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Issue #84

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Issue #84
  • A preamble: I’ve spent most of the last week buried under and really haven’t had time to focus on much outside work, so this is the first all-comics PERMANENT DAMAGE in a long time. Which means I want to apologize to the many who don’t care about comics and check in weekly mainly for the political commentary and media reviews. Of course, those who hate the political stuff and feel I should only be talking comics will think they’ve died and gone to heaven. Neither side of the matter should consider this any more than an aberration. Anything can happen here. Check in next week and find out.
  • Is it awards time again already?!

    I’ll spare everyone my usual rant about what nonsense awards mostly are. (If you’re really interested you can dig back through the PERMANENT DAMAGE archives or wait until AiT-PlanetLar Books releases the MASTER OF THE OBVIOUS collection later in the year) Every time I run one I get some cretin suggesting my attitude is just sour grapes because I never win anything or get nominated. While it’s true if I won an award I’d accept it (I do have some social graces) it wouldn’t change my attitude. I’ve seen too many people whose work deserved recognition be completely ignored for the antiseptic flavor of year. The only thing keeping them from turning into the Oscars, where Harvey Weinstein no longer even bothers to hide that he’s going out of his way to buy awards via saturation bombing of videotapes to voters, massive ad campaigns, etc. (and where an Oscar win can translate into tens of millions of extra dollars at the box office), is that most comics publishers aren’t interested in putting the money into it. Not that it’d be difficult to cook awards in the comics field, particularly among the general “popularity contest” awards like the CBG awards; there are so relatively few votes cast that anyone ambitious enough could network a few hundred people into a win. (Suspicions that CrossGen cooked awards awhile back – last year or the year before? Hard to remember – remain high, but the fact is that if they did they were completely within their rights, and within the rules, and it’s less surprising that they did, if they did, than that others don’t.)

    Part of the problem comics awards have is that nobody outside comics gives a rat’s ass about them. Even if you can’t figure out why, say, EVERYBODY LOVES RAYMOND keeps winning Emmys (I have to say it sure the hell baffles me) the world still goes nuts over both the awards broadcast and most of the shows that win; winning an Emmy can make a difference in a show’s viability. Winning an award in comics is roughly the equivalent of winning Poughkeepsie Veterinarian Of The Year for all it matters to the general public – or even most of the comics audience. This year, though, the world at large may finally be noticing comics awards, if only anecdotally: In this article onTIME Online, Andrew Arnold, TIME’s online comics reviewer and one of the prelim judges in this year’s Eisner Awards, discusses the selection process from the inside, and is a fascinating exegesis of the process. (Arnold leaves it mostly up to the reader to judge the judges, aside from a critique of attitudes toward The Comics Journal.) Unlike the Harvey Awards, which solicits early balloting from all comics pros and filters the results down to a final ballot, Eisner administrator Jackie Estrada handpicks a different collection of five judges every year from a pool of critics, talent, merchants, etc. – theoretically representing all facets of the business and representing a broader range of tastes (that’s not a complaint, just a statement of fact, and it’s either a credit to consensus in the field or a sign of our insularity that the Harveys and the Eisners rarely vary from each other all that much) – to sort out all the offerings publishers submit. Which is the better system: the Oscars-influenced Eisners system where publishers basically use the Eisners as a promotional tool for whatever they want to promote the most or the Writer’s Guild Awards style Harveys? (Or the People’s Choice Awards style CBG Awards?)

    This year’s Harvey award nominations are actually interesting, though, and show some signs of hope. While the best writer nominees are the usual semi-mainstream suspects, alt-black humorist Charles Burns also gets a nod, though the work, BLACK HOLE, is a project eliminated from Eisner consideration on technical grounds. Burns also shows up as Best Artist (and Best Inker and Best Cartoonist), which brings up an interesting question: if you’re going to subdivide talent categories due to the tandem nature of most comics production, does it make sense to have one person who does it all subdivided along disciplines as well? Shouldn’t there be some catchall category? (Isn’t that what “Best Cartoonist” is for? If not, what makes Jeff Smith a cartoonist when Eduardo Risso isn’t?)

    Best Artist is a stone bitch category this year: Charles Burns, Dave Cooper, Bryan Hitch, Eduardo Risso, John Romita Jr. How do you even compare that range of styles? Though it seems to me John would be a no-brainer due to his vast talent, sheer volume of work and history of underappreciation, it’s unlikely he’ll overcome the flashier contestants. (My money’s on Risso.) Other categories seem like no-brainers as well: Fantagraphics‘ stunning B. KRIGSTEIN (mislabeled in the awards announcement as KRIGSTEIN VOL. 1 the same way Ed Brubaker got a writers nom for DC‘s GOTHAM KNIGHTS instead of GOTHAM CENTRAL) for “Special Award For Excellence In Presentation” and “Best Biographical/Historical Presentation”; and Larry Gonick‘s CARTOON HISTORY OF THE UNIVERSE III for “Best Graphic Album Of Original Work.” In those cases the achievements are so overwhelmingly strong nothing else comes close.

    In most other categories, who/what should win comes down to hype and taste.

    The Eisners announced their nominees about a minute ago as I write this. Putting the two lists side by side is interesting. The Eisners have a slightly broader range of awards (25 to the Harveys’ 20), subdividing things like “Best Series” into “Best Continuing Series” and “Best Limited Series,” but the overall thrust isn’t all that different. Both awards this year honor a broadening view of what constitutes “real” comics, with the more mainstream publishers increasingly cut out. It’s nice to see things like Rob Vollmer & Pablo Callejo’s THE CASTAWAYS, Carla Speed McNeil’s FINDER, Tom Beland’s TRUE STORY, SWEAR TO GOD, Justine Shaw’s NOWHERE GIRL and Seth Fisher’s work on VERTIGO POP: TOKYOmentioned (though I wouldn’t want to handicap their odds, since the voting now goes to a public that most likely never heard of any of them let alone read their work) but CARTOON HISTORY OF THE UNIVERSE III is strangely absent. (I presume WW Norton & Co. didn’t put it forth for consideration.)

    At any rate, what strikes me most about both sets of nominations (aside from both largely focusing on mainstream publisher output in their “Best Cover” categories, suggesting alternative comics need work on their covers) is the increasing separation from mainstream (ie, superhero) comics. On the one hand, this can be considered a sign the industry is growing up, at least critically. (Not that all superhero material is automatically juvenile but, considering the sheer volume of it, the amount that breaks away from the inherent restrictions of the genre – even among the most touted material – is negligible; where “mainstream” publishers are feted, it’s mostly via “alternative” lines, like DC’s Vertigo, a running source of awards and attention, if not sales, for DC for years.) On the other, considering the sales charts (at least as published by Diamond) and results of popularity contests like the CBG Awards (which traditionally reward X-MEN and BATMAN uber alles) there’s the suggestion of an elitism in both sets of awards that arguably make them irrelevant to the bulk of the existing comics audience. Awards in any field are basically intended to be a spiritually uplifting “I’m Okay You’re Okay” exercise, celebrating “excellence” and convincing everyone else in the field it’s possible, but, among media awards in particular, they’re intended to scratch more than one itch. Namely, telling the public the field is capable of great things. A problem with comics is there’s not even a consensus on what constitutes “good,” let alone “great. To what extent are the Harveys and Eisners being used to promote comics beyond the current audience (which, as I’ve said, can be expected to be generally antipathetic to the nominees)? If they are, that in itself is something to celebrate, but if they aren’t, what have we really got to feel good about?

    (Footnote: the only comics awards ceremony I’ve ever attended was last year’s Eisner awards – they really need better MCs at those things – just to see the extremely deserving John Romita Sr. get inducted into the Comics Hall Of Fame. Herge and Bernie Krigstein are judges’ inductees this year, and, of the 12 nominees in the general voting, John Severin better get in this year. I’ve been “collecting” his ’50s Atlas Comics western covers off E-Bay recently. His work was stunning then (Severin pretty much invented a sense of authenticity in American comics) and it remains stunning today – he’s currently drawing RAWHIDE KID, of course, and AMERICAN CENTURY – and there’s nobody else in comics producing work even remotely like his. He’s another hugely talented, mostly ignored comics talent, and, while pretty much every nominee deserves to be commemorated, he deserves it most.)

  • After much speculation, Marvel‘s lawsuit against Sony was unsealed, and it was pretty much as anticipated by the gossip, though Marvel and Sony have kept the licensing deal at the heart of it secret by mutual agreement. Marvel, which just underwent a spate of cancellations (including low-selling fan favorites like THE BLACK PANTHER, AGENT X and THUNDERBOLTS, as well as “Marvel challenge” entry MARVILLE), is suing for a whopping $50 million and the revocation of the Sony-Marvel licensing agreement. Heidi Macdonald does a nice summation over at Pulse, so there’s no need for me to hash everything over here. If Marvel can actually make the suit stick, it could actually buy the publisher out of its tenuous situation of recent years, though it’s unlikely such an award would stick or be collected. To top things off, Marvel and Sony are cutting deals now for more movies, indicating Hollywood’s still where Marvel feels its real future lies. (Another indicator is Marvel’s website now asking writers for screenplay samples rather than comics samples, though they’ll also accept plays and short stories.) Where Marvel leads, the industry traditionally follows, so does this mean we’ll be seeing DC suing Warner Bros. now? Dark Horse suing Universal? Flypaper Press suing MGM?

    (Speaking of the Marvel Challenge, CAPTAIN MARVEL would appear both the winner and the loser, since it continues, but at the price the whole thing was concocted to get the book out of, while… what was the third book? ULTIMATE ADVENTURES? The one Joe Quesada promised would sweep fandom by storm? Is that still coming out, or has it been de facto cancelled by dint of simply not appearing in living memory? Or will it win by never being cancelled because it never fully appeared in the first place?)

  • Back at the beginning of the year, I cited Alex Toth as the best comics website on the Internet. Toth’s one of those people I mentioned above whose work deserves recognition but goes widely unrecognized, though within the industry – at least among those with any sense of comics history at all – he’s probably the most influential artist the field ever produced outside of Jack Kirby. As good as the site was, it improved immeasurably in recent months with the appearance of several old stories copiously annotated by Toth talking about artistic decisions he made, outside influences on the stories, editorial conditions, etc. They’re a great primer in the inner workings of comics, both creatively and from a business perspective. But the real gem of recent weeks has been the reprinting on the Toth Page Of The Day, which ran Toth’s breakthrough work on ’50s crime comic CRIME AND PUNISHMENT. The book, #66, was an experiment to capitalize on Cinemascope craze of

    the day, and some of the best pure storytelling in the medium. The entire “Page Of The Day” archives since the site started up a couple years ago are available, so go dig up the complete course on effective comics art and storytelling, because Toth is the stone master of all that. Both Toth and Severin exemplify how the ’50s, often written off as a repressed, mediocre time for comics, were a time when at least portions of the medium were suddenly exploding out of the restrictions of the ’40s, creating a new style, artistic precision and cinematic viewpoint that would ultimately birth the styles to come from the late ’60s – the mid ’80s, even if the original pioneers were more or less ignored by nascent fandom.

    Thing is, last time I mentioned the site to someone, I got back that they realize Toth is a great artist but they don’t like his work because he’s too opinionated, and, y’know, this typifies many comics fans. There’s a Texan expression, “He’d bitch if he was being

    hung with a new rope.” The stuff’s there, it’s fantastic, it’s free – and someone won’t check it out because the artist shares his opinions?!! It seems like there’s not one project announced anywhere by anyone that people don’t start crabbing about. I’ve seen this twice recently, involving personal projects. Avatar Press recently announced FRANK MILLER’S ROBOCOP, adapting his original screenplays for the second and third ROBOCOP movies. Pretty much the first response to it that I read flat out stated it wasn’t a “real” Frank Miller comic, since Frank isn’t writing it. But it’s not true. As the adapter of the material, I can authoritatively state that virtually every element in the comic, including all the dialogue, comes from Frank’s script. He wrote it all; I’m just breaking it down, and all the real estate means everything that’s in the ROBOCOP 2 screenplay (which bears only marginal resemblance to the finished movie) appears in the comic. (We could’ve done it in three issues, like most movie adaptations in comics, but I was ordered to take as much room as necessary to get it all in there.) Can I guarantee you’ll like the story? Of course not. Can I guarantee anyone who thinks “Frank Miller didn’t write it” is dead wrong? Sure.

    Then Cyberosia formally announces the trade paperback of DAMNED, the crime mini-series Mike Zeck, Denis Rodier, Kurt Goldzung and I did a couple years back. The one most people heard of only after it was no longer in print. I’ve been asked for years when a trade paperback’s coming out – the answer is: August – and Mike and I have been working overtime to put in lots of extra material (besides a hot new cover, Mike and I did an additional six pages that completely spins the published story, and Mike’s been slaving over a slew of additional pages on character design, cover development, how comics go from script to art, plus various other bits of DAMNED art previously seen by almost no one). So what’s about the first comment I hear? Someone complains that they read the original comic and only six new story pages is a rook. Yeah, like every trade paperback brings you six new story pages.

    I swear, some people would bitch if they were being hung with a new rope.

    I’m not out to make this sound like a personal crusade or in any way suggest a link to Alex Toth. These three incidents are just fresh in my mind, and that’s why they’re being related, but I hear similar stories from talent all over. It’s a debilitating atmosphere. It’s gotten to be one of the reasons why some “fan favorites” don’t produce more work; there’s a real sense of “what’s the point?” in the air, and it has helped urge publishers to dodge publishing more experimental or daring work, because… well… what’s the point?

    Is there anything coming up anyone’s enthusiastic about? Or do we now have an audience going out of their way to come up with excuses to not buy new comics, instead of just admitting they don’t want new comics?

  • Man, it’s one of those weeks for comics: everything’s wacky. For starters, James Woodward returns with two new issues of THESE THINGS HAPPEN, his meditation on pop culture through the vehicle of a naked, strangly-coiffed talk show host who looks vaguely like Frankenstein and doesn’t talk. (I’ve got no idea who the publisher is or how much issues 2 & 3 cost, since neither are mentioned in the issues, but you can email James and ask him.) In #2, bus drivers quote Nietzsche and a mad scientist plots to transplant the heads of America’s leaders onto emus, while Andy Warhol passes briefly through. #3’s a curious experiment, with various writers providing the talk show bits. Lou Anders waxes forth on the mythological significance of HAPPY DAYS‘ Fonzie; Adam White introduces the concept of “wordthieves” via Mr. T; Eric Spitznagle expounds on a life in porn. As comics go, the names mean nothing, but these are fairly big names, and the work’s good. I’m still not sure if THESE THINGS HAPPEN is really going anywhere (or whether the underlying mad scientist storyline is worth pursuing when so many gems appear ready to be mined from the talk show) but it’s certainly an original book. I’d say check it out, but instead I dare you to even find it. I dare you.

    M.P. Mann sent a stylish mini-comic called JULIETTE LOVES TO **** ($1.50). Again, no specific contact info, but check Mann’s homepage. The book’s about what the title suggests. Sort of. It’s an interesting, sympathetic look at a modern woman, well written and well drawn in a harlequin minimalism, courtesy of 3dsmax and Photoshop. Mann strikes again in HXH ($1.75) an “almost silent” mini-epic set in “virtual reality.” Both more modest and more texturally/artistically convoluted than JULIETTE, it seems simplistic at first but really creeps up on you. It’s books like these that give me hope for the mini-comic format.

    NAKEDFELLA COMICS #7 (Box 77, East Caulfield, Victoria 3145 Australia; no price specified) AKA HERMAN THE LEGAL LABRADOR. While the art, by David Blumenstein and Glenn Smith, ranges from adequate to decent (the best part is the children’s primer that begins the work), Blumenstein’s story, involving a pudgy little dog who’s also a top lawyer, dissembles into several little stories, none of which really have any point but all of which are pretty amusing, and I liked the final punchline. (Also particularly like the Neil Gaiman riff. Good stuff.)

    Finally, there’s a new issue of Mark Coale’s ODESSA STEPS (O-Goshi Studios, Box 3656, Virginia Beach VA 23454; $3.50), a quarterly fanzine celebrating Mark’s twin obsessions of comics and pro wrestling. This is the wrestling issue, with great interviews with the legendary Lou Thesz and my all-time favorite manager-promoter, Jim Cornette, as well as an interviews with Phil Hester and Jason Caskey about their comic THE HOLY TERROR and with Rafael Navarro on his wrestling comics hero Sonambulo. Plus a think piece and the usual pop culture features. This is one of the few rags available that really feels spiritually and physically like an old-fashioned fanzine. One thing I can always say about ODESSA STEPS: I read it cover to cover.

  • If you haven’t heard, Dark Horse Comics is looking for comics’ #1 fan, who’ll win a basket of goodies on Free Comic Book Day 2003. That’s May 3, a week from Saturday. That’s on top of a $250 gift certificate to the comics shop of your choice. It’s a good deal. Go to the Free Comic Book Day 2003 website for details.

    Me, as I said last week, I’ll be spending Free Comic Book Day 2003 at Ralph Mathieu’s Alternate Reality Comics, 4800 Maryland Pkwy #D, Las Vegas NV 89119, across from the University Of Nevada-Las Vegas campus and just north of Tropicana Blvd, just down the road from the fabulous Strip. Among other things, we’ll be giving away Avatar Press‘ first look at FRANK MILLER’S ROBOCOP II, which I adapted from Frank’s original screenplay (the one that didn’t get turned into the movie). The book’s a gas, the event’ll be a gas, and if you’ve been looking for an excuse to spend a weekend in Las Vegas, this is it. I’m seeing what else I can do for the day as well.

    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.

    My old personal webpage – the one with all the information – has finally vanished, and it’s about time, since I left that server almost a year ago. The new one isn’t up yet, but keep watching this space for details.

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