Lying In The Gutters

Mon, March 30th, 2009 at 2:01pm PDT | Updated: March 31st, 2009 at 12:50am

Comic Books
Rich Johnston, Columnist

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This week more examples of how the recession is affecting the comics industry, UK price increases rolled back, misprints in a reprint cause one creator to speak out, what stamp collection Dave McKean fans must have and much more in this week's LYING IN THE GUTTERS!

LYING IN THE GUTTERS VOLUME 2 COLUMN 203

Welcome to the most popular and longest running comics column on the internet. In its various forms, Lying In The Gutters has covered rumours and gossip in the comics industry for fourteen long glorious and quite scary years.

All stories are sourced from well-connected individuals. But I urge you to use your judgment and remember, context is everything.

The traffic lights are an indication (and only that) of how reliable I believe the story to be, based on source, context and gut feel. Red lets you know I think this rumour is bunkum, but it is still one being spread about and could do with stamping on. Amber indicates I think there is a bias involved in the telling here, or it just seems a little dodgy. And Green as far as I can tell (as far as I can ever tell) is the real deal, junior. But it's still quite possibly wrong.

Nevertheless, do remember, Lying In The Gutters is for your entertainment. Neither Fair Nor Balanced. Please don't shoot the messenger.

TWO MILESTONES

-- Updated 3/31/09 - 12:50 AM PDT

[Yellow Light]Back when I was self publishing in the nineties as Twist And Shout Comics with such well-remembered and influential titles such as "Dirtbag" and "The X-Flies," my Diamond representative was Mark Herr. And no doubt he had to put up with my inexperienced, naive ambition and lack of understanding... just as Jenny Christopher and Bill Schanes do now.

This week I received the sad news that Herr, one of Diamond's longest standing employee, has been made redundant as part of restructuring in the company.

I also understand that Steve Geppi's Gemstone publishing company is to close, just as the final Overstreet Price Guide shipped.

Overstreet is part of the language of Western comics and considered the central authority, not only on pricing comics but indexing their history, over forty years of publication.

I can’t see the title not continuing in some form. Likewise, the Disney and EC titles that Gemstone publishes, will no doubt find alternative homes.

UPDATE: Jeff Vaughn, Executive Editor/Associate Publisher at Gemstone posted.

"There's one major problem with this story: Gemstone isn't closing. We've had some changes, and like a lot of companies some of these changes have been painful.

"I can't comment on the other material in the article at this point, but I am certain that both the EC line and the Disney line will continue in one form or another.

"We actually hope to have some very positive news about the Guide soon, and we'll be glad to share it at that time."

President of Gemstone Steve Geppi posted the following response:

“In the past few days, there have been a number of rumors circulating about Gemstone Publishing. As has been the case with many businesses across a wide array of industries, there has been a reduction in staff at Gemstone, and this included the departure of many valued employees. This, however, is not the end of Gemstone Publishing,

“Our flagship title, The Overstreet Comic Book Price Guide, remains a vital tool for comic book collectors throughout North America and around the world and it continues to be a highly profitable item for the retailers who carry it. I look forward to making announcements regarding new developments for the Guide’s 40th anniversary next year.

“At this time, no final decision has been made regarding The EC Archives or our comic books featuring Disney’s standard characters, but it seems certain that both lines will continue in some form, We all anticipate resolving the issues facing us and moving forward, and I will be happy to announce the specifics once things have been finalized.”

I think the word is... developing.

KEEP CALM AND CARRY ON

[Green Light]Last week, this column ran the story that Diamond UK was increasing the price of imported comics to shops by another 12% after a similar rise in December. This caused outrage amongst UK stores, threats that stores would be closed, would find new distribution options

On Friday, a week after announcing the increase, UK stores were told that, after looking at recent currency fluctuations, the price increase was on hold. And while it would be looked at again in April, current solicitation forms that list new prices would all be counted at the old prices.

Have you ever heard a hundred comic store owners breath a sigh of relief simultaneously?

IF YOU READ ONE THING THIS WEEK... WELL, THEN YOU DON'T READ COMICS, DO YOU?

[Green Light]

Valerie D'Orazio's "Memoirs Of An Occasional Superheroine," an autobiographical account of a fucked up life in comics and the comics industry. A pattern of abuse that continued from home life, through comic shops, into DC Comics and "Identity Crisis" and beyond. Names have been changed to protect the guilty, but only just. Magnificent, searing, compulsive-repulsive, not so much typed out as screamed into existence. Should be read by everyone who reads this column. No exceptions. Available online in PDF format for $10 here.

SWAMPED THING

[Green Light]The recent premiere hardcover of the first Alan Moore, Steve Bissette and John Totleben Swamp Thing stories has, as is the want with Alan Moore collections, being stung by a misprint.

This is the caption missing from the final splash page of "Swamp Thing" #24, that caps the issue in question. That provides the punchline to the story. The final poignant moment.

And it's missing.

Over a couple of posts to his website, legendary "Swamp Thing" artist and self publisher Steve Bissette has talked about the situation. Initially pointing out the missing caption, Bissette continued with a list of issues. He recounts a visit to Neil Gaiman's house while Neil was looking over color proofs to the "Absolute Sandman" volumes (though it seems a few errors made it past even that process), and compares that to his own experience, never being asked by DC to proof reprints of "Swamp Thing" over the last twenty years.

Bissette states that he feels ignored by DC in favor of Alan Moore despite, as he puts it, the "uncredited plotting of stories" collected in this volume. When he and John Totleben have offered additional work to DC regarding the reprinting of the stories, from covers, to joining pages, to model sheets for the central characters, Bissette reports "both were refused, and actually ridiculed (‘you guys are just fishing for another page payment’)"

In further comments, Bissette bemoans the lack of "surprints" in the new volume, images that were drawn separately from the original art boards, so that the black ink could be changed to a different color, and then dropped on the final image. Present in the original comics, these have been absent in subsequent reprintings. Bissette recounts contacting DC offering these images, but without response.

But, as Bissette points out, "Despite the unfortunate text omission gaffs, it is the best collection available in the US, and the color repro of Tatjana Wood’s exquisite colors offer the best reproduction since the original comicbooks were printed. Tatjana’s colors have been ill-served for two full decades, and that alone makes this hardcover collection my personal favorite of all the collected editions to date.

"And John, Rick Veitch, Alan Moore and I do earn royalties on every copy sold. This does support our ability to continue working on our respective projects and feed our families."

SPECULATOR CORNER

[Green Light]Anyone fancy taking advantage of some divergent markets?

For example, with "The Muppet Show" and "The Incredibles" not only selling out of their first print, but also being restricted to US and Canadian sales, you can sell them for a pretty penny to Brits.

And on the other end, Titan Books in the UK has titles such as "Hellblazer: Bloodlines" in print, but DC has not. So buy copies in the UK for $15, sell them in the US for $50.

And spend the money on either black pudding or grits, depending on your territory.

WORD OF MOUTH

[Green Light]This week, the comic book industry has been going to the dentist… and Twittering about it all.

Andy Diggle: Just got back from the dentist. My skull is still vibrating.

Lee Garbett: Ouch. My turn Wednesday. 45 minute session. Smells like Root Canal.

Jamie McKelvie: I travel back home to the NHS dentist I've had since I was 4. In fact, I am doing so this week!

Matthew Sturges: What did people do at the dentist pre-Twitter? There are some booklike things that kinda look like comics, but I don't know what they're for.

More fascinating Twitters next week. Probably.

DINOSAURS, ALIENS, MURDERERS AND LIONS

[Yellow Light]I did enjoy the new series of “Primeval” on ITV in the UK. A popular time-travelling dinosaur-hunting drama, it looks like the third season will delve into explaining legendary monsters as dinosaurs sent across time. There's a new archaeologist, Sarah Page, who's joined the crew, who's a little bit ethnic and may answer criticisms from “Doctor Who's” Russell T Davies regarding the show being a little too white. And Jason Flemyng playing a policeman who, after seeing a future episode by way of my very own personal anomaly, I've previously described as "MacGyver Vs Dinosaurs".

However I hear some worrying news. The channel in question, ITV, has been severely affected by the recession. Even though its viewing figures have been high, advertising spending is dropping across the board (tell me about it) and the company has been laying off hundreds and cancelling drama in favour of reality shows all over the place, including closing down long standing busy studios and cancelling the programs they provide.

In this context, I understand that despite the production company in question, Impossible Pictures, being well into pre-production for a fourth series of “Primeval,” they've been told it will no longer be required. Currently the company is taking meetings in LA to try and securea US version of the show.

Hell, ITV saved “Baywatch” back in the day. Time for some reciprocal action.

In related news, the makers of ITV thriller series "Whitechapel" have jumped ship to the (not-funded-by-advertisers) BBC, to make a sci-fi drama called "Paradox." Think a female-Quatermass-meets-Contact show starring Tamsin Outhwaithe. An alien first contact sci-fi show with very strong John Wyndham influences. Scripts have been written and are currently out to directors.

CLASH OF THE CREDITS

[Green Light]For another nugget into the reasons Sean McKeever left "Teen Titans," citing "creative differences", check the credits page of "Titans" #69:

Let's have a closer look

Some serious rewriting going on there.

STAMP OF AUTHORITY

[Green Light]Dave McKean has designed a series of fantasy-based stamps for the British Royal Mail. And they're lovely, have a peek:

And for those of you not satisfied with licking the back of a unicorn and sticking it on a letter to your grandmother, you'll be able to buy a presentation pack with the stamps and mini-stories by Neil Gaiman, one for each creature.

eBay's going to be all over those.

MARK MILLAR TO LECTURE UNIVERSITY COURSE

[Green Light]Comic book writers such as "Kick Ass's" Mark Millar, "Judge Dredd's" Alan Grant and "Hellblazer's" Denise Mina will be lecturing as part of a new Creative Writing MA course launched by Edinburgh Napier University in Scotland.

Specialising in crime fiction, fantasy, science fiction and graphic novels as well as computer games and interactive media, the lecturers will also include James Moran, Ian Rankin and Robert Shearman, and the course has been designed by former "2000AD" editor David Bishop and literary agent Sam Kelly.

In a PR Release, Kelly said, “There are already a lot of excellent Creative Writing degrees, which cater mainly for aspiring poets and people interested in forms of self-expressive, literary fiction. What we wanted to do here is quite simple: something totally different. We wanted to reflect the strengths of Edinburgh Napier, which places huge emphasis on vocational relevance, diversity and equal access, and we also wanted to open up the whole concept of teaching Creative Writing at Masters level”.

David Bishop added, “Some of the most exciting and innovative work emerges from genre fiction. We’re embracing the kinds of creative writing that get ignored or patronised by other courses”.

“This doesn’t mean we are promoting a dumbed-down version of creative writing. For us, genre doesn’t mean formula. It’s not an easy option. If anything, the academic content of the course is more intensive and intellectually rigorous than some.”

The course also specializes in the skills of adaptation, creative collaboration and working with exisiting ideas and characters. As Kelly says, “We don’t just want our students to be able to come up with amazing original ideas and write brilliantly – we also want them to be able to make a living. It’s a tough world out there, and a bit of professional versatility really helps”.

Bob McDevitt, publisher of Hachette Books Scotland responded saying, “As a publisher of high quality commercial fiction, I think this is extremely exciting. A course which breaks down genre barriers and takes a fresh approach to writing is a welcome innovation. I’m looking forward to seeing what the first graduates come up with”.

Candidates to be cogs in the machine are encouraged to grasp an understanding of Modern Scottish before attending.

SPIDER-MAN REVEALS HIS IDENTITY – AGAIN

[Green Light]During the controversial “One More Day” series, Spider-Man made a deal with the demonic Mephisto to return Aunt May from the dead and to make sure that everyone in the world forgot who Spider-Man really was.

In the latest issue of “New Avengers” however, Spider-Man has at least let his teammates in on the secret. Including Jessica Jones who, it seems, went to the same school as the young Peter Parker until, as Spider-Man so politely puts it, she became “Coma Girl.”

When Spider-Man first revealed his identity to the world, it was covered by the news media at great length. This time however, it’s had slightly less impact. As in, no one seems to have noticed yet. I guess there are only so many times you can cry wolf.

WHO’S WATCHING WHAT AFTER THE WATCHMEN?

[Green Light]DC Comics are planning to extend their One Dollar “After Watchmen” line, reprinting the first issues of classic series to tempt people who encountered “Watchmen” through the recent film, to continue and expand a love affair with comics.

Already reprinted titles such as “Transmetropolitan” and “Planetary” it looks like they may be joined by the likes of “Top Ten,” “Fables” and “Sandman.”

Each title reprints one issue for $1, with each series having a number of trade paperbacks and hardcovers for the reader to explore once they’ve been hooked.

It’s not quite “your first hit is free,” but in comics terms right now, a dollar is about as close to free as you’re going to get.

MARVEL UK PRICES

[Green Light]With or without the exchange price increase, one perfectly legal alternative for UK readers of American superhero comics is to go the UK news stand route. Where Marvel UK/Panini reprint old issues of comics at a very different price point indeed. Instead of paying £3 for a new issue of New Avengers, one can buy, say "Astonishing Spider-Man" #51, reprinting “Sensational Spider-Man” #30, “Spider-Man 2099” #10 and “Amazing Spider-Man” #275 for £2.50, with around 76 pages of comics content.

Or two weeks after, pick up #52, with “Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man” #12, “Spider-Man 2099” #11 and “Amazing Spider-Man” #277 for the same price. #53 with “Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man” #13, “Amazing Spider-Man” #534 and “Amazing Spider-Man” #278. Or #54 with #535-536 and “Amazing Spider-Man” #279

Then there's the monthly “Marvel Legends” #30 reprinting part of “Winter Soldier: Winter Kills” and “The Mighty Thor” #50 for £2.50. #31 reprints the rest of “Winter Soldier: Winter Kills,” part of “Iron Man/Captain America: Casualties of War” and “The Mighty Thor” #51. And #32 reprints the rest of “Iron Man/Captain America: Casualties of War,” “Captain America” #22, and “The Mighty Thor” #52.

You may have to wait a year or two for stories, but some people might find this an attractive option right now.

CAMOFLAGED COMICS

[Green Light]Martin Conaghan is writing a comic-book adaptation of Stan Ridgway's classic eighties song "Camouflage," for a future issue of Desperado Publishing's 'Negative Burn' anthology title.

The song can be heard here. And it may lead to a series of Stan Ridgway-inspired stories from Martin.

THWIPP THWIPP!

[Green Light]According to Omaha TV station, KETV, a parent is looking to get Spider-Man comics banned in her school library after encountering a "Sexual Spider-Man" courtesy of John Romita Jr, and his portrayal of Mary Jane Watson.

Just wait until she sees Terry Dodson's version.

SMILEYS ALL ROUND

[Green Light]Thank you for all the appreciative words about "Watchmensch." It's had an almost completely positive reception. Either you're all very kind... or you're just patronising me.

There have been reports of sellouts internationally. Diamond US has copies in stock, after making a very confident overorder (thank you, Diamond, see, they can be good guys) and reorder copies for Diamond UK are winging their way as we speak. So shops who have had walk in customers asking for copies, they should be with you very soon. And customers, if your shop says they can't get copies, ask again. They can!

Comic shops that do have plenty in stock include Chapel Hill Comics of North Carolina, Gosh Comics of London, both Brave New Worlds stores in Philadelphia, Phantom of the Attic in Pennsylvania, Comickaze in San Diego

"Watchmensch" artist Simon Rohrmuller has original art for sale (although I've nabbed the enormous foot page for myself, keep off vultures) and is seeking further art assignments. E-mail him about either.

My next piece is a Western short story for "Outlaw Territory" with Tom Fowler from Image Comics, a short story for “This Is A Souvenir” with Terry Wiley, also from Image and a yet-to-be-announced issue of a licensed title with a yet-to-be-announced artist from another also-yet-to-be-announced publisher. I'm currently looking for artists for a number of projects, an FBI procedural with a political twist, a “Miss Marple” style small-British-village thriller, a horror fantasy retelling of the 20th century, a seventies set London police action kick-explodo comic and a modern Soho “X-Files”/”Torchwood” rip off.

Talk to me. I'll find publishers. Somewhere. You know I will.

BITS AND PIECES

Tony Salmon versus his commissioners... is he the new Michael Golden?

“Big Numbers” #3 online, courtesy of Pádraig Ó Méalóid.

Howard Hughes named by Stan Lee as inspiration for Tony Stark.

Soldiers may have to do without their action-filled violent fantasy pamphlets thanks to the vagaries of Media Mail.

Joe Barbara next to Frank Miller?

Are you a comic book pack rat? Not me. And I got rid of my Turok 64 packaging a long time ago.

"Eye Of The Gods" by Gerimi Burleigh, in webcomic and print. Sean Black, an artist, has a surgery to clone his eyeballs and replace his existing eyes with the clones, restoring his failing vision. After the operation, he has a "dream" about a murder, only to discover that it really happened. But the death isn't being reported as a murder. When his curiosity gets the best of him, it sets off a chain of events that unravel his life.

SMALL PRINT

Discuss this column at the Lying In The Gutters Forum and add your request to what you want from future columns.

I'm still eBaying odds and sods here. My social networking is pretty much all Facebook and Twitter these days, but I'm around at Bebo, MySpace, ComicSpace too.

You can see my Guido Fawkes cartoon most Mondays here. Here's the latest...

Contact me on richjohnston@gmail.com or on AOL Instant Messenger as TwistRich.

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

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

TAGS:  diamond comic distributors, dave mckean, stephen bissette

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