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Issue #103

by  in CBR Exclusives Comment
Issue #103
  • Somewhere along the line I miscounted, and discovered after last week’s column that this is the 103rd installment, and next week is the two year anniversary.

    So rather than a huge celebration blowout…

    Really, this week, I’ve got nothing. Nothing much happened in the last week, unless you count Ed Brubaker leaving DETECTIVE COMICS, or Marvel co-head honcho Ike Perlmutter selling off enough Marvel stock to send some investors into a cold sweat, but that kind of thing goes on all the time and it’s just business as usual for the comics business.

    So that’s the last week: business as usual. I’ve mostly just been working up pitches, myself. Can’t tell you what, though, so no column there.

    Someone did recently bring up the question of what’s the difference between a fanboy and a professional? I was originally put off by it; you think it’d be self-evident. But I understand why maybe it’s not, obvious fanboys being so prevalent in the professional community. Among writers, artists, editors. Not that there’s anything intrinsically wrong with being a “fanboy.” Almost all of us are, to some extent. I can tell you who the Star Rovers were and what’s the difference between a gen-factor and a metagene, I grew up reading comics, and I’ve continued reading them as a professional, and though I originally did it for fun and I do it now regardless of fun, because I consider it part of my job to keep up with what’s being published, as much as possible. I wish more comics professionals felt the same, but the resistance of many pros to keeping up with the market is, in many cases, a combination of just too much out there, too little of real interest, and “inner fanboy” disappointment that the industry hasn’t gone the way the way they would’ve preferred it. Under most circumstances, you don’t really do comics unless you’ve got some fanboy in you, whether that’s fascination with the medium or fixation on specific characters or creations.

    We need to distinguish between fans and fanboys. Lord knows we need all the fans we can get. Having a great desire to read comics, knowing continuity or character specs, even if you fix only on one or two comics or creators, that simply makes you a fan. None of that makes a fanboy. What makes a fanboy is this:

    Rigid obsession.

    We joke a lot about “fanboys” still clinging to, oh, the original X-MEN line-up, or the original ALL-NEW X-MEN lineup, or whatever, and saying that’s the way it’s meant to be and anything else is a betrayal. Of the original concept. Of them. Hell, since Wizardworld Chicago I’ve been flooded with e-mails from people complaining that Howard Chaykin’s forthcoming CHALLENGERS OF THE UNKNOWN series makes no reference to the one I did back in ’97, and doesn’t mention my characters. Of course, back when I was doing it I got a lot of complaints that my version didn’t prominently feature the original Challengers created by Jack Kirby. I appreciate the sentiment – I’m glad there were people out there who enjoyed my COTU run – but there weren’t enough of them when the book was coming out, and that’s pretty much the end of the story right there. I look forward to Howard’s CHALLENGERS (as near as I can tell, it’s got no connection to either earlier CHALLENGERS series or even the DCU, standing entirely on its own); there’s absolutely no percentage in it referencing mine. (I wonder if Andy Diggle gets angry complaints that Johnny Cloud or Gunner & Sarge aren’t in his new THE LOSERS series?)

    In theory, professionals are rivers and fanboys are dams. Fanboys want everything locked in particular moments in time, like a record needle skipping endlessly on the same track. I wish the real world distinctions were that clear.

    There are far too many professionals who want to be locked in time too. Too many professionals obsess on books they’ve lost, whether they’ve been replaced or the book has been cancelled, instead of moving on to the next work. They carry plotlines around with them, trying to insert them wherever possible. They dream of the day when they’ll be able to return to the character (for some reason this always seems to be company-owned characters; few professionals seem obsessed with returning to their own failed characters) or concept and beat its real potential out into the open. Like they didn’t the first time. Some seem to exist just to reverse whatever changes other talent have introduced to existing creations, to revert them to a pristine “original” form that more than likely wouldn’t have been tampered with in the first place had it still had a serious reader base.

    Sure, once in awhile you can return to old ground with a fresh eye that will suddenly make the concept salable to an audience. But it doesn’t happen often. It’s even more difficult to return to a old concept and make it appear new again to a new audience. You can get some mileage out of genuine nostalgia items like MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE that maintained sizable fan bases even after the material originally went out of production, but creating a new fan base for an old product virtually from scratch is considerably more difficult.

    So this, really, is how you can separate fanboys from professionals, regardless of who’s getting paid to do what: professionals move on. They keep going. They keep looking ahead. (I mean, come on, you think Warren Ellis is staying awake nights seething about the day he triumphantly returns to HELLBLAZER.) On to the next work, because the next work is really all there ever is.

  • My question about the difference between shonen and shojo manga brought some interesting responses, both on the Permanent Damage Message Board and via e-mail:

    [In last week’s] column, you asked what makes some manga shonen (for boys) while others are shojo (for girls), when they’re the same stories on the surface with different protagonists. I don’t have a concrete answer, but perhaps the language used in the comics is a factor. From what (admittedly little) I know, Japanese has many varying degrees of politeness or formality depending on who is speaking to whom. Maybe the original Japanese used in shonen is somehow more oriented towards boys and that in shojo is more oriented towards girls, but this distinction is lost once the comics are translated.

    About the only evidence I have to back up this theory is a friend who speaks Japanese fluently, who claims that English-speaking audiences miss more than half the show in Akira Kurosawa’s RASHOMON because of the forms of Japanese used amongst the characters. The language used speaks volumes about the characters, but these nuances are almost entirely lost in even the best translations.”

    and

    “I may be able to shed some light on how the shoujo/shounen division works. First of all, the situation is more complex than the “shoujo=girls’ comics, shounen=boys’ comics” version most Americans get. There are other connotations to the terms as well – shounen suggests courage and adventure, for example (think of what the phrase “boy’s adventure comic” implies). Also, there are other terms that don’t get used much in the US. The term for young mens’ comics is “seinen.” (Rumiko Takahashi’s MAISON IKKOKU is a seinen title, for example; it’s aimed at a more mature audience than an average shounen title.) The parallel term for young women’s manga is “josei.”

    There are two primary divisions between shoujo and shounen, and subject matter isn’t really one of them. The first is a matter of style and emphasis. You can’t peg everything on the art, but if there’s a picture of the main character surrounded by a gauzy halo, it’s probably
    not shounen.

    More important is the emphasis placed on relationships and feelings. In shounen manga, the romance is often an excuse for (and a backdrop to) the setting, trappings, etc.; in shoujo, the setting, trappings, etc. are often a backdrop to the romance. And shoujo characters tend to be driven and defined by their relationships, while shounen character are driven and defined by externals. (Consider: which gets more emphasis in DRAGONBALL Z, Goku’s wife or his energy level?)

    To take the example of INU-YASHA vs. FUSHIGI YUGI, the characters in INU-YASHA may have feelings for each other, but it doesn’t drive the stories, and they don’t spend a lot of time reflecting on it. In FUSHIGI YUGI, the main character spends a lot of time pining over her loved one, and the other male characters are often defined by their relationship to her. (Or to take a more clear-cut example: in RANMA½, romantic feelings are a simple character trait and don’t often change: Ryouga likes Akane, Kuno likes Akane and girl-Ranma, etc. This may affect how the characters act towards each other, but very little time is spent on the characters reflecting on how they feel. In MARMALADE BOY, the relationships drive how the characters act, and they change as circumstances change (Ginta likes Miki, Arimi likes Yuu, but they wind up together at the end).)

    However, none of this is as important as the strongest force dividing the two: MARKETING!

    It may not be as clear when reading the collections, but most manga collections are strongly marketed as shojo, shounen, or whatever. Often it’s right in the title, SHONEN JUMP being an obvious example. Therefore, the simplest definition of shoujo manga is “anything that runs in a shoujo manga title.” Clamp generally works in shoujo titles, so X/1999 is considered shoujo despite all the evidence to the contrary. AYASHI NO CERES (another, generally superior work by the creator of FUSHIGI YUGI) is pretty bloody in spots and has some disturbing undercurrents, but it was published in FLOWER COMICS, so it’s shoujo.

    I can’t tell you whether this means that Japanese publishers have a broader idea of what might appeal to female readers than American publishers, or just that the publishing distinctions aren’t that useful.

    It’s not uncommon for the weekly manga collections to not only publish stories with a similar feel, but to have a similarity in art style as well. You may have noticed that MARMALADE BOY and KODOCHA have a similar look to the characters; they both ran in RIBON, one of the premiere shoujo anthologies. I don’t know whether this is the result of editorial fiat, artists learning from each other, or hiring art assistants who’d worked on similar titles before–probably some of each in different measures.)”

    On the subject of Crossgen, one reader wrote:

    [Here’s what] Mark Alessi should have said in a press release, regarding the freelancers:

    This is an internal business matter and we are doing our best to resolve matters to everyone’s satisfaction.

    No insults and no sharing of internal stuff at Crossgen. Nice and professional.

    Regarding the WWE and Crossgen, its funny how Crossgen’s marketing department mimics the WWE only in the bad stuff, like Alessi and Rosemann’s recent press releases. But when it comes to creating advertising pieces that appeal to the Direct Market, and make people want to buy the books and get excited, they rely on tired corporate marketing clichés “we provide a quality on time product”. They’re not selling computer chips, you know.”

    I’ll refrain from comment, thanks. More on Crossgen and other topics:

    “I really appreciate your perspective concerning our current administration in this fine country. You are such an astute observer of all things political, I wonder, are you going to come out in favor of a particular candidate against the “hand puppet?” I hope so, because I am interested in your opinion, given the refreshing stand you have taken contrary to seemingly popular opinion. I would be interested to hear a clear stand you might have for someone, assuming you get to that point. Your column juxtaposes a perfect blend of interests on my part: politics and comics. It’s a weird blend that surely does not afflict many people; distrust of political power, particularly in the hands of Republicans and a love of comics. To be honest, I can’t remember reading much of your comics work, except for I-BOTS, which was short lived but intriguing (was that yours?).

    Interesting insights into the CrossGen problems in your recent column. I never quite knew what to make of CrossGen. The whole deal about moving to the compound in Florida always struck me as odd to say the least. I haven’t bought any CrossGen comics, but I have ordered some for the library I in which I work. I’m in my mid-thirties, and have been reading comics straight on since I was around 7. I have developed a GN collection at the Johnson City Public Library in East Tennessee, including some CrossGen titles. They do have some quality titles it looks like, but they still make me nervous. The exclusivity clause and the requirement of relocation is cause for concern. I concur with you though, I would prefer they prosper, as the more healthy companies in comics the better. It is odd though, to hear of comics creators coldly referred to as freelancers. These freelancers are the ones delivering the content to the fans. I recently read the library’s copy of SOJOURN and found it to be relatively well written with beautiful art.”

    I-BOTS was sort of mine. TeknoComics got the concept from Isaac Asimov shortly before his death (as far as I know, it was literally scrawled on a cocktail napkin), then Howard Chaykin was brought in to flesh out Asimov’s idea into a bible describing the I-Bots and their world, with rough story notes. At that point I came onboard, along with George Perez, and we and the editors reworked bunches of it, introducing new characters, changing most of the names, etc. Then I wrote about, oh, 14 or so issues of it; George drew six, followed by Pat Broderick.

    As far as choices for presidential candidates go, I haven’t settled on one yet. The more I find out about Howard Dean, the less I like him, and either there are a lot of Democrats out there who think “Hand Puppet Lite” is the best way to take back the White House (not implausible) or Dean had better have one hell of a great public relations machine kicking for him; the real bloodletting is yet to come. Currently my tastes are swinging toward John Edwards or Wesley Clark, but I don’t know enough about either of them yet. But that’s what campaign seasons are for, right?

    Speaking of fanboys, here’s one I meant to put in last week and accidentally skipped:

    “Opening a comics shop is something that I’ve always thought I’d really like to do as an experiment – if I was ever in a situation where money wasn’t really an object. Just to see what would and would not work, without having to worry about whether I made any money or not (although to truly measure the experiment, I would have to try to make money).

    My solution to the fanboy problem is to put them in a little room in the back, with cameras. For the front-of-the-house, I’d hire cute young girls and guys, who probably don’t know anything about comics. We’d train them on the basics – what an artist is, what a writer is, how the comics are organized, what sorts of things people might be looking for. But each one would have a headset walkie-talkie, and if they got a fanboy question, they’d just call back to the “fanboy squad” and get an answer.

    Customer: Hi, I’m looking for some stuff by this guy Tom McFarland?

    Cute Salesperson: Sure. Hold on, let me check on that – Fanboy 1, I’ve got a request for some Tom McFarland?

    Fanboy in back: This is Fanboy1, he’s talking about Todd McFarlane. You’re going to want Amazing Spider-Man in the 400’s and Infinity Inc. in the late 20’s.

    Cute Salesperson: Thanks, Fanboy 1!

    We could have formal “Meet the Experts” days where you could meet the fanboys, so that any potential fanboy customers could feel at home too.

    Not sure if there would be enough self-aware fanboys to fill the need, but it would be worth a try.”

    I wouldn’t worry about how many self-aware fanboys there are so much as whether you’d have enough customers to support the extra salary, not to mention the cost of the tech. Not a terrible idea in theory, though. Might as well get some use out of ’em…

  • So the Hand Puppet, facing the prospect of an onrushing re-election campaign has decided to “solve” the economy. And, yeah, of course we’d grouse if he didn’t, but isn’t it funny how a Republican tries to solve every situation with bigger government. The difference between the Hand Puppet and most presidents (one of the differences, I should say) is that most presidents don’t try to simultaneously flush out government coffers. At any rate, his “solution” to the “sluggish” economy is to create the new post of Manufacturing Czar. While officially reporting to Commerce Secretary Don Evans, once presumes such a “czar” will be given fairly broad powers to deal with the “crisis”: 2.7 million jobs – 2.4 mil of them in manufacturing – lost since the Hand Puppet took office. How this is supposed to affect what the Hand Puppet himself has cited as the main problem – trade restrictions by foreign countries – is anyone’s guess. But it’s a relatively good bet that whoever fills the post – there’s no timetable for filling it, and no nominees, but there are certainly enough HP cronies like Kenneth Lay who are out of work and, gosh, are experienced in these matters (don’t laugh; one of the hallmarks of this administration was to put Iran-Contra conspirators back into harness) – will come up with a laundry list of “solutions” along the lines of:
    • Slash taxes (in the speech announcing the post, the Hand Puppet prattled about his tax cuts saving jobs… without actually introducing any supporting evidence)
    • Slash environmental regulations that hamper the economic growth of American industries (the Administration has been beating this drum since the beginning, highlighted by last week’s declaration that, in accordance with its dependence on voodoo science to go along with the Reaganesque voodoo economics, restrictions on production of carbon dioxide were to be lifted; you may recall the Patriot Act had provisions preventing municipalities from knowing what poisons factories designated as “vital to American security” were dumping into their air and water)

    • Limit worker compensation and increase “productivity” (the latter being a buzzword generally meaning more work for the same pay)

    In other words, we can pretty much expect, at best, a parroting of existing administration policies and a net-zero change in job creation and overall economic growth, just like creation of an “Energy Czar” has done little to affect the overall American energy policy and the creation of a “Drug Czar” had negligible effect on the drug traffic, and the main function of both was to spout approved slogans. In a country where the economy is supposedly controlled by “market forces” (and the Republicans claim to want no government interference in anything that makes money except the drug trade and pornography), how much influence is really possible, or politically permissible? But the Hand Puppet can go on the campaign trail and claim he’s “doing something” about the economy because he created the post, regardless of what the Manufacturing Czar ends up actually accomplishing. Because, you know, when things are going to hell around you it’s always the thought that counts.

    Irony is my life.

    Which is why I follow the career of John Ashcroft, who’s claiming that critics in Congress are willing to support bills unwriting aspects of the Patriot Act because “they haven’t read them.” That’s pretty funny, given that Ashcroft pushed The Patriot Act through Congress before many Congressmen, desperate to prove to their constituencies they were solutions and not problems in the “war on terrorism,” had gotten a good read through it. Ashcroft is arguing for expansion of the Patriot Act instead (you may recall he swore there wasn’t a “Patriot II” in the works even while he was shipping early copies to select Congressional allies) but his big opposition isn’t coming so much from Democrats (most of whom don’t want to run the risk of coming off as “soft on terrorism”) as from Congressional Republicans like Idaho’s Butch Otter and Larry Craig. Ashcroft claims to be concerned not with what modern Americans think of him – probably good policy since his negatives with the public are rising daily – but what posterity thinks of him. Presumably Patriot II would give him to power to control that. In the meantime, he’s satisfied to call those who are waking up terrorist sympathizers (he pretty much accused any Congressman willing to weaken the Patriot Act of collaborating with terrorists), while the Hand Puppet charges from fundraiser to fundraiser claiming to be the fundraising underdog while he outcoffers the Democrats by some $200 million and rising. I guess he felt running as an underdog in 2000 was his ticket to success (if you discount the popular vote, which went noticeably against him, and the Supreme Court), but how do you really claim to be the underdog when you’re the one in power and Congress has pretty much spent your term handing you everything you want – and things have gotten so much worse?

  • IDW has released the second issue of Steve Niles and Ben Templesmith’s DARK DAYS ($3.99), the sequel to their amazingly successful vampire story 30 DAYS OF NIGHT. In her quest to educate the citizenry and rid the world of vampires – which almost everyone considers mythical – heroine Stella Olemaun, survivor of the massacre of Barrow AK, gets frustrated in every direction. Not a lot happens, really; whereas the first issue was spent building up Stella as a dangerously driven and cleverly dangerous woman, this issue outlines the scope of the forces arraying against her. I liked it well enough, but it wore being just a chapter a little too much on its sleeve. It’s a story that would have more impact in longer chunks. I’m not sure 22 page chapters of anything do it anymore. Maybe it’s time to let them go… (The issue also has a sample of Niles’ other new series, the FRANKENSTEIN inspired WAKE THE DEAD. Problem is the art’s by new artist Milx, who’s been in the news a lot lately for being thrown off books. I’m not sure what the fuss is about; I don’t mind his work, but from what’s shown here he’s essentially a Mike Zulli clone…)

    Monkeysuit Press has published Enrico Casarosa‘s THE ADVENTURES OF MIA #1 ($3.50), a well-done funny animal adventure strip set in an otherwise real world fascist Italy of the 1930s, starring a freespirited female flying ace. It’s light fare, but it’s got a Floyd Gottfredson/Indiana Jones thing going on. Again, wish the chunk was longer, but the book’s entertaining and it’s a more interesting milieu than most comics of this type have…

    After four issues of Josh Nelson‘s mini-comic NOCTURN (no price given), I’m still not sure what’s going on in it. The art’s literally all over the place, fascinating in its own way but I dare anyone to tell me what they’re looking at. In the first three issues the story, sparse and staccato, involves an artist at war with capitalism and desire – it’s more an allegory than a story – while the last is a day in a life immersed in pop culture. All this may sound like it’s building to a pan, but it’s not. The work has plenty of flaws, but at least it’s ambitious; there’s something compelling about it. (The art sharpens up by the fourth issue as well.)

    Albert Nguyen & Sebastian Mesa’s minicomic THE PAINTED WAR hits #2 ($1.50) continuing the story from the first, taking the tough-as-nails heroine Athena into prison life. The art’s primitive but the storytelling’s tight and Nguyen manages to get a lot of emotion in the faces and poses, and the ending, though it requires some leap of faith, makes for an unexpectedly good hook.

  • Al Franken’s got this new book out. You might have heard of it. It’s called LIES AND THE LYING LIARS WHO TELL THEM: A Fair And Balanced Look At The Right, and Fox News recently tried to sue it out of existence on the basis that they owned the phrase “fair and balanced.” (There’s no doubt Franken used it as a direct jab at Fox News.) I haven’t read the book, I’ve got no idea whether it’s any good or not. What I do know about it is something most of the surrounding publicity left out: the book’s illustrations were done by comics’ own Don Simpson, creator of MEGATON MAN and various other comics. I’m surprised no one else has mentioned this.

    Cyberosia‘s trade paperback of my crime series DAMNED, done with Mike Zeck, Denis Rodier and Kurt Goldzung and featuring gobs of new material, should be on the shelves today or next week, depending on how long it takes the books to arrive from the overseas printers. Start a run on them today. Out in a couple weeks is Avatar‘s FRANK MILLER’S ROBOCOP #2. The first issue has been getting great response all around. Hurry over here for a sample review before the column changes for the week and you have to dig through the archives.

    Don’t forget to feed your comics jones (if your local retailer isn’t carrying what you want) at the great online retailer Khepri.

    Now, what can I do for a 2 year celebration? Isn’t it closing on the second anniversary of something else as well? The date sounds vaguely familiar…

    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. You can also leave messages for me and have discussions on other topics at my Delphi forum, GRAPHIC VIOLENCE. 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.

    Those wanting to subscribe to the WHISPER e-mail newsletter should 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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