BY JENNIFER M. CONTINO
After putting his spin on Civil War and the X-Files, it seems only natural that Lying in the Gutters' Rich Johnston would write a spoof of the most celebrated graphic novel of all time. In the Watchmensch, Johnston took his idea to parody the Watchmen "with Yiddish references" a step further. Along with talking about his Watchmensch, he weighs in on the whole Watchmen film controversy, why publishers are "afraid of him" and a few other projects he's got on his "to do" list in the New Year.

THE PULSE: You're no stranger to doing parody comics, but how'd you come up with the idea to do something like Watchmensch?

RICH JOHNSTON:
Mouthing off with other comic creators at a London comics show I think it was. Tony Lee was there, he can possibly bear witness. Anyway, once I said it, just as a gag, it kind of took on a life of its own. Then hung around in my head until it had to escape somehow. And, as usual, I can't just let it disappear into the ether, I have to actually make the comic book.

That's how CIVIL WARDROBE came about, that's how X-FLIES came about. I'm a hostage to poor puns.

THE PULSE: Yeah, you and the Silver Age Robin the Boy Wonder! So, you mouthed off about Watchmen, but how did that grow into the upcoming one-shot Watchmensch? How did you flesh out all these ideas?

JOHNSTON:
Well, I had a title. Then I had to find a reason to justify that title. I mean initially it could just have been a retelling of Wacthmen with Yiddish references, and there is a little of that, but it became more. I initially had the idea of New York lawyers being bumped off one by one... but with no reason to back that up. When I realised that they were all lawyers involved in comics, and looking at the debate surrounding Watchmen, the original contracts, the current legal suits over the Fox contract, I had something to hang an actual story around.

And before I knew it, I was referencing the original Siegel and Schuster deal for Superman. At which point I'm stretching far back into history that I'm mirroring the Doctor Manhattan plot, and it all started to solidify. Basically doodling all these ideas and seeing how they jigsaw together. And where they don't, using fine scissors.

THE PULSE: Speaking of the debate surrounding Watchmen, what do you think of the judge's ruling in 20th Century Fox's favor?


JOHNSTON:
It'll mean more money or leverage for Fox. But I can't believe Warners didn't prepare for the possibility. There does seem some irony however, about Alan Moore complaining about the contract he'd signed with DC/Warners and their lack of flexibility over renegotiations, and now Warner has the same problem with Fox. The macro mirroring the micro.


THE PULSE: So what are some of the challenges with doing a spoof comic? I know over-the-top is expected, but how do you keep from going just, even, too far with that?

JOHNSTON:
I don't think you do. As long as there's an actual point behind what you're doing, and everything is anchored in that you can pretty much go where you want. The challenge is to find a truth, a point, something to say about the work, or what has become associated with it. Rather than just a series of weak puns.


THE PULSE: How do you think working on your column, Lying in the Gutters, has influenced how you see the comics industry and write about it in works like Watchmensch?

JOHNSTON:
Gutters has enabled me to see the industry from all sorts of perspectives, the creators, the publishers, the editors, the fans, the support staff, and it's definitely influenced Watchmensch, giving me a multi-perspective view to satirise the comics industry. So, just as I look into the long history of creators being exploited, I'm also able to tap into the campaigning fan who sees an issue as more important than anything else, sacrificing so much in their pursuit of an ideal...

That's one of the things I love about Watchmen, the many viewpoints. So I'd tried to take this approach to Watchmensch.


THE PULSE: I know you have to be influenced by the source material, but what are some of the things that people might not realize are an influence that tempered how you created this story?

JOHNSTON:
Definitely the likes of Kyle Baker's The Cowboy Wally Show, still one of the finest graphic novels of all time. Popbitch, the music and entertainment gossip e-mail that I've been reading and occasionally writing for a decade, and the radio sitcom version of Hitch Hikers Guide To The Galaxy. Nothing writes with better timing than Douglas Adams. Add a mixture of The Goons, Vic Reeves and The Mighty Boosh. Stick a fork in me, I'm done.

THE PULSE: What were some of the challenges you faced working on this? How did you find the time to get it done, with everything you've got going on?


JOHNSTON:
The biggest challenge was finding an artist who'd work for free... well for back end payments. Lucked out in Simon Rohrmuller, a Swedish artist without much professional history who just loves Dave Gibbons and relished the opportunity to explore his favourite comic in this fashion. And he's been wonderful, his design working informing the comic as much as Dave Gibbons did. Aside from that, yes, just finding the time to distill ideas, motor through script and at one point feel really grateful for the worldless splashpages at the end of Watchmen which I was able to take full advantage of.

Of course what with the latest legal wrangling with Fox and Warner I am having to revisit the script. Thankfully I was fairly psychic as far as Fox's involvement and I only need a few tweaks here and there.


THE PULSE: So while some people are saying they think a Watchmen film -- at least this version of it -- will never be released, how do you feel about it?

JOHNSTON:
I think there's too much money in it for the film not to be released. Odds are it'll still be released on the intending dates. Just someone somewhere will have to negotiate a whole wodge of cash.


THE PULSE: So you don't think Fox will just be like, "spite, spite, spite!" or something?

JOHNSTON:
Well, I have been told they want the Batman DVD rights... but no. Big piles of money beats spite any day.


THE PULSE: It's a little crazy either way. You'd have thought before all that money was put into a film a place as big as Warner Brothers would have had all their "i's" dotted and "t's" crossed! How do you think something like that even happened?


JOHNSTON:
I certainly don't think Warner are stupid here. And there's every evidence they knew about the contracts a lot earlier on. My best guess is that they're playing the long game and expect the legal process to give a better result that hammering out a settlement. They may well be right. I'd never like to bet against Warners.

THE PULSE: Since you've been keep track of rumors and other craziness, is this one of the biggest comics film related controversies you've written about?

JOHNSTON:
Well, the V For Vendetta Alan Moore vs. Joel Silver was a lot more entertaining, but that was because of the personalities involved. There's a lot more money at stake here.

THE PULSE: Yeah. I know a lot of non-traditional comics fans are anxious about this. At Christmas this year a lot of my younger cousins -- who haven't read comics regularly in years -- were talking about what a shame it would be if the Watchmen film didn't happen. I can't remember when something like this went so outside our "community" like this .... Why do you think this is hitting the non-comics reader? My cousins were like, "They still have all the promos and commercials airing, if there's even a hint of this not happening, those should be pulled!"

JOHNSTON:
Well, the general public have been learning about comics and graphic novels over the last few years. What they can be, the topics they can cover and of course all the films that spin off from it. The likes of 300 and Sin City did a real education job there.

And then along comes this trailer for a film based on "The most celebrated graphic novel of all time." And they all go "ooh, is it?" And DC have to print another million. And suddenly Watchmen is a big thing. Without that copy line on the trailer, it wouldn't have been. Very clever marketing.


THE PULSE: Is that how you're going to market your comic? A spoof of the most celebrated graphic novel of all time!?

JOHNSTON:
You know what? I hadn't thought of that. Damn you. Okay, from tomorrow, that's going to be my line. You're not getting royalties you know.


THE PULSE: Fine no royalties. Can you make one of the characters be named "Jennifer Contino" and have her be beautiful!? I'd settle for that ... and some signed copies ... and a pony! How about a pony!?

JOHNSTON:
Would you like to be one of the corpses in the massacre at the Watchmen premiere that happens on... page 16 I think...?


THE PULSE: Um ... no. Maybe I'll just wait for your next comic! Speaking of, what other plans do you have for some original works in the New Year?

JOHNSTON:
Oh plenty! I have a meeting with a UK book publisher over a couple of things, a romcom time travel comic and a 1950s comedy serial killer graphic novel. A US publisher is interested in a zombie pitch, years after everyone stopped reading zombie comics of course, I've got a piece in the new Image anthology, This Is A Souvenir, with the artist from Sleaze Castle, Terry Wiley. And I'm trying to find someone to publish an old favourite of mine, Chase Variant. I wonder how successful I'll be?

THE PULSE: If you market it as the best "chase variant" ever in films, it might be successful! Do you think Warner would include it in some of their movie promos?

JOHNSTON:
Somehow I doubt it ....


THE PULSE: You never know. Hey, you forgot to tell us how great Simon Rohrmuller is! I know he's just being paid in hugs -- er, your backend things (whatever those are), so you better mention how great he is!

JOHNSTON:
Goes without saying. Why would I work with someone who wasn't, in all ways, spectacular? I have my pride, Jen, I have my pride.


THE PULSE: You have pride? I've seen the secret internet photos! I have copies of them. The 8 by 10 glossies are highlights of my collection! Do you take a lot of ribbing and get a lot of hate mail for your Lying in the Gutters? I mean, I know you're a nice guy, but do you get a lot of people thinking erroneous things about you?

JOHNSTON:
One publisher told me that he was talking with other publishers at San Diego, all of whom said how afraid they were of me. I couldn't fathom it. Hopefully the expose of the Fake Art Adams this year might have helped with some of them at least ...


THE PULSE: When will Watchmensch be in stores?

JOHNSTON:
It's on page 244 of the new Previews, [Previews Order #: JAN094081
ISBN: 9780615234182] published by Brain Scan. And odds are the only way you'll actually get a copy is by telling your comic book retailer. Now. Pretty please?



PULSE readers can learn more about this project here:
http://www.brainscanstudios.com

You can learn more about this work with Lying in the Gutters here:
http://www.comicbookresources.com/?page=column&id=11