Back when I wrote for TROUSER PRESS, I interviewed musician Brian Eno. Other people have talked a dream of comics talent as rock stars, but writing for TROUSER PRESS in the late '70s-early '80s (it had started as basically a powerpop fanzine in the mid-'70s, and within a dozen issues had evolved into a nationally distributed magazine focusing mainly on British groups but also giving early exposure to punk and new wave groups then on the rise, whereon I discovered it in the Midwest - or, rather, my pal Alroy tipped me to it - so dropped into the offices about as soon as I made my move to New York in late '78, and, believe me, it was quite a surprise to be welcomed with open arms anywhere in New York in those days, but there we were) was pretty damn close to living like a rock star. The magazine wasn't especially well known in the hinterlands, where ROLLING STONE was as close to music criticism as anyone cared about, but New York, especially the record business in New York, was ridiculously insular and in its own way provincial - I had more than one person tell me that if it didn't happen in New York it didn't happen, and I still know New Yorkers who think like that - but the record industry embraced it, for awhile, as their conduit to a vast sea of adventurous music lovers. So for awhile it was quite the whirlwind of free records, release parties, rock club passlists, free meals and hobnobbing. I mean interviewing. MTV killed that later, as the record business decided it was a far better tool for breaking an act than magazines, especially magazines written by quirky cognoscenti whose weird tastes were too far ahead of (or, more often, outside) the charts, and it probably was, since most record companies have always been far more comfortable with selling images than music anyway, but it was fun while it lasted.

As sort of the last one in the door at TP I mostly ended up interviewing acts staffers weren't interested in. Fine with me, since those often corresponded to my interests anyway. Among them was Eno, long past his Roxy Music days and embarked on a course of quasi-avant garde music (my other musical obsession, so it fit just fine) begun when he and Robert Fripp recorded NO PUSSYFOOTING. By the time I got to him Eno had developed it into his own little compositional niche and living out his pop ambitions via producing groups like Talking Heads and U2. We spent a couple hours in a conference room at his record company discussing a number of subjects, but the one thing I remember - I based the article on it - was his complaint with journalists that their pieces all became about their interpretations of what he said rather than what he said. It was something I'd never considered before: the journalist's tendency to distort the message of a story by being the prism - the middleman - that story passes through on its way to its ultimate destination, the "end user." In effect, "end users" must also interpret the message, but they're not really interpreting the message, they're interpreting an interpretation of the message.

Half a dozen years later, at lunch with Frank Miller in Los Angeles, I declared that symbolism, especially in comics, had outlived its usefulness. Frank understandably looked at me askance, like he was wondering whether I was just being a gadfly or I had genuinely gone insane. Of course, I don't seriously believe that symbolism has outlived its usefulness.

I don't seriously disbelieve it either.

Symbolism is greatly beloved of literary critics and college professors because it gives them something to talk about. Not that it hasn't always figured into human culture; all language, verbal or visual, is symbolic in nature. How symbolic is open to question; were the stylized beasts painted on Lascaux cave walls or Hieronymous Bosch's hellscapes symbolic representations or the artist's best approximation of what he really saw? Imagery is always symbolic - even the most realistically rendered painting or drawing is still an interpreted stand-in for its subject - but that's not the same as symbolism, where one thing is intended to represent something completely different. Poetry was long considered symbolism's natural ghetto, and while it always had a place in novels, they generally swung toward realism. (Even where there's room for interpretation, symbols in novels were generally concrete objects in their context. Moby Dick can be interpreted as representing a lot of things, but there's never a point in the novel where he isn't a white whale.) An urge toward symbolism in art became all the rage in 18th century painting - the representation of "inner states" in expressionism, the 'ultra'-naturalism of Pre-Raphaelite art, the reductionism of impressionism - as photography colonized realism, and once Freud got involved the symbolism really hit the fan, leading to symbolist painters, Dada and an emphasis on the avant-garde that quickly seeped into most of the arts. Freud was a real gift to the arts. Before Freud, symbolism had to represent something. Dream symbolism rendered intended meaning bourgeois; after Freud, symbolism was largely intended to be interpreted. (Surrealism was largely an incorporation of "Freudian" principles, an attempt to unlock "truth" by tapping into dream imagery and its hidden content.) Among the best artists, it wasn't laziness - and few ever completely abandoned representational painting (in the first half of the 20th century it made quite the comeback in "people's" art) - but a new way of inviting viewers to interact with the work. Bad painters mainly used it as an excuse to dick around, but no movement should be judged by its worst representatives, unless they take over the movement.

One thing symbolism and its mutant offspring surrealism did was to generate a whole new class of critic who perceived his function as being an intermediary, a sort of guide for the poor unwashed through the hidden meaning of symbolist/surrealist works. Some did their jobs well, others made a logic leap to where they were arbiters not only of meaning but of worth, experts who saw their natural role as determining which artists merited fame and wealth and which deserved only obscurity. By baffling coincidence, they tended to extol artists whose work encouraged interpretation and dismiss art that didn't. Which eventually led to further disenfranchising of the public from the art world, the exact opposite of what the surrealists and symbolists had intended. Regardless, symbolism was now entrenched in the popular discourse of critics across the arts, with levels of symbolic content increasingly being a key criteria for determining the "worth" of art, of writing, of film, of music, etc.

I have no qualms with symbolism or surrealism, in theory. In practice it's dodgier. They're tools like any other tool, but far too many creators use them as a crutches or cons, not only to avoid saying what they mean but to avoid saying anything, while looking like they're saying something terribly important. (But this is the way of most art and literary movements; progenitors intend specific results, flocks of acolytes more aware of the product than the process cannibalize the shallow end of the pool. So it goes.)

Comics traditionally haven't had much to do with symbolism or surrealism - they were usually considered "popular art," which is to say not art at all, at least until popular art became a fad in art circles, which are just as inclined to fads as any other aspect of our culture - and by and large symbolism itself is a bit redundant in comics. Symbolism, especially in superhero comics but also in "literary" comics, is comics' stock in trade, because historical quirks, notably an original emphasis on length limits, led to them becoming not so much stories as basically shorthand for stories. With not so much characters as shorthand for characters, with static panels enforcing shorthands for action, lack of sound generating onomatopoeia, etc. Not that most people commonly think of any of these as symbolic, but they are all elements that stand in for other elements. Where symbolism has been consciously applied rather than arising out of either publisher caprice or the peculiar dictates of the form, it has mostly been a weird anti-symbolism. In comics we have a perverse obsession with making the implicit explicit, so a guy intended to represent the ultimate development of humanity is called Superman (except the whole "alien" thing throws a monkey wrench into that) and a guy representing everything positive about the American spirit is named Captain America. It's like nailing a sign to a door that reads "door." They may be symbols, but they're symbols that can't be interpreted as anything else.

One man's archetype is another's cliche.

Though I read Jung extensively when I was younger, I'm not sure I believe in Jung's theories of archetype. This circles back to the discussion of comics as mythology a few weeks ago; Jung's archetypes are predicated on his understanding of myth as well as his psychological studies, but he lived in an era when it was believed that ancient cultures - many of whom had the same types of stories with the same types of characters - had little contact. In that context, the idea of a collective unconscious housing contents shared and tapped into by humanity the world over is a rational theory. But we now know contact between ancient cultures was common, even between the Eastern and Western hemispheres, and cultural diffusion has become a much likelier explanation.

But Jung was right about at least one thing, and this is something anyone can test for themselves. (I did, back in the day.) The more you approach the unconscious, the more the unconscious recedes from you.

Loosely translated, this means that the more you explore the symbolism of your unconsciousness - i.e. your dreams - the more elaborate, varied and creative that symbolism becomes. It's easy enough to achieve: just keep a dream journal by your bed and as soon as you wake up write down whatever you remember of your dreams. Try to figure out what they mean. You're likely to find your dreams are pretty ordinary, and their meanings fairly obvious, simply stuff like anxiety, sexual frustration, sexual attraction, doubt, hope. Dreams are generally little plays where your mind works out scenarios. Funny thing is, your mind doesn't much like to be told it's obvious and ordinary, and it'll pretty quickly go out of its way to prove it's not. A dream journal is like playing truth or dare with yourself. You're daring your unconscious to delve more deeply into itself, and the deeper you go the deeper it'll go, just to prove it can. Does any of it carry any real meaning? Maybe, maybe not. Maybe it's just you being ornery. But it proves a point:

Unconscious imagery and symbolism is by and large far more interesting that conscious imagery. It might be fun to know that the two men waiting for Godot in Samuel Beckett's play are a parallel for the two thieves crucified alongside Jesus on Calvary and redeemed by him, but in the play they're still waiting for the Jesus figure Godot to appear and thus doomed to remain unredeemed. (Or so I explicated in utter boredom during a college course on Shaw And The Anglo-Irish Drama, to the great delight of my professor who wanted that comparison made... but was it what Beckett really intended? The aforementioned Alroy got drubbed by the same professor earlier in the course for explicating Golden Dawn symbolism in plays of William Butler Yeats; the professor vehemently dismissed any mystical intent, but Yeats was up to his eyeballs in the Golden Dawn. So whose interpretation has more validity?)

Prior to the early '70s, symbolism wasn't generally an objective of comics and wasn't especially thought through; "accusations" of symbolism were either embraced for ego or self-promotion or amusement, or mocked as pretentious. Come drug culture and the widening perception (at least among hardcore fans and the comics talent rising from those ranks) that comics are an "artform" (I can't describe how stupid that term is; anything's a bloody "artform") deserving of equal standing with all others, and there go the floodgates. (And, again, there are Ditko and Kirby, right at the forefront, eager to widen their palate with no foreshadowing of what will follow in their wake, or in their names.)

But symbolism has never really taken in comics, except as mise en scene (an alienated character standing alone from other characters, etc.), and where it has been applied it has generally been "beat you over the head" obvious. Especially in "cosmic" epics that personify forces of nature or conditions of existence. (I mean, death figures named "Death"? We're just knocking on the door named Door again.) By the time I spoke to Frank about it, everyone was talking about symbolism, and "subtext" and things like that. To the point it had gotten really boring. Because they used those terms like symbolism or metaphor or subtext alone connoted meaning, and like a fight scene between a muscleman in red tights and a gay chimpanzee in a tutu was something other than a fight scene.

Even among comics greats, very few have shown any natural feel for symbolism, and Steve Gerber and the Hernandez Brothers were about the only ones who ever showed much natural feel for surrealism. In most cases, both have been employed to achieve no end other than broadcasting the cleverness of the writer. (I'm sure everyone knows of exceptions to this; I know of exceptions. But while the exceptions are good guides to future conduct, they are not the point.) In way too many cases failed symbolism was used as an excuse to blame the victims, the readers unable to muddle through it to whatever objective the author had in mind. It all served to enforce a bad mood and an urge against interpretation that I could sum up in five words: just say what you mean.

I still think that's the best course of action, but that doesn't mean I'm against symbolism. Quite the contrary: I'd like to see an uptick of symbolism and even surrealism in comics now. Like I said, these are just tools in the toolbox, and it's about time we learned to use them well. But "well" may be counter-intuitive. As Jung demonstrated, unconscious symbolism beats conscious symbolism, and conscious symbolism is almost always too structured, too pointed, stillborn. In that light, "just say what you mean" takes on new meaning. We need richer, more meaningful symbolism, which means we have to dig deeper for it, but it doesn't necessarily follow that we'll recognize it immediately. We don't need sureness. That's boring. We don't need formulas. We need new structures that will equip us to mine that ground. As a college writing teacher used to chant (I forget who originated it) "How do I know what I mean until I see what I've said?" In college I thought that was the dumbest thing I'd ever heard. I understand what it means now.

The impending and regrettable departure of my old pal (and current editor) Bob Schreck from DC brought a question to mind: what do comics companies need editors for, anyway?

Answer: they don't.

At least not as they've been using them.

Let's face it. Comics companies are, by and large, old school businesses in the mode set up by guys like Harry Donenfeld and Martin Goodman (who I in haste mistyped as Martin Goodwin a couple columns back, mea culpa mea maxima culpa), because that's how publishing houses were set up, and understandably. That's how business were set up: everyone under the same roof. With the limited communications available, it made sense then.

But now all it's good for is a counter-productive sense of control. If companies want to start really saving money, they shouldn't (necessarily) be dumping staff (and, yes, I understand the edict came down to DC from on high) but reconsidering their structures.

To wit: it might be different for production departments, but most editors don't need to be in the offices. Not much, anyway. Not sure what it's like today, but in the years I hung around Marvel, know what editors spent 75% of their time doing? Schmoozing with talent or other editors. Sure, sometimes it was germane to creative or company business, but the bulk of the time it was just schmoozing. If they could have cut out the schmoozing the same amount of real work could've been done in a quarter of the time.

From what I understand, that's fairly commonplace in any office environment.

I've known a lot of editors, and you know what editors hate more than anything? No, not freelancers or late work. Not even bad work.


Most meetings are ridiculous wastes of time. Most meetings are unnecessary. Even in meetings where things seem to have been accomplished, more often than not whoever's in charge of the project under discussion will ultimately change whatever was decided in the meeting anyway.

The object of most meetings - again, I'm speaking of general office environments - isn't to accomplish anything. It's to validate the person calling the meeting. Almost across the board, meetings are absolutely unnecessary. And if you don't need editors to attend meetings, do you really need editors on premises?

Here's the thing: editing is an objective-decisive job. In other words, the amount of time spent on the job is irrelevant, since success is measured not by hours but by objectives achieved. The main editorial objective in comics is to ensure books are prepared for press on schedule. Fact is, most editors could do that just as well from home. Gone are the days when scripts were written on typewriter and paper, art on Bristol board, coloring on overlays and lettering on overlay or art pages. Gone, for the most part, are the days of FedEx and mail. Hell, Marvel will even send royalty payments electronically to my bank now. Everything - everything - is done by Internet and email now. Everything requiring speed.

Everything but editing.

Most companies really don't need editors on premises on a daily basis at all. Why do they want them there? To make sure they're working, and the company is getting its money's worth. But they can tell that by what gets accomplished. Why waste all those office hours? That commuting time? Does the company benefit from all that? Not at all. That two hour drive from Connecticut or train ride to downtown Manhattan could easily "pay for" another book getting done or a dive through the slush pile. It's no great trick to have editors come in once or twice a week to exchange work, to attend meetings, to greet freelancers. (Freelancer drop-ins used to be pretty random, but I gather now they're mainly by appointment anyway.) Give 'em a dedicated cell phone and a web cam, and voila! Instant company access to the editor anyway.

Sure, that doesn't cut down on editorial salaries, but it means less need for office space. If you've got five editors and each needs to come in only one day per week, you only need one office and a couple assistants between them. Right there that's less square footage and all the ancillary costs that come with it. The upshot is leaner, meaner operations, and isn't that what most companies are talking about now anyway?

Of course, this path is fraught with challenges for editors, like fewer excuses for not getting the work done on schedule. The possibility of more work, if you prove too good at your job once the distractions are all yanked away. More isolation if you're not comfortable with that.

But it won't happen anyway because, like I said, the name of the game now is control. I don't see many companies willing to cede that level of control to editors, and certainly not as a matter of policy. No matter how much benefit.

1000 reviews in 1000 days (days 29-35):

From Fantagraphics:

DADDY'S GIRL by Debbie Dreschler ($14.95; hardcover)

Truly creepy, affecting adventures in child molestation, from the viewpoint of the molestee. The title says it all: slice of life stories of a girl growing up with parents abusive in different ways and especially how consistent rape by the father colors other relationships, told with a dislocated matter of factness and bitter humor. (Plus a couple unrelated but no less unsettling tales of growing up female in America.) Tough stuff. Go read it.

From Marvel Comics:

GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY #10 by Dan Abnett, Andy Lanning, Brad Walker etc. ($2.99; comic)

I have to admit GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY has sort of become a guilty pleasure, a ragtag collection of throwaway characters and rather altered "cosmic" heroes with a vague, virtually unnecessary connection to the Marvel universe. Coming off Keith Giffen's big "other" crossover of the last couple of years involving the conquest and eventual liberation of the Kree Galaxy, Abnett & Lanning have steered the book on a quirky path generally more drawn from 2000 AD than FANTASTIC FOUR. Until this issue. They play with dangling plot threads drawn from Jack Kirby, Starlin's WARLOCK, CIVIL WAR and the original GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY ('70s version), but the current plot, about Guardians leader Star-Lord (a one-time Green Lantern knockoff from Steve Englehart) trapped in Fort Apache, The Negative Zone, never quite gels, and doesn't so much end as peters out, with the heroes turning the matter at hand over to other Marvel heroes and skittering back to their own little neck of the universe. Unusual? Sure. Satisfying? Not so much. Quirky it still is, but it's been better.

From Titan Books:

SCHOOLGIRL MILKY CRISIS by Jonathan Clements ($14.95; trade paperback.)

Prose: a collection of Clement's writings from the now departed NEWTYPE USA and other magazines on the anime and manga. (The title comes from a fake anime Clements invented to dodge lawsuits from offended real shows when he tattled on them in public.) Really, this is often hilarious stuff, filled with tales of communications gaffes, creative snubs, anime and manga creators, the niceties of translating not only across languages but across cultures, lots of history on the development of anime and its emergence in Japan, America, elsewhere, etc. It helps immensely that Clements brings not only gobs of knowledge and insight, but also years of personal experience as voice actor and other roles, an artfully jaundiced eye and a breezy but concise style. Practically everything you need to know about anime and manga culture, very entertainingly told.

From Image Comics:

BAD DOG by Joe Kelly & Diego Greco ($3.99; comic)

He's a bounty hunter! He's a werewolf! He's got a vulgar preacher for a partner! They ride Harleys, drink in honky tonks and live in squalor! Is there some point to this? It's nicely drawn, and Kelly can certainly string words together but it'd probably work better if he at least appeared to be saying something besides, "Wouldn't a werewolf bounty hunter be a cool idea for a movie?"

From Berserker Comics:

CHURCH OF HELL #1 by Alan Grant & Wayne Nichols ($3.99; comic)

Speaking of 2000 AD, Alan Grant (no relation) was one of the prime architects of Judge Dredd (not to mention a longtime Batman writer) and it's nice to see his rather mordant sensibilities at play again with this somewhat tongue-in-cheek horror series centering on a "church" helping sinners - in this case a drug-abusing womanizer whose cheating triggers a deadly chain of events resulting in his brutal disfiguration and possibly the destruction of London - cut deals with the devil. This issue's little more than tease and set-up - we don't even get to the church until the final page - but Alan still knows how to make even the most useless characters interesting, so there's enough to keep me hanging on at least another issue, though ramping up quickly then couldn't hurt. And Nichols does the best Steve Dillon impression I've seen. Check it out free at their website, along with Alan and Steve Niles' THE DEAD. (I'm assuming that's not a James Joyce adaptation, though I'm sort of hoping it is.)

From Cute But Sad:

badger by Howard (12£ inc. postage; trade paperback)

Is there such a thing as a fantasy documentary? "Howard" follows the life of the titular badger, living in a London studio flat and going about its daily life: showering, shopping, riding the bus, dodging muggers and, ultimately, attempting to reconnect with his own kind outside the city. It's wordless, the drawing is only okay, and at first I'm tempted to ask, "Why?" But it also strangely evokes that peculiar British sensibility that resulted in the Paddington books I read as a kid and almost seems to be a meditation on it. That may be me reading into it, but while I'm unsure there's enough content to recommend it, I'd suggest the curious check out the website and make up their own minds.

From Fantagraphics:

HUMBUG by Harvey Kurtzman et al ($60; boxed two-book hardcover set)

These days I try not to review two books from the same publisher in the same week but if anything merits an exception this does: a superb, deluxe edition of one of the greatest ventures into self-publishing in comics history. Harvey Kurtzman, abetted by a coterie of terrific artists, created MAD comics, then mutated that into MAD magazine, which might be the most influential satire magazine in American history, spawning dozens of copies and millions of admirers. Following his departure from EC Comics, Kurtzman and most of his crew hooked up with cartoon fan Hugh Hefner for the short-lived TRUMP (killed by Hefner for budgetary reasons), leaving Kurtzman and his team dry on options. Their answer was HUMBUG, in a unique format at a price between comics (10¢) and magazines (25¢), that wildly mingled prose and comics and moved into humor more adult and much more topical than either preceding magazine. Aside from that, it was very much in the MAD spirit amped to the gills, freely savaging everything from popular movies and novels of the day to cereal boxes and magazine self-help columns. Though very tied to its day, most of HUMBUG remains hilarious today (their running feature "Guess Who Dies," featuring dramatic stock setups from movies and TV shows, even still applies) and it's even a bit depressing to have our noses rubbed in how little we and our culture have really changed, psychologically, since 1957. The art, from the likes of Arnold Roth, Will Elder, Jack Davis, Al Jaffee and Russ Heath, is terrific, and topping off a great package reprinting all 11 issues of the magazine in their original form is a great assortment of essays, interviews, annotations and production notes, mostly by comics historian John Benson. A terrific package for a terrific magazine. Worth every penny.

Notes from under the floorboards:

Condolences to Comic Book Resources honcho Jonah Weiland, whose mother died Monday after a long fight with cancer.

If you haven't read Dirk Deppey's assault on the "comics/graphic novels are dying in bookstores" argument, you should.

What a difference a couple of weeks makes. It wasn't very long ago I was assailed by articles in USA TODAY and elsewhere about how comics were selling like a house on fire, even in these desperate times, and how Marvel was conquering the world. But just now Publisher's Weekly sent an email with the somewhat less joyous headline "Marvel Holds On In 2008," citing Marvel's sales last year as "virtually flat with 2007." Which, all things considered, is pretty good and a lot of companies both in and out of comics would kill to be able to say they did that well, but it's still not exactly the rosy picture of earlier press.

Because I woke to it most weekday mornings, the only radio show I listened to regularly was THE ADAM CAROLLA SHOW, syndicated on the CBS radio network as a replacement for HOWARD STERN, who fled to the greener pastures of satellite radio a few years ago. (Greener for him, anyway; satellite radio never caught on - maybe because, like a lot of technologies that aren't catching on, the equipment is too damned expensive for most people to want to bother with - and is now teetering on destruction, but rumor has it that besides a fantastically big salary, Stern also received big chunks of stock that he, before the big crash, sold off at somewhere in the ten figures.) Last week, the CBS network abruptly decided, as a cost-cutting measure, to kill its talk radio format in favor of (Jack-style automated?) top 40 music, ending all the shows including Carolla's. Sitting at home collecting his salary until his contract runs out, Carolla, whose shtick is kind of irascible and frequently very funny working class quasi-liberal, is now filling his time with a daily podcast. He's still sorting out what to do with it, but shares at least one interesting prediction: cars with Internet access are on the horizon, making the possibilities of Internet radio/podcasts seriously interesting.

Speaking of seriously interesting, picked up a gadget last week that's now among my absolute favorites: Western Digital's WD TV HD Media Player. Earlier versions reportedly had problems, but now they've upgraded the firmware, it's great. Basically, it's a converter box allowing you to play pretty much any media format you can put on USB device on your TV set, with outputs for HD flatscreens or old TVs. WD made it as a come-on for their Passport hard drives, very small external HDs that hook to your computer via USB. But thumb drives work with the WD TV Player just as well, and a 2 gig thumb drive can hold a lot of .avis and .mp3s. The unit is ridiculously portable, too, making it easy to bump around from TV to TV if you've got more than one, and after considerable testing I've yet to find a media format it won't play. A great boon to viewing flexibility.

Uh-oh. Financial whiz George Soros last week predicted the current financial crisis isn't a blip but a complete collapse with no end in sight and compares it not to the Great Depression but to the collapse of the Soviet Union. On a worldwide scale. Uh-oh. (The good news is that if you'd had the foresight to stock up on toilet paper, a roll will soon be worth a lot of loaves of bread. If the Soviet Union's collapse is any guide.)

Speaking of finances... I see Obama has pledged to cut the national deficit in half within four years. Well, sort of. Though no two news sources seem to have quite the same interpretation, the plan seems not to cut the total deficit in half, but the annual deficit. If that's the case, it means the plan isn't to cut the deficit at all, but to add to it at a much slackened pace. Is someone about to coin the term "Obamanomics"? (Oh, wait, I just did.) Even less comforting is news that the White House's budget director, Peter Orszag (who's Israeli, not that I see that as a problem in itself, but, what? There weren't any Americans qualified for the post?), most recently served as advisor to the Central Bank of Iceland! Uh-oh.

This is curious: the first Blu-Ray film to make it into Bit Torrent's top 10 most downloading movies list is PUNISHER WAR ZONE. Well, no one ever accused videopirates of taste...

Congratulations to Dan Kaufman, the first to spot last week's Comics Cover Challenge theme was "door." Dan wishes to point your attention to his own site Dan's Cool Stuff, where, among other things, he reviews lots of comics. Check it out.

For those who came in late, almost every week I run a Comics Cover Challenge: the covers of seven seemingly unrelated comics (thanks to The Grand Comic Book Database for the covers) from throughout comics history are spread, usually not in any particular order, down the column. But a secret theme - it could be a word, a design element, an artist... anything, really - binds them together, and the first one to e-mail me with the correct solution can promote the website of their choice, subject to my approval. IMPORTANT NEW RULE: PLEASE INCLUDE WITH YOUR GUESS THE WEBSITE YOU'D LIKE TO PROMOTE IF YOU WIN. As in most weeks, cleverly hidden somewhere in the column in a secret clue, and a thousand ways to find it. Good luck.

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.

IMPORTANT PUBLIC NOTICE OF COLUMN POLICY: any email received in response to a piece run in this column is considered a letter of comment available for printing in the column unless the author specifically indicates it is not intended for public consumption. Unless I check with you or the contents of your e-mail make your identity unavoidably obvious, all letters are run anonymously.

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.

The WHISPER NEWSLETTER is now up and running via the Yahoo groups. If you want to subscribe, click here.

I'm reviewing comics sent to me - I may not like them but certainly I'll mention them - at Steven Grant c/o Permanent Damage, 2657 Windmill Pkwy #194, Henderson NV 89074, so send 'em if you want 'em mentioned, since I can't review them unless I see them. Some people have been sending press releases and cover proofs and things like that, which I enjoy getting, but I really can't do anything with them, sorry. Full comics only, though they can be photocopies rather than the published version. Make sure you include contact information for readers who want to order your book.

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