Rich Johnston has been circling comics like a hawk for some time now.  He has been responsible for getting many of us our comic book gossip fix on a weekly basis.  I first started reading Rich’s columns when he was doing weekly installments of Lying in The Gutters for Comic Book Resources and have been a follower ever since.  Rich took some time out from his busy schedule running Bleeding Cool and working in advertising to speak to me about what he does, how he does it and why he keeps doing it.

The Comic Archive – So my first question was, what was your first exposure to comics? Like, did you grow up reading them?

Rich Johnston – Absolutely! Yes! I would say things like “The Beano” and “The Dandy”. Things like “Tigo” or “Roy of The Rovers” or a lot of things in uh newspapers. So, special collections, things like “Old Wooly” or “The Broons”. There’s also things like, something like war comics, things like “Commando” and bat-– I mean especially something you kinda did when you were a kid.  I think Marvel UK did some Super Hero re-prints back in the day, so I grew up with things like Stan and Jack “Fantastic Four”, “X-Men” and “Thor”, and that kind of thing. So it was a – yeah I had quite a nice range!


TCA – Now was there one particular comic that when you got it you were like “This is what I wanna do, I wanna have this in my life”?


RJ - Oh no Not at all! It was just a part of, I guess the media that you consumed as a child. It was the love of television and radio and music. And these were no point I think “Ah! That’s what I want to do! I want to be involved with that as well.” No, it’s just something that was fun.


TCA –  Wonderful! Well when did you decide that you did wanna include – have this – I mean cause you’ve been doing, you know. You’ve been involved in comics and a little bit more then just that you know, you’ve been writing them, you’ve been doing the websites.


RJ – Oh! I don’t – what I did is, I don’t – I don’t think I cut out, as a lot of people do, kind of – they – they drop the comics. I never kind of did, I just kept on going with comics along with anything else, and as a result, I guess becoming the… you know there’s few and fewer as you’re growing up and it becomes the kind of thing that that’s the thing that you do, that you’re known for and you define yourself. Do something that other people aren’t. And, and I guess that this will also go I enjoy it but again, no more then anything else until I went to the University and was able to I guess specialize in it and there were like a lot of local comic book shops that people could actually go to as opposed to the news agents.  There was like comic book communities there. All these – all these set up and so I kind of like, I’d draw – I – I – I guess I define myself by what I was doing different then other people and then I guess specialized in that. So and that definitely kind of happens, and by around the time I was 18 or 19, I discovered this wonderful thing called the internet and then all the comic book communities there as well, and I started writing for them – writing from them and I based, I – I think I just kind of realized that there were gossip columns and gossip and they were reporting for all sorts of entertainment media. But nothing really for comics, and certainly not in line – certainly not in America. So I kind of just started doing bits and pieces and it kind of grew. There’s really an appetite for it there. There was just no one actually addressing it. We could find it on things like you know, for movies, television and for theater. But, we all, actually, in all, all industries would all have this kind of thing, but comics really didn’t. So I just kind of – I guess I filled a gap.


TCA – Now, you’re talking about like you know, starting this thing that hadn’t been there before. Did you see any, I mean, you were coming onto a pretty clean field in the comics community for the rumors and gossip. What – I mean did you  – did you notice big changes when you started doing that? Was it easy to start it? You know, what was that like?


RJ – No, none what so ever. Certainly not for – for years when I started doing this kind of thing in about 92, 93, 94, around then, and no I don’t think it actually seems to affect anything. It’s just uh, something you do and some people would read it. But there was such a low internet usage then and so then it got much higher with a comic book audience and so no, we – we had had no impact whatsoever. Nothing I would actually can see made any kind of impact, see until years later I think. Certainly when doing it, no, no it had no impact at all from apart from the people who enjoyed it and, and that was pretty much the only impact.


TCA –  Now, I mean I feel like I know what the answer is to this, but it’s always fun to – to hear people talk about it. I mean, that was, you know – you’ve been at this awhile doing like the gossip and, and being in – in comics in general. What’s – what’s kept you here all these years?


RJ - I think it’s shear bloody mindedness. I mean the fact that no one else seems to be doing what I was doing in the way I was doing it in what I thought as well, almost kind of feel – I felt like I found a niche, and it seemed like be like a niche – a Rich Johnston size niche that no one else has ever actually jumped up and had a go at it as much as, as long or since. I dunno, I did it because it was fun and I kept doing it cause it was fun, but I kept doing it cause I get paid, actually probably just time – at the time I was doing it. And now it’s actually become a-a semi-career. So yes, you know I would say you know, enjoyment, kept me ist- put me in there. I definitely think money kept me going there.  And then also, I also think that its awfully kind of shear bloody mindedness thing you want to keep going and the more sort of people criticize you for doing some things, the more I want to keep doing it. You know, just to show them! Which is kind of a very Richard Nixon attitude I guess. But, so yeah, I think – I think I would definitely say I have, I have all my critics to thank for me still being around.


TCA – Now, you did start making this your fulltime job, what was that, 2 years ago?


RJ – Well more like a part time job, it’s – it’s a part time job that I do for Avatar Press, I started Bleeding Cool, and that’s a year and a half old so far and that seems to be doing very well for them, and me, so far. But it’s part time, I mean I, I. the other time I’m writing advertising for London agencies, that kind of thing. An occasional magazine article here and there, that kind of thing.


TCA – Yeah. Now, I mean I know personally I have the same relationship with comics where I can’t – it just doesn’t pay enough for me to do it fulltime and I do work – you know, comics is kind of my part time job and then, you know, and I find that a lot – for a lot – a lot of people, unfortunately that’s the way we have to do it. That, you know, whatever we’re doing in comics


RJ – I don’t if it is, it is, I know it’s unfortunate. I think it’s quite a nice idea that you ta- you have a number of jobs and certainly that comic books isn’t your life, you have paid interests and work that you do that’ll help inform it. It stops you becoming quite so into that then I guess you could do.


TCA - So, it seems like a lot of the – the, you know, connecting with the both pros and fans and all that, that makes it possible for you to even have a – to even have like a Bleeding Cool or a Lying In The Gutters, you know. Having the web and having all this technology really enables you to do that. How – how do you, how do you use – what- how do you make this stuff happen?


RJ - It is all the internet. I mean that’s really how it all started was people kind of like e-mailing me bits and pieces from around the world, and I think to some degree it probably helped that I’m living in South West London, away from much of the action. Because there’s less likelihood that a publisher is gonna corner me in a bar or, or try, try to use their, their winsome ways to get me to  not to write a story by buying me a pint of beer and that kind of thing. So the fact that I’m actually a little bit away from the action probably helps in the terms of really stuff I actually write. But yeah it really is, I- I – I basically I – I look online for things. I get sent things by e-mail. I get the occasional phone call. I can – I can then research them online and that kind of thing. So just, yeah, I guess you use it – I use the internet purely as a tool and I wouldn’t be able to do this job without it. So before it, I would have had no chance without it. I mean there are a few things which I can do, being a bit pretty close up. In fact actually if I did live in New York I could you know, stick a chair and sit outside the Marvel or DC offices, just making a note of who comes in and comes out. But we don’t, in fact I almost did that when I was at New York Comic Con recently and I happened to see Sergio Aragones popping in and I thought huh that’s interesting.  I’d also like to find out where their – their refuge was as well, and that would be something that I would be able to do quite nice, just to pop through and see what I can find of interest from that. But aside from that, no I think, I guess I – I – I think – I do the best I can from where I am. It has certain advantages and disadvantages.


TCA – When did you start, writing books?


RJ - Ok! So yes, absolutely since high school probably at the age of 11, when I started publishing comic books I’d use the local school, kind of – I can’t remember the word for it. It was like kind of like a machine you’d turn, and you have like the right carbon paper and different colors to get print pushed against it and to make different colors. I’d just used to rip off tall Marvel comic books and make kind of my own versions of them, among various things, and that was – that was really what I was doing at that age. I – I’ve been writing and drawing starting since I was like 6. But, I don’t think I had really thought I’d make a career doing that it turned out I was right. I’ve basically done a few little bits of pieces here and there, but nothing to actually base a career on. Mostly the comics I’ve actually written and had published and drawn and then had self published were very much a way for me to kind of understand the industry more as well and some of the how – how things worked, so I’d have a better – myself being, like, about it and be confident of its accuracy. So I mean I- I’ve done a lots of bits and pieces. I’ve worked in comic shops, I’ve worked with comic distributors, I’ve consulted for companies, um I’ve said I’ve self-self-published, I’ve drawn. I’ve inked other people’s work, I’ve colored peoples work, I’ve done, I’m doing full on sales for publishers right now. So um, yeah, I could probably I guess I’ve tried to have a go at most things, you know in comic books in some degree or others. Just I guess to get, to get that experience so I know what I’m writing about.  So, I mean – I think the hardest part I’ve done I think. “The Flying Flyer” was a graphic novella I had out a few years ago, I’m very proud of. There’s a book called “Watchmensch”, which was a take on Watchmen, sort of the story of, especially New York comic creators in the 1930’s till the present day and looking at those choices made by creators, publishers and lawyers in those times. Using the language and the characters of Watchmen, which was an immense amount of fun to do and I’ve never – that’s how I found the artist Simon Rohrmuller, who does a dead on David Gibbons interpretation of “Watchmensch”. And is currently the artist on a new project of mine called “The Many Murders of Ms. Cranbourne” Which we may just have found a publisher for, so that’s all good news.

Special thanks to Len Carter for help with transcription.

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