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Issue #94

by  in CBR Exclusives Comment
Issue #94
  • After last week’s blowout, I don’t much feel like talking comics today. But a couple people wrote asking for clarifications on some of my philosophies, so here goes.

    Superheroes.

    I honestly don’t have anything against superheroes. It’s not that I don’t think superheroes can be taken seriously. I think most of the people working on superhero comics don’t take superheroes seriously enough. Whatever superhero comics were in what passes for “the good old days” is irrelevant. Someone brought up a seemingly prevalent theory that the reason comics are “a cultural backwater” is that we don’t do good enough superhero comics, and he was shocked that I agreed until he found out I wasn’t agreeing with the cultural backwater part (are we?), just the “we don’t do good enough superhero comics” part. And it’s true. We don’t. Of course, if we did they probably wouldn’t qualify as superhero comics anymore because they’d be going in whole new directions. Which, once in awhile, one of them does. But most won’t let go of the past, and the companies that produce them enforce that. Virtually every aspect of superhero comics is mired in the past. No real forward thinking, and characters are either remakes or reimaginings of ’40s characters or ’60s character or ’80s characters, or responses to them. This is where a solid body of critical thought would come in, because before we can regularly get good superhero comics, both writers and artists are going to have to start approaching them formalistically, as if they’re an actual branch of literature. (And I don’t mean With Lots More Words.) I think it can be done. Alan Moore’s the only one I know (with the ABC line) who has really set out to attempt it. (Me, I’ve got this Moses complex: I can point the way to the Promised Land, but entering it myself is an iffy proposition.)

    Tied into this is another recent topic of discussion. Parody. Particular parodies can be fairly funny, but I loathe parody as a creative concept. (I’m not talking about satire, but most parodies don’t reach that peak.) Particularly superhero parody, which seems to obsess many independent cartoonists who otherwise claim to turn up their noses at the whole idea of superheroes. (Which is the fashionable thing to do in elite circles, after all.) The obsession with superhero parody is merely an outgrowth of a recurring sense among many in the industry that what we produce is merely disposable rubbish, and any aspirations beyond that are hubris and self-inflation. I’ve heard this for decades now, from people both within and without the industry, and it’s an easy enough argument to make and back up with a considerable amount of circumstantial evidence. But just because you can make an argument doesn’t mean it should be automatically accepted.

    It doesn’t help that there are deep divisions in the industry which encourage (and, yeah yeah, I know I do it too) so that, say, “art” comics are held up as intrinsically superior to superhero (or, even more generally, action-adventure) comics, the way “literary fiction” is often presented as innately superior to “genre fiction,” though you can find endless examples of trash in both. (I do tend to lionize creator-owned comics over company-owned comics, it’s true, but that’s a business comparison, not a creative one, and, for some reasons, most companies don’t seem to accept creator-owned comics are the superior business model either.) The fact is that much of what’s touted as “art” comics is often also puerile, self-indulgent and self-glorifying swill. But what I really hate about parody is this: ultimately it’s just thieving the work of others in order to belittle it. It’s not doing your own work, and it almost never says anything new. (Just like most superhero comics.) It’s cowardice, particularly when the same damn things are parodied over and over and over again. How many parodies of Superman does the world need? Have any of them said one more thing about anything than Harvey Kurtzman and Wally Wood’s “Superduperman” in MAD COMICS did fifty years ago? Doing a parody is just you telling me what you think makes for a bad comic, and basically ripping off what you’re claiming to dislike. I don’t give a rat’s ass what you think makes for a bad comic. I want to know what you think makes for a good comic, and that requires both original work and putting yourself on the line.

    Superheroes? I grew up with superheroes. I’ve written superheroes. I’ve got nothing at all against good superhero comics. I’m not even against recycling old superhero motifs, if you can come up with a clever, original way to do it. (Again, Alan’s ABC Comics, as well as Warren Ellis’ PLANETARY make good touchstones, but, even there, the results tend to be touch and go. Many comics talents seem content to merely reinvent the wheel, and many editors and publishers apparently encourage that. But if you’re going to do superhero comics, try to bring something new to the table besides that twinkle in your eye.) I don’t wish there were no superhero comics, I just wish there were lots of good ones, with imagination, style and new ideas. There aren’t.

    Everyone clear on where I stand now?

  • The World Premiere of LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN took place here in Las Vegas last night, at the swank Venetian Hotel. That’s the one with the gondolas, which Connery and his wife rode past the crowd in. Also there were Naseeruddin Shah (Captain Nemo) and Jason Flemyng (Mr. Hyde). Tony Curran may have been there as well, haha. Thousands hung around outside the Venetian for a look at Connery. (The papers here advertised the event for days prior.) No word as to whether co-conceiver Alan Moore (yeah, like that’d happen) or screenwriter/STARMAN god James Robinson (whoops, I mean James Dale Robinson… sorry…) was there. I know I wasn’t. I was off getting burritos. But I plan to hit next week’s advance screening of PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN.

    This is getting to be a big movie town.

    Which is good, because summer TV is petering out fast. KEEN EDDIE (Fox, 9PM Tuesdays) has slipped into a decent groove with them veering away from the title character being a well-meaning but intrepid bumbler to someone who actually seems to know what he’s doing – last week’s football idol storyline was as good a standard cop show episode as has been on TV in recent years – but… it’s really just a standard cop show. Aside from the accents (and the occasional soccer storyline), it could just as easily take place anywhere in the States as in London. For a show whose main hook is a New York cop in London, that’s a huge flaw. Over at the new season of THE OSBOURNES (MTV, 10:30PM Tuesdays)… well, let’s just say THE OSBOURNES have outlived their usefulness. In the first season, under everything there was a strong sense of family. In the new season (they call it the third season but it’s really the second half of the second season), everything has collapsed into literally fleabitten solipsism, mostly centering around daughter Kelly being obnoxious about her three minutes in the pop star sun. Friends have told me good things about I’M WITH BUSEY (Comedy Channel, 10PM Tuesdays), but I keep forgetting it’s on and I don’t trust their tastes anyway.

    Which, if you’re as tired of half-assed talent shows like AMERICAN JUNIORS (Fox, 8PM Tuesdays) and FAME (NBC, apparently 24-7) or half-assed peepshow dating shows like PARADISE ISLAND (Fox, don’t know don’t care), pretty much leaves reruns or… THE AMAZING RACE (CBS, 8PM Thursdays) which is now at the point in the season where most of the real deadwood’s gone and the show’s kicking into high gear. This week they leave the comparative comfort of Europe with its costume balls, cheese rounds, clogs and manure piles for madcap India, and it looks like great fun. Then again, it always is.

    Of course, next week BIG BROTHER (CBS, 8PM Tuesdays) starts up again, but nobody should ever have to be that desperate.

    So is DC rushing out a special “movie edition” trade of LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN or what? Too bad about THE HULK, though. They mentioned it had the biggest opening week in June history ($62 million) but haven’t mentioned whether this weekend’s gross ($18 million) represented the biggest second-week dropoff in June history. Which is pretty much what I predicted it would do, but there are times when I’d rather be wrong.

  • Last week I asked what three comics you’d recommend to a non-comics reading friend, no Marvels or DCs need apply. So, of course, many respondents tried to figure out why certain Marvels and DCs weren’t really Marvels and DCs after all. Some don’t ever seem to know how to count to three. But what’re you going to do, huh? The answers (you can read more at the Permanent Damage Message Board):

    MERIDIAN from CGE. Granted it suffers a bit from CrossGen’s overall tendency to tell stories that are better read in trade form. But it’s a a genuinely sweet and occasionally compelling story that appeals to readers of all ages, genders, and genres. (If the hype doesn’t convince you, maybe this will – I’m a 20-year old guy who grew up reading X-MEN, and it’s got me hooked. Imagine what it could do for someone within its target audience!)

    HOPELESS SAVAGES from Oni. Currently on the racks with a third mini-series, Jen Van Meter’s troupe of suburban punkers are fun, likable, and hella cool. I in fact already do lend my copies out to my non-buying friends, and they can’t wait for the next installment any more than I can.

    POWERS from Image. A pretty conventional choice, sure, but hear me out. It’s about superheroes in its own fashion, and my non-comics reading buddy probably still has a few (not entirely unfounded) prejudices that comics are essentially the medium for superhero stories. POWERS will rope him in with what he’s expecting, then provide the crime fiction angle he’s not, all nicely packaged in some pretty addictive writing and surprisingly enticing art. It’s everything an “intro” comic should be – at once exactly what the average reader expects from the comic form and precisely what he doesn’t.

    Note that all three series ship when they say they’re going to, so if my buddy decides he wants more we can look at Previews and come back in a month in good faith that what he’s looking for will be there. Introducing him to the world of comics through A DISTANT SOIL isn’t an entirely bad idea, but that it ships so rarely new readers would lose interest before making it back for another go.

    1. THE LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN: comics written for the literate. Great plotlines, great characterization, and enough obscure references to literaure (both “classic” and pulp) to fill a PhD thesis. This is more more accessable to the general reading public than superhero-heavy “Watchmen”. And because the guy probably saw the movie, it sucked and I want to show him how much better the source material was.

    2. HEROBEAR: a fairy tale for all ages. A animation storyboard style of illustration and a story that crosses all ages. Kids will understand it, and it will bring back memories of childhood for older readers…and it has an ending no one will see coming!

    3. TRUE STORY, SWEAR TO GOD: for anyone who has ever been in love. Yes, that’s clichéd but so is this comic, but it works. Again, a “simplistic” illustration style but one that will bring back memories of Casper and Wendy and Archie and a sweet, funny story of two people falling in love. Give this to your girl friends.

    (I was torn on that last one: FADE TO BLUE is also outstanding. A mystery, a comedy , a “chick story”, and dating tips for men and women all rolled into a great comic.)

    Something similar has actually happened to me. A buddy of mine (and former student) mentioned that he was looking for something different to read, something besides DAREDEVIL, NIGHTWING, and the other members of the spandex set he was currently enjoying. I said, “Bob, have I got something for you!” and handed him copies of BONE, LIBERTY MEADOWS, and POWERS (he was already a Bendis mark, so that almost wasn’t even fair). Of course, he loved them all, and is bemoaning the end of BONE, laughing his ass off at LIBERTY MEADOWS, and, of course, devouring each shift with Walker & Pilgrim in POWERS.

    Oh, and why did I pick those? I felt that they represented something beyond the “same old, same old” that’s usually passed off as “All-New! All-Different!” That’s why.

    #1: I’d cheat and hand him issues 1 through 15 of PLANETARY from my collection, and tell him issue #16 ships at the end of August, starting a bimonthly run until it ends with issue 24.

    Why PLANETARY? After (insert your version of history here) in the early ’90s and the mainstream comics market collapsed, I stopped spending my money on comics. I just couldn’t find any worth reading. About spring of ’99, after moving around for awhile, I stumbled into a comics shop in Bowling Green, KY and asked some random shopper who looked like he lived there, “What’s good?” He handed me the first issues of PROMETHEA (Moore) and PLANETARY (Ellis, Cassady). PROMETHEA was an entertaining concept with good art, but PLANETARY grabbed me from the beginning scene at the diner in the desert, kicking and screaming for more all the way through the book to the end, and made me want to buy a comic on a regular basis again. I credit PLANETARY with also making me spend hoards of money on other Ellis projects, such as some AUTHORITY trades and TRANSMETROPOLITAN.

    #2: Bendis’s POWERS, if for no other reason than that a book about a no-nonsense cop who used to be a superhero is cool.

    #3: None. I really can’t think of a good third choice. ULTIMATES might be a decent pick, but it’s Marvel, even if barely. And its revisionist Alternative to the Avengers origins is refreshing in a way which makes it almost believable.

    That’s an easy question, because it happens to me fairly often. I teach comics and cartooning for middle-school kids at a local art studio here in Seattle (aside: occasionally we’ve done little ‘field trips’ to local one-day shows in Seattle and the times you’ve been there you’ve always been great to the kids, really patient and good-humored… so thank you.) But anyway. The other artists and teachers that work in the studio are endlessly fascinated by the industry, how does it work, who does what, how are comics made, what are the Eisners, etc., etc. And when I occasionally bring in stuff for the kids to look at, or just because it’s riding in the book bag I live out of, my colleagues are all over it.

    And you know what people like? People like to LAUGH. The three comics that got picked up and read, cover to cover, by my fellow teachers, are: NAUGHTY BITS by Roberta Gregory, TRUE STORY SWEAR TO GOD by Tom Beland, and MILK AND CHEESE by Evan Dorkin. (Julie from the pottery department is hounding me about Beland now. I am going to get Tom and Lily to sign a trade to her when I see them in San Diego.)

    I don’t know why publishers don’t go after the humor market more. It seems to me that a magazine-sized anthology comic distributed alongside TIME and PEOPLE with the same target market as, say, the old NATIONAL LAMPOON, would be a license to print money. Although I hear TOO MUCH COFFEE MAN is going that way, I never see it anywhere, so maybe I’m full of it.

    Warren Ellis’ STRANGE KISS/STRANGE KISSES/STRANGE KILLINGS series.

    Steven Grant’s MORTAL SOULS – (free plug, no, Grant did not write this!) [That’s true – SDG]

    Am I allowed to recommend Vertigo, ABC, and other imprints of the majors or is that cheating?

    PROMETHEA

    THE FILTH

    100 BULLETS

    since these are my friends…

    1) DORK TOWER – A fair number of us have come from the gaming/geek world and/or are involved with those who have, so it’s been pretty much a universal hit. “Comic Strip” style art may be an easier sell in some cases, as well, as people who wouldn’t be caught dead reading a pamphlet comic seem to have no problems with a comic strip in the papers, or the trade collections of same.

    – easily accessible art

    – gets the “I *KNOW* someone JUST LIKE THAT!” reaction from the stories & characters. (or, you know, they are just like that, but won’t admit it….)

    – down side is it can be a ‘niche’ market for subject matter, sort of quarterly schedule is awkward

    2) QUEEN & COUNTRY – After I’ve forced my SANDBAGGERS DVDs on People, and they ask for more, I now have something to give them 🙂

    – Well plotted, seemingly realistic take on the espionage world.

    – Art can be tricky, as it won’t always appeal to all tastes, but narrative and character wise, I don’t think anyone I know would fail to be sucked in.

    3) PS 238 – Okay, only 2 full issues and a shorts compilation to date, but there’s just something utterly charming about this one that I can’t help grinning when I’m reading it.

    – Some of my friends are teachers, and most have kids, so it has that general family appeal that I think I can sell (even with the capes and powers routines).

    – down side, nowhere near frequent enough on the publishing schedule.

    This is hard, as most times, the independent items even I only pick up as trade collections. And a couple of ones that I would easily give to people are from the DC/Marvel camp, so there were out. (Highest on that list would be FABLES, which anyone I’ve shown it to has just loved.)

    Trades wise, much easier, but that’s for another question.

    STRAY BULLETS because it’s hardcore and kicks ass.

    T3: RISE OF THE MACHINES because the art and violence rule.

    FRANK MILLER’S ROBOCOP because it’s not only Frank Miller but also Grant!

    PS. Let me in on the secret. Why was Warren Ellis late on PLANETARY and MINISTRY OF SPACE? I “read forums like these” but missed that one.

    [Health problems – SDG]

    QUEEN & COUNTRY – With Greg Rucka at the helm turning out Some of the best “spy” stories I’ve read in a long time, this is one of my favorite books regardless of indie or Big 2 status. I would give this to any adult that I was trying to hook into comics.

    THE RED STAR – Though chronically late, the story is engrossing, and in regards to the art, I’d be able to point to it and say, look what “we” can do.

    ARIA – Though not a small time indie, being on Image doesn’t really give it huge numbers so I say this qualifies. I would recommend it because here I am “The Manliest of Men” and I absolutely adore this superbly written and illustrated tale of fairies and dwarves, all the fantasy creatures living in the modern world. And Lady Kildaire is a hottie that isn’t slutty. How often do you get that?

    Something from CrossGen which matches their genre tastes. Probably a “Key Issue”. SOJOURN or NEGATION are great choices.

    * An issue of FINDER. The story density in each issue is fantastic, enough to intrigue someone to come back for more even if they aren’t getting a full story in a given issue.

    * An issue of USAGI YOJIMBO. Almost always self-contained, attractive character designs, and a look into a foreign-yet-familiar culture.

    What pamphlets would I recommend to a friend? I wouldn’t recommend a pamphlet to any friends. It is no longer a satisfying medium. For those of us that grew up on the format it can still work. Barely. But I honestly cannot imagine a single non-comics reading human being reading a contemporary pamphlet comic, and finding enough appeal in it to ever read one again. When I have gotten friends of mine who did not grow up on comics addicted to a series that is still being published in pamphlet form to the point that they are borrowing all of my trades (or, even better, purchasing their own copies), I have seen the same result every single time they reach the point where they have caught up with the pamphlets. They completely lose interest. Not in the ‘wait for the trade’ way. They completely lose interest altogether. They will not inquire about the book again. They do not recommend it to other friends. They don’t buy new trades when they come out. They’re done. I have seen this happen with more than a dozen friends whom I have turned into comics readers in the last 4 years, and I find it extremely difficult to believe that this is an experience unique only to me.

    Now. These are not people who simply don’t have the patience to wait for new chapters in a story. When I have gotten these same people hooked on film series, television series, and/or prose fiction series, their excitement just seems to magnify from episode to episode. With TV shows they will either begin watching the series every week, or watch DVD collections as they come out so that they can devour whole seasons in a weekend. Several of them have been hopping up and down for months in anticipation of the new HARRY POTTER, the resolution of Stephen King’s DARK TOWER series, the MATRIX sequels, THE RETURN OF THE KING, the new Neal Stephenson series that is connected with Cryptonomicon and on and on and on. Many of them are also on pins and needles for each new episode of BUFFY, ANGEL, ALIAS, SIX FEET UNDER, SOPRANOS, etc. They bitch endlessly about reruns, but they still return every time that there is a new episode. They do not do this with pamphlet comics. Ever.

    Again – we are talking mysocial circle, but I just can’t be alone in this. Once I saw this pattern, I began to simply recommend stories that were complete and in Trade form to friends. World of difference. I started to see many, many more comics on my friends bookshelves. My friends and I are all chomping at the bit for book 9 of BONE, copies of Ariel Schrag’s LIKEWISE whenever it gets collected, and the new Sandman anthology. There’s also a fair amount of excitement for each new trade paperback of ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN, QUEEN & COUNTRY, and WHITEOUT that comes out. No one that I have introduced to any of these series has even the slightest interest in reading the pamphlets of them, and based on the experiences I’ve had with introducing new readers to pamphlets in the past I don’t attempt to encourage them. I honestly believe that the single most destructive thing there is to creating new readership in comics right now is the pamphlet format. There are simply not enough stories being told in that format that would have any appeal at all to people outside of established comics readers that are satisfying when published in that format. While there are a very small handful of books that are still fun within that format, paying three bucks (or more) for something that will be read in 7 minutes (or less) makes each and every new consumer feel as if they just got gypped. They are not interested in the reasons that the books have to be as expensive as they are. They’re just interested in the fact that the cost to entertainment satisfaction ratio seems steep to say the least.

    So – back to that hypothetical friend…

    I’d whip out my copies of my personal ‘Books Most Likely To Win Over People Who Have Never Read Comics’ Ruling out Marvel and DC only takes three books off of my list (for the record they are ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN vol. 1, SANDMAN: PRELUDES AND NOCTURNES, and WATCHMEN) My friend would see before them: JINX, POTENTIAL, OUT OF BONEVILLE, CAGES, FROM HELL, SPARKS, CLAN APIS, BREAKFAST AFTER NOON, and NAUSICCA Vol. 1. I would then have them glance over each of the books in much the same way one would browse in a bookstore (perhaps guiding them to something that I think they would personally really dig), tell them to pick out 2 or 3 of them to take home, plop one of my copies of McCloud’s UNDERSTANDING COMICS on top of the stack they borrow, and have them buy me a drink with their 6 bucks.

    This is easy, and this works. Loan people paperbacks. They will then buy Their own. Do not encourage pamphlets on people who do not already read comics. Paperback/Hardcover collections are the only way that I have found that consistently work. I would desperately like to see pamphlets phased out altogether, but if we have to cling to the format let’s at least admit that we’re clinging to it. It still exists simply because it has an established audience base, not because it is a format that will win any new Converts.

    STRANGERS IN PARADISE by Terry Moore, unless the friend has serious mega issues with homosexuality (which would probably not really make them my bestest buddy friend, but that’s not really relevant).

    BONES by Jeff Smith, sadly about to finish.

    I’m afraid I’m going to have to cop out here and say Y: THE LAST MAN from Vertigo.

    I’ve deliberately restricted myself to on-going monthly comics (it’s not explicitly stated in your requirements, but for some reason I get the impression that’s what you’re looking for) which, not coincidentally, have all got trade paperbacks for the friend to catch up with and plans for more as far as the eye can see.

    Of course, the exact recommendations will have to depend on the friend’s tastes. Some people won’t cotton to FRANK MILLER’S ROBOCOP, while others may blanch at something like THREE DAYS IN EUROPE, and still others won’t have the patience for the science in Jay Hosler’s comics like SANDWALK ADVENTURES or CLAN APIS. I’ve already given up trying to convince my wife to read the Alan Moore SWAMP THING or Neil Gaiman’s SANDMAN, despite the fact that she loved THE LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN and all of Gaiman’s prose work.

    By the way, I had a concept for a new fangled comic store which I’ve been kicking around idly of late. I think lots of people are willing to read comics, but they don’t know they exist or don’t look at them really hard when they’re in Borders or Barnes & Noble (or all they see is the usual capes and spandex stuff). One of the other big changes in bookstore chains these days is coffee shops and cafes. So why not open a “Comic Book Cafe,” which offers a nice comfy spot to get a decent cup of joe and maybe a nice baked good and a great big rack of comics and graphic novels for sale on the other half of the store. Decidedly not for the collector crowd, but we’re not aiming at the collector crowd – we’re aiming at people who wouldn’t even consider buying or reading a comic in the first place. I even wonder if one would want the relatively fragile monthly pamphlet format in such a place. Comic collectors get a nice place to get a java buzz and their comics at the same time, and maybe someone stopping in for a snack in the afternoon walks out with a few comics under his or her arm.

    Of course, there IS the fact that you’re taking two extremely risky businesses and trying to run them simultaneously…

    1. QUEEN & COUNTRY: I’m sure a thousand million people will name this one, but it’s with very good reason. This is pretty much the total package. You get deep plots, genuine dialogue, and plenty of sex and violence. I don’t know if any of my friends could turn down such a potent combination.

    2. POWERS: This is a series that I think most of my friends could appreciate. I think this takes “that DC or Marvel crap” and gives it just enough of a tweak to keep it interesting. All of the cheesy superhero elements are balanced out with a nice dose of gritty realism. Plus, I like the idea that this book feels like a maturation of the superhero stuff most of them read as kids.

    BLADE OF THE IMMORTAL: The book that got me back into comics. This title is one that I would reserve for the more adventurous folks. I can guarantee them that their efforts will be rewarded with a gripping and beautiful reading experience. Like my other two choices, this book boasts a strong combination of involving plotlines and interesting characterization.

    1. METABARONS -any issue

    2. HELLBOY -any issue

    3. THREE DAYS IN EUROPE #1

    Reading all of the replies to saving the industry, I have a couple of thoughts:

    1. All those comped copies that creators get, would it be that much more expensive to make 1-200 copies of marginal selling books and try to stimulate sales like image (i think) did a few years back? I work for Frito Lay and sell tater chips. Just because one item doesn’t sell, Frito usually just cuts back on shelf space given to that product. Now some items are discontinued, but we sell hundreds of flavors of chips. Working at Frito brings up my other thought.

    2. Why not have Spanish translated comics? Frito has come up with a Hispanic line of chips that continue to sell consistently although as mentioned above some items have been phased out. That book BIG DADDY DANGER about (I believe) a Latino wrestler and his son. This would be a great opportunity to gain a new audience. Sell them in to areas with high Spanish-speaking populations in Florida, Texas, Georgia, California. As Hispanics reach higher economic-societal status, it could be a great new market.

    STRAY BULLETS, BONE, and LOVE AND ROCKETS. Maybe some HATE as well. I always loved that book. Now by your standards though this person would just not want DC and Marvel books… or I am assuming superhero books? If that was the case I would recommend TRANSMETROPOLITAN (I know Vertigo is DC but it kinda isn’t), SIN CITY (in my opinion this is Frank Miller’s best work), and SAVAGE DRAGON (that is just some of the consistently funniest stuff on the market… though not high in substance). And BTW, I have gotten friends to start buying comics. Lots of them. It is just a matter of getting them in the store with you. Let them flip through some books. Buy one for them. I have friends that now read everything from strict superhero fair to the more independent works like the works of Robert Crumb and Harvey Pekar. I mean I don’t buy comics anymore and these people still do, but that is another story.

    1) METABARONS (Humanoids Press)

    Mind-boggling concepts, galactic conflict and mythic themes make this comic more exciting than any Star Wars or Matrix movie. It straddles the line between sci-fi and fantasy, rising above both genres.

    2) NEGATION (CrossGen)

    Breakneck action against a cosmic backdrop, gorgeous artwork, and interesting characters make this CG’s best title–the story never drags–it’s light speed adventure.

    3) AGE OF BRONZE (Image)

    Eric Shanower’s singular vision of the Trojan War unfolds like a window into history–a realistic depiction of what it must have been like to live during those bloody days of avenging kings and savage warfare.

    If it was still in pamphlet form: LEAVE IT TO CHANCE. Besides that… let’s see…

    HEROBEAR AND THE KID – Highly recommended

    THE CROSSOVERS

    POWERS

    QUEEN & COUNTRY is the best espionage fiction going right now, prose or pamphlet, for folks who like the pot-boiler/suspense sort of work that David Morrell or Robert Ludlum put forth. The characters are sharp, the art is always engaging (they change artists for each arc) and the writing by Greg Rucka never seems to assume I’m either an idiot or a genius. Just a tight, fun read, and for a change, it’s a book that works as individual installments as well as it does collected. Rucka seems to remember that the pamphlets need to have some sort of mini-climax every issue, in addition to serving the arc.

    USAGI YOJIMBO is the comic I’ve read continuously longest; Stan Sakai manages to tell fun stories that work in enough legitimate history and adventure that I manage to learn something, as well as stay interested in the plot. And the art is just a hoot.

    JACK STAFF is the most-underrated book out there right now, in my opinion. Paul Grist (who also wrote and illustrated KANE, a terrific crime comic) manages to tell the most involved stories easily and with his terrific page design and simple -but not simplistic- art and letters. JACK STAFF is clear enough for a kid to read and still manages to be packed full of enough plot twists and intricacy to keep me befuddled until the climax – which, in retrospect, is always inevitable, the mark of great writing for me. Grist is a master of the ‘Elmore Leonard-19 different characters-inevitable train wreck’ school of writing. I mean, what other book has a robot man and a girl vampire tabloid reporter, and a guy in tights? It’s super heroes for people who remember them fondly but don’t recognize any of them any more.

    I realize as I’m typing this that all three of the books on my list are the only ones I read right now that do work as well as individual issues as they do collected; perhaps that’s my real reason for liking them. I still have fond memories of waiting each month to read the next issue of whatever I was captivated by at the time; I guess that’s why I still read comics.

    Just three? Well in that case, it would depend on what’s on the shelf. Most comic book shops in my area don’t have a vast selection of decent independent comics. If I had my pick of anything, I’d probably go with a mix of genres, like an issue of Crossgen’s RUSE, Vasquez’s excellent JOHNNY THE HOMICIDAL MANIA, and then I’d slip him an issue of LUCIFER. If he balked at my inclusion of a “technically DC” imprint like Vertigo, or my lack of superhero input, I’d throw up my hands and hand him the latest POWERS issue from Image.

    HELLBOY (if there was an issue out)

    THE GOON (since HELLBOY isn’t on a schedule)

    SLEEPER (great story, and easy to catch up)

    TEENAGERS FROM MARS (for the counterculture kids)

    CATWOMAN (I’d just tear off the DC indicia)

    * REX MUNDI: (this is the comic I’m most excited about whenever there’s a new issue) for the detailed world and sense of a deep and interesting story, not to mention the gorgeous art.

    * QUEEN & COUNTRY: Some of the best spy writing going on.

    * FINDER: Great science fiction that balances the idea-drive with the character-driven.

    For certain specific friends I would replace some of those with HALO AND SPROCKET or MY MONKEY’S NAME IS JENNIFER.

    I’d try and give my friends something that’s independent and a good read as an issue all by itself. it would really depend on who the friend is. Most of my friends are into Live Action Roleplaying like VAMPIRE: THE MASQUERADE. I’d show them towards the Moonstone books about VAMPIRE and maybe try and show them SILENCERS for the super-character feel. For my non-LARPing friends, I’d probably give them DORK TOWER, which is a funny slice-of-life book about roleplayers and just dorks in general, which all of my friends are.

    I would give just about anybody I know an issue of GLOBAL FREQUENCY. This book would be an excellent movie or TV series easily. and it’s one issue format is great for someone to read and enjoy and be done, unless they want to go on, then they get so much more. More Comics should try for this independence.

    FROM HELL (something that I’d recommend to anybody, no matter who they are), DAVID BORING, 300.

    The idea of someone who has never read comics saying “I don’t want any of that DC or Marvel crap” is rather far-fetched… and for any friend of mine who didn’t read comics, there is no way in hell I’d recommend an overpriced pamphlet that gives you one-sixth of a story over a trade paperback. But, to answer your question…

    100 BULLETS. The best artwork on the stands right now, an engrossing story, and the good thing is that landing in the middle of it would hopefully convince my friend to come back for more.

    HELLBOY’S WEIRD TALES. It’s the current HELLBOY thing on the stands, and everyone must worship Mignola, whose stuff is ALSO the best artwork on the stands right now.

    You know, as I scrounge around trying to come up with a third choice, it occurs to me how really, really unfair your question is when so much great stuff comes out only in trades…like SOCK MONKEY

    Okay, third choice: EVIL EYE. There’s nothing else like Richard Sala out there. And it’s the best artwork on the stands right now.

    I’m afraid I’m not much of an ‘indy’ reader (more of a consumerist whore), but yet I feel compelled to answer it nevertheless; and since Wildstorm books don’t carry the DC bullet, I should be able to sneak my first pick in, right? What three comic books would I recommend to an ‘outsider’ friend of mine?

    1) GLOBAL FREQUENCY (Wildstorm)

    Self-contained (and therefore accessible) stories that can be read on so many levels; behind all the high-tech stuff, these are very concise classic adventure tales. The repeating themes of sacrifice, atonement and most of all cooperation to achieve victory in the face of adversity are universal staples and – I think – accessible to everyone. It’s a solidly written book, albeit the stories does at times progress too linearally, with little surprise in the actual resolution of the story; luckily, Ellis is a solid writer who still manages to make a more or less predictable story progression appear worthwhile.

    2) INVINCIBLE (Image)

    One of the best ‘pure spandex’ stories currently out, in my opinion. Clear, crips art (though it might not appeal to everyone), the protagonist in a classic Peter Parker position we probably all can relate to on some level, the lightheartedness and humour reminiscent of Erik Larsen’s SAVAGE DRAGON (which is another good book, but his artwork seems very much an issue of personal tastes, and the story is way too convoluted to recommend the book to new readers, IMO), and an easily accessible overall concept. I mean, everyone knows Superman; it’s easy to tell people ‘imagine Superman had a kid who just discovered he has the same superpowers as his dad, and this book is about how he deals with it’. I think that makes for a good hook.

    3) GLOOM COOKIE (Slave Labor Graphics)

    Another multi-layered book. Romantic modern faerie tale and an amusing (yet seemingly loving) poke at the Goth/Occultist/Role-player subculture(s). Most of my friends have at least dabbled in those circles, and should find the book as enchanting as I do. Only ranks in at #3 because, despite ‘what has gone before’ section, it might not be that easy to enter in the middle of its run.

    TORSO and FORTUNE AND GLORY. You can give them to anyone (over 16 say) and they will read them, follow them and love them. And then all you have to do is try getting the buggers back…

  • Some people thought last week’s question was being unfair to Marvel and DC, as if they were companies to dismiss out of hand. My main purpose was simply to highlight non-DC/Marvel output and see what was on people’s minds. Still, I sympathize. So here’s a bonus question of the week, just to balance the scales.

    Suppose your friend who has never read comics asks you to recommend three series to him. And they have to be from Marvel and DC because, as your friend puts it, “they’ve both been in business for decades so they must know how to put out a real comic book, not that self-indulgent navel-gazing indie comics swill.” (Hey, he’s your friend. He said it, I didn’t.)

    Recommend three great Marvel and/or DC comics currently being published. All imprints qualify.

  • Know why we’re really in Iraq? WMDs? Liberating the Iraqi people? Oil? Military bases in the Middle East? Avenging Daddy’s attempted murder? Turns out it was none of those. Seems we didn’t even go after Osama Bin Laden because of the whole Trade Towers thing.

    As the Hand Puppet told Ariel Sharon and Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas, as revealed by Israeli newspaper Haaretz,

    “God told me to strike at al Qaeda and I struck them, and then he instructed me to strike at Saddam, which I did, and now I’m determined to solve the problem in the Middle East.”

    At least we now know why it was so important to fabricate “justification” for an immediate attack on Iraq, and why the official excuses shifted so radically. It was a done deal. God says to do something, you do it, and if you know what’s good for you, you let nothing stand in your way. Very biblical. It’s interesting to note, though, that while the Hand Puppet implies that God has given him direct marching orders to get the Middle East peace process on track, he doesn’t come right out and say it, and it doesn’t seem likely that God set the secular timetable HP sets out either:

    “If you help me, I will act, and, if not, the elections will come and I’ll have to focus on them.”

    In other words, if this is the will of God (and I’m sure Abbas didn’t miss the fine implication that God’s will and carpet bombing go hand in hand), he wants it accomplished in time for HP to make campaign hay with it, since, presumably, we’ll still be hip deep in the morass of Iraq by then, so that little adventure might no longer be playing so well in public sentiment. A couple of interesting recent polls – to the extent one believes polls mean jack, of course – have the Hand Puppet’s re-electability nowhere near proportionate to his job approval rating, and increasing numbers of Americans fearing we’ve gotten ourselves into another Vietnam in Iraq.

    But will Middle East peace play well as an election issue? With the Jewish bloc, maybe (depends how many of them are keen on the creation of a Palestinian state, probably), but HP’s fundie constituency is up in arms over it. Maybe that’s why he didn’t specifically cite the will of God as his peace raison d’etre, because everyone (fundies, anyway, including the Hand Puppet’s favorite whacko minister, Franklin Graham, who’s got special permission for a mission to Christianize Iraqi Muslims) knows biblical prophecy demands war in the Holy Land (otherwise known as Armageddon) as a prerequisite for the triumphant second coming – and HP is getting in the way! That’s not the way their president’s supposed to act!

    Not that it’s been a great week to be a fundie, with what they used to like to call their Supreme Court abruptly giving a big thumbs up to homosexuality, by striking down a Texas sodomy law (and, by extension, similar laws in a number of other states). It’s not really a huge victory for anyone, except those who such laws were used to harass, as the court didn’t in any way say homosexuality was right, just that violation of privacy and using law to stigmatize a specific class of citizens to the exclusion of other citizens engaging in similar behavior is unconstitutional.

    And, of course, Congress is already leaping to the defense of the decent and the good, as the House already introduced a proposed Constitutional Amendment banning gay marriage! What the…? Sunday morning, I wake up to find Bill Frist, the “decent” guy who replaced Trent Lott as Senate Majority Leader, frothing about how such an amendment is an absolute necessity, because once you open the door to privacy claims for homosexuality, there’s no telling what will go on behind closed doors: prostitution, bestiality, drug use, etc. etc. So of course we have to ban gay marriage!

    Eh? How do you get from prostitution and drug use to gay marriage? What effect could banning gay marriage possibly have on prostitution and drug use in private homes? Whether you’re for or against gay marriage, there’s absolutely no logic to Frist’s argument. (A common feature of Frist’s arguments, actually.) It’s like saying the only way to stop the flow of drugs to American shores is to close down libraries. (You’ll be happy to know I resisted to urge to say it’s like saying the only way to stop Al-Qaeda is to invade Iraq.) There’s no evident chain of cause and effect!

    It is nice to see all the Democrats leaping out there to tell Frist and the House to go shove it, though.

    This, and the multitude of state budget crises around the country now that HP has decided it’s not in the Federal Government’s interest to actually pay for anything except war, has helped push some of the more unsettling aspects of the Iraq occupation out of the press, for which I’m sure the New York Times is eternally grateful. (Also largely missed has been Paul Wolfowitz’s installation as the new head of military tribunals in our war against terrorism, with the power to secretly try and execute anyone the State “identifies” as a terrorist or sympathizer, which designation, you’ll know if you read your Patriot act, lies entirely with the President, who, at least in the current regime, presumably gets the info first hand from God. They’ve also pretty much ignored Wolfowitz’s heavy-handed leaning on weapons inspector Hans Blix, including subjecting him to a CIA investigation, to coerce him to file inspection reports strongly supporting the UN’s contentions despite the inspection team’s inability to find anything substantial.) It’s a bit surprising the admin’s latest “smoking gun” from Iraq – the discovery of nuclear bomb plans several decades old (you can go dig up similar plans in your public library) plus “materials” that “could” be used to make such weapons. (You’ve got most of the “materials” to make a nuclear bomb in your house. Except the fissionable stuff, which is the crucial part. Still, what’s good for the goose is good for the gander and Wolfowitz may have a quota to meet, so I’d watch out if I were you.) So what is happening in Iraq, aside from increasing attacks on our soldiers? (All from “Ba’athist sympathizers,” of course, ’cause who wouldn’t want lots of foreign troops with no real understanding of the local religions and customs tromping through their streets and homes?) NRA members are no doubt pleased that Iraqis aren’t surrendering their weapons in any great numbers to the occupying forces. (And how do we know what weapons they’ve got, anyway, unless we conduct thorough house-to-house searches?) We’ve been busily setting the stage for true Iraqi freedom by threatening to shut down any newspapers critical of American behavior in the country (also know to occupation forces as “inciting rebellion”) Perhaps most tellingly, America has been achieving its goal of institution democracy in Iraq by shutting down and nullifying local elections , replacing elected officials with military men. Not our military men. Ex-Saddam military men! As feared by other Iraqi groups all along, they’re putting the same people back in charge – unelected but with the backing of the US military (Paul Bremer, our current Iraqi civil administrator, has taken a hands-off attitude toward these military-made decisions, citing the possibility that the wrong people could get elected if elections were held, though he has nothing against the concept of self-rule) – who were in charge under Saddam Hussein.

    It’s always possible this is what the Hand Puppet considers democracy to be, though. Something to bear in mind as we head into a new election season at home.

  • Loose notes:

    Got the following complaint:

    ” I know it’s become the standard term but as someone who moonlights from teaching as a production artist at a local printer, “pamphlet” just grinds my gears. The actual word we use in the trade for what a standard 32-page comic book is, as a printed piece, is “booklet.””

    .

    Personally, I’ve started calling them pamfs. Takes less time to type. Another term gaining popularity is floppies.

    Over at Pulse, they’ve announced BROAD APPEAL, an anthology of women talents in comics. Which I’m all for. What I don’t get is the name. I mean, I get it, but… Is this some sort of Queer Nation kind of deal, where the idea is to turn a slur word on its ear and convert it to a badge of honor? If that’s the case, does the intended audience know this? Or will the female audience, which should rightfully feel proud of all the great female writers and cartoonists out there, get immediately turned off by the name? I hope not.

    If you don’t get enough blathering from me here, over at All The Rage this week among other things there’s a fairly lengthy chat with me about what has become known as “the Vivid project.” Probably not worth reading if you’re under 18, because you won’t be able to buy the book anyway.

    As mentioned incessantly in recent weeks, Cyberosia‘s releasing in Augusta trade paperback of the crime comic I did with Mike Zeck, Denis Rodier and Kurt Goldzung over at Wildstorm a couple years back, called DAMNED. A touching tale of loyalty, betrayal and double-dealing, the book also features gobs of new material, including a brand new 6 page ending. You still have time to order it from your dealer, or mail order it from Khepri, a great retailer that also stocks everything else you might want in graphic novels. Including the forthcoming DC original graphic novel SUPERMAN: ANCIENT BLOOD, which I wrote from a plot by Gil Kane, featuring the last work of both Gil and John Buscema, who finished the book after Gil’s death, with great inking from Kevin Nowlan.

    I’ve got a number of books here to review, but I’m so tired after this long column I don’t think I could do them justice. Next week, I promise!

    Finally, things are shaping up at San Diego. I’ll be in town from midday Friday through the end of business Saturday, and it looks like I’ll be on at least one panel (Tom Spurgeon’s “Reassessing Stan Lee,” which I believe will be Friday 6-7). Three signings are set so far, all for FRANK MILLER’S ROBOCOP (though, you know, I’ll sign any of my work at them): Friday 2-3:30 PM and Saturday 2:30-4 PM at the Avatar booth, and Saturday 12:30-1 PM at the Diamond booth. See you there. I was also planning on signing at the Cyberosia booth at some point, but, due to unforeseen circumstances Cyberosia won’t be at San Diego after all.

    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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