Back when I first moved to NYC, I scored tickets to the New Year's Eve show at the Beacon Theater headlined by Talking Heads. Not that my interest in the Heads lasted much beyond that - past "Fear Of Music" they seemed increasingly pointless - but they put on a great show. My one disappointment was that they didn't do what seemed to me to be a logical bit, rickrolling at midnight from whatever they were performing into their song "New Feeling": "It's not yesterday anymore." We can never be reminded enough that it's not yesterday anymore, especially as we roll into new years.
Especially in this business.
Hard to believe it's now 30 years to the day. Back in college, a friend taking advertising courses mentioned they were told to spend five years in advertising - the average for marketable creativity in the field, reportedly - then get out (or move out of creative into management if the opportunity was there) before burnout could set in. I originally decided to apply that to comics, where I had zero interest in moving into management. So much for resolutions. A lot swept under the carpet since then, and another year swept under now.
But we automatically associate new years with new hope, however fleeting and ephemeral those hopes might be. No matter; resolutions are never as important as resolve, but resolve is something we've always had trouble with. Talent, publishers and fans alike, with a few exceptions, have always tended to fall back to the "safe" and familiar when faced with the uncertain new, but, by and large, it has been those who've pushed through to something new, whether genuinely new or culminating trends and forces already bubbling beneath the surface, who've changed the face of the business and the medium over the years. Which isn't the same thing as making a living, I know, but we're at a point in time where pretty much no one's got anything to lose by pushing ahead. Even Marvel's slowly changing the whole nature of their books, even while trying to stick to the tried and true, because while businessmen may place stock in the familiar as financial buffer, most people in editorial these days have come to recognize that there ain't no such beast as tried and true anymore, and as much as hardcore fans talk about the glorious things that "used to be," trying to replicate them, even if just in spirit, is no more guarantee of either artistic or sales success than anything else. Not anymore. A new year is no guarantee (nor even likelihood) of a zero sum game, but for a brief moment it won't hurt us to believe there's a future we can create ourselves, even if we slip a little in the doing.
That's my wish for the business for 2009: that we can finally create a new solid base that comics can grow from. But we can't do it by pretending it's still yesterday. Because it's not yesterday anymore. With that in mind, I did a little canvassing over the last week, and ended up with a list of things I (and others) hope not to see in 2009, in no particular order, not that I expect anyone to follow my recommendations:
1) Underfunded new publishers.
Okay, so you love comics. That's great. You want to be involved. That's great too. But don't even try publishing without plenty of money, or at least a business plan that offers some hope of ending up with some. While comics are a less expensive proposition than many other media, publishers who start up with big dreams and no money almost inevitably convince themselves that the work they can get is work worth publishing, and end up screwing over their talent, their staff, and anyone else who qualifies as a creditor. (Even if you've got money bleeding out every orifice, get a good business plan and expect setbacks, because it's a claustrophobic business with peculiar inherent restrictions on new growth, so successful publishing is a tough gig regardless.)
2) More Lanterns.
Green Lanterns. Red Lanterns. Black Lanterns. Alpha Lanterns. I forget, are there Yellow Lanterns yet? When did the Guardians start operating like Detroit automakers? Anyway, enough is enough; is the general plan here to come up with so many variations that the general concept collapses under its own weight?
3) Comics "created" by celebrities but written and drawn by hirees.
This seems to have been the big perk of 2007, being able to stick a "star" writer or actor's name on a comics series that they otherwise haven't much to do with but the publisher can use the name to promote the book. Sure worked well for Virgin Comics, and how much interest or credibility does, say, Stephen Baldwin's name bring to a project anyway?
4) Super-event crossovers.
How much milk can possibly be left to be squeezed out of these things? Is anyone even talking about Marvel's ULTIMATUM? (Or the Ultimate line in general anymore?) The problem with overkill on anything, as has been proven many, many times, is that when the bottom falls out it usually creates a great sucking hole that pulls the whole business down. We're far down enough as it is, and you'd think that if both superhero comics companies are going to depend on what's basically a gimmick to sell the majority of their comics (not that peripheral titles tend to gain juice from inclusion in crossovers, and successful titles don't need the juice) you'd think there are enough creative people attached to either company to come up with something else before the audience decides to shoot themselves. There are plenty of signs that crossovers have gotten as big as they're going to get, and the only direction left is down. There's no logic in riding that rollercoaster to the bitter end.
And all other familiar monsters. I see that the TV networks have decided next year is the year of the werewolf, replacing this year's vampires. My suggestion to anyone looking to get a jump on trends: Frankenstein. Then the Creature From The Black Lagoon. When exactly did they pass the law saying our imaginations are limited to 30's Universal Studios horror, George Romero and H.P. Lovecraft, and why didn't I get the memo?
6) Autobiographical comics.
Look, unless you risked life and limb escaping from a fascist dictatorship, ended the war in Bosnia, overcame an infantile craniectomy or discovered a cure for cancer, or you can express the mundane with rollicking irrepressible madcap humor, keep the details of your boring, pathetic life to yourself. Whatever you think you can pull off, Robert Crumb already did it so much better thirty years ago, especially when it comes to your sex life, which, baring something truly unusual like ritual castration, is just like everyone else's. And your decision to leave your day job moving mail around some insurance office to pursue your dream of becoming a famous cartoonist isn't nearly as inspirational as you think.
7) "Gateway" series that claim to be 'new reader friendly' then bury themselves under pre-existing continuity.
Does BLUE BEETLE ring any bells? For all that companies talk about "intro" series that don't require encyclopedic knowledge to decipher, they can't seem to resist burdening them into oblivion with tie-ins and references to other books, probably in the misguided belief that a) the readers of the intro series will then feel compelled to buy some other book and b) the readers of the other book will then feel compelled to buy the intro book. Even when series, or whole lines, have been introduced from scratch, with no connection to any existing continuity, they've routinely been burdened down with exhaustive bibles - fake mountainous continuity - that cramp, squeeze and tease a whole culture of data backlog. Jeez, let new concepts grow organically, on the fly. It was good enough for Stan Lee, even if the Hulk did end up with three or four different first names in the process.
Okay, manga looks to have hit its growth limit here, at least for the moment, so people can stop acting like it's the be-all and end-all, especially as many readers who once read manga exclusively have already started exploring American comics. They're just picky, and have that right. I'm not saying there aren't things we can't still glean from manga and put to use here, but imitating them? Why bother? I know there's an argument out there now that comics don't have to be from Asia to be manga, but that's patently self-aggrandizing stupidity. If "manga" doesn't specifically refer to Chinese, Korean and predominantly Japanese comics, then any comics can be manga (given that what's generally touted as "manga style" has no real meaning anymore in Japan and there are plenty of manga that don't have a "manga style" at all) and there's no longer any point to even using the term. Just call them comics. Better yet, let the Asians have manga and do something new.
9) Bad work.
I don't mean middling, familiar, mediocre work. We'll never be rid of that. (I'm likely to create some myself this year, however I might try otherwise.) I mean bad work. Incoherent seventh-grad level (at best) writing void of ideas or any concept of grammar. Grossly malproportioned, heavily inconsistent art that bears no conceptual resemblance to physical space. There's no excuse for it, and even people producing the stuff convinced they're undiscovered geniuses are capable of enough perspective to look at virtually any other comics and recognize the vast gulf of talent and experience that separates them from even the worst stuff published. (Or maybe not, since piles and piles of this stuff hits my mailbox every year.) This especially goes for nascent self-publishers. While I'm all in favor of self-publishing, self-publishing should be a choice because you want to maximize your participation in your own work, not as a fallback position because you can't find anyone else dumb enough to publish it. If there's something that just won't let you rest until you get it out, that's one thing. If you think you're going to impress anyone, you're in big, big trouble.
I'm sure more will come to mind, but if you've got things you don't want to see in comics in 2009 (and don't bother telling me "you" because you're already not that lucky) pass it along by clicking here.
Remember: the key word in New Year is New. So Happy New Year.
It's not really that Brit TV is necessarily better than American TV, but they do things as a matter of course that, until very recently, and even now very rarely, would never make the air, even on cable channels, in America. Recently rewatched the ending to BLACKADDER GOES FORTH, which abruptly switches gears to the exact opposite of comedy in a shocking, almost elegiac moment that perfectly punctuates the series themes. (Looking back, it's how FRIENDS should have gone out. Not perfectly punctuating their themes; following the exact action of the BLACKADDER finale.) It certainly wasn't a feelgood scene but it sticks with you.
Various contacts (you know who you are, and thanks) kept me supplied with this fall's outpouring of TV from Britain and Canada. Canadian "outpouring" is an overstatement; it's basically THE BORDER, the Canadian answer to SPOOKS involving intrepid but not especially bright border security agents coping with American Homeland Security; Asian, Russian & British spies; homegrown and international mobsters; the secret shenanigans of their own governments; terrorists; and personal strife. It's a good example of how much Canadian TV struggles to schizophrenically emulate both British and American styles simultaneously, but THE BORDER manages to be just convincing enough, aided considerably by the mid-season arrival of BATTLESTAR GALACTICA's Grace Park as a regular. Like SPOOKS (see below) THE BORDER desperately tries to make its nation out to be far more pivotal in international politics than it is but that's part of its charm.
SPOOKS (AKA MI-5) returned to British TV for what was rumored to be its unintentionally hilarious final season. (It has since been renewed.) Dumping formerly-cool-but-since-reduced-to-mopey-wretch Adam (Rupert Penry-Jones) for bitter mopey wretch Lucas (ROBIN HOOD's Richard Armitage), the spy thriller went from foible to foible (one agent gets Adam killed by breaking orders and delaying him from evacuating a bomb just long enough that it blows up before he can get out of range, and gets rewarded with his job an episode later without so much as a recriminating glance) in a bald-faced attempt to restart the Cold War and reassure viewers of England's continued importance on the world stage, as an apparently resurging quasi-Stalinist Russia spends episode after episode targeting the little island nation. But the final two episodes almost made up for the season, with MI-5 boss Harry Pierce (Peter Firth) being framed as a long-time KGB mole but even in captivity and under torture turning the situation to his advantage - but even there his team muddles and stumbles their way through things until one of them gets stupidly murdered for their efforts - and the Russians subsequently playing a final hand that forces Harry to turn to unlikely comrades and potential danger, in one of their more effective season-enders. It remains a conundrum how a show so obsessively chauvinistic can also be obsessed with keeping its heroes so not-supermen as to make them dunderheads, but somehow it works. Kind of.
The second series of DR. WHO spinoff THE SARAH JANE ADVENTURES also got obsessive this year, with playing down to kids. Elisabeth Sladen, as Sarah Jane Smith, suburban protector of the world, was good as always but the threats - possessed dads, psycho clowns, abandoning parents - seemed pulled out of some cliched pop psych book about childhood fears, badly subduing most of the stories, even as villains routinely ranted about conquering or destroying the world in attempts to juice up the stakes. For the most part, it didn't work; I can't even judge how kid friendly it turned out, and that's clearly what they (or, more likely, the BBC) were going for. But the final storyline, with Sontarans, UNIT and, best of all, the Brigadier, was a fine throwback to the mid-'70s DR. WHOs that originally featured Sarah Jane. It has also been renewed; here's hoping next year they put more focus on imagination and storytelling than on appealing to children.
Terry Nation created The Daleks, and since the BBC is now stripmining the DR. WHO legacy with as many spinoffs as they can pull off and casting every living actor who ever appeared on the show, it's not surprising they also resurrected Nation's '70s creation THE SURVIVORS, about what happens when a supervirus ravages the world, though they cribbed not from the original show but from Nation's subsequent novel. The six-episode run started out a little shakily, introducing a bunch of faces familiar mainly to Dr. Who fans then topping them one by one as a motley crew of the unaffected wandered from their previous circumstances into an impromptu family in a strange new world. HOTEL BABYLON's Max Beesley easily had the best part, a complex role as a convict serving presumably life for murder who sees the plague as a pardon and a second chance but sporadically backslides into reflexive behavior he's trying to leave behind. In a way, that's what the whole series is about, clinging to outmoded behavior when faced with the opportunity to remake the world (while Beesley's Tom embodies it, by the final episode it becomes societal, with what little society is left) and THE SURVIVORS reveals a flaw in the "limited run" style of British dramas, which only last a handful of episodes per series; the show doesn't quite gel until the fourth episode - until then it's pretty familiar disaster story stuff - then it's over just as it clicks. It has also been renewed.
Speaking of shows for kids, it helps to view MERLIN with tongue-in-cheek. Presumably driven by their success with the recent inane ROBIN HOOD re-imagining, MERLIN wreaks havoc with Arthuriana, completely throwing out the tradition to generate what appears to be England's answer to SMALLVILE: the teenage Merlin makes his way from some outlier village to a fabled Camelot (apparently the producers somewhere said it's a parallel world, so forget anything you ever knew) where Uther Pendragon has outlawed magic under penalty of death, Prince Arthur is a bullying dick, the future queen "Gwen" is basically a black servant (so wrong in so many ways), the future villainess Morgana le Fay is Uther's outspoken proto-feminist ward, and Merlin finds himself attached to Arthur as a servant and forced to perform his superdeeds in secret, while taking instruction in destiny from John Hurd, a dragon chained up under Camelot. Got all that? The good part: so much stupidity apparently went into conceptualizing MERLIN that they didn't have all that much left over for the screen. Well, some. The actors aren't bad (Uther is BUFFY's now puffy Anthony Head) and once you get past the notion that the show's geared for people who never read LE MORTE D'ARTHUR or saw THE SEVEN SAMURAI, it's... well... the British SMALLVILLE, smart and dumb and entertaining and infuriating in all the same ways. And watchable, though you'll not likely be dying for another season.
I think I've mentioned the exceptional travelogue STEPHEN FRY IN AMERICA before, with the British actor (BLACKADDER, V FOR VENDETTA) briskly touring all 50 states with good-natured fascination; he renders even the country's hellholes interesting. I never did get around to THE DEAD SET, the brutal Halloween week zombie thriller where the only ones unaware of the monster outbreak in Britain are the contestants in the Big Brother house, where most of the action takes place. Something to watch this weekend.
THE IT CROWD returned for a third run. While most of my criticisms hold - it never has much to do with the techie world that's theoretically its centerpiece, fixating instead on typical sitcom plots like office boss Jen needing one of the socially oblivious geek techies to be a pretend husband for a class reunion - it was more uniformly funny this year than previously. But, disappointingly, it continues to show not much understanding of nor interest in its supposed subject matter, and not much separates it from any other English workplace comedy.
Of course, no British TV season can go by without some depressive cop drama demonstrating the depths of monstrosity, misery and craziness, and, lo, there's WALLANDER, a three episode series set in Sweden and adapting Swedish crime novelist Henning Mankell's mysteries. It's pretty standard stuff at heart - Mankell's mysteries aren't much harder to solve than the average episode of MONK - but it's pulled up by a great look and the actors, mainly Kenneth Branagh and Sarah Smart, playing it completely for keeps (Branagh sinks so thoroughly into the beaten down cop role you expect him to put a bullet through his head at any moment), by terrific Swedish settings that were a great change from Glasgow and London and Los Angeles and Vancouver, and cinematography that turn the midnight sun eerily nightmarish. Could've lived without a serial killer threatening Wallander's grown daughter, but otherwise pretty watchable. (Though it did well, Branagh's off to direct THOR, putting another run on hold.)
Finally, John Simm returned in THE DEVIL'S WHORE, a supposedly "true" costumer about a wannabe feminist winding through Cromwell's takeover of England in the 1640s; she moves blithely from king's court to populist rabble and is at home in all places but among the vulturous merchant class, which occasionally tries to hang her. Protecting her throughout is Simm's Edward Sexby, a mercenary-turned-supporter of the revolution-turned-would be assassin. Plenty of interest to be found in the Roundhead years, and the four episode series milks it well, though it gilds the lily by making Cromwell (THE WIRE's Dominic West) flat out vile (in the series, he betrays the revolution by deciding to make himself king; he was never made king in real life because he was a passionate anti-royalist who shot the idea down whenever it was brought up). Simm and West, and most of the supporting actors, are great in their roles, but the huge gaping flaw of the series is its heroine, apparently an object of desire to all men who lay eyes on here, yet actress Andrea Riseborough plays her as a nondescript, supercilious lump who routinely makes pronouncements as though she's in a spitting contest. The historical stuff in the series is fascinating, but in the producers' hands it's history as Jane Austen.
Was planning to run through the year's books (on my shelves) that I hadn't gotten around to reviewing, but ended up reading Bill Schelly's MAN OF ROCK (Fantagraphics; $19.99) instead. I've never made my admiration for Joe Kubert's work a secret; he's certainly a fit subject for a biography. On a strictly biographical level, MAN OF ROCK is it, and worth the read if for no other reason that Kubert's story is basically the story of American comics. Schelly does an admirable job of telling the story of Kubert's immigrant parents and how their influence shaped his life; of Kubert's working education in early comics, starting before he was even a teenager; of his '50s attempts at creating and self-determination, not to mention the invention of 3D comics, and his subsequent unplanned ascension as king of war comics when the industry went bust and he took refuge under Bob Kanigher's editorial wings; of Kubert's later forays into syndicated comic strips, editing, teaching and original graphic novels; and of developments in his personal life throughout his long career, including fathering, literally and figuratively, a new generation of comics talents.
It's unlikely a better Kubert biography will be written, and no doubt that's all Schelly intended. But, as nicely as Schelly wraps it up, when finished MAN OF ROCK leaves important questions unanswered. Comics bios are incomplete without considering aesthetics, and though Schelly makes a stab at it, he never quite manages to tell us why Kubert's work is important. The closest he comes is a brief paragraph:
"Joe Kubert has no such need. He would rather show what he knows than talk about it. Did Gil Kane understand comics better than Joe Kubert? Though Kane left a legacy of visual innovation, when push came to shove, he never proved himself as a writer, and left a body of work that had fewer high spots than there should have been. Kane and Kubert, born within days of each other, both Jewish, both brought up in the Brooklyn ghetto, both men who loved to draw and were able to make a living at it - but so different."
The comment, which seems to pop out of nowhere, is less an elucidation of Kubert's greatness than a knock on Gil apparently provoked by Gil being the better interview. But it's as close to a genuine critique as Schelly gets. Otherwise he mainly just tells us over and over how great and significant Joe's work has been for over 60 years but very little attempt to deconstruct it and demonstrate what makes it tick. I'm willing to accept Schelly's assertions mostly at face value, but I'm already steeped in Joe's work and its historical contexts. I don't know who, new to Kubert, would find it all that convincing. (In contrast, though it's not perfect, Blake Bell's STRANGE AND STRANGER: THE WORLD OF STEVE DITKO, also published by Fantagraphics, is an excellent example of a critical biography; interestingly, Bell demonstrates how Ditko was strongly influenced by Kubert's work, an opportunity Schelly misses altogether.) If your main interest is Kubert the man, MAN OF ROCK likely to be the final word for some time, and it does that job very well. If your main interest is Kubert's work and what makes it important, that book has yet to be written.
Notes from under the floorboards:
For those font-hunters reading this on Wednesday - or maybe Thursday; it's unclear but check - Comicraft is having their annual 24 hour font sale where you can get some spectacular font sets ridiculously cheaply if you're quick and can choose well, and over pay for them if you're not. (They explain it at their site.) They're everything you need for professional-looking computer comics lettering. Except the computer. And the lettering software. But at least you'll have great-looking fonts. I think I'll score a couple myself this year. (I'm thinking the font that normally goes for about $300...)
Sarah Palin manages to keep herself in the goofy news. Seems PETA, outraged at Palin's support for shooting moose from helicopters and the like, added the governor's likeness to their online game where viewers can throw snowballs at various animal abusers. Which resulted in a threatening anonymous phone call claiming to be from Palin's office (they refused to give their name when asked) demanding PETA remove the game or get sued. PETA instead wrote up the incident on their website. Which resulted in an official phone call from the Governor's press secretary accusing PETA of being lying sacks of lies. What's really funny is the grade school bickering that ensued, with both sides looking pretty moronic. I assume a cage match is next...
I always knew it was a scam, one reason I don't do it: seems text messaging costs service providers nothing. So why does it cost you so much? To make up for the amount of money they stopped making when people realized they didn't have to buy ringtones?
In case you missed it, 2008 is a second longer than 2007. Is that a leap second?
It never fails. As the economy gets murkier and muckier, there's a push on to position the Army to deal with any resultant civil unrest. Wait, isn't that the National Guard's job? Wait, isn't most of the National Guard in Iraq doing the Army's job? Maybe a better plan would be to move the National Guard, um, home...? (A little story from my wartorn past. Back during anti-Vietnam war protests in Madison - they got pretty chaotic, and I and numerous other people got fairly desensitized to tear gas - there were three groups of law enforcement involved in keeping the piece. One was local cops. They generally weren't eager for the task, since the protestors might be their children or their next door neighbors or families they rubbed elbows with in their off hours. The second were National Guard, most of whom were roughly the same age as the protestors and many of the same sympathies; they'd joined the National Guard to avoid the draft and Vietnam. The third were cops drawn from little towns for a hundred miles or so in any direction, and those towns already hated Madison anyway, so those cops seemed primarily interested in taking stories about bashing hippies back to their local bars. They were the worst group to run into. But if your interest lies in "maintaining order" AKA establishing your dominance over the situation, the group you want is not a group with natural sympathies toward those you're trying to control. It's the group that demonizes them. The open question with the Army scenario is how comfortable average American soldiers would be with suppressing average Americans. And don't think that question doesn't keep strategists awake nights...)
Real life superheroes? Either Americans are crazier than I thought or the Brits are just making this up... (I notice no sources are actually named in the piece.)
I see Tom Spurgeon is burning up his Xmas vacation with a series of excellent interviews at The Comics Reporter spanning the breadth of comics art.
Word has it the latest industry demanding a "bailout" (can we just scrap that word and say "handout," the way it's phrased anytime the subject of welfare comes up in political discourse now?) is the retail industry. (Um... do stores constitute an industry?) Has anyone even bought retail in 20 years? What's next, the fashion industry? No, wait, it's the political industry; Congress just gave itself another pay raise, presumably for a job well done. Oh, it's not fault, it's automatic. It's the law. That Congress (but not this Congress) passed. Maybe they can use the increase to buy some tact lessons...
The dismal box office showing of THE SPIRIT was somewhat expected, and I suppose the subsequent fan gloating was expected too, but I'm reminded of Thomas "She Blinded Me With Science" Dolby's response when called a "one-hit wonder": "Well, that's one more than you've got." (By the way, anyone assuming that Frank "can't direct a movies" based on THE SPIRIT should take a look at his earliest published comics work sometime. Give him a couple more years, he'll be winning Oscars.)
Also not surprisingly, the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) digs the Recording Industry Association of America's (RIAA) proposed plan to turn ISPs into copyright cops and wants in on the action. Both groups fall silent on the question of who's going to pay for all this? (I am amused by one ISP owner who responded that every time he has gotten a call from the RIAA demanding he crack down on any "music pirates" operating through his system - not that they've ever presented any evidence there are any - he just asked for the address, phone number and contact info for their billing department, and the calls cease.) Meanwhile, the British Secretary of Culture - Isn't that kind of French? - has called for websites to be rated, like movies are. The fight over who gets to decide on the ratings will be fun to watch. (You may recall that porn sites a couple years ago volunteered to "rate" themselves is a Web "red light district" with the .xxx suffix instead of .com etc. and were turned down flat, presumably because that would make them too easy to find. That's prudes for you...)
Ha. Maryland sued Diebold for the cost of fixing Diebold's lousy voting machines. (Diebold's response when the problems surfaced was that they weren't problems, and did pretty much nothing. Diebold's owner is hard core Republican, and dogged by speculations his machines, and their proprietary software that no one, including state election commissions, is allowed to see, are rigged to rig votes, and in the early months of this year's election there were plenty of reports from many states about how votes Democrat had mysteriously flipped into votes Republican - a side benefit of widespread early voting, which Republicans began to vociferously oppose as the campaign went on, was that these "errors" were discovered and corrected early, before they could affect much - so maybe the concerns aren't entirely paranoia.) Diebold is now expressing bewilderment about the lawsuit, citing Maryland's recent elections as among the smoothest in state history. Without citing Maryland's virtually unaided overhaul of the machines, of course. Other states are doubtless watching all this with interest...
One of my favorite current musical acts is cabaret rockers The Dresden Dolls, whose co-founder Amanda Palmer gets cranky with her record label here over their inability to grasp reality. By the way, it's Warners...
Congratulations to Karen Walker, the first to spot last week's Comics Cover Challenge theme was "family." Karen wishes to point your attention to her roundtable Silver/Bronze age review site Two Girls, A Guy & Some Comics. Worth a look.
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, a secret clue is cleverly hidden somewhere in the column, but don't waste too much time looking for 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.
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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.