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Issue #190

by  in CBR Exclusives Comment
Issue #190
  • THIS WEEK:

    TALK, TALK, TALK: Dialogue in comics

    IN THE BEGINNING WAS THE LOGO: the new look of DC

    MANUFACTURING JUSTIFICATIONS: new light on the causes of the Iraq invasion, and other tales of post-America

    THIS WEEK IN REVIEWS: too much coffee man, Filler, The Lone And Level Sands, and, by proxy, The Comics Journal

    QUICK NOTES: apologies to Canadians and Kelly, plus new book, creative spurts and more

  • Creating Comics Step By Step, Step 7: Dialogue In Practice.

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

    I realize I made a small error of omission last week. Someone called me to task about what I considered dialogue, as in shouldn’t the captions, sound effects and speech be taken as different elements, but the truth about comics is that they are all dialogue in the sense that when one “dialogues” a comic book, the function includes all those things.

    Dialogue-as-speech is arguably the trickiest aspect of writing. A certain amount of it will always be necessary for exposition – getting particular plot points over so the audience will grasp them – but the history of comics is littered with stories which have virtually nothing but expository dialogue, virtually all of it run through characters who end up sounding exactly the same.

    So here’s the skinny on dialogue: if you don’t know how people talk, you’re not going to write decent dialogue. The best way to learn how people talk isn’t to read how dialogue is written, but to listen to people talking. In movies, on TV, overheard in restaurants or on the bus. Actual speech. When you start really listening, you realize speech is rambling. Speech is sloppy. The relationship between speech and grammar is often tenuous. And much speech, transcribed into print, is unreadable.

    But…

    Everyone sounds different.

    I used to work as a backstage doorman at a theater. The office where I sat for six or seven hours a night was blocked from the corridor to the dressing rooms and stage area by a wall I had to look around if I wanted to see who was coming. It wasn’t long before I realized I didn’t have to look around the wall. Even the lightest footsteps clicked off the tile floor in the usually empty offices, and I quickly found that everyone had an identifying walk. (After awhile, it became great fun to speak to anyone approaching by name a step or two before we could see each other.)

    The problem, for the writer, is that the speech of everyday life can’t be transcribed to the printed page for any length of time, unless your purpose is specifically to duplicate the rambling, stumbling, halting, redundant rhythms of real speech. The challenge is to somehow approximate those rhythms in something coherent and focused enough to carry a story forward. The real challenge is to make each of your characters sound unique enough that you could identify them without any other character ever using their names and without ever looking at the pictures.

    Few authors can do that. One was the novelist William Gaddis, who purposely didn’t use quotations marks, freely mingled exposition with dialogue in a deceptively freeform style, and went for dozens of pages at a time without ever identifying which character was speaking. His novels are difficult, but once you picked up his rhythms and become aware of each character’s particular patterns and concerns, differentiating is easy:

    – Thinking about that book I, about trying to get back to work on that book I…

    – Would you? I’ve been afraid to ask, I’ve been almost afraid it wasn’t true… her hand skimmed down, – you told me what it was about once but…

    – About a lot of things it’s, can’t say what a book’s about before it’s done that’s what any book worth reading’s about, problem solving.

    – It’s a silly question, I’m sorry, people always…

    – No, it’s about a man who, about the war…

    – War? but I thought…

    – And a general who, he’s like your father there molding his nose, above the battle, he’s a confusion of this man’s ideas of his own father and The Lord, the way the Lord sold Faust out in that wager…

    – I didn’t know you were in a war, I thought it was about, about art, she said, rested on his knees peaked up behind her, – but it doesn’t matter if it’s really, if you’ll really go back to work on it, Jack? she bent toward him, – who’s Stella?

    (from JR by William Gaddis, 1975)

    Imagine a comic in which you could go for pages recognizing characters simply by their speech, without reference to their pictures. Now let’s listen to what was at one point considered a high mark for comics dialogue, presented in the same manner:

    – By the time it recovers its senses – it will be too late to stop us!

    The winged beast goes flying helplessly upward toward space itself, while below it… – There! That finishes that machine for good!

    – Nice work, Flash!

    – Teamwork will do it every time!

    Their elation turns to dismay as they walk the streets of the city which the insect-people of Ulisson call home… – Those insect beings are still petrified!

    – Somehow – we failed! We smashed the machine but –

    After an hour of futile searching… – The machine that turned these intelligent insects into stone has been smashed – but they still remain petrified!

    – We might as well face up to it. Our mission has been a failure. We might as well go back to Earth…

    Moments later, Green Lantern, Flash and the Martian Manhunter are hurtling at multilight speed across the vast gulf of interstellar space… – I just hope our fellow members did better than we did!

    (from JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA #20, written by Gardner Fox)

    You know which three characters are involved. Try to figure out who said what.

    Of course, speech in art isn’t speech in life. David Mamet is renowned for his “realistic” dialogue (as Brian Bendis, the “Mamet of comics” is known in our field for his) but if you listen carefully to Mamet’s dialogue, you’ll find it’s extremely structured and mannered. Which isn’t a complaint; all good fictive dialogue is carefully worked and structured, because your own rhythms are the ones most natural to you and if you don’t pay close attention and work at differentiation, all your characters will sound just like you, if you manage to give any voice to them at all.

    There are all sorts of gimmicks for differentiating characters, from freaky speech patterns (straight say it not Yoda does – but it turns out you can hardly blame the little guy after all that shock treatment) to phoneticizin’ accents, li’l dahlin’. But virtually any gimmick is terribly easy to overuse, and all present problems in the long run.

    So here’s the down-and-dirty method for differentiating character voices, which is both the easiest in principle and the hardest in practice:

    Listen to your characters.

    Literally learn to hear their voices in your head. Write what you hear. With practice you’ll start to know what constructions they would and wouldn’t use, what words, their speech patterns and the ways their personalities emerge through their speech.

    In an ideal world, your characters could just say whatever’s on their minds at any given time – the practice became popular following Quentin Tarantino’s success with the seemingly rambling dialogue of PULP FICTION, with many not quite getting that virtually every speech in that film connects directly in some way to the plot. Film gives Tarantino the room to flex the dialogue enough to make it seem at least partly random, but comics are a much more restrictive medium than film; the space for words of any kind tends to be extremely limited. At any given time it falls to character dialogue to move the story forward (sometimes with forced emphasis), introduce or illuminate story elements, introduce other characters – and often it all needs to be done at once. And even while that’s happening, the characters have to stay individualized.

    Here’s a pretty good recent example of what I mean, written by Grant Morrison in SEVEN SOLDIERS OF VICTORY #1:

    Dialogue is something no one can ever really be sure they’re good at; the only way to stay on top of it is to keep trying to listen to it with fresh ears. Rule of thumb: if you read it aloud and it sounds out of character, change it. Bear in mind that some people do speak in stilted, overly formal phrasing, so do talk like pompous jerks, some even speak in melodrama. There’s nothing intrinsically wrong with writing any character that talks like that if that’s what the character should sound like. It’s disorienting to have a character talk like Doctor Doom one minute and Archie Andrews the next.

    One word about captions: captions are narration, whether it’s first person narration by a character in the story or third person/omniscient narration by the author. (There’s also second person narration, but it’s almost never used anymore.) Whatever style narration, the narrator is as much a character as any active participant in the story and it’s just as important that the narration have a steady, identifiable voice throughout the story as well. Narration that shifts voice without good reason is a distraction that suggests nothing so much as authorial incompetence.

    A quick word on sound effects: the object of sound effects is to bring a sort of 3D reality to the story by approximating an aural dimension. But sound effects are most effective when used sparingly: if someone’s shooting off a machine gun, BUDDA BUDDA BUDDA will be sufficient. You don’t need a BUDDA for every cartridge being ejected. Some creativity in sound effects is occasionally good, but it’s really easy to invent laughable sound effects, and in many cases the familiar sound effects are the most effective because they’re the easiest for the reader to internalize into the story, like using BLAM for a gunshot, because for many readers recognizing them is rote and automatic, which is the effect you want, for them to be just another amplifying element in the story rather than something that stands out for its own sake. Sound effects have a bad rap these days, but they’re still useful. Just use them sparingly, and use them well.

  • The world was agog yesterday as DC Comics unveiled its new corporate logo, only the second time in 60 years they’ve made such a change and the first in 30. Not that there was anything particularly wrong with their previous logo, but word is Warner corporate prompted the change as “branding,” mainly to challenge the branding Marvel has been fairly successfully pulling off via their high visibility movies, their new movie production venture and other activities so that, like Marvel, DC can be popularly associated with comics beyond comics. Again, not that the earlier logo couldn’t have achieved the same end, but to look new you have to look new.

    Not that there haven’t been complaints about the new logo, beyond the common “it’s not the old one” gripes that many fans have never figured out are pretty much irrelevant to most discussions. More than one person has mentioned how unreadable the letters “DC” are with the typeface chosen for the logo, and possible interpretations are DC, DG, OC and OG. Not that being mistaken for a popular TV show would hurt them, and I kind of like the concept of “Original Gangsta” comics. I suppose education is the key here: when the public is taught that it reads DC, that’s what it’ll mean, and it’s only fair to mention that the DC in the logo is considerably more readable on covers than when the logo stands on its own. At least the “comics” part looks to be officially dumped, so that DC Comics will officially be the known simply as DC the same way almost no one says Marvel Comics for Marvel anymore, and I’ll no longer have to listen to people tell me that “DC Comics” is redundant because DC is the monogram for Detective Comics so the real name of the company is Detective Comics Comics.

    My first reaction to the design – and I mean no disrespect nor great implication to this, it was just a first reaction – is that it looked like the swirl of a flushing toilet. The pastel blue tint of 1000 FLUSHES™ didn’t help, but hopefully the company use a more eyecatching color, like dark red, in practice.

    But, if the… um… swirl of rumors are correct, the logo change precedes massive additional changes for the company over the next few months, with the apparent purpose of remaking the company into a widely identified license-generating powerhouse. Which makes it an exciting if dangerous period at DC, has traditionally, at least for the last 30 years or so, pursued the general policy of keeping their head down in the foxhole. With occasional blips, they haven’t been the #1 comics company in more than 40 years, but the upside of that has been a lot of books that wouldn’t have survived (like SANDMAN and TRANSMETROPOLITAN) or even been published, and many fairly liberal deals for talent would likely never have materialized, had feeding the corporate beast been their sole concern. Reportedly, the company has always made enough money off Superman and Batman licenses that the profitability of the comics themselves has never been a major issue so long as overall they’re not unprofitable. Some of the rumors suggest that’s about to radically change, along with many other aspects of the company.

    It’s arguably worth remembering that the last change to the DC logo roughly corresponded with the virtual collapse of their comics business, in the mid-’70s, when historical titles like ADVENTURE COMICS and WORLD’S FINEST COMICS were cancelled and even the then poorly selling flagships SUPERMAN and BATMAN were considered for the scrap heap (saved, according to legend, by the intercession of Paul Levitz himself, who valiantly argued they were the company’s identity and dropping them, as well as the company’s namesake title DETECTIVE COMICS, would be tantamount to throwing the company away). There’s probably no cause-and-effect between the logo and the sales – the slide had begun several years before the new logo was even considered – but it does mean that as symbols of upheaval and uncertain times, new logos have a history.

    A revamped logo isn’t likely to put DC on an equal public image footing with Marvel. Marvel’s moves in that area, such as their new movie production company, are intended to not only increase the company’s visibility but increase their control over the product with their name on it. In the corporate environment of Warners, how much control over licenses does DC have, and how much are they likely to get? (Given Warners’ recent escapades in DC-related filmmaking – think CATWOMAN – the corporation really should consider giving DC its own production wing and letting them oversee DC character movie development themselves, though BATMAN BEGINS so far gives every indication of being a success on every level.) Even on the playing field of design, DC isn’t really catching up with Marvel either. Marvel’s logo may be ridiculously simplistic and unnuanced, but that straightforwardness also makes it bold and memorable. Not to mention it’s instantly readable: solid and confident. It immediately tells you something about the company.

    But DC’s biggest branding problem isn’t one the logo addresses: the company name. To the vast majority – even many comics fans – it means nothing. Marvel, whatever you may think of their comics, is a great name: it’s instantly colorful and evocative. It sounds like you’ll be dazzled by the comics; the word itself primes you toward receptivity. DC, on the other hand, just sounds corporate, ambiguous, meant to stand for nothing, and I don’t think it’s entirely coincidental that for many readers DC does stand for nothing. So why not a name change? Companies change their names all the time to demonstrate moves into new eras. It’s not like the company has no experience with the value of new branding: much of Vertigo’s original cachet came from the impression, via the separate brand name, that is was not (your grandfather’s) DC Comics. (And no one says Vertigo Comics either; it’s just Vertigo.) I know Marv Wolfman once suggested changing the name of the superhero line to Action Comics, which is still a pretty good idea, flowing from the company’s past but imposing a tone and sense of purpose for the future. At least it means something; it evokes a promise to the audience, much as Marvel does. DC doesn’t even have to change its corporate umbrella name. I’m all for change at DC, but if you’re trying to produce a widespread sense of a new, vibrant company, why stop halfway?

    Thanks to Mark Evanier for the DC logo collection used in this story. Click here to visit his always entertaining and informative website.

  • I have the feeling that in a few years we’ll see a HOGAN’S HEROES type sitcom set in Guantanamo. Or Abu Ghraib. Certainly the “war on terror” is producing enough unintentional yoks, as with the recent capture of al-Qaeda’s “#3 man” in Pakistan. Even the domesticated newspapers were running headlines commenting that this was yet another #3, but the biggest joke turned out to be he wasn’t anything remotely resembling a #3, he was just a nobody footsoldier who had the same last name (with a different spelling) as a Libyan who at least used to run with Bin Laden. Meanwhile, a judge refused to accept a guilty plea from Lyndiee England, who was photographed gleefully torturing prisoners at Abu Ghraib, which is doubly funny because if it goes to trial there’s plenty of paper following orders for the little festival of torture and humiliation leading right up to high offices, a trail the guilty plea was supposed to snuff out, while at Guantanamo soldiers are coming home reporting the “interrogations” at the prison for terrorists are produce no information of value and are often performed without even the intent of gaining information, and the administration’s trying to quash a lawsuit against Saddam Hussein and Iraq for compensation over being tortured during the Gulf War, apparently because Americans successfully suing a foreign government over torture would set a nasty precedent for tortured foreigners who decide to sue America. (And there are a few doing that already.) It’s a comedy so funny you’ll laugh until you cry, and only scratching the surface of the evidence that we’ve actually entered post-America under the current administration, if America is meant to mean anything we still liked to pretend America stood for prior to the 21st century.

    Even Hand Puppets need Hand Puppets, I guess. Take Tony Blair. Please. Throughout the Hand Puppet’s reign, Blair’s exact relationship to HP hasn’t been easy to identify (tool, Svengali, or merely parallel thinker) but he has been Washington’s staunchest foreign ally in all its little adventurisms. Tony The Tiger faced a not particularly tough re-election for post of Prime Minister in the UK last week – interestingly, replete with tales of vanished ballots here and there, a phenomenon that has become increasingly traditional here over the, oh, last five years or so – but it may be a case where the operation was a success but the patient died. Blair won an unprecedented third term as PM – by all reports mainly because the Tory competition was even more horrific than he is – but his Labour party lost a number of seats in Parliament, largely due to protest votes against Blair’s part in the invasion of Iraq, around which much of the non-Tory anti-Blair sentiment during the election centered.

    What seems to have been missed or ignored by many Americans and American news sources – because what does what happens in England really have to do with us anyway, unless it involves pop bands? – is solid evidence of what has been widely known for some time: that both the CIA and Britain’s MI-6 were ordered by the White House and Downing St., respectively, to massage data about Iraq into information that would justify an invasion. A verified top secret 2002 document to Blair from foreign policy aid Matthew Rycroft got leaked to The Sunday Times that outlines the results of a meeting in Washington of MI-6 head Richard Dearlove with the administration. Among the revelations of the memo was the fact that by July of 2002 (in fact, as far back as Jan. 30 2001, according to former Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill), the Hand Puppet (doubtless helped along by scenarios laid out in 1998 in a document by such neocons as Cheney, Rumsfeld & Wolfowitz) had decided to invade Iraq, despite the absence of a credible justification and the acknowledgement of British foreign secretary Jack Straw that on a level of international threat, Saddam Hussein didn’t scratch the surface. Dearborn’s memo notes that “the intelligence and facts are being fixed around the policy” of a war “justified by the conjunction of terrorism and weapons of mass destruction.”

    In other words, as has been apparent for at least three years to anyone who bothered to do the math, it was first decided the Iraq war would happen, and “evidence” to justify the war was then sought out. Since, as Straw himself noted, there really wasn’t a justification for invading Iraq, it’s no wonder that most of the justifications that were presented have fallen apart on examination, and, really, fell apart virtually on presentation. Except that Americans were being pumped up for war. It’s also no wonder that when the “evidence” failed to persuade the United Nations that Saddam was an imminent threat to everything dear and good in the world, Washington whipped itself into a unilateral action froth, rushing representatives around the world to bribe various, mostly tiny, foreign nations into a “coalition of the…” – y’know, I used to know what the last word in that phrase was, but all I can think of now is bribed – oh, wait, willing, that was it; coalition of the willing – mostly against the wishes of their own populations. (That they are mostly no longer willing, and have largely pulled out to let us police Iraq on our own, has also not been particularly widely covered here. Japan was the most recent nation, as far as I know, to announce removal of all troops, and even Britain has discussed it.)

    The memo, and Blair’s propensity to fall into step with Washington across the board, has led to new calls from his own party for Tony The Tiger to resign from office, though Tony insists he will soldier on. Some are threatening new investigations of the road to war. We could use one here, because the Rycroft memo has pretty serious implications for America as well, as evidence of an administration campaign to intentionally deceive and manipulate the American public into an unnecessary military action that has cost the lives of thousands of Americans, not to mention hundreds of thousands of Iraqis. The investigation that recently finished here came to the same conclusion – that the evidence for the war was, at best, completely misread. But that commission’s mandate specifically excluded the laying of blame. (Nonetheless, blame was laid at the feet of the CIA, despite revelations from inside the CIA also as early as 2002 that the administration was demanding they provide a rationale for war regardless of the improbability of one.) Blame in this case is absolutely necessary because the lie, of national security proportions, was an impeachable offense. The CIA has already been punished for its early impertinence in dragging its feet on the “justifications” by having former director George Tenet, already a Hand Puppet lapdog, fall on his sword so Porter Goss, who declared on arrival that the function of the CIA was to back administration policies, could take over.

    I suppose for many all that’s irrelevant ancient history, but, as William Faulkner once wrote, the past is not dead; it isn’t even past. The past few weeks have been flooded with reports on our collapsing military, already strained by its obligations in Iraq and Afghanistan and strapped with armored vehicles that aren’t getting to the troops and bulletproof vests that aren’t proof against bullets, and recruitments down 60+% below expectations (particularly in the National Guard; it seems American kids, however patriotic they may feel watching TV, aren’t all that keen to become military slaves trapped indefinitely past their recruitment terms in foreign battlezones until the government deigns to bring them back), but there are plenty of indications the administration has other foreign adventures in mind (bolstered, no doubt, by that 53% election “mandate” and the Hand Puppet’s whopping 45% and dropping popularity rating), and, despite denials, memos keep surfacing about a new draft, or something like it. (Let’s just call it “mandatory service” and not get into details about how it would cover a wide range of service possibilities, each of which would have their quotas, with the military having the largest quota of all by a long shot.) The manipulations and fabrications are also indicative of the administration’s continuous assault on the average American, whether bolstering corporate power and stripping protections for average citizens like in the recent bankruptcy law revamp or the devastation of the Bill Of Rights codified by the Patriot Act (with the DoJ and the White House still strongly pushing PA#2); whatever its other benefits, all that war makes a nice flagwaving sideshow to keep us looking the wrong way. Up next on the agenda, possibly to be passed (as I write this) by the Senate today after being passed by the House last week, is the passage of a law mandating a National Driver’s License, ostensibly to prevent foreign nationals from obtaining American documentation. The function, despite assurances, will ultimately be considerably different: a national identity card, bringing us into line with such bastions of liberty as Soviet Russia and Nazi Germany. I know that sounds alarmist, but it’s only logical, given that every time identification has been required it has ultimately been turned into a wider-application I.D. tag. Your social security card says it isn’t a piece of identification, yet your social security number is widely demanded as an identity marker, as on tax forms and loan applications, and now identity theft experts warn us not to share our social security numbers with anyone, but to not use it is to cut yourself off from numerous services. Once the cards become established, it’s only a matter of time before carrying them is required at all times, to prove you are who you say you are. How about a future where you’re only allowed in an airport, or a city bus, or an amusement park, or the movies, or you can only buy gasoline or groceries, after your driver’s license is scanned. Just to make sure you’re really you, of course. Which would effectively allow the government to know your whereabouts, behavior and preferences at all times, something the DoJ and FBI already want included in future versions of The Patriot Act. The REAL ID Act, HR 418, calls for the establishment of an ongoing database on American citizens that the government will share with Canada and Mexico (which would be particularly useful in times of wider war to prevent the level of draft dodging that occurred during the Vietnam War; the administration has already made overtures to Canada about refusing and returning draft dodgers should future wars occur) and allows the Office Of Homeland Security to add such things as tracking devices to the cards when the technology becomes practical. How this will protect us from terrorists no one has yet plausibly explained, but that’s why it’s being done: because, as the Patriot Act proved, all we need to be protected from terrorists is to give up our liberty. But that’s okay, because every day under the current administration we end up with just a little bit less to give up.

  • This week in reviews:

    too much coffee man #22 edited by Patrick Keller, 64 pg. squarebound magazine (Adhesive Press;$4.95)

    This issue’s something of a breakthrough for humor magazine too much coffee man. While the magazine has always been funny, it usually tends toward a hip, more conceptual funny. But this issue, on the theme of war, is often flat out laugh out loud funny, particularly the “War On Terror! board game” piece, including four other eminently playable board games. Shannon ought to consider actually manufacturing and marketing these. Equally funny are “Darth Vader’s Address To The United Nations” (on the topic of the Empire invading Cloud City: “Whatever our disagreements about the liberation itself, I would ask that we remain united on the fact that Cloud City has much better promise for the future today than it ever had under the heel of Lando Calrissian…”), “The tcmc Guide to Afghani Strip Clubs,” and other features of the sort that the NATIONAL LAMPOON would have done back in the day. Plus the usual assortment of cartoons from Ted Rall, Graham Annable, etc., reviews and regular features like Mark Russell’s brilliant “Superman Stories.” Dave Sim fans might want to note the cover sports a brand new piece by The Indy God. Recommended, and funny.

    FILLER by Rick Spears & Rob G, 96 pg. b&w&red graphic novel (AiT/PlanetLar Books;$12.95)

    Basically, Spears & G do SIN CITY, both in tone and art style, which is cribbed heavily from Frank Miller’s identifiable stylistic effects immortalized by the recent SIN CITY movie. Even the writing style is heavily Millerized, before the first person narration is almost entirely abandoned for almost pure visuals and deceptively perfunctory dialogue. That may sound like a complaint, but it’s not. Regardless of its inspiration, FILLER is a decent crime story about a nobody who earns a living selling blood and filling out police lineups, until a hooker sets him up for a murder and he has to figure out how to turn the tables on her. It’s not perfect by any stretch – given the space they’re working with, a major character could have been much better set up early on, those looking for the complexities of the team’s TEENAGERS FROM MARS may be a bit disappointed, G’s art is more uneven than it needs to be, and cops would never put a single bloodspattered woman in a lineup – but it makes for a decent little paper movie with a clever twist ending that turns out to be more Hitchcock than noir. Not bad.

    THE LONE AND LEVEL SANDS by A. David Lewis & M.P. Mann, 152 pg. b&w graphic novel (Caption Box;$9.95)

    This ambitious little volume attempts a “secular” retelling of the Israelites’ escape from Egypt, focusing on the characters of Moses, Aaron and the pharaoh they’ve selected as the pharaoh of the Bible story, Ramses. (None is specifically identified in the Bible.) It’s still not quite “secular,” though, since much of it revolves around visions, miracles and possessions, but Lewis handles the characters very well, rounding out Aaron & the focal Ramses expertly (Moses remains a bit sketchy), while Mann’s cartoony art is nonetheless clean and effective. (I’m not sure drawing Moses and Aaron with huge noses seemingly coming out of their hairlines was the most tasteful choice, but…) I’d have liked to have seen a truly secular version of the story, substituting human actions or other explanations for the ten plagues and the parting of the Red Sea, and leaving the question of divine intervention to interpretation, but until that comes along this will do nicely.

    As I can’t review it – conflict of interest and all that – I enlisted ace reviewer Shawn Hoke, who writes the online column Past The Front Racks, to take on the Eisner memorial issue of THE COMICS JOURNAL:

    THE COMICS JOURNAL #267 ed. by Dirk Deppey, 200 pg. magazine (Fantagraphics;$9.95)

    This, the “Will Eisner Memorial Issue,” is 200 pages in length. Of those pages, 122 are dedicated to Eisner. The Eisner section is divided into historical perspectives of his life and work (John Benson, Ron Goulart, Arie Kaplan, and Mike Ploog via Dirk Deppey), appreciations of the man (RC Harvey and Jeff Smith, who provides a sweet one-page comic), and analysis of his work (Bill Sherman, Steven Grant, Scott McCloud, and Kent Worcester).

    In each of these pieces, certain things stand out – a sense of Eisner’s kindness, his humility and his influence on the individual authors, as well as the medium of comics. What makes this issue work is simple; TCJ covers the breadth of Eisner’s career rather than spending an entire issue bowing at the master’s feet. In this issue, you learn of Eisner’s “shop,” where many hands worked to build a completed product, and also his lesser-known work with instructional comics for companies and even the military. The color comics section in this issue reprint two odd “public service ads” for the medical industry and several military instruction pieces from P*S MAGAZINE, which Eisner produced for the Army. You’ll walk away from this issue with a more complete picture of a tremendously important figure in the comics medium.

    Outside of the Eisner section, which is the bulk of the magazine, you’re left with a pared down version of TCJ. The letter pages full of Dave Sim arguments and counter arguments have been replaced with an even less interesting subject; Kenneth Smith’s reaction to the work of Ivan Brunetti and reader reactions to Smith’s reactions. “Newswatch” has a follow up report by Michael Dean regarding Alternative Comics, Nick Bertozzi and Picasso’s penis. Part Four of Dean’s “Online Comics Journalism: Does It Exist?” looks at Tom Spurgeon’s The Comics Reporter. There are a handful of solid reviews in the “Firing Line” section, including a Mark Campos review of the new The Smithsonian Book of Comic Books Comics that points out the numerous problems plaguing the latest volume. To make room for the mostly excellent Eisner coverage, they’ve trimmed a few regular columns and features that make TCJ special from the magazine this month, but I’m sure the regulars will be back with a vengeance next month.

    Thanks, Shawn. I owe you one.

  • Quick notes:

    I want to apologize to all the Kelly Clarkson fans who let me know that, indeed, she can still get arrested, and has songs and albums currently charting. Sorry. I just got confused because, you know, no one ever talks about her much anymore.

    Also want to extend an apology to the many Canadians who apparently missed that I was being facetious and mistook my comments last week to suggest that Canadians can’t distinguish what constitutes racism. I don’t believe that for a second. Them canucks is just aces with me.

    Just finishing up a screenplay so it’s time to get back to that, but for those who’ve been waiting, the pdf e-book collection of my political writings, IMPOLITIC, will be available by the weekend. If you want an e-mail telling you how to order the thing when it appears, drop me a line by clicking here and I’ll send the pertinent information. In the meantime, TOTALLY OBVIOUS, a pdf e-book collection of all the essays on comics, creativity, culture and the freelance life from my previous column Master Of The Obvious, is, as always, available at Paper Movies. (You can read a sample while you’re over there, if you’re undecided.) 300 pages for only $5.95 – now that’s reading!

    Very active week, creatively. Besides the screenplay and finishing the script for the second “Weird Date” story for Dark Horse‘s Michael Chabon’s THE ESCAPIST (just got word my old pal Shawn McManus just signed on for the art, while the first “Weird Date” story, with art by Norm Breyfogle, is available in THE ESCAPIST #6 right now), I’ve come up with three new series in the last three days. Now all I need are artists and publishers. To ice the cake, I just had the pleasure of not only learning I was dead on right about the identity and motive of Lily Kane’s killer on UPN’s VERONICA MARS, but I knew instantly it was vodka in the water bottle. I’m pumped now…

    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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