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Issue #202

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Issue #202
  • THIS WEEK:

    CREATING COMICS STEP BY STEP, Part 11: The basics of comics art

    TALISMAN, the next part: new characters and a new challenge

    MAILBOX OF THE AUGUST MOON: readers check in on Warren Ellis, San Diego, bad jokes and other topics

    GREAT MOMENTS IN POLITICS

    NOTES FROM UNDER THE FLOORBOARDS

  • Creating Comics Step By Step, Step 11: The Secrets Of Comics Art.

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

    Okay, here’s the down and dirty truth, which sends most artists I know into fits. There are only three things you have to master to become a good comic book artist.

    Notice I didn’t say great. That takes a spark that no amount of practice can give you, though generally the more practice the better. But if you can master only three things, you can have a career in comics art. Probably.

    1) Proportion

    2) Storytelling

    3) Dynamics

    It sounds simple, but, as most artists realize very quickly, each of these is a Chinese box filled with other requirements.

    Proportion is a catch-all for basic skills. Think of perspective and anatomy as a subset of proportion. Proportion is everything that allows you to create a viable world on paper, one recognizable with recognizable characters and settings from panel to panel.

    Or, to put it more simply, proportion is beauty. If you can look at your work and honestly say it’s beautiful, you’re off to a great start.

    Though work can be beautiful for its own sake, and the best comics stand as art as well as story, in comics beauty also has to evolve as a function of storytelling. I covered storytelling basics in the 7-06-06 column, but storytelling is, simply, the means by which an artist uses pictures to convey a story. This sounds much easier than it is, but even beginning artists should start developing a range of storytelling techniques to keep their work from becoming dull or repetitive. If you can’t tell a story with the pictures you draw (and every picture should tell its own little story, as well as carrying the greater story with it) you certainly aren’t ready to draw comics.

    Which brings us to dynamics, the most misunderstood element of comics art. Call them tricks, call them techniques, but dynamics are the elements of comics art that make it visually exciting to look at. For a long time, an ultra-flashy type of dynamics were lauded above all else, and it has always been true that superior dynamics might – might – overshadow the weaknesses in other aspects of your art. But the flash of one era is the gimmick of the next, and the dynamics of the ’90s are generally considered debased and corny now, though when it’s done well, as Jim Lee or Travis Charest continue to do it, it still wows audiences. What passes for dynamics in comics changes as times change, but it’s only dynamic if it has energy and imagination behind it. Dynamics are the pizzazz that catches the eye and draws interest, the icing on the cake. It’s foolish to think of dynamics as an end to themselves – but who wants cake without icing?

    The cleverer of you may wonder if proportion, storytelling and dynamics aren’t really three ways of saying the same thing. Both proportion and dynamics serve storytelling and are often important elements in it. They’re not the same thing, but, well done, they seamlessly interlink. Ideally, the reader not only shouldn’t be able to tell them apart, the reader should be disinclined to recognize their existence as separate elements, like most of us don’t usually think of salt as sodium and chloride.

    When proportion, storytelling and dynamics serve their separate functions well, and merge cohesively into a singular visual experience, that’s what we call style.

    Last week I put out the call to artists for tips on what to look for to know if you’re really ready to try your hand at professional comics art or not. Only a couple responded – the mailbox is still open for more – but here’s what they said:

    -Can you draw an old car?

    -Can you draw a new car?

    -Can you draw ankles, feet, and hands?

    -Can you draw a horse? A dog? A bird in flight?

    -Can you draw wrinkles in fabric?

    -Can you draw a room filled with furniture from a point of view of

    -6 inches off the ground?

    -5 feet off the ground?

    -the ceiling fan?

    -Do you leave space for word balloons?

    If the answer to all these questions is “yes,” you might be ready to go pro. Of course, this doesn’t cover page layout and storytelling, but as for the guts of drawing ability, it’s a start.

    and

    If you ask a pro artist for a critique and tell them to be brutally honest, they are, and it hurts your feelings instead of inspiring you to correct your mistakes, you’re not ready to take your art professional.

    If you receive a critique on your figures’ basic anatomy, and you defend your lack of skill by saying it’s an expression of your unique style, you’re not ready to take your art professional.

    If you think working from home means you get to sleep in until noon, avoid phone calls from your editors, play your PS2 all day, and sit at the drawing board for an hour while watching ALIAS, you’re not ready to take your art professional.

    If your artistic influences consist solely of whichever comic artist is
    the flavor-of-the-month, and you genuinely feel that you have no room for improvement because your friends all tell you your art is ‘cool’, you’re not ready to take your art professional.

    If you think taking figure drawing classes or spending an afternoon just drawing hands or feet sounds boring, you’re not ready to take your art professional.

    If you’re not willing to work nights, weekends, canceling social occasions, missing holidays, ignoring calls from wives and friends and parents, and foregoing sleep to produce the best art you can every single time you put pencil to paper or stylus to tablet, you’re not ready to take your art professional.

    Take all this to heart, and go forth and draw.

    Talisman

  • , section 2:

    A couple weeks ago, I began a rough draft of a novel based on a series idea that was accepted at Epic about 20 years back but never put into production for lack of an artist. For no particular reason, I decided to rescue it for prose, but since then I’m faced with a novel-writing challenge by several other writers that will run the month of August. So far, a young woman named Megan Palmer has mysteriously and inexplicably come back from the dead, and she has set out to learn the details of her death. The scene now shifts:

    Father Dan Persky’s fingers trembled with dread a hair’s breadth from the small sliding window. He remembered when taking confession was the least stressful of his duties as head of St. Giles Seminary, a job, it has been made clear when he accepted the post seventeen years earlier, intended to be little more than a cover for his true activities. As a result, he had developed a command style neither doctrinaire nor libertarian, quietly setting a pacific tone for the school and leaving it to underlings to enforce it. He had watched those underlings, mostly priests, occasionally a monk or lay brother, come and go, along with generations of students. Some went on to become priests themselves, most dispersed back into the world. It barely mattered to Persky, and that ambivalence was the secret of his now legendary calm even in the tensest moments.

    He had no doubt that after his death he’d someday be sainted. He could already account for the requisite miracles. At a grocery store in town one day Persky had talked a teenage boy out of robber the teller, making such an impression that when the boy was released from juvie he enrolled at St. Giles and now, ordained, was posted to his own parish somewhere in North Dakota. Father Dan received a suitably reverent Christmas card from him each year, which he never opened. He had once saved a woman’s life with his touch, the papers conveniently ignoring that the “touch” consisted of digging an oversized chunk of steak from her windpipe with a grape fork. At boring cocktail parties thrown annually by the town mayor, Persky traditionally awed partygoers with small predictions of the future that inevitably came true. A thousand years earlier, that would have gotten him burned at the stake. Now the parlor trick was “proof” of the True Faith.

    Persky cared nothing about any of it. It was only cover for his real work.

    He checked his watch. Ten minutes. The Internet and email were boons – meetings and messages no longer depended on cryptically worded faxes or telegrams, and physical travel was no longer required – but their demands frequently upset his schedule. Impatience was an inevitable result of The Work, one he had conquered with practice, but it still annoyed him that his colleagues considered him at their beck and call. Only several years ago, he could have gotten away with blowing off scheduled confession duty but now it might trigger outright rebellion and draw attention. Attention was something he didn’t want.

    Then there were the Sacraments, in Persky’s eyes the timeless heart of The Church and as far as he was concerned the most important of his official duties. As a child he found the ritual of the Mass exhilarating and humbling, the way it made it feel both important to an eternal reality yet intensely aware of his own insignificance. Under his leadership, St. Giles returned to High Latin Mass as the standard service, to dazzle his charges with the glory of The Mystery, and it served other hidden purposes.

    But confession, though a Sacrament, was not a ritual. The Mass was a cosmic drama enacted each time without significant variation, a masterpiece of inevitability. Confession was an exercise in terror where all things were possible and anything could happen. It too was in imitation of Christ, the prerequisite Hell every Catholic had to pass through to attain the heaven of the Mass.

    Only recently Persky had come to view it as hell for him as well.

    He thought about having a cigarette. He checked his watch. Nine minutes, barely enough, if he was lucky. Reluctantly he drew open the small window in the wall. It had barely clicked to a stop when the young man in the other chamber spoke.

    “Bless me, father, for I have sinned.”

    Since his arrival at the seminary a year earlier, Christopher Mason had driven Father Dan and his staff half-insane. Most students came to St. Giles to study for the priesthood and a few for a sort of retreat from their worldly problems, but Mason alone came for absolution. In a sense, he was the truest of the true believers, convinced of his inherent sinfulness and wracked with a profound spiritual guilt that made even the headmaster marvel. Persky had come from Polish Catholicism, which had never quite crawled out of the 12th century though the American version had tempered some, and even he had never seen a religious obsession this fierce. He wondered what could possibly have programmed Mason to that extent. He’d met Mason’s parents and they seemed perfectly ordinary, if understandably concerned about their son. But Mason himself remained a puzzle. Persky suspected he should ask, but incidental meetings with Mason tended to stretch on into hours. He couldn’t guess what a pointed conversation might lead to.

    “Christopher…”

    “It has been twenty three hours since my last confession.”

    “Christopher.”

    “In that time, I have been guilty of sloth, I have had bad thoughts about my roommate, I have taken the Lord’s name in vain -”

    “CHRISTOPHER!” Persky couldn’t recall the last time he’d lost his temper, but that was the effect Mason had.

    After a moment, a small, hurt voice from the other side of the screen said, “What?”

    “Did you actually say ‘sloth’? What kind of bad thoughts?”

    “Excuse me?”

    “You said you had bad thoughts. Were they sexual thoughts?”

    “No,” Mason replied, as though such things had never occurred to him.

    “Well, what thoughts did you have? Be specific.” Persky checked his watch. Six minutes. Barely enough, if he were lucky.

    “I wanted him to pick up his clothes.”

    “His clothes.”

    “He’s always leaving his clothes around our room. I keep telling him to pick them up but he won’t.”

    “And you wanted him injured for this somehow?”

    “No.”

    “Dead?”

    “No, of course not.”

    “You just wanted him to pick up his clothes.”

    “Yes.”

    “Christopher, that’s not a sin.” Nothing. The second hand swept around Persky’s watch, wiping out his leeway. “Christopher?”

    “Oh.”

    “Would you answer a question for me?”

    “We’re not supposed to be doing this in confessional, are we?” Mason said nervously.

    “It’s time to really confess. You made your confession yesterday, is that correct?”

    “Yes.”

    “And the day before that?”

    “Yes.”

    “In fact, you’ve been to confession every day for the past year. This is a seminary, true?”

    After a long pause, Mason answered, “Yes.”

    “Your problem, Christopher, is that you don’t know what sin is.” A vague and devious plan blossomed in the back of Persky’s mind, a trick he imagined might do the young man some good. “Through the power of Christ I absolve you of your sins. For penance, I banish you from St. Giles for -” Persky ran silent calculations and quickly estimated no more than ten days until the end of the world “- a period of fourteen days.”

    “You can’t!” Mason moaned.

    “Nonsense. I’m the priest. Go forth, my son, and learn what true sin is. At the very least, you might have something real to confess next time. Today’s confession is over.”

    Before Mason could protest, Persky dashed from the booth. He had ninety seconds to reach his office before the online conference began and the fate of the world was sealed. lockquote>

  • And now for a little mail:

    ” I’m trying to get to the bottom of a comic book writing related question:

    What font/typeface should comic scripts be written in?

    Please can you help?”

    This is the first time it ever occurred to me that it might matter. Probably the best font is one common to most computers, since much script work is transferred by computer rather than paper now. Arial, Times New Roman, or New Courier should work just fine. Beyond that, I can’t recall it ever being an issue. (Producers are nutty about the “proper” font/typeface for screenplays, but I don’t know of any comics editors who could care less.)

    ” You mentioned in your column today that repeated plugs “didn’t help William Christenson at Avatar sell MORTAL SOULS or particularly MY FLESH IS COOL.” I just wanted to let you know that I bought, read, and enjoyed MY FLESH IS COOL, and I wouldn’t have done so if I hadn’t heard about it from you. The same goes for your and Mike Zeck’s DAMNED GN.

    So I can vouch for your site being a direct influence on at least a tiny handful of sales. Keep up the good work, Steven, on both the column and the funnybooks!”

    I do appreciate it. Thanks.

    “I don’t find [the dissonance between online presence and comics sales] perplexing because comics and online columns are sufficiently different that I don’t necessarily feel that there must be a crossover. With Ellis I read his comics first and then found all the online stuff. I wasn’t averse to a lot of it, but there are still things he posts that I don’t particularly care about – mp3 mixtapes, pictures by his photographer friends, etc. There are others whose online columns I read whose work I don’t follow in comics form, including yours (sorry) and your fellow CBR columnists Matt Fraction, Rich Johnston, or (upcoming) Erik Larsen.

    My experience was that most letter columns were uninteresting, vestigial, slapped-together-in-three-minutes pieces of nothing that I routinely flipped past and avoided. It was extremely rare that I gleaned any information or enjoyment from them, even when I did plow through them as a child. Maybe that would have been different had I read the ones from back in the day. Maybe I wouldn’t feel that they were only worth reading in one out of every hundred or so cases. I also disagree that posting on a message board/mailing list/etc. that you know a certain creator frequents does not generate the same feeling as writing a letter to a comic. I would think that it’s a greater degree of participation since the actual people involved in the comic’s creation are reading what I write instead of an intern or assistant editor. I admit I don’t really see the appeal in addressing a letter to a comic. I would rather address a letter to a person – the writer, the artist, the publisher or whoever care of the company.

    A good letters page takes a lot of effort or it will come across as meaningless drivel or a generic place to hype other products. Strangely enough, the one letters page that I could think of from the past couple years that I was entertained by – POWERS – could certainly fit into both categories. But it was funny, so that absolves it. Just by the way, I think your “letters page” in your column is usually put together well, making it more likely that I will actually read the letters it reprints. I don’t think that a blanket no-letters-pages policy is a good thing, but that’s because it’s a blanket policy and not because it has to do with letters pages. Marvel, at least, does not have such a policy. Select comics from them do have letters pages, which is probably a good compromise. Have them be put together only in the case that there are people who actually feel the desire to put together a good letters page. A blanket every-comic-must-have-a-letters-page policy is just as undesirable.”

    All good points, though in Warren’s case his Warren Ellis Forum did have an obvious galvanizing effect on both his comics sales and the general obsessiveness of his audience, so the stabilization of his sales as his online audience has continued to grow deserves examination. But you’re right that in order for letters pages to be effective they must be good letters pages, and that’s something of a lost art. Throwaway letter pages or those used only as a cheap promotional tool do more harm than good, and destroy the sense of interactivity that a good letters page can manufacture.

    ” Shame on you for thinking that the US government blew up British trains killing over 50 people. You must not have CNN or Fox, Arab TV, or the Canadian telecasts on DirecTV. The British police and security service has caught and or identified the suspects which are not American, nor has there been any links. You must be the only one who believes that we killed those Brits. Terrible.”

    Aw, c’mon, of course I don’t think the US government bombed the London subway. But what good is paranoia if you can’t joke about it now and then? Not that the subway bombings didn’t come at a good time for proponents of extending and amplifying the Patriot Act (which made it through the Senate last week), but that’s the thing about a repressive agenda: there’s virtually no time when something bad happens that doesn’t come at a good time for it.

    ” I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the gap in the Nixon tapes is the same length as the former late-night FM staple “Alice’s Restaurant”. I think it was playing in the background and Dick didn’t want anyone knowing that he was a fan of a draft-dodgin’ socialist-spawn hippie like Arlo Guthrie.”

    Yes, I’ve heard Arlo’s rap on that too.

    ” I agree with your thoughts on letter pages in comics. I always loved reading the letters and editor responses. They were as much a part of the comic reading experience as the stories themselves, and I miss them.

    Today, anyone can post their thoughts on a message board, but getting a letter published was really an amazing thing. When I was a teenager I had a couple of letters printed and it was the greatest feeling seeing my name on the page.

    Today, I’ve passed my love of comics to my children and I was able to pull out those old comics and show them (with a bit of embarrassment at my teenage writing style) those letters. I doubt 20 years from now anyone will be showing their kids old Internet postings.

    I was also interested in your comments about generating interest in books via the Internet. As you point out, when Mark Millar or Warren Ellis produces something from DC or Marvel, it tends to sell. Creator-owned titles don’t.

    From my perspective, I can tell you I have nothing on my list not produced by DC. I don’t stray outside of those books. Why? Well, I began my love of comics by picking up early 80s DC books like NEW TEEN TITANS, ALL-STAR SQUADROM, BATMAN AND THE OUTSIDERS and so on. I grew to love that world and the characters who lived in it. I watched year after year as their lives changed and moved on. Much the way a fan of a soap opera will follow the continuity of that world year after year.

    So for me, the DC universe has always been the centre of my comic book life. When I was a teenager, I did, however, read books from many other publishers because comics were much cheaper. At one time, I was able to buy every single in continuity DC book and still purchase a number of other titles. I read many books from First, Comico, Eclipse and a variety of smaller, independent publishers.

    Today, even with an adult income rather than an allowance, comics have become too expensive, I must limit the number of titles I buy. The characters of the DCU have become like old friends to me. I’ve been following their lives since I was seven-years-old and I am not willing to walk away from them. So I stick with that world and pass-up other titles I know I would likely enjoy.”

    Y’know, in the real world that’s called enabling. You’re right about the different effect of letters columns and Internet posting, though. The Internet brings a raw egalitarianism that has the side effect of almost everyone fading into an indistinguishable mass. Getting printing in a letters page is like (theoretically) outracing all the other athletes. It’s a weird status thing, and if companies were smart they’d play it that way. (Like the no-prize.)

    ” I came across perhaps the most ridiculous comic book concept ever at …”

    You’re right, it is the most ridiculous comics concept ever (though the first word that came to mind was idiotic), but you’ll have to excuse me for not publicizing it here.

    ” I loved reading the suggestion to build a walk-over bridge at near the Marriot and the Convention Center. Were it built high and wide enough, some real good could be done, along with eliminating a traffic stop on Harbor Blvd. And if the city planners didn’t want a walk over, then a tunnel built under the intersection could also work (I saw plenty of these while serving in Korea, rather cool uses of space).

    That said, the problem would be paying for such an endeavor. San Diego has become a banana republic thanks to a pension shortage engineered by past mayors, starting with Susan Golding who wanted the Republican Convention here in 1996 that she coughed up a lot of money for the “privilege.” The source of the money never made the papers until recently when it was discovered the City Council started shorting the pension fund in… 1996. You may have noticed election signs on your trip down here for SDCC – that was for a mayoral primary on 26 July, which had our surfer candidate, our ex-SDPD candidate, and a carpetbagger from Vegas (among others) seeking the office of Mayor. Each promising (some more odiously than others) no new taxes and budget cuts! Neither of which is workable- the city is in the hole for billions and it’s either new taxes on its absurdly wealthy citizenry or bankruptcy, which will result in new taxes.

    In any event, San Diego won’t be making any new purchases, and basic infrastructure maintenance is in grave doubt for the next five years. That does not stop the local sports teams and developers from whining about getting taxpayer funded freebies like valuable real estate and multi-billion dollar stadiums.

    The aspiring-to-mediocrity Chargers (local football “team”) want the city to give it billions for a new stadium so they can continue having 4 and 12 seasons. This is often given real consideration despite the fact that all the money the Chargers make goes straight to its Mormon owner in STOCKTON! I’m eagerly awaiting the day when San Diego tosses these bums on their ear to Los Angeles or… Vegas (you want ’em?).

    Now, I bring up the Chargers because there is a rumor that SDCC wants to relocate to Anaheim. One of the reasosn being that San Diego City Council has beengiving the SDCC short shrift in the past decade. If this is true – and the scheduling of a Baseball game on the same weekend as Con indicates credence to this – then SDCC needs to realize its own strength.

    As number hold, SDCC brought an additional 100,000 people into downtown San Diego over four days. 100,000 people that stayed in hotels, used cabs, ate expensive meals, and bought toilet paper all in downtown SD. Oh, and likely pumped obscene amounts of cash into the local economy. A lot more cash than Chargers games or baseball games have in a while. And guess what?

    That money stays in San Diego. It doesn’t go to Stockton. It doesn’t go to Texas. It goes to the owners of Dicks, and Rama, and any of the other hundred or so businesses that make up downtown SD.

    SDCC needs to realize this and use it to bend the City Council to its will. Baseball got a stadium out of its influence and the Chargers got hundreds of millions in ticket guarantees and stadium improvements from the city. And what they’ve returned to San Diego has been… well, the next benefit SD gets from them will be the first benefit SD gets.

    SDCC has muscle. Let’s see them flex it in the next few years.”

    Thanks for the look at San Diego politics and finances. Oy. I doubt the city has a lot of influence on the baseball game schedule, though, and as far as I could tell it didn’t have significant effect on the Convention.

    ” Do you read webcomics at all?”

    I don’t, mainly because I still use dial-up web access, and heavy graphics make my system too pokey. I do applaud Joey Manley’s new WebComicsNation and hope everyone tries it out.

  • Great moments in politics: okay, first the Hand Puppet vows to punish anyone in his administration who dared leak the identity of CIA agent Valerie Plame. Obviously, that was before anyone thought anyone would dare rat out Karl Rove, so I guess HP can be forgiven for believing after the fact that “punish” is a synonym for “let them go on the way they’ve been.” (Which sort of explains Osama bin Laden, doesn’t it?) Now, following a State Of The Union address that called for penalties for all baseball players using steroids, the Hand Puppet’s floating standard strike again. Some may recall there was a time when he was owner of the Houston Astros baseball team. Did he know anything about steroid use by the players at the time? Did he, like most owners, encourage its use overtly or indirectly? Now that Jose Conseco has blown the lid off baseball steroid use (not that it was on very tightly to begin with), major Astros star Rafael Palmiero has tested positive for steroids – just as Conseco’s book suggested he would. His argument? He must have used steroids “accidentally.” Yeah, that’s the way you usually use drugs injected via needle, accidentally. (The particular steroid he used isn’t a food byproduct nor is it found in supplements.) Heroin addicts and speed freaks should make note of this defense, an extension of Rove’s defense that he outted Plame “unintentionally.” Of course, our crusading president, whose daughter apparently had a mad crush on Palmiero at one point, greeted the news with a sterling defense of Palmiero’s character.

    So what else do Palmiero and Rove have in common? They’ve got it in common with Martha Stewart, too: they lied to investigators. It may not be much of an issue for Palmiero – he only lied to Congress, during an investigation into steroids in baseball where he swore he never touched the stuff, and the administration has pretty much obliterated the concept that lying to Congress is a punishable crime – but Rove lied to FBI investigators about his involvement in the Plame affair. That’s what Martha Stewart was convicted of, not stock manipulation or insider trading but lying to the FBI. If Rove gets tried and convicted of anything, it’ll likely be that. But it may get messier than that. Already the White House is potentially complicit in a cover-up (you’d think after Watergate, administrations would steer clear of such things) and there are now indications that the Plame outing might have been the brainchild of now-Secretary of State Condaleeza Rice, mastermind, while functioning as National Security Advisor, of the whole Iraqi-Niger uranium scare lie that Plame’s husband, Joseph Wilson, so thoroughly and vocally debunked.

    Not that character seems to be much of an issue anymore. (That’s so Clinton era.) The weekend brought two interesting bits of administration folly: the recess naming of John Bolton as UN Ambassador (neither Congressional Democrats nor Republicans were all that keen to ratify him) which led to testy words from UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan warning him against bullying tactics, and the revelation of VP Dick Cheney’s recommended action in the event of “another 9/11” here. You may recall that the administration avenged the assault by Osama bin Laden’s henchmen by invading Iraq, which had no part in the attack. Apparently that lesson remains unlearned (or, more likely, was exactly the lesson they wanted, that a bruised and frightened America will buy into anything); Cheney’s next chosen target, should America be attacked by, well, anyone, I guess, is Iran. No invasion, though. Cheney wants nukes this time.

    Perhaps coincidentally, a new poll indicates a significant number of Americans now think World War III is inevitable.

  • Notes From Under The Floorboards:

    No one got last week’s Comic Book Cover Challenge, which suggests I may have made it too hard. A quick scan of last week’s covers indicate a monster/mysticism/magic theme – any of which I would have accepted – but that was only half the answer. The rest was hinted at by the clue “all the clues you need to solve it are right here in the column.” The covers were all to comics written or drawn by people referenced in last week’s column, in order of reference: Warren Ellis, Mark Millar, Matt Haley, Keith Giffen, Dave Gibbons, Len Wein and Roger Stern. Now how was that hard? It was all sitting right out in the open. (For future reference, you might want to put The Comic Book Database in your bookmarks. As no one won, I’ll promote a website this week: the new Spoilt!, which performs the public service of summarizing the plots of the latest crossover series and various other titles for those who have some reason to keep track of what’s going on but don’t want to buy the books. Spoilers galore, as the column title suggests, so know that going in. In some cases, the stories are easier to understand in summary than in the printed book.

    This week’s challenge is much simpler, but you still have to ask what’s the hidden connection behind the books, as well as the obvious one. Again, be the first to get the correct answer and you can promote the website of your choice (clean & more or less legal ones only).

    Much confusion over the WizardWorld/Heroes Con brouhaha. Last week I mentioned that WizardWorld had pulled their booking in Atlanta that ran the same weekend as the popular Heroes Con, but that was my misinterpretation of a fuzzy press release. Mea culpa. In the intervening week, WizardWorld does actually seem to have pulled the date and won’t run in the Southeast at all in 2006, but other reports have them locked into the dates by contractual obligation. I guess the latest official word is that WizardWorld Atlanta is dead, at least for next year, but the comics talent keeps lining up behind Heroes Con and that’s still inspirational, with Atlanta-based talent leading the way.

    Things have calmed down a bit since San Diego, though the business really won’t get back down to business until after Chicago (~August 10), and I’m still wrapping up the screenplay so I haven’t had a chance to really look at the art samples yet, so hang in there. I also haven’t had a chance to do much reading, but as soon as the script is done, it’s review city. In the meantime:

    THE INTIMATES #1 by Joe Casey & Guiseppe Camuncoli, 32 pg color comic (Wildstorm;$2.95)

    One of those cases where they got everything absolutely right -there’s a lot going on in Casey’s plot, the dialogue is tight, funny and often unexpected, Camuncoli’s art is attractive and he’s great with expressions and emotion – and somehow it still doesn’t quite work. Anyone else noticing how NEW MUTANTS is the new superhero template? Between THE INTIMATES, SKY HIGH, HERO CAMP and seemingly hundreds of similar projects all springing up, I think the concept of a place where kids learn to use their superpowers and become proper heroes has pretty much been beaten into the ground. I like the characters and their relative non-interaction here, but somehow it all reads like a very long shaggy dog joke, hindered by a pretty clever gimmick, actually: little fact files like VH1 used to do with Pop-Up Video, presenting extra details about the characters and their culture that would have been very hard to fit directly into the story. Unfortunately, it’s killed by white-on-yellow printing that truly makes it a pain in the ass to read.

    HERO CAMP #2 & 3 by Greg Thomas, Robbi Rodriguez & Chad Thomas, 32 pg color comic (Image;$2.95@)

    Speaking of which… the continuing saga of powerless superhero scion Eric, at a summer camp filled with superheroes-in-training who think, despite his constant protests, that he’s the mightiest superhero of them all. It’s still a good joke, tweaked in #2 by gnomes who know the truth about Eric but won’t tell anyone out of pure spite, but with #3 Thomas & crew start expanding things a little, as Eric and a campmate set out to protect their arch-nemesis Goat from El Chupacabra. They manage to keep tone and pace pleasant without going overboard on the “fun comics” gimmick, and put a sense of genuine threat into the series for the first time. It’s coming along.

    THE RIDE ed. Keven Gardner, 32 pg b&w comic (Image;$2.95)

    I should mention I intend to write a story for this anthology, but that’s because I like Gardner’s concept – a variety of more-or-less independent tales centering on a souped-up ’68 Camaro – and I like what’s been done with it so far, by Doug Wagner, Cully Hamner, Chuck Dixon, Ron Marz, Brian Stelfreeze and others. I like the noir characters and the grit, the surprising work that can be mined from a slender core. THE RIDE: 2 FOR THE ROAD is the real winner of the series so far, with a Chuck Dixon/D. Alexander Gregory story that looks and reads like its straight out of 100 BULLETS and Cully Hamner’s standout self-penned piece about bad men staring down the barrel of retirement as younger men rise up to take their place. Which is only fitting: nothing says mid-life crisis like a Camaro. Top-notch stuff.

    WESTERN TALES OF TERROR #2-5 ed. by Jason Rodriguez, 32 pg b&w comic (Hoarse And Buggy Productions;$3.50@)

    A tale of two anthologies; what THE RIDE gets mostly right, WESTERN TALES OF TERROR gets mostly wrong, which is surprising since much of what’s wrong comes from normally surefooted talents like Stuart Moore and Phil Hester. Not that the work’s terrible, though there’s some pretty sloppy artwork here and there, but most of the stories not only don’t make a lot of sense but they commit the one unforgivable sin of a book like this: where’s the terror? Only Josh Mialkov’s work gets (intentionally) creepy with any regularity or story structure. Great title, eh execution.

    THE SANDMAN PRESENTS THESSALY, WITCH FOR HIRE by Bill Willingham & Shawn McManus, 96 pg color trade paperback (Vertigo;$12.99)

    The SANDMAN spinoff character, the world’s oldest (not that you can tell it by looking at her) and snottiest witch, gets put on the spot by a lovesick ghost and has to find a way to destroy an indestructible demon. It’s dark, relaxed fun, more a character piece on Thessaly and her strange suitor than anything else, and Willingham plays dark with a breezy light touch, nicely matched by McManus’ art. Shawn McManus is one of the overlooked greats of modern comics but, weirdly, all the faces of the male characters look ghosted or redrawn by someone else; they don’t seem to match the rest of the voluptuous art. Very good.

    BETE NOIRE #1, ed. by C. Polkki, 96 pg comic (Fantagraphics;$9.95)

    When I was in college I briefly shared an apartment with a self-proclaimed “psychedelic artist” whose work was characterized largely by noodling whose point was apparently evident only to him, though he was never really able to explain it. He was pretty much lacking in technique, which can’t be said for most of the international artists represented in BETE NOIRE, but technique is all most of the pieces have going for them. There are a few interesting pieces, like Lucie Durbiano’s reinvention of Little Red Riding Hood as a New Wave French film, but the vast majority, including those which are wonderful to look at, make virtually no impression at all.

    MAAKIES: DER STRUWWELMAAKIES by Tony Millionaire, 92 pg b&w hardcover (Fantagraphics;$19.95)

    “Maakies” is Millionaire’s vulgar, funny mock-turn-of-the-(19th)-century comic strip, and Fantagraphics chose to present the collection in oblong form, a single oversized “daily strip” per page. The result is strangely effective; if not for the obscene orangutan and crow riding a pirate ship through oddball little adventures, you could almost believe these were artifacts from 100 years ago. The humor is (sometimes a bit too) dry and bitter, sometimes cerebral to a fault, and Millionaire is a vicious critic of human behavior and modern cultural foibles. You can complain about him going for cheap jokes, but he rarely goes for easy ones.

    Of course, my e-books IMPOLITIC (on politics) and TOTALLY OBVIOUS (on comics, culture, creativity and the freelance life) are both still available at Paper Movies, so pop on over there and pick up hours and hours of mmm-mmm! good reading. For some reason, there was a real run on the things last week…

    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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