Last week's essay seems to have ruffled a few feathers, and lo and behold! It seems that even the toughest critics say the state of comics couldn't possibly be as bad as I suggested. I'm glad to hear it, though many seemed to think I was saying no good comics were published in 2008, and I didn't say that at all. There were many comics I enjoyed reading, but that wasn't really the question either. The question was what was best.

I admit last week was probably not the best time to be choosing the best comics of the year. I'd just come off a project that, while I'm fairly pleased with it (and will likely be more pleased once I plow through the inevitable rewrites), took way longer than I'd hoped and left me exhausted. I rarely have the money or access to keep up with Eurocomics anymore, so I can't speak with much authority about what was published over there this year, and there were American things that slipped my memory, like BOTTOMLESS BELLY BUTTON - read it, liked it, forgot it - or Grant Morrison's ALL STAR SUPERMAN, which is really the only Superman story anyone ever needs (Morrison seems to be on an end binge at DC these days, with "Batman RIP" demonstrating THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS is really the only Batman story anyone ever needs, and FINAL CRISIS being de facto certainly the last "crisis" anyone needs... and these are among the books I'm enjoying, just not books I'd put on a ten best list, though they have intriguing aspects, but Morrison & Quitely's ASS would). (That didn't come out right, but you know what I mean.) Eric Reynolds apparently made it his personal mission to defy last week's assessment by sending the absolutely exquisite Jules Feiffer: EXPLAINERS: the complete VILLAGE VOICE strips 1956-66 ($28.99) and Bill Mauldin's WILLIE & JOE: The World War II Years ($65). (Both from Fantagraphics, and both thick, tasty and eminently suited for Xmas presents for hardcore comics fans; Mauldin was arguably the greatest war correspondent of his day, Feiffer was a pre-eminent social critic/lampooner of his, and in addition to great writing and cartooning, it's interesting watching both refine and streamline their styles over time to maximize expressiveness, especially Feiffer, whose early style would seem to owe a lot to Harvey Kurtzman and Arnold Roth.)

(By the way, I've periodically ragged on comics marketers, but if you're planning to move into that end of the business, you could do a whole lot worse than to study and emulate Eric. And you couldn't do much better. Matter of fact, every time I critique comics marketing I get a flood of emails yelling, "What about Eric Reynolds at Fantagraphics? Don't lump him in with everyone else!" Either he has a lot more friends than makes sense for anyone connected with Fantagraphics, or people are noticing.)

But none of that matters all that much either. The fact remains that very little leaped to mind, and what did leap to mind were reprints. (I note that the first public "best of" list I ran across this year, from NPR, predominantly featured reprints, some of it of material not done very recently, so I'm not alone.) We tend to consider "best" a superlative, something standing on its own obvious merits, but it's never more than a comparative, against the current crop. Last year, had anyone asked me what the best book of the year was, there was absolutely no question: Bryan Talbot's ALICE IN SUNDERLAND. (I believe Dark Horse still has copies if you haven't seen it.) Literate, ambitious, gorgeous, fascinating. Where was this year's ALICE IN SUNDERLAND?

Not that I have anything against, oh, SOLOMON KANE or SQUADRON SUPREME. I enjoyed SQUADRON SUPREME, I wouldn't mind taking a crack at SOLOMON KANE myself someday. (I spent part of the year on a rereading Robert E. Howard binge, which I haven't done in decades, and while he could be pretty crappy, when he was on, his command of the language was terrific. For a great overview of his work, I recommend the mass market paperbacks in the Weird Works Of Robert E. Howard series, SHADOW KINGDOMS, PEOPLE OF THE DARK and BEYOND THE BLACK RIVER, all from Cosmos Books, with a selection of his stories published in the order they were written, and damn if there isn't a moment in there where you can see Howard's talent palpably exploding into full bloom before your eyes; the series left me wondering what direction Howard's work would have taken had he not snuffed himself, because there are clues.) But "best" or "ten best" categorizing carries more than normal responsibility. Merely liking a comic isn't qualification enough. It's not a race, not simply a matter of outrunning the competition. It means the work was notably better, in ways that can be explained, that it stands out from the other work in its milieu, that the author(s) brought something new to the table.

(Which, as far as a list goes, would mitigate some against ALL STAR SUPERMAN. For all Morrison and Quitely bring to that table, they're still only playing with other people's toys, albeit playing really well with those toys. Do we give awards for coloring inside the lines better than anyone else?)

(Come to think of it, that's what the Oscars and Emmys and Tonys and all that rubbish mostly are.)

(I wish I could say my own work demonstrated the qualities I argue for. I can't. It's not just grade school level delusions of fair play and modesty that keeps it off my ten best list. Or would if I had one.)

We in comics as a group - talent, fans, retailers, critics, etc.; doesn't matter - tend to be very bad at distinguishing what we like from what's good. I've noted before that the direct sales/comics shop market was largely built by shop owners whose main interest was getting everyone else to read UNCANNY X-MEN because they liked it. There are still many shop owners and employees out there whose own tastes are their be-all and end-all for what's good in comics. There are plenty of reviewers, editors, etc. who operate the same way. It's a natural tendency - we all like to think what's good and what we like are synonymous - but it no longer serves us as a business. (It's forgivable in fans; it's what makes them fans.) I don't want to know what critics and listmakers like. I want to know how trustworthy their aesthetic judgment is.

A significant question in any such deliberations - if it seems too harsh or unforgiving, that's fine, but under the circumstances it seems a fair question - is: if someone unfamiliar with comics asked for your recommendation of something that would prove the artistic value of the medium, would the book on your list be the book you'd recommend? It's not that insurmountable a barrier. I've answered that question before with ALICE IN SUNDERLAND, with Marjane Satrapi's PERSEPOLIS, with Joe Sacco's books on Palestine and the Balkans, with Moore & Campbell's FROM HELL and Chris Ware's JIMMY CORRIGAN, THE SMARTEST BOY ON EARTH. With Harvey Kurtzman's war comics, and KRAZY KAT, and Gilbert Hernandez' PALOMAR. These are all works that go above and beyond; when you read them they leave you different from how they found you.

In comics, we tend to wallow a little too much in the popness of our own pop culture; we tend to want to believe it's better than it is. What we like is too willingly confused with what's good, and good with "best." (And vice versa; I know quite a few comics fans convinced PERSEPOLIS, a memoir from a young girl's perspective that is (deceptively) simply drawn and makes no sweeping statements but instead illuminates life in post-revolution Iran and humanizes the Iranian populace, is trivial, irrelevant rubbish.) But "not being better than it is" doesn't equal "bad." There's nothing wrong with being entertaining, and there are a lot of comics out there for which not much more can be said than they're entertaining, and that's okay.

But as a thousand points of light they represent the general field, not its high spots, and just shining a little brighter than the field around it doesn't alone make one point a standout, if it's still of a piece with the others. And that was my problem with comics this year: given we're really talking about several different arenas within our field, in those individual arenas the samplings felt too much of a piece. Doesn't mean they were bad; works of generally very good quality can end up feeling of a piece too. It doesn't mean I didn't like at least some of them. I like watching BURN NOTICE and THE SURVIVORS. That doesn't mean I'd necessarily recommend them to others, or put them on a ten best list. It just means they entertain me, that I'm willing to give them an hour of my time, or that they're necessarily worth my time or that I'd feel worse off if they vanished tomorrow.

If my fellow critics are sanguine with other criteria, that's fine. That's their business. Though I'm inclined to wonder what informational or critical value a top ten list including SLOW STORM, NAT TURNER and a FABLES volume, not to mention twelve entries, really has, aside from idiosyncracy. Should works produced in other years, and maybe not packaged into collections until this year, even count? What are other people's criteria for these things? (And SLOW STORM? Really? It's intriguing, and Danica Novgorodoff shows potential, but it's a vignette that's all promise and no payoff.) Recommending books, or music or TV shows or movies or any kind of culture or entertainment, to other people is a tricky business; what they really want to know is where your tastes and their coincide. (SPOILER WARNING, if that sort of thing matters to you.) Back in college, a girl I knew noted I had a sizable collection of BLACK MASK-type mystery novels and decided she wanted to read some. I loaned her a couple Raymond Chandler novels, which she liked well enough, but she was dismayed that the hero never got the girl at the end. (This must've been before I came across PLAYBACK, unpublished in the States at that time, where Chandler's detective hero Philip Marlowe finally does get the girl.) So I loaned her the only book on my shelf that fit that criterion, Dashiell Hammett's THE GLASS KEY. When I saw her a few days later, she was furious. "What's wrong?" I asked. "The hero gets the girl." She moaned back, "But he doesn't want her!" In high school, a different girl who was curious about science fiction asked for a recommendation, and I suggested the "best" thing I knew of at the time (which meant I liked it best): the Harlan Ellison collection THE BEAST THAT SHOUTED LOVE AT THE HEART OF THE WORLD. Unfortunately, it concluded with Ellison's famous novella, "A Boy And His Dog." It never occurred to me women might find its ending offensive. She threw the book at me and never spoke to me again.

Screw the lists. I want to see the criteria.

Anyway, here's the problem as I see it. If there's one thing I've always been pretty good at - maybe the only thing - it's pattern recognition. This year I got a sense of creeping homogenization. Not across the board. Compartmentalized homogenization. It's been visibly ongoing in superhero comics for ages now (how much difference is there between BLUE BEETLE and NOVA, really?), and other genres in comics have traditionally suffered comparably, but now, as New York book firms colonize the growing graphic novel trade, I grow wary of their historical tendency to "reshape" material to what they think ought to sell (they're kind of like Detroit automakers in that regard) either by active suggestion or by implication via their buying practices. (They've done this with novels for decades; I assume cartoonists, like novelists, like to earn a living.) Apart from what they've cribbed from comics publishers who know what they're doing (like WW Norton's partnership with Fantagraphics) they can't so far claim an especially impressive output, though companies like First/Second Books have at least been trying. What's currently only whiffs of a situation potentially faces exacerbation as publishers are hit hard by the current financial crisis, as delineated in all its glory daily by Publishers Weekly. Provided graphic novels continue to be profitable for book publishers - I don't believe they're hugely profitable, but publishers still appear bullish on them, meaning they're more profitable than most of the alternatives or the strong belief that they will be is there - the tendency, if watching book publishers with other "genres" suggests anything, will be to "encourage" riskier properties to emulate successful ones.

Same as they do almost everywhere else where money's involved.

Interestingly, this only bodes ill for 2009 as a worst case scenario. You've heard the saw that all that's needed for evil to succeed is for good men to do nothing? All that's needed for book publishers to screw up what currently looks to be a good thing is for comics talent to forget that book publishers don't know jack about comics. Keeping that in mind might give talent the courage to navigate potentially troublesome waters next year; all you have to do is make your publisher believe it. Likewise, if book publishers' choices become more conservative (however you want to define that) in the current market, that's an opportunity for any aggressive, imaginative new publishers that feel like breaking in, just as bookstore financial woes give any resourceful comics shops an opportunity to reclaim market share, status and customer loyalty in the graphic novel markets.

Thing is, a week on, I still find 2008 a dreary year for comics. Sorry if anyone takes that to mean I'm not giving your favorite comics and graphic novels of the year due respect. I'm probably not. But that doesn't translate into a gloomy attitude toward 2009. Our financial prospects depend on how vulnerable we are to the current crisis - that's a topic for more research and another time, though Marvel's stock price has so far been more stable than others - but creatively the only thing that's really in our way is us. But like I said, there are influences creeping in, and we can't dodge or neutralize them if we don't (or refuse to) see them coming.

Unless we leave it to blind luck, but you'd think talent would get tired of operating that way.

It's possible comics publishing will enter a downturn in '09, but that's not always a completely bad thing. History shows us that desperate publishers do desperate things. On the one hand, that often means deciding payments to talent are optional. On the other, it can mean publishers taking greater risks with content and terms, in order to generate product that can get noticed and garner interest. To some extent, the decade's new alliance with Hollywood could give the industry a buffer other branches of publishing won't have, since Hollywood tends to operate on its own financial plane and is unlikely to be as affected by the current situation as other segments of the economy.

On a related note, a few people called me to task for equating fame with artistic success. Wasn't my intent, honest, and I don't believe for a second one is connected in any way to the other. But it's something of a marketing issue that the only popularly known names in the business date back a minimum of two decades. It's as if Tom Selleck and Robert Redford were the only actors the public recognized by name. Or Garth Brooks, Rod Stewart and Tony Bennett the only singers. It's appalling, given the number of very talented comics writers and artists who deserve to be widely known. Never mind explaining why it has no bearing on how talented they are or how good their work is, why shouldn't they be? (That it would be good for the industry as a whole, from a marketing standpoint, is gravy.) Are we so enamored of our culturally obscure status that any suggestion it needn't be this way, especially given the growing popularity of the medium and access to various types of promotion now available, is vehemently denounced? If I confused anyone by including the topic in a piece about a dreary comics scene, it's just that there's plenty to feel dreary about.

A few more Xmas songs to keep your holiday merry, even with relatives around. The guys this week:

"No More Christmas Blues" by Alan Vega. One half of the rock band Suicide, with a prescription for holiday survival.

"All I Want For Christmas Is A Go-Go Girl" by Bey Ireland. Don't know if Ireland is English or American, but he had that plastic '60s swingin' London sound down pat, and a straightforward X-mas message.

"Psychedelic Santa" by Buzz Zeemer. Not that there's much psychedelic about the music - it's more light garage band - but it's the thought that counts.

"Christmas Comes To Those Who Wait" by Dimentia 13. Ohio garage band puts a Pink Floyd spin on the season.

"Hope Santa's Out Of Rehab For Christmas" by Drive-By Truckers. An old-fashioned down home trailer trash Xmas wish.

"Christmas By The Phone" by Good Charlotte. A plaintive lament for Christmas past.

"Twas The Night Before Christmas" by Henry Rollins. Really, do I need to say anything about it? A surprisingly straightforward reading of Clement Moore's most famous bit of plagiarism, complete with Vietnam flashbacks.

"Christmas Time" by L'il Ed & The Blues Imperials. Because sleazy innuendo and rocking blues always help the darkest days of the solstice slide right by.

"On A Christmas Day," by Lonnie Donegan. Did you know there are actually Lonnie Donegan fans? A Christmas miracle if there ever was one.

"Christmas Morning" by Loudon Wainwright III. A fine balance of cynicism and hope, neatly wrapped.

"It's Xmas" by Screamin' Jay Hawkins. It's Screamin' Jay Hawkins, man! Not much screamin' on this one, though.

"Psycho Santa" by the Western Caravan. Serial killers love Xmas too.

"Shouldn't Have Given Him A Gun For Christmas" by Wall Of Voodoo. A lovely, moral-packed cautionary tale of holiday family togetherness.

Hunting those down should keep you busy for seven days or so. Next week: the women.

Was ROBOCOP a documentary? Things are looking kind of shaky for Detroit at the moment, with Ford, General Motors and Chrysler trying to squeeze money out of already bled government coffers, over the objections of a majority of Americans (who also opposed the Wall Street bailout), for... what, exactly?

The argument for these bailouts is that the "little people" will get hurt if they don't happen, with vast repercussions for the economy. If Wall Street collapses of its own corrupt and manipulative weight, millions of investors will lose everything, a vast array of businesses will go under and cost untold numbers of jobs, credit will be impossible to get, etc. If American automakers belly up, thousands will be out of work, especially in Michigan.

In other words, the systems are holding investors and workers hostage, and shifting blame: if no bailout comes, it's not Wall Street, and mortgage bankers, and investment bankers and money managers that cost you everything, it's the government. It's not Detroit that wracked up scores of bad decisions and sent the American auto industry into the dumper, it's the government for not helping them out. This is the extortion logic that hangs over Washington's head like a bad argument in a crappy movie: if you don't do what I want, I'll have to blow her head off, and it'll be your fault.

Of course, it's cool to refuse to negotiate with terrorists, but if your objective is to keep someone in their hands from dying, it's still a problem. Whatever anyone may think about the auto industry, there are all those employees and their families who'll be devastated if Detroit auto collapses. There's also the argument that Detroit is one of our last major manufacturing bases; much as I never want to see us in another war again, should we end up in one, having to buy tanks from China or Germany rather than be able to build our own might not be the most workable alternative. So there are reasons...

But there is a sense of dejà vu here. Haven't we been through this before? Wasn't Detroit stunned in the '70s by people wanting smaller cars with better gas mileage, and clipped by the opening for Japanese automakers, especially Honda and Toyota, to "invade" America with superior, cheaper cars caused by Detroit's refusal to produce them? So what was the reaction? Gas mileage and safety improvements pretty much only to the point mandated by Congress in the wake of what we now laughingly call The Oil Crisis, a perception by car company management that the small car thing was just a fad, and the reintroduction of big gas guzzlers the instant market research indicated there was an opening. And the immediate response to plunging sales in the '70s was: maintain profits by raising the per unit price of cars.

It's like with tobacco farmers and producers. They knew for decades smoking causes cancer. They had a nice long stretch of time to wean themselves away from tobacco to other crops and industries. Instead they pushed and pushed and squeezed out as much profit as possible, phenomenal profits, and when it all caught up with them they claimed the science was faulty, that they were blindsided, that "reforming" the industry would cost "little guy" jobs. Our auto industry had thirty years to ratchet up gas mileage, to make cars cheaper and safer, to wean the auto off gasoline-burning internal combustion engines toward cleaner, safer technologies and Americans toward necessarily behavioral changes to accommodate them. Instead they chose - they chose - to push it and push it and push it, ratcheting prices higher and higher, bringing the oil industry higher and higher profits, and keeping the affiliated third party parts and repair industry going. If there wasn't outright collusion among industries, there was at least cooperation. Some have suggested the oil industry, which at least in part got car manufacturers into this mess by jacking up gas prices past the point of American tolerance and creating a demand for cars with much better mileage or newer technologies that Detroit once again was unprepared to provide, should pay for a Detroit bailout. (Despite all the oil industry's talk of "supply and demand" as justification for prices and ridiculous profits, it was oil futures speculation that drove up the prices, and that bubble also quietly exploded in late October, sending gas prices into their current downward spiral that continues despite the traditional seasonal price hike rationales like increased holiday driving and demand for heating oil.) Since that's as unlikely as Congress voting to fine Big Oil to pay for the bailout or such a fine to make it through the courts, it falls to us.

But if we "save" the American auto industry, we deserve something back for it. Congress has options. The Wall Street bailout ended up going through without many strings attached, and some of the money went toward executive bonuses and other perks rather than solving problems, which rightly outraged the public; job cuts have by and large fallen on rank and file, not the management that either encouraged crappy business practices, turned a blind eye to them, or weren't savvy enough to understand them. Like Detroit auto management. In Detroit's case, it's not too much to insist bad management go. (That ought to be a mantra for these things: if jobs have to be lost, expensive bad management should forfeit their special deals and be cut loose before any lower level worker is touched. Maybe rather than all the perks and bonuses they've taken as their due since the Reagan era, captains of business should be paid on a base salary and commission relative to the additional success they bring the company. Minus any legal fees for defending corruption charges.) If we're going to pay out money, it's worth it to demand it not go to business as usual. In fact, this is a perfect opportunity to insist on changes that should have been made years: smaller, safer, cheaper cars with better economy and better technologies. If we're going to pay Detroit, let's pay to retool their factories to produce a modern, competitive product. If Obama's going to put special emphasis on rebuilding our infrastructure, let's use the opportunity to put in the infrastructure to make electric cars practical. (I talked about this many months ago.) We can spend money to prop up a sagging status quo or we can spend money to build a better one. At least the latter we can amortize over the long run.

Notes from under the floorboards:

Got a WHAT IF? coming out from Marvel on Xmas eve, of all times: Spider-Man, Back In Black. I'd bore you with details, but you can already find them here. Lots of other stuff remains available from 12-Gauge/Image, Boom!, Avatar, Marvel, DC, and, I think, Dark Horse. Do a search on their sites, or check Amazon or Khepri, because the list goes on and on. With lots more to come in '09, apparently...

Network TV gets weirder and weirder. Latest development, besides cancellations right and left where the cancelled shows linger on and on, is NBC signing Jay Leno to a new prime time talk show, Monday-Friday at 10 PM. Basically admitting a) they're no longer able to find dramatic shows that can compete anymore and b) talk shows are a hell of a lot cheaper to produce than dramas, meaning they might even be able to turn a profit on ad revenue during those slots again. If the move helps make NBC solvent again, or if Jay's new show becomes a genuine hit, will this encourage other networks to also cut out more dramatic programming? (Game shows and "reality" programming seem to have largely run their course as ratings draws, save for a few stragglers.) And where does NBC have left to go should Jay belly up in primetime? Besides the auction block?

Speaking of "reality" shows, I caught the final episode of HULK HOGAN'S CELEBRITY CHAMPIONSHIP WRESTLING on CMT last week. Hadn't bothered to watch before; the idea was to suck in a slew of CIRCUS OF THE STARS level washed-up faces like Danny Bonaduce, Frank Stallone and Tiffany, train them in the bare rudiments of pro wrestling, then pit them against each other in AMERICAN IDOL style competition where the crack staff of judges - Hogan, co-producer Eric Bischoff and former manager to the stars Jimmy "The Mouth Of The South" Hart - rated the performances and sent challengers packing each week. Until, apparently, four were left: Dustin Diamond, Dennis Rodman, Todd Bridges and Butterbean. Know who all of them are? Shoot yourself. And I'm thinking: who could the winner possibly be? You don't suppose it will be Eric Bischoff's good friend and former WCW paid performer (WCW was the Time-Warner-Turner owned wrestling promotion that briefly challenged Vince McMahon's WWE for supremacy until Bischoff and Hogan booked it into the grave) Dennis Rodman? Every week apparently taught the participants an important lesson about professional wresling, and the lesson of the final week seems to have been: it's all scripted. Rodman "beat" Todd Bridges in a rudimentary match so slow it could have been underwater - or one of Hogan's matches during his heyday - and Rodman was crowned the first CCW champion. Whoever could've seen that coming? The big question: did the other contestants see the script? Did CMT?

Then again, I haven't watched much pro wrestling lately. Until Mark Coale was kind enough to send me a Chikara Wrestling tape from last year. Chikara's a little independent in the Northeast specializing in fast moving but humorous matches with over the top characters and styles much in homage to Mexican and Japanese wrestling. Their idea of a "sold out show" is some 50 folding chairs in a Knights Of Columbus assembly hall, but damn if the shows aren't very entertaining. If you like pro wrestling, I mean. The wrestling's good too, with a couple guys so good it's baffling they're not working for WWE or TNA. (Though TNA's a train wreck and a half now, so awful even I can't bear to watch anymore, not even out of morbid curiosity.) Maybe it's a good thing they're not; one of Chikara's best players, Colin "Olsen" (who with his brother "Jimmy Olsen" - Chikara makes a lot of comics allusions - is part of tag team The Olsen Twins) was briefly Colin Delaney on WWE and his Chikara performance has so many good moves and such impeccable comic timing it becomes ridiculously obvious how badly the WWE mishandled his stint. Worth checking out if you're a wrestling fan.

You might've missed it, but scientific speculation is now confirmed: our galaxy rotates around a black hole...

The CBC was recently kind enough to bring us up to date on the ten top ways our civilization, species and possibly world could be exterminated. Download the program here. So it's probably a good thing...

... the physical (rather than theoretical) existence of planets and asteroids around other stars. Pack those bags...

Comics in pop culture, part 179:

(From last week's LIFE (NBC, 9p Wednesdays.) Okay, it references the pop band, not the character, but the pop band references the character. Take what you can get. And watch the show.)

Indiana now forbids driver's license applicants from smiling or wearing glasses in their photos, because it screws up facial recognition software. (Which, like most biometrics, generally works for crap anyway, despite what cop shows lead us to believe.) Other states are expected to follow suit...

Seems everything we ever knew about DNA was... well, not wrong, exactly... but the processes are far more complex and weird than previously expected; like quantum physics, there seems to be a point of mechanist reductionism past which things become quite strange and fascinating again, in this case an unexpected jungle of proteins, RNA and molecules affecting organism characteristics and evolution that have nothing to do with mutation...

Congratulations again to Steven Marsh, the first to spot last week's Comics Cover Challenge theme was "Seven Wonders Of The Ancient World." And once again Steven wishes to point your attention to gaming site SJ Games. Where he's managing editor. Talk about loyalty. 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, there's a secret clue cleverly planted somewhere in the column. Good luck.

Available in pdf e-book form at Paper Movies and The Paper Movies Store:

TOTALLY OBVIOUS. Collecting all my "Master Of The Obvious" columns from 1998-2000, with still relevant commentary on comics, culture, creativity and the freelance life, revealing many previously unvoiced secrets behind all those things.

IMPOLITIC: A JOURNAL OF THE PLAGUE YEARS VOL 1. Collecting my political commentary of the early terror years, from Sept. 2001 through April 2005, revealing the terror behind the War On Terror.

HEAD CASES. A collection of comics scripts from work done c. 1992-1995 for various companies, including an unused script. Annotated.

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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