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Issue #168

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Issue #168
  • Was reading the latest excellent record album-shaped issue of BLAB The other day (#15, edited by Monte Beauchamp; Fantagraphics, $19.95). More book than magazine, more graphic art magazine than comic book, it has the usual assortment of fascinating bizarrities, and even a few standard (more or less) comic strips, including an autobio piece from Spain Rodriguez, of whom the more said the better. Other standout pieces are Bob Staake’s illustrations of Steely Dan lyrics, C.P. Fruend and Peter & Maria Hoey’s “Major Sands: Shadow Of The Mirage,” and Monte Beauchamp’s “Kilroy Was Here” visual essay, but Nicholas Debon’s “The Holy Saints Of The Desert” alone is worth the price of admission. A comics essay on the original 4th century Christian ascetics who abandoned everything for lives of endless privation in Egyptian deserts in years-long attempts to commune directly with God, it’s a fascinating laundry list of obsessive lunacy: men who spent their lives on all fours, feeding off grass like sheep; lived in cells that prevented the unbending of their legs; chained their necks to their waists so they couldn’t raise their heads; lived entirely in small cages hung from tree branches; lived atop pillars in ruins of ruined pagan temples; the list goes on and on. Debon neatly sums things up with “Intermediaries between men and God, the Deserts Saints experienced illuminations and visitations, and were revered for their miraculous abilities. On the other hand, a number of them, due to excessive deprivation, became completely stupid.” He neglects to mention these men, many of whom ended up the center of monastic communities that ultimately inspired the monastic orders of the Middle Ages, partly inspired the Catholic Church (Gnostics and other heretics also had a hand in it) to make it a point of canon that the Church was the only acceptable intermediary between God and men. (After all, kind of hard to hold a church together if all the members run off to Egypt to let the blistering sands scorch and tear their wretched flesh, and, in the 4th century, it was starting to look like things might swing that way.) As Debon mentions, when various monks happened to encounter each other, it wasn’t unusual for them to argue about whose mortification was the true path to God.

    As I, sitting in an auto mechanic’s waiting room as my car’s engine problem was being diagnosed (decaying spark plug cables, if anyone cares), read this, I was suddenly struck by how close this behavior was to that of comics geeks.

    “Comics geeks” is a loaded phrase, of course, and, really, it could be any kind of culture geek; they all fit the mold. Many comics readers aren’t comics geeks. The two terms aren’t anything near synonyms. Comics geeks are a special breed, the ones so obsessed with the product (and you can substitute STAR TREK geeks, Elvis shriners, neo-cons, whatever) that the real world becomes a nuisance and a bother for them, to the extent they acknowledge it at all. Where the world clashes with their obsessions, the world is where the fault lies. It’s not surprising that they tend to be so focused and picayune, but that they’re all so completely convinced that they’re right and everyone else is wrong. (I mean, sure, we all feel like that some of the time, but the geek reverses the norm. I’ve got this theory that religion dug its little claws so deeply into many psyches over the centuries because it was the only form of entertainment available, aside from war and rutting and in most cases did its best to keep those under its thumb. And pretty much every other form of entertainment developed throughout the last 1500 years or so has come under the hostile scrutiny of one church or another, because churches instinctively understand that not only are all other churches threats to their hegemony but all other entertainments are as well. By now in western civilization we’re pretty much wed to the idea there are vast entertainment possibilities out there, though that’s only been the case for about the last 70 years at the outside and really only the last twenty or so. Many of those are splintered into what’s now known as “cult” properties, as we use the same term for scary new would-be religions that spring up to preach strange, usually egocentric gospels in fits of new Gnosticism. A sense of personal identity is tied into all these things, the way it used to be more strongly tied into where you lived or what church you attended. And it’s not terribly farfetched to see a day when church is once again the primary form of entertainment, esp. if some groups have their way. But, returning to the 4th c. monks, these were men (a few women joined the craze, but it was mostly men) who were sure leaving wounds and sores (AKA “gifts from God”) untreated and unhealed was the path to God the way some comics geeks are sure Hal Jordan is the only true Green Lantern. These things are all used to elevate the believer and dismiss the unbeliever, and if the comics geek seems more out of the social mainstream than the 4th century solitary monk, remember that the Church didn’t like them and in the 4th century, following Constantine’s monkeying about, the Church pretty much was the social mainstream of the west, and they held the monks in grave suspicion. It’s a difference of degree, not intent. Everyone wants to go to heaven but nobody wants to read TOMORROW STORIES

  • Last week’s survey kicked up a stir, particularly from people who felt their favorite 2004 moments had been unfairly overlooked. Well… you got something to say, say it. But not after deadline. That ship done sailed. On to the 2005 survey answers:

    1) What is your most fervid hope for 2005?

    “That retailers will actually stock back issues! I hate to have to go to the shop every week to get the issues I’m interested in before the few copies they stock are gone. I hate TPBs and begin to think I will stop buying comic books if this hypocrisy goes on.”

    “That Hal Jordan and Kyle Rayner fans treat each other respectfully. And that DC, Geoff Johns, and Carlos Pacheco really do come up with a fresh and interesting take on the GREEN LANTERN concept, because when Hal went nuts, the book was dreadfully boring. Before you blame Ron Marz, blame DC for stopping Steve Englehart’s great run in 1986 (that was a Corps) in favor of ACTION COMICS WEEKLY. I hope the same for a character that’s also been mistreated, but in a different way. CAPTAIN AMERICA deserves a fresh, exciting series, like Waid and Garney once produced. If Brubaker and Epting can’t do it, no one can.”

    “Another GROO mini! The FANTASTIC FOUR movie will be good! The rest of the early (pre-Claremont) UNCANNY X-MEN will finally be released in the Essential series! Not likely!”

    “In a larger sense, that more former comic book fans will continue to drift back into the specialty shops and get back into the market. In a more immediate sense, that Joss Whedon will continue to write ASTONISHING X-MEN.”

    “That the Big 2 combine two kind of series, ones with interesting new concepts and others treating nostalgic classic characters in a modern way… both of them happening in the same universe cohesively. Wait… DC is doing the second half… well let’s hope Marvel also does it and that both do both things right this time…”

    “That, above all else, readers, creators, and company brass remember that comics are supposed to be FUN, dammit!”

    “That the overall quality of comics stays up where it is now. There are more really good things being done now in years. I don’t love them all, but I really prefer talking about whether or not I like the ending of ‘Avengers Disassambled’ to whether or not I think Bill Jemas is doing a good job.”

    “The art will transcend the medium. (We’ll stop dreaming in 22-pages.)”

    “That BATMAN BEGINS and SIN CITY are good and that they get people interested in comics, and result in a massive creative overhaul of the Bat-books. That Marvel rehires Bill Jemas (for all his faults, he got Marvel some good press and kept things more innovative than “Hey, let’s do three covers!!!!”). That we stop getting unnecessary six-part stories just to fit a tpb quota. Phat people begin paying more attention to the brilliant stuff coming out of Oni Press.”

    “That Joe Quesada regrows his sac and soul and tells the suits what works and what just cheeses fans off. Never thought I’d miss Bill Jemas so much”

    “Innovation. More original graphic novels. Material that attempts to broaden the audience. An industry that appeals more to women and young girls.”

    “More press for the independents (ha ha). Image, surprisingly enough, might be the best publisher out there these days, yet all we keep hearing about is the latest relaunch of THE AVENGERS and Jim Lee on SUPERMAN.”

    “That publishers will begin to show more trust in newer and younger talent, that they will begin to revitalize the art with fresh blood, fresh perspectives – why not find youth creators to target youth readers? They’re right on the pulse of what youth wants to see and more able to bring that to life. Why not find new creators to do new takes on old properties? Where is the progress in having the same writer revamp a property, again and again? I’d also like to see the major publishers branch out with their advertising. My biggest problem with the industry is how it promotes primarily to itself. Sure those already reading comics are an easier sell for your work, but take a look around already – comics are cool. You see their effects and influence within all of the major subcultures that percolate in urban environments. Remember what SANDMAN meant to goths? Take a fraction of the advertising spent in WIZARD and put ads in magazines like THE SOURCE to promote 100 BULLETS, or JANE for books like SHE-HULK, those who read those magazines will read those comics – if only they knew they existed, ’cause I’m pretty sure the hip-hoppers who buy THE SOURCE or XX1 don’t read WIZARD.”

    “Innovation”

    “More good comic books of the pamphlet/floppy variety (down with graphic novels!) and someone announcing a complete Crockett Johnson BARNABY.”

    “That with the retailer-hostile Jemas gone, Marvel will start acting like DC, at least on the publishing side of things.”

    “The neo-con created TALES OF G.I.S IN IRAQ Marvel series tanks tremendously and WIZARD gets its head out of Marvel and DC’s respective asses.”

    “That the decompression of storytelling reverses, and we start to get more bang for our buck(s). It’s gotten to the point that even the trades aren’t worth buying, as even collecting 4-6 issues of a story doesn’t even begin to get to the point. I like SHE-HULK and JACK STAFF, lots of story per issue. Marvel is getting worse and worse in this regard, and manga is very bad at this, but manga is, at least, relatively cheaper than the full-color $20 collections with fewer pages and less imagination. It’s too expensive to buy these things, single or trade, considering how little we’re getting in return.”

    “That artists like Dave Gibbons get to do more books like THE ORIGINALS and never have to do fill-in issues of superhero comics again.”

    “How about some serious hard science fiction comics from someone who isn’t Warren Ellis or Grant Morrison? Not that there is anything wrong with them, but I’d like a few more writers in this area.”

    “That SEVEN SOLDIERS OF VICTORY is a hit.”

    “That DC and Marvel will publish more titles outside their respective heroic universes. Me, I love the heroes of both companies, but when you publish thousands of issues on a character, its hard to keep them fresh and interesting. And that leads to stale stories and then sensationalist schlock like “Avengers Disassembled”. With the exception of THE ULTIMATES, the dozen or so comics I buy are set outside the proper universes (a lot of Vertigo and Wildstorm titles). Titles such as EX MACHINA, FABLES, POWERS, HARD TIME, SUPREME POWER, etc. work not only because of great art and storytelling, but because you know that they have control of their characters. If someone kills Bigby Wolf or Mayor Hundred, you know that some writer won’t be bringing them back when they begin their run on the title.”

    “That the publishers understand that a good story doesn’t have to involve a death and that it can be done just as well in two issues and not the now-customary five or six.”

    “That writing monthly comics for the sole purpose of collecting the storylines in trade-paperback format goes out of style.”

    “That books like IDENTITY CRISIS and EX MACHINA bring more new readers.”

    “More non-super-heroes titles (and less grim’n’gritty super-heroes). Regarding titles, I’ll go with SEVEN SOLDIERS OF VICTORY and QUEEN AND COUNTRY.”

    “I don’t have any fervid hope. Comics will remain the same. If I’m lucky I’ll come across something new that I like as I’m more interested in political writing than comics lately.”

    “That I’ll finally get one of my brilliant pitches picked up by Image (after a string of near-misses it’s getting harder and harder to find a quality artist-collaborator who can follow through and impress Erik Larsen).”

    “Apart from selling some of my own? I’d like to be able to go into my local town centre and see more comics on the shelf of my local chain bookstore. I’d like to see the digest format abandoned as a default format for the bookstore trade, and instead see production values that serve the work, rather than some arbitrary marketing ideas. I’d like to see mainstream comics looking *forward* again. But mostly that selling option.”

    “There is a lot of quality out there right now, so I hope people recognize it and jump on the bandwagon.”

    “Seeing NEGATION WAR completed. Seeing Marvel publish MIRACLEMAN trades, (it’s happening). Seeing more comics shops open nationwide. Pie-in-the-sky dream: Marvel/DC/Diamond announce plans to open a nationwide chain of comic shops.”

    “You know how everyone online, be they rabid superhero fanboy or elitist art comix snob, constantly bashes everything they don’t think is cool? Yeah, I’d like for that to go away and for everyone to just get on with the business of reading what they enjoy and letting others do the same. I’d also like to be the sole winner for PowerBall 7 times in the same year, which I think is actually more likely.”

    “For American publishers to figure out how to appeal to all these new manga readers.”

    “Great GNs selling like DVDs.”

    “More people buy the kinds of lower-selling books I like so they remain viable, and that the success of collected editions of US comics increases (we all know manga is doing fine).”

    “That the success of books like PERSEPOLIS will convince more book publishers to allow comic creators to work like novelists. The creators won’t have to rely on the “pamphlet”, monthly book to earn a living. They can get advances that allow them to produce a single work each year. The work could be episodic or self-contained.”

    “That the enthusiasm from the movies carries over into higher sales on the rack, and more autonomy for creators.”

    “That the general public realizes just what wonders await them in comics shops and bookstores, and that publishers work harder to publish material worth the attention of intelligent, adult readers — and actually market it to them, instead of throwing away opportunity after opportunity by expecting the direct market to bear the burden of an entire artform, which it clearly is not designed or even inclined to try to do.”

    2) What aspect of comics in 2005 are you most looking forward to?

    ATOMEKA, more Danijel Zezelj, and fewer video game comic books from talented artists such as Ashley Wood…”

    “Seeing other genres make a rise… CONAN and EX MACHINA are two of the best books out there right now… I wasn’t a believer at first, but I tried them both and I’m hooked.”

    “The Ultimate runs of Warren Ellis start appearing as TPBs. Whedon’s remaining ASTONISHING X-MEN run.”

    “The growth and proliferation of the indy comics scene. There are a lot of great, non-superhero books out there that I have discovered over the past year or so, and I can’t wait to see what some of the great new experimental creators come up with.”

    “Dunno. Is something great already announced happening in 2005? Movies? All seem correct but not great… Events? Perhaps CRISIS ON INFINITE EARTHS‘ 20th anniversary… It was what got me into DC Universe when I was young… I really want to read SEVEN SOLDIERS OF VICTORY also…”

    “The fall of what’s being done now. (I know how that sounds). I love the general quality of what’s being produced now, but it’s quite clear that we are approaching another mid-90s scenario of too many titles and relaunches and 2nd and 3rd printings and variant covers, etc… I’m looking forward to it all falling apart again because the only way to get it right is to stop doing it wrong. (It then follows with the hope that they will get it right the next time, though I really don’t see that happening.)”

    “The hope that someone will write a beautiful, simple comics story a la ETHAN FROME, showing that you don’t have to be self-referential, meta, jaded, or self-proclaimed intelligensia to write a Damn Good Story.”

    “Marvel bombing on all of its new “#1” series, so that maybe they’ll realize once and for all that its quality over quantity. More Garth Ennis PUNISHER!!!”

    “Birth of my niece. And to make it a comic book theme: reading things to her like LITTLE ENDLESS STORYBOOK and AKIKO.”

    “Finding more quality works by unknown creators and small press entities. Every time I find a book like STYX TAXI, it gives me hope for comics’ future.”

    “The interesting non-superhero stuff that’s out there these days. My favorite books right now are things like REX MUNDI, SMALL GODS, THE BALLAD OF SLEEPING BEAUTY, FABLES — it will be nice to find more of those, because things seem to be moving that way.”

    “A continuation of pushing the boundaries, I think WE3 and PROMETHEA have really upped the bar on what we know comics can do and I’m eager to see how these and other books effect the heard.”

    “I’m looking forward to reading EPILEPTIC in English in its entirety, the David B. book from Pantheon.”

    “Trade paperbacks.”

    “Seeing how Disney manages to exploit the just-acquired CrossGen properties. Could be disaster, could be brillaint, will probably be somewhere in between. It’ll be interesting to watch either way, though.”

    “Guiltily, CRISIS 2.”

    “That the new FANTASTIC FOUR movie will be a bomb, as well as any other comic book movies. Why? If Hollywood realizes that the comic-book movie fad is over, than maybe they’ll stop making them. Then we’ll be rid of these barebones comics just trying to be picked up as movies, sometimes by the bigger publishers, but more often by the smaller guys. These comics are nothing more than outlines of the plot to be filled in later by the movie, so long as it gets on paper and is out in the public for Hollywood to see. Maybe if people realized that comics isn’t the best way to get your screenplay viewed by Hollywood execs, we’d see more writers and artists wanting to actually make stories as comics for the ultimate goal of making comics. I hate action sequences, for instance, with no action, only the bare outline of action. Maybe now, the real artists will get to shine.”

    “Three DC 2000AD collections each month, plus another one from Rebellion UK (if I can find a place to order them from), plus an issue of 2000AD every week, a JUDGE DREDD MEGAZINE every four weeks, and a 2000AD EXTREME EDITION reprint magazine every eight weeks. Everything else is just too unpredictable. As a reader, the only aspect of comics that particularly interests me is: are there going to be comics I want to read?”

    “Increasing diversity, and hopefully a stack more comic books, especially in trade format. This is the year I’m going to start branching into more independent and so-called small press, so I’m hoping for a good year.”

    “I’m enjoying the trades and hardcover collections and hope that the trend is to publish directly as a novel.”

    “Grant Morrison’s sprawling epic, SEVEN SOLDIERS OF VICTORY. To be honest, I think a lot of it will suck, but I applaud the man for making the effort, and DC for letting him do it. I’m going to support it, simply because I think these types of experiments must go on if comics are going to grow as industry. I remember the extremely dark years of the early ’90s, and believe me, I don’t want to go back there.”

    “The fate of Kyle Rayner. He’s the character that got me into comics, so I’m interested to see what DC does. Hopefully they let him live and not repeat their past mistake of disenfranchising a part of fandom.”

    “The continued rise in quality of the DC comics. Marvel could take a page from their storytelling abilities.”

    “That second CRISIS by Johns and Jimenez.”

    “I really don’t know what to expect. Better sales, I guess.”

    “I’m looking forward to a new Bryan Talbot comic, to reading more Harvey Pekar as well as the ALBION comic by Leah Moore and John Reppion.”

    “More Frank Miller, more Grant Morrison, and more Tom Scioli (the next Big Thing)…”

    “Stumbling across that one trade or OGN that gave me the same feeling of all-encompassing glee that JACK STAFF did. Picking up the softcover copies of all the hardcovers that I can’t afford, like THE ORIGINALS or SUPERMAN: BIRTHRIGHT. Watching Grant Morrison turn the DC Universe into MAGNOLIA. Reading THE COURIERS 3: BALLAD OF JOHNNY FUNWRECKER. Catching up with series that I’ve had to abandon this year due to financial constraints, such as THE LOSERS and HUMAN TARGET. Being added to company comp lists (well, one can hope, right?).”

    “The ton of comic book based movies due next year. What can I say, any opportunity to get my geek on!”

    “Finding the next book that makes me happy. I don’t care if it’s brand new or decades old; I just want to discover something I’ve never read before that I really enjoy.”

    “Burlyman Entertainment, and seeing what the Matrix people manage to do with their new line.”

    “More really great old material being published again as TPBs.”

    “Less collecting of issues, more collecting in trade format.”

    “I’m surprised each year by some new book. There are always interesting stories being told, you just have to look for them. Each year I find some new discovery that keeps me interested in comics.”

    “More prose novelists entering the field.”

    “As always, discovering the unexpected treasures that come from unlikely places and convince me all over again that comics is an artform worth all the effort we expend talking about it. BLUESMAN strikes me as one of the books that could accomplish that in 2005, I can’t wait to see what else awaits.”

    3) What’s your worst fear for comics in 2005?

    “Marvel buying the not-yet-exclusive talents out there to write/draw even more spandex. I mean Marvel’s revival was in the end nothing more than acclaimed and creative writers on tired concepts, making those decent for a five minute read in most case. Sure Peter Milligan on X-MEN is good for the franchise on a creative level, but I’d rather see him a million times write creator owned material for Vertigo, Atomeka or whoever would let him do it…”

    “That both in terms of creative and distribution, we continue ‘preaching to the converted,’ only cultivating more comics-buying among those already purchasing them, rather than seeking new readers.”

    “That Marvel’s produce for trade policy kills many worthy titles, especially SHE-HULK. If you’re going to go trade, go all the way, and stop wasting my money.”

    EX MACHINA might start to suck after the first storylines wrap up.”

    “That Hollywood will make so many comic-related movies that the national audience gets tired of the fad and turns away from the medium all together.”

    “The ultra-franchisement of comics: for long years it was an event when a movie based on a comic was made. Now comic characters are archetypes around whom a movie is built with static characterization to become a merchandise icon. That makes that the comics an unmoving as the propiety has to remain the same. It began with leather jackets for the X-Men… and with many characters becoming movies… specially Marvel… it can reach all of them. (That CATWOMAN wasn’t HalleBerryed by DC gives me hope.)”

    “More and more bad stuff permeating the whole comics world. I want a new ship so I’m fine with scuttling this one, but it’s still not going to be fun while it sinks.”

    “That comics will become nothing more than a flowerbox for corporations to cultivate licenses, trademarks, and intellectual property. It won’t matter if anyone buys comics, because they’re just finger exercises for movies, and lunch pails, and disposable band-aids. The audience won’t be the point anymore.”

    “That BATMAN BEGINS will bomb, proving that DC movies are cursed. Than Chris Claremont will stay on X-MEN. Yes he was great, but the man is done, people!!! That Grant Morrison, Mark Millar, etc. will continue to receive accolades and work for favoring sensationalism over good storytelling. Case in point – JLA: CLASSIFIED and Batman’s new “bat-saucer”. Nuff said. ”

    “That variant covers as pathetic market-share grabbers continue. That Marvel continues to flood the market with crap, resulting in the rare good ones (SHE-HULK, RUNAWAYS, etc) not getting attention from fans who just tune it all out. That DC continues to put out decent new books with no one paying attention. We need to reward new ideas by giving some things a try and dropping those titles which we’re only buying out of habit. But publishers have to meet us half way by not putting out crap just for the sake of having x number of books (and x number of X-books, for that matter) on the market.”

    “That we’ll continue to see more of the same shit. That comics will continue to be unfriendly towards the fairer sex. That we are headed for another market collapse.”

    “That comics will continue to be dominated by Marvel and DC (they will), and that those two companies will continue to take a myopic view of the industry. They won’t change, so comics may die. It’s a little extreme, I know, but it could happen.”

    “A continuation of the same, of personal politics and rivalries getting more attention than the work. That old dirty habits will still plague the creation process between creators, editors, publishers.”

    “That all these announced book lines, save for a few exceptions sprinkled throughout, will suck as badly as it sounds like they will suck.”

    “That the superhero glut and collapse of 1995 will be repeated this year with manga.”

    “The neo-con created TALES OF G.I.S IN IRAQ Marvel series is a huge success and WIZARD stays firmly entrenched in Marvel and DC’s respective asses.”

    “More decompression, less story, more regurgitation of old plots, less imagination, just a downgrade of quality, all across the board. This will never be totally true, as there will always be some gems in the crowd, but in general, it’s really not holding my interest anymore. Not just superheroes, but indie books that don’t have real quality or imagination. The comic book industry will never die, these things never do, but there are things worse than death.”

    “That Grant Morrison’s SEVEN SOLDIERS OF VICTORY won’t really be any good after all.”

    “That the inherent conservatism of the direct market and the “mainstream” publishers continues to erode the comic market, and slowly forces the imaginative and original creators to leave the industry altogther. Oh, and more superheroes standing around helplessly looking sad while bad things happen.”

    “That we continue to become a smaller and smaller cult. With successful books selling at 25,000 copies in a country of over 250,000,000 we are a smaller cult then Reverend Moon. Second fear is that the puritanical wave that seems to be invading the US turns its lurid eye at comics.”

    “Mark Millar recently remarked that he foresees a swing back to the poorly written / magnificently illustrated era of comics. I hope he’s wrong. I love art, but I’m here for the story. I really don’t like Brian Hurtt or Pia Guerra’s art, but I buy HARD TIME and Y THE LAST MAN because of the writing. On the other hand, I love Mike Mignola and Michael Lark, but I won’t pick up anything they do, unless the writing’s good. I mean, I want to love HELLBOY, but the writing is just so weak! The best comics, of course, have a combination of great art and great story (like when you teamed with Mike Zeck to write that Punisher graphic novel, RETURN TO BIG NOTHING — right up there with Ennis’ best work on the character). Disney buying Crossgen gave me hope, but then I heard that they’re turning ABADAZAD into a prose book! That’s not what I want! Dammit, people, let’s support the books that don’t have Batman or a mutant in them!”

    “That DC is going to rely on Grant Morrison for their big “event” with SEVEN SOLDIERS OF VICTORY and not bring anything else to the table. I’m not getting any of it and don’t see what the big deal is.”

    “That it will end up just like 2004. I suppose the demise of $2.25 comics would be pretty bad too.”

    “That DC’s ‘master plan’ could fail.”

    “That the 90’s Image-“realistic”-ugly stories doesn’t go away. I dig mature themes when they’re well written, like in THE LOSERS, LUCIFER, INVISIBLES, PUNISHER or QUEEN AND COUNTRY, but can’t stand rapes and stuff in DC’s “crossovers”. And bad characterization.”

    “That comics I like will be few and far between that publishers won’t take risks on good new and different material.”

    “Halle Berry in CATWOMAN II.”

    “That Spider-Man will sleep with the artificially-aged eight year old daughter of Gwen Stacy and Norman Osborn. That someone will seek to redignify and focus the alpha version of Snapper Carr. That more and more shelf space and column inches will be taken up with hundreds of variant copies of Weeping Cape Comics, pushing out lower-selling and independent titles in favour of attracting short-term speculators and rubberneckers instead of potential readers. That more and more amazing talent will be wasted on copying out forty year-old stories into voguish pseudomanga. But how likely is that?”

    “The slow death of more indy comic companies to the big guys. Where am I gonna get my Sacco if Fantagraphics goes sideways on me?”

    “That John Constantine will be drawn like Keanu Reeves. Seriously, more reports about overall sales of comics continue to decline. Or one of the smaller publishers, like AiT/PlanetLar or Drawn & Quarterly, will file for bankruptcy.”

    “More of the same. It’s evolve or die out there, and a lot of the industry seems frighteningly intent on maintaining the status quo at all costs.”

    “That the moral majority will try to crack down on retailers, creators, and publishers.”

    “That nothing of good quality will come out.”

    “That the gap between the haves and the have-nots on the sales charts widens. That everything is either a runaway success or about to be cancelled.”

    “That the trend of superhero movies will burn people out on comics as a source. There is much more to comics and at least some have realized it. Hopefully the phrase “based on the graphic novel” will not become a kiss of death in Hollywood. I want the market to continue to grow and not just be a trend. This will allow for more creativity and more creators to produce good work.”

    “That the FANTASTIC FOUR movie will suck.”

    “That publishers, retailers and creators will continue to mistakenly assume that corporate superhero comics are the industry, while manga and the growing appetite for artcomix in mainstream bookstores prove again and again that the real potential for growth is in diversity and quality. Amen.”

    And that’s a wrap. Thanks very much to everyone who participated; I think the above provides an interesting roadmap to both how variant and how similar the thinking is out there. Now to find out how it really works out…

  • What a reversal! Suddenly HP’s administration is gravely concerned that widespread vote tampering put the incumbent back in power over the wishes of the greater number of citizens, that the result threatens to divide the country into two irreconcilable camps and cripple national unity, that huge discrepancies exist in many regions between exit polls and tallied votes, that the only reasonable solution is to void the results and hold a new election – and the media is vigorously reporting the story!

    Oh. Wait. He’s talking about the Ukraine.

    It’s true. Irony is dead.

    What the media isn’t vigorously reporting are court challenges to election results in both Ohio and Nevada (and more states, for all I know), citing voting irregularities and other reasons for overturning the results. Not that it’s likely to happen, but a reversal in Ohio would reverse the election. Except that, as in ’00, the Supreme Court would be almost certain to step in. Or would they? They stunned America and greatly irritated many conservatives this week by refusing to review the Massachusetts Supreme Court gay marriage decision, essentially legalizing gay marriage in America. (Not that they can’t return to it at a later date.) But the courts are irrelevant anyway, if you pay attention to visionaries like Jerry Falwell and Republicans like Indiana representative John Hostettler, who’ve suggested the right wing now has the power to ignore anything the Supreme Court says, if they don’t like it. (Certainly the White House has been taking that tack with no problem the past couple of years.) Hostettler wants to introduce a bill forbidding courts from hearing arguments against the Marriage Defense Act he wants to push through Congress. Another “irony is dead” moment: when the left wing used the “don’t obey bad laws” line of reasoning, they were locked up as dangerous anarchists looking to tear down the very fabric of our society. But welcome to Imperial America, where the Constitution is irrelevant. Though characters like Hostettler are more than happy to cite the Constitution as the very reason they want what they want, though many subscribe to the theory of the “unamended Constitution,” popular in the Reagan years and now making a comeback, that postulates the only valid part of the Constitution is the most primal version of the document. Throw out the Bill Of Rights. Forget free speech, freedom of the press, the abolition of slavery and women’s suffrage. Throw out all amendments since.

    Except the second amendment, of course.

    I sound flip, but this is being discussed out there in very real (if not entirely public) terms. Particularly forget the three-chamber structure of government. In Imperial America, the job of Congress and the Courts is to rubberstamp whatever the President wants, and those of you who voted for HP, it’s your vote that has helped to make this credible. Whether it’s possible or not remains to be seen, but the people now starting to push it are fairly confident it is.

    In the meantime, changes continue in the administration. Ashcroft is out as attorney general (with Tom Ridge surprisingly out as of this week as head of homeland security, and Health secretary Tommy Thompson’s said to be next), but the good lord giveth and the good lord taketh away, as it’s said: next up for Ashcroft’s job is HP’s longtime attorney, and White House legal counsel, Alberto Gonzalez, who, it turns out, happens to be the one who opined, as the “war on terror” was settling on us, that 9-11 obviated the Geneva Convention and opened the door to the torture of “enemy combatants” – as long as no “death, organ failure or serious impairment of bodily functions” are concerned. Compassionate conservatism at its best. Gonzalez’s memoes on the subject surfaced in the course of the Abu Ghraib investigation, but no one chose to make much of them, preferring administration protestations that none of them, I say none of them, would ever authorize anything like torture. Which is easy to say when you can redefine the terms at the drop of a hat. Your private language may be the Bizarro World version of public language, but it plays well on paper.

    Speaking of amending the Constitution, some “conservatives” are pushing a new Constitutional amendment to make it possible for Cal. Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger to run for president in 2008. It’s hard to call them genuine conservatives, since conservatism has traditionally involved preserving long-held American civic structures instead of basically throwing them away for the one-time convenience of a single person. Not that I think Ahnuld, despite his Nazi-worship past, is any particular threat to the country – he might even make a good president, if he manages to survive his term as governor, during which he has so far been unable to retard California’s slide but that I suppose that can always be blamed on Gray Davis – but the amendment is a massively stupid idea. No less a pundit than William Safire recently came out in favor of it, citing all the wonderful talent that comes into America from foreign nations. Funny this argument rarely surfaces when conservatives call for closing America’s borders to immigration. It’s funny, after years of 9-11 reasoning, to suddenly hear foreigners are to be trusted not just to become actors but to lead This Great Nation. And it’s weird to be spouting essentially Cold War reasoning, but…

    The clause barring non-native born citizens from the highest office is in there for a reason. Considering how many years we were told about longterm devious Russian-Chinese-Cuban etc. schemes and how recently we’ve been assured over and over by Ashcroft of sleeper terrorists cells in our midst just sitting there delivering our papers and making our pizzas and waiting for the signal to rise up and slaughter us in our sleep, it doesn’t seem entirely unreasonable to think there might just be the vague possibility that some foreign nation could insert a sleeper well-trained in the sort of oily folksy charm we seem to prize in our politicians – you know, mold a marketable candidate – and let him spend a couple decades working his way up the ladder until he can be elected into what would effectively be a hostile takeover. Jeez, I remember when the cry was out that people shouldn’t vote for Kennedy because, as a Catholic, he was an agent of the Pope. Paranoid scenario? Sure. Possible? Hey, if you believe America’s enemies are as devious and tenacious as they’ve always been made out to be. Eternal vigilance is the price of freedom and all that.

    At any rate, there are plenty of ways for public-minded foreign born citizens to engage in public service without being President. Governor of California, for instance. In Ahnuld’s case, he hasn’t exactly proven himself to be a political savant worthy of upheaval of our most basic laws. He hasn’t proven to be an effective administrator, or even spokesman. All he has proven to be – under limited circumstances – is electable. Which is a quality I’m sure, oh, John Kerry would love to have, but as qualifications for president go, it’s nowhere near enough.

  • Seems like something always gets in the way, but I have at least a handful of reviews for the week. I’ll try to get to the rest next week, and I apologize for the delay to everyone who sent material for review, but, you know, the car had to get fixed. Anyway:

    STARFISH by Marc Sobel & Leigh Gallagher, b&w 12 pg. mini-comic (Autopsy Press;$1.50)

    An effective little horror/sf story, more in the tradition of Thomas Disch than Stephen King. Anorexics undertaking a subsea cure for their condition find things go out of control when disaster hits the surface world. It’s pretty good as far as it goes, with nice art by Gallagher, but the story’s marred by sketchiness. The “victims” take a bit too much on faith, and it would have helped if we had some idea of the “treatment” they thought they’d be undergoing. The ending, though endearingly strange, also lacks any strong twist or revelation; it makes the piece feel like a vignette. Still, not bad, and much better than most, and Sobel’s use of language is sparse and tight. Worth checking out.

    TEENAGERS FROM MARS by Rick Spears & Rob G., b&w 272 pg. graphic novel (Gigantic Graphic Novels;$19.95)

    Brian Wood would’ve given a testicle to write this book. It begins as a good disaffected teen story, highlighting slackers and other halfassed counter-culture types in a small southern town rife with petty censors and ambitious small time politicians, and Spears & G. really do get across the pointless pedestrian hellishness of their existence. Then the story swerves into a scary “moral crusade against comics” parable, with an unexpected result: violent revolution in defense of basic civil rights. Rob G.’s art starts a bit wobbly but really settles in when the political story gets going, and by the end it really does seem the only style that would fit. The characters are really well developed; the fear, desperation, frustration, rage and longing just drip off them. Romance, drama, really good cliffhangers, a real point: this is a wonderful book with a tasty American outlaw sensibility. Buy it; you won’t be sorry.

    TOO MUCH COFFEE MAN #21 edited by Patrick Keller, b&w 64 pg. magazine (Adhesive Press;$4.95)

    For those of you who’ve never seen TOO MUCH COFFEE MAN, this is a really good satire magazine, dry and subversive. It’s about half comic strips – Shannon Wheeler, Ted Rall, FC Brandt and a host of others, all good – and half culture articles covering all kinds of subjects. This is the special “Best Of” issue, featuring, of course, all-new material. A feature comics fans in particular won’t want to miss: the latest excerpt from Mark Russell’s novel THE SUPERMAN STORIES, where Superman confronts a judge about the value of super-vigilantism. Hilarious. If you’re not reading TOO MUCH COFFEE MAN, why not? There’s really no good excuse for it.

  • Odd notes (ain’t they all?):

    If you haven’t checked it lately, drop over to Ed Brubaker’s revised website.

    Sorry, no time to put together a TWO HEADS TALK this week. Next week, I promise. If you’d like to see your own artwork in TWO HEADS TALK, just follow these simple instructions:

    1) All panels should be 3″ wide x 6″ tall jpgs, 150 dpi.

    2) All panels should be head and shoulder shots of original characters. No trademarked characters of any sort please. (But don’t worry: copyright will be assigned to you.)

    3) Head and shoulder shots should fill only the bottom 3″ of the panel. Leave the top half blank, please. (You can put color there, just not figure work.)

    4) One head per panel, thanks. Color or black and white, your choice.

    5) Don’t put any borders on the panels.

    6) Email it to me, with “Head” in the subject line so I know don’t think it’s a virus, because I’ll trash an unknown attachment in a heartbeat.

    7) Include a website or some other contact information so that your new legion of fans will be able to find you.

    And that’s it. All heads will be used eventually. Can fame and fortune be far behind?

    Remember that the hardcover graphic collection of my EDGE series, done with the late great Gil Kane, is now available from iBooks, as THE LAST HEROES. You’ll like the book; I’d appreciate the business. Let’s make everyone happy.

    I also want to thank everyone for the sudden flood of interest in the TOTALLY OBVIOUS pdf collecting all the essays on comics and culture I wrote in my MASTER OF THE OBVIOUS column here on Comic Book Resources a couple years back. If you want your own copy, you can order it through Paper Movies for $5.95. It’s roughly 300 pages of material, and comes in two flavors: optimized for reading onscreen and optimized for printing out. I was going to call it EVERYTHING YOU EVER WANTED TO KNOW ABOUT EVERYTHING, AND HOW IT ALL FITS TOGETHER, but that seems too long-winded…

    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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