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WAITING FOR TOMMY
By Richard Johnston

John Layman used to be an editor at Wildstorm. Despite many of the projects he shepherded through to publication, he's going to be most known for his outburst against DC policy on DC messageboards when a kiss between Midnighter and Apollo in the Jenny Sparks limited series was removed. This put a magnifying glass on him from the New York offices. Then when The Authority suffered from being micro-managed in a similar way, he was often the scapegoat for rage, whether from creators, fans or executives.

John Layman left to pursue a freelance creative career. With a couple of projects in the bag, he's starting to get noticed due to an avalanche of projects about to hit the shelves. It seemed a good place to start.

RICHARD JOHNSTON: So John, how's freelance life treating you?
JOHN LAYMAN: I guess that depends on what day you talk to me. I thought being an editor was a bi-polar existence... seems that being a freelancer is just the same

RICHARD: Bi-polar? What do you mean?
JOHN: Lots of radical ups and downs. I mean, this week, and last week, I am up to my eyeballs in work... but I can see the light at the end of the tunnel. and when I get there that's probably when there will be a "where'd all my work go?" crash and burn.

RICHARD: How did that exhibit itself as an editor?
JOHN
: I got no sleep. I would wake up at 3 a.m. --and I hear this is common among conscientious editors-- worrying whether I remembered to send Warren a check, or that I forgot to send somebody paper.or some other fucking thing fell through the cracks.

Now, the further away I get from editing, the less I am inclined to keep "regular" hours. I get just as little sleep, but that's because I may have a looming deadline, or an idea that manifests at 3 a.m.... I don't put in the straight 8-hour days, but it seems like I am working ALL the time.

RICHARD: The public image of an editor is not that of a worrier. They're seen as either dictators or arse kissers. I take it you'd take issue with either portrayal?
JOHN: I was definitely a worrier. I tend to be like that in life, though, so it would definitely manifest in my work.

RICHARD: What percentage of editors you've encountered would you describe as contentious?
JOHN: Hard to say, because you never know what actually goes on behind closed doors. My experience with Marvel editors were limited, and, except for being social or getting drunk during Conventions, I didn't really professionally interact with DC editors. I have no idea what editors outside of WildStorm do, and for some reason I suspect we don't operate like "normal" editors

RICHARD: How so?
JOHN: Well, WildStorm editors don't really initiate new projects, which I'm at least led to believe is a big part of being an editor. I'd say 95% percent of new projects that come out of WildStorm are initiated by Jim Lee, Scott Dunbier and John Nee. I would always be bombarded with proposals at cons, and I'd tell people, even if I really loved this thing, chances are slim I could get it off the ground. And, of course, they would look at me like, "Oh, you f***ing liar... you're just blowing me off."

RICHARD: Do you find people's expectations of the job of editor are thwarted by reality?
JOHN: Mine were.

RICHARD: What were you expecting?
JOHN: Well, there is always this Horatio Alger kind of thinking that if you bust your ass over something it will be rewarded. It's tough to work on a book and then fans either don't give a shit about it, or are even openly hostile to it. And, similarly, it's hard to bust your ass on a book you feel passionately about, and learn there are people above you, who control your fate, that don't really give a shit about the actually quality of comics.

RICHARD: Was that what led to your departure?
JOHN: Well, there were a couple of behind-closed-door things that were said to me that I was never really able to let go of, but I'm not so bitter (or willing to commit career suicide) that I want to go into particulars.

I'll tell you one thing, though, as it directly pertains to you.

RICHARD: Really?
JOHN: When all that Authority art was showing up in your column, week after week, I was told, "Everyone in New York thinks you are the rat."

For the record... it never was me that supplied you with any censored art, was it?

RICHARD: I wish. I bet I could have got a lot more dirt that way. But totally not. Let's say, sources close to the artists?
JOHN: Well, like I said in that Newsarama interview, I think because I had spoken out once against Company policy, it wasn't a big leap to assume I was trying to stick it to them again, but through more covert means

RICHARD: Still, you had a kind of training wheel when moving into freelance work. Bay City Jive and Left Behind at Wildstorm. Chances other freelance writers might have envied?
JOHN: I guess so. My big regret from Bay City Jive is I didn't pitch it as something bigger, so it could be collected into trade. I figured the first miniseries would be so brilliant that it would inevitably lead to another. Not so!

Left Behind was more of a financial opportunity. I mean, it looks great on a resume, for people outside of comics. Creatively, it wasn't really "all that," since I was supposed to be adapting it as close as possible to the book.

Not a lot of room to put the Layman stamp on it, you know?

RICHARD: Did you try? I mean, I understand your personal beliefs aren't exactly in accordance with those of the work you were adapting.
JOHN: Nah... people asked me if I slipped in Danzig lyrics or some subversive s**t into it, but, no. I knew what Tyndale wanted, and I certainly didn't want to do anything to jeopardize my or WildStorm's relationship with them.

There were 12 book in the series, and at the time I was under the impression if I did a good job, and the books were a success, I would be in line for adapting them all.

Brian Augustyn, though, got the second book, and I guess the books never really found the market they thought they would, so more were never made.

I mean, they sold great.... for comics. But these guys are used to selling millions of paperbacks and hardcovers. The comics revenue probably seemed like chump change in comparison

RICHARD: So did the editorial gig help or hinder your freelance writing in the long run? Bit of both?
JOHN: Too early to tell. Keep in mind, I have been making more money as a letterer for the past year than as a writer. And WildStorm is still paying the majority of my bills, so I should take a moment to say what beautiful men Dunbier, Nee and Jim Lee are.


THE ABSOLUTE AUTHORITY VOLUME ONE HARDCOVER

RICHARD: How have you taken to the news about DC's new digital lettering push?
JOHN: Well, I DO digital lettering, so I don't have to make the jump from hand-lettering to digital. However, as they move more and more stuff in-house, it will probably mean less lettering for someone who is not an A-level letterer, like Todd Klein or Comiccraft.

So I don't think continued lettering for DC is in my long-term future, but I'm enjoying it while I got it, and don't begrudge them trying to improve their efficiency (which at least must be the idea behind bringing things in house.)

I hope that DC approaches lettering with a little more care than they do their TPBs, though. I mean, I think they do a great job of getting stuff out there, but the quality and production of many leave a LOT to be desired. PAGE BREAK
RICHARD: So what are you looking to next? Will Puffed be a launching pad?
JOHN: Well, I'm almost positive I will be doing more stuff with Avatar. Not sure exactly what, by my sensibilities seem to go well with publisher William Christiansen, and since I've been doing Species, we've become pretty good friends. And I'm very happy with Image as well. Flirting with Larry Young a little.

Puffed will indeed be a launching pad, or that at least is the idea. I've got one mini complete and in the bag, I'm just waiting to find the right artist --and to be able to make the right financial arrangements with him.

But-- like I said, I've been SO busy, working on Species, which is now finished, working on The Art of Sam Kieth book, which, god willing, will be done by Wednesday, and between that and writing Thundercats and lettering, I haven't had TIME to pursue a lot of my creator-owned endeavours... all sorts of ideas are percolating and germinating, though.

RICHARD: Indeed, seems quite a top bloke. Just remember, don't mention Pat Quinn. There certainly seem to be a few of your old friends with work at Avatar at the moment.
JOHN: Yeah, I figure if Avatar can be working with Warren Ellis, Alan Moore, Garth Ennis, and whoever else William can seduce over, I'm in pretty good company.

RICHARD: Don't forget Nick Locking.
JOHN: Oh yes.

RICHARD: When we chatted well over a year ago now, you were stressing a bit that the work wasn't coming in. Feeling a little more confident?
JOHN: Well, yes and no. There is the part of me that will always worry, because I had the security of one job or another for a looooong damn time, and now you have to look and figure out exactly HOW long you can survive. But, yes, there were moments, especially early on, when things seems very bleak

And I have connections, and at least HAD a bankroll. This isn't a leap I would advise many people to make. Most people can't call Frank Quitely up and get a variant cover for their book about a guy in a dragon costume, ya know?

RICHARD: Have you found the WildStorm connection a problem at all?
JOHN: How so? I mean, I haven't had much luck with my pitches to DC? Is that because of their perception of me, my infrequency of pitches, or the quality of my pitches? Hell if I know.

RICHARD: Your relationship there was a tempestuous one, and you didn't exactly leave as their golden boy.
JOHN: I took pretty good care to keep good relations with WildStorm, and, as most of them are my friends, that wasn't really a problem. And, as I said, they've been very kind to me.

DC, however, I dunno. I'd say my relationship with them is probably better than most other editors who have left there in the last year! But. there wasn't a whole lot of communication between myself and NY. Only with a select few people. If there is one DC/WildStorm policy I could have instituted, it would be that WS editors should spend a little time in NY and see how things are done.

Honestly, I think things at WildStorm have improved. Editor Ben Abernathy is a former DC (and Marvel) employee, so he knows how things operate. Alex Sinclair is a designer and a colorist for DC. A lot of the problems I had, and DC had with me, were because "we don't do things that way," and I really had no idea of knowing this until something went wrong.

RICHARD: So, are you pitching to Epic, then?
JOHN: Not pitching Epic. I figured everybody ON EARTH is pitching Epic, and I would be just another asshat on the slush pile. When I left WildStorm, I had grand visions of working for Marvel, that Marvel might actually WANT me to work for them. (I think repeated speculation of this in your column might have had something to do with that.) First thing I did was Fed-Ex Bill Jemas a copy of Bay City Jive, which I guess he lined his birdcage with. Then I waited by my mailbox, like Charlie Brown on Valentine's Day.

RICHARD: It does seem that way. So Puffed, Species, what else should we be looking out for?
JOHN: Well, next issue of X-Men Unlimited, I have a Cyclops story with Dan Norton. Noble Causes: Extended Family has a story by me and Pat Quinn. Art of Sam Kieth, where I talk to Sam until he is hoarse, and my fingers have arthritis. And don't forget Thundercats: Dogs of War, with me and Brett Booth.

RICHARD: I said not to mention Pat Quinn. Yeah, so this lack of self-confidence and worry about future work.... you're basically mad, aren't you?
JOHN: Completely f***ing bonkers. It's worse now, because now there is no excuse for me to even put on pants. And now I spend 24 hours surrounded by cats instead of 12. Even I have to admit I'm becoming weird. Like cross-the-street-when-you-see-me weird.

RICHARD: Nude and covered in cats. How beautiful. So on a final note, what did you think of the new Authority? He said, leaving it till last.
JOHN: Er... I thumbed through it, but didn't actually read it yet.

As I told you, my version would have had Henry Rollins writing it, Paul Pope on art, with Anne Magnuson lettering it and featuring "cosmic" coloring by Stephen Hawking.

RICHARD: I think the word we're looking for is "interesting," isn't it?
JOHN: I wish Authority the best, I really, really do, because I love the characters dearly.

I think Authority was really a "success because of time and place" kind of thing and for a new incarnation to succeed, the new version had to be radically different. Which it isn't.

Still, I'll wait until Robbie M. has a few more issues under his belt to judge it, but I think I really wanted something as revolutionary and different as the first two arcs were.

RICHARD: Well, maybe someone can persuade Stephen Hawking to get the Photoshop out one day. Ever fancy writing them yourself?
JOHN: I did pitch a Jenny Quantum one-shot. On the one hand, I was heartbroken when nothing ever became of it, because I was convinced the pitch was so good. On the other hand, part of me knew there was no way Dunbier was going to let me get my mitts on the Authority at this stage in my career.

I should add that my heart has been broken many, many times since going freelance, because, in my advanced state of egomania, I am convinced all my pitches are uniformly brilliant.

RICHARD: Self-confident and riven with self-doubt. That sounds good.
JOHN: Self doubt about getting work. Never about the quality of the work. Man, do I sound like a prick!!

With that, we leave John standing naked, proud and covered in cats. Just the way he wants it. John Layman's stuff can be found at The Mighty Layman. Rich Johnston continues to write rumour gossip column Lying In The Gutters.

Page: 1 | 2 Continued Here

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