It's after Memorial Day already, which means it'll imminently be June, which means July is just around the corner, and what does July mean? Comic-Con International AKA San Diego. Kind of a tough year for that, since hotel rooms were at a premium before last year's San Diego even ended; I'm thinking a lot of Hollywood studios and production companies, and maybe a few big comics companies as well, are using their pull to get reservations ahead of everyone else, since most of the hotels near the convention center never even opened to booking this time around and have had "no rooms available" on their listings since last July, when they're not even supposed to start booking until 11 months out.

They really need to start thinking about the goose laying these golden eggs. There's no doubt San Diego is becoming increasingly pivotal to Hollywood strategies �" even though Comic-Con International is widely referred to as "Geekfest," usually with the implication that whoever's using the phrase is not a geek or a nerd or whatever other derogatory term means "creepy outsider who wasn't on the sports team in high school" this week, Hollywood has decided we're now living in a geek world, even while they continue to regularly trot out the sports hero and prom queen as the Platonic Ideals for human beings �" but those strategies, mainly to use Con appearances to generate word of mouth and Internet buzz, are dependent on audiences seeing their presentations and films at San Diego... and they're now actively starting to prevent attendance. I know they probably don't see it that way; in my experience there are really two Hollywoods that go to San Diego. On this side, you have the young hungry guys (and women, increasingly women, which is encouraging) who are often longtime comics fans themselves, and have a genuine interest in the material. These are, though, usually not the people who have the money to spend, but the people who take ideas to the people with the money to spend. Those people are the other Hollywood, who tend to approach the whole thing with a vaguely needy, predatory condescension.

So it's no great surprise that, while they're the ones with the money to shuttle their people back and forth more or less at will and take over, say, the La Jolla Hyatt Regency and get special rooms set aside in the convention hall for meetings etc., they're the ones who feel it more necessary to be located right in the middle of the action all the time, and so what if the fans have to commute in every day from Hotel Circle or El Cajon or Agua Caliente? It's not like the fans are important �" and they probably couldn't afford the price of hotels with easy access to the convention center anyway, right?

Is there any point to most studio folk coming to San Diego, except to take up space and drive up prices? (Not that the San Diego Chamber Of Commerce likely has a problem with it.) Do they spend any significant time at the convention, mingling with the hoi polloi? Not most of them. Most of them are still in the business of telling the public what it wants, then double-checking with the wrong public. (Ah, the joy of focus groups.) Finding properties? That's what the young producers are there to bring them, and companies like Marvel, DC, Dark Horse and Boom! already have their own studio deals or connections. So why is "the other Hollywood" there now, all of a sudden, after ignoring San Diego for decades, when many of them still can't say "comic book" without a derisive smirk? To be seen, to be seen being part of the scene, to go to all the parties you're not allowed into.

Never mind that making the con accessible to as many fans from as much of the country (if not the world) as possible would seem to promote their overall marketing strategy, unless they're mainly looking for a big push in San Diego County. Taking up space for parties who don't bring any particular value to the convention experience �" when was the last time fans clamored for a studio exec's autograph? �" is ultimately defeating the con's promotional value to them. I'm not saying they shouldn't go �" the more the merrier �" just that they should abandon the notion that they deserve some special precedence.

Though this year is shaping up to be a boom year for comics creators. Certainly the success of films like IRON MAN, the surprise hit of late spring, and THE DARK KNIGHT, which debuts the week before San Diego and if it's the top summer blockbuster that everyone's expecting will surely be fresh in everyone's mind come the convention, will likely spawn a new feeding frenzy. New York book publishers are also rumored to be coming to the convention in force this year, not just to peddle their wares �" publishers like Random House have been doing that for quite a few years now, and from what I understand getting a lot of juice out of it �" but to search for new properties, a shift that doesn't necessarily bode well for the spring New York Comic Convention; the theory seems to be that the talent they see in New York are generally the talent they can always see in New York, while San Diego will give them access to different, wider talent pool. Many book publishers are also said to be skipping or limiting their book convention appearances, or at least those of their graphic novel divisions, in lieu of San Diego.

So it's a bumper crop of new possible markets, if you can get your idea together between now and the middle of July, though newbies might want to constrain their excitement. For the most part, film producers still need to see published comics before they can sell a property to a studio (which is how it usually works); the published comic not only establishes rights but is a key selling tool. Book editors may be more lenient, but major publishers still gravitate toward published authors in whatever category they're pursuing, and they're more likely to give audiences to published authors. Unpublished work might get you permission to show them other work at a later date, but unless it's flat out brilliant (bear in mind that everyone thinks their own work is brilliant, but in these cases your opinion of your own work is irrelevant) it's unlikely to result in a publication deal. Occasional miracles do happen, but for most of us crawling your way up is still part of drill.

What are the producers and publishers looking for? You got me; even what they've produced or published in the past is no indicator. Over the past few years, producers have scarfed up comics properties that would seem difficult to translate to film while shrugging off others that would seem naturals. But what we look for in a comic isn't necessarily what producers look for in a film, that's the trick of it. As with anything else, it's not so much the idea that counts as what you can do with it. If you look at what book publishers have focused on they'd seem to be angling for the alt-comics/art comics market, and the rest of it be damned. But from what I've heard from editors, those get published not so much because that's necessarily what's desire as because that's the pool they've been presented with. Does that mean they're hungry for more genre-focused material? That's the wrong way to approach it; at this point while genre might scare a publisher or editor off, it's unlikely anything would sell on the basis of genre. That's not how projects sell, though it's a reasonable bet that if some publisher �" this goes for comics publishers as well as book publishers �" specializes in horror books, they're likely the wrong market for a younger readers funny animal project. But even if you did a horror project with that publisher in mind, projects don't sell because they're in this genre or that; they sell because someone finds the specific project interesting. And that's the rub. They might turn it down because it doesn't fit their publishing plans, but they aren't likely to accept it just because it does. Unless they're desperate, and in a venue with 10,000 comics creators running around, how desperate do you think they're likely to get?

So what's the lesson here? Don't work to market unless you're certain that market exists and you can bring something new (or at least marketable) to it. Since there's no way to tell what that is, there are two approaches: either scan the existing market, spot an unfilled niche and fill it �" and remember there are plenty of other people doing the same thing, and what looks to be an unfilled niche could just as easily be a niche someone spotted well before you and is about to fill �" or follow your own interests and perspective and keep your fingers crossed others will find them interesting as well. But remember the idea is never as critical as what you do with it.

Funny side story: a friend in the film trade last week mentioned that an awful lot of writers in film and TV now, the ones who are also interested in comics, cite Alan Moore as a major influence, then noted that he was hard pressed to spot any Alan Moore influence in their work. And he wondered why writers like Grant Morrison don't also get cited.

Which is a pretty easy riddle. Alan, bless him, still holds "hip" credentials; claiming to have been influenced by Alan is still supposed by many to give a little rub, and most people really don't understand the difference between liking someone's work and being influenced by it; the work that truly influenced us, should we even realize it, is often not work that puts us in the best light when its name is spoken aloud. For better or worse, Alan also turned out to be the apotheosis of the "everything you know is wrong" style of comics story, and did it impressively enough that everyone who reads it thinks they can do it to. Most can't, because underlying most of Alan's work are cold mechanisms that push stories to their inevitable conclusions, and the mechanisms are what most can't even see to replicate. Because Alan's great gift is to shield the mechanisms from view with good characters and sharp presentation; it's exactly the sort of magic trick I talked about last week.

Whereas Morrison is really Moore's Zoroastrian opposite; if Alan is the great lord of order, Grant is our lord of chaos. Morrison's great gift is to present utter insanity brilliantly. But that's why most people who imitate Morrison don't broadcast it, while they wear their Moore imitations on their sleeves; Moore's stories are built on their own implacable logics, Morrison's on shifting tides of desire and chance. A half-assed Alan Moore knockoff reads like a half-assed Alan Moore knockoff, which is often enough for them to get away with it. A half-assed Grant Morrison knockoff, though, reads like the writer is either very lazy or brain-damaged.

The lesson: if you're going to copy someone, figure out why their work works first. Odds are it's something you can't copy. So you're on your own after all.

A couple more amusing pages from the '50s. (These aren't part of the Comics Cover Challenge, by the way.) The first two are ads; hard to think now that comics used to be overloaded with them, of the most suspect subject matter. But who says they didn't think girls were a market:

Take that, Kate Moss! Three weeks to a great physique? And this was before steroids were even heard of.

Meanwhile, ran across this feature page:

This is a supposed "real stories of the occult" that still gets mentioned today. One of the outstanding mysteries of the war? The truth is that it was the concoction of British fantasist Arthur Machen, who's just about due for a well-deserved revival. Machen basically wrote in obscurity, but in the midst of WWI a British newspaper editor hit him up for a patriotic story. He worked up a fiction about ghosts of the archers who won at Agincourt coming to the aid of beleaguered British trenchers against the Hun. I believe it was identified as fiction, the front page, but it took on a "War Of The Worlds" life, though Machen insisted the rest of his life he made it up from whole cloth and had no reports from the front of any such thing. In the end, hundreds of people "remembered" it. This sort of thing is more common that most people realize; the belief that California will fall into the ocean, for instance, comes from "seer" Edgar Cayce, a once legendary but now eclipsed "psychic" who went into trances to offer prophecy and health tips, and he didn't exactly say it, instead predicting "earth changes" would destroy California in an earthquake. But falling into the ocean was how it was interpreted. Plate tectonics prove that's wrong: the earth plate most of California rests on is moving inland and rising up, pressing on the next plate East, and when those plates slip on each other's edges is when earthquakes happen. It's the plate the east coast is on that's slowly sliding into the ocean. People still regularly talk about California sliding into the ocean, though. But you New Yorkers keep an eye on that melting polar ice cap, y'hear?

Finally there's a great ad from the late '60s, when DC was introducing a TIGER BEAT-style teen music/culture magazine:

Nothing says enticing like a filthy '50's Beatnik stereotype already ten years out of date at the time, though the Peace and Love buttons are a nice touch. This looks to be a Carmine Infantino drawing �" the feet are a dead giveaway �" though the ink line suggests someone else may have inked it, at least in part. Any ideas?

A fistful of mail:

"You got it a bit wrong on IRON MAN. While the ads did feature Downey, per necessity, what was remarkable about the Iron Man marketing was the suit was the true star, not the talent in the film. All the double wide and super tall billboards rarely had a picture of any of the stars, just the armor. Paramount sold the armor almost as the ultimate sports car and it worked.

As for the stars, Marvel Studios took a huge gamble with both their casting and choice of director. Downey is a superb actor, no doubt, but certainly not a draw at the box office (he may be now). Then of course they took a gamble on him considering his history. But it was a gamble that paid off. Then you've got Favreau, a guy who's shown he can direct, but at the same time his biggest success was ELF thus far and he had to be hurting a bit after the ZATHURA crash and burn. Once again, not a director who's a draw and another gamble. Then you have the supporting cast who really don't have any heat. Paltrow and Bridges, both good actors, aren't draws or marketable. Terrence Howard is likely a brighter light than the two of them at the box office due to his recent successes, but even then not a draw.

So, the success of IRON MAN is definitely surprising. We all knew it could pull in 40-60 million (if GHOST RIDER can do 40, so can IRON MAN), but to pull in what it did, and have it resonate around the world so well despite having an Americans vs. Muslims angle that could have hurt it, is amazing.

When playing the armchair quarterback, yeah, WB said publicly they were hoping for 35-40 million with SPEED RACER, they were expecting much more initially until test audiences started telling them it wasn't any good. Plus, the Wachowskis clearly aren't a draw without Keanu or virtual worlds involved. There's no doubt in my mind that the second two Matrix films left a nasty taste in movie goers mouths, making them question their interest in what these two men bring to the silver screen."

I think you're right on that, though I still maintain it was Downey's personality in the trailers that sold IRON MAN as a film audiences would enjoy, not just a special effects romp. ZATHURA didn't do well for Favreau, but it wasn't perceived within Hollywood as a bad film, and ELF did well enough to balance it out, plus I suspect Favreau, who'd been in DAREDEVIL was known to Marvel and known to have at least a little sympathy for the material as well as being a relatively accomplished but a probably not terribly expensive director. (Though, as you say, he may be now.) Sympathy for the material, which studios aren't known for taking into account, goes a long way.

"I'm a late 30's-something and have been reading comics since the mid 80s. Like many, I drifted away in the mid-90s, and returned about 3 or 4 years ago.

You hit the nail on the head with all of these crossover events. I've never been much of a fan of crossovers, although I did enjoy CIVIL WAR (except for the ending). The first recent "jar" was WORLD WAR HULK (not a Hulk fan at all) and I'm reading this great IRON MAN series - I stockpile 3 or 4 months of various issues, probably because I buy too much and read all of a series at one time - when the story diverged with a cliffhanger ending involving Stark being captured by Hulk. I wasn't going to pick up WORLD WAR HULK just to see what happened, and I felt cheated that I wasn't getting the "complete" story that I paid for in buying all of the consecutive IRON MAN issues. In short, WORLD WAR HULK just a left a very bad taste in my mouth. Caveat emptor indeed.

Now I'm looking at a stack of comics I recently bought (30 or so) and really don't have any interest in reading. I'm not going to stop buying everything (probably currently 25 titles plus 2 or 3 'collections' every month), but will probably cut my list way down to only 4 to 6 titles a month. I'll also probably toss half "the pile" I've just decided that I don't even want to read.

Also, just one more example . . . was real excited about "Batman RIP," until I saw that I'd also have to buy ROBIN, NIGHTWING, and DETECTIVE to get "the whole story." I didn't do that with the "Resurrection of Ra's" story, so I won't do that here either."

Could've been worse; they could have thrown in CATWOMAN and SUPERMAN-BATMAN. Don't have inside information, but I wonder if the major events of "Batman RIP" won't be consigned to BATMAN, since it's Grant Morrison's brainchild and that's the book he's writing, but it's the sort of storyline that the others have to at least acknowledge to give it any "in continuity" credence. But I find it hard to believe Morrison's going to leave major chunks of his story in other people's hands, so my suspicion until proven otherwise is that BATMAN is the only book you must read to follow "Batman RIP," so shake off the doubts and enjoy. What you describe of buying full arcs of stories before reading them is increasingly common, and I'm pretty sure that in a couple more years you won't be thinking in terms of "story arcs" but of "graphic novels."

"I thought my friend Neal and I might have been the only people who remembered the TOMB OF DRACULA and DR. STRANGE crossover. I read both of these comics every month and found them at the local gas station. They were the only two Marvel comics that I could always find every month so I bought them.

As luck or fate would have it, I read the TOMB OF DRACULA where he kills Dr. Strange, apparently, but never saw the following DR. STRANGE part of the crossover. I was completely freaked out for a whole month. Dracula had really killed Dr. Strange.

The next month Dr. Strange showed up again and I bought it but no mention was made of the encounter with Dracula. Only years later when the direct market developed would I find the missing copy of DR. STRANGE. I loved both series and the crossover was the best. I also miss the occasional Green Lantern/Flash guest appearances from the 70's."

I can see where that might have been a bit confusing. The Dracula-Dr. Strange thing was one of the great crossovers, back when it was still a relatively rare thing to have stories stretch across two characters' books. As for Green Lantern-Flash, those teamups, though very rare, were always among my favorites when I was a kid, and they've never done them as well since. I've been told the first was done for a proposed regular Flash-Green Lantern title that was nixed before publication. I guess the teamups never sold especially better than regular issues of each book, or there'd likely have been more of them. Or maybe Julie Schwarz just never thought much about them.

"I read the statement about Stan Lee's greatest talent] a couple of times and what I think I get from what you mean (that didn't even make sense and I wrote it) is that by getting the audience to collaborate it was how you felt reading the comics: The way he gave the super heroes nick names, and the letter pages addressed to Stan and Jack and not The Editors, and the Bullpen Bulletin pages, basically, making you feel that you were part of Marvel (even though they only wanted your money, which is not a bad thing), that Marvel was a club and you were a precious member and that they could only survive if you, as the True Believer, were with them every step of the way.

Did I come even close to what you meant?"

Pretty much. Stan was a genius at making readers feel liks they were an intrinsic part of "Marvel," and that "Marvel" was some sort of synergistic greater cultural entity and not just a comics publishing house. Others have tried since to do the same thing, since Stan made it look so easy, but no one else, even with the Marvel name on their side, has ever pulled off anything like it. However else one judges Stan's contributions to the business, that's pretty impressive.

Only one response on the topic of SECRET INVASION salability:

"The main SECRET INVASION book is doing well for us. Not CIVIL WAR well, but well. The crossovers are making zero impact. No one is buying a crossover if they don't already collect the title. They've learned from CIVIL WAR and WORLD WAR HULK that the crossovers generally mean nothing. That may have been true, but I personally have found all the crossovers relevant. So maybe crossover sales will pick up. But I don't plan on ordering many copies of FRONTLINE.

I have zero buzz on FINAL CRISIS, since we were so underwhelmed over COUNTDOWN. I had 100 start reading 52, and 50 by the end. I started with 50 for COUNTDOWN and ended with six. SIX! Those six are interested in FINAL CRISIS and TRINITY. My other DC regulars have a wait and see attitude. I'm having a major problem in my ordering, and hopefully DC will have extra copies of #1 ready, and I'll be working my FOC overtime on #2 & #3.

These crossovers aren't increasing sales. The readers know that's the intention and are actively against it. If they buy the main book, they are dropping something else. Readers have $X a month to spend on comics and that's what they are spending. The only one spending more money is me."

I agree that the SECRET INVASION tie-in books have been fairly decent so far. Arguably FANTASTIC FOUR SECRET INVASION is the way to go: a discreet FF story that doesn't interrupt the regular FANTASTIC FOUR continuity, so readers can read or ignore it at their discretion. But a line's worth of those is probably more risk than most comics publishers are willing to take on.

Any other retailers want to weigh in?

Notes from under the floorboards:

Not too much this week, sorry; small family crises �" nothing to do with pain or anything directly to do with me, but it won't wait until tomorrow �" and not much going on anyway, aside from a couple graphic novels that really need working on. Of course, run out right now and buy the TWO GUNS trade paperback from Boom! Studios and Marvel's hardcover repackage of THE PUNISHER: CIRCLE OF BLOOD, because, let's face it, you just don't have enough crime comics in your life. And look for THE SAFEST PLACE mid-June, knock wood.

I've got a bunch of things here demanding review, but today got eaten away on me. A couple things of quick note from TwoMorrows Publishing, though:

KIRBY FIVE-OH ed John Morrow ($19.95)

The company's flagship title, THE KIRBY COLLECTOR, hits its 50th issue with a �" I don't know if it's double-sized or triple or what, but it weighs in at 168 pages lionizing Jack Kirby and his accomplishments. The articles tend to be a bit dodgy;pieces like "Fifty Best Kirby Stories" or "50 Best Kirby Character Designs" are basically opinion pieces pushing personal taste as fixed fact (face it, when you cite Rama-Tut as a great character design, your credibility is pretty much shot right there), but for every one of those there's a "50 Best Examples Of Unused Kirby Art" or a gallery of tributes from people in and out of comics. But the main draw remains, as always, page after page of rare Kirby art, often reproduced from his untouched pencils. Got any doubts Kirby was one of the greatest talents in comics history? This will put them to rest, once and for all.

ALTER EGO #77 ed Roy Thomas ($6.95)

It wasn't that long ago that ALTER EGO was a pleasant but chancy magazine, a sort of hodge-podge of articles haphazardly orbiting the superheroic Golden Age. In the last year or so, though, it has become increasingly focused and professional, less a "pro fanzine" than a comics history journal, and has almost made itself indispensible reading. The latest issue is a terrific history and analysis of one of the most interesting comics publishers of the early '50s, St. John Publishing, along with its enigmatic and multifaceted publisher Archer St. John and his star artists, Matt Baker, Norm Maurer & Joe Kubert. A fascinating story, despite St. John's failure to make any longlasting impact on comics (aside from publishing Kubert's TOR, which keeps reappearing, and currently has a new DC series; St. John's big impact would be on the magazine market) and the issue is a great companion to John Benson's books on St. John Publishing and their romance comics. Recommended.

More next week.

It's been awhile since I turned the column over to other comics creators with new projects, so I think I'll do that toward the end of next month, just in time for San Diego. Don't send me anything now, though; check next week for instructions.

I haven't had a lot of time to pay attention to politicians lately, but what the hell...? Hillary Clinton talks about how she has to stay in the Dem nomination race because, hey, Bobby Kennedy was the frontrunner in 1968 then he got assassinated? What the hell? She's pinning her hopes on the Ku Klux Klan now?!! No, I don't seriously think that's what she meant, but jeez! These guys are supposed to actually think about what they say before they talk, right? Or did the Ghost make that unfashionable? And did I just hear John McCain arguing against improved veteran's benefits because they'd encourage enlistees to leave the military after only one term of service?!! What the hell? More benefits will weaken our military?!! Of course, this is the guy who has made continuing the war and getting more warm bodies in our military forces two central planks of his platform. Hate the break it to you, John, but the war is why there aren't more warm bodies (and why there are more cold ones) in our military; virtually nobody is enlisting, because virtually nobody wants to get sent to that idiot quagmire. So what options are there for "expanding" our forces? Since prattle about "our duty as Americans" seems to have lost its appeal (not because Americans feel no sense of duty, but because the government now so obviously perverts and abuses those sentiments), broaden benefits to be more than worth the risk, or institute involuntary conscription, i.e. The Draft. Probably nothing aside from the Ghost campaigning at his side would kill McCain's presidential hopes quicker than actually saying "The Draft" out loud, since not even the military wants it, and it would just remind the vast majority of Americans of how much they now hate the Iraq war and want it over, but since he just eliminated the first option, the latter's about all he has left. At least, while reversing himself on a string of subjects, he finally cut loose the rabid right wing ministers (Ohio's Rod Parsley, who believes the USA has a duty to fight a holy war to wipe Islam �" not radical, violent Islam, but Islam in toto �" from the face of the Earth, and Texas' John Hagee, who has preached that Katrina destroyed New Orleans as an expression of God's displeasure with America for tolerating (so to speak) gays and the Holocaust was a necessary part of God's plan because it drove Jews back to the Holy Land and set the foundations for Armageddon and the fulfillment of Revelations) and disavowed their support, while proclaiming that while he for months accepted their endorsements he never endorsed their beliefs, even while he was specifically praising Parsley as "a spiritual guide" and "a moral compass." It might be noted that McCain accepted their endorsements just long enough to swing Ohio and Texas his way in the Republican primaries, when the press wasn't paying much attention to that sexless race, but now that the general election looms his handlers finally figured out they're potential political poison. And they're probably falling back on the position that McCain no longer needs endorsements from the fringe Christian Right because who else are they going to vote for? Considering McCain's campaign viewed their support vital to his primary chances, if the answer to that question is "none of the above" it could turn into a very bleak fall for Republicans.

Saw two films this last week, CLOVERFIELD and IRON MAN. Not much to say about IRON MAN, except that it was better than any IRON MAN comic ever done. I liked how they deftly dodged any issues with "Islamic insurgents" while refitting Iron Man's origin from Vietnam to Afghanistan and I liked Jeff Bridges' Stone Cold Steve Austin impression. But the whole thing really rested on Robert Downey's quirky self-effacing charm (see KISS KISS BANG BANG if you haven't, since that's where Downey really the shtick down) and he was tremendously entertaining. Not sure about Sam Jackson as Nick Fury, though. Glad I didn't see CLOVERFIELD in a theater �" the "GODZILLA as BLAIR WITCH PROJECT as YouTube video" jittering on a giant screen would've given me a splitting headache �" but it worked fine on DVD, coming in with the real action just when we start getting really bored with the "party yuppie" whining, and excellently used point of view, fast action and video timeshifts to keep audiences from thinking too much about plot or cookie-cutter characters. (One very dumb moment, though: our heroes rescue a character impaled close to her heart with a metal rod, but once it's removed, in the absence of immediate medical attention, rather than immediately bleeding to death she subsequently goes sprinting across Manhattan as if it were a paper cut.) As a movie, it's okay. As a rollercoaster ride it's top-notch, and they were smart to resist any definitive 50s sci fi movie-style explanation for the events. I know people have spoken of the film as a 9-11 allegory, but, destruction of Manhattan aside, I couldn't really see it. I'm saddened to hear there's a CLOVERFIELD 2 in the works, since BLAIR WITCH PROJECT sequels should have made it clear that with this sort of thing it's not so much going to the well too many times as there's no well to go back to. Films like CLOVERFIELD work on obfuscation and surprise; sequels almost inevitably gravitate toward either redundancy or explanation.

Congratulations to Steven Dandois, the first to spot last week's Comics Cover Challenge theme was "mini." Steven wishes to point your attention to the website of his good friend and occasional collaborator, artist Lonny Chant. 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. (You never know; I might just go on a mass linking spree one of these days, if I can ever find the Internet's answer to a water tower.) As in most weeks, I've hidden a special secret clue to the answer somewhere in the column, so make note of 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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