So how's the millennium working out for you so far?
Five books you should track down and read this year:
1) JR by William Gaddis. This thick, challenging satire follows a precocious sixth grader who secretly builds a sprawling corporation whose assets exist only on paper, while colliding with all the contradictions of American capitalism and weaving together dozens of characters and storylines. But that's like saying THE FOUNTAINHEAD is about a building. Gaddis' style and scope are breathtaking, his wit surgical and savage. The novel won the National Book Award in 1975, triggering a flurry of outrage and protests. I used to think the little-known Gaddis was America's best living novelist, but then he died. But it's a novel worth reading.
2) THE FAMILY by Jeff Sharlet. Never mind conspiracy theory. This study sheds light on a strongly anti-democratic religious cult birthed in the '30s that has fiercely, yet mostly secretly, wormed its way into national and international politics since the 1950s, preaching submission to a totalitarian Jesus shorn of history, theology and morality and promoting a philosophy that whatever the rich and powerful, whether heads of multinational corporations or genocidal dictators, choose to do is blessed by God because they are risen up by God and the poor suffer because God requires them to suffer, but all are equal in the eyes of Jesus - when they submit to Jesus' will. Though masquerading as Christian fundamentalism, it's not so much Christian as a weird combination of Gnosticism and a god-king worship that dates considerably before the advent of Christianity, and the extent to which it has inserted itself into American politics, including some truly unexpected adherents, is scary, considering virtually no one has ever heard of them. If you want a grasp on what's really going on in the country in the early 21st century, this is the book to read.
3) THE GRAIL LEGEND by Emma Jung & Marie-Louise von Franz. Carl Jung's wife and mistress team up for a fascinating Jungian dissection of the meaning and symbolism of the Arthurian corpus, from Perceval to Lancelot to Merlin, and of the Grail, and examining the pre-Christian myths and motifs behind all of it. A brisk classic of comparative mythology and psychological literary criticism.
4) LIPSTICK TRACES by Greil Marcus. A crazy history of pop culture in the late 20th century, spinning dizzily from the Sex Pistols through medieval anarchist cults and Dada to secret undercurrents of rock'n'roll and back home again. But what's really happening in TRACES is a dizzying history of ideas, and more than that one of the few road markers produced in cultural criticism in the last 20 years and seems to have all the past at its fingertips but always keeps its eyes on the road ahead. If you can read this without it becoming a sharp stick poking at your imagination, you haven't got one.
5) THE BEATS by Harvey Pekar, Ed Piskor & Paul Buhle et.al. Pekar's latest comics work, a visual history of the Beat Generation. The Beats are now more legend than reality - their names, Burroughs, Kerouac, Cassidy, Ginsberg, Ferlinghetti, etc. are still legend - and most people know more of the legend than the facts. Pekar, Piskor and the other artists and writers who contribute to the book, stick more to the latter than the former, but with enough of a sense of the former to get across their love of the material.
Funny how these things work.
Got a brief email last week:
"Just to let you know I read the ENEMY mini-series in one sitting and thought it was awesome!"
For those who came in late, ENEMY was my creation that Dark Horse published in the mid-90s, with art by Chris Schenck and covers by Mike Zeck. A complete bust on the shelves (and someday if I ever decide I never want to work in comics again, I'll go into the backstage antics on that one) it was later made into a pilot for Fox TV, written and directed by David Goyer. For a few days, supposedly, it was on the Fox fall schedule for that year, but by the time the schedule was announced, it wasn't. (Chris Carter's MILLENNIUM got the slot instead.)
Enemy was a Punisheresque character originally pursued as a serial killer by an FBI team, until they unravel his true objective: eliminating members of a secret political movement that had attempted to turn him into their assassin. From my perspective, Enemy was unique in that he was the only character I've ever created (that I can recall) who had a catch phrase, spoken to any target he closed in on:
Time to go.
Well, it's time to go. As several who solved last week's Ultimate Comics Cover Challenge suspected, this is the final Permanent Damage. Partly due to time. Between Master Of The Obvious and Permanent Damage, I've been doing this over ten years now. That's a longer stretch than I've ever done on anything, professionally anyway. I'm tired, I have way too much other work bearing down on me, and I've run out of things to say. Maybe if comics were a field on fire I might have more things to say, and might again. What we've got right now, if you scrape away all the pretty lights and look at the underbelly, is pretty much the same as it ever was. Not that I'm disgruntled, I'm not, I'm having a good time, but I've got nothing new to say about it. Every column I'd be likely to write this year can easily be capsulized in a quote from Douglas Adams:
and a couple sets of song lyrics from The Who:
I told you what it takes to reach the highest high.
You said nothing's ever that simple.
But you've been told many times before.
Messiahs pointed to the door.
No one had the guts to leave the temple.
Here comes the new boss, same as the old boss.
And I don't even like The Who that much.
Beyond that, I'm not sure I've got enough left unsaid to say about comics to fill a column with, let alone a year or more of them. I've said it. The archives - here and here - are full of it. (Me too, according to some, but hey.) Still want my sage perspective? That's where it is.
But when I began writing a column here, circumstances were a bit different. I was one of two columnists at CBR. Now there are oodles. And my work was mainly short form, an issue of a comic here and there. It's fairly easy to break away from that for a day to write a column. Now I'm writing screenplays and graphic novels, as well as the odd series here and here (currently CAPTAIN ACTION, and I'm trying to make that as odd as possible). Long form work. Long form is a completely different beast from 22 page comics. Long concentration, over weeks and sometimes months rather than a few days. Break away from that, it takes a lot more effort to get back into the groove. So something had to give, and from my perspective Permanent Damage was the easiest to let go. It's not easy, but it's easiest. On a weekly basis, it's an enormous schedule disruptor.
Originally, when I began Permanent Damage, I had in mind a sort of work diary. I quickly discovered two big problems with this. First, the work I had in mind abruptly dried up. In 2001, I was stepping away from comics and making inroads into Hollywood. Then someone drove planes through a couple of skyscrapers and Hollywood abruptly decided it didn't want "violent" material anymore. They thought moviegoers would revolt over it. Unfortunately that umbrellaed everything I was moving on, and suddenly no one wanted any of it, end of story. The violence ban lasted maybe six weeks - they badly underestimated the bloodthirstiness of American filmgoers - but that was enough time, apparently, for everyone to burn my phone number. So suddenly there wasn't really much work to talk about. Second, when there was work, I quickly discovered no one wants you talking publicly about work in progress. By no one I mean the guys writing the checks. My original PD concept quickly became impractical.
But it worked out more or less okay anyway.
I won't be vanishing. CBR honcho Jonah Weiland is kindly leaving the door open, while I've told him to consider me "on call," so there may be an occasional Permanent Damage special if there's something I want to weigh in on. I might get the notion to start a new column or restart PD eventually. It wouldn't surprise me. But if it happens, it won't happen for awhile. I'm still doing reviews for THE COMICS JOURNAL - matter of fact, a batch went up last week, since the Journal recently switched to a semi-annual print and regular online format - and if anyone knows of a paying market looking for a political commentator, drop me a line. And, of course, in the comics. Matter of fact, if anyone wants to do me a solid, order a copy of ODYSSEUS THE REBEL.
Before I forget, the winner of the ultimate Comics Cover Challenge was Al Schroeder, who correctly identified last week's theme as "The End." Al gets a twofer, since he'd like you to check out his superheroine webcomic, Mindmistress but notes she also appears with a superteam at The Crossoverlord. Congratulations, Al. Also want to re-mention Egan McConvey's site Twenty Two Reasons, as it was crashed the week it was mentioned. It's uncrashed now, so you've got no excuses.
That's about it. Back to the two screenplays, graphic novel, and monthly comic I have to finish up ASAP. If need be, readers, whistleblowers and philanthropic millionaires can still reach me at this Permanent Damage email address.
Until we meet again, see you in the funny papers.