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Issue #113

by  in CBR Exclusives Comment
Issue #113
  • Had this epiphany the other day. Was reading the Avatar adaptation, by Antony Johnston and Jacen Burrows, of Alan Moore’s punk Cthulhu mythos story THE COURTYARD. It’s pretty good, even if the ending is obvious from page one to anyone with a third-grade education, an interesting horror concept pretty well delivered. The ending isn’t really the point anywhere; as in much of Alan’s work, the ride is the fun, not the destination. The story’s about murder, very old things, shared and hidden language and shifting perceptions of reality, and while I was reading it, it suddenly hit me, what can save the comics industry and bring back a big audience.

    Comics should be the new drugs.

    I admit this isn’t exactly an original thought. Grant Morrison has talked about it, though until now I’d always plopped that under the heading of “attention-getting device” and didn’t really get what he was talking about. Suddenly I get it, and you should too.

    Yeah, yeah, I know. Just say no, blah blah. Drugs are bad. Drugs are evil. Drugs will destroy your life.

    Which is partly true, and partly not true. Having grown up in an era where recreational drugs were widely available, I’m nowhere near as frightened by drugs as a lot of people seem to be. Sure, there are bad drugs (I’d personally recommend staying far, far away from amphetamines, barbiturates, opiates, cocaine – jeez, I just realized all those are considered “medicinal” – and anything that’s likely to result in organ damage) and there are bad times to use drugs, but that doesn’t necessarily vitiate the potential value of the drug experience, which, as everyone who has heard a pro-drug argument knows, has been central to various religious and artistic practices for centuries. (As well as some rather unsavory practices, such as the cult of the Hashashin, though William Burroughs suspects they used heroin or some approximation and not hashish, and the Norse cult of Berserkers, who appear to have taken some mild-altering substance to convince themselves they were fearsome bears – berserk means “bear-shirt” – who were unstoppable on the battlefield.)

    At any rate, this is what Morrison was talking about when linked comics and drugs: comics have the potential to be mind-altering experiences.

    Which is another way of saying that comics, properly done, have the ability to take us to “alternate realities,” to show us new ways of looking at the world, new experiences, whole new explosions of imagination. (Who ever read a Steve Ditko Dr. Strange story without wondering if they’d somehow stumbled into a drug trip?) This was really the great appeal of comics when I was growing up (I’m not the only one; Ken Kesey, the Johnny Appleseed of acid, wanted everyone to wear colorful, unusual clothing because he grew up as a big Captain Marvel fan, and from such things were the hippies born) though they’ve since become calcified into meaningless icons by many who claim to greatly value them. When I started reading comics, it was a drab, colorless world, where the highest aspiration was to get a good job and a nice house in the suburbs, and school was drab, and television was drab, and the movies I could see were stiff and lifeless (most of them, anyway) and suddenly comics brought color and imagination into my life. It wasn’t good vs. evil that was the great appeal, though there was that. It was the idea a man could put on a ring and be able to take himself to other planets, other times, other dimensions. That reality could be a fluid, unpredictable thing, with the unexpected – whether good or bad – around every corner.

    As well, it was adventure at a time when adventure was very much frowned upon.

    Like now.

    Okay, so it didn’t take long for it all to fall into formula. (Though I specifically remember the first 30 or so Gardner Fox-written issues of JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA, which I’m pretty sure were in Morrison’s mind when he did his fabulous run on JLA, as he tapped into the Fox formula and milked it for all the gold it was worth.) Anything that becomes successful does fall into formula, so the success can be replicated with other parties involved. That’s the theory anyway. And that’s what people seem to have taken away from most successes in comics: the formula. That’s what everyone always tries to duplicate, and that’s missing the point.

    This isn’t an argument against “realism” in comics. Imagination goes in all different directions. The point isn’t to limit what can be done. The point is to go for broke. But most comics have fallen into set patterns, following what someone or other either “proved” or theorized was the “correct” mode. Set patterns of any kind are the enemy. Then there’s the sociological aspect: frightened of their own shadows, most comics companies encourage the limitation of concepts to what’s “acceptable,” meaning what won’t attract unwanted attention. (And let’s just forget about sex as an attention-grabber, shall we? As I watched TV last night, I noted that sex is being sold virtually everywhere all the time as an attention-grabber – Tyra Banks and Heidi Clum in underwear on the tube, Britney Spears teasing nudity in ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY and all of them laughable in their attempts to project sexiness – to the point where we’re so oversaturated with sexual imagery no one’s even really responding to it anymore, though we’re obviously supposed to feel titillated and ‘naughty’ as if we were all prudes.) In attempts to escape dangerous eyes, comics – and I mean virtually all comics, not just superhero comics or comics from Marvel and DC – have made themselves of no interest to anyone.

    Drugs – certain drugs – have traditionally been used by artists as openers of the imagination. But drugs are illegal. Strip away the fight scenes and hinky moralism, and that’s what comics can do really well too: free the imagination. They can be portals into new ways of thinking and other worlds, an awakening to a sense of real adventure. This is what the whole “mad ideas” thing being touted a couple years back was all about – PROMETHEA and THE INVISIBLES and PLANETARY – and this is exactly what the field needs more of: wild and mad, without definition or restriction.

    I’m not talking about “dark” or “bright” or “realism” or “fantasy.” I mean imagination. Real imagination. We can turn comics in a real literature of imagination if we want to. There’s absolutely no reason why a good comic book can’t trigger the same sense of wonder and sense that there’s more to this life, this world, than we experience everyday that a good acid trip or a good jolt of ecstasy does. The experience wouldn’t be as internalized, sure, but it would still be vivid when it was over, and you could go back to it any time you want to.

    But part of the appeal of drugs is the sheer danger of them. So to do this, we have to make comics dangerous again, open up the possibility that it’s not only possible you’ll walk away from a comic changed in some way but that that’s what’s supposed to happen. Because there’s danger implicit in every true adventure. But danger attracts the attention of the status quo, because they don’t like danger. There’s no safe ground on this. We’ve got to walk on unsafe ground and, to be convincing, be thrilled to do it.

    Because, for as much as we want to be an honored part of popular culture, comics is still an outlaw medium, and it’s time we used that to our advantage. Drugs are illegal. Comics aren’t. So why not comics as the new drug? Wherever really good drugs can get you, really good comics can get you there too.

    So that’s our slogan. Don’t say “Comics are cool.” It’s a funny thing about cool; when you have to tell someone you’re cool, you’re not cool. To nick from Robert Frost, cool’s a gift word. Only other people can say you’re cool.

    But “Comics: the new drug.” Now there’s a slogan. But it only works if we back it up.

  • My collaborator on THE LIFE OF POPE JOHN PAUL II, John Tartaglione, died of throat cancer last week at age 82. I just heard about it today. Like everyone else, I don’t really know much about him, even though we had near-daily contact for almost a year while working on the Pope book. I’d known him a little before that as a sweet, quiet old guy who worked in Marvel’s production department. John’s art wasn’t flashy and there was never a time when he was a hot artist, but he was a good artist with particular expertise at likenesses, something that unfortunately didn’t come into play in comics too often. I remember he was really excited about the Pope book, not because it was his claim to fame (the thing had people at Marvel trying to jump onto the publicity wagon at every turn) but because he was a lifelong Catholic who wanted to see “positive” stories being done. I remember he was a pro golf fanatic, and told me I look like pro golfer Tom Kite (I don’t) until I couldn’t stand it anymore. He didn’t talk much about himself, and I really never found out much more than that about him, except he was kind and funny and unpretentious and a much better artist than I’d given him credit for. I’m sorry to see him go.
  • Warren Ellis no longer does his COME IN ALONE column here at CBR (though you can buy the CIA collection from AiT/PlanetLar Books) but he still delivers sobering comics commentary via his e-mail newsletter BAD SIGNAL. (If you don’t get it, subscribe by clicking this link, and sending a blank message with the word “SUBSCRIBE” in the subject line.) Recently Warren produced a nice little summation of the current comics market, and, to balance off my pie-in-the-sky hippie flashback above, I decided to rerun it here (with Warren’s gracious permission, of course):

    Sometime last year, I was shown a thing that said that Diamond, the biggest comics distributor and exclusive partner to the major companies, has some 3,100 active accounts. That’s not 3,100 comics shops. You take out the toy stores, games stores and whatever who maintain a Diamond account for supplies pertaining to their core business. Some of them may stock some comics material. Take out the buying clubs and small mail-order operations. Whatever’s left from that is the number of comics stores. Some people have estimated 2000, some have estimated 2500. There’s no way to get a hard figure. But you’re certainly looking at less than 3000 comics stores served by Diamond – and since they carry Marvel, DC, Image and Dark Horse exclusively, you’re looking at less than 3000 stores selling comics in English as their core business. Diamond has employees working solely with toy store accounts, so that’s not an insignificant number.

    It’s recently been presented to me that people in the major comics companies have come to believe that some 50% of the monthly comics sales volume comes from the top 5% of Diamond accounts. How many stores is that? On the pessimistic end, that’s a hundred comics shops. On the optimistic end — a hundred and fifty?

    Here’s some more Imaginary Math for you. Initial orders on ORBITER totaled 7200. That’s two copies for each Diamond account. But if Rory Root in Berkeley ordered 80 copies, how many stores ordered none at all? Especially if Lehman in Boston and Drivas in Minneapolis did 50 each? And if the reorder activity
    that took us over the 10,000 mark before the book went into the bookstore market only came from the places that ordered it in the first place?

    If Hibbs, in San Francisco, looks at the estimated industry sales figures and says, shit, I sold at least two or three percent of this book’s numbers in my store alone… then it was a damn sight more than 50% of that book’s volume sold through that 5% of stores.

    If you get to the point where your work is only going to be distributed
    through a hundred stores, then you may as well be distributing through head shops.

    The most recent Bilal graphic novel, DECEMBER 32nd, is reported to have moved more than 400,000 copies in French. That’s in a market widely supposed to have softened over the last ten years. Its orders in English were apparently so low that it’s been pulled from the schedule. A retailer told me yesterday that he’s been given to understand that only six to eight hundred stores are ordering METAL HURLANT, and less than two hundred are carrying the Humanoids hardback albums.

    Less than two hundred. What an interesting number.

    Hopefully, the last one out the door will turn off the lights. I don’t want to be stuck with the electricity bill.

  • Some quick ones from the mailbag:

    “I was in the artist alley at the Las Vegas Con, only because small press space was “sold out” so that’s where they were putting us.

    In regards to your suggestions for the artist alley, and small press areas at cons, I think you’re on the right track. People will generally avoid these areas either altogether, or at least until they’re satisfied they’ve seen what the rest of the con has to offer (in the case of San Diego, that likely wouldn’t come to pass). I suspect promoters use these setups more based on pricing, I mean booth space is exponentially more than artist space, and I could see vendors being upset at the idea of paying more for the same location. Just a thought.

    However, my first show was San Diego this year, and besides Las Vegas I’ve done two local NW shows, and my Portland Oregon convention was my most successful. It also happened to be the first show where they tried a new approach with artists/small press tables, they mixed them in with the main floor. So, very similar to your suggestion, they would have about 2 tables (side-by-side) in the middle section of a row mixed in. I did the same sales and activity in one day with that set up as I did in a single day at San Diego, this from an attendance of about 1,500 vs San Diego’s estimated 70k. Now, I’m sure there could be other factors at play here, but just thought you should know I’ve experienced some success with your theory. I think it’s a good one. I mean, as you mentioned, even from a show promoter perspective, you don’t want large dead areas at your show.”

    “After working with freelancers for some time – pencilers, inkers, letterers, colorists, cover artists – I’ve come to believe that one of the biggest problems in comics is the existence of the freelance philosophy of the page rate.

    Take Colorist Albert, for example. Colorist Albert is basically just getting his start in the industry. He’s read the ‘how-to’ books, he “took it on the chin” here and there by doing a few pages for his friends, and has honed himself to be pretty good at the craft. After slugging it out for a year coloring some pages for the third and fourth tier publishers for pennies, he gets a few fill-in pages for an Image book that sells pretty well. He has “hit the big time.”

    So now what happens? Colorist Albert has developed, in about one to two years, an over-high estimation of his value to any company. His page rate has just gone up. His “industry standard” asking price – let’s say $75 per page, keeping it modest – is a reflection of what he’s worth to exactly two companies in America: DC and Marvel. *Maybe* Image. With a 22-page DC book selling 35,000 copies, with various other licenses and merchandise bringing in money based on that title, DC and Marvel can afford to pay a colorist $75 per page.

    But that’s not what Colorist Albert thinks. Colorist Albert, with his modicum of knowledge about the industry, thinks that “My page rate is now $75 because I did work for Image.”

    So… Take a company exactly like mine. We’ve published a four-issue B&W series that came out to nothing but positive reviews. We followed it with a TPB. I’d venture to say that a fair amount of people working in the industry (not fans, so much, but creators, editors, retailers, etc.) have at least heard of our title. We are looking to put out a second series or even go straight to OGN, and we are thinking in color. We contact Colorist Albert.

    “Hey, I’ve head of that book. These guys are real publishers!” he thinks. “I want $75 per page,” he says.

    We do the math… OK. We put together a 110-page OGN, that’s 110 x 75, or 8,250 dollars. Do all the rest of the math, 11.95 minus printing, distributor discounts, advertising, shipping, etc… (*not including costs going out to the other page raters just yet*) We’re making about $2-3-4 per book sold… as a small company even with some presence in the industry, we get what… 500 copies ordered through Diamond, CC, FMI? We bust our asses, putting in hundreds approaching thousands of hours, we manage bookstore distro, we sell… 1000 copies, total? 2000?

    Screw it. Say it’s a huge success by all standards for a small publisher. Say we sell 3000 copies of the thing off the bat. That’s like ten grand, minus the 8250 we gave to the colorist; and he’s the second or third guy down on our freelance totem pole when it comes to paying out the page rate, after the penciler and inker.

    And thus… Colorist Albert has a seriously overhigh estimation of his own value to most companies due to the warped, sky-high page rates that Marvel and DC pay out, which have somehow become “industry standard” for any guy who thinks he has talent.

    My partner and I have been battling thinking like this for years. Freelancers don’t look inside the real numbers, and most of them have no real idea of what they are actually worth to a small publisher.

    Now, of course, the way we negotiate with all of our freelance guys now is to not make them freelance any more. For our next project, everyone working on it will get a percentage of the ownership of the work. The colorist will own his share, the penciler will own his share. If we all do the best possible work that we can, then it’s got a shot at paying us all dividends; the time we are all investing is the shared risk of all of us. But my partner and I are still the “publishers,” because that’s our area, and that’s where our time investment goes. We’ll do our best to make sure that everyone has money for their time, including ourselves.

    There is essentially no money in comics unless you are at the top. That holds true for publishers who aren’t at the top, and it should hold true for freelancers who aren’t at the top, even if their work is so good that they deserve to be. And I would argue that there are a hell of a lot more out-of-work freelancers who believe that they are doing Marvel-quality work than there are wannabe publishers who believe they can come out of the gates and sell 100,000 copies of their issue 1.

    Something about the thinking has to change within the freelance community. I fully agree with all that you said about time, and rent, and bills; I totally understand that the way a freelancer pays their bills is exactly the way I pay my bills. But the problem, IMO, is that too many freelancers like Colorist Albert have come to believe that this product that they are spending their time on – a penciled page, a colored page – is worth a hell of a lot more than it really is.

    In closing, I should say that we are lucky to have found some really great artists to work with, and who think realistically about things the way we do as writers and publishers. I would hate for them to think that what I’m saying here applies to them. They’ve bent over backwards for us on many an occasion.”

    Y’know, while I agree a lot of talent lets a little success go to their heads, virtually all publishers think the page rate is the problem. That was one of the operative theories behind Marvel’s recent Epic attempt. The problem for small publishers is that if someone is capable of getting Marvel or DC rates (and I’m not talking about creators, who have an emotional stake in their projects, I’m talking about the people who are hired on to handle the areas the creators can’t or won’t do themselves) the work they’re doing for you is work they’re not doing for Marvel or DC, which translates into money they’re losing. Given how widespread computers are and how easy it is to do lettering and coloring on computer, I’m surprised any small or self-publisher is even using outside labor. No, the scale of pay from small publishers isn’t likely to be commensurate with the scale from large publishers, but lay it out in advance and if it’s not enough it’s not enough. Pay more or get someone else. But everyone’s got the prerogative to turn down work if the price being offered doesn’t suit them.

    “I was one of the people in the Artist Alley at the Las Vegas Con, and what Vegas was like was actually pretty standard for a lot of conventions this year. You’re 100% correct about it becoming an artist ghetto.

    As for solutions, that’s a little harder. I was at a con in Portland where there was not a small-press section, but instead the artists were paired up, and put in the middle of dealer islands. It didn’t really help much. The only thing I can offer is that the Artist Alley/Small Press sections can’t be a vast sea of tables that people have to hire an expedition team to navigate. In Vegas, the AA section was 8 tables deep (and in my case, we had something like a table and a third – 3 people to take up 4 tables – they just tried to stretch out who they had to fit the tables they had set up), and hardly anyone ventured in to see what/who was there. There were a lot of times where we were lucky to have 2 or 3 people wander by in an hour. And then there was the convention attendee who plopped down at a vacant AA table to eat his lunch (sitting on the outside of the table, of course).

    Anyways, my solution is that the sections can’t be 8 tables deep. 4 tables max, maybe only 2 deep. Otherwise, getting stuck in the middle of an island is a death sentence. And, the Artist Alley can’t be off in the back. For guys like me, who have no name and no one’s really heard of my book, the only chance for a successful con is to have a lot of foot traffic. A couple of strips of artists tables running through the middle of the floor (again, not monstrous, 8-10 tables-deep islands, but strips) would be much better. And, I think that perhaps they ought to not assign tables until the day of the con, and then assign only who shows up. Remove unnecessary tables before the show starts. Having a half-empty AA section tells con goers that the Artist Alley isn’t an important area to visit. If a large number of artists can’t even be bothered to show up for the event (and I’ve never seen that many no-shows before), why should comics fans be expected to care?

    So that’s my best guess as far as what con organizers can do. Of course, I’d be remiss if I didn’t say that just showing up at a con isn’t enough for most artists. At conventions for other products, every table is doing something/giving something away to get people to stop by and check out what’s going on at their booth. At comic cons, the Artist Alley is usually pretty low key (Small Press sections usually understand a little better the need to attract attention). If all it takes is a small promotional trinket to get people’s attention, that’s what needs to be done. Buttons and stickers aren’t that expensive, but if it gets someone to look at your book/website, then it’s worth it.”

    For some reason, the art gallery is always in some back-wall area that’s always empty. Why not make them into more of a hang-out zone so people are compelled to go visit? Cons are always doing afterparties, and lounges… maybe they should rig it so that there are couches and stuff intertwined with the art displays, and cases over the sculptures (so people don’t set dirty cups and stuff next to pieces of art). This way people can appreciate the artwork displayed and perhaps feel compelled to buy/bid on a piece.

    The Vegas con should have cost a lot less to get into. I know some attendees who drove out from San Diego who were sorely disappointed. I think that a comic book show should be making profits off snackbars and exhibitors, like most other events. Tables at cons are costly as they are anyways. Maybe charge extra to hang giant banners as extra advertising for some of the bigger publishers?

    I liked your idea of mixing the artist’s alley into the rest of the show, and San Diego last year seemed to do that a bit with the small press area being split in 3 parts. The ones in the back center lucked out because they were near the snackbar.

    The thing that I hated about the San Diego Comicon this year was that it was a big media blitz and it really de-emphasized comics and collecting. With so many people there, it got really obnoxious trying to get anywhere, and the security guards were really angry all the time because they were stretched too thin so they were on edge. There needs to be a medium somewhere otherwise it’ll just turn into Hollywood-con. I dunno. Maybe more people were exposed to comics because they wanted to see their favorite movie stars.

    One of my favorite things about the Vegas con was the webcomics panel that they had. R. Stevens was an awesome moderator. Panels are a great way for people to learn more about new projects and trends. The way they split them up in San Diego was great. If you were interested in a particular topic thread, it seemed like they tried to not have stuff overlap too much.

    There needs to be way better advertising/marketing. Give people a reason to geek out with their friends. Me and my friends had a blast in Vegas because we hung out at the Star Trek Experience until it shut down for the night. But, as exhibitors, none of us fared too well. If Vegas re-organized as a networking event, maybe it would do better in the future.

    The masquerade judging was all kinds of messed up in vegas. They need to do it like Anime Expo, which has the best model going. Sorry for rambling so much, but the Vegas Extrosion pissed me off so bad as a convention.”

    One correction from last week’s reviews. The stories in the KOMIKWERKS anthologies were not taken from the website but are original material. Sorry about that, and thanks for the correction.

  • So what comics have come down the pike recently?

    LESS THAN HERO #1-2 (Polite Stranger Press; $3@)

    This is one of those books that I really hate reviewing, because it’s pretty well done, by Jason McNamara and Tony Talbert (not sure who does what), but it just doesn’t quite click. A kid tries to kill himself in a car accident, then inexplicably desecrates and loots a cult’s sacred shrine and decides to become… a superhero. Sort of. Naming himself a Punk and dressing in Dormammu chic, he’s a superhero in the Bob Burden/Keith Giffen vein, and if they’re not influences somebody’s channeling somebody. It just doesn’t go far enough? Really, I don’t understand why obviously talented people – and there are a lot of them out there – keep settling for doing superhero parodies. Does everyone like shooting fish in a barrel? Like I said, it’s not bad – it’s a fun enough read – but I’d like to see them try something more ambitious.

    TRUE TRAVEL TALES #1-2 (All Thumbs Press; $2.95@)

    An anthology comic from the pen of “Xeric award-winner Justin Hall” and divers anecdotists. For what’s basically a lot of shaggy dog stories, it’s good. I’m not sure it’s an argument for travel broadening the mind, but it’s interesting how pleasantly self-effacing most of the raconteurs are, and the quiet art serves them well, illustrating but not overwhelming the episodes. If you’re a fan of autobiographical comics, it’s worth checking out.

    JOHNNY RAYGUN #1 (Jetpack Press; $2.95)

    Basically another one of those. It’s nicely drawn in a fannish mock-Kirby style strongly reminiscent of a guy named Grass Green who milked the same territory in the fan press 30 years ago before moving on to more personal material in underground comics. It’s kind of funny, kind of entertaining, decently dialogued, and goes absolutely nowhere. If you really want to jump out from the pack, BE MORE AMBITIOUS!

    THE CONVERSATION (Red Eye Press; $3.95)

    I’m kind of surprised (but pleased) that they didn’t package this 48-page one-shot by Dan Wickline and David Hedgecock as a “graphic novel.” Talk about your shaggy dog stories, but, at two panels per page, it’s more a technique than a story; it was created by using the same panel throughout and pasting heads, items and figures over it, and it’s a pretty interesting (though, I suspect, limited) gimmick. What passes for a story focuses on two friends sitting in a diner revealing deep innermost secrets. The dialogue’s pretty good, the art’s attractive, the price is reasonable. I liked it. I don’t know if I’d want a whole diet of it.

    VAMPIRE THE MASQUERADE: ISABEL (Moonstone Books; $4.95)

    SWORD OF DRACULA #1 (Image Comics; $2.95)

    I should probably start out by saying I’m sick to death of vampires. It’s a limited and basically boring concept. Right, they’re undead and they suck your blood. Got it. It’s kind of amazing that some people, like Steve Niles, and Jason Henderson, are able to squeeze interesting stories out of it. Henderson manages to in both ISABEL (based, I gather, on some sort of roleplaying game) and SWORD OF DRACULA. The former, very nicely drawn by Steve Ellis (with an attractive cover by Tony Harris), postulates an entire world culture of vampires with vast differences between east and west, and works nicely as both an espionage and ghost story; the fact the main characters are vampires really doesn’t enter into it much. The latter, with David Lloyd-ish art by Greg Scott, steps into more familiar territory, re-postulating the ultimate vampire, Dracula, as the ultimate terrorist. It’s really an episode of GI JOE masquerading as a vampire story, if you like seeing the Joes get their butts kicked. I liked Henderson’s writing here as well as on ISABEL, but the story had one glaring misstep: Henderson’s Dracula is portrayed as so powerful I can’t figure out how any of the “Joes” walked away from the battle? He can obviously slaughter them all, so why doesn’t he?

    THE DEPOSIT MAN #1 (Landscape Productions; $2.95)

    Wow. I’ve got to think this is what would happen if Quentin Tarantino decided to do a comic book. Lots of characters, lots of dialogue that’s occasionally interesting in its own right but virtually always dead ends and has nothing to do with the story for reasons that quickly become obvious, lots of fixations on things like homosexuality, and (here’s the reason I was talking about) no story. Larry Nodalsky produces some nice fannish artwork, but, man, here’s the bad news for writer Cary Coatney: this is one bad comic book. The good news is there’s something gloriously bad about it, and I’ll take my hat off to that. Say what you want about THE DEPOSIT MAN, at no time does Coatney ever wimp out. It’s bad, but it’s a genuine accomplishment nonetheless.

    DARK DAYS #4 ($3.99)

    C.V.O.: ARTIFACT #1 ($3.99)

    CSI: BAD RAP #2 ($3.99)

    CSI MIAMI: SMOKING GUN ($6.99)

    GENE POOL ($6.99) (All from IDW Publishing)

    And we’re back to vampires again, courtesy of IDW. Steve Niles I mentioned above, and his and artist Ben Templesmith’s sequel to 30 DAYS OF NIGHT continues with the story suddenly jumping into action mode and Bad Things start happening. Nice build up so far, now to see if Niles and Templesmith can take it home in the final two issues. I didn’t like the CVO one-shot a couple months back, and ARTIFACT so far isn’t an improvement. Vampires as special agents of the government didn’t work well when DC tried it as The Creature Commandos, and it doesn’t work well here, despite a valiant effort by writer Jeff Mariotte and artist Gabriel Hernandez. (Jeff, who writes pretty good novels, as you can tell from THE SLAB, and has written good comics, has started developing one bad habit that’s driving me nuts and he does it in CSI MIAMI too: he forces exposition in by having some character abruptly spout information the other characters already know – but we don’t – only to have the other characters reiterate that they already know it. Jeff! Stop it!) (Everyone else who does it, stop it too.) As in the other issues, Max Allen Collins, Gabriel Rodriguez and Ashley Wood do a great job of replicating the CSI TV show in comics form, keeping the characters both recognizable and sounding like themselves, and presenting a decent mystery. Not quite as good but not bad is the CSI MIAMI one-shot, drawn by José Avilés, Javi Bit, Juan Hidalgo and Ashley Wood with a decent story by Mariotte marred only by a too-obvious solution to the mystery (unless you count that little stylistic glitch I mentioned about, though it doesn’t surface as much here as in CVO). Finally, GENE POOL is Marv Wolfman and Len Wein’s reimagining of The X-Men based on their forthcoming GENE POOL movie. Ain’t it funny how publishers who claim not to want to publish superheroes will if there’s a media connection? Anyway, these guys are post-superheroes, with no costumes and semi-bad attitudes. It’s okay. I don’t really understand how the heroes’ powers generate from their stated origin, but hey. Steven Cummings’ art is better than I remember it being from the preview (it has a nice Kevin Maguire tone to it), if Marv and Len don’t know how to write superheroes nobody does, and if there’s anyone more deserving to milk the X-Men, even by proxy, than Len Wein is (Len co-created the second generation of the X-Men, as well as Wolverine) I can’t think of them.

  • I want to apologize to everyone who comes to the column regularly for political or media coverage. (Put ABC’s KAREN SISCO on the list of new shows pulled from circulation, by the way, though ABC swears it’ll be back in March, somewhere.) I had some things all prepped, but I just plain ran out of time to write them up (we do have deadlines around here) so it turned into an all comics week. Next week, I promise. (Maybe with a write-up on the Hand Puppet’s current English vacation – seems the Mayor of London has referred to him as “the greatest threat to life on this planet” (thanks, Linda) – but maybe not. We’ll see.)

    It’s been very hectic lately. Due to a number of risks I’ve taken over the last couple years and to many circumstances far beyond my control, I now find myself in one of those severe money squeezes that periodically strike freelancers. Now I don’t make much money doing this column and it’s very time intensive, and I could use some money now to get over this hump, so I’m sticking my hat out. Bear in mind I don’t really expect any donations, and, to be honest, I can’t imagine why on earth you would, but if you’ve got a couple bucks to throw around and dig the column, I’d appreciate it. Click here for more information.

    And certainly feel free to do it the long way, by buying my crime novel DAMNED, from Cyberosia, or the horror story MORTAL SOULS or the sci-fi/horror/crime thriller MY FLESH IS COOL from Avatar Press. If your retailer doesn’t have them, all can be bought from online comics shops Khepri and Mars Import, along with a slew of other material from me and practically everyone else in comics.

    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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