Rich Johnston is the most infamous man in comics. Since 1994, he has been reporting comic book news, rumors, and gossip. He currently runs the website Bleeding Cool, and has ventured into the print market with Bleeding Cool Magazine.
SEQUART: Everyone has a story about what got them interested in comics. How did you get interested in comic books?
Rich Johnston: As a kid, reading British comics like The Dany, The Beano, Whizzer And Chips, 2000AD, getting Oor Wullie, it was just a way of life for every kid that then drops away. Mine didn’t and that’s probably down to the Lee and Kirby superhero comics that Marvel UK reprinted in the eighties. The power fantasy aspect clearly appealed to me and I was hooked.
SEQUART: In your introduction to the zero issue of Bleeding Cool Magazine, you stated that you “choose to see [gossip columns for comics] as recognition that comics are as valid a form of entertainment as any other.” What led you to this philosophy?
JOHNSTON: Just that every other entertainment form [has one], hell most industries do, yet comics didn’t. It shows a desire to know the ins-and-outs of the industry, a fascination with those who keeps the cogs turning as well as trying to get closer to the eternal question “where do you get your ideas from?” have changed now. Newsarama, CBR, Comics Alliance, The Beat, they all have gossip elements to them. I like to think that’s partially my fault.
SEQUART: Before Bleeding Cool, you wrote for a lot of different publications (Rich’s Revelations for USENETnewsgroups, Rich’s Revelations for Twist and Shout, Lying in the Gutters), which was your favorite and why?
JOHNSTON: Probably The Gutter Press. I was hired by David Bogart, Eric Stephenson was my editor; my first paid comics gossip gig for Next Planet Over if you remember them. Four weeks in, the column was shut down when certain creators threatened to boycott the site if I wasn’t fired. The columns no longer exist in any form, but I think it had first mention and first art of the series Overgeist and I remember Eric Stephenson complaining it had too much Erik Larsen in it.
SEQUART: What led you to the founding of Bleeding Cool?
JOHNSTON: Losing my job in advertising and William Christensen of Avatar Press making me an offer.
SEQUART: You have broken some pretty amazing stories over the years, which has been your proudest moment in journalism?
JOHNSTON: I dispute that I am in journalism. Having the Before Watchmen situation and creative team laid out so thoroughly so far in advance was a good one. Realising what Mavel were doing with the new Ultimate Spider-Man was another. But all in all, it was probably the investigations into what Pat Lee had been up to with Dreamwave was the most satisfying, and getting creators paid by late paying companies is always a pretty decent feeling.
SEQUART: You said, “I dispute that I am in journalism.” Why is that? What does journalism mean to you and how is Bleeding Cool different?
JOHNSTON: I’ve known many journalists and they’ve always done hideous things to get stories. The whole hacking affair was a tip of the iceberg. They also generally don’t care about what they write, just that it has to be written. And they suckle on the PR teat, rarely actually pursuing original research. And yet they claim “journalism” as some gold standard, an honour to be besowed and treasured, defending their every action. I never wanted to have anything to do with that.
SEQUART: Over the years, what has been the worst threat that you’ve ever received over a story?
JOHNSTON: A serious death threat from an established comic professional sticks out.
SEQUART: Has there ever been a story that you’ve ever regretted publishing? If so, what were the circumstances?
JOHNSTON: Plenty. Generally when the story is plain wrong and simple. And others when someone was hurt who really didn’t need to be. They are relatively rare though.
SEQUART: Sometimes, fans have preconceived notions about people within the industry and they are unfair to them. Who is someone within the industry that you believe has been mischaracterized by fans?
JOHNSTON: Steve Wacker and Dan DiDio are far funnier and gentler souls than they are often painted.
SEQUART: Recently, you started a print version of Bleeding Cool. What caused you to enter the print market?
JOHNSTON: Avatar believing it was viable.
SEQUART: The comic book market has had its ups and downs with naysayers claiming each year that sales are dangerously low to the point of the industry being on the verge of collapse. Yet the industry still seems to be growing and spreading with new publishers making a name for themselves. How would you characterize the state of the industry today?
JOHNSTON: Getting better but mostly getting better for those who are very good at what they do. Valiant is a good example of that. Good shops do well, very well. The best writers and artists and indeed publishers do very well for themselves. But there are more and more people now just trying to get by, or failing at that.
SEQUART: What comics are you really enjoying right now? What should people be reading?
JOHNSTON: The Sleaze Castle collection just came out in the US, one of my favourite comics of all time.
Of the superheroes, Hawkeye, Uncanny X-Men and Wolverine and the X-Men, Journey Into Mystery, Demon Knights and Batgirl.
Also the weekly kids comic Phoenix, the monthly adults comic Viz, the weekly 2000AD and the annual Acme Novelty Library.