Ramblings – 24th July 1998

This is a reprint of the earliest web-version of the comics industry gossip, rumour, and reportage column by Rich Johnston. Complete with mistakes, incorrect assumptions and dead links.

Ramblings 98:

The original comic-book industry rumour and news column,
by Rich Johnston.

What is Ramblings 98?

Elmo Health Warning:

This column is RUMOUR. Do not take anything here seriously. These RUMOURS are presented here as GOSSIP for their ENTERTAINMENT value.

Dateline: 24 July 1998
X-Changes

There is news. There is rumour. And there is what lies inbetween, where Ramblings lightly treads. The following news has been sneaked out from Marvel at threat to life and limb and is concerned with current Marvel confidential ‘plans’.

Top of the agenda for Marvel’s editorial meeting is the cancellation and relaunch of the entire X-stable during the first six months of next year. At the moment it is just an idea, the main thrust is to relaunch Uncanny X-Men and X-Men from new issue ones and then follow them up with seven X-Men related spinoffs. Where Gambit and Mutant X fit into all this is uncertain.

The issue 1 relaunches have proved very popular from Marvel recently, from Heroes Reborn, Heroes return and the new Event books. With X-sales taking a slipping recently, it looks like the infamous X-continuity might get a tap on the pressure valve, taking the stress of holding up the most convoluted continuity mess since Crisis.

The previously referred to ‘Search For Xavier’ storyline kicks the whole kaboodle off and chartacters being kicked around are Holocaust, Legion, Kang, The Watcher, the original Phoenix and apparently, even a Dallas-style ‘big dream’ cop out to fix slabs of continuity. Could this be a return to the moment when Claremont left? (my speculation, considering Marvel have been gtting pally with him again).

One other possibility (an an unlikely one) is to split X-continuity from Marvel continuity and make it an independent universe. Useful if the Toybiz/Marvel shenannigans make splitting up the publishing side. Anyone fancy buying the X-characters lock, stock and barrel?

Any comment welcomed, especially from involved creators.

Dateline: 23 July 1998
Evans Above

Jeff Evans, ex of Diamond has written to us, stating the he resigned from Diamond and was not let go. Looks like someone at Diamond may be telling porkies… however, Jeff goes on to say “Over the past few months I was asked/ challenged to “cut the fat” from my Magazine section and hence, I dropped very poor selling titles. The guidelines I used were 1500 copies or $3,000 net cost per item per PO.”

From our own experience, the magic Diamond figure for comics used to be 1000 copies or $1000 dollars. Either that has changed or magazines are getting a harsh crack of the whip from Diamond. This is certainly valuable information, and may inform current and future publishers.

Tripping Out

But, as we predicted, since Jeff Evans’ departure from Diamond, one British comics magazine (previously mentioned in Ramblings) Tripwire is back in Diamond Previews. Tripwire was one of the titles canned by Jeff Evans, and to make up for it, Dimaond are soliciting Tripwire almost-weekly for the month of November, three issues shipping. It’s a magazine well worth the cash and Ramblings ’98 recommends you give it a try.

I’ve just called the editor and he’s confirmed issue 7 has a Doctor Strange cover, with an interview with Tony Harris and Dan Jolly about the new Marvel Knights title (mentioned by Ramblings ’98 yonks ago), Doctor Strange, as well as other stuff with Quesada and Palmiotti and a ‘lost’ Neil Gaiman Batman story. Then they ship a Special A issue, focusing on League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen, with a cover by and interview with Kev O’Neill. Oh, and an interview with Alan Moore or somebody. Then issue 8 has a Bryan Talbot interview and cover on the new Luther Arkwright book, Heat Of Empire. Talking of which…

Ark To Bryan

Bryan Talbot’s “sequel-ish” to The Adventures Of Luther Arkwright is scheduled to be published by Dark Horse in December. It’s all pencilled and the first two issues are inked and are now being coloured by Angus McKie.

I met Bryan at the weekend and was treated to a preview of the inked work. It’s very different to Luther… there’s the broad brushstrokes of A Tale Of One Bad Rat with the detailed style of some of Teknophage. The colour will be flatter that the Tekno work, however.

Look, Bryan can tell you all this much better than I can. Jump over to http://wavespace.waverider.co.uk/~milieu/heart.of.empire.html and find out for yourself.

The Last Article Linked To The Authority I Fancy Writing For A While

Lou Perez writes about his Stinky Peon column on the Wildstorm website. He congratulates us on the Stormwatch pieces, but wants to emphasise his independence from Wildstorm and that Jim Lee has given him carte blanche to write what he wants.

I didn’t mean to imply that Peon was Wildstorm influenced, just that it seemed curious that Wildstorm would berate a creator such as Bryan Hitch, so that he’s try to get an article removed, while not taking any action over Lou’s column which reported and supported the article.

Still Lou, if you’ve got Jim Lee on your side, I guess that’s all you need! Now, give us an assessment of the quality of art in Samurai Santa…

Millenium Man

And while I’m on a Tripwire shmooze, I took a peek at the upcoming Grant Morrison feature from issue 6. Since this isn’t one of the issues made available to US (save for FM distribution), I thought I’d take a few interesting snippets.

Grant Morrison will do an least one more year of JLA, but after that… well… probably that’s it. Before that Shaggyman returns to JLA and after the Starro storyline we get The Ultra Marines, leading into the JLA/JSA crossover.

Invisibles will end on the millenium, after Book Three will will concentrate on the Sweeney characters from the Buckingham issue. He also has millenium plans for Superman and Batman.

Morrison’s work will probably end up in prose…. his stories for Disco 2000 and articles Sleaze Nation are certainly improving his profile in that arena and he’s using work that otherwise would have gone to Vertigo.

Right that’s it, I’m off to bed.;

Dateline: 20 July 1998
Blood and Guts

We’ve heard from Gutwallow creator Dan Berger that his book is now being threatened with cancellation by Diamond. It seems somewhat early for this; Diamond’s policy, delivered in person at APE V by none other than Bill Schanes in a Q and A session, is to give books until their 6th issue before determining to keep or drop them. Has Diamond stopped following its own rules regarding black and white books?

Gutwallow is a thoroughly professional book from top to bottom — graphic design, artwork, and writing. Is our industry so screwed up that a charming all-ages sword and sorcery book from a TMNT artist can’t find an audience? This market seems to demand that indie projects come out of the egg fully-formed and thoroughly professional, and Dan has met that criteria with a book that should definitely appeal to fans of Bone and of books and movies like The Princess Bride.

We’ll have more information on this as it develops. In the meantime, seek out this charming, overlooked book while you can, or at least check out his Web site and see what kind of gems this industry is missing.

Dateline: 08 July 1998
Preview Review?

Jeff Evans, the magazine section representative at Diamond Distribution has been let go and replaced by Mark Aquino.

A number of British magazines have seen their listing dropped in recent months – it’s hoped that this change in position may lead to a number being welcomed back into the fold of Diamond Previews.

Interview With A Vamp

The originally commissioned Buffy The Vampire Slayer mini-series but never published by Dark Horse will be released in October, by Dan Brereton, Hector Gomez and Rick Ketcham, three weeks after the ongoing series debuts.

And while we’re talking Buffy. What am I… plug merchant? Anyway, some Joe Bennett tryout artwork for Buffy is on http://4colorreview.simplenet.com/buffy/buffy.html and you can see a lot more of the same in the new Comics International.

Authority Again

Thanks to David LeBlanc for his internet archiving brilliance.

We represent the original article that caused so much fuss. Note, this article is old and some details may have changed. But not by much.

Authority Figures

Stormwatch is cancelled, but is replaced by a series called The Authority, by Stormwatch creative team Warren Ellis and Bryan Hitch, carrying on the story with the surviving Stormwatch characters.

Ramblings exclusively reported the cancellation of Stormwatch, Wildstorm’s UN Superhero series earlier this year. Despite a relaunch with Warren Ellis and Bryan Hitch at the creative helm, sales figures weren’t what Wildstorm was expecting. Cancelled with issue 11, we reported the massacre of almost all Stormwatch characters in the last issue.

Since then, Ramblings ’98 has heard a number of rumours that the cancellation was not set in stone. Despite confirmation of the cancellation by Jim Lee, recent reports in Stormwatch’s letters page convinced us that something was up. It is.

The Authority will be launched in November, with a two month hiatus between the different series. The Authority will consist of three characters from Stormwatch Black who survive the fatal last issue of Stormwatch. The team will not be linked to the United Nations. Instead the book will tackle a more cosmic theme, as the lost gods of humanity make a return.

The previously-reported Wildstorm series by Scott Lobdell and Bryan Hitch is no longer on the cards, The Authority taking its place in the Wildstorm schedules.

This is the second relaunch of Stormwatch. The first time saw the issue numbering resetting from 50 to 1, to bring new interest to the title. This time, even the name has changed. Ellis’ writing and recently Hitch’s art has brought much acclaim from reviewers and the industry as a whole, and it is hoped that this time retailers will catch up with the trend.

Stormwatch was the first spinoff book from Jim Lee’s Image studio that created WildCATS, when they were known as Homage Studios. An original idea, a UN backed international superforce, it quickly became bland and less-than inspired Jim-Lee-clone artists added little to the book. Warren Ellis’ appointment to the book saw interest rise but failed to make a dramatic impact on the falling sales. A rename as well as a relaunch may lose the stigmatism associated to the book that has also claimed the death of Wetworks recently.

The title, ‘Authority’, suggests an exploration of the concept of super-powered-being world politics, previously explored by Ellis in Stormwatch and Doom 2099. But the ‘cosmic’ label attached to the project may give the book more scope… perhaps Kherabim/Daemonite galaxy wide war and politics?

Bryan Hitch is also the featured interview in Tripwire, a comics/music magazine published by Joel Meadows and distributed by Diamond. It is hoped that further information on The Authority will be contained within.

Bug your retailer and place orders for The Authority now.

Dateline: 07 July 1998
Sandman Scotched.

Unless there’s a game of double-bluff going on, the Sandman Revival rumour that’s been circulating the British industry gossip mills is false. I just got some high-faluting e-mail from DC editorial sources who have checked at the higher levels of decision.

There doesn’t seem to be a germ of truth in this rumour, so if anyone comes at you with it, you can tell them that they’re talking bollocks.

Consider this rumour well and truly scotched.

Now, where’s that Watchmen II proposal…

Ramblings Round The World

Stinky Peon’s semi-Wildstorm approved column on the Wildstorm website (www.wildstorm.com) reported a Wildstorm press release about the WildCATS/Aliens crossover. It sees Stormwatch characters being Alien impregnated, leading to the subsequent cancellation of Stormwatch. The press release also states “The same creative team of Warren Ellis, Bryan Hitch, and Paul Neary will instead launch a new series from the smoldering remains of the team late in 1998 or early 1999. The new series, called The Authority, takes up the adventures of the surviving StormWatch members.”

Peon goes on to mention our column as the first to break the story and says “He also got slammed on Usenet for giving us the preliminary scoop on The Authority project. Sure looks like Rich got vindicated big-time with this press release!”

Interesting comment from a Wildstorm website, as it was Wildstorm staff who went ballistic with Bryan Hitch when the story broke on our page.

Since it’s now a part of official history, lets see that original article, replaced by Bryan Hitch’s statement (which contains at least one direct untruth!).

Mike, run VT.

(place original Authority Figures article here…er… we do still have it somewhere, don’t we?)

Nope. When Bryan and Robin objected so vociferously, saying the story wasn’t true, I removed it, and didn’t save a backup. Silly me, believing them.

Now, I might be cutting our throat here, but I have a few words of friendly advice to comic book companies, creators, and journalists everywhere:

This is a different world than even a few years ago — information exchange is instant, and the old paradigms of long lead-time magazines, house ads, etc. are long gone. This is both bad and good — free flow of information is a two-edged sword. The same sneaky press that can reveal hidden injustices done to creators can also fuck up a company’s “spin” on their upcoming projects. The economics of the Internet also make a level of independence possible that no magazine has. We’ve no advertising accounts to lose if we blow the whistle on a company’s dumb move.

You can’t stop it, and frankly, it would be dumb to want to; controlling information for marketing purposes is a little silly, anyway.

Nope, it’s time for creators and publishers alive to get with the program and grow up.

Creators: If you sign on to a project, and don’t want the word to get out before the contracts are signed: DON’T FUCKING TELL ANYONE! Doesn’t matter if you’re talking to a journalist or not — word can get out. If the company you are working with might want to break the news themselves, then you should ask them.

Companies: If you don’t want information disclosed, make non-disclosure part of the frigging contract terms, or better yet, part of a non-disclosure agreement signed before you even talk. In my recent dealings with a prominant animator, I had to sign an agreement which forbade me from even mentioning that I’d been talking to him. This is not rocket science, and god knows you companies have enough frigging lawyers around to explain it to you…

There is really only one reason not to let the press know what you have planned, and that’s to keep other publishers from stealing your ideas. Since comics are all so blazingly derivative of each other anyway, who gives a rats ass? It’s the execution, not the idea, which counts. There are plenty of reasons to let things leak, however. You know, publicity? The thing you pay people to do for your books (though not in any medium which might expand the audience…). And, you can’t use the excuse that premature release of information damages you if the information turns out to be false. Hell, your own official releases end up being wrong most of the time.

The best policy is to be an open source of information — cooperate with people who ask, and make rapid release of information to the press part of the drill of creating a project. If something may be subject to change or in negotiation, then say so. The days of creating false drama with the release of information are over, but a bit of candor will go a long way and be very appreciated in these days of hype.

Journalists: Get corroboration on stories. Also, get corroboration on retractions. You have a responsibility to deliver the truth to your readers, and to deliver things on deadline to your editors. You have the responsibility to protect your sources. You have the responsibility to respect the boundaries of “on the record,” and “off the record” exchanges. You have other moral responsibilities, and you should figure out for yourself what they are, and hold yourself to those standards.

However, unless you have decided your personal standards dictate otherwise, you are not responsible for the marketing plans of media corporations, and you are not responsible for maintaining the integrity of individual creators’ labor negotiations. Anyone who says otherwise has been sniffing a little too much white-out, and should consult the dictionary for the definition of “personal responsibility.”

— just a friendly rant from Mike, who is truly sorry that Bryan Hitch got yelled at, but who thinks the whole thing would have been avoided had Bryan’s editor taken his clue pills that morning.

Dateline: 06 July 1998
It’s Lovely

Steven Conley’s iComics page has a lovely preview page of Alan Moore’s and Rick Vietch’s Grayshirt.

I rarely do these kind of links but… oh go and have a look, it’s lovely!

http://www.icomics.com/070698_greyshirt.htm

Hindsights ’98

A new section of Ramblings ’98 where we take a look back on the last month’s reporting, the fuckups and the highlights.

We said “The Human Target, by Pete Milligan, will be drawn by writer/artist Darko Macan.” Strange, because we got the story from someone who should really know… we’re mystified but confirm previous reports that Edvin Biukovic, is the penciller on this much anticipated Vertigo project, who actually worked on Macan’s Grendel Tales and Star Wars.

Mike Doran’s Newsarama reports that DC confirms our story that DC’s Starman will be co-written by James Robinson and David Goyer.However, when we said “Despite Grant Morrison’s assurance on Mania’s Newsarama that he’s writing JLA for the long haul, Ramblings ’98 would like to reiterate our assurance that he’s not”, we were mistaken to say that Newsarama had the quote, it was simply a Mania article. We apologise for the error.

While Oni’s Clerks is doing well, it may not be doing quite as well as we reported. Rather than the “80,000” with the fourth print we mentioned, it seems more like “50-60,000”.

The Bat Writer Firings story caused some interest, despite our initial wrong statement that it applied to the Super Writers too. We received a number of confirmations from within the industry and DC, pleased that we were exposing this story.

And finally…. the story that started a zombie thread on Usenet, the exclusive announcement of The Authority, a Stormwatch replacement book by Warren Ellis and Bryan Hitch was recently mentioned in Wizard, quoting from Warren Ellis that The Authority was the tentative title. This was the story that Robin Riggs, friend of Bryan Hitch and reporter of his words, said was “shit”.

Okay, back to the rumour mongering from the offical “rumour mather” himself (cheers to Mike Doran for that title).

Oni Vision

Yet another reprint project (after Bad Boy and St. Swithins Day), Oni are collecting and reprinting Dan Brereton’s Nocturnal series originally published by Malibu/Bravura (do you remember them? Power and the Glory seemed like a proto-Quantum And Woody).

Jay and Silent Bob, the new series from Oni by Kevin Smith and Duncan Fegredo, which we have reported in depth has taking first print orders of 60-70,000 with initial orders of 40-50,000. Joy. Damn good book too, and did you all notice that Trish The Dish really digs Fegredo/Milligan comics?

Rumour Of A Rumour

Sometimes Ramblings ’98 has trepidations about spreading rumours. I know, I know, hard to believe, but we had a rumour that was believable, but we couldn’t get any decent confirmation. Phones around the country have been buzzing and this has come from a number of sources, some more lucid than others. So, consider the following rumour as having an extra extra Elmo Health Warning.

Sandman is to be revived by DC. Bosses have demanded that Vertigo aren’t making enough money, not even with Preacher. Vertigo aren’t happy with this order, as they promised Gaiman that his run would be the last. As a result, Vertigo staff and are resigning/being fired.

Okay this last bit certainly doesn’t seem to be true as we haven’t had any confirmed reports of recent DC staff changes. And Neil Gaiman hasn’t heard a thing apparently. It could be that this story started when the appearance of Daniel in JLA was confirmed and people started speculating. Alternatively, it could have been a wild rumour that had some basis in fact, because this rumour seems to be stupidly clinging on around the place.

If anyone has anymore information about this story, please e-mail. This story feels dodgy, but then I felt the same about the story that Image were kicking out Rob Liefeld all those years ago.

Dark Horse In the Buff

Some good news. Apparently Dark Horse are getting really, really confident about their new license, Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Scripts from Andi Watson and art from Joe Bennett have been very well received and they’re getting all happy happy about it.

Plus, the attention the TV series (and movie buildup) has should garner attention to the book in a Xena/X-Files kind of way.

They aren’t so sure about initial sales… but remember that Topps’ initial orders for X-Files weren’t great at all until the advance reorders atrted to come in a few weeks before shipping leading to allocation and severe selling out.

And the difference between the two? Buffy is meant to be rather good indeed. Hey, it’s by Andi Watson, what more do you need?

Dateline: 04 July 1998
Indy suffers Paper Cut
(commentary)

Indy Magazine has suspended paper publication, but will continue as a Web-only magazine. In their press release, which you can find at the Indy site, publisher Jeff Mason and editor Chris Waldron cite the larger reach of their web site as a reason for the decision.

It seems to be the fate of magazines dedicated to alternative comics — the economics are brutal for starting any magazine, but a magazine with such an automatically limited audience seems doomed at the start. Anyone remember Subliminal Tattoos? Now, admittedly ST’s demise was rather more complicated, and that magazine was never as well-edited as Indy, though it had a far more extensive sampling of actual comics art (sadly, much of it unpaid and even unauthorized). What about Honk? Wasn’t that a Fantagraphics book? It was excellent — introduced me to Hunt Emerson, for example, and had a great mix of articles and self-contained comics (rather than just presenting excerpts).

A healthy magazine about alternative comics, however, is absolutely critical to this segment of the industry. We need a place where readers can read about new books, see work from unsung artists, and where readers and writers alike can discuss the medium and the people in it. Publishers like myself need a place where we can advertise our work for a reasonable price and not get buried. The medium needs a way to bring people in from the newsstands. It’s not clear how much of Indy’s distribution was outside of the direct comics market.

Is publishing an alternative comics magazine impossible? No, not for someone with some money and committment. Heavy Metal could very easily launch a new newsstand-distributed companion magazine dedicated to the black and white work that they have largely abandoned in recent years. Caliber Press proved with their Negative Burn anthology that there is a large amount of talent out there. Wizard Press could probably pull off such a feat, though they’d need a better editorial staff. Ideally such a magazine should be independent from any one publisher. Often with these magazines, the artists working for the parent company get coverage out of proportion to their overall profile in the industry.

What would I like to see? A monthly black-and-white magazine with a mix of 60% comics and 40% articles about independent creators, their work, the creation process, and the impact of this material on the culture. Mostly, I’d like the chance to see the work of new and even established cartoonists.

We wish the folks at Indy continued good luck with their website, and hope that someone steps in to fill in the gap they leave at the newsstand. The Indy site, as always, is well-designed and attractive. Their advertising rates look very reasonable, and they likely will have no problem running their site under its current economic model for years to come. The interviews and reviews are always superb. I always get the feeling that the interviews are actually edited and proofread, which I can’t say for many of the interviews in TCJ. The absence of this material on the shelves of comic stores is a real loss, though I understand completely.

No, I can’t blame Indy for a very sensible decision. What this industry does need, however, is a wild-assed dreamer to carry the torch for this medium out to the newsstands. Anybody with money to burn on starting a new magazine dedicated to independent black and white comics is encouraged to contact me at Twist and Shout.

–Mike Meyer

About Rich Johnston

Chief writer and founder of Bleeding Cool. Father of two. Comic book clairvoyant. Political cartoonist.

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