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Issue #95

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Issue #95
  • The big rumor is Marvel‘s trying to buy Artisan Entertainment, a small film company built on the back of THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT and home of Marvel’s upcoming PUNISHER and IRON FIST. Both Variety and The Hollywood reporter mentioned Marvel as one of the bidders for Artisan, now in the dumper to the tune of $85 mil following years of highly touted low receipt “art” films like Steven Soderbergh’s THE LIMEY (good picture) and much ignored low receipt tripe like NATIONAL LAMPOON’S VAN WILDER. Marvel’s own continuing debt (roughly three times their working capital) makes such an acquisition problematic, but banks can get stars in their eyes too, as with the last time they pumped a ton of money into Marvel (or, rather, the Marvel that existed under Ron Perelman, which isn’t, technically, today’s restructured Marvel). So it’s possible.

    And unsurprising. Marvel, in all its incarnations, has had Disney dreams at least since the ’80s, when Cadence Corporation sold it to New World Pictures. That was pretty much the official point at which Marvel, to everyone who had a financial stake in it, stopped being considered a comic book company and started being considered a property generator, a business model that has unfortunately become increasingly prevalent among comics startups. (Stan Lee had actually been living out in Hollywood for years at that point, uberediting long distance and occasionally jetting back to the East Coast to take a more direct hand, until they finally hired Mike Hobson to be his surrogate in the Marvel offices, but while Marvel Studios became a player in the animation business, Stan had difficulty cracking Hollywood. The ’70s opening provided by the HULK TV show didn’t last long, and failed Spider-Man, Dr. Strange and Captain America tele-projects, along with the disastrously bad original PUNISHER film, didn’t help Stan’s situation much.) It became an interesting spiral, an attempted self-fulfilling prophecy; each time Marvel changed hands, the old owners recouped their expenses by raising the asking price, and new owners demanded more and more product to justify the buying price, until things reached ludicrous proportions, putting increased pressure both on editorial and on the comics market, and that weight helped feed the market’s eventual collapse. There’s little doubt Perelman saw Marvel as the anchor of a Disney-style media empire, complete with media projects, theme restaurants, theme parks, and theme chain stores selling theme merchandise. His great dream was to make Marvel synonymous with entertainment, but all he ever really did with it was feed a junk bond scheme, which pretty much drops us where we are today. Certainly Marvel as a publishing venture, though they’ve made significant strides in improving their situation over the past couple years, can’t generate enough income on its own to justify itself, and the “media empire” angle has clearly been on everyone’s minds, given the emphasis Marvel honcho Avi Arad has shown re: movies based on Marvel properties (not to mention various “re-imaginings” of Marvel characters with an apparent eye toward films, like the upcoming “Honey, I Bombarded Us With Cosmic Rays” version of FF). That’s not a criticism of Marvel, I’m just acknowledging their business strategy. Plus Hollywood’s a heady place to get involved with; it’s easy to get intoxicated by the thrill of the whole thing. Even more than Las Vegas, it’s a town of gamblers, most of them playing with other people’s money, and more than a couple people have scored big on a handful of projects only to become convinced of their own prowess and spending the next few years rolling snake eyes until fading out completely.

    (Old joke:

    Q: How do you end up with a small fortune in Hollywood?

    A: Start with a large fortune.)

    So it seems logical that Marvel, pumping out success after success with X-MEN, SPIDER-MAN, and DAREDEVIL movies (not to mention THE HULK), and having lined up a seeming infinity of other films based on their properties, would want to buy a production company. Just that little extra bit of Hollywood legitimacy. More power to ’em, though I’m not sure why it’s necessary. Production companies often exist just to siphon off resources for staff, office expense, etc. If they can seriously make a go of it, it’s probably worth it, but the town’s littered with production companies that went nowhere or exist only on paper, and it doesn’t take more than a couple bombs before studios (the “dirty little secret” of Hollywood is that no matter how many production companies there are, there are still only a handful of studios and they’re the ones who really make all the decisions as what gets made and what doesn’t, with production companies coming to them hat and package in hand) are no longer interested in talking to you. It’s a bit pessimistic to believe, with each release, that “the superhero movie craze” is over – sometimes a bad movie is just a bad movie – but sooner or later the bubble will pop (even Disney’s on hard times at the moment). If they took on a production company, Marvel’s biggest hedge against burst bubbles would be diversification, but, in Hollywood, diversification is also the riskiest of businesses. (You can look at Artisan’s roster and read their collapse in the tea leaves there.)

    But Marvel’s Marvel. They’ve got the right to pursue whatever business goals they see fit, same as anyone else. The bigger question is what’s everyone else in the business going to do? I only ask because of a longstanding tradition of companies scrambling in Marvel’s wake whatever decision is made. You may remember the rush to exclusive distribution deals following Marvel’s purchase of Heroes World in an attempt to segregate the comics market into them and everyone else, which led instead to comics distribution being reduced to Diamond and no one else. You can say Marvel was responsible for this if you like, but you’d be wrong. It was all the other companies reacting to basically a bad idea by Marvel that led to the current situation. Marvel didn’t hold a gun to anyone’s head. It was, instead, other companies bafflingly deciding that the only way to compete with Marvel was to imitate them.

    So, if Marvel borrows another $100 mil over its current $150 mil debt to buy Artisan (presuming the other suitors step out of the way or are shot down by Marvel’s Odyssean bow), will this trigger the rush of other comics companies to buying their own production companies? (DC, obviously, is in thrall to Time-Warner and fall under the Warner Studios banner in the company roster, but even they could presumably. This might sound ludicrous, but, as I said, a lot of companies are now publishing just to see their properties on some kind of screen or another, not for the sake of publishing comics. What Marvel probably sees as a natural step is probably also seen as a natural, if financially unattainable, step by most of them, which, if it ever became a reality rather than mere penis envy, would stand a really good chance of finally taking down the American comic book industry for good, as collapsing production companies ate up resources and leveraged properties fell into strange hands.

    Of more immediate interest, though, is the fate of Dark Horse Productions, the film company spinoff of Dark Horse Comics that has been around for years and is currently in the midst of producing a HELLBOY movie. Last I heard, they were based out of Artisan’s offices. If Marvel ends up owning the company, will they settle for a competitor sharing their floor space?

  • Speaking of Disney, am missing another chance this week to see LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN (got conflicts with this week’s screening schedule) but I did get the chance last night to see PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: THE CURSE OF THE BLACK PEARL (opening today in most places). I can say it’s easily the best movie based on a theme park ride I’ve ever seen. Actually, it’s pretty entertaining. I was never a huge fan of the ride, but the film, strangely enough, manages to get an actual story out of it by nicking a little from CAPTAIN BLOOD and from Brecht and Weill, and running all kinds of thematic threads through it, including starcrossed lovers, a ten year quest for revenge, and a son’s hunt for his father, which could’ve easily been a mishmash of schmaltz but, due in large part to the humor of Johnny Depp as pirate Captain Jack Sparrow and the sheer energy of Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightly, ties together really well. Purely a popcorn movie, of course, but I like popcorn movies, and I’m a Johnny Depp mark. He’s nuts. I liked him in 21 JUMP STREET, in DEAD MAN, in FEAR AND LOATHING IN LAS VEGAS and THE LEGEND OF SLEEPY HOLLOW and FROM HELL, regardless of how I felt about those films otherwise. I didn’t even mind Geoffrey Rush for a change. Director Gore Verbinski (who most recently did THE RING, and who has developed a really nice eye for the screen) and screenwriters Ted Elliot and Terry Rossio made terrific use of the sets from the Pirates Of The Caribbean ride without it being distracting. Some really nice skeletal special effects, too. If the girls in the audience are any indication, Orlando Bloom (the Elven archer Legalos in LORD OF THE RINGS) has a heartthrob future ahead of him, especially if movies keep dolling him up like Errol Flynn. Not exactly a pithy film, but not dumb either, and, aside from one logic flaw that didn’t much affect anything but could’ve been played for cool effect if corrected, there was pretty much nothing about it I didn’t like. I doubt it’ll trigger a pirate film craze, but worse things have happened.
  • So things muddle on in Iraq (heard one gov’t type today say it’s not turning into “another Vietnam” – even as they go claiming there’s no widening unrest about occupying forces, it’s just lingering Saddam supporters at work – and how we simply didn’t expect to have to rebuild Iraq from scratch, but how do you bomb a country back to the Stone Age and not expect to rebuild it from scratch?) and at home (economic sluggishness continues, while Greenspun’s Fed answers everything with interest rate cuts the way the White House wants to apply tax cuts to every problem, and the Prime is now down to 1%, making the much touted “investments” the tax cuts are supposed to generate the self-fulfilling joke) and nothing much is really going on. Just listened to the Hand Puppet – the TODAY SHOW again – giving some speech in Africa touting slavery as the most evil thing in history (it’s certainly up in the top five), and despite all our efforts, like segregation, the evil results of slavery still remain. At least that’s what it sounded like he was saying. But, you know, that’s just George, the clown prince who, when informed of potential threats against American soldiers in Iraq, boldly pronounced, “Bring ’em on!” like the whole conflict is some sort of scripted wrestling match. I figure either he really meant desegregation or he really did mean segregation but it was a clumsily worded sentence and came out sounding odd, which means some speechwriter has some explaining to do. Benefit of the doubt and all that. Meanwhile he appoints former Eli Lilly & Co. head (and big campaign contributor) Randall Tobias to head the government’s new anti-AIDS initiative, despite his having virtually no knowledge or experience in dealing with AIDS. He does, however, have plenty of experience in getting government money funneled into Big Drug coffers. If the Senate approves him, it’ll be interesting to see which way that faucet drips. Meanwhile, Congress wrestles with a proposed Constitutional amendment to outlaw the importing of American flags made in Chinese prisons, like we really need that to be in the Constitution. (The WTO would most likely just overrule it anyway, since by their charter they’re allowed to overrule any laws of any country anywhere if they’re deemed bad for trade.) Meanwhile, a right-winger in California is paying people to sign petitions demanding the ouster of governor Gray Davis, and, while Davis’ fate really doesn’t matter to me at all, it’d be nice to see courts throw all those bought signatures out, just so people don’t get ideas about democracy being any easier to buy than it already is. And news of rising unemployment is met with the announcement of a multi-million dollar reward for Saddam Hussein, possibly to encourage more jobless Americans to join the Army because Congress wants to send more soldiers to Iraq to better protect the ones there who are getting shot way too frequently. So now we’re also in Liberia, and whaddaya know? It’s got nothing at all to do with Liberian diamonds and Liberian oil, and everything to do with human rights. (No doubt an announcement that the oil and diamonds there are the property of the Liberian people will be forthcoming.) While that’s happening, we’re also busy cutting off promised military aid to some members of the Coalition Of The Grasping because they won’t sign to exempt Americans from being tried as war criminals by the International Criminal Court, reinforcing an international perception that American promises aren’t worth the breath they’re spewed with.

    Well, at least we didn’t have the expected “orange alert” for 4th of July weekend. Sorry I’m a bit late with Independence Day well-wishes, but I guess that’s appropriate too…

  • Finally watched The History Channel‘s COMIC BOOK SUPERHEROES UNMASKED. Not bad, actually. A bit brisk – what else would you expect for a show covering 65 years in 1:40, including pointless foreword and afterword by LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN‘s Peta Wilson (without any actual mention of LOEG in the show that I can recall? – but a nice overview of the evolution of superhero. Parts were a bit annoying – considering all the time they spent on the ups and downs of Denny O’Neil and Neal Adams’ GREEN LANTERN-GREEN ARROW, I wish they’d talked some about how the book was crippled by a Southern distributor who objected to the Black Green Lantern introduced in the book, for instance, and they emphasize X-Men as a huge hit for Marvel before backtracking to say that the original version never sold particularly well, and they neglect to mention it was Len Wein and Dave Cockrum who generated the ultimately successful version – but overall it struggled very hard to present a picture of a vibrant and evolving medium. I say struggled because, despite a valiant effort, ultimately there just wasn’t time to demonstrate how superhero comics are really any different from widespread preconception of them, aside from showing they’re more violent than material aimed at kids ought to be so it’s no longer fair to think of them that way. Though I’m hardly the best audience to work with, I doubt what I saw there would’ve made me want to run out and try THE ULTIMATES if I were coming to comics cold. What it did do an excellent job of was getting across the creators, like Jim Steranko, Denny O’Neil, Frank Miller, etc. Pretty much everyone interviewed came off as charming and erudite, the sorts of guys you wouldn’t mind having a drink and a chat with. We can always use publicity like that.

    In last week’s round-up of decent summer shows, I missed THE WIRE (HBO, 9:30PM Sundays) and a reader called me on it. But there’s a reason I forgot it. While I’m enjoying it a lot, this season of the show seems to be having trouble coalescing, though each week a few more directions are developed. Not that I’m not getting involved – an OZ-style death in last Sunday’s ep pissed me off more than anything I’ve seen on TV in years, and the recent return of bad boy Omar to the show, esp. his testimony in court against a drug hit man, spotlights one of the best characters ever to grace the American screen – but I just can’t pass judgment on it as a whole until I get a better feel for it, and this season is doggedly resisting grasp. Still worth watching, though.

    Not worth watching, if last Tuesday’s episode is evidence, is I’M WITH BUSEY (Comedy Central, 10PM Tuesdays). Maybe it was that one episode, but Gary Busey blathering on like a fratboy monk and postulating stupidity for the “host” to take part in is not only boring as hell, but it really smacked of being entirely scripted and staged. Enjoy it if you want to, but from what I saw, eh.

  • Considering all the bitching and corner-cutting I got for not allowing Marvel and DC comics on the last week’s “three comics you’d recommend to a friend” lists (and many people rationaled Wildstorm and Vertigo books onto their lists anyway), it was something of a shock to have so few people respond to the call for a “three recommended Marvel or DC books,” and, of those who responded, how many couldn’t come up with three. To wit:

    “All right, three from each company:

    ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN: The classic teen-aged superhero done right.

    DAREDEVIL: Though I’d start him off on the first trade of Bendis issues.

    UNCANNY X-MEN: I know most folks say NEW X-MEN is better, but I think UNCANNY is closer to what a non-reader would expect from a superhero book. Also easier, and more fun, to read.

    Y THE LAST MAN: Smart sci-fi/satire/commentary on gender politics. Humor, romance, action, with clean, clear art. I have shown this to people who haven’t read comics since they were kids. They had no idea comics could be like this.

    ADVENTURES OF SUPERMAN: Because it’s the best Superman comic being published today.

    WILDC.A.T.S 3.0: Superbeings changing the world through a corporation. Again, I’d start him on the trade books.

    I missed last week’s question on non-Marvel/DC books to recommend. If I may:

    RAIJIN COMICS WEEKLY: Mostly to show the variety of stories comics can tell, mostly because every story blows your mind.

    NEGATION: This is what STAR TREK and STAR WARS used to be: ordinary people pushed to the limits of their abilities in an exciting universe filled with bizarre aliens.

    THE MYTH OF 8-OPUS: Locally produced here in Pittsburgh, it’s similar to Jack Kirby’s NEW GODS in art and theme. This is to show not all small-press books are elitist, wannabe art. Some do superheroes better than the big two.”

    AMAZING SPIDER-MAN – JMS has done wonders with this. Absolute wonders… I don’t even like Spider-Man anymore, and I read this.

    I would say CAPTAIN MARVEL by Peter David, but there’s so much back story it would be like trying to watch only the last episode of BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER. It’s damn good, but too much ‘splaining.

    ummm.

    ummm.

    Dammit… ever since STARMAN is over with, I don’t find myself caring much. How about Waid’s FF? That’s quite good… just give it to them and say “Don’t buy it after this guy’s stint is done.”

    Can’t even come up with three…

    Too bad.”

    “1. THE FLASH – Geoff Johns took my utter indifference to the character and slapped me silly with it until I said “uncle.” Other than Crossgen’s SCION, it is my favorite title on the market.

    2. ALIAS – The start of the series was a little slow and scattershot to me, but wow has Bendis just turned up the intensity since that point. Sad to think that this may be ending or changing the status quo soon, I really like the format it’s got now.

    3. DAREDEVIL – Nothing can change how much I love the character, but the current Bendis run is nothing short of fantastic. It will be recognized as a classic run in years to come.

    (If the list had been four, I would’ve added J. Michael Stracynzski’s AMAZING SPIDER-MAN because he simply rescued the character from the depths of the writing hell it was in, then made it compelling reading.)”

    “1) 100 BULLETS (DC/VERTIGO) – one of the best comics ever; complete synergy between artist and writer; hip, cool, violent, and every issue is the piece of a larger puzzle, while still containing finite story arcs; Risso’s artwork is absolutely gorgeous, and let’s not forget that this book has some of the best coloring you’ll find in comics, period.

    2) THE ETERNAL (MARVEL/MAX) – The book that proves Chuck Austen isn’t a hack–updating a concept invented by King Kirby himself, this one’s got ‘cosmic’ written all over it – Kev Walker brings his incredible art from 2000 AD to American comics, and it’s about time – I’m still amazed Marvel had the guts to publish this (although they aren’t doing a thing to promote it) – the book went right to the top of my reading list (issue #2 comes out this week)

    3) THE FILTH (DC/VERTIGO) – For weird, mind-warping concepts and challenging story execution there’s nobody better than Grant Morrison; tailor-made for multiple readings as you try to figure out what the hell is really going on here; viciously funny, subversively political, and absolutely strange; Chris Weston is doing the artwork of his career on this title.

    Notice that these three are all “Mature Readers” titles. I guess that implies that the best comics today aren’t for kids – which is true. As long as comics aren’t available at the local grocery for 20 to 30 cents, kids aren’t going to be buying them. Sheesh, when I was a kid (OK, here he goes on his ‘when I was kid’ beef), there were comics EVERYWHERE – at the grocery, at the drugstore, at flea markets, at candy shops, in department stores – every place my parents/grandparents took me, I’d disappear and show up ten mintues later with a comic in my hands, begging them to get it for me. Well, since the little “funnybooks” were so damn cheap, they usually bought whatever I wanted (usually the newest Frank Miller DAREDEVIL, CAPTAIN AMERICA Kirby reprint, or Buscema CONAN). I feel sorry for kids today – we had adventure on every corner – they have cartoon shows about Asian cardgames and cheap-ass toys. And people wonder why kids don’t read comics anymore? Because they can’t drive to the comics store, and even if they could it would take all that week’s allowance to buy one comic. OK, enough of my bitching. Kids today can go see Spiderman and Hulk at the movies – stuff we used to dream about.”

    ALIAS is one of the best comics Marvel is currently putting out. It’s got fantastic character development, the best dialogue out there, and some very well-done art.

    HERO gets my vote, also, on the strength of the first story arc alone. It had to have been the most realistic look at depression that I’ve seen done in pretty much anything.

    PROMETHEA is constantly daring in its panel design, story arc layout, and narrative form (how many books do you read that spend 11 issues are talking about the Kabbalah?)”

    “1. ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN. As far as mainstream superheroics go, this is probably the best comic book currently being published. Gives you a glimpse of why exactly this character became so popular in the first place: because of who Peter Parker is, not the outfit he wears. Not a lot of superhero comics can say that. And come on, the first time he fought Doc Ock he pantsed him. Pantsed him.

    2. BATMAN ADVENTURES. The “Adventures” series of Batman books is now on its fourth incarnation, and if it hadn’t been relaunched so many times, the series would be somewhere around issue 125 by now, which is a tribute to DC’s willingness to support this historically low-selling series. I’m recommending this because of Batman’s historical importance. Batman has been in drastic need of a makeover for decades and the animated series upon which this comic is based gave him one, creating arguably the most revered and well-known version of the character in history, certainly among children and teenagers at least, who grew up with this version. The animated Batman is stripped down, all meat and no fat. Batman’s rogues gallery, once replete with clunkers like Poison Ivy and Mr. Freeze, is brimming in the animated continuity with great villains like Poison Ivy and Mr. Freeze. The folks behind the animated version simply get Batman in a way that the mainstream comics folks rarely have. Frank Miller called “Mad Love”, a Batman Adventures story, “The best Batman story of the decade. He was right.

    3. X-STATIX. Because Mike Allred is Jack Kirby and John Romita’s love child. Because the creator of MADMAN deserves some recognition from all the mainstream-only readers who have never heard of him. Because Princess Di is about to join the team.”

    ASTRO CITY, which is simply brilliant 90% of the time, and terrific all of the time. Involving, textured and look! Its fun to read, too!

    ULTIMATES, which is really just AVENGERS filtered through modern cynicism. Off-putting to me at first because the characters, which seem familiar, don’t always behave in ways you’d expect them to (you’d never envision the ‘real’ Captain America hitting a fallen opponent after they were down, but this ‘ultimate’ version will), but the beautiful art and terrific dialogue won me over. Its also the only Ultimate book that doesn’t seem (to me) to be strip-mining the original titles’ plotlines.

    Third, GOTHAM CENTRAL, easily the most over-looked DC book going. Who would have thought there could be a great crime comic in Batman’s world? What a terrific idea, and what beautiful, beautiful art.”

    “1. DAREDEVIL – Bendis and Maleev are doing everything right. The grittiest, most down to earth comic “super” hero comic on the stands. Coming off the movie, and with the anniversary 50th “series-altering” issue around the corner, no better time for this comic.

    2. ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN – On the opposite side of the scale, this book is everything the rest of the super-hero comics want – and need – to be. Fun and funny writing with fantastic artwork, it is near impossible to get anything better.

    3. FALLEN ANGEL – Coming next week from DC Comics. What promises to be a very different take on the superhero genre – if you can call her a superhero at all. Peter David always crafts a fascinating story, with high concepts and morality to go along with them.

    So three books with a very different take on the superhero genre. A broad, yet small, look at what our world offers.”

    “3: ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN. To be blunt, the only Ultimate title that really earns the title. UXM is decent enough but there have been so many variations on the X theme that what is one more really. ULTIMATES is not bad but it’s kind of depressing and the whole late shipping thing… ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN is accessible, intelligent, and the art is clean and fun. In many ways it reminds me of SPIDER-GIRL, but US-M wins out because it probably won’t be cancelled, and then not cancelled, and then cancelled, (repeat until your sick of it and quit caring altogether).

    2: JLA. Now I’m letting my geek flag fly. But to me they are the superteam. Besides since they do fit in with your criteria (currently being published) not only can I hand them Joe Kelly’s interesting but admittedly uneven run, but I can also introduce them to Grant Morrison’s weird wonderful big bigger biggest bang approach and Mark Waid’s very thoughtful questioning and twisting of both the conventions that Morrison introduced and of some of superherodom’s most ancient and sacred cows.

    And now the one we’ve all been waiting for…

    1: FABLES. No, wait, that’s not right.

    NUMBER A ONE NUMBER THE ONLY BILL WILLINGHAM’S FABLES!

    A desperately simple idea (fairytales are real and they’ve come to live amongst us) with endless possibilities. If you do not read FABLES then you are not giving a fair shot to a wonderful comic. And if once you read FABLES you do not love it, then you have no soul and a black heart.

    Before I go I would like to briefly make a plug for the most important book to hand any person who looks at you askance every time the subject of comic books is even brought up. Scott McCloud’s UNDERSTANDING COMICS. It’s beautiful, man. Everyone that I’ve handed that book comes away understanding the potential of the comic medium. Even if they themselves choose not to partake, at least they stop looking at me like I’ve hit my head too hard on the coffee table.”

    Other responses can be found at The Permanent Damage Message Board, but the piddling turnout disgusts me, so no more Questions Of The Week for you. (Not that I was planning any more anyway, but if I can blame it on you, however unwarranted, so much the better.)

  • If COMIC BOOK ARTIST ever needed a justification for its existence, (Top Shelf Productions, Box 1282, Marietta GA 30061-1282), #25 ($6.95) is it. It’s a brilliant Alan Moore themed issue, including a long and enlightening, if slightly bumpy, interview with Alan and a second, shorter one, and many with other collaborators, including ABC editor Scott Dunbier, JH Williams III, Chris Sprouse, Hilary Barta, Jim Baikie, Kevin O’Neill, Jose Villarrubia, and Kevin Nowlan, who nets the back cover. Great stuff, detailing Alan’s past and future and his outlook and philosophies as well as the point and purpose of America’s Best Comics; well worth the price. This is the last TwoMorrows Publishing issue; CBA restarts at Top Shelf next issue.

    Joe Sacco’s PALESTINE and SAFE AREA GORAZDE have made him quite a name as a “documentary cartoonist,” but he didn’t spring from nowhere and Fantagraphics BooksNOTES FROM A DEFEATIST ($19.95) is a great collection of his early works, from his obviously Crumb-influenced (looks like a lot of Gilbert Shelton in there too) “character” strips like “The Arnold Homecastle Story” and “Mark Victorystooge” (you get the idea) through personal memoirs, a docu-series of traveling Europe with a low-end rock band, and his later, very political works. It’d be a stretch to say it’s all good, but it’s fascinating to watch a cartoonist’s style and outlook develop before your eyes as he works his way through “the expected” and finds his true métier. Really spectacular are the essay “When Good Bombs Happen To Bad People,” and a memoir of his mother’s girlhood experiences on WWII Malta, which, with talk of gasmasks handed out and preparing for foreign attack, has chilling resonance with much of the speech coming out of the Office Of Homeland Security today. A terrific introduction to Sacco’s work. (By the way, Joe, I do know the lyrics to “Miracle Worker” and “I’m Not Like Everybody Else”… thanks for nothin’…)

    Being an atheist, I might be the last person worthy of judging Gene Yang’s THE ROSARY COMIC BOOK (Pauline Books and Media, 50 St. Pauls Ave, Boston MA 02130-3491; $5.95). On the other hand, I did grow up Catholic (and authored a comic book bio of the current Pope) so I’m more than familiar with the mysteries of the Rosary. This is basically a primer in the meaning and use of the Rosary, reiterating the stories of Mary and Jesus in simple, evocative text and simple, well-drawn cartooning. There are also some oddly subversive bits – a clearly African angel Gabriel visits the Virgin Mary, and Jesus’ crowning with thorns and his trek to Golgotha while carrying the cross are unexpectedly bloody and brutal, and unnerving. If I were going to teach my kids about the Rosary, THE ROSARY COMIC BOOK would be a pretty good place to start.

    Neil Ellis Orts’ BODY OF GRACE (neoNuma Arts; $6) is a collage of sketches, photos and bad cartooning masquerading as a trade paperback. A fable about a woman who wakes up one morning to find she’s suddenly a man and apparently always has been. Or is it about a man who wakes up from a realistic dream of always having been a woman? It’s one of those projects that’s sort of interesting but not very good and never really goes anywhere.

    It’s funny. I don’t remember giving a very good review to Scott Large and Dove McHargue’s ULYSSES (Picsure Press, 104 Peachtree Dr, Savannah GA 31419; $2) but, somehow, when they reprint the review in #4, it sounds a lot better. The final issue in the series plays a bit better than earlier issues, but there’s way too much going on, and the nominal hero is still awfully superfluous to the action, except in the final scene where he almost gets killed by a character with absolutely no reason to attack him. The art’s less erratic than before – there’s a Matt Smith thing going on there – but they really need to work out their next concept a little more. There’s still something entertaining about the sheer “amokedness” of the book, though…

    I know MORTAL COILS (Red Eye Press, 1415 N Taft St #1092, Arlington VA 22201; $2.50) is now an award-winning comic, but I still have difficulty warming to it. Like the others, the third issue features two stories by A. David Lewis, the first pretty well drawn by Jason Narvaez about the fate of a psychologist with dark secrets, and the second not so well drawn by Evan Quiring and Darren Merinuk about a medical cure for Alzheimer’s and the unexpected human result of it. Both stories have good ideas, decent characterization, pretty good dialogue and murky development, with the latter being the better developed. Both strain a bit too hard for twist endings, but the former literally vanishes into not one but two twists, one being too convenient to be credible and the other too “mystical” to have any impact, like Lewis was trying to channel Neil Gaiman through crossed wires. Which is too bad, because he really does show all the signs of becoming a terrific comics writer, but he really needs an editor who’ll tell him when to shape up and rework things, rather than his current one.

  • Various tidbits:

    The San Diego Comicon aka Comic-Con International has finally begun releasing their programming schedule , so I now know a little more about the panel I signed up for blind:

    “Friday 6:00–7:00 Tom Spurgeon: Stan Lee and The Rise and Fall of the American Comic Book-In comic books he’s “The Man”-an editor, writer, and overwhelming media presence. But what is Stan Lee’s true legacy? Tom Spurgeon and Jordan Raphael, the men behind the unauthorized biography Stan Lee and the Rise and Fall of the American Comic Book, present a new way of looking at the Marvel Comics legend and the industry that shaped itself around him. Special guest panelists drawn from all areas of comics include writer Steven Grant, indy comix/Marvel artist Dean Haspiel, journalist Michael Dean. and retailer Joe Field. Room 8″

    As I mentioned last week, I’ll be – as of now – at the Diamond booth from 12:30-1PM Friday and at Avatar Press‘ secret booth (#5202) on Friday from 2:30-4PM and Saturday from 2-3:30PM, though I also have a lunch date on Friday right beforehand so don’t be surprised if I get there a few minutes late. Lots of copies of FRANK MILLER’S ROBOCOP will be available, and while I can’t promise any of the actresses connected to what’s apparently now widely known as “The Vivid Project” will be there (you’ll just have to swing by and find out), we should have the names of the artists involved by then. Might also be signing at some point at the AiT/PlanetLar booth, but nothing official’s been set up yet.

    And it turns out the DC graphic novel drawn by Gil Kane, John Buscema and Kevin Nowlan is now called SUPERMAN: BLOOD OF MY ANCESTORS, not SUPERMAN: ANCIENT BLOOD. Thanks ever so much for mentioning that, guys…

    Remember, if your retailer didn’t order DAMNED, the trade paperback of the crime series my crime series with Mike Zeck, Denis Rodier and Kurt Goldzung that Cyberosia‘s releasing in August, which includes lots of new material including a new cover and ending, you can easily score a copy through the great mail order graphic novel shop Khepri, which also has webpage after webpage of other great listings by some great talents for you to check out.

    Due to San Diego, the next two columns might be a little on the skimpy side, except for this pile of Viz, Tokyo Pop and I+DW books I’ve got piled up here. But we shall see…

    By the way, if I were recommending mainstream product, I’d probably push PLANETARY, 100 BULLETS, and SLEEPER. But none of those are really mainstream, are they? “Non” mainstream’s a little tougher, but SHUCK and CHIAROSCURO would certainly be #1 and #2.

    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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