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Issue #187

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Issue #187
  • THIS WEEK:
  • Creating Comics Step By Step, Step 5: Setting.

    This is a down and dirty series on making comics step by step, from conception to post-publication.

    A lot of the things I’ve said in this series may seem perfectly obvious, but there are times when the obvious must be stated, because many people are so familiar with elements of stories that they don’t think about them even when they should. One of these elements is setting, something so fundamental I almost forgot about it.

    In addition to being scenery, setting is an element of story logic, though one that should ideally be transparent to the reader, in most cases so natural to the story that it doesn’t come to the reader’s attention. The setting is a basic way of creating a world that draws the reader in. Philip K. Dick once wrote a novel called THE PENULTIMATE TRUTH, set in a future where nuclear war has devastated the surface, driving the vast bulk of humanity to live in cramped underground cities. The world was a conscious choice on Dick’s part – all choices in stories are conscious, whether we’re conscious of it or not – because the story he wanted to tell demanded it. And the subterranean world he invents is immediately believable, believable enough that it supports and subtly justifies the behavior of his characters; their behavior is intimately tied to their world. But that’s not the real lesson of the story, and, as in most Dick stories, the world the characters live in isn’t really the world they think they know. The hero’s the one to figure this out, by watching old newsreels, the backbone of the lie being perpetrated, and he figures it out by recognizing that elements in the newsreels – fiction within the fiction – feature inventions that weren’t invented at the time the newsreels were supposedly shot but which were so familiar to the hero’s world that the vast majority of viewers wouldn’t think twice about them. In other words, the authors of the fiction within the fiction were sloppy – they were too lazy to get the details of the setting right – and the whole fiction fell apart.

    Setting is detail, as in the Dick example, and setting is general. Setting is the world of the story, and specific places within that world. Batman is based in Gotham City (as many superheroes are based in fictitious cities) so as not to be restricted to the physical limitations of a real locale, but even Gotham City has to stay somewhere within the broadest parameters of what we’d expect from a real American city. (One of the few weaknesses of James Robinson’s STARMAN was his attempt to make Opal City be too much; the more he described aspects of it, the less real it became, and at times it seemed to be in the Midwest, at others somewhere in the Southwest, at others in the Deep South.) Some characters are specifically tied to their settings, for both physical and psychological reasons. We can easily imagine Spider-Man swinging through Manhattan with its miles and miles of massive skyscrapers, but throw him into the flat expanses of the San Fernando Valley or the wilds of New Jersey, as writers sometimes do, and you neuter much of what makes him a unique and visual character; he becomes less outside of New York, unless the writer comes up with a good alternative setting where his powers can be used in an interesting way. (In a wonderful sequence in AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #14, Stan Lee and Steve Ditko took him out of his element to film a movie in New Mexico, and moved him into an inventive fight sequence in caves.)

    On a technical level, writers are less involved with setting than artists are – it’s the artists who draw the stuff, after all – but good writers will take setting into account on their end. Even if you’re doing, say, a space story where you’re making the whole thing up, you still need to “see” the setting, and you need to figure out your rules for it, so that you’re not concocting aspects of it on the fly. (Bear in mind that a little detail is often more convincing than a lot of detail… but you need to know. As with other aspects, you’ll liable to realize way into your story that a room needs three doors instead of two, which is fine; just go back and make sure that’s consistent throughout. Think about your props; a ’30s dust bowl refugee won’t pull up to a California Border Station in a Thunderbird.

    In most cases, general settings will be suggested by the nature of the story – if they aren’t, you’re likely not thinking your story through well enough – but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t carefully consider them anyway. Specific settings – settings of individual scenes within a story, and set elements within those scenes – demand considerably more thought, and should never been selected haphazardly. I once wrote a Punisher story involving a serial killer who preyed on women walking their dogs in New York City at night. The editor could understand why I wanted it set in NYC (a concentration of potential victims), and why it was at night (easier to strike and escape unseen) but why, he asked, did I specify a potential victim was walking a small dog. I let him work it out for himself, and he did after a couple minutes: you don’t attack someone who’s walking a big dog. That’s where setting – and, as a prop, the dog was part of the setting, what French film critics like to call mise-en-scene, or, loosely translated, “putting in the scene” – intersects with story logic. You always want the setting, and the props, to play into the story logic. As with every other element in a story, if you introduce (which is to say, emphasize) some aspect of your setting – like the stalactites in the Lee-Ditko Spider-Man story that provide Spider-Man with something to attach his webs to – use it! You don’t send a character to the opera unless the opera fits into the story somehow, even if in as small a role as the hero figuring out how to get out of there without drawing attention. If a character’s a farm boy, you don’t have him travel to the big city unless that setting is of some consequence for the story: he falls in love with a floozie he would never have met in the country, he gets mugged and his longstanding faith in the innate goodness of humanity crumbles, whatever. If you use a setting you need a reason for that setting, though sometimes the setting is inherent and the reason is obvious; Eric Shanower’s AGE OF BRONZE takes place at the time of the Trojan War because its source material, THE ILIAD, is about the Trojan War. A western doesn’t take place in 22nd century Chicago, usually. (But even if you’re doing something with a setting as apparently obvious as a western, you have a choice of settings: the Mohave desert, a harsh Montana winter, the Great Plains, a Texas border town, San Francisco’s Barbary Coast the Colorado Rockies or the gold mines of the Black Hills. These and many other settings have all appeared in westerns, and the settings chosen, general and specific, change the nature and direction of the story.

  • All the reviews fit to print:

    THE WALLFLOWER Vol 3 by Tomoko Hayakawa, 220 pg. b&w trade paperback (Del Rey Manga;$10.95)

    More fun with a goth chick alternately perceived as hideously ugly and ravishingly beautiful, living with four beautiful boys trying to turn her into a “real lady” for her aunt in lieu of paying rent. Took awhile but it’s beginning to grow on me, as Hayakawa goes for straight comedy amid a murder hotel, a haunted house, a gang war and the aftermath of a kiss, while the art is keeping the various characters a little more recognizable from panel to panel as the “forbidden romance” angle recedes a bit. A marked improvement, not bad.

    GUNDAM SEED Vol 4 by Hajime Yatate, Yoshiyki Tomino & Masatsuga Iwase, 174 pg. b&w trade paperback (Del Rey Manga;$10.95)

    As adaptations go, GUNDAM SEED, based on the anime series that just wrapped up on Cartoon Network, is pretty much a by the book transliteration, as alliances in the war of humans vs. augmented humans shift and shatter, and hero Kira makes a critical decision. If you’re a huge fan of the series, this is indispensable. If you’re not, it probably won’t change your mind. It’s okay, though.

    OTHELLO Vol. 3 by Satomi Ikezawa, 220 pg. b&w trade paperback (Del Rey Manga;$10.95)

    One of the more curious manga, about a timid schoolgirl with a second wild cosplaying rock singer personality that does everything her alter ego wouldn’t have to guts to do. Except that. So far. With wild girl personality Nana being chased by the singer quiet personality Yaya has long had a crush on (Nana knows about Yaya who doesn’t know about Nana), Ikezawa plays the story briskly with a fair amount of sophistication and unforced twists, and good art, and gently milks humor from the complications of split personalities instead of going for slapstick. One of Del Rey’s better manga.

    COMIC EFFECT #41 ed. by Jim Kingman, 48 pg. fanzine (Comic Effect;$3.50)

    A pleasant surprise. With the subtitle “Emphasizing The Fun In Reading Comics,” and a focus mainly on Silver Age DC Comics, this is an old school fanzine of the sort that gave me my start in the ’70s but mostly died out by the ’80s. This issue spotlights the career of Hal Jordan, DC’s attempted Superboy relaunch of the late ’70s, a memoir of DC’s old 80 page giant annuals, a handful of reviews ranging from a Charlton fanzine to Mike Allred’s Mormon epic THE GOLDEN PLATES, and an AMAZING HEROES retrospective, with an entertaining potpourri column by editor Kingman. If you’re looking for blinding insights, this isn’t really the place to go, but the critiques are generally decently thought out and well written, and the writers’ enjoyment of the comics is genuinely infectious. Takes me back. Good job.

    SUPER REAL (Advance Edition) #1 by Jason Martin, 44 pg. color comic (;$3.50)

    Five twenty-somethings get the chance to be superheroes by taking part in a new reality show. Art’s a little sloppy, but the writing’s okay, seemingly heavily influenced by the Keith Giffen/Marc DeMatteis version of JUSTICE LEAGUE AMERICA. Can’t say I’m terribly moved one way or the other, except that it’d be better with better art. It’s okay.

    WRITE NOW! #9 ed. by Danny Fingeroth, 80 pg. b&w magazine (TwoMorrows Publishing;$5.95)

    Fingeroth’s how-to magazine on writing comics and animation seems to have dropped off the animation angle, but as comics go this is one of the stronger issues, with a good interview with Neal Adams, who’s generally not viewed as a writer, as well as talks with Geoff Johns and Batton Lash, Christos Gage on how he sold DC on a series, and a script-to-art example with BETA RAY BILL. There’s less emphasis now on “how-to” and more on showing by example, not so much teaching as opening up awareness of possibilities. Good.

    MEGATON MAN by Don Simpson, 182 pg. color trade paperback (iBooks;$)

    Simpson’s MEGATON MAN was one of the first, and most regularly published, full bore superhero parody, amply demonstrating his obsession with the very material he’s mocking, and it still holds up fairly well, despite the jokes (most of which, let’s face it, derive from MAD COMICS and NOT BRAND ECCH! anyway; you can get just so original with superhero parody) having been beaten into the dust by many, many comics creators, most with far less talent and panache than Simpson, in the years since the book was published. The book’s marred by periodic murky printing and coloring that suggests it was photoed from old issues, but Simpson’s twisted Lee/Kirby/Ditko pastiche still has its charms.

    VALERIAN: THE NEW FUTURE TRILOGY by Jean-Claude Mezieres & Pierre Christin, 188 pg. color trade paperback (iBooks;$17.95)

    Back when Eurocomics were making their first move onto American shores, the three strips that couldn’t be missed were Charlier & Giraud’s LT. BLUEBERRY, Philippe Druillet’s LONE SLOANE, and Mezieres & Christin’s VALERIAN, about a tough space cop of the 28th century, which, while not being as visually wild as Druillet’s science fiction, was considered the right way to do traditional space opera in comics form. Mezieres’ cartoony art has since picked up a few Moebiusisms (the three volumes included here are from the early ’90s, much later than my exposure to VALERIAN), but his vision of the future still remains imaginative (it has influenced filmmakers from George Lucas to Luc Besson), and Christin’s scripts are as wry and sharply crafted as ever. VALERIAN is still excellent after all these years. Buy it.

    PLASTIC FARM #9 by Rafer Roberts, Wendi Strang-Frost, Scott Christian Carr & Jeff Westover, 32 pg. b&w comic (Plastic Farm;$2.95)

    Roberts’ story is still pretty much incoherent, but his art has improved to the point of looking like Larry Welz’s after a two-week drunk, so that’s something. Fortunately, the bulk of the story gets better treatment from Strang-Frost. Carr & Westover provide a postapocalyptic backup that’s marginally better, though little more than a vignette obscured by blurry art that looks like it was done almost entirely with the side of a pencil tip. Still not recommended.

    ONE MORE BULLET by Jason Franks et al, 48 pg. b&w comic (Black Glass Press;$4.50)

    I’ve gotten to the unfortunate point where I very quickly become bored with anthologies that aren’t really good. This one doesn’t quite make it past that level, though not for lack of trying. Franks, who writes most of the stories, shows some decent imagination – the title story, set in a concentration camp, is particularly effective, though when he moves into more fantastic areas things flag a bit – but he’s undone by much of the art. It just doesn’t look good, with the exception of J. Marc Schmidt’s clean neo-underground style. Gorilla Monsoon would have called this a moral victory, but he said that about every wrestling match where the good guy lost the match.

    STREET ANGEL #5 by Jim Rugg & Brian Maruca (Slave Labor Graphics;$2.95)

    The homeless 13 year old kung fu fightin’ guardian of the streets gets trapped with a former blaxploitation superhero (I’d swear I just read this same joke in PROJECT: SUPERIOR) and has to fight it out with rednecks. So what else is new? The story’s a little thin, but Rugg & Maruca do some great action scenes and the “recreations” of ’70s comics are pretty entertaining. The art gets a touch sloppy here and there, and it’s hard to describe the appeal of this series, but STREET ANGEL has an it factor that really has to be experienced, not explained. I liked it.

    VIDEO #1-5 by Steven Buell, 32 pg. b&w comics (Lost In The Dark Press;$2.95@)

    A very weird little series about the collapse of civilization in the wake of Christ’s return to Earth, except Jesus appears mostly on TV and looks different to everyone. Another case where Buell really should have worked harder on the art, but at least it’s consistent. It drags a bit in the middle, as focus shifts from a general sense of what’s going on in the world to specifics about the central characters (with the backgrounds mostly going to an indistinct gray as well) but the finale is one of the more interesting ventures into Christian mythology in comics since PREACHER. Not entirely successful, but at least it’s ambitious.

    PUNCH by Rob Croonenborghs, 28 pg. b&w mini-comic (Rob Croonenborghs;no price given)

    An interesting round of underground comix from Croonenborghs. As a writer, he seems a bit influenced by Warren Ellis, but he could do worse, and his stories range throwaway one-shots to twisted sex vignettes to one of the best zombie world takes I’ve seen in awhile, playing all the clichés of the genre for broke. The art, shifting styles to fit the stories, nonetheless has tons of personality. Worth checking out.

    SAME OLD STORY Pts. 1-4 by Nathan Wiedemer & Steven Mangold, b&w mini-comics (varying lengths) (Blue Rose Studios;$1-$3@)

    Weidemer & Mangold concoct a pleasant little 20something soap opera, where two roommates develop feelings for the same woman, surrounded by an ever-growing cast of characters. It wraps up a bit abruptly (the final volume is a flashback to the characters’ childhoods), but it’s amusing and nicely done, with frequently horrid lettering.

    THE GIRL WHO TALKED & OTHER TALES FROM AN UNFOLDED EARTH by Daniel Merlin Goodbrey, 28 pg. b&w mini-comic (e-merl;$2.50)

    Goodbrey’s mainly known for wild Dadaistic strips featuring the likes of talking scorpions with cowboy hats, but these are talking head comics. Real good talking head comics, with different perspectives on things we rarely think much about, like the nature of communication, and the synesthetic effects of music, and the uncertainty of knowing. This is the most comfortable work he has yet produced, sure enough of itself to be quiet, which doesn’t make it any less strong. Good stuff.

  • As expected, the House Of Representatives passed the “Bankruptcy Reform Act” last week by an overwhelming, mostly Republican majority, 302-126, with thirteen Democrats jumping over to vote with them. (One representative had the nerve to proudly proclaim the bill a triumph for the average American, since credit companies will now lower their interest rates, even though all addenda to the bill mandating they do exactly that were rejected. Look at legislation, state and national, passed over the past couple years, limiting liability lawsuits, “reforming” health care, and anything else that was claimed to result in any major industry lowering their fees, and see if their rates, fees, etc. have gone done. See if they’ve even stayed the same. Expect credit companies, now virtually unfettered in every aspect, to drive their rates only one direction: up.) Expect it to be signed into law today, which means if you plan to file bankruptcy, you’d better do it before October 20, when the new law goes into effect. (A couple people wrote to say I was in error when I said it would wipe out Chapter 7 bankruptcy, where all debts are wiped out instead of being restructured for full payoff over time, and that’s true, it does “preserve” Chapter 7. After a fashion. The new law states you can’t file for Chapter 7 if you’ll have more than $100 after bankruptcy is granted. Which means it’s only available in cases of absolute and utter destitution, which bankruptcy was originally intended to prevent. So much for compassionate conservatism. Or did that just mean compassion toward corporations?)

    Just in case you were expecting the screwing of average Americans to stop now, here’s another call to action on an issue that will affect absolutely every American and rip more money from your pocket while giving “relief” to corporations:

    New FCC chairman Kevin Martin, continuing in the footsteps of previous chairman Michael Powell, is advocating a new “flat fee” Universal Service Fund surcharge on your phone bill. The USF was instituted to underwrite the cost of telephone service for rural and low income areas as well as schools, libraries and other public service institutions to make sure phone service in America is, well, universal. It’s an infrastructure thing. It operates basically as a sales tax at the moment, so the surcharge is applied on a per minute basis. If you make two calls a month that amount to twenty minutes total, you pay twenty minutes worth of surcharge. If your corporation makes 20,000 minutes worth of calls per week, they pay 80,000 minutes worth of surcharge over the space of a month. It’s a user fee. Completely egalitarian, as it turns out: everyone pays their fair share.

    While some Republicans are arguing for a national sales tax as the only fair taxation system (as a substitute for income tax, the scheme hits certain snags, but that’s a discussion for another time), Martin advocates replacing the “national sales tax” on long distance service with a “flat fee,” which means:

    If you make two phone calls per month, you pay the exact same fee as a corporation burning up the wires at 80,000 calls per month. This doesn’t mean everyone will pay less. The long distance infrastructure would pretty much collapse if considerably less money were pumped into the system. Which means instead:

    The amount you pay in surcharge for your two calls and the amount a corporation pays in surcharge for their 80,000 calls will be… exactly the same. Which still means a hell of a lot less in the system, since there’s no way they can raise the rate on average Americans enough to make up for the lost fees for corporate use of the nation’s long distance wires: every one of us would be paying thousands of dollars per year. What it does mean is that residential users of long distance would end up shouldering the burden, at substantially more than they’re paying now. In fact, with the advent of the Internet, e-mail, etc., residential users (and small businesses) are less likely to make long distance calls, even though they’ve got long distance capability on their phone lines, so what the “flat fee” really represents is forcing residential users to subsidize corporate phone use.

    Write Martin and tell him a flat fee Universal Service Fund surcharge is a bad, unfair idea. Since it is. He’s not a dumb guy, he can come up with a better one. Do it before the current administration locks you down even more financially.

    If you’re really feeling in an activist mood, there’s a group called The Keep USF Fair Coalition you can check out. They have a lot more information on the subject, as well as their own plan for flatlining USF rates, though I’m ambivalent toward it: in some ways it seems more a Trojan horse to extend government control and regulation to new technology.

    (As an aside, the FCC has a really good site, full of information and laid out well enough it seems they actually want American citizens, not just the unctuous PTC, which complains about “sex” on TV so much the FCC has stopped paying attention to them, to put their two cents in. Worth checking out, particularly if you’re big on sticking your two cents in. About time the forces against censorship mounted a vocal challenge, even with Republicans in power. Remember than any skills you develop against Republican control can be used against Democratic control as well, because, as the bankruptcy vote demonstrates, all things considered it’s a mighty fine line between them.)

    By the way, in case you haven’t heard, there’s a new pope, and topping his agenda is the war against “radical individualism,” to use a phrase he seems to have coined. In other words, he’s appalled that people feel they have the right to make up their own minds about things. Big fun in the 12th century.

  • A little touch of mail in the night:

    “Took that step [writing his representative] on something that I can agree with you on. I think following any party, in and of itself, leads to the dark side.

    Love the work on the art of making a comic book. Want to share two things.

    The guiding principle for acting I developed as a teen when boiled down became:

    “Emphasize what you do best, minimize what you do worst, and hope the audience doesn’t catch on.”

    It still works.

    I guess the biggest plot disaster that comes to mind is IT, by King. While I thought the book was largely incredible, there is an abusive husband to a main character introduced, given a mysterious task by the clown, and then just found dead in a sewer. That just made the whole roller-coaster stop. Everything I read in the book after that just felt like King had done his hour in the Brothel, but it was time to get on to the next paying customer, so the sooner I could leave, the better.

    Thanks again for the political and artistic, and for just being you, damn it.”

    Blame it on my parents.

    A basic principle of bodybuilding, a little contrary to yours, is that whatever exercise you can’t do well exposes the part of your body you most need to work on. If you can’t do lunges well, lunges are the exercise you should do, until you’re capable of doing them well. And I think it was William Burroughs who pointed out the old schoolmarm’s adage that whatever is worth doing is worth doing well is nonsense, because if something’s worth doing it’s worth doing whether you can do it well or not. To some extent I think both of those apply to creating anything. But I think it was Dan O’Neill who got in the final word in some comic strip somewhere: “You’ve got a sense of humor. Use it. And if all else fails dazzle ’em with bullshit.”

    “1) To build upon the idea of Plot and Character being interdependent, isn’t it fair to add Theme in as a third factor? Since Plot is basically what happens and Character is who it happens to and the reactions that follow, Theme is basically what it all means, to Character and to the author. Is that a fair statement to make?

    2) Can you talk about the twist? By this mean, the current trend (at least it seems as such to me) of having to know, up front, what weird thing makes one’s story stand out. I guess MEMENTO is the best example I can think of off the top of my head. Is the twist something the writer should be thinking of from the get-go, let it arise over the course of developing the idea, or not worry about at all?”

    1) There’s a temptation to beat readers over the head with theme, but the best themes are probably read best by inference. I certainly don’t dismiss the importance of theme, which is why I discussed it prior to character and plot, but it’s more of a guiding principle. There’s no way character and plot aren’t going to be nakedly visible to your audience, but you don’t necessarily want to show the maker’s hand in the work. 2) As with theme, it usually helps to have a general idea of your plot twist (though the twist is perhaps a little overemphasized in our time; sometimes a story is most effective when it plays out exactly as one would anticipate, it’s really a matter of what provides the best experience) at the very early stages of your story. You can always come up with a better one in process, just don’t be afraid to throw out your earlier ideas for better, later ones. (Conversely, don’t be afraid to keep them if later ideas are no good.) But, really, what you do depends on the demands of your story.

    “Your blurb on this bill caught my interest. I read up on the bill, the site you directed us to and who some of the primary sponsors are. It’s clear from the first blurb I pulled that the lawyers wouldn’t be happy with the bill. There is substantial and valid opposition to the bill as well. I wouldn’t be in favor of giving credit card companies more dominance over our lives either.
    But it’s also true too, that most americans are fairly ignorant of how credit works. We live in a “get it now” community and nobody thinks about the long term. I know an accountant who sees this first hand all the time. Frontline recently ran a piece about Americans gullibility and outright ignorance about how credit cards work and their inability to look at the long term and avoid bankruptcy in the first place.

    That said, I think there are valid times for bankruptcy. There ought to be balance in the process either way so I’m probably split down the middle. It’s an exhaustive bill to go through so there is more research to be done. so that’s my take for what it’s worth.

    In other news, DC recently let go of their Humanoids division. I guess the european stuff doesn’t do so well here. that’s too bad.”

    Humanoids hadn’t done much to crack the American market as it is, and DC’s marketing plan seems to have come down to a press release saying Humanoids was with DC now, so the low sales of Humanoids product surprise me not at all. I think some Humanoids material could have cracked the market here, but they seemed determined to push the more obscure (in more ways than one) material but it was going to take a lot more marketing savvy and money than either company was willing to put into it. Humanoids is also hampered by something of a cultural barrier, exacerbated by possibly insurmountable problems like the native format of the work: if it wants to stand half a chance at being successful here, its Swiss publishers should step aside and leave release decisions in the hands of someone who understands the American comics market.

    Bear in mind that, for the most part, credit companies want Americans ignorant about how credit cards work. The credit card system has always been geared toward getting the consumer on the hook for as much credit as possible, constantly paying the vig but never touching the principle, because that’s how they make their money. The object of closing off bankruptcy as an out is to make sure they keep paying the vigorish, for as long as humanly possible, at ever-increasing interest rates that now have no legal ceiling.

    “Nice to see someone else actually worried about the bankruptcy reform bill. I worked for the banking industry for years and the rates and fees that they can now charge are horrible. They are now implementing universal default for people – upping rates on all credit cards if someone is late even each on any bill.

    We included the average bankruptcy rate in our pricing structure. The only time we were taking gas was during the Carter years when usury laws actually existed.

    This bill is one more nail against the “common man”. The corporations are still allowed to go bankrupt and as you state the wealthy are allowed to hide assets, but the common man – they just want to pound on him.

    It reminds me of health care – if you have insurance the insurance company gets away with forcing a lower payment to a doctor – but if you don’t have insurance they want you to pay full fare.

    Crazy world we live in. Worry about bankruptcy – but ignore the coming oil crisis, worry about keeping a feeding tube in one girl and ignore the AIDS plague in Africa.”

    Who’s got time for African AIDS victims when there’s money to be made? Insurance companies now often tie insurance rates to your credit rating as well, jacking up the price, particularly on auto insurance, for even the slightest fluctuation in credit status.

    “A few weeks back in your column you wrote…

    “Anyone else got any interminable comics clichés they’d rather never see again? Time to start a cliché deathlist…”

    In response to your query, the number one cliché that I would be happy to never see again are Nazi villains. I am sooooo tired of Nazis showing up in comic books. And this is coming from someone who is a long-time fan of Captain America.

    I’m tired of Nazi characters. Yeah, I think the Red Skull and Baron Strucker are interesting villains, but they were created the early 1940s and 60s, respectively. And most of the time, at least when they’re written well, they’re depicted as having left behind the Nazi cause, recognizing it as failed and ineffectual (when they are not written well, then we see the two of them goose-stepping along).

    In the last twenty years, most of the time it seems like the last refuge of the unimaginative writer to make a villain a Nazi. Can’t be bothered to come up with a legitimate reason why your creation is a villain? Just slap a swastika on a character, have him ramble on about resurrecting the thousand-year Reich and, yeah, we know he’s not just a bad guy, he’s Evil with a capital “E.”

    I mean, if we absolutely must have totalitarian-themed villains in superhero comic books, can’t we have something like, oh, Neo-Stalinists? That would at least be something different.”

    I’m with you, brother. I don’t even want to see goosesteppers in WWII comics anymore…

  • For you diehard superhero fans, the original crossover to end all crossovers (we wish), CRISIS ON INFINITE EARTHS is now a hefty prose novel by original author Marv Wolfman, who tells me there’s about 60% more material in it than in the original story. I’m told it puts the original to shame (and the original put every major company crossover that followed to shame, so…), and I’ll review it as soon as I get a copy.

    A couple questions, based on suggestions from readers over the past couple of weeks:

    It’s been suggested the columns are too long. Should I shorten them?

    Quite a few readers have also said they’d like to see me do a political blog. There are advantages to doing little bits three or four days a week instead of jamming a week or more worth of events into a single section, but there are also a lot of political blogs out there. Are you really interested in seeing a political blog from me? And where would be a good place to run one that would actually net me some money (since I do get paid for this, and don’t really have time to take on any more free work)? Drop me an email (the address is a couple paragraphs below) and let me know.

    Don’t forget to pop over to Paper Movies and order a copy of TOTALLY OBVIOUS, my pdf e-book collection of all the essays on comics, creativity, culture and the freelance life from my previous column Master Of The Obvious. (You can read a sample while you’re over there, if you’re undecided.) 300 pages for only $5.95 – now that’s reading!

    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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