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Issue #205

by  in CBR Exclusives Comment
Issue #205
  • THIS WEEK:

    END OF THE CENTURY

    REVIEWAPALOOZA

    MAIL CALL

    NOTES FROM UNDER THE FLOORBOARDS

  • Last week I was in Southern California, and ended up spending a couple days at Disneyland. Not that it’s unpleasant; Disneyland’s always a fun place if you just relax and go with the flow. The way to do Disneyland is to do the rides you really want first, when crowds are still minimal, fastpass the ones you can’t get onto right away (you can only fastpass one at a time) and crash at your hotel in the heat of the afternoon instead of suffering in lines for a couple hours at a time. Go back in early evening, when everyone’s staking out ground for the various fireworks and other shows, and hit the hard to get onto rides then or when the shows are drawing off your competition. The far less occupied California Adventure park is good for when Disneyland gets excessively crowded, and has some good rides and a few perks Disneyland doesn’t match. (Free tortillas!)

    But there’s a point, if you let yourself start thinking, where you feel like you’re in the belly of the beast. I was on Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride (don’t ask), that odd kiddie-oriented ride where you die in a car crash and go to hell, when I abruptly started considering cultural colonization. It’s no secret that Walt wanted Mickey Mouse to be the most recognizable figure on Earth, and Mickey has come to represent America itself around the world, but Mickey – Disney – has scooped up culture and staked a claim on it as well. When exactly did it become Walt Disney’s WIND IN THE WILLOWS? Or ALICE IN WONDERLAND? Or PINOCCHIO or ZORRO or CINDERELLA or JUNGLE BOOK? I watched a bewildering show where Mickey Mouse battles nightmares to keep everyone’s dreams and imagination pure and free from evil. It’s a touching message if you don’t think about it too much: Mickey Mouse – Disney – as arbiter of what’s “good” for us. “Sanctified” imagination – represented (as were, to be fair, the “evil” scenes) by Disney movie scenes projected on cascades of water (Nice effect) – is a-okay; all other forms keep out.

    To some extent, Disneyland does epitomize the American psyche of the 20th century, a schizophrenic blend of nostalgia for bygone times remembered as better than they were (Disney patterned Disneyland’s Main Street after his beloved Kansas City c. 1900) and an aggressively clean ’50s style futurism that would solve all our problems through faith in technology, with both history (Frontierland) and fantasy (Fantasyland) revised into resolute pleasantness where threat and danger are dangle then defanged. (Even Mr. Toad’s hell opens up to deposit you back where you started.) The refusal to take the negatives of life seriously is an earmark of official American life, and that’s also a very 20th century message of Disneyland, the notion that there is no problem so great that it can’t be defeated (not solved, defeated) via pluckily staring it down and riding it through.

    But the 20th century is now officially over, five years after the supposed millennium. Go only a block from Disneyland and you’ll find the new hallmark of 21st century America: gasoline selling for almost $3 per gallon. There’s an ad running on TV now that appears to be one of those “Greatest Hits” album TV offers, but turns out to be a reminder of conservation methods first introduced in the Carter administration, during the “gas crisis” of ’77-’78 when the country was certain the end was coming because gasoline prices skyrocketed to over fifty cents a gallon. American car companies, built on Big Gas Guzzling Cars, were suddenly pushing toward out of business because Americans wanted small gas misers like Hondas and Toyotas, and American companies not only weren’t making them, they weren’t even tooled to make them. It’s no great surprise that under Reagan, far and away our most Disneyesque president, we were told all that conservation stuff was hooey and we should be “supporting America” by buying Big Cars and living again like the future was ours for the taking, and damn the torpedoes. Carter’s presidential defeat in ’80 was taken by many politicians to mean that American voters shoot the messenger who gives them unpleasant news, and they’ve gone out of their way to smile and spin ever since, but no such lesson should have been learned; Reagan’s ’80 victory was marginal, not a mandate. And we knew over 25 years ago that measures had to be taken, but they weren’t, and that led directly to our situation today.

    What we’re looking at now is a significantly different America than we knew in the 20th century. The “energy crisis” of the late ’70s now looks wistfully naïve. The current rise in gas prices – expected to be near $3 per gallon as soon as Labor Day and possibly $4 by Thanksgiving – reveals where the administration has misjudged the economy. Aspects of the economy are doing well, particularly if you accept oil company profits as an indicator, which leads officials to wonder why the public doesn’t see the economy as strong, but it’s hard to believe in a strong economy when your own budget is being severely pinched. Money that goes to paying for gasoline, or heating oil (Americans will really feel that pinch come December), money spent on any necessities, is not “disposable income,” and “disposable income” is how Americans have been taught to judge how well they’re doing. What most Americans are seeing is their adjusted income levels dropping, while they work longer and longer hours. (Another “benefit” of the Reagan era was the gutting of the notion of a 40 hour week; those with white collar jobs got increased pressure from their companies to spend more time earning their salaries, those with lower paying jobs found themselves having to work more than one job to get by.) Houses now sell for ridiculous sums across the entire country, but fewer and fewer can afford to buy them, and when they do, huge chunks of their income go toward paying for the homes, again meaning far less disposable income. And all that leads to higher and higher prices for even the necessities, again squeezing budgets.

    But the real blow to the American psyche is the destruction of travel, and that might even be what much of the restrictive legislation of the past few years and that on the table now has been prepping us for. (Of course, to believe that you’d have to believe our leadership can see or think past the ends of their noses, and most of the available evidence suggests otherwise.) I remember in the ’60s a recurring commercial insisted “See The USA in your Chevrolet!” We’ve been encouraged to drive, to fly, to travel. Mobility was one of the key hallmarks of American life in the 20th century, and mobility will get very difficult from here on in. Costs for driving crosscountry will become astronomical, vacations unwieldy if the cost of transportation leaves little left for the vacation. (The economies of many parts of the country are predicated on tourism, and they’re really going to bear the brunt of this.) With rare exceptions, we don’t have a functional mass transportation system, we’ve never bothered to systematically develop alternative energy sources, even though we’ve known for years we’d need them.

    The administration’s official “solution” to the situation is to leave it up to the oil companies to develop the answers to all our problems, since they’re the “energy” experts, but so far their solution has been to rake in monstrous profits – net profits – in the billions – while they yo-yo gas prices so we feel grateful when prices drop back down ten or twelve cents per gallon before jumping back up again. And to cut federal funding for alternative energy projects, because that money’s needed to fight a war that almost certainly isn’t for oil. The whole war thing has become fascinating, because so far most Americans wouldn’t be willing to fight a war for oil. What’s even weirder is seeing an antiwar movement suddenly rise from the ashes in the last couple weeks, on the back of Cindy Sheehan’s lone vigil alongside the Hand Puppet’s Texas vacation, in memory of her dead soldier son. This is a strange face for antiwar rebellion, one that’s got pundits in a froth: grieving mothers who can wrap themselves in motherhood, the flag and presumably apple pie, rather than cunning radical intellectuals. Suddenly you’ve got the mayor of Salt Lake City (like, isn’t Utah a hotbed of Republican conservatism or something?) encouraging citizens to protest the war during a Hand Puppet visit, and Republican Senator Chuck Hagel (currently positioning himself as a moderate for a potential 2008 White House run) calling the President’s “stay the course” policy in Iraq “not a policy.” The “defenses” against the protests are getting pretty funny too; this morning a White House lapdog went running from network to network to push the new myth (or, rather, lie) that pulling out of bad conflicts makes America weak, pulling out Vietnam weakened America, and that the war in Vietnam was part of the war on terror. (By the way, pulling out of Vietnam did not make America weaker. If nothing else, it went a long way toward vitiating the social breakdown caused by factionalization over the war and normalized American life.)

    This too is part of post-20th century America, though it has always been a part of America, even the America that Disney so fondly and falsely commemorated in his theme park, that the “common man” should shut up and trust in his leaders and let them deal with problems. Or, rather, let them let corporations deal with problems. Which flies in the face of the “rugged individualism” myth, but whaddaya gonna do?

    Hopefully this will be the century of Do It Yourself, because, as Sheehan demonstrates, you can’t leave it up to other people. Whatever the future brings, the 20th century is now over, and if you want it back, go to Disneyland.

  • Like I said, a busman’s holiday: much of my last week was spent catching up on the review stack and it’s time to clean up the plate as summer goes out the door. That’s the good news. The bad news is you get to ride Review Mountain now.

    TALES DESIGNED TO THRIZZLE #1 by Michael Kupperman, 36 pg b&w comic (Fantagraphics;$4.50)

    Funny, occasionally brilliant surrealist satire, nicely drawn in a variety of styles to fit the subject matter. Find out about sex blimps, Shakespeare’s gold and Pablo Picasso’s feud with the Hamburglar, as well as the answers to personal problems like how to cope with hair monkeys. Kupperman does a nice piss-take on the whole “all ages comics” canard by subdividing the comic into an adult section (men’s grooming products from Mickey Roarke; the truth about Jesus’ brother), a kids’ section (behind the scenes with a boy band, a Hardly Boys adventure story) and a geriatrics’ section (remembering the Thirties, Buzz Aldren solves murders on the moon). Not to mention he finally answers the question of whether comics are serious literature. This was one of the most entertaining comics I’ve read in years. Then it gave me a paper cut, so I hate it.

    PECULIA AND THE GROOM GROVE VAMPIRES by Richard Sala, 80 pg trade (Fantagraphics;$9.95)

    The title says it all. Sala’s modern gothic heroine gets roped in as a sexy vampire recruits the Babysitter’s Club to unwittingly feed a bunch of her brood. The style’s deceptively simple, an offshoot of Edward Gorey, and the basic story’s pretty straightforward and nothing fans of the genre won’t have seen before, but Sala strongly taps, as few really do, into the adolescent appeal of the vampire myth’s sexual deviance – he does a wonderful job of making it obvious but not explicit in the big finale – and that subtext makes the book weirdly fascinating.

    HEE! by Ivan Brunetti, 36 pg b&w microcomic (Fantagraphics;$2)

    Hilarious, very sick panel humor from Brunetti, in a 3″x3″ format. Simple, expressive, funny as hell and easy to hide. Get it.

    LOVE AND ROCKETS #14 by the Hernandez Brothers, 32 pg b&w comic (Fantagraphics;$4.50)

    More of the same from Jaime, Gilbert & Mario. It’s sad that sounds like a knock when the Hernandez Brothers have been doing well-drawn and particularly well-written touching, often absurdist stories that feel like life for almost twenty years now. They make great work look effortless. And this is more of the same: tales of Hopey and Maggie, oddball science fiction, Gilbert’s vast mosaic stories. Worth every penny.

    BRICKMAN BEGINS by Lew Stringer, 152 pg b&w trade (Active Images;$9.99)

    I suspect appreciating this is helped vastly by growing up on BEANO and THE DANDY, as art and humor are very much in that mold. Brickman is a Batman parody, and if your idea of great humor is groaner puns villains named The Poker, The Diddler and Gnatwoman, this is the book for you. There are a few good jokes, like every villain reciting their origin and culminating with “Rejected by my fellow man, I turned to a life of crime” but this sort of thing is best in small doses. Longer pieces, like a PRISONER parody and subsequent anti-parody of DARK KNIGHT RETURNS really go nowhere. Stringer’s regarded highly enough in England that Alan Moore, Dave Gibbons, Charlie Adlard, Hunt Emerson, Mike Collins, Kevin O’Neill and others contribute work; Charlie’s drawing of Brickman as a zombie is practically worth the price alone. Tellingly, Stringer spends an inordinate amount of space moaning about how fans only appreciate “serious” comics now; it doesn’t seem to have occurred to him that there’s just not much in BRICKMAN. It’s okay, but clearly an acquired taste.

    SPIKE: OLD TIMES by Peter David & Fernando Goni, 48 pg color prestige comic (IDW Publishing;$7.49)

    A competent continuation of the character from BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER. David’s got the character down and the art’s pretty good as Spike tries to save an innocent victim from a “vengeance demon” pursuing a family generation after generation. Spike’s largesse is amusingly and casually rationalized as spite, but the ending, intended to be ironically humorous, just falls flat. Nice try, though; Spike and BUFFY fans should be pleased.

    SOLSTICE by Steven T. Seagle and Justin Norman, 106 pg b&w trade (Active Images;$12.95)

    I’ve never been that fond of Seagle’s writing, which often epitomizes that touchy-feely ’90s X-MEN style that tries to lead reader reaction around by the nose and creeps me out. But the earlier SOLSTICE, collected and completed here for the first time, shows a different writer, less technically accomplished but more at ease with ambiguity: an older man looks back at the great adventure of his youth, aiding his filthy rich power mad father on a dangerous globe-spanning quest to find the legendary Fountain Of Youth and immortality. The script demonstrates a strength for dialogue and timing, the ending’s satisfyingly unexpected but logical, and artist Norman’s good enough that I have to wonder what ever happened to him; this is a very professional looking piece of work. The book’s all around good.

    CINEMA PANOPTICUM by Thomas Ott, 104 pg b&w hardcover graphic novel (Fantagraphics;$18.95)

    Reminiscent of Lynn Ward’s great woodcut novels, Ott’s story ties together five horror stories as a poor girl attends a carnival but finds she only has enough to view the panopticons, old hand-cranked “movie projectors” that you’d gaze into to watch photos flip by. It’s a classic anthology-with-framing-device: A businessman checks into a deadly motel, a pro wrestler wrestles tragically with death, a man takes extraordinary measures to regain his eyesight, another man attempts to warn the world of impending doomsday, and a girl sees something terrifying. Ott’s art is richly detailed without being overbearing, and his storytelling is superb. Excellent, if maybe not enough story to justify the price.

    THE DREAMLAND CHRONICLES #2-3 by Scott Sava, 48 pg color comics (Alias;$4.50)

    The “3D” computer painting style is clearly the star here, since the story of a college kid who suddenly rediscovers how to dream his way to a fairyland of his childhood imagination only to discover it’s a real place is… kind of dull. Problem is: there are no interesting characters in it. The hero’s an egotistical dullard, his brother’s just snarky, and the main subplot involves an uninteresting psych student (my guess is she’ll eventually become the love interest for the brother, who hates her) who wants the hero for a test subject. The “dreamlands” characters are cutesy “iconic,” with all the expected personalities, and Sava’s got a neat trick for dealing with cliffhangers: the hero wakes up. When he goes back to sleep, the same amount of time has passed Over There, crisis avoided. About the time they bring pirates into it, any semblance of story logic, even dream logic, flies away. The art style quickly grows wearing too, since everyone looks like plastic dolls, regardless of locale. I know this is supposed to be an “all ages” comic, but there’s enough good fantasy out there that I can’t imagine why any kid would decide to settle for this.

    DEAD WEST by Rick Spears & Rob G, 144 pg b&w graphic novel (Gigantic Graphic Novels;$14.95)

    This starts out well enough, a horror western wherein an Indian shaman avenges the slaughter of his tribe years before by unleashing a zombie hell on the town built on their land. Unfortunately, there’s not much beyond the premise; most characters are never really defined (G, who did a terrific job in TEENAGERS FROM MARS, doesn’t much bother differentiating characters here either) as zombies, white and Indian, rise from the dead for your basic George Romero scenario, without Romero’s social shadings, and all development comes to a dead halt when Clint Eastwood chases Eli Wallach into town. That’s right, it’s really THE GOOD THE BAD AND THE ZOMBIES, and the whole joke is “Wouldn’t it be great to see the Man With No Name shoot his way out of THE NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD?” Well, that answers that question. How about we call a moratorium on stories rooting around in old movies for gimmicks?

    THE FIRST BOOK OF HOPE by Tommi Musturi, 44 pg color graphic novel (BoingBeing; no price given)

    A gentle, lovingly printed philosophical ramble about an aging man trying to figure out his place in the world. Finnish artist Musturi has a cartoony, evocative style and the confidence to let his character haltingly work out his own impressions of his life. It’s great to see a top notch “alt” comic that’s not obsessed with impressing college students.

    MOME ed. by Gary Groth & Eric Reynolds, 128 pg multicolor trade (Fantagraphics;$14.95)

    As I’ve mentioned many times, the success or failure of anthologies really comes down to the editors. They may not interject themselves into the creative process, but they’re the ones who ultimately choose and organize the material. MOME is a terrific anthology, apparently aimed directly at the book market; it seems to be positioning itself as the alt-comics version of GRANTA magazine. Paul Hornschemeier’s the centerpiece of this issue, with new work and a typically focused interview by Groth, but there are lots of other good pieces as well, particularly by Gabrielle Bell, Jeffrey Brown, Anders Nilsen & Sophie Crumb (who abruptly seems to be taking on some of her dad’s style), though Jonathan Bennett’s “Dance With The Ventures” is my favorite. There are only a couple duff pieces, and even those aren’t bad enough to single out. Well worth a look.

    WRITE NOW! #10, ed. by Danny Fingeroth, 72 pg b&w magazine (TwoMorrows Publishing;$5.95)

    Another good issue of the magazine dedicated to comics and animation writing, and Dwayne McDuffie’s the focus this issue with an interview and examples that nicely illustrate how you have to think differently for each medium. There are also interviews with Gerry Conway, Peter Bagge & Dan Jurgens, John Ostrander on story structure, and the usual feature articles. Good job; anyone with questions about comics and animation writing should be buying this magazine.

    BUMPERBOY LOSES HIS MARBLES by Debbie Huey, 96 pg trade paperback (AdHouse Books;$7.95)

    A nice little kid’s book whose hero hopes to defeat his arch-enemy and win a marbles tournament only to be thwarted at every turn. While simply and charmingly told, it has unexpected twists for this sort of thing and eventually a great message on the value of friendship, honesty and believing in yourself. Perfect for kids.

    LORELEI: BUILDING THE PERFECT BEAST Vol. 1, by Steven Roman, David Matthews & Kevin Tuma, 142 pg b&w trade (Starwarp Concepts;$9.95)

    Hmmm. If you love vampires but don’t think there’s enough t&a in VAMPIRELLA, this is the book for you. It’s a curious book; the art’s just passable, and the story’s pretty traditional for this sort of thing – a woman comes back from the dead and finds herself targeted by an evil cult (didn’t I just read this is DEAD@17 – and the lettering is so amateurish it drives me up a wall, but writer Roman takes a vehemently novelistic approach. While that’s intriguing, the downside is that it takes forever to get anywhere; the whole book seems to function as prelude, we still don’t really know what any of the multitude of characters is up to and why, and “Lorelei,” as focal character, hasn’t even shown up yet.

    DR. READY: CASA DE PERRO by Curtis Broadway, 24 pg b&w booklet (Optophage Press;$4.95)

    Another lovely production job. This is sort of a story told in 24 single panels, one per page; it’s in Spanish, which I don’t speak, but a detective tracks down a death-headed outlaw, with metaphysical consequences. It’s Borges pop. (Nobody ever mentions Borges anymore, do they?) There’s a lot of Rick Geary in Broadway’s approach, but not his style, but Broadway’s art is quite pretty. It’s an adventurous little book, worth tracking down.

  • Time to catch up on the mail:

    “Hello, i was wondering if you could tell me a good website for learning about the synopses of comics titles before I buy them…”

    Why, yes. As mentioned a few weeks ago, there’s the excellent, mostly value-neutral Spoilt, which has become de rigueur reading in these parts.

    “Apparently we are getting Bret Hart DVDs. Finally! He’s got enough materials for 5 disks. Lets hope they include all the good stuff (which I know they won’t).”

    I haven’t paid much attention to wrestling over the last few months, but it’s good to see Bret Hart and Vince McMahon at least reconcile to the point where we can get some collections of Bret’s great matches. He’s been out of the business for years now, but he’s still my favorite and I’d still rather watch his matches than almost anyone else’s, so I’m thrilled that he’s not going to end up fading into relative obscurity.

    “Regarding Cheney & Iran, I thought you might want to see this: ‘In Washington it is hardly a secret that the same people in and around the administration who brought you Iraq are preparing to do the same for Iran. The Pentagon, acting under instructions from Vice President Dick Cheney’s office, has tasked the United States Strategic Command (STRATCOM) with drawing up a contingency plan to be employed in response to another 9/11-type terrorist attack on the United States. The plan includes a large-scale air assault on Iran employing both conventional and tactical nuclear weapons. Within Iran there are more than 450 major strategic targets, including numerous suspected nuclear-weapons-program development sites. Many of the targets are hardened or are deep underground and could not be taken out by conventional weapons, hence the nuclear option. As in the case of Iraq, the response is not conditional on Iran actually being involved in the act of terrorism directed against the United States. Several senior Air Force officers involved in the planning are reportedly appalled at the implications of what they are doing-that Iran is being set up for an unprovoked nuclear attack-but no one is prepared to damage his career by posing any objections.’“

    Oy. Thanks, though there are some things I’d almost rather not know…

    ‘A few years back someone did a study and determined 11 point type was the easiest for most people to read for some reason.’ Because it’s not so large as to be overbearing (as is 12-pt.), and not so small as to strain weak or old eyes (10-pt.). The same study determined that a serifed font is easier to read on a physical (that is, paper) page, but that a sans-serif font is easier to read on a computer screen, or projected (as in a PowerPoint briefing). Just FYI.”

    Thanks.

    “You forgot to mention that once you know and can implement the rules, feel free to break them for artistic or utilitarian purposes, as opposed to most up-and-comers who fail to ever learn the rules in the first place, citing ‘artistic vision.'”

    I don’t know if I’d say most, but certainly main. I’d intended to imply that in my response, but it’s always good to have it flat out stated. Thanks.

    “Regarding your “how to know if you’re ready” [to show your art samples] question, here’s one I recommend: Show your page, without lettering, (or with the lettering covered up) to someone who doesn’t know the story. Ask them to “read” the page back to you, describing the content of each panel in (and this is important) as much detail as possible. If they give you a lot of vague answers, or seem to be confused over where things are taking place, or who is who, or what, exactly is happening, you’ve got a problem.”

    I realize I’m getting redundant – I just don’t have a lot of pithy comments to throw in this week – but thanks. That’s the sort of good, practical, basic advice that for some reason people just never give.

    “I really try very hard not to email columnists, just as I pretty much stay the hell away from messageboards these days. The fact is that I’m an overly-opinionated, stubborn and callous Texan who reads and types far too slowly to follow said pursuit without wasting entirely too much of my tiny little life on something fairly ephemeral. However, I was playing catch-up on your column, and found myself formulating thoughts I unfortunately can’t repress properly in order to avoid said obsessive behavior. More than a decade ago, Tony Isabella wrote a piece on writer/publisher Hart D. Fisher in his column for CBG where he bemoaned the fact that a creator’s personability is often directly inverse to their displayed talent in their chosen field. Basically, it’s a shame Fisher wrote crap like Jeffrey Dahmer comics, because he was a hell of a nice guy in person. Light at the end of the tunnel being a favorable review of one Fisher work, my own note now segues into your recent mention of Warren Ellis’ comments about the effect of a message board community on sales of his comic book work. Like another reader of your column you recently spotlighted, I find that a lot of columnists I follow don’t produce comic work I enjoy. I once not only openly disliked Joe Casey’s work, but interviews with the man himself gave me the impression the guy had deluded himself into thinking he was cooler-than-thou while working on frigging X-books. After he began writing his column with Matt Fraction, I found that Casey was not only likeable and interesting, but seemed to himself regret the impression he initially made on fans at the time of his X-work. I now pause to read write-ups and previews of his work online, but in the end I still find his particular writing flavor doesn’t rest well on my pallet. At the very least, his column gives him an opening, whereas he would once be shut down at the mention of his name. Unfortunately, that kind of placement on the mental shelf also can lead to a “let’s-just-be-friends” mindset, as well. I found Stuart Moore’s “Thousand Flowers” column at Newsarama to be quite insightful, and I still miss it’s presence there. Since I was drifting in-and-out of collecting Dan Jolley’s run on “Firestorm” anyway, I decided to commit to following the series in the former writer’s last months in preparation for giving the incoming Moore a run of issues to prove he could do something with the ideas his column suggested. A few months in, I’m not only still coasting on good feelings about “Flowers” more than my enjoyment of Moore’s actual current output, but I’m even finding it compares badly to the tail end of Jolley’s run (which picked-up mightily after a year plus of drag-ass). I suspect that if I do jump ship on Firestorm, I’ll continue to think good thoughts about ol’ Stuart, but I won’t actually give him any more of my money. In your own case, funnily enough, I’m finding that I just plain prefer you as a prose writer over a scripter. In comics, your writing comes off as very cinematic, leaving much of the detail to your artists. Well, excepting Mike Zeck, I’ve never been to thrilled with your collaborators, and your quite tasty narrative descriptions seem more often than not done disservice by adaptation to the comics page. Maybe you could try becoming the caption box equivalent to Bendis’ much maligned dialogue balloon diarrhea. I’m reminded of the bricks of purple prose that would often clutter the artwork of people working with Don McGregor, but replaced with a more tantalizing variation of your own design. I know a now cardinal rule (created do to the abuses of pre-modern age comics) is to never tell what the artist can show, but artists can’t seem to show a hell of a lot of what your prose excerpts are telling me. There are four other senses the artist is likely to neglect that a running narrative or internal monologue could better illustrate. If it’s now a sin to use a proper sound effect, shouldn’t the writer then explore the “audio” through other means. Shouldn’t we get more out of smell and taste that squiggly lines over drawings of slimy trash or steaming pasta? Finally, I agree with the letterhack that most letter columns in the modern era were tripe, but an important part of my formative years reading comics was to read everything, including those columns. I found that books with intelligent readers responded to by caring editors or writers enhanced my enjoyment of books that usually reflected that heightened attention to the details. Meanwhile, columns that simply provided another avenue for advertising hype re-enforced for concerns about a title. Basically, good letter columns weren’t just a support group, but also a peer group. Cliques can inspire loyalty that translates to sales, and they likely do form all the better in the instant gratification world of message boards. However, message boards often illustrate the negative side of the word gratuitous. Your image is affected by flaming trolls or oppressive administrators in a very public way. Like any form of writing, editing shapes the work, and letter columns provide an opportunity to manipulate opinion in a way MBs do not.”

    Yeah, exactly. Re: the way I write comics, I don’t think I have a particular narrative style, and I’ve used all kinds of different narrative ploys over time but, particularly on work-for-hire books, I’ve never had a lot of choice of artists. Mostly they’ve been picked for me. As for Joe Casey, you’ve evidently never met him or you’d know he is cooler-than-thou. Joe is one cool cat. But you didn’t really need to go on so long – you had me at “Texan who reads”…

    “Thanks for reviewing STRANGE ANGEL. This was the first I’d seen of this book, although I’ve encountered Jack Parsons in quite a bit of my reading this summer. On Amazon’s site, a reader claiming to be the daughter of Ed Forman, “Jack Parsons’ best friend,” gave STRANGE ANGEL a five-star review; even if she’s not who she says, also a good endorsement. Parson’s story is given a different, somewhat lurid slant in SEX AND ROCKETS, credited to John Carter (admittedly a pseudonym) and Robert Anton. Very compelling and, especially given the mysteries surrounding his death (possibly during an attempt at conjuring an entity from another realm of reality), somewhat disturbing. Parson’s is also a player in the provocative (and extremely disturbing) L. RON HUBBARD, MADMAN OR MESSIAH, which is highly readable despite the distractingly clunky writing and cut-and-paste chronology. The most entertaining appearance of Parsons, though, is in Anthony Boucher’s ROCKET TO THE MORGUE. Fans of old-time sci-fi should be able to spot a number of SF authors and related persons (not that I could); the Chantrelle character is apparently based on Parsons. He was one of those people whose lives were more incredible than fiction.”

    Parsons is certainly an interesting character, and I mentioned the “attempt at conjuring” story in my review, though that story would certainly be difficult to support.

    “To answer the Chargers employee: yes, I’m aware they had a 12-4 season. I’m more aware however, of the utter lack of winning seasons for ten years prior and I’m aware of the millions the city has paid in blackmail (see odious ticket guarantee) to try and keep the team in San Diego. Which they take and then demand more money for the “privilege” of keeping a losing team in town. Once again, does Vegas want them? SD can eventually get another football team and it’s hard to imagine them doing any worse. Unless they’re owned by the Spanos family.”

    You guys can keep going if you want, but I’m officially out of this discussion now. Las Vegas probably does want them, yes.

    “August 22, 2005. This was the second visit Bush paid to Utah. SLC’s mayor, Rocky Anderson, made a protest area available because the area near where Bush was speaking was restricted. He spoke to the veterans. I wasn’t planning to go but a friend of mine, who is a full blooded Democrat called, asking if I wanted to go to the protest. I prefer to make my views known through correspondence, but I thought, what the heck. There were several speakers including Cindy Shehan’s co-founder, who spoke. There were all kinds of signs voicing their sentiments against the president. One, called for an immediate with drawl which is a nice wish, but untenable and unrealistic. Such a with drawl would plunge the entire region into chaos. Powell’s words to the president, as reported by Bob Woodward, are equally true today, “you break it, you bought it.” The protest continued with a march on the county seat. So now I’ve been in a march. There were all kinds of far left groups. while I’m more of a moderate, but I respect the rights of people to make their views known. My view is that I never have and will support an elective war. I do however admire the troops for their bravery. But no one will complain now that Hussein is gone. It’s ironic that the protest would not exist if this had been a swift war. America eventually will not stomach a long war which is why Bush l was smart enough not to attack Baghdad in the first place.”

    Again, the elder Bush didn’t attack Baghdad because the terms of Middle Eastern involvement in the effort to return Kuwait to its royal family precluded American troops invading Iraq. It simply was never in the cards. I’m curious, though: what exactly passes for far left in Utah these days?

  • Notes From Under The Floorboard:

    No Cover Challenge last week, so no winner this week, and the Cover Challenge is decked for a second week by tech difficulties. It’ll be back next week, lord willin’ and the crick don’t rise.

    For all those who’ve sent in art samples, I’m still up to my neck in things, but I’m planning on sorting through them all over the coming week and making plans before Labor Day. Hang in there.

    Saw Oliver Stone’s ALEXANDER the other day. The Director’s Cut. I can only imagine how bad the non-director’s cut was, since I’m not eager to find out. Beautifully shot mess of a film that completely undercuts any notion that Alexander should be considered great; Stone and star Colin Farrell were apparently so fixated on the idea that Alexander slept with other men that he’s transformed into a trembling moist-eyed poor little rich boy who only wants to be loved. (Their mistake is believing that the behavior is indicative of personality, when it was common in martial Greek society, as in most martial societies.) As a result, Alexander’s thirst to conquer the world is never quite reconciled; the best we get for his ambition is a desire to win his father’s approval. But, as I got bored enough to drift to such things, I found myself wondering if the film wasn’t intended to be an allegory on our current Middle Eastern policy. (It seems it must have been in the works long before our bout of Iraqi adventurism, but who knows?) Think about it: Alexander is the son of a mighty leader and, though seemingly a bit dimwitted, is raised specifically to become ruler of the world. An attack on his homeland – in this case, the assassination of his father, whom he and his conniving mother also have reason to want dead – is laid at the door of Darius, ruler of Persia (known today as Iraq), without any real evidence, and the claim allows Alexander to raise an army from all Greece and smash Darius’ army in a route, though Darius himself isn’t caught and is only found much later – in this case, dead – in what amounts to a hole in the middle of nowhere, done in by his own troops. Alexander, ensconced in Darius’ former palace, dismisses notions that the Persians might have reason to hate him and resent the occupying Greek troops, because he has freed them from slavery. Those who followed him for the sake of booty and plunder of the riches of Persia are disturbed by Alexander’s wide-eyed new dream of bringing freedom to “all the world,” and further disturbed by his turning control of conquered lands back over to those conquered, as long as they recognize him as their true leader. Alexander is eventually undone by overextension, by the disillusionment of his troops, by growing paranoia and removal from reality, despite his apparent successes. I’ve no idea if Stone actually intended this, but at least it gives the bumbling, contradictory characterization of Alexander some justification. If he did intended it, it really puts Barbara Bush in a bad (but, if Laura’s occasional comments about her mother in law can be assumed accurate, not inaccurate) light.

    I want to apologize to artist Bob Almond for listing him as Bob Diamond in the review of VAMPIRELLA: REVELATIONS a couple weeks ago. That’s what I get for eating Blue Diamond almonds while I’m working.

    Also, apologies to my fellow writer John Layman for leaving out his blog from the list of blogs worth reading last week. Unfortunately, since my computer crashed and got rebuilt I haven’t had the address to John’s blog and whenever I hear from him he never tells me what it is. You might try www.themightylayman.com, but that’s only a shot in the dark. (Want to help me out here, John?)

    For those who’ve been on the fence, Johanna Draper-Carlson has run a lovely review of my book TOTALLY OBVIOUS on her Comics Worth Reading site, and the review is itself – I didn’t pay her for it, honest – worth reading. If you’re interested in the book, it’s available in pdf e-book form at Paper Movies at a wonderfully inexpensive price for all that juicy information, along with my collection of political commentary, IMPOLITIC: A JOURNAL OF THE PLAGUE YEARS. Don’t miss ’em.

    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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