying here. Covers tube, bus and rail. You will save hours with fiddly coins that change every few months.
Get an A-Z (street map book) and a copy of this week's Time Out. These are your bibles as to what's on and where.
It's pronounced "Less-ster Square"
Taking an actual bus is twenty times cheaper than taking a the equivalent tourist sightseeing bus, and you'll get a far better commentary from a random nutter.
Traditional English food is Indian-inspired these days. Not whatever chip-related meal they try to feed you in a "quaint" pub. Try a decent Chicken Tikka Masala to understand the British temperament fully.
No, we probably don't have (insert brand name here). Get over it.
No, there are no non-smoking bars.
No, there is not waiter/waitress service in pubs. Go to the bar. You've got legs.
Don't just ask for a beer. Choose a brand. You won't know any of the brands, so try them all one by one. This is called fun.
Yes, people drink alcohol here, legal from 18, tolerated from a lot earlier. People do not seem to think it's the equivalent of cocaine.
Don't try to buy cocaine. Your accent will leave your ripped off with talcum powder.
Yes, you do have an accent. And when you speak, everyone in a block radius can hear it.
Walking is an acceptable mode of transport.
Tea is never iced.
Yes, there are black people here. And Asians, East Asians, all sorts. Quite a lot in London. And yes, they've almost all got English accents. Find it entertaining.
But you cannot do an English accent. Don't try.
Don't wear a baseball cap. If it's raining, get wet or use an umberella. If it's sunny, rejoice.
Go on the London Eye.
Go and see "Jerry Springer The Opera."
Don't go and see "The Mousetrap."
Buy "Brass Eye," "Jam," "Spaced," the "Royle Family" and "Black Books" on DVD. As long as you've got a multi-region DVD or computer.
Do Covent Garden, Camden, Notting Hill, St James Park, Richmond Park, Primrose Hill, Soho, Waterloo Bridge.
You're American, therefore you're a movie star. Exploit that. We actually like Americans. Occasionally you may be patronised, live with it.
And no one, literally no one remembers "Independence Day" as anything other than a poor sci-fi film. It's not something we're taught, it doesn't colour how we think of Americans and no one will get your references to a Boston Tea Party.
We all actually liked Clinton, and consider him to be your greatest President for a long time. Not sure about the new fellow, though.
Whoever you are, your politics will be more right wing than anyone you choose to talk to.
Tilting at Windmills #117
By Brian Hibbs
I'm not sure I understand Marvel these days.
Or, more scarily, I might understand them far too much.
I started to write a column about the Tsunami launch last month, but real store business got in the way of me getting more than 300 words or so into it.
Which makes me glad, because I just got the new Terms of Sale, and JJ tends to frown on me writing back-to-back columns on a single publisher.
My initial thought was "haven't we been here before?" I couldn't have been the only one who flashed on "Heroes For the 90s," right? Heck, they even have "Namor" in common! It is a historically common trick for Marvel to try and grow their business by "flooding" (heh, puts "Tsunami" in a new light, don't it?) the racks with new titles in an effort to gain marketshare, rather than building sales on their current titles. Other immediate examples might be "Midnight Sons," or the purchase and expansion of the Ultraverse line.
The other thing these attempts have in common is that, generally, "launching wide" doesn't exactly work: for the most part customers only have a limited amount of dollars to spend and that expansion tends to ultimately come at the expense of the extant titles. (This is one of the reasons the market responded so favourably to the repositioning of the X-books in May '01 - and also why the numbers began to quickly snap back as the line grew larger than it was before the relaunches)
That's not to say that you can't grow by line-expansion - just that the results tend to rapidly diminish once you get past the customer's natural "ceiling" of support.
(This is not just a "Marvel problem": Image is also in the process of learning this lesson - I can't believe just how many titles they've been pumping through the market in first quarter '03 - and how badly most of them are selling)
Marvel's "core" line has been holding fairly steady at 30 or so ongoing "monthly" comics for awhile now. They're played with this a bit by producing several of these titles as "bi-weekly" (not that they ship them that way or anything, but the intent is bi-weekly) - but playing with shipping in that way is a lot more transparent to the customer.
So, it surprises me, a little, when Tsunami wave 1 comes along and adds six new monthly titles (seven if you count "The Call"), and wave 2 brings another three. Based upon news in the press, it seems like we can anticipate at least one more "wave" and let's be generous and assume there's "only" three more monthly's in that batch. So, 12 more monthly titles - that's a 40% increase in output.
Like I said, historically this is a reasonably common tactic for Marvel, though it tends to yield more "Slingers" and "Nightstalkers" than "New Warriors." I really wasn't thinking much about it, other than the whole "huh, wonder how we'll order these?" question.
Until I saw the new Terms of Sale.
Especially the "rolling discount" part.
Now, I have to admit that, like a lot of retailers, my instinctive reaction was "It is about bloody time that a publisher counted our reorders and backlist sales towards our discount!" Certainly, I've been arguing for quite some time that backlist is the direction to push the market.
But the more I think about the "rolling discount" being analyzed over your last year of Marvel sales, the more I started to understand just how Machiavellian it really was.
You can tie it together yourself, can't you? Increase the output of the regular line by 40%, and don't give anyone any additional discount for that expansion for a year!
Here's another observation: the "term" of the rolling discount isn't stated anyplace in the Terms of Sale themselves (it refers you to diamondcomics.com), so it is entirely possible, that at Tsunami month #11, just as your bigger discount is about to kick in that they they redefine the "term" down to 3 months, and you would lose most of your support of the line-expansion.
Paranoid? Maybe. But, given their historical behavior is it more sensible to count on Marvel doing the right thing, or the action that is in Marvel's best interest?
Yeah, that's what I thought, too.
There's another insidious thing about a rolling discount: how do you plan?
There is, as I understand it, a pretty large percentage of stores that are "on the cusp" of discount - where you're ordering backlist as "frontlist" to "fill out" your initial discount. This is generally a straight-forward calculation: "If I order $40 worth of TPs, I'll save $60 on my comics"
This is especially important on the lower ends of the scale where a couple of TPs can amount to a 5% change in discount.
Well, not any longer.
Not only have the calculations just become "transparent" to you (unless you keep a separate tally of your own of what Marvel dollars you've received), but in practical terms there is probably very little you'll be able to do to modify things even if you knew the base numbers. After all, if you order an "extra" $120 this month, you don't get "credit" for that order until the item ships (2+ months later), and you'll only get the benefit of 1/12th of your order - Ten whole dollars.
Unless you are comfortably ensconced in the "middle" of a plateau, there's a reasonable chance that you're not going to know what your discount is next month.
Plus, don't forget, discount is now calculated on what ships, not what you've ordered. If you finely tune your order to maximize your discount, it can all be thrown out the window if a "big" book ships late.
In fact, depending on exactly how the calculations are made (I'm expecting a recalc based on calendar month, rather than "last 52 weeks", if you see what I mean), it is entirely possible your discount could drop if the "right" book is just one week late. I'd be very suspicious of any "big" book scheduled for the last ship week of a month - it might roll over into the next month, removing discount from you for another 30 days.
This is really awful for fiscal planning, and could make it harder to get things like, say, credit lines from a bank: "Let me get this straight, you can't tell me what your Cost of Goods Sold will be next month for your largest supplier?"
All of this also seems to me to be a potentially massive brake on growth.
Let's say you're trying to aggressively expand your business - if you could double your Marvel business, you can't gain anything in discount until after those increased orders start showing up. Which, minimally, means you'll get zero benefit for the first three months of growth, and for the next year after that, you'll only be gaining a fraction of the benefit you would have otherwise enjoyed.
Or what about brand new stores?
I spoke casually with a Diamond employee about this, and he seemed to think that brand new accounts would be assigned a very favourable discount for the first six months. He wasn't positive about the actual number, so take this with a vat of salt, but he thought it would be 53%. That's great! But the problem comes in after that "trial" period. Because if you switch over to "rolling" discount at that point, odds are pretty decent that your discount will then drop down to the "minimum" - or 35%.
See, at month 7, you're getting calculated at 4/12ths of what your actual sales are - you only have, at best, 4 months of actually-received product. What happens to your discount if they're only applying one in three dollars to it?
Further, based upon my memories of opening Comix Experience all those many years before, months 7 to, say, 24 were actually more critical to long-term survivability - I had 6 months of operating capital all lined up; after that I was flying without a net. To have what will likely be your largest supplier's discount drop at that moment is potentially crippling.
Frankly, this concept gets it (maybe) half right - counting backlist and reorder activity towards discount calculation is great in principle, but it is absolutely horrible in this iteration. Twelve months is far far too long for a rolling discount - two is probably more appropriate, though I can see the argument for stretching it to a full quarter.
Finally, I'm very disturbed about the apparent move to make all returns for cause solely the responsibility of the retailer.
This is disguised and spun, of course - Marvel is really good at spin - but, as near as I can tell, late shipping and missolicited books are now a moving target that we're expected to skeet shoot at.
Basically, Marvel is changing the rules so that the "Order Increase Cutoff" (OIC) is now your actual deadline. In a lot of ways, this is a very very good thing because it now allows us to decrease orders "roughly 20 days" before a title ships. This is a helpful tool to weed out the "dogs" (I imagine most stores probably would have trimmed down their orders for "The Truth" #2 on, to name one recent example) - the problem comes when this is the only mechanism allowed.
At first, reading the TOS, I had wondered what happened when the OIC passed but a book still shipped late or with a different creative team. I was disturbed that there wasn't any language to deal with this, barring the note that returns were now at Diamond's "discretion". (uh, what?)
But this suddenly got clarified for me when I read the 3/5/03 article on Marvel's press conference on Newsarama (http://www.newsarama.com/cgi-bin/ubb/ultimatebb.cgi?ubb=get_topic;f=1;t=000350 for those of you who haven't read it) in which Gui Karyo, Marvel's COO, says:
The immediate implication is very helpful to both the retailer and Marvel, and that is the final order cutoff date, the date by which orders have to lock in orders, and they can't be changed up or down, is based on when we go to print and ship the book, so it moves if the book is late.
In other words, as long as they keep "telling" us what is going on, they can change and rechange and rechange again the ship date, the creative team, the OIC, and, in fact, anything they ever want, and it is our responsibility that we process this information correctly.
Try this for an example: "Ultimates" #9 was originally solicited for 12/26/02 delivery, and it finally shipped 3/12/03. Under Marvel's new terms they wouldn't have needed to resolicit the book, and instead could have kept adjusting the OIC date for nearly three months.
And it is up to you to keep abreast of that.
Figure you'll have to find another 10-30 minutes each week to go over your Marvel order, note the latest cycle data you have, and adjust your orders. While this will give you some better control of inventory, do you have that extra time in your week? I know you can find that time, but do you have it now?
I know I don't.
Currently, OIC's "float" based upon "best available information", but if this system is going to actually work, it needs to be totally overhauled.
Rather than giving us "best info", what comic book retailers are going to need from Marvel is a once-a -week checklist of "what is going to press next week" that we can adjust from. Of the entire week's output, not just the changes.
Such a list should be printed on our invoice, so that every retailer is assured of getting it, have our original initial order, the original solicitation copy, and any changes there might be. So one might look like this.
50 "Fight-Man" #49 By Blah and Bleh. Fight-Man fights Bad-Man!
38 "X-People" #16 By Blah and Bleh. The X-People vogue a lot. (NOTE: Art is now by Blarg)
16 "Spud-Guy" #64 By Blah and Bleh. Spud Guy's girlfriend eats pie! (NOTE: Issue was originally scheduled to ship on 2/15)
In this example, I can see at a glance that next week these three comics are going to press, and that two of the books have had some change from their original solicitation. The first one, "Fight-Man" #49, didn't have any changes, but is still presented so I can adjust the number up or down as I like. The two with changes, have those changes detailed so I can see at a glance what the deal is, without having to go and gather the other records I would need.
Also key to this kind of presentation is the initial quantity ordered - I don't keep my cycle sheets and order forms together; they are used very differently, so the presentation of data should be streamlined so retailer's don't have to scramble for data they are used to only accessing monthly. The goal here is to be proactive, so retailers don't have to be reactive.
If this is done, then this could be a wildly important change in the way we do business - initial monthly orders would become, in effect, "placeholders", and "just in time" principles could begin to be applied to the periodical as well.
If not, we're just sniping at a moving target, and success will take a disproportionate amount of attention to your Marvel orders than from any other publisher.
Which, y'know, is about as anti-retailer as one could get.
Brian Hibbs owns Comix Experience in San Francisco. Write him at 305 Divisadero St, 94117 or e-mail him at email@example.com. He's also wonders how the extra "full-line" discount makes any sense whatsoever in a rolling-discount world - what, is it a rebate now, or something?
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:firstname.lastname@example.org (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.