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Issue #194

by  in CBR Exclusives Comment
Issue #194
  • THIS WEEK:

    CREATING COMICS STEP BY STEP: The Pitch

    LETTERS FROM OUTSIDE: Revenge Of The Readers

    NEW AMERICAN MYTHS: Strongman presidents, Deep Throats and other lies we tell each other

    SUMMER OF SKEEVY TV: the third season goes from a whisper to a scream in record time

    COMICS REVIEWS: XXXholic, Last Hope, Hero Camp & Fishnet Angel

  • Creating Comics Step By Step, Step 9: The Pitch.

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

    Word is there are guys in Hollywood who make their livings pitching movies. Not making movies. Not selling screenplays. Pitching movies. They have the rap down so and understand so well the buttons to push that they get meetings and studios hand them nice sized checks just to be able to snag the idea, though such ideas rarely result in finished films or even good screenplays. But the pitch is an entirely different beast from a screenplay or film. It’s not a product or a blueprint, it’s a commercial.

    You pitch in comics, too. Odds are you’ll end up pitching unless you devote yourself to self-publishing, and even then you’ll have to do pitching of a sort just to get distributed.

    Different editors want different things in the pitches they’ll consider; some want little more than a pithy sentence encapsulating the idea while at least one prominent editor likes to see very thorough point-by-point beat sheet for at least one full arc for any proposed series. There’s no set format. Pitches are sometimes written, sometimes verbal, sometimes both. But all have one thing in common. They’re not plots – a mistake many make – though they may include plots. They’re the distillation of your concept and intended development into tidy sales points to excite and comfort your editor and whoever authorizes the checks. If you were starting a company and trying to encourage investors, you’d present them with a prospectus. That’s all a pitch really is: the prospectus for your untested idea.

    I’ve written pitches that were small phone books, filled with details. Usually I find this to be a mistake: important selling points get lost in a sea of detail, which just gives “the buyer” more elements to latch onto for a reason to pass. On the other hand, too little detail may leave your series seeming derivative of existing work if any with superficial similarities exist, another argument for passing.

    The most effective (and, curiously, the shortest) pitch I ever did was for BADLANDS:

    “A crime story set in 1963 and starring the man who really killed John Kennedy.”

    You may notice an almost total lack of specifics in that pitch. I made it up on the fly and gave it verbally about twenty seconds after being asked for a pitch. I didn’t have a plotline, any idea of characters, not even a title. Just that line. But it had everything a good pitch really needs:

    – It tells the genre and milieu

    – It identifies the lead character (however sketchily)

    – It delivers the hook, that something that will excite an editor or publisher and make them believe it might also excite an audience

    That’s the minimum a good pitch will have, but sometimes it’s enough. In the case of BADLANDS, the minimalism worked to my benefit. The concept preyed on established conspiracy theory already well-known to the publisher and let his imagination run riot with the possibilities. Tying the story to specifics at that stage could just as easily have dampened his enthusiasm. The sketchy pitch grabbed his imagination; he wanted to see the story, to the point that he was willing to pay for the privilege. He had to have it.

    And that’s what you want your pitch to do.

    A few weeks back I started developing a series by way of illustrating concepts in this series. I knocked it off for a time because the material being covered made it impractical. But a pitch incorporates many of those elements, and, bearing in mind this is a quick, rough draft that would need considerable polishing and reworking – like I said, this is your advertisement, and you want it as polished and focused as possible – a the beginnings of a pitch for the series would go something like this:

    IN EXTREMIS

    Steven Grant

    Horror/political fiction

    CONCEPT

    As the end of fossil fuels threatens to collapse civilization, a company comes to the rescue with a new, clean, apparently unlimited energy source, the nature of which is a closely held secret jealously sought by others. The introduction of the new energy generates economic and political upheavals and a new social equality, but concurrently on the rise are apparently disconnected phenomena: bizarre new diseases and a dramatic increase of strange new religions and gruesomely violent crime that threatens to tear the new social order apart.

    The company’s closely-guarded secret is that their new energy source is one of Lovecraft’s Great Old Ones, discovered in its eternal slumber on the ocean’s floor. Its “pollution” isn’t physical or measurable, but spiritual. IN EXTREMIS is a modern Lovecraftian horror story, but it’s also an examination of the limits of social progress and political change centering on the question: How much of ourselves and our world are we willing to sacrifice to satisfy our desires?

    MAIN CHARACTERS

    Randall “Rand” Kinson:

    An industrial spy, charged with stealing the secrets of the new energy source. Despite his choice of career, he considers himself morally equal or slightly superior to others, justifying his job as “equalizing opportunity” and safeguarding the concept of an egalitarian society. A bit egotistical and sure there’s no situation he can’t handle by himself, Kinson’s nonetheless pleasant enough to others, deceptively easygoing – a handsome charmer expert at masking his darker side. Once he discovers the true nature of what’s happening, he scrambles to try to set things right, only to realize that the corruption inside him – the willful self-ignorance and easy self-deception that has made his career possible -will destroy him unless he can master it first.

    Elliot Banks:

    Owner and president of C-Power, energy providers to the world, and discover of what he calls “Perfect Power.” A Red baby secretly delighting both in being able to supply all the power needs of humanity while unseating the moneyed powers that have long gripped the world in a political and financial stranglehold, he’s growing increasingly isolated and paranoid, terrified of unexpected, horrifying repercussions from his “gift to the world” – not to mention in constant fear for his life from displeased rivals.

    Harley Second:

    An irresistible raven-haired sexpot utterly lacking in scruples, thoroughly decadent attorney Harley functions as a “broker” for anyone with the money and a need for “extralegal” solutions to their problems. She revels in her ability to “finesse” situations – success is a quasi-sexual thrill for her – but lately she wonders if she’s going mad, as distant inhuman voices whisper in her ear of real power, and worship, and she grows increasingly interested.

    Etc.

    STORY (Six issues)

    1) Employed by Harley Second on behalf of unknown clients to steal C-Power’s energy secrets, Rand Kinson inadvertently becomes the target of thrillkillers while prepping the job and begins to grow more aware of odd changes in his world since the advances that made C-Power the salvation of American civilization. He clings to his sense of moral superiority, unaware that an unsettling growth he has discovered on his body may have origins in his decaying spirit. He starts the job, but he’s an unsuspecting stalking horse for a second operative whose mission is to kill Elliot Banks, the company’s owner, and the two operatives are intended to be decoys for each other, because there is another agenda at work that Kinson has not been told of.

    Etc.

    Without specifying it, the pitch suggests the story begins as an industrial/legal espionage thriller, with horror elements only slowly coming to light; what “horrors” exist in the first issue description would appear to be a “real world” kind of horror, the result of human cruelty. Other themes, like political machination, are also more undertones at this point than full fledged plot points. Under these circumstances, it wouldn’t be surprising for a publisher or editor to come back saying they liked the general pitch, but could, say, the Lovecraftian element be more strongly played upfront to intrigue that audience, or that the whole story takes too long and should be sped up, or any number of other “suggested changes.” This is par all the way along the creative process once an editor or publisher gets involved, partly a question of business considerations and partly of personal taste or anticipation based on prior experience. In all these cases, remember: you’re the creator. You get to decide what goes into your story and how the story plays. But there’s a cost: you have to be willing to say no, with the knowledge that saying no may scuttle the project. Your power over your own project is only as great as your willingness to say no and stand by the consequences. That isn’t to say you should stand firm at all costs – there may be many compelling reasons, not all creative, to go along with suggested changes, and editors/publishers have even been known to be right about these thing – just that ultimately it’s your decision to make.

  • Lonely days are goin’, I’m a-goin’ home, my baby, she wrote me a letter:

    But first: yes, my quick reading of news stories as deadlines crushed down led me to jump to the erroneous conclusion that the French electorate had vetoed the Euro as currency in France, when nothing of the sort happened. What they vetoed was the proposed constitution of the European Union, and the French future of the Euro is quite safe, though the constitution is now subject to renegotiation. Thanks to everyone who wrote to tell me.

    “Re: Denny O’Neil receiving compensation for Ra’s Al Ghul in BATMAN BEGINS. I was wondering if you knew off hand whether Denny, Steve Englehart, Frank Miller, or any other comic book creators received any compensation when their works were adapted–in some instances word for word–in BATMAN: THE ANIMATED SERIES in episodes like “Daughter of the Demon,” “The Laughing Fish,” “The Strange Secret of Bruce Wayne” and “Legends of the Dark Knight.”

    P.S. Another thing I learned from reading your column is that AMERICAN IDOL fans are just as rabid and territorial as comic book fans.”

    Well, fan is short for “fanatic,” after all. As far as the compensation goes, not to the best of my knowledge.

    “My impression of the brother being shot in the CSI MIAMI season finale was that it was there entirely to sucker the audience, rather than being an actual plot point in the ongoing story. That way they could set up expectation that Horatio and his now-really-dead brother’s wife were running off together and then pull the “Surprise!!!!” bit with the brother showing up on the plane.

    Except I don’t remember it being shown that she knew he was dead again. Maybe I missed something. Because, as of last episode, she had guessed that her hubby was still alive and Horatio specifically had the son (who had been blindfolded during the shootout) run off from the scene without looking back. Which means he didn’t know his dead dad was alive then dead again either.

    Unless Horatio told her the brother was dead and I missed it along the way. If he did, that would pretty much make him the biggest jerk on the face of the earth, don’t you think? “I know I made you think your husband was really dead now, but … here he is! Ha ha! Psych! Aren’t I a stinker?”

    It all seemed very carefully orchestrated to not show a body and to imply that the wife knew so she could jump to the conclusion she and Horatio were running off to Brazil together. That way the audience would do the same. A not-so-subtle way of stage managing of the audience’s expectations with no attempt at “fair play” in the mystery fiction sense.

    For whatever reason, I didn’t get the idea that Brazil was supposed to be a permanent situation. Perhaps because Horatio referred to it as a “vacation” when he suggested it. My impression, even after the bait and switch, was that it was just a chance for the family to be together before the brother had to disappear or, at most, a stopgap measure while Horatio figured out how to pry his little brother free of Federal influence. As you say, there was no body to convince them that he was dead.”

    Logically, there are only two groups that it would be logical to deceive with the fake death: the Feds who’d made brother Raymond previously fake death and work undercover for them, or the terrorists whose group he had apparently infiltrated. The only group it would be necessary to deceive is the former. No, there was no time onscreen where Horatio informs the wife Raymond is dead again. Like SECRET WARS II, no matter how much you mangle and mash it in your mind, there’s just no way to make it work…

    ‘Other once common features of comics that have faded into the background include sound effects (still in use but frowned on in many circles), omniscient narration captions (ditto), flashbacks (more prominent but still frowned on by many editors and readers), and the footnoted reference is pretty much extinct.’

    Except in manga.”

    That’s very true, and it’s good of you to notice.

    “I think the absence of narrative captions has hurt plotting immensely.

    Without them, plots must progress using only dialogue and once dialogue is used to move plot it becomes clunky. The more plot it moves, the clunkier it gets. Bendis solution? Move plot very slowly – tell a story in six issues that Stan Lee could tell in 22 pages. I think story value per issue has suffered due to the decline in twisty-and-turny plots and I think non-fans now pick up a comic, recognize this deficiency and decide they get better value per dollar at the video store. Sure, great art can tell a good story on its own, but most readers expect comic books to be part comic and part Book.

    Comic books don’t have music scores. The nearest they get are the tone-setting narrative captions. Look at the poetic narrative captions Roy Thomas used in theDark Horse CONAN trades. They were usually only used to set the tone on the splash page, but by the time a kid finished reading that splash page at 7-11, they were hooked. They were in that world and they wanted to see what happened next.”

    Like I said, any technique works for some stories and not for others, and that goes for omniscient narrator captions as much as anything. They can be very effective, but, as with any other technique, they have to be used well. As for Brian Bendis, I think he sets tone very well, but, as with many stories these days, his stories tend to read better in collection, where effects can accumulate, than in single issues.

    “A couple of years ago you ran a column, I believe on this site, about a new comics collective. I don’t remember all the details but essentially this group had sent you some samples of their work, which you thought very highly of. I seem to remember you writing that the art was reminiscent of the best of EC comics while you said the writing was like Neil Gaiman writing a script about quantum physics (or something like that). What intrigued me was that this group wished to remain anonymous until they were ready to publish their work.

    My question is, assuming you know what the hell I’m talking about, have you heard anything more from them? I was very interested by this story but haven’t heard anything more about this group. Any information you could give would be appreciated.”

    I do know what you’re talking about, but haven’t heard a peep from them since that first communiqué, and their e-mail address is defunct. I suspect they figured out it was a long harder and more time consuming than they thought, but it could have been anything. Oh, well.

    “Nice to see somebody championing the cause of those lost comics techniques. I’m with you pretty much all the way on this one: They were once overused, yes, but people certainly don’t treat them with any kind of respect these days. Much as I like Alan Moore, his much-publicised decision (with Dave Lloyd) to exclude such things as sound effects and thought balloons from V FOR VENDETTA seemed to kick off a peculiar backlash, as if people were thinking “if Alan Moore doesn’t use them, they must be crap!”. Of course, I think Moore does use them these days, so maybe they’re coming back.

    As with most things comics-related, I find the best use of these techniques pops up in Dave Sim’s CEREBUS. Those long, internal discussions Cerebus has with himself show a breadth of application rarely suggested in the “there’s Doctor Octopus, causing havoc” days (or whatever example it was you used). Similarly, Sim always manages to get the best out of his sound effects, making them almost a part of the artwork. One of my favourite examples has to be Cerebus receiving such a frosty response from Jaka, in one of their frequent arguments (that would be toward the end of the series, then) that icicles actually dripped onto his head! Interesting to see some of the range you can get from lettering directly onto the art. Unfortunately- but understandably- it’s a technique unlikely to be adopted by the mainstream, I would imagine.

    As far as crossovers go, Jim Starlin always seemed to be something of a virtuoso. His work on WARLOCK and, later, on THE INFINITY GAUNTLET cast a pretty long shadow over many of the crossover-happy writers and editors of the early 90s (and, later still, over Starlin himself, I thought). Shame very few of them came close to those standards, but there you go. I must admit, even though I recognise that they can be well done, I tend to cringe when I hear of a major publisher’s ‘revolutionary’ new crossover event. They can’t all be bad, though, surely?

    Finally, one of the most important points you make is the industry-wide inferiority complex regarding film. Sometimes you can see the desperation in a comic to be a screenplay (Brian Bendis is often guilty of this, though he at least has the talent to provide an entertaining read. There are others worse than him…), as if comics really are something to be ashamed of. As you say, we need to “start behaving as though acceptance of comics is the most natural thing in the world”. It seems as though there are large sections of fandom and the industry who would happily turn the medium into whatever kind of bastardised, watered down beast it takes to be able to admit to girls that they read comics.”

    Er… what’s so hard about admitting to girls that you read comics? Girls like comics too, y’know. Just not your comics…

  • Kind of entertaining last week to see TV pundits and Republicans launching all manner of attacks on “Deep Throat” now that former FBI agent W. Mark Felt has come out of the closet, giving his daughter a chance to put the grandchildren through school by selling his story. So suddenly there’s unctuous former Nixon speechwriter and America-For-Americans “patriot” Pat Buchanan on TV talking about how despicable and cowardly Felt was to go around the law to the press at a time when the head of the FBI was willfully destroying evidence on behalf of the White House. (Check back to post-9/11 to see how much the FBI likes whistleblowers, and see what became of those agents who stepped forward with information that the FBI had plenty of warning and time to stop the 9/11 attacks had the organization not become so insular, political and topheavy.) There were the “reporters” blissfully announcing Felt had been “disgruntled” – the favorite official excuse for whistleblowers, though in this case since all his information has long since turned out to be accurate, it can’t be said this drove him to make things up – over not being placed as head of the FBI and ratted on Nixon’s skeevy little crew for revenge, even though Felt had not stepped forward to explain his motives. There were Congressional Republicans condemning him… even though it was Congressional Republicans, not Democrats, who most actively pushed forward both the investigation and the possible impeachment and ultimately forced Nixon to resign. The Democrats, on the other hand, specifically Sen. William Proxmire, condemned Deep Throat and the Washington Post as unfairly persecuting the President. It was also the Democrats who most feared that, as awful a president as Nixon was turning out to be, he was better than the “irreparable” damage an impeachment or resignation would do to the country’s image. As it turned out, the country’s image survived perfectly well, and we’re better off with the assurance that crimes in high office are just as punishable as any other kind. For a long time, the resignation in disgrace of Richard Nixon ended the whole concept of an Imperial Presidency, and for that alone we can regard Mark Felt as a hero, regardless of his motives.

    Given the strong push back toward an Imperial Presidency by the current administration, it’s no wonder administration flunkies and other worshippers of the notion of a Strongman President quail and moan so much at the memory of Deep Throat and are trying so hard to savage it. His secrecy reminds us that whistleblowers are traditionally ill-treated in this country, where, despite our myths, corruption is always tolerated as long as the profits are spread sufficiently. The recent brutal beating of Tommy Hook by several unknown attackers who warned him to keep his mouth shut and put him in the hospital before he could testify before Congress about missing money and other criminal activity at Los Alamos National Laboratory is another reminder. Felt also puts an indirect and unwanted focus back on the perpetually shoddy (despite their long record of public relations ploys) FBI, just as it’s revealed they blew almost $200 million on a computerized case tracking system built around crappy software that was known to be nearly useless years before they decided to dump it, putting numerous cases in jeopardy. (Their current solution is to rush to another elaborate and shaky package at considerably increased cost.)

    And I couldn’t say for sure if it has anything to do with the sense of adventure reignited by Felt, but suddenly impeachment talk is making the rounds, on the premise that the Hand Puppet flat out knowingly lied to the American public to get us into the mess that is now Iraq, a view encouraged by the full release of the “Downing St. Memo” – its veracity weakly poo-pooed by the White House but verified by the British government – which spells out fairly precisely that not only was it known well before the invasion that the professed premises for that invasion were false but that this Administration made a conscious decision to use those premises to promote their predetermined agenda. Making things more interesting is that impeachment talk is now coming from inside Congress itself. (The lies are continuing to this day. Following Newsweek’s revelation of continuing desecration of the Quran as a psychological torture ploy at Guantanamo Bay (which Amnesty International has correctly identified as a “gulag,” a place beyond the law where prisoners charged with no crimes can be indefinitely held and tortured), the White House issued numerous statements, one from the Hand Puppet himself, that the report was sheer nonsense, and actively warned other reporters against pursuing the story, but it has since been proven dead true by Pentagon records that back up what “disgruntled” ex-prisoners had charged.)

    The chances of impeachment in a heavily-politicized, Republican-held Congress are slim, it’s true, but, again, it was Congressional Republicans who took down Nixon, and certainly there are many Congressional Republicans growing increasingly uneasy about both the Social Security debate (highly unpopular with voters) and the renewing/increasing of the Patriot Act, which the Admin and the FBI are determined to ram through at any cost, including taking discussion behind closed doors, out of public view, and putting it entirely in the hands of Admin allies. Certainly we shouldn’t pin any hopes on the Democrats, whose idea of a bold stand is to save the power of filibustering by not filibustering and instead giving a pass to the steaming turd crackpot judges the filibuster was intended to stop. (These guys weren’t being thwarted because they were the Hand Puppet’s nominees – the Democrats have let all kinds of crap artists through – but because these guys were the crappiest of the crappy, judges so loony they’re flat out embarrassments to the bench.) But at least they saved the filibuster for something really important. No wonder these guys can proudly call themselves the Loyal Opposition.

  • It’s shaping up to be a long, not so hot summer for TV, with way more “reality” shows than anyone needs. How much of this stuff, like the show where contestants maneuver to get fired from jobs to win prize money, do we get to blame on the British? On the plus side, though, HBO has brought back ENTOURAGE, about a hot young actor and the old neighborhood chums and relatives along for the Hollywood ride (Sunday 9P), which maintains a lovely level of genial cynicism. The season opener was especially funny for the comics-obsessed; actor Vince Chase returns from an indie shoot to discover his once-hot star is cooling, his name has dropped off the A-list, and the only major studio screenplay being offered him is AQUAMAN. (Jeremy Piven, perfect as Vince’s loutish but always in the know superagent Ari Gold, explains, “It’s like Spider-Man. But underwater.”) And the screenwriters were enough in the know themselves to place the movie at Warners. It’s nice to see comics being intelligently referenced on a fairly smart show, particularly after the growing embarrassments of THE O.C. (Fox, Thursday 8P) this last season, which finally bumped it right off the watch list. HBO’s been pretty good for original dramas, but they’ve been traditionally pretty awful on comedies, so it’s nice to see a show like ENTOURAGE arrive to be a decent accompaniment to CURB YOUR ENTHUSIASM. (If you feel a compulsion to remind me of SEX IN THE CITY, don’t. I’ve been trying to forget it.)

    Especially since the following comedy, COMEBACK (HBO, Sunday 9:30P) is excruciating. Star Lisa Kudrow worked okay in ensemble as the ditsy Phoebe on FRIENDS, but not only anchoring a show but flying solo in virtually every shot – the setup is the former star (Kudrow) of an inane but popular old sitcom is attempting a midlife comeback (gives the show’s title a whole new level of meaning, don’t it?) on a new sitcom while simultaneously having cameras constantly following her around for a “reality show” about being a middle-aged former sitcom star mounting a comeback. It’s practically metrotextual! It’s also tedious as hell, and, at best, vaguely funny, with Kudrow’s character little more than a desperate, self-obsessed moron. What can you say about a show whose best moments are Marilu Henner and Kim Fields flipping the camera the bird, and comparing flipping styles?

    I finally started testing out the HBO view-on-demand system my cable company instituted a few months back, with EMPIRE FALLS. I couldn’t bring myself to watch it as a two-part extra long movie on regular HBO, but the on demand service breaks it down into roughly 20 minute chapters that make it quite watchable. Based on the novel of the same name, adapted by its author and directed by Aussie wunderkind Fred Schepisi, it’s a slight soap opera without any obnoxious suds, set in a dead-end former lumber town in Maine where opportunities besides drug dealing are slim, but it mostly focuses on Ed Harris as a guy who got out only to be sucked back in and stuck in town due to his mother’s death. It doesn’t matter what he’s in, Harris is a tremendously entertaining actor; he could intone obituaries on a blank stage for two hours and it would be fascinating to watch. Of course, there are all kinds of dark but not too dark generational secrets behind the bland drudgery of his life as a diner manager and town’s degenerating fortunes, but the acting’s really the thing; it’s packed with people who are fun to watch: Eidan Quinn, Dennis Farina, William Fichtner, Theresa Russell… even Paul Newman and a freshly-facelifted Joanne Woodward aren’t their usual annoying selves. Schepisi keeps things building and percolating nicely, while maintaining a pleasantly naturalistic air. The only discordant note is Helen Hunt, playing Harris’ soon-to-be-ex with brittle shrillness and some weird accent previously unknown to man that seems to be a cross between South Boston and South Bronx filtered through throat cancer, and unshared by any other character in the show. Except for Helen, who doesn’t get much screen time, it’s a pleasant enough timewaster, a sort of chick flick for the rest of us.

    But even COMEBACK looks like gold next to FX’s abortion of a TV-movie, the suspected disaster thriller OIL STORM, about a near-future America whose oil teat has been abruptly yanked from its greedy lips. What could have been a guilty pleasure of a thriller, a sort of DAWN OF THE DEAD with irate drivers instead of zombies, turns out to be an utterly an obsessively dispassionate History Channel-style mockumentary looking back at the “oil crisis” through calm dissections of events by “journalists” and the “personal dramas” of a handful of “ordinary Americans,” all talking as if they were discussing a game of cribbage. In the end it’s a would-be cautionary tale that’s far more interested in celebrating the triumph of the American spirit over adversity, if that’s what you can call buying oil from Russia instead of Saudi Arabia. The film’s real message, though, is that the future, triumphant or otherwise, will be a snore and a half.

    And now we’re into comics season at the movies. In this corner, BATMAN BEGINS. In that corner, FANTASTIC FOUR. I know which one I’m willing to see in a theater… Lastly, anyone catch the announcement of the Teen Choice award nominees the other day? The big nominee in the film categories? MR. & MRS. SMITH, which doesn’t even open until this weekend. It’s great! They’ve completely thrown away the pretense of any legitimacy. Let’s hope they rename them the “Biggest Favor To The Publicists With The Deepest Pockets” awards next year. Then every other film/TV awards program can do the same.

  • A few comics reviews:

    XXXHOLIC Vol. 5 by Clamp, 188 pg. b&w trade paperback (Del Rey Manga;$10.95)

    The best of the Clamp series to see print in America so far continues along the same gentle but subtly disturbing path, though naïve spirit-sensitive hero Watanuki is slowly becoming more open, wise and confident even as an unsuspected and powerful menace starts to make its presence known. Good characters, delicate art, intriguing stories, humor and drama – what more could you want? It’s good.

    LAST HOPE Vol. 1 by Michael Dignan & Kriss Sison, 192 pg. b&w trade paperback (Seven Seas;$10.99)

    In the ancillary material the publishers try to make a case that manga is now a universal term and it doesn’t have to come from Asia to be manga, and while that seems patently obvious, this isn’t the book to prove the case. Not that it’s bad; Dignan does a decent job on dialogue and story, about a dimension-hopping samurai youth who inadvertently involves a young genius, a couple typical spirited manga schoolgirls and their macho bonehead suitors in a death struggle between him and his murderous uncle, and Sison’s art’s pretty good. Like I said, it’s decent if unsurprising; a good effort. But as far as manga goes, there’s something a little off about it. Part of it’s the pacing, part the mishmash of elements. Mostly it’s a subtle lack of heart, not that the creators aren’t trying but that they’re just too wrapped up in being “manga”; they’ve got the form okay, and better than many manga “imitators,” but so far they’re missing the spirit, the emotional core of much manga.

    HERO CAMP #1 by Greg Thompson & Robbi Rodriguez, 32 pg. color comic (Image;$2.95)

    HERO CAMP was one of the better mini-comics of recent years, about a kid of superhero parents but with no powers of his own being sent off to a special summer camp where superkids develop their powers. The joke is that everyone assumes he must be the most powerful one of all since he doesn’t even feel the need to wear a costume. Oddly, Thompson & Rodriguez seem slightly cowed by their shift to Image, full size and color; the humor that characterized the mini-comics is subsumed into the first hero-villain fight of the series, and it almost becomes just another goofy superhero book (though there’s a good bit involving the hero’s superfast flying dog). Now that they’ve explored that potential, I hope they take it in a different direction. It’s still pretty good, but this issue was a very tiny bit of early LOVE AND ROCKETS here, a substantial dose of FLAMING CARROT there, and just a bit too much X-MEN (like with the Bloody Mary/Dropkick Mary foreshadowing). A backup story is more in line with the standard the minis set. I liked it, but less traditional would go a long way.

    FISHNET ANGEL: JANE DOE #2 by Seth Taylor & J.P. Dupras, 32 pg. color comic (Shooting Star Comics;$2.99)

    This is the sort of book I really hate to review because the art borders on professional quality and the effort and love are clearly there, but the writing’s a mess. Writer Taylor, who obviously knows how to string words together well enough, makes terrible use of first person captions (after beginning the story with third person captions) and fills them with derivative beats like “Why did it have to be giant roaches?” (I’m starting to wish RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK had never been made.) Action’s frantically nonstop, revelations pop out of the woodwork for no particular reason at all the right junctures, emotions and responses are all over the place to the point where no character demonstrates any psychological cohesion, character diction shifts from word balloon to word balloon, there’s little in the line of story logic and he doesn’t seem to have a clue how to use bold words. (Two examples: In the sentence, “The truth is I’m terrified,” you bold “terrified,” not “truth,” or you bold them both, and when you’re trying to comfort a kid, you don’t use any bold words because you’re trying to project a soothing voice. In any case, say “She’ll watch you until I can get back, okay?” aloud and just try to make it work as speech.) Taylor’s a good enough writer that he ought to be getting this stuff, and that makes it doubly disappointing. I realize FISHNET ANGEL aspires to be a sort of Saturday matinee comic, and that’s fine, but it still needs to be better.

  • Notes From Under The Floorboards:

    Last year Bill Willingham, James Hudnall and I held a series of discussions about comics at various libraries in the Las Vegas-Clark County area, and from June 20-22 we’re doing it again, if you live in the area or plan to be visiting at that time. Dates and locations as follows:

    Monday, June 20 at 6 pm

    Sunrise Library

    5400 Harris Ave.

    Las Vegas

    507-3905

    Tuesday, June 21 at 4 pm

    Green Valley Library

    2797 N Green Valley Parkway

    Henderson

    507-3791

    Wednesday, June 22 at 4 pm

    Spring Valley Library

    4280 S. Jones Blvd.

    507-3823

    For further information, click here.

    Looks like it’s time to finally start building that new desktop computer, because the motherboard on my current one periodically craps out on me entirely. If I’m not going state of the art – don’t see any way that’s possible at the moment – a new case, power supply, motherboard, CPU, heatsink/cooler and memory should only run me $250-$300 at Fry’s sale prices and the rest I can cannibalize from the old rig. Of course, if someone wants to throw me $300 worth of work they can pay for very quickly so I can get started on this sooner than later, I wouldn’t grouse.

    The first issue of my “lost” series ENEMY, originally published by Dark Horse in 1994, is now up at my Paper Movies site, with art by Christopher Schenck and Shepherd Hendrix and a great cover by Mike Zeck. Go take a look if you want. Bob Schreck thinks it’s one of the great ignored conspiracy thrillers of modern comics, but he was the editor, so he’s possibly biased. Lord willin’ and the desktop don’t go totally south, I’ll have the second issue of another lost series, TWILIGHT MAN, up by the weekend. In the meantime, still on sale at the Paper Movies Store are the .pdf e-book collections

    IMPOLITIC: A Journal Of The Plague Years Vol. 1, collecting all the political commentary in Permanent Damage from Sept. 2001 through April 2005.

    TOTALLY OBVIOUS, collecting all the essays on comics, creativity, modern culture and the freelance life that appeared over two years in my previous column, Master Of The Obvious, and virtually all of it is still applicable today.

    Both come optimized for either screen or print, your choice. For prices and other details, check the site j – and look for the special price if you get both of them.

    As far as I know, my final issue of the CSI: SECRET IDENTITY miniseries from IDW should be on sale next Wednesday.

    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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