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Issue #203

by  in CBR Exclusives Comment
Issue #203
  • THIS WEEK:

    APOLOGIES FROM THE STAFF: a brief non-explanation of bad new habits

    REVIEWS FROM SISYPHUS: stacking up the review stack

    NO DOUBT ABOUT IT, I GOTTA GET ME A NEW HAT: Fan mail from some flounders, or something really important

    NOTES FROM UNDER THE FLOORBOARD: tips, tidbits and miscellanea

  • Suddenly, it seems I’m spending this week and next on a busman’s holiday, so this week’s column is more taking care of business than anything else and next week’s column will be a little different, though it won’t be a rerun and might not even be all that short. It’ll be along the lines of “a very special episode of WILL AND GRACE”… (And it suddenly becomes terribly clear to me how few sitcoms are still on the air and being even vaguely watched… Before ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT fans harangue me about any perceived memory lapses, if we have any luck at all the Earth will plunge to fiery doom in the heart of the sun before ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT ever has a “special episode”… NBC is apparently desperate for sitcoms now, by the way… time to get your pitches in…) No decision yet, but the odds are pretty good the column will be a bit eccentric until Labor Day, when we all stop wearing white.

    Not really anything to comment on in the comics world this week. Virtually the entire business revolved around WizardWorld Chicago, and, aside from the usual breathless plot twists and project announcements (it’s good to know they finally announced Ed Brubaker as new writer on DAREDEVIL, which has been one of the worst kept secrets of the last year), nothing of any interest really came out of it. Business as usual in the comics industry. Let’s face it, it’s slow these days…

  • Review copies are like Marvel‘s Hydra: review one and two more shall take its place. (Back when I was working for a distributor in the mid-70s and Marvel had switched to Cadence Corporation and celebrating its freedom from DC partner Independent News’ draconian restrictions on the number of titles they could publish by flooding the market with gobs of mostly short-lived series – and nearly putting DC out of business in the process – I coined the saying, “Hail Marvel, mighty Marvel, we shall never be destroyed! Cancel one title and two more shall take its place.”) To paraphrase Elvis Costello, gotta do it till I do it so I better get to it:

    HATE ANNUAL #5 by Peter Bagge, 40 pg color comic (Fantagraphics;$4.95)

    Bagge’s slacker hero Buddy Bradley undergoes some radical changes like a new look and a new place to live, but Bagge’s assault on offhanded personal and cultural hypocrisies is as sharp and funny as ever, but even better is the collection of strips from the Weekly World News starring their kooky mascot Bat Boy as he takes on Osama bin Laden, Donald Rumsfeld, Guantanamo Bay, Martha Stewart, Saddam Hussein, the judicial system, talk show hostesses, Ralph Nader, the presidency and post-teen divas. There’s also a funny Lovey short and an interesting essay on the evolution of a Seattle watering hole. Bagge fans certainly won’t be disappointed, and neither will anyone else. Get it.

    DALLAS McCOY: STAR STRUCK by Amy Riddle, Brian Meredith & Sidney Lima, 24 pg b&w comic (Rorschach Entertainment;$2.99)

    Funny, I always took “one shot” to mean “complete in one issue.” This starts with a forced opening – everyone keeps telling us how Dallas McCoy is the world’s greatest bodyguard (later we learn she used to do covert ops work but won’t anymore because, you know, those people are always awash in conscience) and now she has to bodyguard a brat pop star – shifts to an improbable BETTY AND VERONICAesque middle that drags on and on until it’s obvious to Stella that there’s no threat to the pop star (can you guess what happens next?) – and erupts into a TV violent conclusion that leaves piles of questions that Stella seems totally unconcerned with. It’s not a story, it’s a protracted vignette filled with screwiness, not the least of which is Stella’s preferred Lara Croft-knockoff mode of dress. The art’s decent for the most part and the dialogue’s rarely cringeworthy (A tip to everyone, though: don’t have characters say things like “who the frickin’ hell are you?” “Who the hell are you?” is quite sufficient, and “frickin'” makes any character sound like a dolt.), but two things made this ignorable: the ending screams, “Whoops, we’re out of space, stop it here” and when Stella finally goes into bodyguard mode, she’s got all the moves of the worst bodyguard in the world, not the best, including leaving the client unattended and unprotected for hours, for the sake of pumping “action” and “intrigue” into the issue. It’s a nice try, but people really have to start thinking these things out better.

    VAMPIRELLA: REVELATIONS #0 by Mike Carey, Mike Lilly & Bob Diamond, 16 pg color comic (Harris Publications;$0.25)

    Well, it’s certainly worth a quarter. Writer Mike Carey of LUCIFER fame turns in a nice little short about vampires sitting around a bar and swapping tales and urban myths about Vampirella, with pretty good art, not to mention a lovely Joe Jusko cover, and the book fills out with promo material like Mark Texiera art and interviews with Carey and others. But the story itself is something of a double-edged sword: it suggests the series threatens us with yet another “secret origin of Vampirella,” the vampire-hunting vampire whose history is so incredibly convoluted as it is. I liked the teaser just fine, but the thought of the coming series makes my head hurt. Where’s Earth-1 when we need it?

    FLYTRAP by Sara Ryan & Steve Lieber, 16 pg b&w mini-comic (;$2)

    Someone’s got to come up with a new name for this format, since it’s not really mini-comics, and it’s not an ashcan either. Mini-comics are traditionally the province of the outré with far more emphasis on story ideas than on art, but Ryan & Lieber are quickly turning it into a viable format for established professionals as well. This is the first is a projected series of stories about Maddy, an overworked accountant who decides to – no kidding – run off an join the circus. It’s a lot better than it sounds on paper – apparently circuses, like roller derby, are making a comeback – and though some of the “coincidental dialogue” is overstressed, Ryan has a really natural flair for character and Lieber’s art just gets more and more amazing, with both Toth and Garcia-Lopez influences being strongly and cleanly incorporated into his style this time around. It’s a good little book, and it’s got me thinking seriously about the format for the first time.

    STRANGEWAYS: MURDER MOON – PREVIEW by Matt Maxwell & Luis Guraña, 16 pg b&w mini-comic (Matt Maxwell;$1)

    This is more the traditional ashcan, a teaser for a series coming in the fall, and it may be the right size for this project as well. Guraña’s a new artist, as far as I know, and fairly accomplished, but if you look close you can see flaws in his art that would be much more obvious printed at standard comics size. At this size, though, it looks classy, moody art fitting for Maxwell’s strong horror western, reminiscent of early Wrightson not so much in the style but in the way his blacks are spotted. Maxwell has a little trouble with narration – jumping from an isolated third person caption on one page to an isolated first-person caption on the next is awkward, especially since the latter caption is unnecessary, but overall it’s pretty good. I’m looking forward to the series, but I think I’d be looking forward to it more if it were printed this size.

    MORT GRIM by Doug Frazer, 32 pg color comic (AdHouse Books;$5)

    Another lovely production job from AdHouse for a mostly wordless and pretty nice little horror story about ghosts on deserted Midwestern highways and things that won’t die when they should. Frazer does a good job all around. The only caveat is that the content, good as it is, is too skimpy to merit the price.

    GUNNED DOWN ed. by Shane Amaya, 180 pg b&w trade (Terra Major;$10)

    Another western, another anthology. Is all this due to DEADWOOD or is there something in the water these days? Like most anothologies, there’s good material and not so good, but even the lesser material, like the meaningless Kako piece that opens the book (it’s nicely drawn, but is an empty sequence with a quote tacked on to force context), isn’t bad. What’s really good, like Ricardo Giassetti & Fabio Cobiacco’s lengthy biography of a man of quiet dreams who spends his life watching those dreams be shredded by the violence he constantly self-justifies, is really good. In between there are gunfights and gamblers and tales of Houdini and other subjects, and where the art is weak the writing props it up and vice versa. An excellent anthology for a great price.

    SMOKE AND GUNS by Kirsten Baldock & Fabio Moon, 88 pg b&w graphic novel (AiT/PlanetLar Books;$12.95)

    A paper B-movie about cigarette girls in a turf war. The setup – that cigarette girls, a staple of ’40s noir that has as good as vanished from the face of the actual earth, have a city divided up into districts and get violent about intrusions from girls of other districts – is so ludicrous it’s funny, but once you’re past that, the casual psychopathy of the characters and the action are pretty entertaining. Both Baldcok and Moon have a flair for gonzo comics, but it’d be nice to see them try something meatier next time.

    THE GATESVILLE COMPANY #1, by Marc Bryant & Patrick McEvoy, 32 pg color comic (Speakeasy Comics;$2.99)

    This afterlife samurai western sure is pretty, and McEvoy’s art art, much of it in unnatural hues that fit the otherworldly setting perfectly, beautifully complements Bryant’s spare, direct revenge tale. There’s not much else that can be said about it without giving it all away, but it’s worth a look. I’m not really sure what the title refers to, though.

    HIP FLASK: MYSTERY CITY #1 by Richard Starkings & Ladronn, 48 pg color comic (Active Images;$4.99)

    In some ways HIP FLASK reads like the work of people who have maybe read just a little too much METABARONS but, on reflection, that’s not a bad thing. Two centuries in the future, manimal hybrids walk among people, and people go about much the same lives as now, except rhinos are crime lords and hippos are private detectives and scientists get locked away in prison where no one can reach them. What exactly’s going on is a bit obtuse, though it has something to do with time travel, but characterization and dialogue are pretty good and the art’s gorgeous. One thing, though: I don’t know who had the brilliant idea of translucent captions and word balloons, but while they’re distinctive they’re also often hard as hell to read.

    STRANGE ANGEL by George Pendle, 350 pg prose biography (Harcourt Books;$25)

    In the first half of the 20th century lived a man named John Parsons, a rocket scientist and co-founder of Caltech by day, and drug-sampling Crowleyite magic practitioner by night, who died in a mysterious explosion in ’52. (Rumor goes it was caused when he and L. Ron Hubbard tried to create a moonchild, a rumor Hubbard’s Church Of Scientology vehemently denies to this day.) Pendle starts with the aftermath of Parsons’ death, then goes thoroughly into the life of this strange man who was in many ways the embodiment of the American dichotomy of final half of the 20th century. If nothing else, his lifestyle choices presaged much of the counterculture of the ’60s and ’70s, and it’s easy to understand how Parsons could be so obsessively drawn in two apparently contradictory directions, as well as drawing a terrific portrait of the crushing paranoia of the redbaiting postwar years. If Pendle is ultimately unable to solve the mystery of Parsons’ death (it seems to be have an ironic accident while mixing chemicals), he certainly gives a brisk and entertaining overview of his life and work. Very good.

    WEBCOMICS by Steven Winthrow & John Barber, 192 pg color trade (Barron’s Books;$29.99)

    Much has been written by now about how webcomics with “democratize” comics, even though comics have long been one of the most democratic storytelling media available (all you need is an idea, paper, a pen and a Kinko’s), but this is the first book I know of that makes that “democratization” possible, by not only introducing the reader to webcomics – it’s profusely illustrated with them – but also explaining technical terms and discussing technique and how to use the computerized tools of the trade alongside interviews with webcartoonists, before discussing webcomics as a business and their potential future as a means of earning a living. There’s plenty to learn here, even for hardcore webcartoonists, and plenty of food for thought. It’s not perfect – there are doubtless books to come with more comprehensive focus on specific areas – but it’s an awfully damn good start.

    Okay, why hasn’t the pile shrunk?

  • What the readers say:

    ” One thing about your congress’s attack on steroids that has not been mentioned at all has been that while they spent a lot of time (mostly airtime) grilling (and I use that word in the most non-threatening way) professional athletes, they have made no threats directed at the sources of these steroids, neither dealers or pharmaceutical companies. While arguing that they were doing this for the children, they only questioned multi-millionaire athletes (none of whom were under the age of 20), while crucially overlooking the real problem with steroid usage among teenagers. That problem, in my eyes, is that it is easy to buy them (not that I would know from personal experience, I am naturally humongous). Quick question, which approach would be more effective:

    1) Demonizing steroid users (most of whom are multi-millionaires who probably don’t need any more money)

    or

    2) Preventing steroids from ever getting into anyone’s hands without a
    prescription. Perhaps if your government had publicly made calls for increasing the penalties for dealing steroids, and then actually increased the penalties, fewer people would risk selling them illegally, thus preventing the steroids from getting into the hands of children. Of course, this probably just makes too much sense, it’s far better to have public witch hunts. That way your government will have the time to make sure that it is against the law for Barry Bonds to hit more home runs than Babe Ruth and Hank Aaron (because that would destroy the American values system).

    P.S. if anyone reading this is represented by any of the government officials who took part in the steroid hearings, please be advised that they just wasted your tax dollars, and they didn’t do it for the children, they did it to get on CNN.”

    Oh, it’s always better to demonize than to let yourself be portrayed as anti-business. Steroids do have legitimate medical uses, but the main way kids – by which we mostly mean teenage boys engaged in intramural sports – get steroids is via authority figures, like coaches. (Not that I want to imply every school coach is a drug dealer.) The point in going after celebrities is that it both brings more attention to “the issue” and damages them as “role models” since it’s suggested they’ve cheated to attain their fame and fortune. Not like, say, many politicians… Or maybe it’s because baseball players don’t donate to political campaigns and drug companies do… just a thought…

    ” You’re undoubtedly right that, in general, comics editors won’t care what the font is. With a couple caveats:

    Use an ordinary font. Avoid scripts and funky display fonts. Ideally, use a serifed font (like Times) for blocks of text such as panel descriptions, and a sans serif font (like Arial) for text like dialogue, SFX, or section/scene divider text.

    Make sure the font size is a decent size. 12 point is good, and use standard spacing between lines.

    Make sure to use good margins. One inch on each side is good.

    Put the title, your name and e-mail/phone, and a page number on each page.

    These all fall under the heading of “Make it easy for the editor to read,” but it’s amazing how many people don’t do that.”

    Too much hassle, man. They’re just editors, after all.

    I’m kidding. You’re right. A few years back someone did a study and determined 11 point type was the easiest for most people to read for some reason. But under most circumstances there’s absolutely no reason to get inventive or creative with the typing of a script, unless it has specific implications for the story and can’t be suggested any more conventional way. Editors (in any field, not just comics) want manuscripts that are easy to read, and annoying them isn’t likely to help your cause.

    “The guy (or girl) who ranted about the political and financial situation included the San Diego (football) Chargers, who “want the city to give it billions for a new stadium so they can continue having 4 and 12 seasons.” Apparently he/she didn’t notice that this past season the Chargers flipped that around to 12 and 4, won their division, and lost in the first round of the playoffs but only because their rookie kicker missed a field goal in overtime, at home, against the Jets. If they prove last season wasn’t a fluke, maybe they’ll have a bit more of a case.”

    I can’t speak for our correspondent, but I certainly didn’t notice. The Padres are doing well this year, though.

    ” Regarding this statement from your 8/3 column:
    “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.” While entirely valid, I was wondering how the popular fine art-leaning comic artists would respond to the same criticism. Dave Mckean (and perhaps Ashley Wood, Ben Templesmith, etc.) seems to be more concerned with self-expression and experimentation than technical prowess and meeting the standards of professional draftsmanship. It would be interesting to see you address some of the artists who seem to have unusual approaches to comic art in the Creating Comics series.”

    Is there anyone who doesn’t think Dave or Ashley or Ben meet standards of professional draftsmanship? Their unique styles evoke unique worldviews, their work is there to be experienced as much a viewed. They just come from a different tradition than, say, Alex Ross or Dan Jurgens. There’s a difference between not liking someone’s work and thinking it’s technically inept (the first is an aesthetic judgment, the second a technical one) just as there’s a difference between not being able to do something and simply not doing it.

  • Notes from under the floorboard:

    Congratulations to Rob Smentek, winner of last week’s Cover Challenge, who correctly guessed that the books included ’50s work of artists who were to be at the core of Marvel’s ’60s success. In order of their appearance in the column, the books featured John Buscema, Don Heck, Jack Kirby/Steve Ditko, Gene Colan, Dick Ayers and John Romita – but the names weren’t required because asking for them would have given the game away. Rob wants to push the website for his band, the Jukebox Zeroes. Give it a look, give it a listen. Thanks, Rob.

    A quick explanation of our game for those who came in late or those who are having problems figuring it out. A number of covers are scattered throughout the column each week. Those covers are bound together by some specific theme that probably won’t be apparent just by looking at them, though there will always be a visual clue somewhere among the covers, and I always leave a cryptic clue as well. Most often, the contents of the books that the covers represent have something in common, and those trying to puzzle them out can find help at the excellent, encyclopedic Grand Comics Database, whence come most of the covers. The site’s an invaluable reference tool for comics historians and fans.

    This week’s cover challenge is dedicated to the new creative regime at Wildstorm. And that’s also your clue, if you don’t get it backwards. (Additional clue: yes, I know they’re all DC comics. That’s not it.)

    By the way, I’d like to thank all the readers, and there were many, who wrote to say the Hand Puppet used to own the Texas Rangers baseball club, not the Houston Oilers. Which I knew – my niece had her wedding reception across the street from the Rangers’ ballpark, so I got a good view of and plenty of stories about the place – and spaced on. One of those Homer Simpson moments.

    Whether you missed or caught the first season of the second best “reality” show on TV, ULTIMATE FIGHTER (Spike, Monday 11:05P), the second season begins a week from this Monday (Aug. 22) on Spike with house of all-new fighters in two weight classes (not the same as last year) literally duking it out for a half million dollar contract with Ultimate Fighting Championship. Since it hasn’t started airing, I can’t say for sure, but if it’s anything like last season don’t miss it.

    Speaking of TV, I finally caught last week’s episode of Denis Leary’s RESCUE ME (FX, Tuesday 10P) after a great many recommendations from both PD readers and personal friends. Unfortunately, I was bored out of my skull and fail to see the attraction. Not that I’ve ever had much tolerance for Leary. Can someone please tell me what the show’s appeal is? Because I couldn’t find it. (I didn’t know Charles Durning was in it… I used to live across the street from Charles Durning, back in NY…) Or did I just catch a bad episode? By the way, anyone even remotely considering telling me to watch STARVED (FX, Thursday 10P) really needs to reconsider their priorities.

    For those who’ve been following my little cyber-soap opera, my desktop computer has given up the ghost once again, and I think it’s finally time to bite the bullet and build a new one, as soon as my next large check comes in. (Hopefully by the time I get back next week.) The upside to this is that I’ll finally have the computer power to be able to start working seriously with graphics, meaning, among other things, starting to letter and maybe even learn to color my books. I’ve been itching to take a more active part in the books for a looooooooong time…

    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. Got a question, though: would anyone rather buy printed versions? How much would you be willing to pay?

    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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