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Issue #162

by  in CBR Exclusives Comment
Issue #162
  • Ever notice how schedules conspire against you? Example: I’ve been writing a webcolumn of some sort every Tuesday, like clockwork (I think I’ve skipped maybe three times), for five years. I’m not the highest profile column out there, but the only column I’m aware of that has appeared longer and as consistently is Tony Isabella’s Tony’s Tips. I get something like 6000 readers per week, on a bad week.

    Yet whenever anyone wants anything from me, they always seem to want it on a Tuesday. Someone comes to town? They come in on a Tuesday. Eye checkup? “We can get you in Tuesday at 1, is that okay?” When something needs immediate repair or attention, it needs it on Tuesday. When someone decided to drive through my car a few months back? Tuesday. Editors need a quick rewrite? Always on Tuesday. Even my family – and you’d think they’d know better by now, I’ve been telling them for five years – insist on calling me or scheduling their appointments or coming up with some damn crisis I need to immediately resolve.

    It’s like blocking off Tuesday for the column creates a cosmic vacuum that sucks every obstacle particulate into that specific timeframe.

    Then there are the comics people with “timely information” they’d very much like me to mention in “this week’s column.” Sure, I’m happy to make public service announcements. (Don’t send your press releases, though; those get deleted. I don’t have the patience to read them, and most people can’t write a concise to-the-point press release to save their souls.) It’s usually for something occurring that weekend. So when do they get notify me?

    You got it. Wednesday. Every single damn time.

    These sound like complaints, but they aren’t. I’m now fascinated with these phenomena. I feel like I verge on some hitherto unrealized scientific principle, some element of chronal theory that hasn’t previously been taken into consideration. We think of time as fixed – the second hand moves, the minute and hour hands move, the sun crawls across the sky, the stars creep through the heavens etc. – but I wonder. This weekend I noticed a related phenomenon. I’m writing a CSI mini-series for IDW at the moment, with the first issue script due last Friday. I was about to complete it when something came up, and I had to let editor Chris Ryall know I wasn’t going to make the deadline. He said, basically, fine, get it in Monday. I didn’t see any reason why I couldn’t get it in Saturday. (Not that it would’ve mattered to him, since he doesn’t work weekends.) There was virtually nothing left to do on the script. Until I looked it over. Then I decided this bit of dialogue could be better and that sequence should be reorganized, and, before I knew it, it was Monday morning. Not the first time things like that have happened.

    These phenomena lead me to some speculations – yes, I know I’m not the first – on the plastic, not static, nature of time, to add to the growing but unacknowledged guiding principles of our lives, like Murphy’s law (“Whatever can happen will happen”), the Shooter principle (“if it’s not your money, it’s not your company”) and Alroy’s hypothesis (“Give up on it and it falls in your lap”). There are dozens of them, whole books written about them. I came up with one some time ago – “the odds on something occurring are inversely proportionate to how much you talk about it” – but this is the first time I’ve theorized about the nature of time itself. If correct, it means time is in some way sentient enough to respond directly to our psyches:

    1) “The amount of time required to complete a project will automatically grow to exceed the amount of time available.”

    2) “Scheduling creates a gravitational field that attracts unrelated events toward the scheduled block of time.”

    (The third phenomenon can be chalked up to many people being solipsistic twits, but that’s been assumed in evidence for millennia.)

    Now it’s time to put these theories to scientific test? Any ideas? Anyone have any contradictory evidence?

  • Tonight, of course, and Wednesday and Thursday, as mentioned last week, I’m speaking on comics at various branches of the Las Vegas-Clark County Library System, along with James Hudnall and Bill Willingham:

    Get the Scoop on Comics!

    As part of Teen Read Week (October 17-23, 2004), the Las Vegas-Clark County Library District welcomes bestselling writers Steven Grant (The Punisher, X-Man), Bill Willingham (Batman, Robin, Fables), and James Hudnall (Superman, Batman, Espers, English versions of Mai the Psychic Girl and Mega Dragon & Tiger) into our libraries. They’ll talk about their experiences and answer your questions about creating and working on some of comics’ most popular characters.

    They will be appearing at the following libraries and times:

    October 19

    6 pm

    West Las Vegas Library

    951 W Lake Mead Blvd

    (702) 507-3980

    October 20

    6 pm

    Sahara West Library

    9600 W Sahara Ave

    (702) 507-3630

    October 21

    4 pm

    Enterprise Library

    25 E Shelbourne Ave

    (702) 507-3760

    These programs are free and open to the public. For more information, visit our web site.

    And, of course, today’s Tuesday. So if the column ends abruptly, it means I ran out of time.

  • You might have noticed not much comics commentary in the column lately. Thing is: I’m bored. From my perspective, nothing much is going on. I couldn’t care less which old girlfriend slept with what supervillain, or what physical changes they’re putting Spider-Man through, or which character has HIV or is getting raped and murdered because they know a superhero, or how many weird variant covers are going on what comic. Even though I was a huge fan of the character as a kid, why would it matter to me that Hal Jordan is coming back (and back to life!) as the “real” Green Lantern? (Unless Gil Kane and John Broome came back as well; that‘d get me, and many scientists and religions, interested.) I’m surprised anyone even reacts to this stuff anymore. Isn’t it all business as usual now?

    Meanwhile, the beat goes on. Creatively, and, to a large extent on the business end, the comics business today is largely exactly the same as it was 60 years ago. Last week, I reviewed Ronin Ro’s biography of Jack Kirby, TALES TO ASTONISH, and while it’s a flawed work – he gets sloppy with many specifics – it does paint a vivid picture of longstanding industry practices, and the frustrations that even arguably the greatest comics creator faced his entire career: cancellations, capricious publishers, pay problems, questionable demands, and, possibly from Jack’s point of view the worst, later talents reusing material. (Jack often said the best tribute any writer or artist could pay him would be to create their own characters and stories and leave his alone; I heard him say this at least twice myself, and Archie Goodwin once told me roughly the same thing, when he had me create a new version of MANHUNTER to keep others from threatening to pay him homage by resurrecting his and Walt Simonson’s version.) Publishers and creators still look at what seems to be selling for other publishers and try to mimic it, on the assumption that like attracts the buyers of like. Everyone, in fact, seems pretty satisfied with the status quo of comics, some even bombastic about it. Critiques of the business and the medium, or reassessments of it, seem increasingly unwanted, and, besides, if the business hasn’t significantly changed from 60 years ago, my criticisms of it are still as applicable as they were five years ago. (If those criticisms are of any interest, you can buy the collected essays at Paper Movies.) Likewise, no reassessment of our place in the world may be necessary; our situation as a business is somewhat improved, but all that has really done is convinced the industry to continue its practices.

    One reassessment that interests me is Gerard Jones’ new book, MEN OF TOMORROW: GEEKS, GANGSTERS AND THE BIRTH OF THE COMIC BOOK, in which Gerry studies the influence of mobsters on the development of the medium. I formed this hypothesis a long time ago, on the basis of intersecting readings I’d done on subjects as widespread as the origins of pulp magazines, the history of marijuana laws, and accounts of the birth of organized crime. But I’ve never had the time to pursue it. For those who don’t know, comics evolved from the pulp magazines, as something cheap to publish during the Depression years. I don’t know how much of this Gerry covers – haven’t yet had a chance to read his book (if the publisher, Basic Books, wants to send me a review copy, that’d speed the process up some) – but it’s an interesting tapestry that goes something like this: in the 1920s, during prohibition, bootleggers, particularly in the northern states, invested heavily in two things: timber and trucks. Organized crime was built on illegal alcohol. (Something anyone who wants to outlaw what there’s a public demand for should always bear in mind; prohibitions don’t stop people from getting their hands on proscribed material, it just makes all the wrong people rich, something the “war on drugs” confirmed.) Why trucks? They had to get the hootch to the customers somehow. Why timber? As shown in Brian dePalma’s THE UNTOUCHABLES, timber shipments made excellent cover from booze shipments, particularly importing liquor from Canada, where it was legal. From here circumstances cascade: they had to do something with the timber. They bought up paper plants and made paper. It’s no coincidence that Prohibition coincided with the flood of cheap pulp paper that made the pulp magazines – including, ironically, many pulps whose heroes were dedicated foes of criminals, a pattern later repeated in comics – possible. The trucks that carried booze shipments to speakeasies were also put to use carting magazines to outlets; another excellent cover for activities. As Gerry’s book is said to demonstrate with comics, many pulp publishers started out as fronts for mobsters. When Prohibition ends, suddenly illegal profits from alcohol vanish, leaving the Mob with a lot of trucks and paper, and it’s out of this milieu that comics arise. From what I understand, Gerry picks up at this point, using Siegel and Shuster as his focus, but covering the early underhanded development of the comics industry. It’s no secret that IND, the distributor aligned with DC Comics from the ’30s through the ’70s, was a mob operation, and there was often confusion as to the exact relationship between the two companies. It’s no secret that the Kinney Corporation, which eventually bought both DC Comics and IND (not to mention started Kinney Shoes) and changed their name to Warner Communications when they also bought Warner Studios, and are now better known as Time-Warner Inc., began in 1947 with a chain of parking lots, funeral parlors and flower shops in NYC – businesses traditionally used at the time as mob fronts. When I briefly worked in distribution in the early ’70s, I was flat out told by the company I worked for, a local affiliate of IND, that it was a mob operation (though that meant next to nothing by then) and as late as the late ’70s (I haven’t checked since), mobsters ran distribution in the Milwaukee area. (I don’t have much reason to believe anything’s changed since, and I only bring up Milwaukee because I had direct contact with them, but Milwaukee wasn’t the only place by a long shot.)

    The peculiar web of connections doesn’t end there. I’ve also read things suggesting marijuana prohibition in 1937 was partly tied into all this (as hemp, in widespread application throughout the country that had nothing to do with getting high, marijuana – renamed to that in ’37 by the government specifically to incite paranoid fears of evil Mexicans seducing youth with drugs – was used to make a paper considered much better than the paper made from timber, which the Mob had a surplus of; outlawing marijuana also gave mobsters a profitable new prohibition to cash in on, while various politicians cashed in on the ensuing paranoia), and Estes Kefauver’s famed Senate investigation of the comics industry may have as well. Kefauver’s main interest as a Senator was investigating organized crime, and his interest in comics – despite popular belief, the investigation really never came to any conclusions, basically letting the matter drop – seemed to wane as information tying the business to organized crime failed to emerge from the hearings.

    If I ever get the money and time I’ll try to get all this documented. In the meantime, Gerry’s book is about the only thing on the horizon I can see to get excited about, and the only thing right now willing to view the comics industry from a non-“status quo” perspective. But I might feel differently by next week.

  • This is the second-to-last Wednesday before your last chance to decide the fate of western civilization.

    I think I’ve been watching too many political ads on TV. Both sides keep talking about how the other will destroy Western Civilization As We Know It. Certainly we know from experience the Hand Puppet will give it his all, but, hey, I’m the first to admit that’s not entirely his fault. Gas prices, for instance; the country has known for decades that we’re in the final years of fossil fuel. Sure, it’ll be awhile before it runs out, but that’s hardly the point; while fuel exploitation has risen dramatically in the past 20 years, mostly to feed the expensive gas guzzlers the car companies have gleefully put back into circulation, no new oil fields have been developed. We’re all living on borrowed time. And it isn’t entirely the fault of the administration that during its reign research and development on alternative energy have been drastically slashed. (Here in Nevada, the wind farming industry, shown to be successful and planned to expand, was flatly told by the administration, “We don’t want any”… after the debacles of the phony price-gouging “energy crisis” scheme that pushed the California economy over the precipice.) Congress has also encouraged as much dependence on, and profit by oil companies from, fossil fuels as possible. The main solution to dependence on Saudi oil floated in Congress

    And certainly the Hand Puppet’s ads are correct that government-controlled medicine – something Kerry hasn’t actually recommended (he hasn’t really recommended any specific cure to the health care situation) but which pro-HP ads rail against anyway – would be the end of Western Civilization. Who’d want to have government bureaucrats deciding what doctors you can see and what treatments you can receive when you could have the faceless bureaucrats of HMOs make those decisions for you instead? (That’s the administration’s plan to end the health care crisis.) Here in Nevada, there are several propositions on the ballot claiming to “end” the health care crisis. Insurance companies are backing a measure to cut way back on what juries can award to anyone who successfully sues for malpractice. Lawyers are backing a measure to prevent restrictions on such things. Both say it’s the only way to have a functioning system. But if it’s the cost of insurance premiums that are driving doctors out of business here (in fact, the number of doctors, including OB/GYNs, has gone up here over the past few years, not down), there’s nothing in the insurance company measure to affect the price of premiums; the last measure passed to restrict jury awards, which got passed, was promised to lower insurance premiums, but insurance companies raised them instead. The lawyers’ measure claims to punish “frivolous” lawsuits – the insurance industry claims all suits brought are frivolous” – but only if the cases are adjudged completely frivolous, which is one big loophole. There’s no doubt that the administration, personified by stalking horse Bill Frist, has decided the best way to cope with public medicine is to hand it over to big business – then again, their solution to pretty much ever domestic issue is to turn it over to big business – but where do you even begin to find a solution to this mess when all the involved parties (by which I mean: the money) only see it as yet another opportunity to lie and manipulate and profit, and the hell with everyone else?

    Not that the drug companies don’t have a lot to do with it too. It was the drug companies that prompted the administration and the Congress to ban access to Canadian drugs, on the basis that the FDA can’t adequately guarantee the “safety” of Canadian drugs, which mainly pissed off the Canadians, who have arguably better quality assurance than we do, and, at any rate, get most of their drugs from the same companies we do, at lower prices. Nice to know Congress is so concerned about our health and drug company profits; too bad they didn’t feel such responsibility toward smokers when they legalized the importation of foreign tobacco, complete with all the additives and pesticides in use there but banned here. But that would hinder tobacco company profits, since they can get tobacco cheaper from overseas these days. (This is along the lines of thought that prompted the administration to include in its second-wave terror bill a clause giving them the power specifically to deport immigrants to nations that are willing to torture them for information. That practice has been going on for a long time – certainly since the ’50s – but no one has ever thought to enshrine it in law before…)

    The Canadians are getting a laugh on us now, though. Since it turns out the administration knew about the tainted flu vaccine in August, choosing to look away (even though many seniors and others depend on their flu shots to stay alive during flu season) and blame it on “an English company” (the factory was in England, but the company, which gave the warning, is American), the Center For Disease Control is now scrambling to get vaccines anywhere they can – including Canada. Still, it’s unfair to blame the “flu crisis” on the administration. Isn’t it the fault of we, the citizens, who just don’t make flu shots profitable enough for most drug companies to produce? Certainly there’s nothing the administration can do about that, is there?

    Interesting report out now, actually, from a group called Public Citizen. Even if you don’t want to admit (the 9-11 Commission did, though it’s buried in the pages of their report) that the administration looked the other way on so much advance information preceding the 9-11 attacks, Public Citizen’s report outlines the administration’s national security failings after 9-11: “chemical plants, nuclear plants, hazardous material transport, ports and water systems.” Why haven’t these been secured? Because they’re largely under private ownership and the administration is adamantly hostile to increased government regulation of or interference with these businesses, perhaps (or perhaps not) due to the substantial donations (around $20 million) members of these businesses and industries make to Republican coffers. So attempts to improve security at chemical and nuclear plants and ports have been blocked, attempts to make sure drinking water is uncontaminated have been blocked, attempts to impose new controls on the transport and disposal of hazardous waste have been blocked. But the administration can’t take all the heat for that; that would have to go to those people who’ve tried to make “liberal” a dirty word. Interfering with a man’s godgiven right to turn a buck, that’d make the administration look liberal. So what other option have they got but to undermine basic American liberties instead? (If you think that’s been overblown, Elaine Cassel wrote a concise summary of why you’re wrong.) What other means of ensuring the security of the country are there, after all? The security of America may be important, but what’s the point of security if big business has to suffer for it? Let’s face it, if big business has to suffer, the terrorists have won.

    I could go on and on; it’s been one of those weeks. Open rebellion by our troops in Iraq being ordered into highly dangerous territories carrying dangerously contaminated fuel in inadequately armored vehicles; military doctors in Germany openly criticizing the administration’s downplaying of our casualties of war by focusing entirely on the dead and ignoring the thousands of other soldiers returning home missing limbs, eyes and other body parts; families of soldiers calling for televising of the flag-draped coffins the Pentagon’s keeping from our view to protect the sensibilities of the families; National Guard leaders complaining of inadequate training for Guardsmen being sent to Iraq; our soldiers in Iraq openly castigating the shoddy prosecution of the war. It’s almost too much to keep up with. And did anyone happen to catch ABC’s NIGHTLINE the other night, when they decided to get to the bottom of the whole “Swift Boat” brouhaha by going to Vietnam to interview witnesses of the incident who still live there. Seems the people there – reportedly knowing and caring nothing of the “Swift Boat Veterans” or John Kerry (but there’s no trusting those shifty commies, right?) backed up Kerry’s version of the story – the “small boy” SBV claims Kerry killed was around 26 years old, according to the witnesses – and, when Ted Koppel put SBV head honcho John O’Neill on screen to comment, all he could really do was stutter and repeat himself. Another interesting Kerry story (not that this was mentioned on NIGHTLINE): back when Kerry was involved with Vietnam Vets Against The War and protesting in Washington, he was invited by Senate Republicans to testify before Congress, and Nixon and his aides watched the testimony on TV. Even Nixon thought Kerry came off as very credible, and it was decided something had to be done to discredit him. Someone suggested hiring someone else from his unit to go dispute everything Kerry said and shoot down his war record. The man they hired? John O’Neill. The spirit of the Nixon White House lives on.

    Be sure to mark a week from Saturday on your calendars. That’s the day we capture Osama Bin Laden. You read it here first.

  • Thanks to Eric DeSantis for this week’s heads, which are also ©2004 Eric DeSantis. All rights reserved.

  • Time to run off to the library. Reviews next week, and maybe a little inside poop on my several strange new projects. Meanwhile, pop over to Paper Movies for more information on me and my work if that’s what you’re looking for.

    One thing I’m considering for a future column is an up-to-date listing of comics professionals’ personal websites. If you’d like to submit any urls, please e-mail them to me here, with PRO-URL in the header. Thanks.

    Those wishing to comment should leave messages on the Permanent Damage Message Board. You can also 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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