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Issue #155

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Issue #155
  • How come guys like Rich Johnston never get the really interesting gossip, like rumors that upper management at a certain major comics company are taking a few days off to avoid being inconvenienced or otherwise caught up in protests opposite the Republican National Convention in Manhattan – but that everyone in the company below the rarified level’s expected to show up for work as usual? Given that’s the biggest comics story of the week (a sideways way of saying not much is going on), everyone’s trying to recover from the long convention season and I’m buried with work, short column this week. Sorry about that.

    A few notes:

    * As mentioned before, next week’s “coming attractions” week, a rundown of new projects where pro writers and artists can pimp their forthcoming work and get their own two cents in on their projects rather than leave it up to some marketing department. (This way at least a few thousand people will hear about it.) Send me the info in an e-mail, including who’s writing and drawing it, who’s publishing it, and when it’s expected out. (I’d rather not list projects without a publisher, since those tend to get never-never – hell, enough projects with publishers attached turn out to be never-never – and that gets too frustrating for the readers. Self-publishers without a track record, hold on; we’ll get to you another time.) A very brief summary of what it’s about – you know, like a standard listing in the TV GUIDE – would be nice, but no dissertations, okay? If you want to include a jpg from your project, that’s cool too. (Better include trademark & copyright information if you do, though.)

    Data deadline is THIS SATURDAY, so get that info in now.

    * The PAPER MOVIES website is now officially up. Not every page of it, of course, but at least now it’s actually a work in progress. Still putting the store together, but it’ll have a few rare comics and one-of-a-kind art, plus, for the many who’s asked, I’ll be selling a .pdf collection of my old MASTER OF THE OBVIOUS essays, from my column before this one. Just one question you can help me with: what’s a reasonable price for a 300-something page .pdf book? What would you be willing to pay? $5? Less? Let me know.

    * Now that I’ve got a template for it, I’ve been putting together TWO HEADS TALK strips for the page in advance. A few weeks ago, I opened it up to other artists, and got a small flood of responses and had to cut it off. I’ve got a few weeks worth left, but since I’d like to stay a little ahead I’m throwing it open again. Bear in mind these aren’t submissions; if you send them I’ll use them eventually, as long as you stick to these parameters:

    Drawings can be in color or black&white.

    All drawings (you may submit more than one, but not gobs and gobs) should be:

    — head and shoulder shots

    — 3″ wide x 6″ tall, 150 dpi

    — leave at least the upper half open for balloon and copy (so, on a practical level, while the panel’s 3″x6″, the figure should only be about 3″x3″ tops)

    — subject matter and style are up to you, but please no trademarked characters unless you own the trademark

    — background color is permitted; no need to draw panel borders (in fact, please don’t)

    — keep it clean

    Send pictures as attachments to e-mails, with HEAD in the subject line. If HEAD isn’t in the subject line, the email will be discarded as potential virus. I’m just saying…

    One last short point. Over the weekend, on the comics creators’ section of a popular website, I saw someone’s drawing of a new character he was creating. Called X. X, you may remember, was a book I wrote for Dark Horse Comics for a couple years. Their character, they created it in-house, they own it. X kept popping up in GHOST for awhile, and though he hasn’t been seen much lately I know the company quietly has plans for the character. I let the artist in question know all that.

    It wasn’t that big a thing, but it’s an example of something I’ve run across before that has occasionally been a direct problem for me: people creating characters when characters of the same name already exist. If something’s not published, that’s one thing: I once created and unsuccessfully pitched a team book to Marvel called HARDCORPS, only to have Valiant come out with a book called HARDCORPS a year later. Pretty much killed the possibility of my ever using the name. It happens. My version was never published so there was no claim on it, and I don’t see how Valiant ever would’ve heard of it. Parallel development. On the other hand, THE ULTIMATES. I created the superteam The Ultimates (heroes or villains, take your pick) for EDGE, the book Gil Kane and I did at Malibu/Bravura in the ’90s. The second arc of the EDGE saga, had it been published, would’ve been titled THE ULTIMATES. That book never came out, but the group existed, and, given that we’re all connected to the Internet and know what Google is, it wouldn’t have taken a lot of work for Marvel (which bought Malibu, after all) to do a quick search for “The Ultimates,” find out there was already a team of that name, and come up with something else. (They could’ve found it; whether they’d’ve cared or not’s another question.) Now, of course, the Edge series is being collected by iBooks as THE LAST HEROES, which necessitated me having to figure out a new name for the good that fit about the same space so we wouldn’t have to do as much relettering, a small annoyance I could easily have done without. (When I first heard of Marvel’s ULTIMATES, I did drop them a line about it and never heard anything back. I also approached a different publisher about doing a mini-series or one-shot featuring my Ultimates prior to Marvel’s release, and he was very interested – but, unfortunately, got back to me about it six months after Marvel’s ULTIMATES debuted. It was probably never all that good an idea to start with, but time had turned it into a really bad idea.)

    The upshot: if you come up with what you think is a great character name, show the comics talent who’ve come before you a little damn courtesy, and waste three minutes doing some research to see if a character by that name has already been published. Okay?

    I just realized: two more weeks and I’ll have been doing this column for three years.

    Today’s heads courtesy of (© and ™ 2004 by) STiKMAN. Thanks.

  • To hell with the Mt. Everest metaphors this week. Finally, the last reviews of the current pile:

    Glen Brunswick, John Romita Jr & Klaus Janson’s THE GRAY AREA (Image; $3.95@). The series, about a bent cop who gets his family killed overplaying his hand, then overplays his hand again seeking revenge is a little shaky in the first issue; even though it’s a oversized issue, the pace moves too quickly to make convincing the social realism backdrop their aiming for, and while the dialogue’s not bad, the captions are uncomfortably clunky and voiceless. Things pick up at the end of the first issue and into the second, when we plow full bore into Kirby territory, with lots of odd little throwaway ideas shotgunned in a strange afterlife where the anti-hero undergoes various gruesome trials and gets a shot at redemption. Don’t know if I’m all that sold on it or not – guess it depends how it wraps up – but that JR2/Janson art is terrific, esp. in capturing character emotions. It’s great to see John on something beyond (though not too far beyond) the Marvel conventions he’s been saddled with all his career.

    Eric J & Arvid Nelson’s REX MUNDI #9-11 (Image; $2.95@). Now these guys have their pacing down pat, continuing the mystery story style as the conspiracy underlying the story is revealed fraction by fraction. But Nelson & J are doing more than a simple mystery; set in an alternate France in a vastly different Europe dominated by the Catholic Church and broken into a handful of empires (a couple of them Muslim) on the verge of a first world war, REX MUNDI is one of the best exercises in worldbuilding in comics. Terrific art (strongly influenced by George Perez) and measured, natural dialogue, with distinctive coloring by Jeremy Cox, it really is a book you should be reading. Vastly entertaining.

    Warren Ellis & Gary Erskine’s CITY OF SILENCE trade paperback (Image; $9.95). This is one of Warren’s “mad comics,” not so much a story as an attempt to get as many disturbing but fascinating concepts into 66 pages as humanly possible; the mystery his outré cops are tracking down in what’s less of a city and more of a philosophical construct, like Godard’s ALPHAVILLE, is basically an excuse for a lengthy travelogue. If that sounds like a bad review, it isn’t. I love this book, partly because the ideas Warren spits out are fascinating, and partly due to some brilliantly demented art from his collaborator, the vastly underrated Gary Erskine. If this book didn’t make him a star, it should have. Think of CITY OF SILENCE as the deleted scenes of TRANSMETROPOLITAN (you know how directors on the commentary tracks always talk about how they loved a particular scene but had to delete it because when push came to shove it didn’t fit with the rest of the movie? Same difference…) and enjoy it for what it is.

    Paul Grist’s JACK STAFF: EVERYTHING USED TO BE BLACK AND WHITE trade paperback (Image; $19.95). This is one thick book. Grist decided to fill in the gap in English comics by creating an English superhero, and it’s loads of wonky fun, a graphic novel told jigsaw style in brief staccato segments that eventually all fall into place, more or less. (It’s far from perfect; there’s at least one subplot that evaporates altogether, and many questions, particularly about Jack himself, go unanswered.) Throughout Grist maintains a light, breezy touch, with plenty of odd little twists and surprises, and he swiftly and quietly savages more than a couple archetypes as well. Might be the cleanest comic in recent memory as well. What can I say that I haven’t already said? Loads of wonky fun.

    Todd Livingston, Robert Tinnell & Neil Vokes’ THE BLACK FOREST graphic novel (Image; $9.95). Livingston and Tinnell are screenwriters by trade, and this has the feel of a transposed unsold screenplay. It’s decently done, but the underlying premise – the Kaiser’s Germans try to turn the course of WWI by enlisting the aid of Universal monsters – suffers badly from overfamiliarity. (Didn’t Roy Thomas do an INVADERS arc like this ages ago? Weren’t there at least a dozen WEIRD WAR TALES stories with essentially the same premise?) It’s also hindered by a fairly ineffectual vanilla protagonist, plucky American pilot Jack Shannon. I didn’t dislike it – it’s pretty good for what it is – but I felt like I’d seen it all before.

    Various artists’ FLIGHT VOL. 1 trade paperback (Image; $19.95). I’m not exactly sure what the point of this book is, aside from a showcase of beautiful production, and to demonstrate beyond a shadow of a doubt that if you think there’s still an “Image style,” you’re living so far in the past you’re voting for Carter this year. Ostensibly all the stories here, by a slew of international artists working in a slew of styles and methods (there’s a really nice montage story) have something to do with flying, though in a couple that connection is oblique at best. Still, lovely, enchanting work overall, like someone managed to turn Moebius into a drug. (I particularly enjoyed Kazu Kibuishi’s “Copper” and Catia Chen’s “Tumbleweed,” and Scott McCloud produces a possibly unintentionally hilarious utopian essay at the end that sounds like it was written…) There are a lot of new and different things here, and, if nothing else, it’s a really beautiful book.

    Mark Smylie’s ARTESIA AFIRE trade paperback (Archaia Studios; $24.95). I reviewed this in pamphlet form a couple months back, and see no reason to reassess it. This is a good sword-and-sorcery series, about a barbarian warrior moving a bit reluctantly up the ranks to become queen of her land and leader of an army uniting many factions against a greater enemy. Smylie drenches the series in an authentic feeling pseudo-Celtic mysticism, and his art, strongly influenced by Barry Windsor-Smith, gets better and better. Very nicely colored and produced, too. If the new CONAN has you hooked on sword-and-sorcery, and you’re looking for something else in the genre, you can’t do much better, and you could do a whole lot worse.

    And that, finally, is that. Whew.

  • Gimme a ticket for an aeroplane. Ain’t got time to take a fast train. Lonely days are goin’, I’m a-goin’ home. My baby, she wrote me a letter:

    “Just wanted to say thank you for the great plug you gave my new book (which is on sale at my website, if folk are interested in getting a copy) and also point out a slight correction – the book’s actually called THE LAST SANE COWBOY, not THE LAST SANE WESTERN.”

    Well, I never vouched for my sanity. Sure you wouldn’t rather call it THE LAST SANE WESTERN? (I guess there’s no point in hiding that this one was from Daniel Merlin Goodbrey himself…)

    “I’m an elementary school computer teacher (K-4) and run an after school comic book class once a week where my students spend a lot of time reading and creating comics. They also get to take home a free comic book each week.

    If there’s one thing I’ve noticed about kids and reading, it’s that genre is not as big an issue as people make it out to be. They might be drawn to a particular genre (sci-fi, fantasy, superheroes, etc…) but what really hooks them is a good story. They don’t really care whether the main character is their age or an adult, and earthling or a Martian, a boy or a girl. As long as the story is involving and well written, it will draw them in.

    It’s unfortunate that the writers of many of these great stories feel the need to include profanity, sexuality, or extreme violence that doesn’t add anything other than shock value. I have nothing against these three things – I enjoy them as much as the next guy – but if it doesn’t move the story along, you’re eliminating a large audience by including them in a book that might otherwise be attractive to young readers.

    My classes run 10 weeks 3 times a year. I have yet to have a girl sign up. When I give the boys their comics to take home, I try to make the selection as diverse as possible. While they tend to be the most excited by THE SIMPSONS or TEEN TITANS GO!, they have also enjoyed BONE, LEAVE IT TO CHANCE, GROO, GON, and any number of mainstream superhero titles from the 70s, 80s, and 90s.

    I am also in full agreement with you regarding YU-GI-OH vs. comics. Kids will read a comic book over and over again if it’s good enough. I have yet to actually see any of my kids play YU-GI-OH. I see them trade the cards all the time, but never actually play the game. If I were a parent and had to drop $3.00 on my kid, I’d much rather it be a comic that would possibly stay with them for their entire life (I still have all mine) than a card game fad that will be in the garbage in 6 months.

    The one point no one seems to have made in this argument is the comic book stores. I see way too many stores that cater to adults to the exclusion of children. A good store should have an age appropriate section near the door or counter. Books with adult content should be behind the counter or out of reach of children. Location is also an important factor. If you want kids to shop at your store, make sure it’s accessible to them by foot or bike. Most of the new stores I see are located in strip malls or off busy streets. Find a nice spot near a family friendly neighborhood or a school and you’ll have kids spending their allowances in there every day. Adults can drive wherever they want. Kids’ travel is a little more limited.”

    Thanks for using the opportunity to get comics out there. Just out of curiosity, do you ever get grief from parents or faculty who don’t want your students reading comics? Also, even if the YU-GI-OH cards are never used for gameplay, I wouldn’t underestimate the coolness factor of the monsters portrayed on them. Monsters of all kinds have always held a fascination for some kids, and for some reason a lot of those particular kids grow up to write or draw comics…

    “All the talk of bringing kids (and others) into the world of comics has had me thinking. I’ve been buying comics since I was a kid. I probably always will buy comics. Not one of my friends have ever been into comics despite my best effort of matching them up with books they might like. Why? The world of comics is something that has always interested me. Some kids like sports, some like movies, some like video games. Some like comics. I’ve lent out my copies of WATCHMEN, DARK KNIGHT RETURNS, V FOR VENDETTA, Y THE LAST MAN, SANDMAN, PREACHER, TRANSMETROPOLITAN, LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN and many others many times. Everyone who has read these (From my parents and siblings to friends and co-workers) have really enjoyed these books (or so they said). These people have not however been drawn into the world of comics (I’d say 2 of the 30 people I’ve lent comics to became regular comic readers). And you know what? I’ve read great fantasy novels, but have not become obsessed with them. Same goes with playing sports. I’ve had a blast playing basketball with friends but did not join the local team. The world of comics is quite often just that: a world (or universe, as it is called). Entering into a new world is not something everyone wants to do. The book store market has proven successful quite possibly due to the fact that readers can go in grab a book and not be scared off or intimidated by the crossovers, tie-ins and events that scream out and confuse those that walk into a comic store. People walk into a bookstore, find the 100 BULLETS tpbs all lined up on a shelf with a clear number on the spine and feel like they know what’s going on!

    What I am trying to get at is that if new readers are hard to find, why not look to the already existing readers. I spend lots of money and time in my local comic store (the utterly fantastic “Comics, Toons and Toys” in Tustin California) but most people I see in there do not. Most don’t walk up and down the isle looking through every book, asking the employees for recommendations and rummaging through the back bins. Most don’t spend close to $200 a month. Most walk in, quietly grab their copy of X-MEN or SPIDER-MAN and hurry on out. Not all but most. The more I looked for good books, the more I found them. The internet (sites like CBR and Newsarama), a knowledgeable comic store staff and my own curiosity have led me to find more great comics than I would have alone. Why don’t I see artists’ and writers’ websites posted up in comic stores? Why don’t I see little post-its pointing out the fact that a certain writer or artist has a new creator owned project on the shelf, or has a short story in the back of another book. If someone likes Ennis’ PUNISHER, I feel it is my duty to show them PREACHER. Same goes with Ellis’ Ultimate line books and his TRANSMETROPOLITAN series. And it can go the other way too. Hardcore TRANSMETROPOLITAN fans (possibly bookstore comic buyers) should know that they might find ULTIMATE FANTASTIC FOUR interesting. HELLBOY and SIN CITY fans should be pointed in the general direction of their older collected works from the Big 2 (As you do in Permanent Damage). Bendis uses the cover of POWERS to advertise his other books and he damn well should. I understand PLANETARY is a DC book and they wouldn’t allow a “By the writer of ULTIMATE FF” on the cover but it could only help retailers out by pointing out this fact themselves. I point out many of these thing to people when I’m in the comic store myself. I see many “hardcore” comic readers buying only a couple issues a month. Well, there are at least 3 and commonly 4 Alan Moore books out there so every hard-core comics fan should be buying at least those. And then there are the 4+ Ellis books, multiple Ennis books occasionally, Morrison’s stuff and god knows how many Bendis books. That’s already quite a few books that should be read by the regular reader. And that’s not mentioning the great artists out there. Someone buying a Tim Sale book should be shown his work from the other major publisher. Hell, my girlfriend became interested in Neil Gaiman because of a Tori Amos song and Josh Middleton because he mentioned he was a Bjork fan. (I myself became interested in DEMO from the band logos on the cover. Morning Glory anyone?) So this type of cross-promotion works in many ways. Indy record stores often put little tags that mention that a well known musician or band has a side project or solo album (Pixies: See also Frank Black, Frank Black and the Catholics, and the Breeders) . All of this assumes a couple of things of course. 1: That most readers do not know who is writing and drawing their favorite books or never bothered to look into it themselves AND would like to be informed and 2: These readers do in fact like their books because of who the creates them and not the characters or super-powers they are reading about. Many regular comics-readers do fit within these assumptions.

    All this stuff just seems obvious to me. I’d do anything I could to sell more books if I ran a shop. Not to mention just wanting to share good books with other people.

    One last thing. Do you think a comic store also functioning as a library, lending out the tpbs, Graphic Novels and Collected Editions for a few bucks could work?”

    Any retailers out there want to field this one?

    ” Now that you’ve settled that issue (and I agree with you, more or less, about the Jesus myth supplanting/grafting onto the John one), how about tackling either “Virgin Mary = Gaia” or “Father/Son/Holy Ghost vs. Mother/Maiden/Crone”.

    (Or would that avenue be best punted over to Neil Gaiman’s journal? )”

    I seem to remember Robert Graves covering that somewhere or other. (Try THE WHITE GODDESS.) And almost anything is better punted over to Neil’s journal, innit?

    “Here’s a link I thought you’d find interesting. Apparently there is still a cult that reveres John the Baptist, though they are small in number and increasingly dispersed.”

    Sure, why not? If Zoroastrians can still be around in one form or another, why not Mandaens? (I forget, were they the people Prester John supposedly rode off to help?) For a little more on the subject:

    “I just wanted to let you know that the sect that honors John the Baptist rather than Jesus or Muhammed are called the Mandeans. There are mostly in Iraq and Iran but they also have some communities in other countries as well. They are considered the last Gnostic religion in the world (but with the discovery and release of the Nag Hamadi and other texts some people with non-traditional Biblical beliefs and viewpoints are on the rise again).

    Trying to find factual information on the group and current news is hard to do online. Given their beliefs the future doesn’t look too bright for the sect either. Many believe that the new administration is bound to be just as intolerant of them as Saddam’s regime.”

  • The Republican convention’s on, thousands of protesters march in the streets, and President Hand Puppet screws up on national TV. (In case you weren’t paying attention, he waffled when Matt Lauer asked him if the war on terror was winnable and later stated he had miscalculated on the War in Iraq, leading some Democratic wag to dub him the Miscalculator-In-Chief.) In the meantime, people connected to his campaign keep resigning over connections to the Swift Boat crew attacking John Kerry for his performance in the war and after he returned home, but there’s enough deniability in place for President Hand Puppet, while not condemning the ads, to call for a ban on third party campaign ads (I’m not opposed to that myself, actually) and let the matter of service records during Vietnam die, because that was thirty years ago and this is now. (Given his own lack of service record, I’m not surprised he’d prefer that the subject die.)

    But, as William Faulkner wrote, the past is not dead. It isn’t even past. I’ve been watching the latest Swift Boat ad assault with interest, as a veteran sullenly accuses Kerry of treason for testifying before Congress that American soldiers were committing atrocities in Vietnam. The context of the ad, which accuses Kerry of giving to the North Vietnamese the public relations ammo against the USA that American prisoners held by the Viet Minh were refusing to produce even under torture, seems to suggest that American soldiers weren’t committing atrocities on the South Vietnamese civilian population. But they were (not all of them, obviously, probably not even all that many of them, but it was happening), often under the supervision of the CIA (often referred to only as “advisors”). Matter of fact, yesterday I accidentally saw footage of American atrocities in Vietnam twice, in two different very interesting documentaries, Sam Green’s THE WEATHER UNDERGROUND and Adam Simon’s exegesis of low budget horror films from ’68-’78, THE AMERICAN NIGHTMARE (both available on DVD from DocuDrama/NewVideo). Neither is specifically about Vietnam; both include the footage simply as background into the psychology of the Vietnam era, and how it affected personal and national psyches at home. But they do present the evidence. By 1971, I doubt there wasn’t a person in America unaware we were doing bad things over there, though doubtless many rationalized it as a necessity of war (much the same way the torturing at Abu Ghraib, which has now moved farther up the ladder of responsibility and continues to creep toward the top, was dismissed by some as a “necessity” of the war on terror/Iraq) and many chose not to accept it. But to claim Kerry, whose main goal in testifying was to shorten the war and get soldiers out of there – was some sort of traitor for testifying before Congress – the governing body of the United States – about something already documented as going on is specious. Unless they’re invoking a Code Of Silence, in which case the Swift Boat guys are arguing a soldier’s duty lies not to his country but to his fellow soldiers regardless of their actions.

    Ever hear of Veronza Bowers Jr? A Black Panther in the ’60s, he’s been in the Federal prison in Coleman FL for the last 30 years. The general details of his crime are such: he was convicted of murdering a US Park Ranger. He produced an alibi, but two government informers (both paid) were considered more reliable than he was. Did he do it? Haven’t a clue. He says no, the system said yes, simple as that. To the best of my knowledge, he never caused any trouble in prison. His parole was repeatedly denied. No matter. Due to Mandatory Release laws, he had to be freed after 30 years, which ended last April.

    His imprisonment didn’t.

    He was on his way out the door when the prison’s warden, who was more than happy to release him, got a call from the U.S. Parole Commission, who ordered him kept behind bars. Period. No reason given. They’d signed off on the release. They just all of a sudden, without explanation, decided he had to be held indefinitely.

    Does anyone out there really think the Sixties aren’t still with us? Ask Veronza Bowers about it.

  • Back to work. Check out the aforementioned Paper Movies website for all my current works. (I figure there’s no longer any reason to harangue you with them here, right?)

    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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