Lying In The Gutters

Tue, June 7th, 2005 at 12:00am PDT

Comic Books
Rich Johnston, Columnist

For the last twelve years I've been writing a rumour and gossip column while some have insisted I'm the only investigative journalist in comics. A label I was happy to refuse, as I was more interested in providing a column for entertainment.

The birth of my first daughter, Eve, nine weeks ago, gave me the chance to take a sabbatical and consider something new.

So for six weeks, Lying In The Gutters is being run as an investigative journalism column. Just to see what the fuss is all about. Fewer, but longer stories, much less nonsense, maybe a little more substance. And probably the cheeky grin of my former self sneaking through. After the six weeks are up, you'll be given the opportunity to vote which version of the column you prefer to continue.

The division in attitude towards the new column has been extreme, but equally balanced. In three weeks time, it's going to be Bush Vs Gore all over again. However, in this case, the one with the most votes will actually win.

If you wish to voice your support on either version of the column, don't email me. Go to the message boards and make your opinion known. Start a campaign. But first, a little look inside the changing nature of your favourite comic book companies. Part one of course.

INSIDE MARVEL

Marvel have repeatedly demonstrated internal conflicts through its history, due to management styles, but being bought and sold by various companies exacerbated this. "The Comics Journal" and "Amazing Heroes" led the way in reporting much of this under Jim Shooter's reign, which was particularly notable for alienating prominent individuals, whilst simultaneously producing critically lauded superhero comics of the day.

The Ron Perlman buyout saddled Marvel with a huge debt. The book "Comic Wars," now approved and published by Marvel, critically covers this time in depth. There was an insistence on increased profits to fund the constant refinancing of the company by Perlman, to take out more equity in the name of junk bonds. This was coupled with a policy to increase volume through marketing rather than improving product.

This brought increased pressure on staff until there were mass redundancies as the market bust. For a while, Marvel divided itself into five separate publishers, with five editor-in-chiefs, each with their own line, competing against each other. Reportedly, the fight alone over whether Kingpin belonged to Spider-Man or Daredevil was more deviously choreographed than anything in the comics themselves.

Editorial was instructed to come up with repeated event books, cover gimmicks and spinoff titles. While marketing would successfully hype this up, without being able to rely on a quality of content. And in the end, the market bust and so did Marvel. The decision of Perlman to hand over the reigns of power to Isaac Perlmutter instead of financier Carl Icahn still causes debate today and is worth revisiting in another column.

But when President Bill Jemas and new E-I-C Joe Quesada performed their double act for the media, they promoted an image of fun at Marvel, of easy going mischief making, and a rejection of corporate stuffiness. Not every employee recognized that in their day to day work. Jemas and Quesada were harsh in changing much of how the company worked, in a fashion not dissimilar to Shooter. And a fair few noses were out of joint.

Joe Quesada told me a few months ago that good morale wasn't a particular concern for him at Marvel and that there was no link between a happy workforce and good product. This happened to follow a period when Marvel staffers were letting this column know of their displeasure over working conditions, internal politics and fear for their continued employment.

It was also during a period of tumultuous change. After the departure of Bill Jemas, but before Gui Kayro was to leave.

It was the anonymous source Felicia who first exposed the internal problems at Marvel. Bill Jemas' tenure as President was filled with an attempt to be seen to encourage innovation and experimentation, but often led to micro-management of the creative process. Marvel creators reported repeated and contradicting instructions, notes and remarks that they felt made no sense, hurt both the comics and their ability to work. But, out of that entire struggle, or possibly despite it, Marvel produced some of their most powerful work to date and made leaps and bounds over DC in recruiting star talent for high profile books. Both the company and the talent were modernizing after years of recycling nostalgia.

But it was conflict between publishing and Hollywood that would lead to Jemas' dismissal. His rivalry with studio boss Avi Arad was deep and personal and, for a while, Ike Perlmutter and Marvel's board supported Jemas. But after reportedly Arad blaming a number of Jemas' projects for destroying or stemming movies based on Marvel comics, and the huge success of "Spider-Man," "Daredevil" and "Hulk" movies and their related marketing for Marvel, the tide turned.

Jemas' replacement, Gui Kayro, bought a more traditional business mind to Marvel, but one it seemed more obsessed with pacifying Perlmutter and Arad. Projects were imbued with second guessing any potential intercompany problems, and creativity took a back seat. And Kayro's interpersonal skills were reportedly comparable to Jemas's.

However, despite a few initial awkward moments, staff members and creators report that Dan Buckley appears to have brought a large amount of stability to Marvel. Less tension or controversy within the walls, and indeed that elusive thing, good morale and an easy working attitude. Which there is conflict, it seems more easily resolved. His door is always open, and he seems he actually means that. Staffers talk freely and openly with him, so the political landscape at this time is a good one. Naturally there are rivalries, but the usual title/office/salary runaround is less of an issue and actual hatred seems long gone.

The only obvious exception to all this seems to be from Axel Alonso's team, who merely continue the aggressive spirit he brought from DC, reportedly encouraging antagonism as a way to get the best out of people and headhunting creative talent and titles from other internal editorial teams.

Arad and Perlmutter seem to trust Buckley, which has also helped to smooth over a lot of troubles, and are more hands off. While Isaac Perlmutter must spend six months of the year in Florida, in order to reduce his personal income tax levels, he is know for his surprise attacks - suddenly appearing in meetings and kicking the tables over. But of late those tables have stayed mostly upright.

As for content, recent comics look in many ways to continue along the lines of the sea change Joe and Bill brought to the company, but increasingly in content the nostalgia has been creeping in again. While Icon gives limited scope to experimentation, and titles like "Omega the Unknown" emerge, overall there seems a more conservative and nostalgic slant. Even "House Of M" has its roots in Avengers plotlines over a decade old. And the large amount of off-the-wall titles are suddenly rarer.

At Marvel, modernization won, saved the company and revitalized the comics, but nostalgia has managed to grab onto its neck at the last minute.

INSIDE DC

While Marvel has had a history of internal division through appointments and personality conflict by happenstance, DC President and Publisher Paul Levitz has admitted it's a form of management policy. He actually encourages divisions, if only of ideas. At DC, individual staff are given enough rope to hang themselves, as Paul Levitz stands by with his hand on the trapdoor lever. Micro-interference on his part is rare, and when it happens, is a sign that someone is for the chop.

This division is also echoed in office relationships, however. DC Comics has become a hotbed of politics, with cliques forming, employees backing each other up, but everyone keeping an eye out for their jobs and spinning and briefing against each other. The "Compgate" sackings touched on last week only increased existing levels of paranoia.

DC is a very private company and Paul Levitz is incredibly taciturn when speaking to the press. A circle of silence has been imposed, and I've been told "what happens in DC stays in DC." As a result, the majority of information comes from those dismissed by DC who stay in touch with their former colleagues. As a result, this is naturally tinged towards the cynical.

The appointment of Dan DiDio as a Vice President was a significant sign that a change was on the way. Mike Carlin was positioned as in charge of the more traditional style of DC superheroism, with DiDio as the more modernist, adult-tinged and media literate. After the departure of a number of editors and execs a few years ago, and the sales success of "Identity Crisis" and the subsequent commissioning of "Infinite Crisis" and the various spinoffs and supporting storylines, it's clearer to see who has won. Ironically "Identity Crisis" editor

Mike Carlin has been told his contract will not be renewed. Dan DiDio's influence is believed to be spreading.

If a DC staffer is threatened from the outside, as has happened of late from Wizard staff, Levitz has a habit of circling the wagons. But the internal attacks can be harsh. And modernization has seen a number of higher level suits working out their contracts or left in their position with a sword hanging over their head. The company is changing to a multi-media business model, as Warner Brothers pay it more attention in the light of successful film and TV franchises emerging. But it looks like it might get quite bloody before the company reaches that position.

The new logo, dubbed "DC Spin," is appropriate in more than just physical appearance. Marvel created modern work in a big bang, DC have achieved it with a thousand cuts.

When similar changes happened at Marvel, the frogs started screaming the second they hit the boiling water. With DC, they've only just noticed it's getting a little bit toasty.

JMS REVIEWS VENDETTA SCRIPT

"V For Vendetta" has continued shooting in London this week and the crowd scene with everyone in V masks and costumes has been confirmed by onlookers and photographers. Joe Michael Straczynski emailed this column with his own take on the "V For Vendetta" script and the comments made by fan reviewers at Aint It Cool last week.

He writes, "I saw this and though everything in me yells against getting into these things, I have got to respond.

"Understand: I work with Marvel, I have no vested interest in defending DC or Alan or anyone or anything else.

"The anonymous individual who sent AiCN his 'review' has his head well and duly up his butt. That he had a copy of the script is obvious; that he understood it, less so. There's an old saying: a book is like a mirror, if an ass peers in, you can't expect an apostle to peer out. This person clearly has no idea what's actually going on in that script despite having read it (or having it read to him). You can take anything -- ANYthing -- and by casting it in a certain light, make it sound stupid. 'Oh, and at the end of Blade Runner, there's this REALLY stupid scene where the android guy's, like, hugging a pigeon and talking about moons on fire.' It's all in how you phrase it. Making fun of something is easy.

"About a month ago, I got hold of the V script, the very same draft that this anonymous assassin cites. As a fan of Alan's work, and the V books in particular, I sat down, eager to read it.

"What I read blew my brains out through the back of my head.

"I think it's one of the smartest, sharpest, insightful and well-crafted scripts I've ever read. It's emotional, evocative, heart-rending, biting, sharp, relentless and just plain garden variety powerful. It's not just a good film, it's an *important* film, and there's a great deal of subtlety and nuance in it that was clearly lost on the idiot that read the script so he could make fun of it and stir the pot.

"So there is no 'consensus.' All you've got is one anonymous guy who takes a few things out of context to make them look stupid, revealing his own mendacity and cupidity in the process. As someone who's not just written over two hundred produced scripts and read hundreds more, someone who is a fan of Alan's work, I'm telling you straight-up, with absolutely no agenda: the 'V for Vendetta' script is a work of freaking genius.

"As will be proven soon enough."

IN OTHER NEWS - Updated

Andy Diggle took me to task for an earlier version of a story in this column. The full exchange is continuing here, where

Andy Diggle denies that his DC exclsuive contract has ended (it's ending in June), denies discussion over exclusive contracts with anyone and proffers the possibility of new DC projects in the summer.

The main thrust of the column, that we should be looking out for Andy Diggle Marvel projects in the near future, currently remains unaffected.

Lying In The Gutters apologises to Andy and any others affected for any problems caused by this misreporting.

The Kubert Brothers' exclusive deal with DC Comics was announced at the weekend. What was not announced was that they will be working on the "Detective Comics" series, with scripts written by Grant Morrison. Expect official confirmation over the summer. Neither DC Comics or Grant Morrison responded to inquiries. Andy Kubert could not respond to questions about future projects.

Brian Michael Bendis has denied that there is a missing page in the recent "Powers" trade paperback, as reported in Lying in the Gutters two weeks ago. A page was removed from the Wizard Edge reprinted story, deliberately, in order to aid the flow of the overall reading experience. Bendis states this was a decision on artist Michael Avon Oeming's part. As for the unlettered page in the "Wolverine: Enemy Of The State" hardcover volume, readers can find the fully lettered page below.

"Smoke" by Alex De Campi and Igor Kordey was published by IDW. Both individuals are known for their unfortunate relationship with Marvel Comics. Alex withdrew her work on "Amazing Fantasy," her first scheduled Marvel comic, a day before solicitations were due at Diamond Comics, over the choice of artist for the book. And Igor Kordey who, after increasing his page schedule at Marvel's request was let go due to the resultant quality of that work, and spoke out against the company. The first issue, despite being 48 pages long and priced at $8, has had unusually high reviews and repeated sellouts from stores as well as disproportionately high message board buzz. This could well be the first breakout comic of the decade.

Heather Hunter, ex-porn star with an album out in July, visited Mad Magazine earlier in the year. What, her worry?


Photo by Bob Morales.

Tony Moore, the original artist on "The Walking Dead," writes to offer LITG readers a sneak peek at his new ongoing book "Fear Agent," coming out from Image in October.

Back to the usual publishing date next week, Monday 8PM GMT, 3PM EST, NOON PST.

SMALL PRINT

For other comic and non-comic book related nonsense, check out the Twistblog.

Discuss this column at the Lying In The Gutters Forum.

And contact me with your tax stories on richjohnston@gmail.com

You can also write to me at 8 Robin Hood Lane, Kingston Vale, London SW15 3PU ENGLAND

Or call me on 0780 135082 from the UK or 01144780 1350982 from the US.

Lying In The Gutters is published every Monday at noon, PST. Except this week because of Memorial Day. And next week because Jonah will be on a plane coming back from London.

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