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Issue #212

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Issue #212
  • THIS WEEK:

    TEN FOR THE MONEY: who for the show?

    TEN REVIEWS: The Cute Manifesto; Electric Girl; Panel; Lost Squad; The Merchant Of Dennis; The Stuff Of Dreams; Happy Birthday, Anyway; Strange Consequences; Temporary; Round Four

    TEN DISASTERS A DAY: somebody’s got to pay – guess who?

    TENSE TELEVISION: catching up to Doctor Who, plus an opportunity for column readers

    TENTATIVE THOUGHTS: why Ahnuld gets a pass; checking in on Warren Ellis’ mad schemes; Publishers Weekly states the obvious; and other notes from under the floorboards

  • Had a few people ask me what I thought of Marvel’s “Terrific Ten,” and my kneejerk response was…

    What the hell’s the Terrific Ten?

    Someone told me they were Marvel’s hot writers for the next generation: Allan Heinberg, David Hine, Reggie Hudlin, Robert Kirkman, Sean McKeever, Greg Pak, Roberto Sacasa, Dan Slott, Daniel Way and Joss Whedon.

    Well, I’m happy Marvel’s putting effort behind marketing writers. Beyond that…

    I don’t know that I’ve read any Marvel work by any of these guys. I like Reggie Hudlin and Robert Kirkman’s work just fine. I know Sean McKeever, Dan Slott and Daniel Way are certainly enthusiastic. Joss Whedon has at least gone to bat for VERONICA MARS. But whether any of them can write Marvel comics or not, I couldn’t say. I don’t read Marvel comics much. I mean, I’m happy enough to read them if someone sends them to me, I don’t condemn them out of hand or anything, but I don’t go hunting for them. I don’t download bootlegs off the web. It’s just the way things worked out. I haven’t even read any of Warren Ellis’ recent Marvel stuff, and Warren’s a guy whose work I will go out of my way for. I’ll read collections like Brian Bendis’ DAREDEVIL when they surface at the library. But most “mainstream” comics are variations on a theme, and the theme gets old after awhile. I don’t know what Marvel’s like these days but it used to be fairly straitjacketed about the kind of material it would use, and not everyone’s a good fit for that material. Though the blessed were often allowed end runs around “editorial standards.” Maybe it’s not that way anymore, but if it’s not I don’t see much evidence of limitless creative license. So, Terrific Ten. Fine by me.

    It’s just a marketing ploy anyway. I know it’s a marketing ploy. Joe Quesada knows it’s a marketing ploy. He says so right in the press release. They’re trying to pimp these guys. Good for them. Good for the guys.

    It’s not like it means anything anyway.

    Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson has a movie coming up in the very near future, an adaptation of the computer game DOOM. Before his acting career, of course, The Rock was a wrestler, and before he was The Rock, he was Rocky Maivia, combining the wrestling names of his father and his grandfather. (Before that, he was Flex Kavana, but that’s another story.) I remember when the WWE (then the WWF, before the World Wildlife Foundation sank their teeth into them) introduced Rocky to the breathless audiences, and put him over as the salvation of wrestling. Before his first match was over, a chant filled the air:

    ROCKY SUCKS!

    He had a great pedigree, incredible natural ability, a decent look, but wrestling fans have a tendency to resist wrestlers being shoved down their throats. Rocky’s initial push was meteoric before he proved he was worthy of the fans’ attention. “ROCKY SUCKS” chased him out of the ring after a few matches, and into a sabbatical. He was to be the WWE’s clean cut hope for the future; they didn’t yet see Stone Cold Steve Austin on the horizon, or how the face of wrestling would change in the late ’90s. When Rocky returned, it was as a member of the Nation Of Domination, a “black power” wrestling gang. The “ROCKY SUCKS” chants came back. This time Rocky started trash-talking back, and it turned out he was a wonderfully entertaining speaker. He was a heel but he was a charismatic heel. He had shown neither charisma nor speaking ability in his earlier incarnation. The more he told the fans he didn’t care what they thought (“candyass trailer park trash” was his favorite epithet for them), the more they embraced him. Before long, Rocky supplanted the leader of The Nation Of Domination, started referring to himself in the third person as “The Rock,” and became the hottest thing in wrestling next to Austin, and they were about on the same level.

    “The people will think…” “…what I want them to think!” is a famous line from Orson Welles’ CITIZEN KANE, and certainly it has been embraced by hundreds of promoters in every conceivable field. But they don’t in the movie, and they frequently don’t in life, particularly when it comes to media product. Audiences have a fickle way of making up their own minds. Marvel can identify anyone they want as a young, hot talent – and the history of comics is littered with the careers of editors who believed some discovery was The Next Great Thing and neither are even remembered now – and if The Ten are the designated drivers of Marvel’s future, that’s cool too, but ultimately you don’t tell fans who’s hot. Fans tell you. (I’m reminded of a time when Marvel was pushing… um… who were they again?… while fans paid attention instead to some unknown artist named Frank Miller on the third tier book DAREDEVIL that was barely hanging on and demanding that an obscure IRON FIST artist named John Byrne be given a shot at a major Marvel title…)

    Marvel can say anything it wants, but ultimately only two things will matter: the work, and the reaction to it. We’ll see. And I’m surprised I have to tell anyone that.

    All that aside, it seems to me that any “Terrific Ten” list of Marvel writers that doesn’t have Ed Brubaker on it is intrinsically flawed…

  • This week in reviews:

    THE CUTE MANIFESTO by James Kochalka, 168 pg b&w trade paperback (Alterative Comics;$14.95)

    Cute. Kochalka celebrates his new son by proving you can write and draw something well and it can still be embarrassing. THE CUTE MANIFESTO reads like it was written by an 11th grader who just discovered both pot and philosophy, as he expounds on the nature of communication, what’s valuable in art, why kids are cute, and related topics. It’s obvious his son isn’t two years old yet, or he’d realize the truth: kids are born cute not to revive our belief in the beauty of the world but so we’ll get attached to them before they get to the age where our best instincts tell us to kill them in their sleep. (They don’t call them the “terrible twos” for nothing.) The book’s okay, I had fun reading it, but man, it’s painful to watch someone struggle this hard to be profound. It’d make a great present for expectant parents, though, especially those who want to believe they have secret artists inside waiting to get out, and I don’t mean the kids.

    ELECTRIC GIRL Vol. 3 by Michael Brennan, 160 pg b&w trade paperback (AiT/PlanetLar Books;$13.95)

    A dog, a gremlin, a girl with electric powers. I’m told ELECTRIC GIRL is a perennial bestseller for AiT/PlanetLar, and it’s not hard to see why. It’s a funny, gentle book that swaps effortlessly between puzzle gags (watching the gremlin pull off pranks), strange adventures and coming-of-age vignettes, and nicely captures (with great exaggeration) the complexities of the lives of teenage girls. Those multitudes who argue regularly that it’s time comics were “fun” again should start here. (I’m a bit surprised no one has optioned this for a cartoon show yet.)

    PANEL Spring 2005 ed. by D. Tony Goins, Matt Kish & Dara Naraghi, 48 pg b&w magazine (Ferret Press;$4)

    Any anthology that begins with a little lighthearted blasphemy warms my heart. The stories here all deal in some way with myth, whether a comedy about a detective solving a god’s murder, myth telling, political allegory, or romance. Matt Kish’s “Six Archons” – a collection of not particularly well done drawings – didn’t do much for me, but there were a couple very nice pieces in the book – Glenn Brewer’s “Seahorse” and Tom Williams’ “Cyclops Cowboy In Stakeout,” and the rest was decent too. Williams’ cartooning has improved to the point of breakout. As anthologies go, this was okay.

    LOST SQUAD #1 by Chris Kirby & Alan Robinson, 32 pg color comic (Devil’s Due;$2.95)

    They teach Sanskrit in Catholic seminaries? Much as I hate World War II stories, this one is helped immensely by Robinson’s clean, attractive art, reminiscent of Michael Golden’s. The story involves quasi-Indiana Jones shenanigans about the Nazis collecting occult artifacts, which at this point is a dull and unoriginal enough concept to drag it back down, and the Easy Company characterizations don’t much help, but, despite that, it’s pretty readable. If the story manages to get as good as the art, they might really have something.

    THE MERCHANT OF DENNIS by Hank Ketchum, 240 pg book (Fantagraphics Books;$24.95)

    DENNIS THE MENACE creator Hank Ketchum’s autobiography, covering his boyhood in Seattle, when his father’s business friend gave Ketchum a quick lesson in drawing to get him out of their hair through his temptation to quit cartooning after a convalescence in his old age. It’s probably as interesting a life as most cartoonists have – Ketchum covers his college and navy years, his commercial art career and stints at Walt Disney and Walter Lantz, his marriages, travels and business deals, and some discussion of craft, with long sections outlining Dennis and his world – but, after awhile, the endless anecdotes get a bit tedious. Not that it’s not well written enough, but it turns out to be just a life after all, certainly fascinating to live through but not that much fun to read about. The most interesting part of the book is Ketchum’s art, and there’s lots of it. The rest is mostly for DENNIS or Ketchum fanatics only.

    THE STUFF OF DREAMS #3 by Kim Deitch (Fantagraphics;$5.95)

    It suddenly strikes me that I’ve been reading Kim Deitch’s “Waldo The Cat” stories for over 30 years, since the first time I discovered underground comics in an issue of GOTHIC BLIMP WORKS. This issue continues the growing mythology of Waldo, as Deitch goes nuts and meets his own creation (not necessarily in that order) then uncovers the secret freakish history of the 20th century. Even after all these years, nobody does paranoid dementia better than Deitch. Check it out.

    HAPPY BIRTHDAY, ANYWAY by Matt Huynh, 52 pg b&w comic (Stikman Comics; price unknown)

    A weird little slice of life story about the disintegration of a romance. At first, despite some good, very naturalistic dialogue, it seemed disjointed and unbalanced, abruptly shifting viewpoints three quarters of the way through. Then it suddenly made sense, how one character is completely absent from another’s existence when he shouldn’t be, underscoring the emotional volcano of the finale. The artwork’s uneven, waffling in places to where you’re not certain which character you’re looking at, but it’s a good read.

    STRANGE CONSEQUENCES by Justin Jordan, Shane Richter & Tim Twelves, 20 pg b&w mini-comic (Librarygorilla Productions; price unknown)

    An odd little mini-comic featuring two short EC-esque pieces – one about the advantages and pitfalls of being completely unforgettable, one about chaos when communication finally overwhelms us – followed by the scripts for both those stories. Both stories have nice payoffs, and the art’s okay, though the art on the second story gets cropped too tightly. It’s interesting, though. Before reading the scripts, I’d have said that Twelves did a better job on his story than Richter, but afterward I’d say Richter did the better job, in terms of elements he needed to capture to pull it off. Not that Twelves does a bad job, but his art loses the ending a little bit, and misses the power and horror that Jordan’s script suggests.

    TEMPORARY #4 by Damon Hurd & Rick Smith, 40 pg b&w comic (Origin Comics;$2.95)

    I associate Rick Smith so strongly with the transcendent SHUCK that it’s a bit unnerving to see him drawing something else. A young woman lands a temp job picking up bodies for a funeral home. That’s basically it. As she goes about her job she considers death, and comes much closer to it than preferable. It’s a little thin – there’s not much bite to it – but I love Smith’s art and the storytelling’s great.

    ROUND FOUR by Chris Gumprich & Dennis Culver, 8 pg b&w mini-comic (Chris Gumprich;$1.50)

    A kid fantasizes a beating by his brutal father as a heavyweight boxing match, with unexpected results. I don’t know if this actually works – the problem with sports stories is that you’re always left with only two possible endings, and this was certainly one of them – but Gumprich’s script shows tighter control over his material than seen in his earlier work, and Culver’s Grass Greenish art is decent enough. It’s okay, definitely a step up for Gumprich, who has a boxing graphic novel in the works.

    I’ve still got several items here – a lot of Devil’s Due stuff, Chibi Comics work, some Fantagraphics, and an assortment of indie comics and graphic novels, but time’s up again so we’ll have to get to those next week, along with whatever else comes up. Sorry about that.

  • Ah! Another week, another disaster. I notice there’s a lot less talk about “relief funds” for Pakistan and surrounding areas devastated by this week’s earthquake than there were for either hurricane here or last year’s South Asian tsunami. Whether that’s due to Pakistan not being a trendy tourist spot loaded with blonde American women they can put on the TV news or because everyone’s just exhausted from so much shelling out. I mean, all this “sisters are doin’ it for themselves” dig deep and donate stuff is fine, but in all of these disasters we’re talking costs so astronomical that a large chunk of American citizens would have to hand over their entire livelihoods for a few months to get them paid for. They might be voluntary, but they’re still taxes. We all know that at some point the government’s got to step in if anything’s really going to be done, and that’s just going to come out of our pockets too. The problem is that the government doesn’t have any money – they handed it all over to the rich in the much touted tax cuts, to the point where they’re once again talking about raising money by selling off public lands and other assets, and the money they’ve been handing over to pay for things like the Iraq war, the War on Terror and the Gulf Coast cleanup – trust me, though all the focus has been on New Orleans, there are hundreds of square miles from Texas to Mississippi that need very costly help – has been borrowed. Mostly from Red China, some from Japan. If we start throwing money at Pakistan, and we already have, a little, we’re just going to have to borrow that from China as well. Logically, we may as well just cut out the middleman and let China help with the Pakistan cleanup, since they’re in a better geographical and financial position to do it anyway, though it would be a bit like publicly admitting the emperor has pawned his clothes.

    China’s most recent contribution to culture, bird flu, is suddenly everywhere in the news, with various nations from Eastern Europe to South America destroying whole poultry populations while denying there’s any problem at all; they’re just taking “preventative measures.” Likewise, the American government assures us there’s nothing to be concerned about… but the situation’s complex enough to get the Hand Puppet not only demanding vaccine companies get on the stick to produce lots of vaccine, and discussing how he’d use the military to enforce “quarantine zones” in the event of outbreaks in the human population – and you can bet it’s the poorest heavily populated areas they’re anticipating the worst potential outbreaks in, since access to health care and sanitation is traditionally at its lowest there – but also openly admitting that evolution exists! They’re all waiting for the bird flu to evolve into a human pandemic.

    Besides the bankruptcy issue (at a point where the administration is fairly gloating about cutting off the American public’s access to bankruptcy relief unless they’re living in a refrigerator box, it has no qualms at all about copiously spending on the cuff), the best reason to leave relief in the form of private donations rather than taxes is the adminstration’s idiotic spending practices. The other morning on CBS they had a report on no-bid contracts to temporarily repair roofs in New Orleans by covering them with plastic tarp. The army’s paying out ridiculous sums of money for this, to a company that had never done anything like it before, when the roofs could be entirely and permanently fixed for a fraction of the cost. A roofer interviewed swore about not being able to bid for the contract because he could have done it for a fifth of what the army’s paying and it still would have been above market value. Of course, that’s what “relief” has meant in America for decades: someone’s going to get rich off it. Where’s the investigation to figure out who got paid off to get this company the no-bid contract, and how all the other companies down there with exorbitant no-bid contracts got chosen? It’s a fair question.

    Then there was the “security threat” to New York City, touted in a Hand Puppet speech as an example of why we have to stay the course on terrorism. I liked how he noted we have to continue on in Iraq or Bin Laden will use to as the staging ground to an al-Qaeda empire. As opposed to us using it as a staging ground to an American empire. Does anyone really think we’ll see a day when al-Qaeda controls whole countries? The “threat” to New York was reportedly verified by an upswing in “chatter,” some of which supposedly was “very specific.” Which both the FBI and the Office Of Homeland Security immediately denied, which must have gone over in the White House like their generals talking publicly about how the “mission” in Iraq has collapsed. After all the lies that took us into Iraq, allegedly backed up by “good intelligence” that was later proved to not only not be good but transparently ridiculous, but which served the administration’s purposes, does anyone really believe a word they say about anything? (The Hand Puppet’s speech also cited “80” Iraqi battalions fighting insurgents when just days before generals testified before Congress that there was a grand total of one in the field.) What is this “chatter”? Who’s chattering, and where? Can anyone listen in? Is there any independent verification of what the “chatter” is saying? (No, MI6 doesn’t count.) One thing’s for certain: when you have an administration using the threat of terror as a distraction or a propaganda gimmick, there’s always something to be genuinely afraid of.

  • One of the virtues I discovered in having a new computer is that I can finally view the DR. WHO dubs someone sent me last year, the new Christopher Eccleston series. Eccleston, a “real” actor who has traditionally held a succession of grim and depressed roles (I first saw him as a working class journalist with high aspirations and ambivalent results in the BBC mini OUR FRIENDS IN THE NORTH, which co-starred reputed James Bond-to-be Daniel Craig; Americans may know him best as the head of the military garrison in 28 DAYS), is fine as The Doctor, easily capturing the childlike gleeful mania and slightly pompous grace that made Tom Baker’s Doctor so much fun to watch, and there’s something about him that I can’t put my finger on that reminds me of the original Doctor, William Hartnell, as well. It’s evident the creative team is well versed in Doctor lore (they’ve apparently even continued a continuity from the Dr. Who novels that followed the last version of the TV show), and at 45 minutes the show has jettisoned the often interminable ludicrous complications and character stupidity that frequently marred the old series, trimming things down to enjoyable stories. Billie Piper is just right as an everywoman who joins him on his travels. It’s relatively kid-friendly science fiction, despite extended soliloquys on the impermanence of all things, but easily the most intelligent and adult the character has been since the early Baker episodes, with the exception of a few Sylvester McCoy moments. Looking forward to the next batch, though Eccleston reportedly won’t be with the show past a forthcoming Christmas special.

    The most interesting part of my Dr. Who experience, though, was discovering that Nero Burning Rom could translate the DiVX format files I’d been sent to standard Video Compact Disk format so I could watch the shows in comfort on a regular DVD player instead of having to sit in my desk chair. (I do enough of that every day already.) Not that I plan to go into the bootlegging business, but it’s good to know that kind of capability exists.

    As for the rest of the TV season, sad to say I’ve already lost interest. But, as I know there are shows out there that are much beloved by some and ignored here, next week only you have your chance to review your favorite show and tell us why we should watch it. 200 well-chosen words tops. Email them before next Tuesday (Oct. 18). Don’t worry about whether I’ll agree with you or not; that’s irrelevant. The only thing that will keep them from being used is if they’re badly written, or don’t say anything. You may have your name attached or not, your choice. Just let me know, or it will default to anonymous.

  • Notes from under the floorboards:

    Something amusing I learned last week: The Enquirer, publisher of THE NATIONAL ENQUIRER, THE STAR, WEEKLY WORLD NEWS, and similar checkoutstand dirtrags, recently bought Weider Publications, publishers of MUSCLE AND FITNESS, SELF, and other bodybuilding/personal improvement magazines. I suppose it’s all to do with money, but here’s the funny part – as a result, all stories on Arnold Schwarzenegger, governor of California and longtime MUSCLE AND FITNESS poster boy (he was recently made editor-in-chief of MUSCLE AND FITNESS, an honorarium job with a seven figure salary, then forced by political critics to resign from the job… don’t know if he returned the money…) are banned from the ENQUIRER and sister scandal sheets. I’ll guess from now on we’ll have to tune into DOONESBURY for any good Gropenfuhrer dish…

    I gather Image’s low-price experiment with Warren Ellis’ FELL (haven’t read it yet) is so far paying off handsomely. As I understand it, it’s 24 pg comics – basically a standard comic book stripped of ancillary material – sold at $1.99. More than a few people have been doing 24 page comics in recent years, but most (maybe all) have been for a high price point, either matching the $2.95 common among independent titles or exceeding it, so the question was whether readers would sucker out for a $1.99 comic and whether retailers could make sufficient money selling them. (Back in the First days, Rick Obadiah took great glee in doing the math for retailers to prove they could make more money selling one copy of the Roy Thomas-P. Craig Russell ELRIC graphic novel – or any of the AMERICAN FLAGG! collections – than 50 copies of UNCANNY X-MEN. Retailers were suitably impressed. They bought UNCANNY X-MEN anyway.) Apparently the price point is working out for them – they’re doing something between 20,000-30,000 copies per issue, which is fabulous for a non-Big Two title these days – but that doesn’t surprise me. I doubt it’s a coincidence that the collapse of the comics market in the ’90s corresponded not only with the bursting of the speculator bubble but with the jump of most comics prices above $1.99. (I know the sales of X, which had been doing very well for Dark Horse, took a huge hit when the price jumped to $2.25, and never recovered.) There’s some psychological barrier at $2.00, something about those double zeroes, that casual readers are loathe to cross. So $1.99 seems like a good idea, and if the paper’s thick enough they might not even realize it’s not 32 pages. I hope no one gets any ideas about a whole haphazard line of these things, though. Of course, if they’re all top names and decent concepts and execution, at least for awhile, a line might just stand a chance… but it would take the sort of risk Warren was willing to make…

    Thanks to everyone who chimed in with advice on transferring data to my new Thunderbird and Firefox set-ups. I’ve still got a little fine tuning to do – have to go in the computer and do some tweaking – but the new computer seems to be working great. Thanks!

    This just in! Astute book trade magazine PUBLISHERS WEEKLY has unearthed the shocking revelation that boys like manga too! I guess they never bothered to translate the title SHONEN JUMP

    Christopher Freiberg, winner of the Comics Cover Challenge a couple weeks ago, would like to promote the I Love Comics message board, where, he says, “we don’t take comics as deadly seriously as do Warren Ellis and The Comics Journal, but we do like to chat about new comics and critique creators and series that we’ve encountered in the past, and especially to indulge in appreciation of the absurdity of comic books past and present (which frequently involves mention of 2000 AD– we have a lot of British posters).” Check it out, and tell ’em Chris and I sent you. Meanwhile, David Oakes was the winner of last week’s Cover Challenge, whose theme was comics published in comics form by one company and in book form by another. I was tempted to throw DAMNED in there. The ringer I really wanted to use was ASTRONAUTS IN TROUBLE, but I couldn’t find a jpg of the cover. David wants to push the Phoenix Cactus Comicon, a one-day convention “now poised on the brink of two-day breakout success.” Go find out what the fuss is all about.

    By the way, the source for the covers used in the Comics Cover Challenges, The Grand Comics Database, recently posted their 100,000th cover. Curiously, it was my WETWORKS #32, which Pat Lee drew. Just one of those things…

    Scattered throughout the column are the covers for this week’s Comics Cover Challenge. Seven comics, one secret theme connecting them. Be the first one to tell me what it is in an email, and you can promote any website of your choice here. (We reserve right of approval, but that hasn’t been an issue so far.) Some weeks the challenge is easy, some it’s hard. This week’s is a real lulu.

    And don’t forget my two books are available in PDF e-book form at The Paper Movies Store: TOTALLY OBVIOUS, collecting my Master Of The Obvious essays on comics, culture, creativity and the freelance life; and IMPOLITIC: A JOURNAL OF THE PLAGUE YEARS, a running commentary on American life and politics in the first half of the Terror Decade. 250+ pages each, $5.95@ or both for $10.95. What are you waiting for?

    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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