I notice a little brouhaha has flared up again over work-for-hire comics, courtesy of Marvel EIC Joe Quesada, who takes on Robert Kirkman's creator call to arms of a few weeks ago, and Noel Berlansky, who's appalled by Joe's "defense" of work for hire. As readers of my discussion of the matter a few weeks back know, I sympathize with Berlansky's POV and grudgingly side with Joe's, which is a flat statement that the entertainment business across the board operates on work-for-hire. While that isn't exactly true, for every aspect of the entertainment industry that matters to Marvel, or comics, it pretty much is. Berlansky is wrong that in the music industry most artists "own" their own work - in many cases that's in name only, with material tied up in complex Draconian deals that make money for everyone but the talent (for further information, I recommend reading ROCK & RAP CONFIDENTIAL and THE LEFSETZ LETTER), while "work-for-hire" with a single payment attached only really ended in name in Hollywood, where producer after producer continues to flout WGA rules not by paying writers once and forgetting residuals - though creative Hollywood bookkeeping is also legendary - but by constantly wheedling and pressuring writers to work for no money at all! (For various reasons, some of them even good, far too many writers go along with this.)

Berlansky's also wrong that comics haven't kept up with the times; while, as I've mentioned, many (not all, and not the best) independent publishers are black holes of royalties, both Marvel and DC have been paying residuals on both sales and characters for some time now. Just not retroactively. So work-for-hire in comics isn't quite the dark put of hell Berlansky makes it out to be. Which still doesn't make it a desirable situation.

On the other hand, while Joe correctly proclaims that work-for-hire is still in regular use across the entertainment board, his implication that "everyone's doing it, so that's the way it is" is a bit... cynical. C'mon, Joe, if everyone in the entertainment business jumped off a bridge, would you too? Work for hire exists because at some point someone decided they could line their own pockets best with a feudalistic system, and that's the only reason it exists. It's hardly a natural law. That the Image founders immediately started assigning their books work-for-hire is hardly an argument for the system's inevitability, though as Joe, who with Event Comics had his own fling with creator-ownership and ultimately slipped back to the economic security of Marvel Knights and finally Marvel's ubereditorship, the deck in comics is stacked against creator-ownership. That doesn't mean work-for-hire is a better system - though, at least at the moment, it certainly is for corporate interests - it just means the house has the game rigged.

On the other other hand, it's naive to think those profiting from such a system will change it of their own free will. The only reasons systems like work-for-hire fall out of use is either they become unprofitable or they become too widely scorned to any longer be comfortable, or some government steps in and outlaws them. The first two are usually symbiotically linked; the only scorn that really matters to most money men is scorn at the box office. If Berlansky and others like him are determined to change the system or see it changed, the best, and most difficult, way to do that is via a counter system with a better payoff. As I've mentioned before, readers could change the scene in comics from work-for-hire based to creator-owned completely inside of six months if they were so inclined, but they're not. By and large, they don't see it as their fight. Despite Berlansky's good arguments that they should.

I've been very bad about reviews lately, so it's time to start catching up again.

From Pantheon Books:

MY BRAIN IS HANGING UPSIDE DOWN by David Heatley ($24.95)

Wow, what a great argument for the death of alt autobiocomics. (Or "graphic memoirs," as Pantheon apparently calls them. Is that a genre now?) Heatley details his childhood, his sexual exploits, his relations with blacks, his parents and his ancestors on page after page of tiny headache-inducing panels with bad lettering. It plays as self-deprecating but ends up playing as self-congratulatory; the "lessons learned" as a result of his sexual exploits ultimately come off as an excuse to list his sexual exploits, stories of an array of black friends tend to repeat the same stupid prejudices (I mean, c'mon, believing that being black makes someone automatically cooler than anyone else on earth - and being disappointed when it turns out they're not - is just as stupid as believing being black makes someone automatically inferior) over and over without any apparent lessons learned at all, etc. Like most "graphic memoirists," Healey's main problem is that his life and his wacky family just ain't that interesting, though some of the stories about his immigrant great-grandparents get there. I'm glad he's got a wife and kids he's thrilled with now and all the trauma of his childhood is behind him, but, really, so what? Ashes to ashes, middle class to middle class. It's not awful, but that's not exactly a reason to read it.

From First Second Books:

SLOW STORM by Danica Novgorodoff ($17.95)

SLOW STORM is half of a good book. It throws up the props of catastrophe - tornados and fires - and it creates interesting characters in a man-sized female firefighter and an illegal immigrant fled to Kentucky for a better life, Novgorodoff writes nice dialogue and her art is expressive and appealingly idiosyncratic, and the tale has an excellent sense of place. But it's all setup and no payoff; nothing happens. There are bits of "magic realism" tradition - dreams figure prominently, a mariachi band materializes on a hillside - and it dresses up in motifs well. It's just not a story. Where's the other half?

From TwoMorrows Publishing:

ALTER EGO 79 & 80, ed. Roy Thomas ($6.95@)

Continuing a very good run of the magazine, with special issues on Superman's 70th anniversary, and a history of sword & sorcery in the comics through ~1980, as well as the usual array of interviews, articles and op-ed pieces mostly focusing on pre-Silver Age comics. The main appeal of ALTER EGO used to be the fabulous array of often rarely-and-un-seen artwork illustrating the articles, and while the art's still there and just as good as every, the general writing has now drastically improved, more focused and less anecdotal and fawning, much of it due to comics historian John Wells. ALTER EGO used to be a guilty pleasure. Aside from a running pseudohistory of a parallel world DC Comics that's wearing a little thin, it's just a pleasure, and one of the best records of pre-Silver Age comics available.


Kirby was so prolific it's hard to imagine a list of his work fitting into a mere 120 pages, but Tomorrows has done a terrific albeit no frills job - it's an attractively designed list, but it's still just a list, with a few small illos - gathering the information for this ostensibly final edition. Interest will depend on your level of interest in Kirby's work, but if you love it this will take the randomness out of haunting back issues. Great work.

MODERN MASTERS 18: JOHN ROMITA JR by George Khoury & Eric Nolen-Weathington ($14.95)

I've questioned whether some of the artists included in this series really qualified as "modern masters," but no question here; John Romita Jr. kind of is mainstream comics now, the only really great second generation talent whose name leaps to mind. (Others, like the Kubert brothers, may be nipping at his heels but don't have anywhere near his volume of major projects. Or pages. Yet.) Like all volumes in this run, this is basically a heavily illustrated extended interview, but, having grown up in the business and worked his way out of his father's shadow and into a strikingly modern personal style, he has better war stories than many artists. Yet the weakness of the series remains here, and has to be traced to the bias of the interviewers; artistic discussions almost always bypass aesthetics in favor of an anecdotal, historical approach. Which is fine as far as it goes, but sometimes it's more illuminating to learn why an artist made the decisions they made rather than how great a collaborator was to work with. Still, an excellent tribute/introduction to one of the key talents in mainstream comics today.

From IDW:

FINDING PEACE by Tom Waltz & Nathan St John ($14.99)

Waltz takes another stab at one of his favorite themes, exploring humanity in war, with a series of vignettes set in an unnamed wartorn land - Iraq? Kosovo? Beirut? - where lives of soldiers, civilians and enemies all teeter on decisions made from afar and the frailty of nearby human hearts. He covers a lot of thematic territory but pulls it off nicely, with an austere sureness that leaves us not with a message but a mood. In that, though, he's only half-helped by artist St. John, whose sketchy art certainly conveys the mood but is often too sketchy to tell us what we're looking at. He shows potential, though.



A decent primer in creating webcomics, though it throws away way too many pages on big, repetitive pieces of art and more than likely redundant elementary instruction (if you don't already know how to do a head shot, or how to draw comics, this is probably not the first book you should be picking up), and on fairly nondescript sample webcomics. If you don't already know the market and how to create for it, the chapters on creating webcomics - the book's first 130 pages - aren't informative enough to be much good, but the final few chapters, on how/where to publish, promote and make money off your creation are good. Cutting the book down to those chapters and selling it at a much lower price would ultimately benefit a lot more people.

More next week.

So Monday I wake to find the economy once again in shambles - not that anyone couldn't have seen it coming just by reading the Business section regularly (which I do) - with two major brokerage firms up in smoke, insurance monster AIG begging for a monstrous government bailout to prevent collapse within days - AIG is also the real insurer for numerous smaller insurance companies, so if that goes it'll be a mess of ungodly proportions, with multitudes suddenly finding their houses, cars and lives uninsured (don't know if AIG does health insurance) and costs of new policies set to skyrocket if a huge void materializes in AIG's wake - and the dropping price of crude threatening to burst the oil speculation bubble that has driven prices at the pumps through the roof. (The last sounds like a good deal for us, but experience tells us that when big money market bubbles burst, American taxpayers end up bailing somebody out with whopping sums.)

So what's McCain's answer to all this financial instability? Deregulate! Turns out that in McCain's world, the last nearly 27 years of economic instability, mini-crashes and scandals (McCain might recall the Savings & Loan scandal c. '89 - climaxing an era when Reagan deregulation of the S&L industry allowed financial sharks to move in and, contrary to earlier regulation, route deposits to very high risk investments, ultimately resulting in multiple S&L collapses - since it was McCain who tried to shut down Senate investigation into the business practices of his friend and backer, the ultimately convicted Charles Keating, which resulted in McCain's censure for "poor judgment) the real solution to ward off all future financial crises and scandals is...

More deregulation!

Turns out that in McCain's world Wall St. is just too hidebound by rules and regulations that... okay, I don't get the logic of it either. Not that it's unexpected of McCain, who used his influence in Congress in the aftermath of Enron to prevent reforms of the system, but if this is true for Wall Street, then why is the solution to drugs more laws and prosecutions? Shouldn't McCain, by the same logic, be arguing that the solution to the drug problem is to remove proscriptions against and penalties for drug use?

Meanwhile, during her interview with Charlie Gibson (which the GOP denounced as "too hard" on her - Charlie Gibson?!!) (Of course, they also denounced last weekend's SNL sketch with Tina Fey impeccably portraying The Hockey Mom as "sexist," since apparently any criticism or mocking of Palin is now apparently automatically "sexist," presumably in the same way they once claimed holding David Duke's Ku Klux Klan past against him was "racist." And, no, I'm not accusing Palin of racism.) GOP VP-designate Sarah Palin refused to pinpoint what areas of Washington spending she thought were excessive, except to say that she intended to trim regulatory agencies, as though Republicans (with more than a little help from Democrats) haven't been turning those agencies into an across-the-board joke since Reagan was elected. And social programs.

This is apparently what "maverick" means in the McCain lexicon: making sure everything continues exactly the way it has been, but standing with your chin up and your eyes unwavering while you're doing it.

During his acceptance speech, McCain stood there and said it was his priority to bring to a dead halt "Washington spending" on things Americans neither wanted nor needed. Which sounded to me like he was promising to immediately end the war in Iraq, but it seems that's not what he meant. (But it's ridiculous to even pretend to separate the war from government spending, or the economy, since we're pumping over ten billion per month that way now.) Then again, he also started the myth that Palin was a tireless opponent of pork barrel projects, citing her canceling of the now notorious "Bridge To Nowhere" project. And continues that lie to this day, with the Bridge To Nowhere example, even though the myth has been widely debunked, through exposure of her original unwavering support for the bridge, her halting of it only after she realized it was making her a laughing stock in the lower 48, and her subsequent failure to return the allocated hundreds of millions of dollars.

Yet still they're pushing the myth, the same way Dick Cheney to this day repeats long-debunked rationales for invading Iraq. Meanwhile, the McCain campaign also unveiled their apparent campaign strategy for the fall: keep accusing Barack Obama of nonsense. (That's for any of you who believed that nonsense about Karl Rove "retiring." If he isn't hanging around in the shadows, his spirit certainly is.) Their accusation that Obama supported teaching sex education to kindergarteners was so stupid even the press picked up on the fabrication. (So why hasn't the Obama campaigned counter-attacked? Since the objective of the Illinois bill in question was age-appropriate, and funding was provided to teach kindergarteners how to beware of sexual predators, why not an ad stating that Sen. McCain doesn't think our children should be educated about sexual predators? Because that's, in effect, what the Republican attack ad is saying.)

But that's the problem with the press: somewhere along the line, "objectivity" got redefined. It never meant that reporters couldn't have their own biases. Of course they do; everyone does. It meant that information - didn't matter from whom - needed to be at least reasonably verified before it was published. Sure, it didn't always work that way, but that was the ideal. But somewhere along the line - some would blame Fox News, but I think it goes back to the foundation of Rev. Moon's WASHINGTON TIMES, the first major newspaper specifically created to combat "liberal bias" and championed the myth - "objectivity" came to take all claims at face value and give equal weight to all viewpoints no matter how patently inane, and let someone else contradict the report if they choose. It has, in fact, become de rigueur for news organizations to not say someone, especially a candidate for public office, is lying. Instead, it has become traditional to manufacture controversies where it's left to the various proponents to make claims and counterclaims, without much attempt by the news organization to ferret out the truth.

The unintended big effect of this year's campaign, though, is that maybe that's cracking just a little, with at least the New York Times and the Washington Post breaking ranks to report that the McCain ad lies of last week were, in fact, lies, or at least gross distortions. (Yeah, yeah, they're "liberal" newspapers, but that doesn't mean that by objective standards - like the facts - they aren't right too.) It'd be nice to have a campaign for a change where candidates - both candidates - are held to standards of truth throughout, instead of leaving it to the electorate by now pretty much shorn of the proper tools to sort out the spin for themselves. Since an informed electorate is only possible if the press does its job, which is not simply to report but to report the truth.

More revamp stories:

I was a huge Adam Strange fan when I was a kid, which was odd considering I only saw a handful of Adam Strange stories when I was a kid. I'd run across ads for MYSTERY IN SPACE in Julie Schwartz-edited DC comics, but I never saw the book around and when I asked my dad to get me an issue one week when I was sick with one of the childhood diseases, he bought me Dell's SPACEMAN instead, which was hardly the same thing. A friend had an issue where Adam fights a Dust Devil (an image I always loved), I had the two JUSTICE LEAGUEs he guested in, and the comic started showing up on local stands regularly just a couple issues before Julie Schwartz & Carmine Infantino shuffled off to DETECTIVE COMICS, ending the strip's "classic" period.

In my late teens, though, well after the character's glory days, I managed to collect the run from his SHOWCASE debut through those final Schwartz MIS issues. Read them, absorbed them, ultimately dumped them like I dumped everything else (moving around a lot without ten tons of paper is the better part of valor) but the character always stuck with me.

For those who came in late, "Adam Strange" was always a formula strip with a couple interesting gimmicks. Strange is an Earth archeologist struck by an extraterrestrial "zeta beam" from the distant planet Rann, where it originates as a communications narrowcast but is transformed by the energies of space into a means of instantaneous teleportation, and it isn't long before Adam finds himself jetpacking over the semi-barbaric, semi-superscientific Rannian landscape, using his wits, scientific knowledge and a basic raygun to ward off menaces both local and alien. And picks up a hot Rannian squeeze; their semi-tragic romance is constantly thwarted by those same menaces, who always occupy Adam's time until a few seconds before the zeta-beam wears off, returning Adam to Earth to find and catch next issue's zeta-beam and start the cycle anew. As in most Schwartz sf comics, the science ranged from clever to ridiculous. (As when Adam stops foe Kanjar Ro, who has gained great superpowers from Rann's triple suns, by weakening him with metal from his home planet of Dhor, on the flimsy premise that if Kryptonite stops Superman, dhorite will stop Kanjar Ro.) But when you're ten, especially in an era when THE LAWRENCE WELK SHOW was still must-see-TV for many, it almost always sounded good, even in the stories where Adam would just in the nick of time discover a new element with just the qualities necessary to defeat the threat.

Anyway, by the time I got into comics professionally I'd pretty much stopped thinking in terms of characters I wanted to write and shifted my interests to stories I wanted to tell (I heartily recommend this to everyone trying to break in) but on the very short list of characters who still held some personal appeal Adam Strange was way toward the top. Not that I expected it to happen; by the late '70s, Adam, never a major character, was little more than a footnote in DC Comics history. Ten years later, Alan Moore had tweaked the character by making him Rann's champion but not their hero, as he suffered the planet's smug prejudice for having body hair. It was an interesting idea for a one-off filler character, but not something that would bear up well under a series. Nonetheless, it wasn't long after that I heard DC was hunting for a new Adam Strange series, so I cooked one up.

At that time I'd done little pitching to DC. Paul Smith and I had tried to sell them on a GREEN LANTERN run a few years earlier, and Dick Giordano had more recently courteously sat through pitches for a CAPTAIN ATOM revamp (which Denny O'Neil had already been assigned) and a replacement FLASH after the death of Barry Allen. (They were trolling everyone's waters on that one; my version, as I recall, involved pyrotechnic teleportation, and they ultimately went with the original obvious choice, Wally West graduating from the Kid Flash role.) But I figured a shot was worth a shot.

Adam Strange, of course, was but a late offshoot of the "Great White B'wana" myth that generated Tarzan, among many other characters, and frequently dominated space opera: the notion of The White European who travels to a far-off land populated by an alien race and proves superior to them until taking his rightful place as hero or ruler. It was such a widespread, acceptable motif that virtually no one gave a second thought to it until the rise of the Black Power movement, and other multicultural initiatives, in the late '60s. It was also the backbone of scores of comics series, and continues to be.

And it was this I decided I wanted to upend with an Adam Strange revamp.

That was all I had to start with, but I felt that Adam Strange anchored to a setup that never really caught on in the first place (though obviously he had his fans; I was one of them) from 30 years earlier had no chance of catching on. I also wanted a sort of mythic backdrop for the series, something expansive to tie it vaguely into other series, so it would reside a little less off in the hinterlands of the DC universe. Unfortunately, this also dictated sweeping changes to perceptions of the DCU, and I knew those would never fly, especially the ones that I very quickly had in mind. So I did what any normal, sane comics writer would do:

I wrote up my version anyway.

One of the things that always bugged me about the DCU was the preponderance of human races throughout the stars, most prominently on Rann, Superman's Krypton and Hawkman's Thanagar. Completely physically indistinguishable from us, if by "us" you mean Anglo-Saxons. And those are only scratching the surface. It's not like the question had never been sort of sideways addressed; there were all those incredibly weird Green Lanterns who populated the Green Lantern Corps. (Even there, villainous ex-GL Sinestro was basically a human, if red-skinned and on silly putty, while his replacement from his own home planet, Katma Tui, was only distinguishable from Gina Lollabrigida by skintone, also a very common characteristic of alien females whatever the males of the species look like.) It seemed like a simple question: how could they all have evolved so similarly despite extremely different environmental circumstances? The implicit answer is racism-as-manifest-destiny: the human form, especially the Caucasian human form, evolved because it was a superior form, and the natural result of superior evolution.

Not that anyone thought it through that far, I'm sure. But that's what it signifies, when you deconstruct the logic of it. So that was my idea, a sort of philosophical reverse-engineering. To that end, I imagined a very ancient starspanning non-humanoid race, the Kerenyi (named for one of the world's leading comparative mythologists, that being my college minor), that conquered the universe, one to an inhabitable planet, back in the mists of time, with Earth being one of those conquered planets. Each Kerenyi effectively became the god of the planet it inhabited, locking the planet's life to its own extremely long life-cycle. Drawing a number of ideas from Julian Jaynes' THE ORIGINS OF CONSCIOUSNESS IN THE BREAKDOWN OF THE BICAMERAL MIND, which posited ancient man lacked self-awareness as we understand it and "heard" his own thought processes as dictates from the gods much the way schizophrenics do, I postulated the origins of the human race as a servant species for the Kerenyi, and slapping the myth of the Lost Tribes Of Israel on top of it (hey, if Anglo-Israelites can misappropriate it, so can I) concocted a past in which the human race - particularly White Anglo-Saxon types - were so successful as a servant species that the Kerenyi spread them to Kerenyi-held planets to wash the windows and make up the beds.

Not exactly the traditional DC "Live Free Or Die" vision of the human spirit, but it gets the "can do" part down.

But the Kerenyi, while long-lasting, weren't immortal, and their life cycles were winding down, with many going into hibernation or coma, while across the universe the human civilizations they oversaw declined into aggression and war. A reimagining rather than a continuation, my Adam Strange series would have started from scratch, with Adam once again an archeologist, this time braving a wartorn Third World country to find and preserve ancient ruins there before the conflict obliterated them, but his efforts and basic humanity run him afoul of a warlord who fancies himself an emperor. Under the collapsing ruins, Adam discovers Earth's fading Kerenyi and learns the forgotten history of the planet, escaping destruction at the warlord's hands via the zeta-beam, the Kerenyi's mode of interplanetary transport, and finding himself on the planet Rann, whose Kerenyi is also dying.

On Rann, whose Kerenyi is much closer to death and whose human population never developed full consciousness and now exist in a semi-barbaric warlike state in the shell of their highly advanced former civilization, Adam discovers that every planet inhabited by a Kerenyi will die with its Kerenyi, forcing him on a mission to save first Rann and then Earth by dislocating the Kerenyi before death. In the process he also liberates consciousness on Rann and resolves the warlord problem by trapping the warlord and his army on their own inhabitable but otherwise uninhabited planet via the zeta-beam. It was formulated as a mini-series, but left series possibilities open, with Adam not only battling menaces on Rann and Earth but visiting other Kerenyi-centric worlds to gather all Earth's lost tribes.

I don't think I ever got the chance to pitch this; as I recall, just as I was finishing the pitch, I heard that Rich Bruning had been assigned an ADAM STRANGE mini, continuing the existing Adam Strange along lines implied by the Alan Moore SWAMP THING story, and that was that. For awhile, I on and off considered repackaging the idea as an original series, but it turned out that without Adam Strange I had difficulty mustering my own interest. With Mike Zeck's collaboration I finally did an Adam Strange story, a 10 page pastiche of the old Gardner Fox-Carmine Infantino stuff replete with all the trimmings, for a LEGENDS OF THE DC UNIVERSE ANNUAL, and that was enough to get the character out of my system.

Notes from under the floorboards:

Don't forget that my ODYSSEUS THE REBEL webcomic drawn by Scott Bieser is currently running at Big Head Press, while Boom! Studios continues to run TWO GUNS online. Both are free, so you're out of excuses. Go! And Image still has the action-adventure graphic novel THE SAFEST PLACE available, with maybe Tom Mandrake's best art ever, so pester your retailer for it if you haven't got it already.

Caught a screening of the Coen Brothers' BURN AFTER READING last week. Was a little disappointed to discover it wasn't the comedic skewering of the CIA the promotion suggested (not that I'm especially interested in seeing a comedic skewering of the CIA, but that's what the advertising led me to expect) but otherwise very funny dialogue, good acting, and the usual solid Coen Brothers directing. It's not perfect - it pretty much just ends, though the ending is maybe the single best JK Simmons scene ever, and George Clooney seems uncomfortable through the first half of it before busting out in the second half - but it's entertaining black comedy fluff (that got next to nothing at all to do with the CIA) and Brad Pitt doesn't get nearly enough credit as a comedic actor. Maybe BURN AFTER READING will change that.

Something I've been meaning to address for a couple weeks. Tom Spurgeon noted my recent Ditko piece in his Comics Reporter column, and seemed to think I was suggesting Ditko was the first artist to produce "personal" comics. There's no way I'd think Ditko was the first. But however widespread "personal" comics may have been in earlier times, in the mainstream comics world that completely dominated the marketplace, there was nothing like Mr. A or The Question. Someone somewhere cited HERBIE as a non-standard property that predates Ditko's, but that's not the issue either. I was there for HERBIE, and it was universally considered goofy comedy. Because it is, and was never intended to be anything but. Even that marketplace was no stranger to goofy comedy. But work intended to be serious, and dedicated to a particular social philosophy, that was something we weren't otherwise exposed to. I'm not trying to make the case that it was notably superior to anything else being published at the time - that's your call - I'm just saying that it was completely alien to our experience at the time. While Ditko's earliest efforts along those lines weren't anywhere near as didactic as they'd become (like in the bravura AVENGING EARTH) they were infinitely more didactic than their surroundings, and that was the door they blew off its hinges for us. They were, without intended irony, dripping in Ditko's POV. You can dig up all the antecedents you like - and there weren't that many - but if we didn't know about them at the time, they don't count, because it was the experience of the moment that I was discussing, and it was that experience that was so influential for so many of us, whether we ultimately bought into Ditko's worldview or not.

Seems the head of the Saudi judiciary has called a fatwa on satellite TV broadcasters who broadcast "immoral" material. Uh-huh... These guys are at least theoretically still our allies, right?

Another bad day for electronic voting machines: seems a recent Washington DC primary resulted in thousands of unreal votes for a non-existent candidate. The system manufacturer, Sequoia Voting Systems, blames the problem not on their impeccably flawless machines but on "static discharge." Oh, that's comforting; how secure and flawless can the machines really be if static electricity can change the results of elections? (If you want to learn how to easily hack a Sequoia machine, click here.)

NASA's auctioning off patents now... but are they really NASA's to sell? (Speaking of which, are we still in that space race to Mars the Ghost, er, launched a couple years back?)

A Chicago law firm is trying to sue a website that ratted out the firm's questionable real estate dealings - on the grounds of trademark infringement. The judge in the case appears to be pressuring the defendants toward knuckling under...

Seems someone else has been busted for notifying an institution of a security hole in their network, in this case at Carlton College in Canada. No evidence of wrongdoing aside from proof - passwords - provided along with notification, but that's apparently enough to get the student charged a possible 20 year sentence. But I can understand why institutions keep doing this, despite the people charged usually wishing to help, not harm: if they can claim they're not aware of security breaches, it's a better defense in court when one of their users sues them for facilitating identity theft or other computer crime than having evidence floating around that they knew of the hole and did nothing...

Is an iPhone still a good idea when Apple uses it to control your life? Or an iPod, for that matter...

Jeez, I just realized! It's the new season. I have to start watching some TV...

Congratulations to Scott Kane, the first to spot last week's Comics Cover Challenge theme was "birds." Scott wishes to point your attention to The Zorceror of Zo RPG from Atomic Sock Monkey Press, "a fairy tale RPG for players of all ages." Dig it, hipster.

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 clue cleverly hidden somewhere in the column, if you're lucky enough to hit on it. 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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