Zenith by Grant Morrison and Steve Yeowell is Back!

zenith 1 Zenith by Grant Morrison and Steve Yeowell is Back!
Once more, I’ve dragged myself away from my usual obsessive witterings about Marvelman to write about another, different, long-lost British superhero. Right now, as you’re reading this, the Internet is about to explode/has already exploded with the news that Grant Morrison and Steve Yeowell’s Zenith is finally being reprinted by British publishing company Rebellion.

Zenith was co-created by Grant Morrison and artist Steve Yeowell for UK comic 2000 AD in late 1987, and ran there over four story arcs, or ‘phases,’ for the next five years, on and off. Titan Books, who regularly published collections of various strips from 2000 AD, published five collections of Zenith between 1988 and 1990, although this only covered the story to the end of Phase Three. These have never been reprinted. Until now, that is.

Today, at noon in the UK, Rebellion have announced that, on the 1st of December 2013, they will be publishing THE COMPLETE ZENITH, in a 480-page limited edition hardcover, for £100 (which is about 150 of your puny Earth Dollars), with the book containing all four ‘phases,’ as well as later stories by Morrison and Mark Millar. And, to make it all just that bit more exciting, this ‘never-to-be-repeated format’ is limited to 1000, and will only be available for pre-order through the 2000 AD online shop. Wait, though! Don’t go clicking that now, as you can’t pre-order it until the 1st of July.

IMG 1937 Zenith by Grant Morrison and Steve Yeowell is Back!
And if you’re not sure why this is such a big deal, go read this piece that the lovely Ms McDonald and I put together at the beginning of this month, after Rebellion staff were spotted wearing Zenith t-shirts at C2E2, and then meet the rest of us back here. Botom line: the ownership of Zenith is in dispute, with Morrison claiming that he and Yeowell own it due to no signed contracts existing.

The thing is, while it’s always great to see something as important as Zenith back in print after far too long, there are some unanswered questions about the property. The Press Release says that ‘both Grant Morrison and Steve Yeowell have been informed of the exciting plans for The Complete Zenith’, which in itself is as odd and convoluted a bit of phrasing as I’ve ever seen. I did ask Michael Molcher, Rebellion’s PR Coordinator, what Grant Morrison’s position was on this, and he told me that ‘We have informed Grant of our intention to republish, but we maintain that we own the rights to reprinting the series.’ Which does not appear to be indicative of lovehearts and roses all ‘round, I have to say.

So, I did what any sane person would do, which was to ask someone who knows more about it than I do. Laura Sneddon is, amongst other things, a regular writer here on The Beat and elsewhere, a good friend of mine, and both a fan and friend of Grant Morrison. This is what she said when I asked her about this:

The news that Rebellion is to reprint Zenith is, on the surface, fantastic news for not only Grant Morrison fans but also comic fans in general. Aside from Marvel/Miracleman, Zenith is one of the largest gaps on many a comics shelf after a rights dispute between Morrison and publisher put paid to the collected editions being republished and Phase IV being collected at all.

As a fan then I’m delighted that Zenith is going to be made available again, and perhaps even attract new fans despite the hefty price tag. However, as someone who respects Grant a great deal – and let me be quite clear that I’m not speaking on his behalf here – I’m quite worried about the fact that the press release comes with no statement from Grant himself.

The world of comics is, regrettably, full of disputes between creators and publishers over the attribution of creator rights. If a collected edition of Zenith is the result of long-awaited resolution between Morrison and Rebellion then it is cause for huge celebration. If that is not the case – and I believe silence from Morrison would be damning on this count – then it is a rather sad day, regardless of my feelings as a fan.

Personally I will be singing the praises of the comic as I have always done, and be pleased that Zenith is getting attention once more. But I’m not sure it’s the happy day that Morrison fans have been waiting on.

…All of which, taken together, does seem to indicate that this collection is being published without the blessing of at least one of its creators. Which is a truly sad thing.

None the less, this collection, despite its hefty price tag, is sure to sell out in pretty short order, and can only increase in value, because it seems that, once it’s gone, it’s gone. It’d just be that much better, at least for me, if I knew that the creators were happy about it.

Heidi Here: We emailed Morrison, but he has not responded.

Comments

  1. What’s next? Injunction? Restraining order? Last minute stunt by Millar?

  2. Charles says:

    Massive price point, even for 480 pages, and a really limited print run. I really hate shit like this. Won’t this just create another situation like with the previous print run – out of print and impossible to get a hold of 2nd hand?

  3. http://www.bleedingcool.com/?p=250747 – friends of Morrison state that he maintains he owns Zenith. He will not have consented to this publication. And by doing it without Diamond, they avoid Diamond’s tendency to kow tow to any and all Cease And Desist notices.

  4. 1000 copies at £100 a time. Meaning a complete set of Zenith is only available to a handful of people with more money than sense.

    So what’s new?

  5. Michael Kindt says:

    Lame, lame, and more lame.

    The era of digital comics should have taught publishers that they should strive to make their books available to as many readers as possible in affordable formats, both print and digital. Deluxe editions with premium pricing are great for collectors, but this habit of trying to generate scarcity to drive up collectible value is one of the worst artifacts of a comics market that is obsolete and needs to go die quietly in a corner.

  6. So it’s at a laughable price point, with a small print run, and everyone but Morrison obsessives with deep pockets will either miss out or download a scan. No change in status quo then, really. What a wasted opportunity.

    I would buy it at half the cost, but not more.

  7. Kate Halprin says:

    It seems odd that they’d do a limited printed run of this given that it’s previously largely-unavailable material by a creator with a following and deep pockets. Dare I suggest that this whole thing feels like an attempt to get Morrison to put up or shut up? Either sue over this, or expect decently-priced trades soon?

    If so that’s a risky strategy. This isn’t a case of Before Watchmen where the essential issue was DC’s bad faith but there was no substantive legal grounds for Moore to pursue. If Morrison maintains that he owns Zenith, and no agreement has been reached between him and Rebellion, then I don’t see he has any choice but to pursue legal action.

  8. Simon Jones says:

    I would love to see this. I love 2000ad. I would love to own a copy of Zenith (I had a copy of phase one as part of those old Best of 2000ad monthly anthologies that they used to do which has since disintegrated), but a) the price point is a well outside of my means and b) there seems to be an ethical question hanging over this around whether the rights are disputed.

    I think that I am going to wait and see if more affordable editions are likely to come out in the future, and whether the question of rights is cleared up.

    If anyone is interested, the book Thrill Power Overload is a pretty much a warts and all history of 2000ad from the late 70’s up to the early 2000’s, and goes into lurid amounts of detail of this and several other similar conflicts/power struggles etc. If you are interested in the sausage machine that is the comics business, it is well worth a read .

  9. Chris Hero says:

    I would absolutely buy this, and I was certain I was going to, until I read that Morrisson is likely not included. I’ve read about half of the Zenith story…phases one and two….and it’s excellent stuff. The price sounds more than fair for the material. However, I’m not comfortable with buying anything unless the creator gets a cut or signed away his rights in good faith. Nothing about this says good faith and that really depresses me.

    One of my best friends has the entire run of 2000ADs with this story, so I can go read his copies any time I like. I’ve thought about asking him to scan a copy for me (and only me), but I don’t like doing that when I can legitimately purchase the work. In this case, I have to wonder if him scanning a copy for me would be any less ethical….

    Anyway, this story *really* depresses me. I was really, really hoping Morisson and Rebellion worked everything out.

    Simon, I’m going to purchase that book you recommend. I can’t get enough of books about how companies actually work. BTW – Are you the same Simon Jones who ran Icarus publishing? I miss his thoughts on the industry….

  10. It would be very interesting to know why this reprint project would need an explicit endorsement from its creators, as opposed to other reprints of 2000AD/Rebellion features. In other words, what makes ZENITH legally different from a 2000AD series created by Gerry Finley-Day or Alan Moore?

    It could very well be that the legal conditions and rights transfer agreements for 2000AD features in 1987 were different than the ones existing in, say, 1979 (or 2013, for that matter). I guess we have a possibility of finding out if Morrison decides to contest Rebellion’s decision to reprint this series.

  11. Simon Jones says:

    I’m afraid not, Chris. I’m the other Simon Jones (writer/lover/guy who should be working right now but isn’t) who has spent far too much time and money on comics since the mid 80’s…

    And I hope you enjoy the book.

    What are the odds of some sort of statement coming from Grant Morrison to clarify his position? I’d like to think that he would forsake the internet and communicate with each of us directly through our dreams.

  12. Rodrigo – Padraig went into this a little in the previous post: http://comicsbeat.com/is-grant-morrisons-zenith-going-to-return/

    But basically, Rebellion don’t have paperwork that shows they own Zenith, and in such situations the rights would reside with the creator which is what Morrison maintains is the case.

    Simon – if no resolution has been reached and it’s still an ongoing legal matter, I find it very likely that Morrison will be unable to comment. Apart from in the dreamscape true enough!

  13. * Pádraig. Damn my non-Irish keyboard!

  14. Tony Tower says:

    I’m curious: Has Morrison ever stated exactly what he would require for ZENITH to be reprinted? Is he asking for an unconscionable amount of money from 2000AD and their heirs, or have they just considered *any* reprint fee unthinkable because they just don’t do that? Alternatively, if Morrison feels so confident in his ownership of the material, why hasn’t he struck a deal elsewhere?

  15. terry phillips says:

    Seems crazy for Rebellion to publish without clear rights ownership, but maybe they need a low stakes test case to fight it out with Morrison if there’s movie deal in the works (the BO business KICKASS 2 does will have a bearing on this). Steve Yeowell still works regularly for 2000AD so I imagine he won’t rock the boat too much. It’s up to Grant Morrison to duke it out!

  16. Kurt Busiek says:

    I have all the Titan collections and would love to read Phase 4.

    But not at an absurd price, not if I have to jump through hoops to buy a limited edition only available through one website, and definitely not if the creators (and perhaps owners) aren’t properly compensated.

    If Grant and Yeowell do own it, publishing it without their permission is another big strike against it.

    So to me, at least, “Project that deserves to be widely available is being reprinted, under a cloud, for a very limited audience,” is not exciting news.

    kdb

  17. It’s entirely possible that Morrison and Yeowell do not have possession of all of the original art or the photo negatives or scans that would be needed to republish this material. Perhaps the publisher is in possession of the complete files, in which case Morrison would have to take them to court and win to get those materials if he wanted to self-publish the material or shop around to other publishers. In other words, a huge pain the ass to do. It’s all too bad as this sounds like a series I’d love to read.

  18. Molnek says:

    This all seems quite shady. Maybe I’m getting more and more paranoid as my years go by but saying the format won’t be repeated and limiting the run makes me suspicious of a loophole they may be exploiting. If they can legally publish this don’t you think they’d try selling those reprintings that are supposed to be in a warehouse somewhere?

  19. Yes, this stinks of a publisher saying “we’ll publish it in a way to make money, but so much money that’s worth hiring a lawyer and suing for.”

  20. Sorry but *not* so much money..

  21. Wonder what they’re planning in terms of colour? Phase Four was the only one in colour, but it was badly coloured with a strange cyan/yellow palette and would be much better in B&W IMHO. That would require the original art though, wouldn’t it? And if Yeowell has that, where will they get scans or film from? Otherwise they’re sticking colour pages into a B&W book, which can be messy.

    I won’t buy this because I have the original 2000ADs and scans are much more convenient. I would buy it for a reasonable price point and if the creators weren’t being ripped off. I wrote about all five, well four-and-a-bit, books of Zenith here: http://suggestedformaturereaders.wordpress.com/tag/zenith/

  22. Oscillating Wildely says:

    There’s another interesting rights issue that could see problems reprinting Zenith: who owns Archie the Robot? Introduced in Zenith as Acid Archie by Morrison and Yeowell, he was actually an old IPC character created in 1952, and as far as I know not owned by Rebellion, as he last appeared in the DC Comics/Wildstorm mini-series Albion (co-incidentally co-written by Leah Moore, daughter of Alan).

    I wonder whether DC still has the license? And if so, Morrison could call in a favour from the legal department?

  23. James Bacon says:

    Zenith Phase I was for sale this week in the Notting Hill Book exchange for £15, as the original sixteen 2000AD’s it appeared in. Finding Zenith is not at all exclusive, and at less than £1 a comic, more in fairness than the 28p they originaly sold at, but less than they are now, and 2000AD’s are common at many events, even free ones like the London Comic Mart, but it does require effort, but they are not exclusive.

  24. Kate Halprin says:

    Tom W: “Wonder what they’re planning in terms of colour? Phase Four was the only one in colour, but it was badly coloured with a strange cyan/yellow palette and would be much better in B&W IMHO. That would require the original art though, wouldn’t it? And if Yeowell has that, where will they get scans or film from? Otherwise they’re sticking colour pages into a B&W book, which can be messy.”

    Soon after 2000AD went full colour in March 1991, Comics International ran an interview with Tharg/Richard Burton, where he said that Zenith Phase IV would still be run in black and white. I presume that there was a rethink between then and mid-1992, but it does feel like an afterthought. A couple of artists with a notable bw style did get their work reproduced in bw after March 1991 – e.g. David Roach (Anderson PSI Division), Dave D’Antiquis (Brigand Doom) – which makes me think there’s an untold story here. It would be ironic if they added colour to boost its chances in the reprint market.

  25. RAGGEDT says:

    News like this increases the likelihood of illegal downloading. I say this not to excuse the practice, but just to note the reality. Ironically, it was the illegal downloading of another Morrison cult favorite — Flex Mentallo — that finally encouraged DC to deal with the rights/legal issues involving Charles Atlas and finally issue the mini-series in trade form last year. Making Zenith so rare though would actually do the opposite — make folks go the torrent route.

  26. Richard Wood says:

    I don’t know why everyone here is throwing such a strop about the price, as if there won’t be a cheap softback edition a year or so later. This is a LIMITED EDITION, they’re supposed to be expensive! Be patient.

  27. On the subject of the colour (or lack of it), there’s a page towards the end of Phase 1 that was originally printed (in colour) on the back page of the original prog. Every reprinting (original Titan trade, Best of 2000AD, unreleased Titan/Rebellion trade) has a muddy black and white repro of the colour page that looks bloody awful.

    I know that Steve Yeowell reclaimed a lot of the original art (there’s a few pages he’s since sold up on Comic Art Collector) and might well still have some. I don’t think it’s very likely at all, given the convoluted path from Fleetway to Rebellion and all of the prior reprints, that Rebellion have the original film, or even that it still exists, at least for the early Phases.

    Unfortunately, I don’t think anyone involved really has the material to do the proper deluxe presentation the material deserves. But if this all boils down to some sort of trademark assertion by publication, then I’ll be very interested to see what Morrison comes up with in response :)

Trackbacks

  1. […] again, as Padraig O Mealoid points out, Morrison and Yeowell “have been informed” of the printing, but that doesn’t […]

  2. […] news of a limited edition version of the long-long comic ZENITH broke last week, speculation centered on Grant Morrison, who, according to accumulated comic book lore, believes he […]

  3. […] reprint was available to pre-order from the 1st of July. Our own Pádraig Ó Méalóid was one of many who picked up on the peculiar phrasing of “have been informed”, and the absence of comment from […]

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