Lying In The Gutters

Mon, January 12th, 2004 at 12:00am PST

Comic Books
Rich Johnston, Columnist

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This is eighty-first chapter in the latest volume of the long-running gossip and rumour column for the comic book industry. Over ten years damnit! Written by British comics commentator, me, Rich Johnston, it's read by comic book professionals and readers alike. Loved and hated equally, every Monday (ish) it brings the stories not-quite-ready-for-primetime, a look behind the curtain, a sniff of the toilet seat, the worst and the best that the comics industry can inspire. Go in with your eyes open, your blinkers off and a peg on your nose.

I'm knackered. eBay selling, working through the weekend on an advertising pitch, a new column for NinthArt, Lying in The Gutters questions to Mike Carey, and Lying in The Gutters.

I'm off for a sleep.

THE SON OF NEAL

[Green Light]You know in the annual Rumour Awards, I always have a Maddest Moment Of The Year category? We now have a contender. A Web site from oldish-school comic book artist Mike Netzer, proclaiming his new manifesto as The New Comic Book Of Life.

Basically that he is the Second Coming of Christ. And he's here to save us through comics.

Such gems as "Comic book writers, artists, editors and publishers will soon emerge as the real superheroes on the sociopolitical stage of world events" and "This is Michael Netzer's THE NEW COMIC BOOK OF LIFE, striding toward a glorious reunion of our civilization's peoples and faiths under the One Creator of the heavens and the earth" and "the planting of the seed of humanity into the new garden, awaiting us on the not so distant Titan, the curiously Earthlike satellite of the ringed planet Saturn"

More. "It was said that his messianic aspirations went all the way to the top. All the way to the Second Coming of Christ, they said. He embarked on perpetuating a mad vision within which the comic book industry would raise the light of the new Messiah and gather into it all of the attention, entertainment & communications values, commercial wealth and spiritual appeal of the whole world.

"This is what it takes for the Son of Man to stand up against the spirit of futility that's all but paralyzed humanity's hope for saving its collapsing civilization."

Sadly, Mike has to remind us "Neal Adams' and Dick Giordano's signatures, appearing in this work, were not signed by the artists themselves and do not of themselves indicate their support for the vision brought forth in the work"

What a shame! Come on Neal, come on Dick, support this man's vision. He could be the next L Ron Hubbard!

And to make sure, "He has no problem being the madman on the mountain because we've all sung our songs for the madmen - and in our songs - the madmen always prevail".

So how are you sure you're the man for us, Mike?

"Islam has sign for a messenger who's to come at the end of days, they say he will be called "Nasser-el-deen", translated means "Champion of the faith".

"Christianity is waiting for Jesus to come back at the end of days, we can't accept anything less. It's not enough for him to have his face, many Hollywood actors have his face. He has to have a birthmark in his hand where the nail was driven into his palm and he also has to be pierced in the side by the surgical sword of a Roman doctor while undergoing corrective surgery for polio. He must also bear the name Michael as was written in Revelations, chapter 12.

"Judaism is also waiting for the One to come at the end of days, we can't accept anything less. He has to have the name promised by the prophets, as written: "Netzer Mishorashav Yifreh", translated: "A sprout will rise from his roots (the root of David)". He must also bear the name Michael as written in Daniel, chapter 12: "At that time shall Michael stand up."

Michael Netzer (also known as Mike Nasser)... oh boy.

And people think Todd McFarlane has an ego.

There's more, as Mike draws together world religion and superheroes as Superman - Christian Messiah, Batman - Moslem Avenger and Wonder Woman - Jewish Mother. No, seriously.

So prepare to welcome The One who will unite us all. Who is here to save the world. Oh, and draw some comics that look quite like Neal Adams' work.

I'm only providing limited excerpts here. There are many truly staggeringly entertaining moments along the way, you have to read this yourself. Just go here. And join his forum to talk about it. Then go out and spread the word on the CBR forum, JoeQuesada.com, Millarworld, even the heathens at Aint It Cool News Talkback!

LYING IN THE CRACKS

[Yellow Light]I understand there is a "NeverWhere" comic being planned for DC/Vertigo in the not-too-distant future from Neil Gaiman and Michael Zulli.

"NeverWhere" was originally a BBC TV series, recently released on DVD, telling the story of a Londoner who "slips between the cracks" and discovers a new, hidden London. A parable for homelessness, a quest for self-justifiction, and a series of terrible puns-made flesh in the form of The Old Bailey, The Angel Islington the Black Friars. Written by Neil Gaiman, and starring Gary Bakewell, Laura Fraser, Paterson Joseph, Hywell Bennet, Clive Russell, Peter Capaldi and Trevor Peacock, it was then translated into a fairly successful novel. There has been talk of a movie version from time to time, but it looks like the third "NeverWhere" incarnation will be in comics.

A Vertigo "NeverWhere" comic book was rumoured years ago, but didn't come to fruition. That's changed.

HEAD LINE NEWS

[Green Light]Someone who only just found out that Joss Whedon is writing "New X-Men" is Antony Stewart Head. Head, currently appearing in the pantomime "Peter Pan" (oh no it isn't - Headites, oh yes it is - everyone else who's seen the play) was expecting Joss to be doing a new project with him in it, not some "silly comic book"…

Apparently Joss will be in the UK to see both Head's production and "When Harry Met Sally," starring Luke Perry and Buffy star Alison Hannigan in, and Head intends to slam Joss against the wall, ask about these comic book things, and get a final answer on whether the BBC production of "Ripper" will be going ahead.

GLINTING BLADE

[Green Light]I'm told that Mark Millar and John Romita Jr's upcoming new Marvel project after Millarworld will involve Blade, and is aimed to tie in with the next Blade 3 film. The title is also tied in with Marvel's recent MK0404 teaser advertising. The MK stands for Marvel Knights, revamping the line with four titles. The Blade-related title will be one. Presumably Millar's Spider-Man will be another.

Blade, while a successful movie franchise, has not had much luck as a comic since the Midnight Sons days. Attempts to use the film to boost the sales of the comic have failed and last time, the mini-series was cancelled before it was finished.

Mark Millar and JrJr's names however might be able to not only give the title a boost, but to kickstart the exponential sales that you see when name creators, a name property and a prominent licence all come together.

However, I also understand that the title may not actually be called Blade anymore, but that it involves him prominently.

I understand that David Goyer and Norrington, "Blade" movie franchise screenwriters, have also been approached to continue the stories of the character in comics at a later date

RAISING AVATAR

[Green Light]I understand Avatar are to publish an anthology charity book for the CBLDF and ACTOR. Contributors with a very "new guard meets the old guard" feel include the likes of Michael Avon Oeming, Steve Niles, Ben Templesmith, B. Clay Moore, Michael Gaydos, Jim Mahfood, Robert Kirkman, Al Rio, Greg Horn, Jay Faerber, Dan Taylor, Chris, Christina Z, Gregg Paulson, Chris Eliopoulos, Andy Lee, Matthew Manning, Fred Hembeck, Franchesco!, Paul Gulacy, Matt Haley, Bill Reinhold, Leanne Buckley, John Mcrea, Phil Hester, Tom Defalco, Dave Sim and David Mack as well as a host of amateur and up-and-coming creators. Expect Avatar to inject a bunch of their own names as well.

DISCO KURTZY

[Green Light]It looks like Scott Kurtz, currently known for his breakthrough title "PvP" for Image Comics, has been grabbed by Marvel.

It looks like he'll be working on a "Dazzler" project for them shortly. Check here for some hints from Scott and Frank Cho. "My love for disco is well documented...I do own actual ABBA vinyl." - Scott.

And if you're looking for a possible visual… well…

UPDATE: The thread linked to above was deleted soon after this column went up.

UPDATE: Or maybe not... see Comicon Pulse soon for details...

LE SPAWN

[Green Light]Gutterati The Informer tells me that the French graphic novel "Spawn: Simonie" will see release in English in the USA, after much request on the Spawn messageboards.

Here's the art by Aleksi Briclot for the dustcover.

DORAN DORAN

[Yellow Light]Earlier in the week, Mike Doran, Marketing Communications at Marvel, was made redundant along with a few other Marvel staffers. This has been blamed, in part, on an ethnic cleansing at Marvel over many people who are what's known as "Jemas-tainted." Not surprisingly, this doesn't include one of Jemas' replacements, Gui Kayro, hired by Jemas and now taking much of his old job description.

I understand that, despite much speculation, Mike Doran will not be returning to Newsarama. And that certain DC people have expressed some interest in hiring him for DC, if a position can be found, but there appears to be a division of opinion on this one.

Phil Hall used to be the News Editor for Comics International, and currently is the off-again on-again editor of Borderline. He appears to have had some run-ins with Mike Doran while Doran was on Newsarama.

In his Comics Unintentional forum, he wrote:

"I'm sorry about this, but...

"Woohoo


Woohoo


Woohoo


Woohoo


Woohoo


Woohoo


Woohoo


Woohoo

"Cruel? Yes. Heartless? Yes. Do I give a shit? Not in a million years. Couldn't happen to more annoying little troglodyte."

The biggest amount of support had been heard from retailers. In Doran's role, he actually talked openly to retailers, responded to their concerns, and allowed their voice to be heard within Marvel something the retailers weren't used to.

TSRETALIATION

[Yellow Light]One of the things I love about going over old ground in LITG, like last week's article on TSR's comic book line, is the amount of people who crawl up from the drains, waving their own versions of history, expecting me to publish them.

Which I'm always happy to do.

Dan Mishkin writes, "One historical note worth mentioning: the idea of doing 4-issue story arcs that would be collected into trade paperbacks was very much on the minds of the people involved in putting out the DC comics based on TSR properties, though I wouldn't be surprised if Steven Grant and Brad Munson conceived of doing the same thing at virtually the same time. I'm not sure who at DC came up with the idea, but it may well have been Barbara Kesel, who was the original editor of the DC/TSR line.

"I know that when I started writing 'DragonLance' in 1988, and later wrote 'Advanced Dungeons & Dragons,' Barbara was very clear about the intention of repackaging the stories in single volumes.

"Unfortunately, these collections never came to be, and why not is a mystery to me. But I wouldn't have a hard time believing that TSR that made it impossible to pull off. Except for the delightful Jeff Grubb, who also wrote the 'Forgotten Realms' comic, the TSR folks were impossible to deal with - quite a prickly bunch.

"Luckily, I had good editors who ran interference most of the time, so I mostly had a terrific experience working with artists like Jan Duursema and Ron Randall and Tom Mandrake on stories that ended up being very successful creatively and somewhat successful financially. I was sad that they had to go, and that their existence had gone more or less undetected by a lot of superhero fans who would have enjoyed them if they'd given them a chance.

"I'd sure love to have copies of my stories in perfect-bound trades, though. But since that will never happen, I'll devote my energies to convincing DC to release a trade of my 'Amethyst, Princess of Gemworld' maxi-series."

James Lowder, currently a freelance writer and editor, with current comics work from Moonstone, added "I was a line editor in TSR's fiction division at 'TSR Central' at the time, working on the 'Forgotten Realms' and various other book lines, as well as one of the continuity people for the DC licensed books.

"TSR was distributed to the book trade by Random House at the time of the TSR West 'comic-modules,' not Simon & Schuster, and the comic-modules were pitched to RH-and heavily-as part of the standard company line. Flint Dille was the one who did the hardsell at the big intercompany meeting. Random House clearly wasn't interested, no matter how much pressure was applied, and I got the impression at that meeting that they were never interested-and that they had made their disinterest clear to Flint and everyone involved from Day One. (Mary Kirchoff was the managing editor of the TSR book division at the time, not the only one editing the several book lines that were active, as the note suggests. Also, she was out on maternity leave at the time the comic modules were pitched to RH; I was the one who represented the book division at the Random House sales conference when Flint did the pitch for the comic-modules.)

"It's interesting that anyone on the West Coast thought that the sword & sorcery licenses-'Dragonlance,' 'the Forgotten Realms,' 'Dungeons & Dragons,' and so on-would have been available at the start of the operation. The contracts with DC were still in effect, and the various books had been far better than 'half-successful.' They'd been doing well enough, in fact, for DC to have been in the early stages of developing at least two more licensed titles at the time they learned of the TSR West comics. (One of these new books would have been 'Ravenloft'; I was set to write the thing and had worked with editor Elliot Maggin and later Kim Yale on developing the material.) Though the folks on the West Coast might have been told otherwise, no effort I ever saw was made to 'take back' these licenses; everyone at TSR Central was quite happy with the DC books being done and the money they were generating.

"What the mgmt. of TSR Central (in other words, the Dille family) seemed unhappy about was the fact that DC was not interested in doing a Buck Rogers comic, a property even TSR was licensing from the Dille Family Trust. It's my understanding that getting out new Buck comics was the main reason TSR Central (and then Flint, who was not then an employee of TSR, just the owner's brother) became involved in the West Coast operation. And in doing so, even with the addition of the game material to make them 'comic modules' and the tinkering with cover design and such to make them appear different from 'typical' comics, they cheesed off DC enough that the West Coast dabbling led to the cancellation of the existing DC comics. I heard the words 'breach of contract' muttered more than once by DC employees at that time. But before that, I'd heard nothing but positive things from both the non-Dille TSR mgmt. and DC about the success and projected lifespan of those comics.

"Your correspondent also had it wrong that 'Only a very few folks' went with TSR when it was bought by WotC. Actually many, many staffers went, just not upper mgmt., which is pretty standard for those types of buy-outs.

"As for the problems dealing with Flint Dille and Lorraine Williams-well, anyone who worked for TSR at any time during those years is unlikely to dispute just about any story you will hear about the difficulties there...."

Then Dave Eckleberry, a software designer jumped in with:

"Back in 1997, the point of the WotC acquisition, I was a game designer working for TSR (or what you would call TSR/Central) in scenic Lake Geneva, Wisconsin. Back then, I worked on D&D (or what was then, AD&D). You observe, as M:tG rose into prominence, the long-forecast decline of RPGs hit. Mostly true. The greater truth is that, outside of AD&D Player's Handbooks, the decline had hit a while ago and was continuing. Many years had passed since the height of the craze in the early 80s when more than a million copies of the boxed D&D sets were sold in a year. Moreover, TSR's own business plans were causing them a lot of headache. After the success of 'Dragonlance' and 'Forgotten Realms' (which were only modest successes in terms of games, not books), Lorraine drove the company to create world after world, brand after brand. Names like 'Planescape,' 'Birthright,' 'Dark Sun,' 'Al Qadim,' and 'Spelljammer' rose up. Leaving aside how creative and interesting some of those creations may have been, they mostly lead to market fragmentation and customer confusion. But they did provide shelf space in the local hobby store was fought for and claimed against the threats of 'Vampire,' 'Shadowrun,' and other competition. Meanwhile, money was hopelessly lost in one countless misadventure and boondoggle after another (of which Buck Rogers games, CD-based games, soundtracks, and other tie-ins with LA were some of the products).

"By 1997, things were in pretty dire shape. The company which I had joined years early had lost nearly half its workforce, and then numbered just under 100. (Down far from the heights of nearly 400 when it was a darling if Inc. as a small business on the rise). Lorraine had sold the very building TSR was based out of in order to pay debts to printers. For a period of several months, TSR printed not a single product and the company seemed about to declare bankruptcy. Only a mortgage on her fine house assured that payroll be assured from month to month. So when a little card company that made the 'Legends of the Five Rings' talked about buying TSR, Williams jumped. Originally, WotC and Adkinson were supposed to be a third party to the deal. But when Adkinson found out the disastrous shape TSR was in, WotC stepped in to buy TSR directly… just as he had promised Williams two years previously when he finally managed to meet TSR's owner briefly at a Gencon. And almost all-according to some sources, every penny-of what Adkinson paid for TSR went directly to cover the debt hole it was buried in.

"'Only a very few folks followed the sale from Wisconsin to Washington State ... and Lorriane Williams and Flint Dille weren't among them.' - actually, almost every member of the game design staff at TSR was offered a position with Wizards, and in the coming year, several of those laid off would be rehired. I remember the move, the excitement of new opportunities, the shining hope of working for a CEO who played the games and understood the product. A total of about 50 people made the journey from Lake Geneva to Renton.

"Of course, years later many of those coworkers would be laid off again as Wizards downsized after its 'Pokemon' binge, but that's another story…"

And Jerry Ordway even pitched in, telling me "Around the time DC was doing the TSR books, I was asked to do a cover re-imagining Buck Rogers for a proposed DC produced Buck comic. Here is one I did full art on, and another exists somewhere, that Ed Barreto completed from a design of mine. I remember them as an audition for DC to get the license. Maybe DC was just trying to convince Dille NOT to let it be part of their (TSR's) separate line? I can't say. I seem to remember Barbara Kesel and Mike Gold were DC's editors."

DAYS OF MILLAR PAST

[Green Light]I still can't resist going back in time. From the letters page of comic magazine Fantasy Advertiser 100, a letter from Millarboy commenting on the magazine's recent sabbatical. And as a teenager, he's Byrne-bashing.

"1987 was such a great year for comics - it's very sad that FA wasn't there to comment upon the boundless innovations that took place; namely, most of Watchmen, Dark Knight, Man of Steel, Batman Year 1, the last year of Swamp Thing and the return of the Shadow. All great pieces of work; all missed by FA. However, with such delights as Miracleman, Halo Jones, Constantine, Flash, Justice League and Batman, things look great for the future.

"A common factor repeated endlessly in my praise is DC comics. The titles produced since the influx of talent from all over the world have been superlative. I can only nominate Dick Giordano for the Hall of Fame in next year's Eagle Awards; good gosh, the man deserves a no-prize.

"So many great things have occurred since the last issue of FA, but there has been one thing I don't much care for; John Byrne's handling of Superman. Since the Man of Steel ended we have seen a rapid deterioration of quality in the magazine, reducing the once highly interesting character of a lost alien trying to be loved on a world he couldn't quite fit into to just another superhero. Month after month we see Superman fighting a bulky Byrne villain (with the intelligence of a Byrne script) only to cleverly defeat the creature by means of an explosion which is explained in the last few panels. It is however very important that Superman's cape be torn to shreds to add realism to the process.

"Look, your average X-freak may find such stories intellectually stimulating, but I find them tiring, monotonous and very unlikeable. Whoever said John Byrne was Marvelising Superman was right, after all.

"One complaint in 18 months, not bad for someone who had their personality distorted by Watchmen #s 6 & 8."

Some would say it's never recovered.

In the same magazine, there's a wanted ad from designer Rian Hughes, looking for back issues of "Green Lantern" and "Teen Titans." Aw...

WHATEVER HAPPENED TO... CHAP YAEP?

[Green Light]Whatever happened? This happened.

Maybe Chap should have a quiet word with Mike...

FORTI SOMETHING

[Green Light]Mover and shaker in comics Adam Fortier provided a fascinating insight into how he pretty much gave the comics industry a kick up the arse a few years ago and triggered the rush of licensed comics, in last Wednesday's Waiting For Tommy.

I'm also starting to look for new subjects for the regular Waiting For Tommy interview column. Talk to me, people, I know you read this thing. It can't just be Mark Peyton with his finger on "Refresh. "

And talking of reading, I've been reading Previews. And Ninth Art have recorded my horrendous ordeal.

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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