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Huh. Turns out it’s Thanksgiving this week. Who knew? Longtime readers of the column know that what holidays generally mean to me is no mail that day, and with most mail having gone Internet now holidays pretty much mean less to me than ever before, but y’know what? It’s been a long, rough year, I’m tired, screw it. I’m taking the holiday.

But so as not to leave you in the lurch, a little potpourri. First up, some of the best advice I’ve heard for aspiring comics writers and artists, from Comico/Dark Horse/Oni/DC/Vertigo editor Bob Schreck, something I knew from elsewhere but never really put in the context of comics:

While you’re learning, practicing and polishing your craft, find a job with afternoon or evening hours and pays enough to keep you alive. Then do your comics when you get up each morning, when you’re refreshed and alert. If you get a job that works you all day you’ll feel less inclined to do more work afterward, and you’ll almost certainly be less sharp. And your artistic progress will likely go a lot faster.

Second course: last week I raved up ALTER EGO‘s latest issue, with its focus on ’40s comics giant Charles Biro. As I mentioned, Biro was a real trailblazer, not only for things like CRIME DOES NOT PAY, but for his focus on (for the time) sophisticated stories, situations and characters across the board, including the original Daredevil:

Art by Dan Barry, just before he jumped over to DC to change the face of comics art. Remember, this was in 1947, when stories longer than 10 pages were virtually unheard of; there’s another 13 page Daredevil story in the issue (#42) that continues directly from this one and really makes it a 31 page story, “novel-length” for the time. Daredevil was created by Jack (Plastic Man) Cole in SILVER STREAK COMICS before Biro surfaced at Lev Gleason Publications, but it was Biro and partner Bob Wood who propelled the character to superstardom with a tabloidish 1941 first issue whose title screamed DAREDEVIL VS. HITLER, a few months before the USA entered the war. But Biro reportedly liked Daredevil least of all the characters he worked on, so it was that decades before Brian Bendis decided to expose Marvel’s Daredevil’s secret identity to the world, Biro exposed his Daredevil (in more ways that one, given the shower photo scene) with the apparent intention of dumping the costume and making it a social realism strip. (It often wasn’t far removed from that as it is.) Someone must not have liked the change, because Daredevil was back in costume before the next issue was up. Still, pretty daring for the time. Eventually Daredevil faded away anyway, but not the title, which was taken over by the Little Wise Guys from the late forties until the company finally petered out, killed by the Comics Code, in 1956.

Biro’s favorite character was one of his own creations, possibly the first solo teen superhero (as opposed to a sidekick) in comics, Crimebuster, whose adventures ran in BOY COMICS from 1942 until the company closed its doors, and who was also hugely popular in the ’40s. (Gleason comics regularly challenged – and beat – DC and Fawcett Comics for sales supremacy, despite much weaker distribution.) Crimebuster started out masked but quickly dropped it, and never seemed much concerned about secret identities. By the late ’40s, the character was regularly appearing solely in civilian clothes, with the costume dropped altogether in the ’50s. By the time of the following 1955 story, the character is nicknamed C.B. and superheroics have given way to crime-tinged social drama with the character a college student. Almost immediately after this story, the last vestige of Crimebuster vanishes as the strip name changes to Chuck Chandler Of Curtiss Tech, as Biro tries with great discomfort to fit into the newly-formed Comics Code.

You’ll notice that the C.B. story is drawn by the great Joe Kubert, who handled a dozen or so issues of the book, right before its demise. One of the interesting things about Kubert’s work during this period (he’s producing Viking Prince and various war stories for DC roughly concurrently) is how similar the figurework often is in design, look and execution to Steve Ditko’s work of the same period; there are panels on every page here that look like they were drawn by Ditko, though if there was ever a Ditko-Kubert connection no one has ever mentioned it. Still, kind of weird, given how idiosyncratic both artists’ work is…

Some mail from recent weeks.

About Sal Buscema:

“Nice to read your notes on Sal Buscema – I had forgotten he had done some of the Simonson THOR book. I haven’t read any of his work in some time, but I recall warming to his art as I saw more of it. I think of him as someone who was forced to draw in Marvel’s house style and a lot of his work felt like he was trying to draw like Jack Kirby, rather than in his own style. But I think I would rather read books drawn by Sal Buscema than by Vince Colletta or Alex Saviuk (maybe even Colletta gets dinged too much for being such a fast artist…?). It would be interesting to hear your take on who else is in the Sal Buscema category and who is below that level.”

I don’t know if I want to start making lists at this point… but there may be a book in there somewhere.

“I must say that I agree with you completely. I’m not a comic book critic, just a 49 year old fan who remembers both of the Buscemas fondly. John was my favorite all-around artist, but it wasn’t until he quit being Jack Kirby’s replacement at Marvel and became the artist of CONAN THE BARBARIAN that he really became – at least to me – more than a comic book artist. At that point he was on the same level with legends like Kirby, Gil Kane, Wally Wood, and Joe Kubert, and the “flashier” artists like Neal Adams and Jim Steranko.

Sal’s work never had that same quality. But compared to other artists on the same “level” as him (people like Don Perlin, Don Heck, Wayne Boring, George Tuska come to mind) he was among the best at what he did, which was draw readable, enjoyable, easy-on-the-eye comic book, and stay on schedule while doing so. That is a trait that is only now coming to be appreciated. For the first time in my memory, I’m hearing people talk about what a great artist Curt Swan was.

At the same time, I find myself wondering if the trade-off of Sal-type workhorses for fine craftsmen like Jim Lee was worth it. At least with Sal and his peers, you could find your comics on the shelf every month. Nowadays, I will start reading a brilliant series like PLANETARY, but the length of time between new issues will make me forget what’s going on, and once I forget it, I’m not looking forward to it, and once I’m not doing that, I’m not buying it.

Anyway, my two cents on Sal Buscema. I remember him fondly.”

Like a lot of artists, John had natural interests, and the specific quality of any particular work had a lot to do with whether he felt any personal connection to the material. It’s not uncommon. I think John was particularly fond of straight PRINCE VALIANT-style adventure stories, not surprising given the obvious influence Hal Foster had on his style, and the closer his material came to that, the happier he was.

It’s hard to remember now but there was a point in the early ’50s where George Tuska was arguably one of the most influential artists in the business. His special interest seems to have been crime comics, and his greatest strength don’t really emerge in work like IRON MAN, though they do come a little closer to the surface in things like LUKE CAGE.

“I’m going to have to politely disagree with you, Steven, on your classification of Sal Buscema as a “good” artist. The man consistently draws dynamic villains, expressive heroes, and great looking gals in distress. He might not be revered like his brother John, but Sal’s been drawing great comics for a long, long time. I hold his work in the highest regard. And I hope you pass that on to him if you ever see him.”

In some 30 years in comics and numerous stories drawn by him, I don’t think I’ve ever met Sal…

“When I first began reading comics in the early 1970s, I was about nine years old or so, and Sal Buscema was one of the artists I really enjoyed. I think it may have been for the very reasons you said that endeared him to writers – his clean, clear storytelling and technical craftsmanship. That’s something that certainly appealed to me as a kid, and made it a lot easier to transition into enjoying the work of more “sophisticated” artists as I got older.

I think one of the reasons, among many, that kids don’t read comics as much now as they did 35 plus years ago is that the artwork in a lot of books is simply too complex. Even as an adult, I often find today’s comics convoluted and confusing. Much of the time, I can’t even tell what’s going on.

Sure, Sal’s work may have not been better than good, but it was always good, always clear and clean. It was reliable. There’s very little of that in the field anymore, unfortunately.”

***

“I have to disagree with you on Sal. Sal’s work with JM DeMatteis on SPECTACULAR SPIDER-MAN really did have that ‘it’ factor. That work is substantially different than most of his Marvel work; there’s some tremendous panel-to-panel transitions, and the work needed an artist that could add dramatic tension through the work. He inks it himself, and it looks starker than anything else I’ve seen from him, almost Mignola-like. It’s really good stuff, deserving of some recognition.

(I admit; I’m a Sal fanboy. When I was a kid, I had subscriptions to three Marvel comics – MARVEL TALES reprints of Ditko’s AMAZING SPIDER-MAN, Byrne FANTASTIC FOUR, and Mantlo/Buscema INCREDIBLE HULK. The two-issue story with Woodgod, of all characters, is one of my favorite stories from that time. It’s one of those stories that really get to the heart of the Hulk character and the supporting cast.)”

***

“Yes, it’s true that Sal’s storytelling was unobtrusive but it sure was exciting to this reader back when I began reading comics in the early seventies.

Sal Buscema was the first comics artist I recognized by name back in the day, due to his work on CAPTAIN AMERICA, DEFENDERS and soon after, AVENGERS, with a issue or two here and there on MARVEL TEAM-UP or MARVEL TWO-IN-ONE. I think one of the reasons why I caught on to Sal’s name and his work is that the guy was frickin’ everywhere you looked at a Marvel title, or at least it seemed that way then. I was also noticing big brother John on THOR and CONAN, and enjoyed those titles immensely, but it was Sal that immediately did it for me as a reader, and probably is as much to blame as anyone in the biz for getting me hooked.

Perez? Byrne? Golden? Yeah, they’re great…love their work. But for me, Sal got there first.

Outside of meeting Stan Lee, getting the chance to meet Sal at WizardWorld Chicago 10 or so years ago ranks as perhaps the coolest comics-related experience I’ve ever had, and I’ve had a few over the years. If only somebody would publish a book on the guy… I’d be one of the first in line to buy it.”

***

“I’m not sure that Sal totally lacked that “it” factor -especially early in his career. His early issues of AVENGERS (after big bro John left the book) featured a (to my mind) now-classic battle between the contemporry Avengers & the WW Two era Cap, Subby & Torch. And a few years later Sal was drawing CAPTAIN AMERICA and doing really more-than-yeoman work on Steve Englehart’s best-selling run, doing a damn fine job of depicting a myriad of highly-motional & inventive plotlines, from Cap discovering President Nixon was an evil villain(who committed suicide), to getting super strength, to facing his evil racist doppleganger from the 1950’s — some pretty memorable stuff. I guess I use highly-emotional to describe Sal’s work at this point in his career ’cause those are comic-reading visuals that are burned into my brain — Cap’s facial reaction of stunned disbelief at his newfound strength, having thrown a thug into a car & crushing it into rubble; Cap’s face, again stunned with disbeleif at the off-panel sight of the President of the United States committing suicide to avoid criminal prosecution; and the sweaty malevolence of the evil, race-baiting 1950’s cap, growing ever more desperate as he realizes he’s no match for his heroic, high-idealed opponent — culminating in an amazingly raw & powerful full-page splash of cap punching out his evil twin! Not to menion Sal’s terrific work on Englehart’s Avengers/Defenders War (recently reprinted in trade paperback, i think) which featured a Thor vs. Hulk full-page splash — not crazed action, but two super-heroic titans locked in a stand-off, again raw emotion on the page, who is stronger, who will win…???!!!

I was a kid when I read these comics, but Sal’s art burned itself into my psyche — in a way that his more talented, more-illustarative brother’s work never did.

It was only later in his career — when Sal was probably making more money, just doing layouts, but seemingly pencilling every other book Marvel published, back when monthly really meant MONTHLY (I think at one point Sal was drawing INCREDIBLE HULK, SPECTACULAR SPIDER-MAN, MARVEL TEAM-UP and THE DEFENDERS all at once!!!!) — only then did Sal, ironically at the high-point work-wise of his career, start to look like the dependable journeyman/(dare we say it)hack that later became his reputation. And you’re right to point out that the only half-way decent stuff he did later was on Simonson’s THOR, whre he started inking his own pencils again in a somewhat Simonson-derived, newfangled style.”

This is where beauty is in the eye of the beholder: I recall buying that “Invaders” issue of AVENGERS and, following what I thought was gorgeous work by both John Buscema and Gene Colan on the book, and a brief, um, interesting Barry Smith run, I resisted Sal’s art on it… which I didn’t think was bad, just kind of… normal. Then again, I also didn’t care for Sam Grainger’s inks on Sal’s pencils. While John’s style was strong enough to direct pretty much any inker, and John’s work meshed with Sal’s inks fine, Sal’s pencils (and I’ve seen his pencils many times) were more easily “eaten” by an inker. Which brings us to

“I think Sal Buscema’s best moments in comics may have actually been as an inker – his embellishment of Barry Smith’s artwork in the early classic Conans and also his inking on his brother’s SILVER SURFER stories.

You can also really tell in the MARVEL ESSENTIAL series who were the good artists and who were the great ones. I hate to compare artists, but the Sal Buscema DEFENDERS books definitely suffer without the color and look weak.”

That’s a good subject for someone: the extent to which inkers affect the look of the work – there’s rarely a page Wally Wood inked, for example, which doesn’t look more like Wally Wood work than anything produced by the penciler, regardless of who’s penciling, and that includes Wood-inked work by Jack Kirby and Gil Kane – and how often the published work that we see ends up more representative of the inker’s work than the penciler’s.

Comics other people think everyone should be reading:

FELL by Warren Ellis and Ben Templesmith (published by Image Comics). FELL tells the story of Detective Richard Fell who has just recently been transferred from the city to Snowtown. Each issue is a done in one story told in approximately 16 pages with “Backmatter” consisting of essays by Warren Ellis or letters to which Mr. Ellis responds. Not only is each issue self-contained, but it only costs $1.99.

PUNISHER (MAX) by Garth Ennis and Various (published by Marvel Comics). Garth Ennis is currently writing the best Frank Castle/Punisher that I’ve read in a long time. Ennis is able to tell some very compelling stories about a character, who in recent years has not fared too well (remember Demon Killing Angel Frank?), without any restrictions on language or violence under the MAX label. If the rumors of him leaving the title are true then it will be a dark time for Frank indeed.

BATMAN by Grant Morrison and Various (published by DC Comics). Grant Morrison really seems to be mining his youth with this title. From the Pop Art museum in the first arc to the International Heroes Club in the latest arc Morrison seems to be having a blast on BATMAN. I know most fans would tout ALL STAR SUPERMAN as Morrison’s best current superhero work, but there is something about his experimentation on his BATMAN run that makes me like it more. Here’s just a few quick examples of the stuff Morrison is doing in Batman that bring a huge smile to my face: 1.) In the Pop Art museum when Batman fires his grappling hook gun he is standing in front of a painting that says BLAM! (art as sound effects). 2.) The short story issue with spot illustrations. 3.) JKW III’s art for the IHC arc was fantastic.

THE ORDER by Matt Fraction and Barry Kitson (published by Marvel Comics). This is probably the best book to come out of the Civil War cross-over. I think this is Fraction’s best work in the Marvel universe (CASANOVA is my favorite title of his). Barry Kitson is doing his usual bang-up job on art. I like that the characters are mostly new and Fraction and Kitson are doing a great job of introducing them to us, and making us care about them.

BRAVE AND THE BOLD by Mark Waid and George Perez (published by DC Comics). Great “old-school” comics fun. Waid and Perez are really clicking as a creative team and the stories are a lot of fun. The stories team up at least two heroes (although most issues include more characters not mentioned on cover). The stories are fun and the art is great. I loved seeing Batman take on the Legion of Superheroes, and there are lots of other fun team-ups like that as well.”

***

SCALPED (DC/Vertigo) – Jason Aaron is doing even better work on this title than he did in his excellent THE OTHER SIDE. I believe we’ve only had ten issues thus far, but he’s already created a deep, fascinating world, and I hope to God the title has a long, full run. It’s an examination of reservation culture in both the past and present, it’s a slickly paced crime book, and it’s a rather nuanced character study. The art gets better every month, and this book has never been less than a joy to read. It’s already much better than 100 BULLETS ever was.

CASANOVA (Image Comics) – Matt Fraction’s using the Image Slimline format just as well as Ellis is over in FELL. CASANOVA is amazing, and I recommend it without hesitation even though I legitimately don’t think I’m catching about 2/3 of what’s going on within its covers. The artwork has been beautiful both on the first and the current arc, and it’s just heartwarming to see so many insane ideas flying around in so slim a comic.

SCOTT PILGRIM (Oni Press) – This book contained an homage to Bonk’s Adventure from the TurboGrafx 16. That was enough to insure I’d be buying the series until it ends.

THE DAMNED (Oni Press) – I picked up the initial miniseries for the Brian Hurtt artwork, as I was going into withdrawals after HARD TIME was so unfairly canceled. The art did not disappoint in the slightest, but I was also really pleasantly surprised at how much I loved the story. It’s a great, noir-y gangster story, but with demons and the supernatural thrown in for good measure. I have to admit that I’m generally really tired of the whole high-concept trend in comics where you churn out yet another damn book full of zombies or just mash up random public domain crap (Ninjas vs Robots! Vampire Werewolves! Gandhi teams up with Jesus to battle… uh, ghosts, or something…), but the pairing of demons and gangsters here felt really organic, and made for a great story.

5. And everyone should have bought AMERICAN VIRGIN (DC/Vertigo), but it’s too late now. Damn.”

***

MOUSE GUARD FALL 1152 (Archaia Studios and now WINTER 1152

DMZ (DC/Vertigo). These first two are comics I buy in singles and in trade… singles so they keep their numbers up and trade because I can’t pass up on collected editions… David Peterson’s art and storytelling on MOUSE GUARD is masterful. As a fellow Michigander I was reading his MOUSE GUARD with issue #1 well before he became a small(er) press hit. Plus chatting him up at the local comic-con last year he could not have been a more likeable guy. Meanwhile Brian Wood’s concept and the tapestry he has developed for a new Civil War in DMZ has me hooked every month…

THE KILLER (Archaia Studios). I can only echo your articles sentiment. I patiently awaited ASP’s hard cover release last month, and was not disappointed.

BOOSTER GOLD (DC Comics). A fanboy at heart, BOOSTER GOLD reminds me of my original introduction to comics in the early 80s where there were equal parts fun, adventure and intrigue. Geoff Johns is doing the DC universe justice with this story. Anyone reading superhero comics, or who read superhero comics in the 80s should be reading this.

I couldn’t decide on the fifth one that should be universally read, so I’m just going to leave it at four.”

***

CRIMINAL by Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips (Marvel/Icon). The best crime comic since Frank Miller’s SIN CITY came along. The only book that even comes close is Brian Azzarello’s 100 BULLETS, but that book’s byzantine plotting and impregnable mysteries have left me scratching my head way too many times. CRIMINAL is tight, focused, perfectly paced, delivering action and intrigue in a perfect noir-flavored shot of modern comic excellence. I’ve been waiting for years for the payoff to 100 BULLETS. But CRIMINAL gives me that payoff every single issue.

BLACK SUMMER by Warren Ellis and Ryp (Avatar Press.) Warren Ellis is back with a big, bloody BANG! After keeping a relatively low profile for several years, Ellis has come back to his roots by destroying all the tropes of superhero comics with BLACK SUMMER. Issue 0 may be the most politically relevant comic this decade… and only Warren would have the guts to write this. God save that crazy Brit!

THE IMMORTAL IRON FIST by Ed Brubaker, Matt Fraction, and David Aja (Marvel). Quite possibly the coolest comic in the world. Finally… finally! One of Marvel’s best and most under-used characters gets a creative team that knows what to do with it. Brubaker and Fraction have approached Iron Fist with the true spirit in which the character was first created, but they’ve also brought an updated modern sensibility to the book. It’s this mixture of Kung Fu pulp action/adventure, modernistic plotting and dialogue, metaphysical inventiveness, and gorgeous artwork that makes THE IMMORTAL IRON FIST a triumph not only for Marvel, but for comics in general.

ROBOTIKA by Alex Sheikman (Archaia Studio Press). This neo-cyberpunk/samurai/kung-fu/western is unlike any other comic. The art is superb and the writing is surreal adventure at its best. First 4-issue series came out a while ago; second begins in December…

CAPTAIN AMERICA by Ed Brubaker and Steve Epting (Marvel). Here’s another case of a terrific writer and fantastic artist taking a traditional character and investing it with modern greatness. A truly compelling story, and the pitch-perfect art by Steve Epting makes it all work in a hyper-real fashion. This team has taken noir and espionage and combined it with the classic action vibe that Jack Kirby brought to Captain America. They’ve also broken a major rule of superhero comics: Don’t kill the hero. Who will be the new Captain America? If Tony Stark has his way, nobody will. My money’s on the Winter Soldier (i.e. the former Bucky). One thing’s for sure–I love watching where this is going.”

Finally, a cautionary note from a fellow professional. I forgot about this today and could have written about it this week if I’d pondered it awhile, but maybe someone from Marvel would like to send a pre-emptive strike:

“I was struck by something upon reading about Marvel’s new online service…there’s no mention of any royalties for creators being pulling from that $9.99 monthly subscription fee, is there?

And, as far as I know, no royalties are being paid on sales of Marvel’s DVD-Roms.

If digital delivery becomes the distribution system of the future, will writers and artists find themselves once again working solely for their page rates?

Makes for an interesting parallel to the WGA strike.”

Sure does, since they’re the same issues. Hmm. Given how many screenwriters are now writing for companies like Marvel, DC and Dark Horse, are they willing to put up with treatment from comics companies that they’ve vowed not to take from producers and studios?

This is what I hate about Democrats.

Every debate now there’s at least one moment where some candidate proudly trots out The Line A Writer Wrote For Them. You can always see it coming: they freeze for a second, get those “I’m so crafty” smirks as they rehearse the line in their heads one final time, puff up their chests, and then they project it like a kid who has only one line in the school Xmas play and wants to make sure everyone remembers him. (This goes for both Democratic and Republican candidates. You can always spot those writers.) Really, doesn’t anyone teach any of these guys about delivery? If you’re going to slam out a killer line, you want to sound like it just came off the top of your head – being able to think on your feet is an attractive quality in a candidate – not like your programmers kept a team of writers working on it for a week before you spent another week and a half memorizing it.

Last week’s big debate zinger (here in Las Vegas, jewel of the Mojave desert, though I didn’t attend) came courtesy of Hillary Clinton. Hillary’s been having it a little rough lately. Last debate she abruptly found herself stammering down the business end of a barrage of questions, many from the other candidates, that she just doesn’t want to answer, mainly having to do with various policies like where she stands on the Iraq War. (Recent policy update: plans to “create a plan for troop withdrawals”… after she gets elected. Didn’t Nixon promise something like that?) In a public appearance after that debate, Hillary then double-standarded herself by complaining (to an audience of women) that the boys were picking on her, and it didn’t take long before her team figured out what a tactical error that was.

So this debate she was asked about whether the boys were picking on her. Given that Hillary’s people have already been caught, Ghost-like, stocking audiences with shills to ask Hillary pre-fab questions she can give the desired pre-fab answers to (not that most campaigns don’t do that, more than likely, but hers got caught, with the defense that, unlike Republicans in the 2004 campaign, they weren’t making any moves to keep anyone out of debates or rallies and didn’t try to stop anyone for asking any questions, which is admirable but not actually a defense, and opens up the question of whether they would if they could) I feel little hairs twitch on the back of my neck when I hear questions so clearly geared toward the subsequent soundbite: Hillary cheerfully answered that, no, the boys weren’t attacking her because she’s a woman. They’re attacking her because she’s winning!

Which is fine and good, she’s a candidate, she’s supposed to say things like that.

The problem is that the Democrats – I think they see themselves as the political equivalent of old money – still have delusions of gentility, something the Republicans abandoned long ago, which is one of the reasons Republicans can more easily project an image of populism whatever the reality of the situation is. And the fact is that Hillary’s comment was pretty damn stupid if you dig into it a moment. While national polls give her the nod, they also strongly emphasize her weaknesses and drawbacks as far as the public is concerned, and they’re all pretty much based on if the election was being held tomorrow. But it’s not. If you follow the polls, currently in Iowa Barack Obama is surging ahead, and it’s at moments like these that all politics truly are local; if Hillary doesn’t come in first in the Iowa caucuses, it’s a big crack in the shell if invincibility her spinmeisters have spun around her. A million things could happen between now and the first few primaries and caucuses, and, as Mike Huckabee’s showing on the Republican side, it’s way too early for any candidate to be seriously talking about winning.

So how do the other Democratic candidates respond to Hillary’s quip?

They let it slide.

Can none of them think on their feet?

Sure, they can come back with statements later, after they’ve checked with their campaign managers and image groomers for the correct response, but by that point the damage is done. The whole point of The Lines Writers Wrote For Them is to generate That Soundbite that news programs will repeat ad nauseum, to the point where those who hear and don’t think about it much – which will at any given time be the vast majority of the audience – will believe it’s true. The whole point of Hillary’s quip was to reinforce that Hillary’s winning! People like to vote for a winner.

But would it have been so hard for someone to have said, “Pardon me, Mrs. Clinton, but you’re wrong. We’re not attacking you, we’re just trying to find out where you stand on the issues. Any issue. But you don’t tell anyone, you just spout smug soundbites like that one.”

Or something like that. You’d probably need A Writer to polish it into A Line A Writer Wrote For Them. C’mon, it wouldn’t have been that hard to anticipate, at least generally, what Hillary’s Line was going to be. Upshot: it would have ruined her soundbite, and more than likely every news broadcast that aired her soundbite – you know they’d run it regardless – would have run the retort in conjunction with it, and further damaged her credibility. But that’s the Democrats for you. They’re never really in it to win, they’re in it to be well-liked. And that doesn’t happen very often either.

Not like the Republicans, where sleeper candidate (well… sleeping candidate, anyway) Fred “I’m a TV star, vote for me” Thompson woke up just long enough to notice Arkansas governor and new potential Republican frontrunner Huckabee had usurped his aw-shucks-I’m-just-a-good-ol’-country-boy gimmick and already practically steamrolled him out of the race with that. Thompson’s people (it’s possible only they, not Thompson himself, have roused from peaceful slumber) have responded by painting Huckabee as a tax-and-spend Democrat in Ronald Reagan’s clothing. Huckabee’s campaign ads show maybe a little too much sense of humor, but as movie stars go he blast Thompson all to hell, and makes Thompson look less like the sage old grandfather than that cranky old humorless bastard of an uncle nobody wants to sit next to at the dinner table. Not that Thompson’s people have quite resorted to dirty tricks yet, like the anonymous e-mails circulating New Hampshire at the moment warning of Mitt Romney’s Mormon affiliations (these were a secret?) or those smearing Republico-Libertarian upstart Ron Paul as a neo-Nazi while the government quietly raids his fundraisers and effectively puts them out of business, making it sound like somebody doesn’t want Paul – who so far has stirred a vocal minority but hasn’t made much real headway, or even achieved name recognition, with mainstream America – in the race, which suggests someone thinks Paul could trigger a serious conservative revolt. And I’m far from eager to see Huckabee, who flat out denies evolution and believes the world is only 6000 years old, in the White House. But it might be interesting to really get it all out in the open next year and see where the country’s really at by pitting Huckabee against – well, really, any of the Democratic candidates. Certainly a Huckabee candidacy would galvanize the currently mostly-disillusioned Christian Right (maniac and one-time Christian Right shining light Pat Robertson’s recent endorsement of divorcé and gay-rights advocate Rudy Giuliani, even as various suppressed scandals from Giuliani’s political past threaten to erupt around him, resulted less in a boost to either many and more in the Christian Right washing its collective hands of Robertson altogether) but it would also lay the main threads of current American political life bare naked out there on the table.

Notes from under the floorboard:

No sooner do I go off on last week’s rant about publishers (and I meant a lot of publishers besides the ones mentioned) than Boom! Studios informs me my crime miniseries 2 GUNS has jumped from “one issue in four months” to “two issues in one month” status. That’s right, 2 GUNS #4 will now be out next Wednesday, November 28th. Buy it from your retailer, or order direct from Boom! (And I hate to make it sound like the squeaky wheel got the grease, or anything like that; just coincidental timing, I think.) But what I really want if I’m doing pamphlet comics is a 12 issue mini-series published weekly. Anyone game?

I haven’t watched THE SIMPSONS in a long time, and only found about this Sunday’s “comics shop” episode about an hour after it aired. Fortunately, Fox’s website now allows you to watch most of their shows on demand, so I caught up with it there yesterday and was pleasantly surprised to see Art Spiegleman, Daniel Clowes and Alan Moore (who must have more of a sense of humor about his work than commonly supposed) appearing as themselves at an in-shop signing. (Unlike NBC’s online screenings, Fox doesn’t seem to have any advertising attached.) The comics stuff is only in the first third of the show (apart from an eleventh hour cameo by the comics greats, capping off a silly joke) but it’s pretty funny and filled with references I imagine went right past 98% of Fox’s audience. Two caveats: Fox’s On Demand web service doesn’t seem to play well with Firefox, so use Internet Explorer. Even then, the picture gets choppy, though the sound streams steadily. They must’ve changed systems recently, as I’m sure I didn’t have these problems when watching the unaired final episodes of DRIVE last summer.

Also amusing, and charming, this week were this year’s DR. WHO CHILDREN IN NEED SPECIAL, a short feature that fits between a couple moments at the end of last season’s finale and brings back Peter Davison’s Doctor in a brief encounter with the current one, and the season finale to THE SARAH JANE ADVENTURES, a delightful bit of fluff (it’s aimed at a younger audience than either of its companion shows, DR. WHO and TORCHWOOD) that features the series’ most unexpected villain and a surprise eleventh hour guest star who’ll warm the hearts of all long time DR. WHO fans. What’s really surprising about the CHILDREN IN NEED special is how much better Davison is at playing the Doctor now than he was during his late ’70s run; back then his personality seemed roughly based on Marvin the Robot’s from HITCHHIKER’S GUIDE TO THE GALAXY and where other Doctors accessorized, Davison’s Doctor garnished, a quality somewhat mocked in the special. But what’s really great in the special is the genuine warmth current Doctor David Tennent evinces for Davison’s version. You can see it in his eyes: that ain’t acting. Matter of fact, delightful’s the perfect description for both shows, and there’s not a lot of television from either side of the pond, any pond, you can say that about these days.

Fixing up my office this week and uncovered a lode of comics I’d never reviewed. Whoops. Time to get on that.

My apologies for last week’s Comics Cover Challenge, which, due to a technical blunder here, ran the same covers as the week before. Entirely my fault. So we’re running the covers that should have run then this week, and, no, the comics stories above don’t figure into it.

For those who came in late, almost every week I run a Comics Cover Challenge: the covers of seven seemingly unrelated comics (thanks to The Grand Comic Book Database for the covers) from throughout comics history are spread, usually not in any particular order, down the column. But a secret theme – it could be a word, a design element, an artist… anything, really – binds them together, and the first one to e-mail me with the correct solution can promote the website of their choice, subject to my approval. (Not that it’s been an issue so far.) As with most other weeks I also hide a clue to the solution somewhere in the column, just to give you something else to chew on. Good luck.

Available in pdf e-book form at Paper Movies and The Paper Movies Store:

TOTALLY OBVIOUS. Collecting all my “Master Of The Obvious” columns from 1998-2000, with still relevant commentary on comics, culture, creativity and the freelance life, revealing many previously unvoiced secrets behind all those things.

IMPOLITIC: A JOURNAL OF THE PLAGUE YEARS VOL 1. Collecting my political commentary of the early terror years, from Sept. 2001 through April 2005, revealing the terror behind the War On Terror.

HEAD CASES. A collection of comics scripts from work done c. 1992-1995 for various companies, including an unused script. Annotated.

Everyone have a happy holiday, don’t drive any more than you have to (let’s get our money to those needy retailers this Xmas season rather than to oil companies, if we can) and we’ll see you next week.

Just to top it all off, a couple of DC advert pages from the past, one showing their 1953 lineup and the letter of explanation they included when they raised prices to 12¢ in 1962, the first time they’d raised prices since they began publishing. They signify absolutely nothing in particular, except maybe that those were so much simpler days back then, weren’t they?

Those wishing to comment should leave messages on the Permanent Damage Message Board. You can also e-mail me but the chances of a reply are next to nil these days, given my workload, though I do read all my e-mail as long as it’s not trying to sell me something. IMPORTANT: Because a lot of people apparently list it in their e-address books, this account has gotten a slew of virus-laden messages lately. They’re no real threat but dealing with them eats up time I don’t really have, to the extent I can no longer accept unsolicited e-mail with attachments. If you want to send something via attachment (say, art samples) ask me first. If I say okay, then send. Unsolicited e-mail with attachments will be wiped from the server without being read.

IMPORTANT PUBLIC NOTICE OF COLUMN POLICY: any email received in response to a piece run in this column is considered a letter of comment available for printing in the column unless the author specifically indicates it is not intended for public consumption. Unless I check with you or the contents of your e-mail make your identity unavoidably obvious, all letters are run anonymously.

Please don’t ask me how to break into the business, or who to submit work to. The answers to those questions are too mercurial for even me to keep up with.

The WHISPER NEWSLETTER is now up and running via the Yahoo groups. If you want to subscribe, click here.

I’m reviewing comics sent to me – I may not like them but certainly I’ll mention them – at Steven Grant c/o Permanent Damage, 2657 Windmill Pkwy #194, Henderson NV 89074, so send ’em if you want ’em mentioned, since I can’t review them unless I see them. Some people have been sending press releases and cover proofs and things like that, which I enjoy getting, but I really can’t do anything with them, sorry. Full comics only, though they can be photocopies rather than the published version. Make sure you include contact information for readers who want to order your book.

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