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I’ve been having enough discussions with other professionals looking for new artists for projects that it seems time to have another little talent search. I have to say up front these rarely turn up much, since there are enough venues out there like PencilJack and Digital Webbing that give aspiring comics artists the chance to show their stuff that odds are pretty good anyone worth being discovered already has been. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t people out there who don’t want to go that route, so if you’re interested we’ll play it this way:

1) Below is a one paragraph description of a story sequence. This is what you’ll make your sample from. This “outline” is my property and no one has any permission to publish it or any comics pages based on it in any form without express written permission from me and, where applicable, the artist.

2) Samples should be two pages long and consist of two consecutive story pages. You don’t have to – you shouldn’t – cram everything in the plot sample into your art sample. (It covers more that two pages worth of material.) Feel free to select judiciously. Pencil art only – no inking.

3) All pages should be produced standard comics size (~15.75″Hx9.75″W). All submissions must be in jpeg set to 72 dpi. Do not send jpgs with a greater resolution than 72 dpi.

4) Only pages produced from the plot sample are acceptable. There are no stylist restrictions or requirements; the object is to show what you can do, not to do what you think other people might want to see. The people I talk to are smart enough to recognize whether your work is applicable to their needs.

Send samples to this link ONLY.

Samples sent to the column address will be deleted without opening. Samples containing any artwork but pages derived from the plot sample will be deleted.

A word of warning: your samples will not be acknowledged unless someone wants to offer you work. Feel free to ask for a return receipt if you’re worried about it. I know it’s harsh, but not hearing from anyone is a sign you need to improve your artwork.

Remember the little things, like consistency (for example, all objects including faces and bodies should maintain the same proportions and shapes from panel to panel) and correct anatomy, especially on the very hard to draw things like hands, feet and ears. If you can’t do those things, you’re not ready; the big giveaways of artists who need more practice are blocky or bulbous feet and hands and cauliflower ears on characters.

Since many publishers only pay on the back end now, mention whether you’d be willing to draw comics on those terms. It’ll save time later. (In other words, I know of several writers who want to pitch comics to Image and other companies but need artists willing to work under the Image deal.)

A legal caveat: By submitting material, you acknowledge that Steven Grant, Permanent Damage, or Comic Book Resources and any persons involved with it will in no way be liable to you or any third party for any direct, indirect, punitive, incidental, special and/or consequential damages (including damages relating to lost profits, lost data or material or loss of goodwill) or any damages whatsoever that result from this offer. This limitation applies whether the alleged liability is based on contract, tort, negligence, strict liability, or any other legal theory, and even if Steven Grant, Permanent Damage, or Comic Book Resources and any persons involved with it have been advised of the possibility of such damage. That said, we’ll do our best to ensure it’s never an issue.

We’re looking for the Great Unknowns, so if you think you have it – if you really think you have it – take a shot.

The Plot:

Night, deserted city streets. In the background, some office buildings are still lit up, or partially lit, but other monolithic buildings only darken the night more deeply. At street level, a MAN desperately runs down the street, in fear of his life. A SHADOWY MOB – Human? Not? Only their dim shapes are an indicator – inexorably pursues him. Man cuts into an alley – and finds himself face to face with a small band of HOMELESS clustered around a tiny makeshift fire, who are as horrified to see him as he is to see them. They pelt him with whatever’s at hand, to drive him back, and Man tries to protect himself with his raised arms as flying debris rips his clothes and cuts his head. Dazed, he stumbles back into the street – and finds himself caught in bright POLICE CAR HEADLIGHTS. The car roars right at him, there’s no way to dodge it. Man is surprised when WOMAN seems to drop out of the air to deftly land between him and the car. The car slams hard into Woman, who stands her ground as the front end of the car wraps around her like a shroud and the back end jackknifes wildly into the air. Man stares, stunned, and behind him the Shadow Mob has stopped dead in its tracks. Woman shoves the wrecked police car away, freeing herself. She steps protectively between the Man and the mob.

Let’s see what you can do.

Interesting piece on Jack Kirby’s covers by Tom Breevort over at Marvel.Com now. Tom includes a gallery of great Kirby covers, with little explanations of why they’re great.

Interestingly, while showing off many of Kirby’s strengths, he inadvertently showcases Kirby’s “weaknesses” as well. He fails to notice (or chooses) to ignore, that in his list AVENGERS #4, CAPTAIN AMERICA #193 and THOR #177 are basically the same cover. So are AVENGERS #23, FANTASTIC FOUR #8 & 13, MARVEL TREASURY EDITION #11 and THOR #139. Or AVENGERS #16 and FANTASTIC FOUR #51, 61 & 164. The gallery becomes a display case for Kirby’s repetitiveness – if nothing else, he did love certain basic designs and wasn’t afraid to show it – and other covers seem strangely off-balance and unsatisfying when viewed as discreet pieces of art.

But “weakness” is a bit too loaded a word in this instance, because they weren’t discreet pieces of art, and they weren’t intended for collection and display in galleries. Whatever else you can say about Kirby, he knew what his job was: to sell comics. Every cover he did was designed to sell comics. So what if he repeated designs and layouts? So what if some covers were off-center or unbalanced? They worked, and they worked despite Kirby’s phenomenally prolific output. For the amount of work, and number of covers, Kirby produced, it’s a miracle any of them are even barely competent, but Kirby’s old Marvel covers go so far beyond that baseline so many times… in fact, then almost never come remotely close to approaching the baseline. Except for the odd failure (such as the dull, static KID COLT OUTLAW cover Tom shows, and why he picked that one when Kirby did so many great western covers for Marvel I couldn’t say), Kirby’s covers brilliantly serve a single purpose: to catch the eye and suck the reader in so that they want to read the comic. This is the basic, fundamental purpose of the comics cover, and in Kirby’s hands it was a tool that saved Marvel Comics.

Which isn’t exactly hyperbole. I’d heard on several occasions that Joe Maneely, who drew many ’50s Atlas Comics titles (for those who came in late, Atlas in the after-the-fact collective name for Marvel publisher Martin Goodman’s publications of the 1950s), was Stan Lee’s favorite artist, so I’ve occasionally wondered what would have happened if Maneely had lived (he died in a freak subway accident in the late ’50s) to see the dawn of the Marvel age. Would Stan have recruited him instead of Jack to draw FANTASTIC FOUR? (Or however it happened.) I’ve always though it a good bet but my friend and Kirby acolyte (and that’s not hyperbole either) Mark Evanier has pointed out that what kept Atlas from bellying up before they could even get to the Marvel age was Kirby’s return to the company and the subsequent upswing of sales of Atlas comics, particularly the “monster” books (like TALES OF SUSPENSE and JOURNEY INTO MYSTERY sporting Kirby covers. For Mark, this suggests that Goodman, ever cognizant of sales, would have insisted Stan go with Kirby for the fairly experimental (for Goodman) FF book, even if Maneely were available. Certainly Maneely’s more restrained and obsessive style would have had trouble drawing in anywhere near the number of readers Kirby’s in your face, balls to the wall style did.

Because Kirby wasn’t an “artist,” not really. He could draw, no question, but more than anything he was a cartoonist, a storyteller, an entertainer, a showman. His work was frequently sloppy and almost always hasty; part of that was obviously due to his working conditions, where he had to punch out a certain number of pages just to comfortably support his family, and he never forgot about his family, but part is also due to Kirby’s natural restlessness. If he’d had the time, which most comics artists now take as a given, would he have taken extra time to meticulously work the same page or cover for a day or three, instead of an hour or two? While there’s no doubt that Kirby’s drawing skills and visualization continuously improved over his 20+ years of experience prior to Marvel, he was constantly picking up new techniques and approaches and he certainly must’ve given a good deal of thought to his work when time allowed, he remained a very instinctual artist. Whether he came by that instinct naturally or developed it over time – likely both – it was the core of his art’s enormous energy.

That energy was why most of his covers were so instantly appealing to many readers. Because what covers sell, what they exist for, is the promise of energy, the promise that what’s expressed there – and I mean the attitude, the oomph, the little moment of thrill you get when seeing really good comics cover for the first time, not necessarily the “story content” of the cover – will play out over the length of the comic itself.

We don’t much seem to think of covers that way anymore.

If they’re meant to sell anything, most covers now seem intended to sell detachment and irony.

But a number of circumstances have changed the function of the cover since Kirby’s heyday, and I’m not sure it can be reversed. Even though the cult of the “hot” artist has been in eclipse among what passes for the general audience since the collapse of the ’90s (the number of artists whose name alone can be guaranteed to sell a book has diminished exponentially since then; do you need more than one hand to count the existing number?) over the couple decades prior the art cult had gotten so big and profitable that for many artists aftermarket original art became the key goal, and among art collectors – many were essentially pinup collectors and approached comics art with that mentality – full page shots and especially covers became the most prized, so artists gravitated toward those and the publishers who wanted to use those artists pretty much let themselves be swept along. (The ’90s were the prime era of letting artists do whatever they chose with stories and making the writers “clean it up” later, and I suspect that’s why even at Marvel now they’ve abandoned the artist-centric “Marvel style” for full scripts.)

The art market’s still there, hobbled in comparison with its time in the sun though I suspect that’s how many collectors prefer it, though it seems to have largely shifted to the fairly bizarre submarket of to-order cover recreations, and I know quite a few formerly hot artists still making a decent living at that, better than they’d make if they drew comics.

Complicating things further is a distribution system that pretty much renders covers irrelevant. The point of covers like Kirby’s was to catch a passerby’s eye as they passed a newsstand, but most comics are sold in comics shops, where, while displays are generally better than on newsstands, the pre-existing orders determine how many copies of any given title, esp. from smaller publishers, the shop gets. So the “drive-by” traffic doesn’t exist because those books never even hit the general stands, even if a general audience were to wander into the comics shop.

Most covers now are essentially pinups, and meant to be. Even where action is meant to be suggested, they’re often posed and static, and usually only have any impact at all if you’re already aware of the significance of the characters pictured, because the covers tend not to lend them special significance. Even where they’re the only figures on the covers, they’re usually just that, figures, like models in an underwear ad. Then there are the “high end” comics, often with painted covers and murky figures and shapes. Well done, they can deliver a strong sense of mood, but way too many just substitute technique for mood. In someone’s head, obviously, the final destiny of both types of cover is some art gallery wall.

Which may be the problem: this notion of covers as art for art’s sake. More and more, I hear company art directors (whatever their actual title) discussing covers as “design elements” rather than art, with emphasis on design elements as “brand identity” and its catchphrase euphemisms, as if brand recognition in itself is the ultimate sales tool, and the job of the cover isn’t to interest the reader in the contents of a comic but to allow quick identification of the publisher. That trick may work if you’re Marvel, but do other publishers who don’t sell many comics really think that being readily identifiable helps their sales? No one discussing covers as a sales tool. But ultimately that’s what they have to be because they are the front line of the war for readers’ hearts and dollars.

It’s hard to imagine Jack Kirby ever thought about art galleries when he drew a cover. Cover as come-on for sales? Absolutely he must have thought about that all the time. You can chalk it up to his naïveté, or simpler times in the comics industry. You can dismiss the vastly greater sales in Kirby’s heyday as a factor of other conditions that no longer apply. What can’t be dismissed is, as Breevort points out, how memorable many of Kirby’s covers were, and I have to think a lot of that had to do with not only his talent but his mindset going in, and while it’s fashionable now to dismiss as vulgar such crass commercial considerations (though why anyone trying to earn a living producing comics would) it’s hard to dismiss the results.

So this campaign season’s Swift Boating has officially begun. Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama was recently interviewed in the French journal POLITIQUE INTERNATIONALE, and among other things reveals his total and utter defeatism about Iraq.

Except he didn’t, because there wasn’t. Obama was never interviewed. It was a fabrication by right wing “researcher” Alexis Debat, who has managed to con his way into becoming something of a professional pundit while working for a conservative think tank. Turns out now he has for years also been running a little sideline of providing foreign magazines interviews with major American political figures like Bill Clinton and Alan Greenspan. Fabricated interviews.

I haven’t read the “interview” in question, so it’s hard to say if it aims much damage at Obama. Probably not, or at least nothing that would raise red flags about its veracity. It’s possible Debat meant no harm to Obama and was only milking the credulity of a foreign publisher for a little prestige and pocket money. But who knows what kind of little landmines are loaded in there? We’re to the point where every turn of phrase is picked over, and the wrong choice of words can blow up in a candidate’s face. Obama shot himself in the toe, if not the foot, in a debate a few weeks ago by answering the question of whether he’d be willing as President to hold talks with America’s enemies by offhandedly answering, basically, yes, on the basis that you don’t really solve any problems by only talking to the people who agree with you or restricting negotiations only to those parties who’ve already acceded to all your demands. It wasn’t a wrong answer, but it was phrased so openly that commentators immediately started painting pictures of Obama having an inaugural picnic on the White House lawn with Fidel Castro and Kim Jong Il, leaving Hilary to give the more crowd-pleasing “tough on those who’d defy us” speech. So phrasing is important, and there’s always the potential for someone during the campaign, especially if Obama gets the nomination, to trot out “Obama’s words” from the “interview” – right there in black and white – as evidence of his negativity and defeatism.

They might yet. The technique has become a mainstay of American politics and thought manipulation: plant false information with a foreign newspaper or intelligence agency, then quote it back as “independent verification,” then keep repeating it no matter who debunks it. The CIA has been using that technique for years. The “Swift Boat” campaign against John Kerry in 2004 was pretty much run the same way (though they went through commercials and radio talk shows rather than, say, newspapers in Italy) to neutralize Kerry running a war hero campaign, and it was effective enough to give us the term “swift boating.” (In England they call it a whisper campaign, but here that infringes on my copyrights.) Pretty much the entire case for the Iraq War was built using “independent foreign verification,” and the administration still repeats totally debunked evidence as justifications for the initial invasion and our continued presence there.

And the administration propaganda’s flying thick in Washington this week, as Gen. Petraeus finally reports on our “progress” in Iraq. In fact, things are going so well there that Petraeus personally intervened to get the Government Accounting Office to soften its report to Congress citing just how little has been accomplished there. (The GAO was likewise hard on the Office Of Homeland Security for massive waste, incompetence and sprawling failure to meet stated objectives.) Petraeus’ whole visit to Capital Hill has turned into little more than a lobbying stunt. You’d think everything would now be resting on his report and cross-examination by Congress, but Monday’s session (they never even bothered to swear him in, apparently leaving him under no obligation to tell the truth) was like watching a segment of the Larry King Show (renowned in the business as the place to be interviewed when you want to get your own angle over and not face any tough questions), while Petraeus has been wining, dining and overtly lobbying Congressmen after hours.

Which is why to illustrate the success of “the Surge” they’ve been focusing on small territories inside Iraq that were never much of a problem in the first place, implying that all we need do is support “the Surge” and all other regions in Iraq will inevitably also fall to it. (They’re also now dangling troop reductions, tied to policy progress in Iraq, as the carrot, an indication that public perception in America is starting to get to them.) Interestingly, the networks were nowhere near as kind to the Ghost’s recent impromptu descent on Iraq as to the last one, and were eager to point out he dropped into one of the few secure areas there. Not that anyone could reasonably expect otherwise. Other damaging reports abound, such as testimony of Radhi al-Radhi, Iraq’s deposed and exiled anti-corruption chief, who described the sheer depth of institutionalized corruption in the current Iraqi regime, or the independent study verifying that al-Qaeda had no active presence in Iraq prior to the invasion and even now accounts for no more than 5% of “the Insurgency” there. (In fact, Iraqis in general don’t like them.) But it’s pretty obvious this is all show anyway. The Administration have tied the U.S. to al-Maliki, despite his regime’s corruption and his ties to the insurgents we’re supposedly fighting, and there’s no way Congress will vote against pumping $60 billion more down the dry well. Despite growing unrest with the Administration within the Republican party, they’re not going to hang it out to dry, and Democrats don’t want to go into the next election with charges that they “gave up on our soldiers” dangling over their heads. It’s all just to convince us that reasoned debate went into the decision, even though around Las Vegas we call someone who drives themselves into bankruptcy with slot machine loss after loss while claiming that “it’ll definitely hit” the next pull a problem gambler, and casinos are supposed to cut them off. But in this case Congress is the one holding the jackpot, and they, and we, should take into account Gen. Petraeus’ answer to the one question he was more or less forced to answer, “Does [the Iraq War] make America safer?”: “I don’t know, actually.”

Notes from under the floorboard:

This is just out of sheer curiosity due to a conversation I was having the other day. Has anyone used Amazon or any other Internet-based on demand printing operation to publish comics or graphic novels? How much were your upfront costs (total, not itemized)? What price point did you end up having to give your product? Where was your breakeven, in terms of copies sold? Would you recommend the experience to someone else? Let me know.

Every once in awhile I get email sniping at the idea of political commentary in a column about comic books. Tends to come in collective doses once or twice a year. So I’d like to remind everyone that a) this isn’t a “comics” column, it’s a “whatever I feel like talking about” column, so get used to it, and b) I now get a substantial number of hits for the political commentary alone. I can understand right wingers getting a little peeved about it – maybe political commentary should be left to professionals like Bob Novak – but it’s the self-proclaimed apoliticals I like the best. Problem is, nobody’s really apolitical, because refusal or failure to take a stand automatically plays in favor of the status quo, whether that status quo is conservative or liberal. Blindly tampering with the status quo can have disastrous and unpredicted effects, as in Iraq. But not altering the status quo here has only increased the level of disaster in Iraq (not to mention domestically) though it has increased its predictability. (Even the effects weren’t really unpredicted, their potential was just unacknowledged by those tampering with the status quo there.) Honestly, it doesn’t matter to me whether you’re with me or against me; I wish everyone was out there discussing politics. Because apoliticism really is no longer an option, it’s laziness or defeatism or cowardice. I’m just trying to do my little bit to stamp out apoliticism. (By the way, America’s spy satellites, traditionally used to delve into hostile territories, have been turned on America itself now, and Congress only found out about it from THE WALL STREET JOURNAL…)

Not much happening on the culture front, except for MTV’s Video Music Awards, which made it clear that whatever was once great about MTV is long gone. The new talent award was the most interesting, mainly because they emphasized time and time again it was the only award the audience can vote for. Who votes for the others? Clive Davis? Who chooses the nominees? But the annual recording industry shell game was oddly transformed this year, into a show so pathetic it made you pity the people involved. Britney Spears crawling in an apparent barbiturate haze and a 10th Ave streetwalker get-up two sizes too small for her through a grade school talent show “dance routine” where she shouldn’t even mumble the lipsync properly and had to be helped onto the low platform at the back of the stage. Alicia Keys droning like a morphine queen and later dressing up as Xena, Warrior Princess. “MC” Sarah Silverman stumbling through an incoherent “comedy” routine and what seemed the results of a fat reefer toked backstage immediately beforehand. I wasn’t planning to watch more than a few minutes, but it turned out to be one of the most awesomely revealing moments of American TV, when everyone (except Linkin Park, who did good) behaved like they were in the ballroom of the Titanic awaiting further news of icebergs. But who knows, maybe that’s how the recording industry feels these days…

Congratulations to Paul Valois, the first to identify last week’s Comics Cover Challenge theme as “shadows.” (The BETTY AND VERONICA cover was the ringer, not actually showing a shadow but implying one with the sun umbrella.) For Paul’s sake, go look at ” one of the largest pieces of art you’ll find anywhere”, at Waterfire.

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.) Most weeks I also hide a clue to the solution somewhere in the column, but if you can’t find it, don’t worry; you won’t go to hell or anything like that. Good luck.

As usual, you can find ebooks and other books by me and recommended by me available at The Paper Movies Store. Go buy something; I need the money. Then again, who doesn’t?

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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