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Issue #207

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Issue #207
  • THIS WEEK:

    CREATING COMICS STEP BY STEP, Part 12: Penciling

    CRAWLING THROUGH THE WRECKAGE: Beyond New Orleans to the future – but which future?

    NOTES FROM UNDER THE FLOORBOARD

  • Creating Comics Step By Step, Step 12: Penciling.

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

    I don’t know why this is so hard to get: the job of the penciler is to pencil.

    The concept, as simple as it seems (the name is the job description), seems to be widely misunderstood, even within the business. Traditionally, from an editorial point of view, “the job of the penciler is to pencil” was taken very literally: it was the penciler’s job to draw, without grousing and regardless of pride, whatever script the editor handed them. Regardless of personal tastes or stylistic suitability. (Anyone with half a brain wouldn’t assign Al Williamson or Alex Ross to do a Carl Barks-style funny animal story, for instance, yet it was a long-held editorial shibboleth that pencilers, like writers, should be able and willing to do any kind of material assigned them.)

    In a way, the penciler’s job is both the most glamorous and the most ephemeral job in comics. At least since the mid-60s, pencilers have been the Stars of comics, a situation that only existed in passing through the EC era (when fans really began paying attention for the first time, though anyone who ever read comics long or intensely enough started tracking styles and artists, even if they didn’t know their names). Marvel made Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko household names (at least in comics-reading households), and from there the rush was on. The ’70s-’90s were the glory days of pencilers, many of whom were identified by fandom as the “true” creators in comics.

    But the fact is that while the penciler gives physical shape to the story, what you see on the page is rarely ever the pencils. The inker comes in later and is either faithful to the pencils or obliterates them. (Wally Wood, himself a good comics penciler, never inked a story that didn’t end up looking like a Wally Wood story. His inks were so strong they overwhelmed almost any penciler whose line they touched. Even stylistically strong artists like Jack Kirby and Gil Kane barely survived him, though Wally’s inks on their pencils always looked great.) Pencils are obliterated in any case; they are physically erased from the final inked page. The writer’s work is there on the finished page, the inker’s and the letterer’s and the colorist’s, but the penciler’s? Only by an act of faith.

    Which doesn’t mean the penciler isn’t tied for the #1 most important position in creating a comic book, but it’s understandable why there might be a little schizophrenia there. Everyone else may identify the work as the penciler’s, but the penciler himself knows better. It’s just one of those dirty little non-secrets we’re not supposed to bring up. But there it is.

    But the penciler is the writer’s main collaborator in the creation of a comic book. Inkers, colorists and letterers all bring their unique styles, insights and talents to a book to hopefully heighten and intensify all the desired effects of the story, but on one level they’re functionaries. (I don’t mean that in a derogatory way, but their main purpose is to serve a function, albeit a creative function, on an already essentially created work.) Whatever else can be said about the penciler, the penciler is not in any way a “functionary.” The penciler is a visionary, the glue that binds the whole thing together.

    Many would-be pencilers think penciling is just about drawing characters on a page. But penciling is about designing. The penciler may or may not collaborate directly in the creation of the story (more often than not these days, the writer writes a full script, as was the standard fifty years ago, but the penciler often discusses the story with the writer it’s written, adding ideas or asking questions, and most writers I know where possible prefer to know who the artist will be so the story can be tailored to their particular approaches.) but the penciler is the one who ultimately makes the creative decisions about how to visually represent the story on the page. Design, not line drawings, are ultimately what the penciler leaves behind to prove he was there, and, more often than not, it’s the designing that readers respond to, consciously or not.

    Design is how actions are broken down into panels on the page, to stimulate the eye and lure it in sequence from one desired area on the page to the next.

    There are all kinds of ways to design a page, but basic design goes like this: in Western Civilization, we are trained to read in tiers, starting at the upper left hand corner of a unit (a panel, a page) and ending at the lower right hand corner. (You’ll find that even in a movie theater you’ll be more comfortable if you sit just to the left of center, because it’s easier for your eyes to follow an action to the right then revert to the “normal” left position than to go the other way, which sitting to right of center forces you to do.) There’s a reason the grid was so enforced for so long: it’s easy to read. (And, in fact, not particularly uncreative, as talents like Dave Gibbons and Keith Giffen have demonstrated, though it does have its limitation.)

    Many would-be pencilers are drawn, understandably, to the flashy elements of comics design without ever bothering to learn the boring basic structure, like the grid. But it all rests on basic structure. What’s designed inside the panel structure is the core of comics. The design, the art, can deliver a story either coherently or incoherently, and coherent need not be synonymous with boring. What breaks from the panel structure should do so for effect, to deliver emphasis and dynamics.

    When Jack Kirby’s Hulk punched Thor out of the panel, or straight toward the reader, it was thrilling to look at, but it also delivered a specific effect: illustrating the raw savage power of the Hulk. But here’s the thing about effects. The more you see an effect, the less effective it is. In other words, familiarity breeds contempt. In the late ’60s, Gil Kane redefined how action is drawn in comics, developing a series of dynamic shots. Problem was, these quickly became a shorthand for him, showing up in story after story, until, by the mid-’70s, aspects of Gil’s art, still excellent, were considered jokes. The “up-the-nose” shot, for instance. It was startling when new, ludicrous when overused – but, y’know, artists still swipe it, and a lot of Gil’s innovations, today.

    To make effects count, you have to use them judiciously. To be able to use them judiciously, you have to know how not to use them and still get dynamic looking comic books.

    Not to put too fine a point on it because comics are not film, but there are things comics have in common with film. The basic unit of a film is a frame, the basic unit of the comic book is a panel. Both are visually identical: they represent a singular moment in time, a framed shot. Both put the most important elements of the shot in the best perspective and positioning, for maximum impact. (A simple talk scene is easily affected by perspective and positioning. You don’t want your characters so far in the distance that you can’t tell who’s talking, unless the script calls for it and failing to reveal them in this panel allows a more impressive reveal in a later panel. Under most circumstances you’d want the character speaking somewhat centered in the frame, you probably wouldn’t cut off half the character’s face with the frame border unless there was a specific story reason for it, and you wouldn’t show only the backs of the other two characters’ heads if the script called for reactions by those characters to what the main speaker says.)

    There are three main types of shots in comics:

    The long shot. These are used mainly to establish setting and mood.

    The medium shot. The workhorse of comics, where most of the action takes place. These will have some background and setting and portray most of the physical interaction between characters in most comics.

    The close-up. These convey much of the personal emotion of any story (facial close-ups) or focus in on specific elements germane to understanding the plot.

    All are used for specific types of emphasis. All good pencilers (and good writers) know how to use them for emphasis. (Which isn’t the same thing as effect.) All the above have variations, such as the two-shot (a close-up tightly focused on two characters at the same time, usually to emphasize their interaction), or the extreme close-up. Within the three types of shots, angle provides a nearly infinite latitude for variation. There are “deep-focus” panels (a personal favorite of mine, though not of many pencilers I work with) where two or three planes of action – background (long shot), midground (medium shot), foreground (close-up) – exist in the same panel, so that the idea of simultaneous action can be conveyed. But that also can’t be used to often without unbalancing a story. Knowing what to use where is one of the things separates professional pencilers from amateurs.

    The best place to get a strong sense of all of these is in the recent DVD release of Sergio Leone’s ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST, which is expertly analyzed on a virtually shot by shot basis by film historians on the commentary soundtrack. Leone’s pacing was operatic, but – this is where it fits with comics – he was also obsessed with paintings, and set up every shot as a painting, making him among the most singularly visual of directors. He used almost every shot, every angle, to make some commentary on character, whether the character of a person or a locale. He broke all the “rules,” sometimes even jumping from an extreme long shot to an extreme close-up, or having a character step laterally across a panoramic vista, moving very near to the camera, interrupting a long shot with a close-up without changing shots.

    As in film, the intercutting between shots and types of shots affects the flow of the story. The standard flow, immortalized though not invented by Robert Kanigher in a million different comic books, is from long shot (establish scene) to medium shot (show character in action/jeopardy) to close-up (emphasizing a character’s emotional commitment to the situation); this is another technique that has been overused to the point of cliché but is still commonly swiped and will always be a perfectly valid technique in the right circumstances. Any type of shot can be misused and overused. For a long time at Marvel, there was an editor who insisted that comics should be composed almost exclusively of medium shots. Not many paid too much attention to his injunction no matter how much he fussed about it, but where they did the result was generally pretty boring looking comics. Variation is necessary; lack of variation is static, and static is dull. (No offense to Dwayne McDuffie.)

    It is in the design that the penciler can be considered the co-writer/co-creator of the comic. It isn’t the job of the penciler to excise elements he doesn’t feel like drawing; it is the job of the penciler to know what elements are necessary to the coherent telling of the story and to make those elements exciting to look at. I remember what Gil had to say about basic design: curves are static, angles (particularly acute angles) are action. What looks more active to you, a character languidly lurching forward (represented on a basic level by a curve, often used to represent drunkedness or lechery) or a character moving forward, say on the run at a 30-45° angle to the ground? Characters who move at right angles to the ground barely seem to be moving at all (the position of most characters who are walking and talking at the same time), characters moving at obtuse angles to the ground are falling over backwards.

    Not every shot is an action shot. Not every shot is intended to be.

    The huge difference between comics and film is time. For the penciler, this means the story must be fit into a finite space. Panels must be chosen selectively, moments in time strung together enough to keep the story coherent but not so many moment that they overwhelm the space allotted. The panel may be the basic unit of comics, but each panel is only part of an overall page, and each page must function as a coherent unit as well. If the panel is an atom, the page is a molecule. As mentioned above, it’s not enough to design a great panel. You have to design your page to draw the eye from each panel to the next desired panel, and the best artists design their pages to be perceived as singular units at first glance. The real artists draw not necessarily what they’re most eager to draw, but what’s best for the work. In the best world, both coincide.

    Of course, I’ve only skimmed the surface here. Those who want depth should study artists, all kinds of comics artists and not just their favorites, and read books on comics design and check out Mike Manley’s DRAW!So much in a comic book or graphic novel depends on the penciler that they deserve all the glory they get. It’s a shame almost no one ever really sees their work.

  • This is what I saw on TV recently: a city reduced to rubble. A wave moving relentlessly and irresistibly through the city, wiping out whatever crosses its path. Survivors desperate for food, water and gasoline. Children coming home to find their entire families wiped out. Gangs of armed men roaming the streets, shooting whoever they took a dislike to. Doctors working to do what they can without proper supplies or facilities. The country’s leaders sequestered away, detached from the suffering of the people, making proud but irrelevant speeches as faith in government evaporates.

    That was DOWNFALL, a gripping German film about the last days of the Third Reich set mostly in Hitler’s bunker, with Hitler played by the great Bruno Ganz. One of the best films I’ve seen in years. There were some complaints about it when it came out, because it spends much time showing the Nazi leadership – Hitler, Goebbels, Goering, Himmler, Hess, many of the German generals – behaving, under the circumstances, as more or less ordinary people, not the frothing monsters of popular legend. But it’s extremely effective, and probably more realistic; when Hitler can smile avuncularly at his secretary one moment and express grave concern for her safety as the Russians shell and capture Berlin, and in virtually the next breath softly and calmly pronounce that the Nazis existed because the German people chose them and it’s now the duty of the German people to suffer the consequences because they lost the will to win. It’s fascinating to watch Hitler both prepare for the end and deny it, coming up with one fantastic and impossible military scheme after another demanding German army units that to all intents and purposes no longer exist. This desperate, “human” Hitler, faced with personal destruction along with the death of his sick dream, is almost comprehendible, and subtly drives home the point that the potential to be a monster isn’t far from any of us. (The biggest monster in the film is actually Frau Goebbels, who lovingly throws a little party for her brood of apparently very sweet children before she dopes and poisons them because a world without National Socialism isn’t a world she wants them to exist in.)

    So imagine my weird sense of dislocation when barely a week goes by, and I’m looking at my TV and seeing a city reduced to rubble; a wave relentlessly and irresistibly wiping out whatever crosses its path; survivors desperate for food, water and gasoline; children coming home to find their entire families wiped out; gangs of armed men roaming the streets, shooting whoever they took a dislike to; doctors (and nurses! Big kudos to the nurses!) working to do what they could without proper supplies or facilities; and the country’s leaders sequestered away, detached from the suffering of the people, making proud but irrelevant speeches as faith in government evaporated.

    You know when the President Of The United States himself insists than some event – usually a disaster – shouldn’t be politicized, there’s plenty political about it. In the wake of The New Atlantis (not exactly what Francis Bacon imagined, I’m sure), American “business-as-usual” politics have been laid bare, with plenty of blame to go around. The Hand Puppet can start a speech with “No one could have predicted this…” all he wants, but that doesn’t make it true. A month ago, the National Weather Service warned of a particularly rough upcoming Atlantic storm season, with several high-intensity hurricanes possible. And, of course, those who’ve been studying global warming have been predicting for years that hurricanes will become increasingly intense, with devastating effects for coastal areas in particular.

    But it’s important to remember that hurricane Katrina did not do in New Orleans. It did in the mostly ignored Buloxi and half the rest of the Gulf Coast, but not New Orleans. (At least in New Orleans, people can get in if they want to, as proved by the gobs of reporters who’ve descended on the city to ensure we all share its pain; many of the roads around Buloxi are pure rubble now). In some ways it was the perfectly scripted disaster film. “The Storm Of The Century” closes in on a fabulous port town with a bizarre history (French architects told New Orleans founder Jean-Baptiste Le Moyne he was insane when he showed them the bog he wanted to build in), a dire future (already sinking, it was estimated New Orleans would be underwater in around 30 years anyway) and unique customs (burying the dead above ground, in sarcophagi, because there is no below ground there, just below water). Trepidation ensues, but, for some reason, few take the threat seriously. The hurricane bears down, pelting the city with rain, but, at the last moment, it swerves, heading east and inland. The city is saved! The sun starts to peek through the clouds again, people stop holding their breath, the city begins to return to life as normal. None of the predicted horrors have come to pass.

    The country went to bed knowing that Katrina had passed and New Orleans was spared. It woke the next morning to find New Orleans was gone.

    Of course, the “politicizing” began almost instantly. Right wing radio pundits gleely repeated the “rumor” (translation: lie that someone thought up) that antiwar mom Cindy Sheehan, who’d been keeping vigil outside the Hand Puppet’s vacation home futilely awaiting some answers about exactly why her son had to die in Iraq, was furious New Orleans had pushed her out of the headlines, and castigated “Hollywood” as America-haters willing to cough up millions to help “the Tsunami victims” but not willing to give one penny to New Orleans, though at that point no one had started throwing money around and “Hollywood” has since stepped up to the plate. Not too much later, many started calling for the immediate execution of “looters” in New Orleans only to have to differentiate later between real looters and those only trying to survive. API helped clear up the problem by labeling a picture of blacks dragging unidentified materials through chest deep water as “looters” and a picture of whites dragging what appeared to be loaves of bread through chest deep water as “survivors.” (Not that there wasn’t genuine looting, but it was almost comical under the circumstances. Where exactly did people stealing televisions from destroyed shops figure they’d go with them? On the other hand, it was less than comforting when ARMY TIMES started publishing articles from commanders gleeful about the possibility of charging into the wreck of New Orleans to gun down the looters and turn the place into “Little Somalia.”)

    That the New Orleans government failed miserably is unquestionable, but it’s also unsurprising; New Orleans has traditionally held the reputation as the most corrupt city in America. The mayor made no real attempt to prepare for disaster or evacuate the city. The evacuation call came late and was unemphatic. Dozens of school buses, which could have greatly facilitated an evacuation, were stored on about the lowest ground in the city, and instantly immobilized when the levees broke. No food or water stores were put in place at the Superdome, despite the announcement that in case of emergency it would be the safe harbor. (Safe being a relative term; the roof leaked and pieces were torn off by the winds, certainly not a comfort to those who’d fled there to escape the storm, and the plumbing and electricity was also shot almost immediately, and authorities generally ceded control of the place to… well, no one at all, really… The Superdome “solution” was, in fact, New Orleans’ equivalent to the old “duck and cover” masterplan for dealing with nuclear attack, where citizens were to crouch next to furniture, tuck their chins to their chest, and cup their hands over their heads, presumably to ensure that whatever resulting silhouette was scarred forever on the nearest hard surface would resemble a waste basket.) It really doesn’t make sense that a city always poised on the edge of disaster – and actually stricken by disaster in more or less living memory, as other hurricanes ripped through it – had no functional contingency plans in place.

    Except that preparedness is really no longer an American byword. For at least the last thirty years, our national motto has been “let someone else do it.” (Unless, of course, “it” involves invading foreign nations.) No doubt when the waves of horror from New Orleans have receded, the Hand Puppet will start touting how well those charities that leapt forward to deal, as best they could, with the problems from the disaster coped. Certainly they’re praiseworthy, but it begs a lot of questions. Why was the government – any government – so slow to respond?

    Certainly the levees are also a key question. One Dutch engineer who looked at the levees after they broke couldn’t believe a Western nation would have had levees that inadequate. (Holland, which knows something about flooding, dealt with its own “excess water” problems some years back by reinforcing their own levees and making them taller.) For years Louisiana has sought federal funds to make necessary improvements to New Orleans’ levees. In 2002, those funds were actually approved in a spending measure. New Orleans never saw them. In the desire to rush to war, the White House rerouted the funds (and many others besides) to pay for their war in Iraq. Essentially, they either gambled that better (or even maintained) levees would never be necessary and lost, or they simply didn’t care what happened to New Orleans. This was not a “bad judgment,” or an accidental oversight. There had been several recent, well-promoted reports that New Orleans’ levees weren’t capable of withstanding more than a level 2 hurricane. So it was a very conscious decision by the administration to leave them unattended to. They just didn’t consider them important. Considering, as we now know, that around 10% of the petroleum this country runs on flowed through New Orleans and the disruption of that one-tenth has given oil companies a grand excuse to jack the hell out of oil prices particularly on the East Coast where some areas are reporting close to $8/gallon prices, such apathy (or collusion, take your pick) is reckless, especially since a prolonged gas crisis could easily tip our economy completely into the dumper by ratcheting up prices across the board and forcing a recession, as I discussed a couple weeks back. It could still happen. Nobody’s talking about how long it’ll take to get the gasoline system back in business; in fact, right now nobody’s talking about anything to do with gasoline at all, except the price. Except gasoline multinationals are boasting about their phenomenal record profits, which does suggest price-gouging that has only been exacerbated by Katrina; if crude oil was costing them that much more than it used to, their net profit wouldn’t be as large as it is. (We’re talking billions, and don’t expect any demands for justification of profits and prices – don’t blame them on gas stations, the owners are as helpless in this situation as we are – from this administration, which rose to office on the back of donations from the oil companies, and let energy and oil companies write its energy policy, which, if the machinations of Enron and other energy concerns are indicators, was to put as much money in the pockets of the oil/energy industry as possible.) As far as the gas companies are concerned, there’s the possibility that if Katrina hadn’t existed, they’d have had to invent it. A third of the Louisiana National Guard having been posted to Iraq didn’t help either, though the point of the National Guard is to deal with crises here at home.

    If political fingers are pointed for the failure of the levees, they should be pointed directly at the current administration. There have been widespread and growing accusations, even from Republicans, than the slow speed of the Hand Puppet’s interest in the New Orleans situation was due to his lack of caring about the city’s largely poor black population, but that strikes me as a bit unfair. He has never really shown signs of caring much about anyone. (Given that Barbara Bush joked that Houston was the right city to take care of New Orleans refugees because they already have so many poor there so they know how to handle them, it’s not hard to see where he gets it from.)

    Post-flood, much has been made of FEMA’s feeble response. (The Hand Puppet covered it by announcing, to people literally starving and dehydrating to death that it may seem, on the ground there, that no one’s doing anything, but, believe him, just be patient and help will eventually get there, and insisting they had “long range plans” to… well, on that part he was pretty vague.) This has highlighted two problems about FEMA. The spotlight has now fallen on its inept head, former Oklahoma lawyer Michael Brown, a recipient of the current administration’s largesse who got the job strictly out of cronyism, and is apparently such an idiot he couldn’t even properly handle his former job, running an organization that organizes horse shows. (He was fired.) But, y’know, it may not be his fault. Considerably less publicized is the second problem, the administration’s quiet dismantling of FEMA (a Carter administration project) to absorb its resources, though not its duties, into the Department of Homeland Security, a process that has been going on for several years now.

    The jolt in gas prices, the unraveling of government, the abrupt descent into quasi-barbaric chaos in the ruined city, all these have jolted the American psyche and embarrassed the country internationally. There were foreign diplomats taking refuge in the Superdome, and certainly they won’t be taking home any tales of plucky American spirit with them, and Cuba and Venezuela have taken the opportunity to rub salt in the wound by offering aid. Cuba’s existence is itself an embarrassment to us in this case; having faced a Katrina-level hurricane themselves in the very recent past, they successfully evacuated all their citizens in its path and came through with no fatalities, no roving gun-toting gangs declaring their own little fiefdoms, no chaos.

    A long time ago, when I was living in Los Angeles, I mentioned to a friend that the template for Western civilization in the 21st century would be Beirut 1977. Considering how quickly things fell apart in New Orleans once they started to go, imagine what would happen if three or four disasters hit in rapid succession. Americans are overall pretty generous and they’ve shown it in this case, but what happens when three or four disasters hit in fairly rapid succession? (Remember that we’re nowhere near done with hurricane season yet, and the National Weather Service suggests more Katrina-level storms may be on the way.) New Orleans will cost billions to rebuild (if such a thing is even advisable), far beyond the capabilities of private donors and individual charities. It’s time government at all levels started seriously predicting disasters again and preparing for them instead of gambling they’ll never happen. Compared to the pricetag for rebuilding New Orleans (which will never be “authentic” again; should they decided to replicate the old city in the new, it’ll be the equivalent of turning the place into Disneyland), the cost of improving the levees now looks miniscule. There’s no point in leaving things to be “someone else’s problem” until they’re ours.

  • Notes from under the floorboard:

    Congratulations to Mike Luoma, who’d like to promote his personal website Glow In The Dark Radio. Mike was the first to guess that all the comics in last week’s Cover Challenge had guest-appearances by presidents of the United States – Kennedy and Johnson; the Hand Puppet; FDR; Nixon; Clinton; Abraham Lincoln; and Thomas Jefferson, respectively.

    This week’s Cover Challenge is dedicated to bad weather. It should be a fairly easy one, but every time I think one will be easy it’s nothing but gray skies and when I expect it to be hard (like last week) I get flooded with right answers. Go figure.

    So, as one might expect (because it always happens in these situations), some nutjob ultraright “Christian” group (I won’t bother promoting their idiot website for them) declared hurricane Katrina was God’s punishment on New Orleans for hosting an upcoming festival for gays. Think about this for a second. It seems these guys don’t even read their own Bible, because wasn’t there something at the end of the Noah story about God promising to never again destroy the world with water? Or is this one of those “God’s morality is so far beyond ours we can’t even hope to understand it” things? (Someone once explained the massacre at Jericho, where The Lord in his wisdom ordered every man, woman, child and domesticated animal in the city slain without mercy in that way, flat out stating that atrocities aren’t atrocities when they’re done on God’s orders, a philosophy I believe is shared by al-Qaeda.) At any rate, if it were true, and I don’t suggest for an instant it is, what would it mean, except that it would make God an inept bumbler who, to crib from Jack Nicholson in CHINATOWN, is dumber than you think I think he is. If he’s so upset about the gay festival, why not hold off a city-demolishing hurricane until all the gays are in town? (In his ODD BODKINS comic strip, Dan O’Neill once ran the logic that God loves the atomic bomb because in 1964 there was a major earthquake in Alaska just a couple of days before an H-bomb was due to be tested there, and if God hated atomic bombs he would have held the earthquake after the bomb was tested. Following that logic, we can reasonably assume God loves gays or he’d have held off on the hurricane until a whole lot more of them could be wiped off the face of the earth with a lot of other New Orleans citizens, most of whom probably never did anything that merited being killed for in their lives.) The dips even dippily close out their sanctimonious bilespewing website with a Gospel quote, “The rain falls on the just and on the unjust” – which is usually interpreted to mean that shit happens, so don’t go blaming it on God whatever your moral status. Which sort of negates the entire rest of their argument. More recently I’ve seen TV ministers soothing their flocks with something I didn’t quite get about the hurricane bringing us God’s blessings as well, and I really have to wonder why so many are so determined to find the hand of God somewhere in Katrina, one way or another.

    I’ve been advertising the Whisper newsletter in this column (see below) pretty much since it’s inception, but have never sent one out because, frankly, there’s been nothing much to tell. There’s the AiT-PlanetLar graphic novel, of course, but that’s run through three artists so far without so much as a whole page drawn, and I suspect Uncle Larry has despaired of it ever being done. (I haven’t, but that’s another story.) Within a couple weeks, however, an issue will be out, because we have some hot news to tell, and that’s the first place I’m going to tell it. (By the way, anyone got any good suggestions for e-newsletter handling programs for Windows? The one I’ve got turns out to work like crap. Thanks for any tips.)

    Meanwhile, knock wood, I’ll finally get putting together a new, up-to-date computer rig within the next week to ten days, which will allow me a lot of new capabilities, like coloring and lettering comics. I know how to letter on computer already, time to teach myself to color as well, since it’ll be a way to keep the costs of comics down if I start producing/publishing my own, which still lingers in the back of my head on the odd days when I’m completely out of my mind. We’ll see…

    My two books – a collection of essays on comics, creativity, modern culture and the freelance life called TOTALLY OBVIOUS: the complete Master Of The Obvious (~300 pgs), and a collection of political essays covering the Terror Years (2001-2005) called IMPOLITIC: A Journal Of The Plague Years, Vol. 1 (~250 pgs) – are available in pdf e-format at The Paper Movies Store. $5.95@. Go get them, so maybe I can get a few accessories for the new rig too. Thanks.

    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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