Saturday, April 15, 2006



Friday, April 14, 2006

The STAR WARS News is back on FRIDAY!

Lucas given helming chair at L.A. fest
George Lucas will serve as guest director at the 2006 Los Angeles Film Festival, which is scheduled for June 22-July 2 in Westwood under the auspices of Film Independent.

Lucas will create a sidebar program of films that have inspired his work and also will host a festival retreat at his Skywalker Ranch in Marin County, Calif.

"He is the ultimate independent filmmaker," FIND executive director Dawn Hudson said. "His talent and his contributions to cinema make this year a true milestone for the Los Angeles Film Festival as a world-class event." EDITOR'S NOTE: YEAH. PLUS...HE ROCKS.

Tarkin Gets LOST

Jeff Frost from Yorkville, Illinois writes:

"Just a heads up for ya!

Australia’s Wayne Pyrgram, who played Scorpius on “Farscape” EDITOR'S NOTE: R.I.P. SNIFFLE. and Governor Tarkin in one of those exciting “Star Wars” movies, joined the cast this week as “Isaac,” a physical therapist. EDITOR'S NOTE: I BELIEVE HE WAS THE AUSSIE FAITH HEALER.

7x7 Explores Lucasfilm's New Location
The new Lucasfilm headquarters located in the Presidio of San Francisco is the subject of a photo-intensive feature article in the latest issue of 7x7, San Francisco's premiere magazine.

The beautiful Letterman Digital Arts Center is spotlighted from the perspective of a San Franciscan, and a Star Wars fan.

As writer Karen Palmer notes in the article, "For a Star Wars fanatic, being offered a tour of the brand new, famously top-secret Letterman Digital Arts Center -- George Lucas' new home for Lucasfilm Ltd., Industrial Light & Magic and LucasArts -- is like being a kid again... and getting an invitation to the biggest candy store on the planet."

The 10-page article features fantastic photos by Cesar Rubio and quotes from people who helped make, maintain and work within the new facility.



Exclusive Video Interview: Ray Park on His Life and Upcoming Projects
Here's an interview that the IESB website had last week with Ray Park

Ray Park has been busy lately and can expect to stay even busier in the near future with a recent change of management.

While everybody quickly remembers him as Darth Maul or Toad from the first X-Men film, Park has become a versatile actor. With two movies coming out later this year, the first being Sci-Fi Channel's Slayer in which he plays a pair acrobatic Vampires and second being What We Do Is Secret, where he plays L.A. club owner Brendan Mullen.

Ray has not left his roots behind, he actually cameos in Kyle Newman's Fanboys which is about a group of friends that have a mission to break into Skywalker Ranch and watch Star Wars: The Phantom Menace early as a wish to a dying friend.

So what is next for Ray?

Ray has several projects that he will be working on later this year that will continue to keep him very busy but with the Star Wars TV just right around the corner I had to ask if there was anything that he would like to do on the upcoming series.

Simply put Ray says that he would do whatever George would ask him to, revisit Darth Maul's early days to maybe playing a Jedi or even helping out with choreography. Scheduling permitting, he would go back to Star Wars in a heartbeat.

Don't take my word for it. Click on links below and watch our exclusive video interview with Ray Park.

Mark Hamill's New Projects
Hollywood vet Army Archerd interviews Mark Hamill on his blog and gets the scoop on Mark's animated Fort Frankie, including his recent trip to the Presidio...

"Mark Hamill is readying, among many projects, "Fort Frankie" and the investors want him to make three dimensional computer-generated characters.

It's an animated comedy about a building in a big city from the point of view of pets that live there. Mark asked his old boss George Lucas for whom he played "Star Wars'" Luke Skywalker if he could come up to Lucas' Presidio location to get some CGI pointers.

"I spent an entire day," Mark enthused to me. "Now the show will be computer generated, rather than the 'line animation,' like the cartoons we watched as kids."

Hamill is also readying to direct a live action feature based on his graphic novel, "The Black Pearl."Paul Tamasy and Eric Johnson have joined the screenwriting team with Hamill who says the story

"explores the moral uncertainty of our current times, with several new substantial characters and a new surprise ending sure to shock audiences -- it's like 'Fargo' meets 'Batman.'"

Star Wars Weekends Guest List For 2006 reports that the following Star Wars celebrities will be attending Star Wars Weekends in 2006.

May 19, 20 & 21 - Rick McCallum & Peter Mayhew
May 26, 27 & 28 -- This weekend is still being planned.
June 2, 3 & 4 -- Jay Laga'aia and Bonnie Maree Piesse
June 9, 10 & 11 -- Jeremy Bulloch & Temuera Morrison

Also as previously reported, Warick Davis will also be attending as a celebrity host for all four weekends!

Ewan McGregor Adopts Daughter

McGregor and Mavrakis

Ewan McGregor has a new addition to his family: a 4-year-old girl from Mongolia.

"I can confirm Ewan McGregor and his wife Eve Mavrakis have adopted the girl but cannot comment further," a rep for the Scottish-born actor tells PEOPLE.

McGregor, 35, and Mavrakis, 39, have two biological daughters: Clara, 10, and Esther, 4.

The couple, who met on the set of the British TV crime series Kavanagh QC, have been married since 1995.

Mavrakis, a production designer, most recently worked on the British movie Imagine Me & You. Born in France and raised in China, she served as production interpreter on the Chinese set of Steven Spielberg's 1987 movie Empire of the Sun.

In 2004, McGregor and best friend Charley Boorman spent three months on a globe-spanning 20,000-mile motorcycle odyssey for the Bravo TV series Long Way Round. Mongolia was one of the stops on their journey. Before the trek, McGregor told reporters that his wife and daughters "understand and are fully behind us, (though) I think if the whole thing was called off tomorrow they would probably be delighted." EDITOR'S NOTE: DURING THE SHOW...WHICH WAS WONDERFUL, BY THE WAY........ MCGREGOR WAS VISIBLY MOVED BY HIS INTERACTIONS WITH LOCAL CHILDREN IN SOME OF THE REMOTE AREAS HE AND BOORMAN TRAVELLED THRU. HE APPEARED TO TAKE THE OUT-REACH PART OF THEIR MISSION VERY SERIOUSLY, AND THERE WAS AT LEAST ONCE WHEN HE SEEMED READY TO PLOP ONE OF THE KIDS ON HIS BIKE AND TAKE THEM BACK TO BRITAIN RIGHT THEN AND THERE.

Hallmark Keepsake Ornaments 2006
Four new ornaments will be released in 2006 to continue your collection of Star Wars Keepsake Ornaments from Hallmark. EDITOR'S NOTE: ONLY FOUR!?

For the first time ever, the animated Star Wars universe is represented by the Clone Wars versions of Asajj Ventress, Anakin Skywalker, and Yoda.

Measuring from 1 1/4" to 2 3/4" high, this set of three minatures will retail for $15 US or $19.99 CDN.

For vehicles this year, a "Magic" (battery-operated) ornament of an Imperial AT-AT and Rebel Snowspeeder from Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back plays sounds of the battle of Hoth when you press the button. $28 US, $39.95 CDN.

Tenth in the series, Hallmark has again sculpted Luke and Yoda, also from Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back. $15 US or $19.99 CDN.

Lastly, from Revenge of the Sith comes the classic duel of Anakin and Obi Wan. EDITOR'S NOTE: DOESN'T THIS ONE LOOK ESPECIALLY GROOVY!?

Another "Magic" ornament that lights up the sabers and plays sounds and dialogue from the movie. $28 US or $39.99 CDN.

It looks like a nice assortment that is sure to please many fans and ornament collectors alike!

July 2006 Comics
Here's a look ahead at what Dark Horse Comics has planned for your Star Wars reading this summer.

Tales of a distant Star Wars future continue in Star Wars: Legacy #2. Over the bodies of their enemies, two Jedi make a pact that will set them on the path to a greater danger than they have ever known . . .

Bounty hunters capture a prisoner whose presence will test their resolve -- and the strength of their alliance . . .

A Sith apprentice is given the honorific "Darth" and sent to hunt a quarry whose capture -- or death -- could shake an empire to its foundations . . .

And a Princess finds herself alone in the galaxy, pursued by those she once counted as allies.

Star Wars: Legacy #2 is by the fan favorite team of John Ostrander, Jan Duursema, Dan Parsons and Brad Anderson, with a cover by Adam Hughes. It is scheduled for release on July 5.

Meanwhile, in the classic trilogy era, Luke Skywalker faces a squad of stormtroopers when he attempts to bring his boyhood friend Imperial officer Janek "Tank" Sunber over to the Rebellion. Was Tank's plan to defect discovered by the Empire before he could get away, or are the troopers a plot to trick the Alliance into letting Sunber into the heart of their operations? It might not even matter, because while Luke is off on his renegade rescue mission, the Rebel Fleet comes under attack -- from inside the command ship!

Star Wars: Rebellion is by Rob Williams, Brandon Badeaux and Wil Glass. It is scheduled for release on July 12.

In the distant past, the wildest adventure in the ancient history of Star Wars gets wilder in a brand-new story arc featuring the most feared warriors in the galaxy -- Mandalorians!

Leaving the treacherous streets of Taris behind them, fugitive Padawan Zayne Carrick and the rag-tag crew of the Last Resort cook up a scheme to pilfer much needed supplies from an unsuspecting bunch of miserly miners. Unfortunately, any attempts at avoiding attention are for naught when the group finds they've landed themselves smack dab in the middle of the Republic and Mandalorian conflict!

Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic #7 is by John Jackson Miller, Dustin Weaver, Michael Atiyeh, and Brian Ching. It is scheduled for release on July 26.


Four more thrilling tales of planets in peril and Jedi in jeopardy! The last days of the Jedi are at hand, but if their Order is to fall, they're going down swinging!

Presenting another round of lightning-paced, action-packed, all-ages Star Wars goodness, all told in the same stripped-down stylization as Cartoon Network's micro-series. Star Wars: Clone Wars Adventures Volume 6 features the works of Haden Blackman, Mike Kennedy, the Fillbach Brothers and Stewart McKenny. It is scheduled for release on August 9.

Star Wars Artist Series: David Rabbitte
The Making of an Artist
When Star Wars illustrator David Rabbitte first laid eyes on a peculiar press kit from 20th Century Fox, he knew his life would be forever influenced by images of bizarre alien creatures and dazzling spaceships.

"I was seven when the first Star Wars film was released," Rabbitte recalls. "I remember my brother came home one day and showed me the booklet that Fox was sending out to generate interest in the movie. I had a look at the photos of the characters inside and was so excited. When the film was finally released, my brother went to see it with his friend, but decided to leave me at home because he figured some of the images would be too scary for me. I was really upset. Thankfully, later my dad took me along with my friend and we went to see it at the drive-in. I'll never forget that day! Interestingly enough, just as one of the most exciting parts came up in the film -- the Falcon's escape from the TIE fighters -- the sound went out! You could hear people yelling to fix it quick!"

After seeing the film, as well as "The Making of Star Wars" televised special, Rabbitte's childhood fascination with a galaxy far, far away was further fed by his appreciation for artist Ralph McQuarrie's pre-production art and Industrial Light & Magic stop-motion creatures.

"Ralph McQuarrie has been a major influence in terms of his character and ship concept art," Rabbitte says. "Growing up I didn't see too many movies with designs that measured up to his work. I also love Joe Johnston's work. His storyboards are fantastic, and helped me understand storyboarding for my own projects. And of course, Phil Tippett's stop-motion creatures really inspired me."

Born in Massachusetts, Rabbitte and his family relocated to his father's homeland of Ireland when he was only eight years old. He remained there during college as he attended Galway R.T.C. (Regional Technical College) for a one-year foundation course in general art. He then went on to do a three-year course at Dun Laoghaire School of Art and Design in Dublin, where he studied illustration, graphic design and animation.

"I was in the same course and in the same art classes as another known Star Wars artist, Kilian Plunkett," Rabbitte says. "We kept in touch on and off over the years, and while he was busy doing comics he knew I wanted to get in on doing Star Wars art someday, so I think he was pretty happy for me when I eventually got to do sketch cards for Topps."

Rabbitte's first officially-licensed project for Lucasfilm revolved around the immensely popular Star Wars Heritage artist sketch card series from Topps.

"I was at San Diego International Comic-Con in 2004 and was aware that sketch cards were becoming a huge hit with fans. So when I saw Topps Editor Matt Saunders sitting at the his booth I approached him and asked if he still needed any more sketch card artists and right away he said yes! After showing some samples of my Star Wars art he asked for my contact information and said he'd be in touch. Within just a few days after Comic-Con was over he emailed me and asked me to send him scans of my work so he could get them approved by Lucasfilm. I got approved pretty quickly and it was finally official -- the cards were sent out to me and I was drawing Star Wars characters...and getting paid for it!" EDITOR'S NOTE: COMIC-CON ROCKS!

Of all the characters, Rabbitte admits he has a few favorites that he doesn't mind drawing over and over again. "I loved drawing Han Solo and Chewie as a kid," Rabbitte says. "I drew them all the time! My current favorite is Anakin because he's so central to the whole Star Wars saga.

And I like drawing him with the dark scowl and his face has a lot of character. I also like drawing the clone troopers and stormtroopers because they have such a great design that never seems to go out of style!"

Rabbitte's work impressed Topps so much that they asked him to continue drawing sketch cards for the Revenge of the Sith series, and later the Lord of the Rings Evolution series.

In addition to his work with Topps, Rabbitte illustrates for roleplaying games such as his Warhammer art for Sabertooth Games, Decipher cards, Fantasy Flight Games and Kenzer and Company. He was also commissioned to illustrate a set of three painted book covers for the X-Men novel trilogy X-Men: The Legacy Quest published by I-Books.

Traditional illustration isn't Rabbitte's only specialty. Fans paying close attention to the end credits for some of their favorite animated films might spot his name as an animator. Starting in 1993, Rabbitte worked as a background artist at Don Bluth's animation studio in Dublin, Ireland on a feature called The Pebble and the Penguin. Later Rabbitte relocated with Bluth and his company to Phoenix, Arizona -- home to 20th Century Fox Animation Studios -- where he did background art and concept art for the films Anastasia, Bartok the Magnificent and Titan A.E.. Most recently, with his new projects at Fat Cat Animation, Rabbitte served as a digital background artist for such features as Fat Albert and Curious George.

Keeping his assignments varied helps Rabbitte stay inspired to try new things, as well as to challenge himself as an artist. "I'm always pushing myself to be better at what I do," Rabbitte says. "It's a never-ending uphill climb but for me it's totally worth it."

Rabbitte's process from beginning to end for an illustration assignment is fairly straightforward.

"Usually before I start anything I do some research and find reference for what I need, especially if there are characters in the picture," Rabbitte explains. "Sometimes I will look for some dynamic poses and interesting angles to work from. If I can't find the exact pose I need I will get someone to model for me. For a poster or book cover, I like to draw the characters separately on different paper then composite them later either in Photoshop or paste them together in the composition I like. Once the characters, background and other elements are put together, I transfer it down onto Illustration board."

"Sometimes I like to add acrylic gesso to the board if I want a bit of a textured look, but mainly for the background; the faces I like to keep clear of that because they require more attention to detail," Rabbitte continues. "I then start to put down the general colors and establish the lighting for the scene, followed by blocking in the colors for the characters. I find it's best to work this way rather than finish off a section of the art and then go onto the next because you're never sure how the whole piece is going to work together. You will get a more general feel for how the final piece is going turn out."

Though the process sounds streamlined, Rabbitte admits that each assignment comes with its own collection of challenges.

"When designing a cover for a book or comic some of the biggest challenges include coming up with an exciting composition that will draw the viewer into the art," Rabbitte says. "You could have an exciting layout but if there is an element in the work that distracts the viewer it could ruin the effect you're going for. Coming up with a color scheme is also a challenge. The color should reflect the mood and idea behind the picture. Usually if you're doing a warm colored painting of, say, oranges and yellows an accent color of blue and purple will complement it pretty well.

Rabbitte also likes to look at the work from other Star Wars illustrators for inspiration and encouragement.

"I really like Brian Ching's work," Rabbitte says. "There's something about how he draws the character's faces and I like how he uses a confident free line rather than the heavy-handed look some artists use. Tsuneo Sanda is another one of my favorite current illustrators. I've made some good friends in this line of work. The thing that stands out for me most is that the Star Wars artists have some of the most diverse personalities. While some want to talk for hours, others can be a little shy. I think on some level, we're all a little weird." EDITOR'S NOTE: NO, REALLY?! (GIGGLE)

Weird or not, the fans are more than happy to discuss Star Wars with Rabbitte and his fellow artists.

"Meeting fans have been great!" Rabbitte says. "Most of them are real nice people who just want to hear what you're working on next. I haven't set up a table at too many conventions so far, so most of the fans I've met are through email. I get a real kick out of people who write and say 'I'm a big fan of your work.' I'm always shocked when people know who I am! One of the times I was set up at a table in a comic book store some guy came up to me and couldn't stop shaking my hand because I worked on Star Wars art!" EDITOR'S NOTE: AND YOU WENT AND GOT YOUR SHOTS UPDATED AFTERWARDS?

When fans greet Rabbitte at conventions, he's always eager to encourage them to pick up a pen and draw their favorite Star Wars characters. With his experience in illustration and animation, Rabbitte has plenty of advice for budding artists.

"If you feel you have something to contribute to the art world, never, never give up trying to get work -- even if it takes years," Rabbitte says. "Try and look objectively at your own work and ask yourself, 'How does this measure up to other published work? Is it as good?' Take other experienced artists' criticism with grace and use their advice to push yourself further. That's not to say every artist's opinion is the right one, but if what they say makes sense to you, as one Sith Lord advised, 'Use my knowledge, I beg you.'"


To read more about Rabbitte's upcoming projects, visit his official site,


The Rebel blockade runner gets slammed hard by Imperial fire in this early storyboard attributed to Alex Tavoularis.

Fett really likes ice cream

The busy production schedule for Empire required the ILM crew to work into the wee hours, as illustrated here by Ken Ralston.

Obi-Wan Kenobi makes one last request to his loyal Clone Commander Cody (Temuera Morrison) moments before Order 66 is executed. EDITOR'S NOTE: TRAITORS! DON'T GET ME STARTED! (NOW I'M ALL VERKLEMPT!)

The battle for Coruscant reaches into the skyline in this stunning painting by Ryan Church.

And we're BACK....Superman pics (for those who care)








And we're BACK....TV Dweebing

Brat Pack's Ringwald to Appear on MEDIUM
Actress Molly Ringwald is coming back to TV for a guest appearance on MEDIUM.

In the episode to air on May 1st, Patricia Arquette's Allison DuBois has visions that lead her to conclude that Ringwald's character is in great danger.

Ringwald last appeared on TV a few years ago. She is best known for appearing in such films as PRETTY IN PINK, THE BREAKFAST CLUB, and SIXTEEN CANDLES.

Jack is Back for 72 More Hours

20th Century Fox has signed a deal with Kiefer Sutherland to keep him on 24 for three more days/seasons. EDITOR'S NOTE: I AM ALMOST TWO DAYS/SEASONS BEHIND. I HAVE THEM ALL ON TAPE. I GUESS I DON'T HAVE TO GET A LIFE AFTER ALL, AND WE ALL KNOW WHAT I WILL BE WATCHING THIS SUMMER.

The deal, reportedly worth $40 million, elevates Sutherland to being the highest paid actor on a drama series. In addition, he'll also become an executive producer on the series.

Per report, "Sutherland and show producers are considering bringing the drama to the big screen. The actor said he and the writers had once thought about cranking out a film version this summer, but the desire for quality control trumped their eagerness."


Crushing news for Gilmore Girls fans!
My good bud Michael Ausiello, over at, has a bit of a news alert for all you “Gilmore Girls” fans. Make sure there’s nothing breakable in your reach, before you read this though, OK?

“If you thought rumors of a Lorelai-Christopher hookup in the season finale were as bad as it could get, you've got another think comin' — and this one's a real heartbreaker. Series creator Amy Sherman-Palladino has opted not to renew her contract and will be leaving at the end of the season — and she's taking husband Dan with her. I wish I were joking.

“The news was delivered to me late yesterday, and I'm still in denial. The most fantabulous dramedy in aeons, if not ever, is headed into what is likely to be its final season — and its first season on a brand-new network — without its mama or her right-hand man. [Sigh] Well, you can bet that when I chat with AS-P herself in a few minutes, I'll get to the bottom of this. And once I know anything, so will you. In the meantime, feel free to panic. I know I am.”

Initially, the plan was for the new CW network to make a double-header out of “Gilmore” and “Veronica Mars”. EDITOR'S NOTE: I JUST HOPE THIS DOESN'T ENDANGER MY ADORED "VERONICA". (A SUPER SHOW!)

Ausiello later said in his weekly column, that : "Relax. Breathe. Read. No decision has been made either way. As I understand it, both sides — Team Palladino and Warner Bros. — are still trying to hash out a deal that would bring them back next fall for a seventh season. But I'd be lying if I told you there weren't some really scary moments yesterday. The situation is extremely fluid, but rest assured the moment I have something definitive to report — no matter what the hour — I will post an update on The Ausiello Report. I am on this story like Emily on the rocks."

Three more 'Flirt'; two 'Drive'

Marco Sanchez, Guy Torry and Marcelle Larice have been added to the CW's comedy pilot "Flirt," while Shahine Ezell and Andres Saenz-Hudson have been cast in Fox's drama pilot "Drive."

Meanwhile, Stephnie Weir has been bumped up to series regular on the ABC comedy pilot "A Day in the Life." "Flirt," from Touchstone TV, stars Wayne Brady as the only man working at a women's magazine.

TBS hookup: 'Boys,' 'Sex'

TBS has found a friend for Carrie Bradshaw.

Turner Broadcasting's comedy-centric cable channel unveiled a companion sitcom for its syndicated acquisition "Sex and the City" scheduled to air in the fourth quarter. The new half-hour, "My Boys," was one of many projects Turner unveiled Tuesday at its upfront presentation at Madison Square Garden in Manhattan.

TBS' drama-oriented sister network TNT had plenty of its own new programming to crow about, including "The Company," a six-hour limited series from executive producer Ridley Scott set for summer 2007. EDITOR'S NOTE: 2007? WHAT ABOUT THIS SUMMER!?

Produced by Sony Pictures Television and Pariah, "Boys" stars Jordana Spiro ("JAG") as a female sportswriter trying to find love despite her tomboy tendencies. Executive producers are Gavin Polone ("Curb Your Enthusiasm"), Jamie Tarses and writer Betsy Thomas ("Run of the House").

Noxon stakes out Touchstone

Former "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" executive producer/showrunner Marti Noxon has signed a two-year overall deal with Touchstone TV.

Under the seven-figure deal, Noxon has joined the studio's drama pilot for ABC "Brothers & Sisters" as an executive producer. She also would serve as showrunner if the drama starring Calista Flockhart and Rachel Griffiths is picked up to series.

Additionally, Noxon will develop her own projects for Touchstone TV

More feature helmers work in TV

Spike Lee, F. Gary Gray, Tim Story, James Mangold, Frank Darabont, Callie Khouri, Barry Sonnenfeld and Adam Shank-man were all furiously shooting or in postproduction during the weekend to get cuts of their latest projects finished and into the studios on time.

But the studios in question were not the film studios they usually work for but rather television studios, and the projects they were completing were not movies but pilots. This year, feature directors turned out in big numbers to helm pilots. In addition to the aforementioned, the list includes Jon Avnet, Joe Carnahan, Peter Berg, Jon Turteltaub, Bruce Beresford, Andy Tennant and Simon West. EDITOR'S NOTE: GOOD NEWS. IF THEY CAN MAKE THE TRANSITION. AND IF THE SCRIPTS ARE ANY GOOD.

And we're BACK....Comics and Movies (cont).


In praise of moving pictures
Once, it was too expensive to turn the lavish fantasies of comic-book writers into movies. Not any more, writes renowned graphic novelist Neil Gaiman.

Neil Gaiman ... filming comics is "an awful lot of fun".
Photo: Marina Oliphant

I CAN STILL remember how excited everyone was, 17 years ago, by the arrival of the Batman film. Frank Miller's story of an ageing Batman coming out of retirement, The Dark Knight Returns, had, along with Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons's Watchmen and Art Spiegelman's Maus, spearheaded the first, abortive, graphic novel explosion, and I believed that a good, serious Batman film was all that was needed to put it over the top, legitimise comics and change the world.

Two decades later, we live in a world in which comics have spawned a generation of blockbusters. This season it's a Marvel v DC face-off, X-Men v Superman, with Spider-Man 3 waiting in the wings for 2007.

Comics and movies have always been a two-way street. Back in the 1940s, Will Eisner's seminal The Spirit took from Orson Welles and the films noir as much as it borrowed from radio or Broadway, and there have been movies made from comics pretty much as long as either medium has existed.

An interviewer asked me whether I thought that the recent success of superhero movies meant that we might see a world in which comics that don't include the capes-and-tights brigade might also have a chance at making it onto the silver screen.

"You mean comics like Road to Perdition, Ghost World, Men in Black, A History of Violence, Sin City, From Hell, American Splendor...?"

I started to suspect that there might be a cultural sea change occurring a few years ago, when The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen was released. EDITOR'S NOTE: MAY IT REST IN PEACE. (AND I'M STILL WAITING FOR THAT REFUND FROM SEAN CONNERY). It was not the first time that a bad film had been made from a good comic, not by a long shot, but it was the first time that the world at large seemed aware of this. Review after review pointed out that the film had none of the wit or brilliance, or even coherence, of the comic it was taken from.

Like many of my co-workers in the world of comics, I'm also involved in making films these days. This is seen, I realise from talking to acquaintances and journalists, as a step up, signalling that I've finally left the gutter. (Still, filmic legitimacy goes only so far: opera seems to be the cultural front-runner, while books, with or without pictures, trail some way behind.)

I like film. I am not very good at writing for film yet, which is what keeps me interested in it. Most of all I like the astonishing process - it's hard to get near a film set without remembering Orson Welles's description of a film studio as "the biggest electric train set any boy could ever have".

There was a time when those of us who made comics would try to explain what advantages comics had over film.

"Comics have an infinite special-effects budget," we'd say.

But we missed the point, now that movies have, for all intents, an infinite special-effects budget. (I was writing a script for Beowulf last year and, worried that a climactic airborne dragon battle was going a little over the top, I called the director, Robert Zemeckis, to warn him. "Don't worry," he said. "There is nothing you could write that will cost me more than a million dollars a minute to film.") EDITOR'S NOTE: NOT THAT A MILLION DOLLARS IS REAL MONEY, OR ANYTHING? (WHIMPER).

Still, the "unlimited special effects" nonsense hides a truth or two. Ink is cheaper than film. Film, especially big-budget film, often needs to compromise in order to be liked by the biggest possible number of people around the world. A comic tends to be a small enough, personal enough medium that a creator can just make art, tell stories, and see if anyone wants to read them. Not having to be liked is enormously liberating. EDITOR'S NOTE: AIN'T IT THOUGH!?

The comic is, joyfully, a bastard medium that has borrowed its vocabulary and ideas from literature, science fiction, poetry, fine art, diaries, film and illustration. It would be nice to think that comics, and those of us who come from a comics background, bring something special to film. An insouciance, perhaps, or a willingness to do our learning and experimenting in public.

That was certainly how it was making MirrorMask, a film released in December which I wrote and which artist and director Dave McKean designed and directed for the Jim Henson Company. As long as we gave Sony something "in the tradition of Labyrinth", Dave could make his film (it's my script, but in service of Dave's story and vision). It didn't have an unlimited special effects budget, or any kind of unlimited budget at all, but Dave still managed to put things on screen that hadn't been seen before - huge stone giants floating in the sky, a librarian made of books and voiced by Stephen Fry, a horde of monkeybirds all called Bob (except for one, called Malcolm).

Whether you're making comics or film, much of what you're doing is done for dollars and for US-based multinational corporations.

Alan Moore, tired of bad films made from good comics he had written, and of the accompanying Hollywood-associated irritants (including a legal suit over The League of Extraordinary Gentleman), recently removed his name from the adaptation of his graphic novel V For Vendetta, dissociated himself from his previous films and, in the kind of definitive grand gesture that indicates that you really mean business, also declined his share of the money that came with them. EDITOR'S NOTE: OK, NOW THAT'S JUST SILLY. FIRST OF ALL, YOU SHOULD TAKE EXTRA MONEY FOR "LEAGUE"...PAIN AND SUFFERING AND SUCH. AND SECONDLY, WHILE THE FILM OF "V FOR VENDETTA" TAKES A SOMEWHAT DIVERSIONARY TRACK FROM ITS ORIGINS, IT'S STILL A VERY GOOD MOVIE, AND HEWS CLOSE ENOUGH TO THE SOURCE TO BE SOMETHING MOORE SHOULD HAVE BEEN ABLE TO STOMACH.

Even knowing that Moore has renounced it, I want to see V For Vendetta. V and I go back almost 25 years, to the first time I picked up a copy of Warrior magazine and saw those wonderful black-and-white, David Lloyd-drawn people staring hopelessly back at me. (I find it hard enough to adjust to a world in which the graphic novel is coloured; a coloured V for Vendetta seems as pointless as colourising Citizen Kane.) Moore's story of one lone anarchist up against a fascist British state meant something important to me and to a handful of other comics readers, when it was first published, and the film trailer, composed primarily of images taken from Warrior covers, hooks into that.

Moore himself is resigned, amused and wryly bitter about the process of turning comics into film.

"Comics are one step in the digestive process of Hollywood eating itself," he told me. "Are there any films made from the comics that are better than the original comics? Hollywood needs material to make into films as part of an economic process. It could be a Broadway play or a book, or a French film or a good TV series from the 1960s that people want to see on the big screen, or a bad TV series from the 1960s that nobody cares about but still has a name, or a computer game or a theme park ride. I expect that the next subject of films will be breakfast-cereal mascots - a film that chronicles how Snap, Crackle and Pop met and explores their relationship. Or the Tony the Tiger movie. EDITOR'S NOTE: OR TONY THE TIGER EATS SNAP, CRACKLE AND POP!

"Films are no friend to comics," he concluded. "I think they actually impoverish the comic landscape. Turning it into a sort of pumpkin patch for movie studios to come picking."


The San Diego comics convention, once a summer gathering of a few thousand comics readers and creators, has in recent years become a Sundance-style event with more than 100,000 people in attendance and where the year's major SF, fantasy and horror movies are announced and previewed.

I confess that I am always relieved when another year passes without anybody making a bad film based on Sandman, the comic on which most of my reputation within the medium rests.

But I remain optimistic. While Frank Miller's film of Sin City isn't as powerful as his comics, it was still his vision up there on the screen in the film he made with Robert Rodriguez, uncompromised by the change from one medium to another.

MirrorMask is Dave McKean's film from first frame to last, visually and musically. Nearly 20 years after the first Batman film, I realise that film doesn't confer legitimacy on comics. But it's still an awful lot of fun.

And we're BACK...Movie Dweebing

STAR TREK: The Beginning? Or The End?

SyFy Portal recently caught up with screenwriter Erik Jendresen who wrote a draft for the STAR TREK feature film tentatively called THE BEGINNING. But with executive changes at Paramount, the project has been abandoned.

Jendresen created "a story that would take place betweent the end of the series and the original adventures. He says the idea was being positioned for a possible trilogy, and would in some large part center around the Romulan Wars from Trek mythology."

He admits that his idea has few champions currently at Paramount and its future is unknown.

Star Trek XI Is Down, But It Is Not Out

EXCLUSIVE: Erik Jendresen shares some of his ideas on the future of the Star Trek franchise(April 12 2006) - The following story contains MODERATE SPOILERS for the proposed "Star Trek: The Beginning" film. EDITOR'S NOTE: EXTREMELY MODERATE, GIVEN HOW UNLIKELY THE FILM IS TO EVER SEE THE LIGHT OF A THEATER.

For the first time in nearly three decades, there is no Star Trek on television, and there isn't some kind of Star Trek film project in the works. Such a rarity might cause unease in the normal person. But for a passionate Star Trek fan? It's like cutting off their arm and beating them with it. EDITOR'S NOTE: I WOULD MAINTAIN....AND GO WITH ME FOR A SEC HERE... THAT THIS DOESN'T CAUSE ANYTHING, NO UNEASE WHATSOEVER IN A NORMAL PERSON. AND EVEN A NORMAL TREK FAN (AND THEY DO EXIST) IS PROBABLY SANGUINE ABOUT IT, WAITING FOR THE TIDE TO TURN AND BETTER ANGELS TO TAKE OVER THE FRANCHISE.


Last year, Erik Jendresen -- the Emmy-winning writer best known for the "Band of Brothers" miniseries on HBO -- was commissioned to write a script that would become the 11th Star Trek motion picture. Instead, even more uncertainty was created of the Star Trek franchise's fate, opening the door for wild rumors, heavy speculation and reports that are just half correct.

Just before delivering his final script to Paramount, Jendresen shared some of his ideas and hopes for what could be a true new beginning of Star Trek with SyFy Portal.

And now that many observers have buried his project, Jendresen is talking again ... not just about where he thinks Star Trek should go, but quite possibly where Star Trek will go in a movie project that isn't as dead as people think. EDITOR'S NOTE: OH. OK. I STAND...WELL, SIT....CORRECTED?

The reception of "The Beginning" was a "classic case of Hollywood regime change," Jendresen told SyFy Portal's Michael Hinman. "A project is greenlighted by one regime, and by the time it's delivered, there's a coup d'etat."

Jendresen is referring to the replacement of Paramount co-president David DeLine with Gail Berman, which was part of the Paramount reshuffling after Brad Grey took over as chairman and chief executive officer of the studio in January 2005. DeLine, Jendresen said, was a supporter of the project and of Jendresen's concept. However, new management usually brings new ideas, and that sometimes makes it more difficult for older ideas, like "The Beginning," to peek its head above water.

It's not necessarily that Gail Berman and company aren't interested in Jendresen's idea. They are just trying to evaluate the future of Paramount's most profitable franchise of the last 40 years, and what the next step could be. Paramount could opt for a whole different approach, or officials there could very well re-explore the movie trilogy concept that has been proposed by Jendresen.

Jendresen said the idea of "The Beginning" came about because there was simply a "huge void" in Star Trek canon between 2164, the perceived end of "Star Trek: Enterprise," and 2233, where the original "Star Trek" series picks up. A lot of things are supposed to happen during that time, including the formation of the United Federation of Planets, and the dreaded Romulan War. EDITOR'S NOTE: HAD PARAMOUNT NOT SPENT THE LAST 40 YEARS...ON AND OFF...SCREWING WITH THE CONTINUITY OF THE TREK FRANCHISE, THIS WOULD ALL SEEM LIKE A MUCH BIGGER GAPING HOLE.

"So the notion was to do a prequel to the original series and fill that void with, ostensibly, a trilogy," Jendresen said. "Three films, which all would deal with Kirk's progenitor, a man by the name of Tiberius Chase."

The goal of the trilogy was to begin to establish reasons "to form the United Federation of Planets, a reason to have this deep-seated desire and mission statement to go boldly where no one has gone before." EDITOR'S NOTE: DOES THIS NEED A BACK-STORY? I MEAN, ISN'T THE URGE TO EXPLORE KIND OF HUMAN NATURE?

So how does one go about doing that? By going for the golden crown -- the Earth-Romulan War.

"We wanted to reveal the actual cause of that war, which was surprising to all involved at the time," Jendresen said without offering details. "We simply wanted to reveal the truth behind that startling incident." EDITOR'S NOTE: WE HEARD THE ROMULANS HAD WMDS? AND THE ROMULANS THOUGHT WE WERE INFIDELS? (SNICKER....)

By the time the script was delivered, DeLine was gone and new personnel were in place. And since the project moved into the inactive status, it was easy for others with connections to Hollywood to declare the project dead, even if it really wasn't, Jendresen said.

"Essentially, what's being said is true," Jendresen said. "This is 'dead' because it's not moving forward. It's like a shark. It has got to keep moving or it's dead."

But Hollywood has a knack of bringing things back from the dead, and that includes Star Trek projects. And Jendresen still believes there is at least a decent chance that "The Beginning" will come to fruition on the big screen.

There is a producer at Paramount who has been championing this and the notion that we have the opportunity to plug the gap with this trilogy." Jendresen said, without providing names. "We have a chance here to fill in the canon, and to create a continuum ostensibly from the beginning from 'Enterprise' all the way out to the future.

"It should also be indicated that the ultimate intention here was to craft a story that would not only completely satisfy the fans, but just as importantly, bring new people into the franchise."

Casting for DARK MATERIALS Begins

In Oxford yesterday, thousands young girls auditioned for a chance to star in the big screen adaptation of HIS DARK MATERIALS by Philip Pullman. EDITOR'S NOTE: FORTUNATELY, THERE WERE STILL A LOT OF GIRLS LEFT IN LINE FROM THE LUNA LOVEGOOD AUDITIONS.

The trilogy's first installment, THE GOLDEN COMPASS, centers a young protagonist named Lyra Belacqua who travels to the Arctic Circle to save a friend with the help of a bear and a witch.

The producers are searching throughout England to find an actress aged 9 to 13 who can embody Lyra's "loyalty, bravery and mischievous nature." EDITOR'S NOTE: THEY SAY 'MISCHIEVOUS', I SAY PIG-HEADED AND IMPETUOUS.

Sutter IN-CRIME for Warner
Warner Bros. Pictures has set Kurt Sutter to direct IN-CRIME.

The story centers on an unorthodox team of police specialists whose mission is to catch major criminals in the act.

Sutter will do a polish on the script before casting begins. Lorenzo di Bonaventura and Antoine Fuqua will produce

Etel, Watson & Chaplin Dip into WATER
Walden Media, Beacon Pictures and Revolution Studios have set Alex Etel, Emily Watson, and Ben Chaplin to star in THE WATER HORSE.

Based on the Dick King Smith novel, the story a lonely boy in Scotland (Etel) who finds a mysterious egg on the shore of a lake. When the egg hatches, what emerges is a "water horse," a mythical sea monster of Scottish legend.

Jay Russell will direct. Filming will begin in May in Scotland and New Zealand.

'King's Men' holding court in September
Sony Pictures has scheduled the release of its delayed drama "All the King's Men" for Sept. 22, the studio said Wednesday.

The Steven Zaillian-helmed film -- which features an Oscar-caliber cast of Sean Penn, Jude Law, Kate Winslet, James Gandolfini, Mark Ruffalo, Patricia Clarkson and Anthony Hopkins EDITOR'S NOTE: WOW. QUITE A CAST! -- originally was slated for a Dec. 16 bow last year amid high hopes for awards-season success. But "King's Men" -- a remake of the 1949 film of the same name, based on Robert Penn Warren's 1946 Pulitzer Prize-winning novel -- was bumped less than two months before its release because the film's editing and music were not finished.

'Dead' team to ride along with 'Fuzz'
The "Shaun of the Dead" team is back, and this time the fuzz has caught up with them.

Rogue Pictures has nabbed North American distribution rights to "Hot Fuzz," a police comedy featuring "Dead" stars Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, director Edgar Wright and producer Nira Park from Working Title Films in association with Big Talk Prods.

The film is tentatively scheduled for release early next year.

Wright and Pegg penned the screenplay for the estimated $12 million film, in which Pegg plays a successful London cop whose jealous co-workers transfer him to a podunk British town and place him with a hapless partner (Frost). The pair stumble upon a series of suspicious accidents.

Krumholtz's number up for Allen pic
David Krumholtz, star of CBS' "Numbers," has signed on to star opposite Michelle Williams in Woody Allen's untitled Paris-set movie. Like most of Allen's movies, story details are being kept under wraps, though it is understood to focus on a trio of young Americans in the City of Lights.

Production begins in the summer. Written and directed by Allen, the movie is being produced by Letty Aronson, Stephen Tenenbaum and Gareth Wiley. Vincent Maraval, Benjamin Waisbren and Daniel Wuhrmann are exec producing. EDITOR'S NOTE: SO KRUMHOLTZ IS THE NEW ALLEN-STANDIN DESIGNATE? (I LIKE HIM, SO THAT'S GOOD NEWS. DOUBLY GOOD THAT ALLEN IS FINALLY NO LONGER PLAYING HIMSELF OPPOSITE THESE YOUNGER ACTRESSES. SHUDDER....)

Ferris Bueller Vs. The Penguin
Good to see Matthew Broderick’s back in the game. Panned or not, “The Producers” film has definitely put him back on the books.

Next cab off the rank for Ferris Bueller is “All Lit Up”, a comedy that’ll team him with another guy we don’t see enough of these days, Danny DeVito. According to Variety, the two will play neighbours who start feuding when one decorates his house so brightly for for Christmas that you can see it from space!

The movie, which starts shooting next month, marks the reunion of “Big Momma's House 2” director John Whitesell and screenwriter Don Rhymer – so expect plenty of highly-intelligent gags. EDITOR'S NOTE: SNORT. RIGHT. HASN'T TIM ALLEN ALREADY MADE THIS MOVIE? (TWICE?)

Mr and Mrs Smith reuniting for Ocean's?
Channel 4 News reports that Brad Pitt’s trying to convince Angelina Jolie to play a role in the forthcoming “Ocean’s Thirteen”, which starts rolling in July.

With Catherine Zeta Jones and Julia Roberts out of the picture, the sequel is in need of a couple of beauties – Ellen Barkin is the only female cast member onboard at this point, not that these flicks haven’t always been about ‘the boys’ anyway.

Paul Giamatti in horror sequel?
According to Bloody Disgusting, the “Cinderella Man” and "Sideways" star is rumoured to have signed onto the sequel to B-horror fave “Bubba Ho Tep”.

The film will again star genre-king Bruce Campbell, reprising his role of an aged Elvis Presley who passes time fighting monsters.

In “Bubba Nosferatu: Curse of the She-Vampires”, Elvis is shooting a film in Louisiana where he runs afoul of a coven of she-vampires. Giamatti will play the fantastically named Colonial Parker.

Don Coscarelli again writes and directs.

X marks the spin-off
Apparently the “Wolverine” and “Magneto” spin-off films – sorry, of “X-Men”, that is, for the uninitiated – aren’t the only two spawns of the FOX franchise in the works. “X-Men 2” writer Zak Penn tells Superhero Hype that he’s at work on a third spin-off film, but fails to mention what the heck it is.

"Actually, I am contracted to write and direct one of the spin-offs," he told the site. "One of the things about Hollywood is that it doesn't mean it's necessarily going to happen, but part of my deal was that I would get to direct one of the spin-offs. It's not going to be 'Wolverine' or the 'Magneto' one that they've announced. It's going to be one that I'm theoretically supposed to write. I just have to find the time to write it."

Penn says he won’t have much choice in choosing which characters are in his spin-off because “It's all about actor availabilities and about Marvel and everyone else”.

He did say, however, that the goal would be to use some of the pre-existing characters, from the other films, for the spin-off – whether that be Storm, Juggernaut, Rogue, Colossus and so on – but it would depend on which actors were available to do it. At the same time, he would also like to introduce some other of the other characters from the “X-Men” comics, who have yet to have had a movie outing.

David Dobkin R.I.P.D.
Universal Pictures has signed David Dobkin to direct the big screen adaptation of Dark Horse's comic book, R.I.P.D..

The comic book, written Peter M. Lenkov, centers on the Rest in Peace Department, the dedicated yet dead police officers who patrol the dead beat, made up of the deceased who refuse to go quietly. The story focuses on a cop who joins the department after being murdered and his search for the man who set him up as he does his duty fighting fiendish creatures. EDITOR'S NOTE: I SWEAR THE UN-DEAD POPULATION IN COMICS-LAND IS MUCH BIGGER THAN THE LIVING ONE.

Neal H. Moritz and Mike Richardson will produce.

COLD FEAR Headed for the Big Screen
Avatar Films and Sekretagent Productions recently optioned the film rights to Darkworks' video game COLD FEAR.

Released in March 2005 by Ubisoft, players step into the role of Tom Hansen, a U.S. Coast Guardsman who is sent to board a drifting Russian whaling ship in the middle of a howling storm on the Bering Sea. He arrives only to discover that terrifying surprises await him on the bloodstained decks of the constantly rocking, shifting vessel. Set in a volatile, dynamic environment, the game will have players overwhelmed by fear as they engage in intense combat with intelligent enemies. EDITOR'S NOTE: AND I'M SURE THE MOVIE WILL BE EVERY BIT AS 'INTELLIGENT'.

Mo Ramchandani, Jorg Ihle, Corey May and Dooma Wendschuh will produce.

Segal Says 'SHAZAM!'
New Line Cinema has signed Peter Segal to direct the big screen adaptation of DC Comics' SHAZAM!

The story centers on Billy Batson, who becomes the superhero known as Captain Marvel when he utters the magic word "Shazam!" EDITOR'S NOTE: DOESN'T THE ANDY GRIFFITH SHOW OR JIM NABORS OWN THE RIGHTS TO THIS PHRASE? The name is an acronym for six gods and heroes of the ancient world as well as their attributes: the wisdom of Solomon, the strength of Hercules, the stamina of Aries, the power of Zeus, the courage of Achilles and the speed of Mercury. EDITOR'S NOTE: RIIIIIIIIIIGHT...... (WONDER HOW LONG IT TOOK THEM TO COME UP WITH THAT AFTER SOME WAG IN THE COFFEE ROOM FIRST THOUGHT UP THE WORD AND THOUGHT IT WAS COOL?)

Peter Segal and Michael Ewing will produce. William Goldman and Bryan Goluboff have both worked on the script.

Germany's Stallion is WICKED
Germany's Stallion Film will take the Japanese manga WICKED CITY by Hideyuki Kikuchi and turn it into a live-action film. Mark Dippe will direct and co-produce the $50 million, Engish-language project.

The science-fiction story centers on beasts from a parallel dimension and a secret resistance organization trying to prevent the apocalypse. Mark Dippe and Johnny Hartmann are writing the script.

Kikuchi's manga was adapted as anime, YOJU TOSHI, by Yoshiaki Kawajiri in 1987.

And we're BACK....Harry Harry Harry (Potter)

Potter portrait goes on show
HARRY Potter star Daniel Radcliffe has become the youngest person other than members of the British royal family to have an individual picture at Britain National Portrait Gallery.

Stuart Pearson Wright's likeness of Radcliffe, 16, is one of an exhibition of more than 40 new works opening at the famous central London gallery.

The artist, who has previously painted the schoolboy wizard's creator Joanne JK Rowling, captured Radcliffe, wearing jeans and a T-shirt and looking thoughtful in an armchair in his studio, two years ago.


"It's very weird. It's fantastic. It's a very, very strange feeling," the young actor said of the portrait.

"It's a great honour to be in there among such amazing actors and actresses."

Radcliffe, who is currently shooting Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, the fifth film based on the best-selling books, posed three or four times for the artist over the course of about 14 to 15 hours.

"It was probably quite hard for me to keep still," he said, but deferred to Wright's superior skills: "In terms of painting, drawing and sketching I'm utterly talentless."

The Radcliffe portrait will go on display alongside nine others Wright has made of actors, including Alan Rickman and Timothy Spall - Potions teacher Severus Snape and Peter Pettigrew in the Harry Potter movies.

Wright won the BP Portrait Award in 2001, and two years later painted a controversial portrait of Queen Elizabeth II's husband Prince Philip naked from the waist up.

Gallery director Sandy Nairne said: "Stuart Pearson Wright's drawings are wonderfully-wrought studies in figure and character - the gallery is very pleased to have been able to acquire a fascinating group of subjects."

The house that Harry built
Once, Bloomsbury was a small, well-respected, independent publisher. Now, thanks to JK Rowling's phenomenal success, it has more money than it knows how to spend. But are the Potter millions distorting the British book trade? And does the publisher risk losing its soul?
Matt Seaton reports

The following correction was printed in the Guardian's Corrections and clarifications column, Wednesday April 12 2006.

In the article below Jonny Geller of literary agents Curtis Brown was misquoted when we had him saying, "The Bloomsbury culture used to be all about growing authors." He said that they "are" a publisher famous for this.

Bloomsbury is on a roll. A fortnight ago, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince won Book of the Year at the annual "Nibbies" awards - probably the biggest publishing award of the year. EDITOR'S NOTE: UMM...THEIR BIGGEST BOOK AWARD OF THE YEAR IS CALLED 'THE NIBBIES'? OK. Then, last week, the company posted another spectacular set of financial results when it released its accounts for 2005. Turnover up 30% to £109m; pre-tax profit up 24% to £20m. This in a business where a 10% rate of return is considered very healthy.

The two events are, of course, not unrelated. Bloomsbury Publishing plc's extraordinary growth over the past decade is due in large part to the magical performance of the Potter series. Every publisher needs a big hit now and again, but the scale of Harry Potter's success is without precedent: when Bloomsbury founding editor Liz Calder calls it "the greatest phenomenon in publishing history", most commentators would agree that she is simply stating fact. Exactly how much of the Bloomsbury bonanza is down to the boy wizard is hard to unpick from the published accounts, but, at £69m, the children's division was responsible last year for almost two-thirds of the firm's turnover. Even on a conservative estimate, according to one industry analyst, half of Bloomsbury's business is Harry Potter.

It has made Bloomsbury not just the most successful independent publisher in Britain by far, but also one of the most cash-rich companies in the entire industry, with a reserve to draw on of over £50m. And draw on it it has.

Bloomsbury is on a spree. Last week it was reported that it had acquired a political memoir by David Blunkett for £400,000. Then there's the multi-book deal recently concluded with novelist William Boyd for £500,000. New books by Richard Ford, Germaine Greer and Charlotte Rampling have been snapped up. But these are small potatoes next to the huge contracts lately issued to cookery writer Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall and travel writer and historian William Dalrymple - each worth £1.9m.

Lavishly illustrated recipe books are a new line for Bloomsbury, but apart from Fearnley-Whittingstall, all the above authors fit squarely into the firm's traditional formula of mixing crossover literary-commercial fiction with popular non-fiction - even if the sums being shelled out are pretty spectacular.

But the acquisition that has really raised eyebrows is the cool £1m that Bloomsbury has paid former Take That star Gary Barlow for his autobiography. With so much cash on offer, senior editors at rival publishers are grumbling about being continually gazumped. EDITOR'S NOTE: OOOO...I LOVE THE BRITISH, DON'T YOU?! GAZUMPED, INDEED! It's almost as if Bloomsbury has become the Chelsea FC of the book world, with JK Rowling in place of Roman Abramovich. Perhaps not Chelsea exactly - Bloomsbury still looks small next to the multinational conglomerates - but its spending power is out of proportion. Some would say it is distorting the market in much the same way as Abramovich's millions.

If this is the charge, then the Gary Barlow book is exhibit A.

According to a reliable source, the next nearest bid - in the sealed-bid blind auction - was £350,000. In other words, Bloomsbury bid nearly treble the next best offer. So the next question is: have they misjudged Barlow's currency?

"I can't see it working," says an executive at Penguin. "If they've paid £1m for a celebrity who was famous 15 years ago, they're going to take a bath." EDITOR'S NOTE: OF COURSE, FOR A LITTLE WHILE, THEY CAN AFFORD TO PLAY WITH MONEY, RIGHT?

From another publisher, this could be just sour grapes. But others find it baffling too. "There have been some strange recent purchases," says Jonny Geller, of literary agents Curtis Brown. "Their strategy seems to be to build up a commercial line that is overtly celebrity-driven." EDITOR'S NOTE: THEN AGAIN, HOW MANY WOULD HAVE SAID HARRY POTTER WAS A GOOD GAMBLE LO THOSE MANY YEARS AGO? ISN'T IT MAINLY A CRAP-SHOOT, THE PUBLISHING BIZ?

The Bloomsbury response is self-assured. "We have made a number of big purchases in the last six months; some very attractive titles came on the market," says Bloomsbury's chairman, Nigel Newton, in the measured, carefully self-censoring way of a man now more accustomed to meeting institutional shareholders in the City than lunching authors in Soho. "We're in a position to do so."

It is certainly a far cry from 1986, when the company set up shop, with a modest chunk of venture capital and no photocopying machine, in an office above a Chinese restaurant in Putney.

Calder, now 68 and no longer full-time, has always been the guiding light of Bloomsbury's identity as a publisher. Her taste and sensibility, which tend towards the literary high end but combine with a knack for finding the enduring "good reads", still inform the list: Margaret Atwood, Michael Ondaatje, Joanna Trollope and John Irving are a few of her cherished authors. As a champion of writers who has made her mark in an industry once dominated by male editors and gentleman publishers, she commands enormous respect and affection. And Bloomsbury continues to trade on that goodwill, seen as the underdog keeping the spirit of quality, independent publishing alive.

But, 20 years on, the game appears to be changing; the new strategy looks like "big names, big money". But both Calder and surviving co-founder Newton - the other two originators having since retired - are at pains to point out that this is business as usual for Britain's biggest independent.

"All it is," says Calder, "is extending the areas we've always been involved in. The mix has always been part of the list. Its character has not changed." Calder and Newton both point to the recent success of Sheila Hancock's book about her life with John Thaw, The Two of Us, which has sold nearly 1m copies in all editions (hardback and paperback).

But many see the Barlow book, in particular, as a sign of something new and different: Bloomsbury using its cash to muscle in on the mass-market territory of supermarket retailing. To be a player there, you have to have the blockbusters - but does Bloomsbury thereby risk losing its soul?

"The Bloomsbury culture used to be all about growing authors. Now they're acting more like a big publisher - and perhaps overpaying," says Geller. "The challenge is not losing their identity. They have to preserve the values of their brand."

And it is a strong brand - Calder has, according to Publishing News editor Liz Thomson, "impeccable taste". And, now under the direction of editor Alexandra Pringle, Bloomsbury's fiction list is and will continue to be "the heart and soul of the company", in Calder's words. But perhaps the romantic perception of Bloomsbury - that it is some hallowed, uncommercial guardian of English literary culture - is more wishful than real. According to Joanna Briscoe, a recent Bloomsbury author with her last novel, Sleep With Me, it is wrong to pigeonhole Bloomsbury in this way.

"Everyone thinks they're this high-end literary publisher, but they make a lot of money not through Harry Potter," she says. "They do a wonderful job of applying a commercial touch to a thumping great literary novel like Jonathan Strange - and did incredibly well."

Susanna Clark's debut novel repaid its heavy promotion, especially in the US, where it reached number three in the New York Times bestsellers chart. And it is true that, Harry Potter apart, Bloomsbury does have an impressive track record of turning literary novels into crossover hits - going back to Donna Tartt's The Little Friend and, further still, to David Guterson's Snow Falling on Cedars.

It is true, too, that Bloomsbury has always published unabashedly money-making non- fiction.

Its very first list, says Calder, included a Marilyn Monroe photobook. And (though some at Bloomsbury might prefer to) who could forget Anna Pasternak's portrait of James Hewitt? But the new investment in mass-market non- fiction is on a far larger, more systematic scale.

"At a time when every big publisher has been cutting their lists by about 20% a year for the last three years, reducing the overall number of titles to concentrate resources on fewer, Bloomsbury has been growing its list aggressively," says Joel Rickett, deputy editor of the Bookseller. "It's moving in the opposite direction."

So why is Bloomsbury being so bullish? The answer is - odd as it may seem for a publisher with the Midas touch - that it has little choice: it cannot afford to stand still.

Bloomsbury's spectacular trading performance, built on the Harry Potter phenomenon, has been an incredible success story for shareholders, but it has also saddled the company with expectations of spectacular year-on-year growth. Yes, Bloomsbury is independent, in the sense that - unlike the giant publishing conglomerates that now dominate the scene - it is not part of some huge multinational corporation. But, being a plc and quoted on the stock exhange, Bloomsbury must answer to its shareholders. And that creates a fascinating and challenging conundrum for the company.

The fact that Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, the latest and sixth in the series, is also the penultimate cannot have escaped the attention of Bloomsbury's shareholders. Newton talks about sustaining the franchise with "launches" of Harry Potter products (audiobooks, cloth-bound boxed sets, and so on) until 2011, but the truth is that after the final volume of JK Rowling's series appears, probably in 2007 and then in paperback in 2008, EDITOR'S NOTE: NEW GOSSIP HAS THESE DATES EACH POSSIBLY PUSHED BACK A YEAR, WITH THE LAST HARD-BACK NOT TILL 2008. (JUST GOSSIP, SO FAR). the company has just three more years of mega-bucks revenues. Of course, Harry Potter will be a fantastic backlist asset, still worth millions of pounds a year, but the £100m-plus turnover figures and double-digit profits are going to have to come from elsewhere.

"They are actively planning for the post-Harry future," says Rickett, "because they're under pressure to bolster their non-Harry Potter list: they've decided they have to increase their scale in trade publishing."

One way to increase scale quickly is simply to buy other publishing houses - agglomeration. That is the route many have followed over the years (take Hachette's recent rolling together of Orion, TimeWarner Books and Hodder Headline) - but with the result that, actually, there's not much left to buy. So the only alternative is to take a course of steroids and get bigger yourself. Hence the recent announcement of a £15m investment in a new "music, film, TV and sport" list (Newton doesn't like it when I refer to it by way of shorthand as the entertainment list). A couple of editors from Bloomsbury's bigger rivals have been headhunted to build the new list, notably Richard Atkinson from Hodder, who has not even started at Bloomsbury yet but has already secured the Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall deal, and Michael Fishwick, a legendary non-fiction editor who published both John Major and Margaret Thatcher in his time at HarperCollins. Clearly, they are saddled with delivering the big-name projects that will boost turnover to the levels City investors will want to see. But even with its new expertise, does it have the know-how to make these work?

There is still much in its favour. While Bloomsbury, as an independent, is a long way short of the scale of the big four multinational conglomerates that dominate UK bookselling - Random House, Hachette, Penguin and HarperCollins - it punches way above its weight. Globally, it is still dwarfed by a company like HarperCollins (itself merely part of a much larger media empire - Rupert Murdoch's) which makes £120m profit in the US alone. But Bloomsbury, as owner of the Harry Potter brand, is considered so valuable that analysts estimate it could command a price three times its annual revenue. It has also stayed small and kept overheads modest - unlike the big four, with their gigantic corporate headquarters and staff of hundreds, Bloomsbury has stayed in its Soho Square Georgian townhouse. "It's very much a team effort; everyone is involved," says Calder. "We are less hierarchical and bureaucratic than the conglomerates."

And this shows, according to Joanna Briscoe, in the experience they can offer to authors. "Even though they're quite large, they've still got a family feel - there's a personal touch. You don't get the feeling of being part of a corporation."

Then there is Bloomsbury's awesome buying power. There is no rival publisher who is not envious of Bloomsbury's £53m war chest. "We're very much aware of how much money they have," says an editor at Penguin, through gritted teeth. "We, and others, have been losing out in some big auctions recently."

With huge advances being paid, though, it is no wonder authors' agents speak more kindly of Bloomsbury. "They use the freedom of being an independent very well," says literary agent David Godwin. "They can make very swift decisions, and publish more creatively - they don't have the bureaucracy of the big multi-nationals, and, unlike them, Bloomsbury has editorial people at the heart of the business."

Multinational it isn't, but Bloomsbury has turned itself into an international player in the past five years. It has invested heavily in two big acquisitions - Berlin Verlag in Germany and Walker Books in the US - giving it real presence and a platform in the two most important markets outside the UK. Newton's ambition, he says, is to be where he is in the UK - in the top five in both countries. That means a lot of hiring and buying and risk in a business where very big corporations are already battling for share in a tight market. Some observers are sceptical.

"They're not known for doing the sort of books that make massive autumn leads," comments an editor at Penguin. "It remains to be seen whether they can pull it off." EDITOR'S NOTE: BITTER?

"It's always a challenge - there's always a mountain to climb," says Calder. "But one of the prime requirements for a publisher is optimism, and I believe Bloomsbury's future is bright."

But in the soon-to-be post Harry Potter future, an occasional hit like Hancock's The Two of Us won't do. The plan has to be to supply the trade with a steady stream of "bankers" every season - books like Jamie Oliver's Italy, John Peel and Sheila Ravenscroft's Margrave of the Marshes and Sharon Osbourne's Extreme (published by Penguin, Transworld and TimeWarner respectively). These big "leads" may be more predictable in the sense that they usually sell, but the problem is that they cost such vast sums to buy in the first place and even more to promote - precisely because they're a rare commodity.

"Scale is driven by retail," explains Joel Rickett. "To get books into Tesco's, you need a regular supply of blockbusters to have a relationship with the mass-market buyers."

Will Bloomsbury succeed? Newton is not contemplating failure. I ask if the prospect of shareholders breathing down his neck ever makes him nervous: "Not remotely. It's what makes the job exciting. I'm enjoying every minute of it ... Shareholders are receiving high levels of growth from us. And they will go on getting it." EDITOR'S NOTE: MAYBE THEY SHOULD TEACH THE SHAREHOLDERS NOT TO BE SO GREEDY. BOOK PUBLISHING IS NOTORIOUSLY FLUKEY, AND SURELY EVEN THE GREEDIEST OF STOCKHOLDERS DOESN'T EXPECT EVERY BOOK TO BE HARRY POTTER. (THAT'S BEYOND GREED; THAT'S JUST STUPID).

He does not acknowledge the scenario that, in a few years' time, investors might decide that they've had Bloomsbury's best years and take their funds elsewhere. Or that, with slowing growth, shareholders might begin to look with interest at a takeover offer. Either scenario is, in Rickett's view, "a clear and present danger".

But perhaps there is one trump card Bloomsbury still holds in its hand: its relationship with its most famous author. The Harry Potter series may be coming to an end, but does anyone seriously believe the seventh volume will be the last book Rowling ever writes? Given the success she has shared with Bloomsbury, it seems unlikely she would move - and as the Penguin editor observes, "No one can afford her in the way that Bloomsbury can afford her."

What will Bloomsbury do next? It might all depend on what JK Rowling does next. EDITOR'S NOTE: I CAN'T WAIT TO SEE WHAT SHE DOES NEXT!

Beyond Potter: Bloomsbury's other hits
Louis Sachar(2000)
The children's list may be dominated by a certain Master Potter, but Bloomsbury has had other successes with children's books. Holes, set in a detention centre for juveniles, has sold over a million copies, found a place in the BBC Big Read's top 100, and was made into a well-received movie.

The Blind Assassin
Margaret Atwood(2000)
The story of Iris, an octogenarian looking back on her life, and Laura, an author of pulpy romances, it won the 2000 Booker prize - which had to happen, eventually. Atwood had been nominated three times before, for The Handmaid's Tale, Cat's Eye, and Alias Grace.

The Two of Us
Sheila Hancock(2004)
Bloomsbury won this in a major auction, and, coming just after Pamela Stephenson's book about Billy Connolly, The Two of Us helped give birth to a new genre of wives writing about their husbands. Along with Susanna Clarke's Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell, it contributed to a 64% rise in sales in the adult division in 2004 - and has also attained the status of most-borrowed library book about the performing arts.

The Kite Runner
Khaled Hosseini(2003)
A first novel that Bloomsbury likes to see as an example of its commitment to new writers. The story of an orphan growing up in pre- Soviet Afghanistan, it has been a massive word-of-mouth and reading-group success.

Schott's Original Miscellany
Ben Schott(2002)
An idiosyncratic phenomenon, which Schott initially self-published in 2002, making only 50 copies. A friend persuaded him to send it to a publisher - and Nigel Newton picked it up. It was an instant Christmas bestseller, and an obvious candidate for spinoffs. The three volumes of Miscellanies have sold more than 2m copies worldwide.

And we're BACK....Disney Dweebing



Dis prepping CG 'Clubhouse' for May 5 bow
Disney Channel said Wednesday that it is premiering the new CG-animated series "Mickey Mouse Clubhouse," the first Mickey Mouse series created specifically for preschoolers, on May 5 in a same-day global launch that will see the series debut on 22 Disney Channels and five Playhouse Disney channels across North America, Latin America, Asia-Pacific, Europe, Middle East, Africa and Japan, reaching more than 100 countries. EDITOR'S NOTE: NOW THE TRICK WILL BE TO FIGURE OUT HOW TO BRAIN-WASH THE KIDDIES IN-UTERO!

Space Ride at Disney World Reopens After Death
An amusement ride that simulates a trip into space reopened today at Disney World near Orlando, Fla., a day after the death of a 49-year-old woman who had become sick after taking the four-minute ride.

The woman, a tourist from Germany, died Wednesday . She had been hospitalized Tuesday after she rode on the mock spaceflight and became dizzy and nauseated, Disney officials said.
She was identified by the Orange County medical examiner's office as Hiltrud Bleumel of Schmitten, Germany.

The woman was the second person to die in a year after riding on the Mission: Space ride, which is in the Epcot section of the park.

A statement today by a representative of the park said Disney engineers, monitored by state regulators, "completed a thorough inspection of the attraction overnight and found it to be operating properly."EDITOR'S NOTE: AND BY 'OPERATING PROPERLY' DO THEY MEAN POTENTIALLY LETHAL?

It was not known whether the woman had some underlying medical condition that was aggravated by the operation of the ride, which spins passengers at twice the force of gravity. An autopsy is scheduled for Friday, the medical examiner's office said.

Disney said in a statement that the family had not authorized the company to release any further information.

Last June, a 4-year-old boy collapsed while on the ride with his mother and sister. A subsequent autopsy showed that he suffered from a rare, undiagnosed heart condition.

The ride is so rigorous that airline-type motion sickness bags are made available to riders, some of whom complain of dizziness and nausea after it is over. A warning sign is posted outside the ride.

Rob Jacobs, director of the Florida Bureau of Fairs and Rides, which monitors rides at Disney World, said he has felt sick after riding Mission: Space, which opened in August 2003.

"It is simulating liftoff, so it just depends on your intestinal fortitude and how you can stand up to these things," Mr. Jacobs said. "It's a G force issue."EDITOR'S NOTE: I ONCE THREW UP ON A FERRIS WHEEL. FORGET 'G FORCE'...IT'S AN INNER-EAR ISSUE.

The Orlando Sentinel said today that a review of ambulance records showed that of 8.6 million people who took the ride before the death of the boy in June, 143 sought medical attention.

To Open China's Market, Disney Faces Long March
The company has to overcome Beijing's tight controls on foreign media to sell its stories. Analysts say it needs a TV channel there.
By Don LeeTimes Staff Writer
April 8, 2006
In little more than a year on the job, Stanley Cheung, Disney's chief in China, can lay claim to this: "The Lion King" is coming to Shanghai this summer.

Cheung, 47, considered bringing the Broadway musical here such a feat that he made the announcement recently to 400 guests in Shanghai's Grand Theater in People's Square, heralding what would be one of his company's biggest productions in China since "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs" played here nearly 70 years ago.

It took almost his entire tenure to work out details with government officials, illustrating the resolve Cheung and Walt Disney Co. must have as they try to crack China's booming but untapped market.

"We have got to get our stories out," says Cheung, a Hong Kong native who previously managed the Chinese operations of Johnson & Johnson and Pillsbury Co. He and his staff of 100 in Shanghai have to sell Disney's characters without the benefit of a Disney Channel, something that the company has in India, its other key emerging market. EDITOR'S NOTE: SO MANY CUTE KIDS, SO LITTLE ABILITY TO LURE THEM IN. DRAT IT ALL!

Beijing has placed tight controls on foreign media, preventing Disney from airing its programs frequently to the 340 million households with television sets. Cheung wouldn't discuss Disney's financial goals for China or provide a timetable for reaching certain targets.

Disney Chief Executive Robert Iger has repeatedly spoken about China as a top priority but seemed acutely aware of the challenges."The near-term issues are great," Iger said of China in an analysts' meeting this year, "and they are not for the faint of heart."

Some analysts doubt that Disney can conquer the Chinese market without a dedicated channel for its programs.

"Disney has a business model predicated on the widest possible exposure of its media properties to drive attendance at its theme parks and purchases of home video and licensed products," said David Wolf, managing director of Wolf Group Asia, a Beijing-based media consultant. "Without broad, consistent local distribution of its films and TV shows in China, their model won't work."

Cheung hopes "The Lion King" will help raise the entertainment giant's profile with Chinese adults, many of whom identify Disney with Mickey Mouse and not much more. Reaching grown-ups is seen as crucial to breaking through cultural barriers and boosting spending on Disney goods by Chinese families.

Disney is counting on its global businesses to contribute a bigger share of profit in the coming years, and few places have as much potential as China, home to almost 300 million children under age 15.

Disney recently completed its first co-produced film in China, "The Secret of the Magic Gourd," a Chinese fable about a magical fruit that bestows special powers on a young boy. The Chinese-language movie is expected to be released nationwide this year.

Cheung's team has also revamped Disney's Chinese website and teamed with local companies to make and sell Disney-branded cellphones in the Middle Kingdom, the world's largest mobile phone market with more than 400 million users. In addition, Disney expects to add 2,200 retail stores in China this year, almost as many as it has now.

Disney's push comes as other foreign companies are chasing China's growing consumer market for toys and entertainment. Warner Bros. said recently that it planned to open about 200 stores in China over the coming years to cash in on its characters such as Bugs Bunny.

If its current operations in China are any guide, Disney won't be shooting off fireworks to celebrate its investments here anytime soon. Disney's single biggest project in China has been in Hong Kong, where it paid $314 million for a 43% stake in Hong Kong Disneyland. (The remainder is owned by the government of Hong Kong, which spent $2.9 billion for the park and surrounding infrastructure.)

The park opened in September but has had a lackluster start and a few problems that have hurt its image in China. During the weeklong Chinese New Year holiday in late January, angry customers climbed up the park gates after thousands of ticket-holders, including many from the mainland, were denied entry because of a discount promotion that backfired. EDITOR'S NOTE: HOW DO YOU SAY 'OOPS' IN CHINESE?

Hong Kong Disneyland announced recently that it would add three attractions, including Autopia, to the current modest lineup of 21 rides and attractions. Regular admission for a family of three costs more than $120, a hefty sum for mainland Chinese.

"Hong Kong government spent a lot of money to build the world's most famous theme park [brand], but I would say its benefit is far below the actual expectation," said Michael Li, executive director of the Federation of Hong Kong Hotel Owners. He said there was little evidence that Hong Kong Disneyland had boosted the city's hotel occupancy. On the theme park's 100th day in operation, Disney declared that it had welcomed 1 million visitors, or 10,000 a day. Disney previously projected annual attendance of 5.6 million, about 15,300 a day.

Cheung doesn't oversee Hong Kong Disneyland, which has separate management. But he knows the success of that park as well as Disney's other ventures in China are elements in a marketing strategy that relies on developing brand loyalty based on its characters and stories. That's why Cheung is gleeful about "The Lion King," which is expected to have 100 showings.

Cheung, who has a master's degree in business administration from Indiana University, has made no secret that Disney has been negotiating to build a theme park in Shanghai. Speculation intensified recently after Shanghai Mayor Han Zheng told reporters in Beijing last month that the city was making "preliminary preparations" for a Disney park. Disney executives, though, said there was nothing to announce, reiterating that a second park in China would not be opened before 2010.

Shanghai is eager to have an international attraction for its World Expo in 2010, but Disney has hinted that it wants a Disney Channel first.

So far, Cheung and Iger have had no luck in persuading Beijing to approve a 2003 application for a broadcast license.

Last year, Chinese leaders clamped down on foreigners' participation in China's burgeoning media industry, saying they want to preserve China's "cultural security."

"The channel Disney wants will just be impossible, and I expect that in the next several years there is not much possibility," said Yin Hong, director of film and television studies at Tsinghua University in Beijing.

Even working with the Communist Youth League has proved to be a challenge. Disney enlisted the youth arm of the Communist Party to boost the company's Dragon Club, named after a 30-minute Disney cartoon shown on Chinese TV, but they have held few programs together.

Disney's success in China also will hinge on its battle against rampant piracy of Disney videos, clothes and toys.

Cheung has turned to large retailers such as Carrefour, Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and some domestic chains to distribute authentic DVDs of its movies and shows. Many of Disney's products now come with a hologram tag, and this summer the company plans a nationwide promotion rewarding repeat buyers of licensed goods.

"The holograms are incredibly difficult to copy," said Ken Chaplin, who heads Disney's consumer products in emerging markets. Then again, he said, "
I'm hesitant to say anything's impossible in China."