Well, the Rich’s Rumblings fan mail has been coming through thick and fast. Nothing from Kurt Busiek yet though.
One question asked more than once goes, “how the hell do you put Ramblings 2000 together? How did it start?” Hell, I often ask it myself when I’m staring at a blank piece of paper and my e-mail box is empty.
It would seem a little self serving to do such an article in the Ramblings 2000 column itself. Well, maybe if it was a lean rumour week. Mind you, it’s even more self serving to do a column about another column, when this is your third week. Well, hey.
Basically, it’s all a big ego trip. It started many years ago, when I was a reader and an occasional writer for Comics International, a UK comics trade magazine run my nightclub bouncer lookalike Dez Skinn, famed for discovering Alan Moore and publishing V For Vendetta and Marvelman in Warrior magazine. The mag is still going and the new issue is rather spankingly gorgeous actually. Plug over. Anyway, CI ran news and rumours for the UK marketplace, so I’d reprint ones that I hadn’t heard on rec.arts.comics.misc for the benefit of American readers. Public service, guv’nor. And I helped to make a small name for myself on Usenet.
‘Course, then people started sending me rumours, and it would be rude not to share, wouldn’t it? It also helped me to promote comics I was publishing at the time, such as Dirtbag and then the X-Flies. And soon enough I was in trouble. Certain creators weren’t happy about these stories being spread when they were false… or even worse, true! And I was a little less… discerning in those days too. And I still blame Glenn Fabry for the one about Simon Bisley’s health. Turned out he meant Frank Frazetta. The little tinker.
People, not everyone, but a certain type of fan, seem to enjoy the peek behind the curtain. The Chinese Whispers that pass from professional to professional. This was the kind of thing we’d occasionally see printed, mostly hear at conventions and then tell each other at marts or in comic shops. But generally the comic book owners used to be the sole distributor of this kind of gossip to the fans. Ramblings can at least be accountable. We can take a rumour that’s doing the rounds and hold it up for scrutiny for the entire industry to go “Mmm, maybe” over. Indeed, just this week a comics news column e-mailed me to thank me for printing a rumour… it’s a story that his source wasn’t happy to confirm on the record, but now that Ramblings has printed it…
And before long, memos were distributed at companies warned about employees disclosing information when they weren’t supposed to. Which got Ramblings more attention from the right people. And more and more comic creators, editorial staff and interns at both major and minor companies realised they could leak stuff about either colleagues without getting dropped in it themselves. And the ego trip stepped up a notch when some rumours causes company executives at leading companies call meetings on a Monday morning.
Ramblings has a number of sources that, over time. have proved both reliable and untrustworthy. I used to say Ramblings gets it aboyt 50% right, and that still seems to be the case. No, it turns out, George Perez isn’t leaving Avengers to do a DC Golden Age story, but yes, Sam Keith is doing a book for Homage. The original rumours behind Gorilla Comics followed a similar pattern. No, it isn’t called Bulldog Comics, yes Busiek and Waid are the driving force, no Ellis and Morrison aren’t involved, yes it was being shipped round Wildstorm and Image, no Garth Ennis isn’t involved, yes the original financial deal has been withdrawn… and so on.
I’ve learned a little about which rumours to print and which not to. In fact I haven’t had a threatening or abusive call in months. For example, the one about a chap in editorial commissioning extra variant and premium copies of comics and then trading them with a dealer for high grade drugs? I don’t print that. The lawyers might get too excited. They’d also get rather busy if I printed the old rumours about a certain comics executive being caught in a compromising position with a well known creator a number of times. Almost as if they wanted to get caught. Andy Helfer scalding his naughty bits with coffee? Sure, that’s okay, he seemed keen to spread it around himself. The story, not the coffee. Or the naughty bits. Hell, these days I’ll actually try and get comment from people affected by a rumour. Gods, I’m starting to become respectable.
And the bad side of doing Ramblings can be pretty good too. I mean you may not think it’s much fun when someone calls you up at work to give you a bollocking. But it’s pretty interesting if it’s Grant Morrison. Although what sounded like a torrent of non coherent abuse to me was probably part of a magical incantation to summon the ghost of Lemmy of Motorhead from the future after he’s dead.
And what has saved Ramblings on a number of occasions, is the fact that a lot of comic professionals really like the column. They read it, and sometimes reply from a more informed perspective so that when it’s their turn to be under the rumour block they’re not so aggressive as they could be, because they’ve enjoyed it when it happens to someone else.
And companies are now way more cautious with some of the information they spit out. Non-disclosure is the name of the game, of course it always was but it was rarely strictly enforced. The phrase “and we do not want to see this appearing on Ramblings” has been reported to me by the self same creators who want to see it appearing on Ramblings. And it does.
So what harm does Ramblings cause? It’s been pointed out a number of times that by reporting a rumour, it can affect people’s livelihood. And it’s probably true, I’ve been told of one case where an editor didn’t give a creator work because they’d read on Ramblings that the creator was working on a new project when they weren’t. So yeah, I feel bad about that kind of stuff when I hear it, and it prompted the Rumour Barrier and the Elmo Health Warning to remind these stupid fuckers in editorial that these are rumours! On the other hand, Warren Ellis rang up Jason Liebig when he read that Jason was revamping what are now known as the Counter X books and got a load of work for both himself and a load of his associates. Swings and roundabouts perhaps? Certainly a workable structure for rationalisation and cognitive dissonance anyway.
But what does this all mean? If Ramblings isn’t offending as many people as it used to, or causing quite as much a stink as before, has it lost its edge? Has it been absorbed by the establishment? Have I sold out to the greater commercial causes? I hope so, I could do with the cash.
In the end, ramblings does what it’s always done. Provides me with a voice and a soap box that I wouldn’t usually have so that people listen to what I say, nod their head and go “mm”. And anyone can do what I’ve done, I didn’t have any special contacts, I still don’t really. I’ve just got access to a computer and the internet. So why don’t you have a go?
Mind you, I have had some sterling help along the way. Mike Meyer unstinting work putting the column on the web, an understanding legal department at DC, a legion of fans and readers, especially the ones who work for companies and drop me the occasional internal memo or cancellation list, and people like Kurt Busiek for giving me the best publicity money can’t buy.
Also, there’s my media background. Living in Britain, I’m exposed to a much more gossipy press than seems to exist in the USA. All the main newspapers have ‘diary’ sections where they print topical gossip, Private Eye and Punch print political rumour and media gossip, and just about every trade mag has a rumour and tittle tattle back page. It’s part of the rich media mix, that only seems to get seen in the USA in the National Enquirer and its ilk. British gossip is much more highbrow and written for people with more than seven brain cells. Ramblings doesn’t easily fit in the US media pattern. It sticks out. And gets noticed. And I get noticed, which is like really cool.
So what’s the future for Ramblings? I’m currently sitting on a rumour so hot its burning my britches. My instincts are to print it and see what it flushes out. But the older, wiser, new-bathroomed Richard Johnston does not do such things. Well, not when the rumour is as massive as this one. Well not all the time. So I’ve gathered the help of other, like minded souls in the comic news business who are currently knocking the doors down of the right people and lining up contacts that I don’t have a hope in hell of getting. Especially when I don’t want to pay international calls.
Ramblings is hear to stay. Probably until I get to 20 at least. And then there’s a project I’ve been thinking about for a few months now. Ramblings 2000 – the comic. Okay, probably Ramblings 2001 the comic, but you get the idea. An anthology of stuff from my brain. Twist And Shout Comics may print it, maybe I’m get Jim Valentino or Matt Hawkins to do the dirty work.
Well this column is started to peter out now, so let’s end with a whimper, not a bang. Anyone interested in T-shirts of the banned League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen #5 ad, contact firstname.lastname@example.org. Read Ramblings 2000. Send any interesting titbits you hear for Ramblings 2000 to email@example.com. And that’s about it really.