The question came up when one reader made some interesting observations in response to last week's column:
"Even Eisner admits Richard Kyle came up with the term graphic novel. Eisner used the term to sell the A CONTRACT WITH GOD to a publisher. The publisher heard "graphic novel" and went "ooooh..." and was interested without really knowing what it was. Will sent him his work and he got a call back from same guy saying "Will... this is a comic book."
Nonetheless, the publisher must have realized that if the term got him interested, it would also work for the distributors and bookstores. And that's why Eisner is sometimes credited as the originator of the graphic novel, not because he created the term - but because he popularized it and the bookstores to use it for his book and all other thick comic books that came afterwards."
The discussion then continued to what was and wasn't a "graphic novel," with the reader dismissing Gil Kane's BLACKMARK due to narrative format.
"It's an illustrated novel; take away the pictures and you can still read the story."
And there's something to be said for that criticism, though BLACKMARK does use standard comics panels with pictures and word balloons as well as the dense captions Gil was hot on at the time. But the criticism also makes underlying assumptions that might no longer hold, chief among them being that art is more important in comics than writing.
Or, rather, it's the job of art and not writing to carry the story, which has as its underlying principle the notion that writing (dialogue, exposition, other writing functions that might be carried in captions or some other formal technique) is secondary to concrete visualization. Certainly that's been the accepted principle in fandom since at least the '70s, when the whole "comics as film" idea came up. I've accepted it myself, and my scripts have generally placed a lot of demands on artists to visualize story elements, with varying results.
I'm not sure I accept it anymore. I'm not sure yet what I'd replace it with, but I'm no longer sure I accept it. This is an era of change and opportunity, of putting away old (preferably bad) habits, and it's time to reconsider everything about comics storytelling, regardless of how "self-evident" it's held to be.
At minimum, BLACKMARK, published by Bantam Books in mass market paperback format to be sold universally (though ultimately it didn't get distributed universally; I bought mine in a Woolworths in Manhattan, and it never showed up much beyond there), was an experimental work, attempting different techniques to tell a type of story Gil thought worth pursuing. It may not have been an entirely successful graphic novel, but I don't see why variation of technique would disqualify it.
But it may be half the problem of getting comics across to the public lies in that one phrase: "Take away the pictures and you can still read the story." Which suggests the flip side: a real "graphic novel" is one in which you can take away the words and still read the story.
We function in an era where, in most cases, dialogue is considered perfunctory – just something that covers the art – and art often exists more for its own sake than to carry story. We need instead to live in an era where both words and pictures are absolutely essential to the experience. Because that's the one thing that will make the experience of reading comics – or graphic novels – different from any other experience.
Given that, what constitutes a graphic novel? The reader I chatted with listed some necessary conditions:
"Not all thick comics are graphic novels, but all graphic novels are thick comics.
My requirement would be a story or something sequential like UNDERSTANDING COMICS. A collection of one panel gags isn't a graphic novel. HERMAN and FAR SIDE are certainly comics (maybe not to McCloud but that's another debate) but collected they aren't graphic novels.
It doesn't need word balloons, hell, it doesn't need any text at all, but you need to "read" the pictures in order to get what's going on. This is why I consider BLACKMARK not a graphic novel, but WHY I HATE SATURN one.
My only other requirements are two of the three:
1. Square bound.
2. At least 100 pages.
3. Has an ISBN number."
Like I said, there's something to be said for those restrictions. Though I don't agree with them, many do. I do agree that in order to be a "graphic novel," some type of "sequential storytelling" must be involved.
I would suggest that the "squarebound, 100+ pages, ISBN" elements are superfluous: guidelines maybe, but not rules. Accidents of commerce. My main problem with going for too formalistic a definition of "graphic novel" is that we run the risk of eliminating too much that we shouldn't. Would FROM HELL, for instance, be any less a "graphic novel" had it remained only published in the pages of Steve Bissette's TABOO or in individual issues? I can conceive of a "graphic novel" in which it isn't necessary to "read" the pictures in order to tell what's going on, but in which it's necessary to perceive the visualizations in order to fully appreciate the intended experience. (So far I'm not sure such a thing exists, but Moore, Williams & Gray's PROMETHEA comes close.)
Like Howard Devoto once sang, my mind ain't so open that anything can crawl right in. But let's not unnecessarily close any doors either.
So what's a graphic novel? After thinking about it awhile, I came up with this:
"where I disagree with you is that format is a commercial consideration, nothing more. Saying "a graphic novel has to be a book" is like saying "real comic books are 32 pages long, printed on crappy paper, and sold for 10 cents." That's really an arbitrary consideration.
I define graphic novels along two parameters: length and intent. This incorporates serialized material to some extent.
Length: a story length significantly longer than the average comic book, allowing for a greater complexity of character and plot.
Intent: was the intent of the author(s) to tell a single story? This eliminates many of the long sprawling Marvel-style "epics" which dance from one plotline to another with one starting up before the other ends, and keeping everything going in a construction similar to a soap opera. There has to be a thematic and structural coherence to the material. I think AMERICAN FLAGG! #1-12 constitute a graphic novel, since they really tell a single story, and I'd love to see them collected that way. DRAGONBALL Z is not a graphic novel... but it can be broken down into long chunks that could qualify as "graphic novels": from the saga's beginning through the defeat of Freeza and the destruction of Namek (the series clearly reaches a break at this point); the Androids/Cel saga; the Bu saga. Gil's HIS NAME IS... SAVAGE is a magazine only by an accident of economy; it was the format he could get it published in. But it's a single story with a specific intent, significantly longer than standard comics length. (The Wright Bros. only kept the Kitty Hawk up 11 seconds, but it's still considered the first manned flight.) Had Gil published ... SAVAGE three years later he might very well have gotten it into book form (as he did Richard Corben's BLOODSTAR, not too much later -- '74 or '75...)"
Beyond that, Lynn Ward's three woodcut novels such as GOD'S MAN (one of Eisner's big influences when he was young) are definitely not comics – but are most certainly "graphic novels." Wordless, carved on wood blocks that are then printed to paper, each published page of Ward's work is a single illustration to itself, but, collectively, hundreds of pages combine to form a single wordless narrative with plot, character, drama, and far more emotion than the vast majority of comics manage to squeeze out. How could they not be "graphic novels"?
Anyway, it's time we were open to possibilities, not closing them off.
Micah Wright got one of the toughest:
"Whoever submitted J. Jonah Jameson should be shot in the leg because JJJ is one of the few perfect archetypal characters... it's like asking me to reboot Santa Claus. But, that said, no character should be forced to languish merely because he works well as he is. So here we go:
J. Jonah Jameson: Reborn
Rupert Murdoch buys the Daily Bugle. He brings in his irritating Australian nephew to run the paper along the lines of Murdoch's foreign papers: lots of t&a, low on actual news content, no rants against superheroes (they sell papers, Jonah!), tons of coverage of pap & celebrity 'news.' The Aussie Nephew and Jameson butt heads, repeatedly. Eventually there is a big blowup: an advertiser wants a critical story about them killed. Jonah refuses. The Nephew reminds him that advertisers pay the bulk of the cost of the paper. Jonah replies that the job of the paper is to tell the truth. Nephew disagrees: the job of the Daily Bugle is to sell advertising and make money for Uncle Rupert. Kill the story or you're gone, Jonah. Jameson can't back down... this guy is making a mockery of his life's work. Everyone tells Jameson to knuckle under, even Robbie. Jameson can't... he won't sacrifice his principals. The Aussie fires Jameson.
Now Jameson's been cut loose from his home and traditional powerbase of 40+ years. He slumps home to tell his wife what happened. She's supportive but not thrilled: they've got money problems. Jonah is surprised: he's always left the details of the home finances to his wife... why didn't she tell him things weren't so rosy? Because he was always so distracted. She's been making ends meet, and Jonah's got a settlement package coming to him, but it's not going to be enough to cover their current lifestyle. JJJ & Wife have to sell their house in Connecticut and move to a small apartment in Brighton Beach, Brooklyn. JJJ chafes at the sudden change in living style, but makes due because of the support of his wife and former colleagues. Then Jonah's wife gets sick with a curable form of cancer... she's not going to die, but now JJJ has a lot of unexpected medical bills. JJJ's wolf-man son tries to loan JJJ some cash, but JJ's pride forces him to refuse charity from his own son. He's not useless: he can work!
Jonah hits the bricks looking for a new Editor-in-Chief job. No Dice. There are no openings anywhere. Making things worse, Jonah's of the age where most men start thinking about retiring, not restarting a career. Jonah tries to get a lower level job such as City Editor or Managing Editor. No Dice. Jonah's too expensive... and even if he took the massive pay cut, he still has to deal with the fact that there are a lot of younger, more current assistant editors who want those jobs and have more connections at their papers due to the fact that they work there already. Worse yet, Jameson's an old, white man in a world where it's considered in poor taste not to promote women & minorities into these jobs of traditional white male power.
Jonah decides to utterly humiliate himself and applies to every paper he can for a Junior Reporter job. Again, he's out of luck. He's too old to get hired onto a traditional paper as a junior reporter... his experience would make most editors nervous and make them feel insecure in their jobs. No one will bite. Jonah rages to his wife: this is a conspiracy against him, this is a conspiracy against the older people in society, this is a conspiracy by Spider-Man, it's all a conspiracy. Hell, he's won freaking Pulitzers for christ's sake, these sons of bitches should be thrilled to get him at 7-11 wages. His wife attempts to support him, but he seals himself off emotionally. Like many men his age, Jonah has come to identify himself exclusively with his job. Without his job, his secret fear is that he's useless and worthless. He spirals into despair and hopelessness, dragging his entire family along with him for the ride to Hell.
NOW... if this wasn't a mainstream Marvel Character with 40+ years of love and respect behind him (including my own), I'd do this EVIL VERSION: After a year and a half of joblessness, Jonah decides that the only way he's going to get another job as Editor-in-Chief at a major newspaper is to kill an Editor-in-Chief and get their job. Problem is, he's not the only guy with his qualifications out there... he's even got some serious competition. Even if he killed the EIC of a given newspaper, he might only be opening a job for some other son of a bitch.
Jonah takes a good hard look at who his fellow unemployed equals in the Editor business are, the men who would be likely to give him real competition for any newly opening job. He draws up a list of four men and sets out on a string of serial murders to kill them. The last man to be murdered will be the man whose job Jonah wants. Can Spider-Man figure out who's behind this seemingly random spree of murders of aged Newspapermen? Will Jonah succeed? Will fanboys hang Micah for turning a great character into a despondent murderer?
But... because I like Jonah as a character and don't see much need to ruin him, I'd do this non-evil version: A year and a half into joblessness and despair, Jonah is granted a boon from the heavens: he's offered a job by Rupert's Arch-Enemy, Sir Jeromy Wesleyan, the former tabloid king, dethroned by Murdoch years earlier. Wesleyan offers Jonah a paper: The National Enquirer-esque "Weekly Investigator," a muck-raking scandal sheet which makes the Weekly World News look like the Encyclopedia Britannica. Jonah is horrified and his initial inclination is to say "Hell No." Then he answers the door and gets his mail (mostly medical bills), saying hello the mailman.
"What the hell is wrong with my life? Why do I know my Mailman's first freaking name?" rages Jonah once alone. He realizes that he's becoming a turnip and if he passes this job by, he's going to take root and become an Old Man. He bites the bullet and jumps onboard as Editor-In-Chief of the Weekly Investigator.
Jonah's first day at the paper gives him a real good look at how tough it's going to be to do something with this rag: half is staff are alcoholics, the others are liars. Their job is to dig up and/or manufacture dirt on people like J Lo and Ben Affleck. Jonah is the ringleader of a circus of grime.
Slowly, over time, Jonah cleans up the paper and begins to fill it with real news. Freed from the demands of advertisers and already drenched in the condescension of his "Real News" peers, Jonah goes on the attack with the Weekly Investigator, turning it into a politicized, ideologically-driven paper, abandoning the false "fair and balanced" pretense of every other American newspaper. As usual, the front page is still Bat Boys, Bigfoot and Martha Stewart gaining 100 pounds or whatever crap news, but Jonah transforms the interior of the paper into the hardest-hitting real journalism paper to cross the American scene in 100 years. Sales grow, the big guns start noticing and stealing Jonah's stories. Television notices and offers Jonah a shouting-head punditry show. He accepts on the condition that no one has any editorial influence over his show. Jonah starts the show and continues on as EIC of the Weekly Investigator, terrorizing the dull Corporate Media which surround him in both print and television.
Finally, Jonah's biggest coup is taking down Rupert Murdoch in an influence-peddling case involving Chinese Spies, the Administration and Michael Jackson. Murdoch is hauled off to prison, the administration he propped up with his "Faux News" is disgraced and handed its walking papers in the next election, and Jonah wins another Pulitzer. When offered his old job as EIC of the Daily Bugle by the Bugle's new owners, Jonah sneers in derision: go back to pretending that he doesn't have an opinion about the news? Not bloody likely. He's sticking with the Investigator... it's helped him to become something he'd forgotten how to be: a real newsman."
That one's personally funny for me, since, when I was briefly writing SPECTACULAR SPIDER-MAN I had planned to send Jonah down an not entirely dissimilar road, starting with the demise of the Daily Bugle. (Marvel ultimately kyboshed it.) Back before I started writing professionally, when Bob Layton and Roger Stern were doing a fanzine called THE CHARLTON BULLSEYE, I also plotted a QUESTION revamp, where TV newsman Vic Sage gets fired after his protective boss dies and the boss' sniveling, social-climbing nephew takes over the station and puts a stop of Sage's "controversy," effectively blacklisting him in the city – until Sage takes a job as head writer at a scandal rag, with the understanding that they print whatever he gives them without changes, which they agree to as long as he gives them really juicy, controversial stuff. Would've done it, too, if the Bob and Roger's careers hadn't suddenly jumped into high gear.
From Buzz Dixon:
Dominic Fortune is a world famous adventurer - in the movies. Set in the late 1920s/early 1930s, Dominic's Hollywood career has been spectacular... but now it's fading and fading fast. In his early 50s (though still trying to look 30 and act 20), Dominic finds himself being gradually edged out by a new, more realistic style of actor and story in the Depression Era.
Though an actor, Dominic is not a complete phony: He is a skilled athlete, marksman, pilot, etc. While he is not lacking in either smarts or personal courage, he is a pampered Hollywood star and often expects to be treated as such. He has created enemies for himself in Hollywood and finds his cinematic opportunities growing scarce.
To this end the U.S. government secretly approaches him with a strange offer: They will fund a series of movies starring Dominic to be shot in exotic locales around the world -- actually a cover for a team of espionage agents seeking to uncover various nefarious plots. Dominic is to be their cover, but Dominic insists on inserting himself into the real missions as well (Dominic is no fool: He knows that tying his films in to current events will revive his flagging career).
Dominic's cinematic cohorts are divided between his regular Hollywood entourage and the secret agents who help make his movies. Among them will be a female secret agent, a rather average looking young woman, who is passed off as his script girl through she is in reality the second-in-command of the field operations. She and Dominic enjoy a love-hate relationship with simmering sexual tension.
Jack Of Hearts
Able to tap into the seemingly limitless power of quantum particles and zero point energy, Jack is a Driver: i.e., a being who is literally the power plant of a starship.
This is not a romantic thing: most Drivers are virtual galley slaves, kept in chains (literal and metaphorical) by planetary governments to power their interstellar fleets, or by powerful merchants who use them for trade. Very, very few Drivers are independent operators.
Jack is one... sort of. He's actually an escaped slave on the run from both government bounty hunters who want to bring him back for the reward and from a wealthy female merchant who fell in love with him when he signed a lifetime contract to serve on her personal ship (hence his nickname, "Jack of Hearts".
On the run, Jack encounters a sinister group of escaped Drivers who plot revenge against the galaxy by honing and refining their quantum power to god-like status. Jack throws in with them at first until he realizes the horrendous fate they have planned for the rest of the sentient universe, and now their assassins and agents are a third group he has to be wary of.
The standard Adam Strange backstory with one startling twist: Rann is eventually revealed to be a parallel dimension of Earth, not a planet circling Alpha Centauri.
The tension here is one between the real and the ideal. Rann is the "perfect" retro-future -- but it's a retro-future where problems like racism, sexism, etc. haven't been solved but merely suppressed and swept under the rug. The trade off has been a world of technical marvels and physical ease vs. a lack of liberty and equality.
Adam Strange, scientist from our world, realizes the unique situation he finds himself in: He has a chance to both bring advanced Rann technology to our dimension (passing it off as things he's invented/discovered) and to introduced modern thought and ideas to Rann.
But there's always the law of unintended consequences to answer to, and in both this world and Rann, Adam soon finds himself having to deal with the serious repercussions of his actions.
The Metal Men
Revived as a comic strip, not a comic book, about a group of "Powerpuff Girls" robots, each with a unique set of physical and personality characteristics based on the primary metal in their make-up (the 'bots are actually zillions of interlinking nano-bots that can form a variety of shapes).
Guided by advanced AI programming, they have the reasoning, learning, and emotional capabilities of 5-year olds. True, they can access any information and do millions of calculations per second, but speed of thought is not the same as mature reasoning. The robots literally have to grow and learn just as human kids do. Dr. Magnus, their human creator, is their literal father figure.
The strip would be a gag-a-day strip with a continuing story line running through it. Sometimes the story will just be the interpersonal relationships of the characters, sometimes it will involve an external problem or menace.
The Pan-Dimensional Cross-Temporal Inter-Galactic Free-Style donnybrook is the most popular sporting event of all time, all space, all dimensions. Pitting fighters from various worlds and universes against one another, it offers a never ending spectacle of variety.
Two of the most popular contestants are the partnership of Devil Dinosaur and Moon Boy, originally brought from different eras of prehistoric Earth as individual contestants but thanks to an astonishing coincidence which the author has not had time to think up yet, are now mentally linked.
The upside is that the two previous low intelligence beings now share enough mental capacity to match that of a human -- not a very bright human, but a human nonetheless. The downside is that they have to stay within fifty feet of one another for this symbiosis to work, otherwise they revert back to their more primitive mental states (their intelligence resumes once them come close again). They do retain individual personalities and memories even though they share processing power.
The series is half serious, half satire. The serious portion takes place in the various arenas and against their various foes: These are real, genuine, knock-down-drag-out brawls and, while death, dismemberment, and disfiguration are not the intent of the games, they can sure be the outcome.
The satire takes place outside of the arenas, where Devil Dinosaur and Moon Boy are treated as sports heroes by adoring fans – and where they have to deal with the pan-dimensional cross-temporal-intergalactic versions of sports agents, licensing deals, personal appearances, etc.
Mandrake The Magician
A contemporary stage magician on par with David Copperfield and Penn & Teller, Mandrake travels the world among the celebrity jet set. While everyone assumes his magic is mere stage trickery (and, truth be told, 99% of the time it is), Mandrake does have real magic powers. He does not reveal these powers to the world at large for a variety of reasons: (1) Most people would scoff and refuse to believe him no matter what proof he offered (2) The people who did believe would try to force him to use his powers for ulterior purposes (3) He stays on top of the stage magician heap by using his magic to give his theatrical trickery just that little bit of extra "oomph" that separates him from the rest of the herd.
Mandrake is a wit, bon vivant, gourmet, and intellectual man of the world. His greatest enemy is boredom, and to that end he enjoys getting involved in other people'' problems -- particularly when somebody nasty is trying to harm an innocent person (of course, in Mandrake's circles, "nasty" and "innocent" tend to be relative terms…).
Lothar, his leopard print leotard wearing assistant, is a complete fraud. Lothar claims to be the deposed king of an obscure African nation, but everybody knows he's a phony. Lothar attached himself to Mandrake by setting up a circumstance where he claimed Mandrake saved his life -- and now Mandrake is responsible for him!
Mandrake, amused by Lothar's audacity, keeps him on as part of his act and as his major domo. Though a con man himself, Lothar is also a soft touch for a sob story and frequently brings people with problems (an astonishing number of them being young, beautiful women) to Mandrake for help."
My own revamp of Adam Strange went something like this: in ancient times, a seemingly immortal non-human race of apparently limitless power swarmed across the universe, nesting one to a planet, becoming in essence the gods of those world and controlling the creatures who lived there. But in all the universe they were only able to establish a psychological connection with one species, humanity, and, through their instant transportation technology called a Zeta beam, transferred humans across the cosmos, where they became the aliens' servants and workforce. But time passes, and even the seemingly immortal aliens are now dying out. On Earth, a former adventurer turned human rights activist Adam Strange is trying to evacuate refugees from a wartorn land when he stumbles into the lair of the alien that once controlled Earth. It's now dying. Adam accidentally activates the Zeta Beam, and finds himself on the distant planet Rann, an advanced civilization whose citizens appear to have no consciousness at all. Unlike Earth, where something severed our psychic link to our alien eons ago, the Rannians are still completely connected to theirs, and Adam realizes that when their alien dies the planet Rann will die as well, just as Earth will die when "our alien" finally dies. Thus ensues a race to free the Rannians and save both worlds, and perhaps both aliens, and then to learn of the other branches of humanity scattered across the stars.
From David Gallaher:
"Speedball: The next Tony Hawk! By manipulating kinetic energy to excel in the skate-punk world, Robbie has developed a whole new image!
The Atom: Homeland Security invades your body! Recruited by the government, Ray Palmer's work in subatomic research is used to as a major weapon in the War on Terror! Now the Atom must battle sub-atomic plagues, covert ops, and terrorists just so he can sleep better at night.
The Spectre: Reincarnated as homeless street preacher, The Spectre has 40 days to redeem all of humanity or the world will face God's wrath!
Mandrake The Magician: David Blaine meets Robert B. Parker! Lothar as "Hawk!"
Quasar: A single mother inherits the Quantum Bands and discovers that she is the next Protector of the Universe, but will she make it to Timmy's soccer game?
Doc Samson: Dr. Phil meets H.P. Lovecraft! On television, he's the latest guru, but off-screen he uses the royalties and ratings from his show to fund his own paranormal and occult research facility.
Moon Knight- A hero who doesn't exist! Retired from crime-fighting, Marc Spector continues to use subversive advertising and underworld tactics to perpetuate the urban myth of The Moon Knight."
From Jerry Novick:
"The Blue Beetle: If Ted Kord doesn't clean up his mess, then Blue Beetle will have Hell to pay...
After a comparably lackluster superhero career , Ted Kord hangs up his Blue Beetle outfit and begins his battle with the bulge instead. After drifting for a few years, Kord happens upon several alarming articles concerning Palladium Constructs, the company that gobbled up most of the former inventor's industrial holdings while he was off fighting evil with nothing more menacing than an Air Gun. Palladium, it appears, has been caught in the morally gray area of cloning and genetic research. Kord decides to exercise an option in the Kord Industries-Palladium Constructs deal and resume a more active role in the company.
What Ted Kord discovers at Kord-Palladium horrifies him: an illegal experiment (one that seems to have "slipped through the governmental oversight committee's cracks," giving rise to a deeper conspiracy theory) has produced a genetically mutated clone -- one that has been developed from hybrid human and insect DNA. This unfortunate creature cannot maintain any one cellular structure and it finds itself changing at an alarming rate between human and insect traits and myriad combinations thereof (for instance, a human torso capped by a boy-like head that sports beetle mandibles, along with an armor-like exoskeleton on the creature's back). And when the creature escapes, Ted Kord dons his Blue Beetle outfit once more to track it down.
During the ensuing chase and battle, Ted Kord is severely injured, leaving him a paraplegic. However, his dedication wins the creature's trust and Kord and this new "Blue Beetle" form an odd father-son bond. Ted Kord dedicates himself to helping the creature lead some sort of normal life, using his inventive mind to develop a way for the unfortunate soul to pass for the most part as a normal teenage boy.
And thus, between learning to cope with high school and with his insect powers, Ted Kord Jr. (TK for short) becomes a boy and a hero, while Ted Kord himself struggles with newfound responsibilities, life as a paraplegic and the pleasurable burdens of fatherhood."
Want to see more? Let us know. And, remember, it's only a game. (If you're in the mood to suggest subjects, make them company-owned characters only. We trust creators to know how to handle their own creator-owned companies.)
The clever may figure out my PERMANENT DAMAGE e-mail address is encrypted. Theoretically, this foils spambots who hunt down e-mail addresses on websites. We'll see. If you want to encode your own e-mail address, click here and follow the instructions.
My favorite antispam tool, though, remains Mailwasher, a nifty little shareware utility that reads headers and senders off your server, allows you to sort them out as friends, normal, and unwanted main (AKA spam), "bounce" spammers by sending them an e-mail saying your e-mail address doesn't exist, and then erase the offending messages without ever having to download them to your own computer. It also spots virus messages and lets you safely wipe them out as well. I've mentioned Mailwasher before, but it's still the best tool of its kind, and really easy to use. It's not exactly automatic, but that's good. Less chance of mistakes that way. Get it.
Last week's tribute to Texas' Lone Star Comics brought this response:
"In a word, I am amazed. I have been to the Lone Star Comics in the DFW area several times throughout the last two years, as recently as this week even, and [the letter writer] is severely misrepresenting these stores in his description. Every one I've been to still has card, Heroclix, Mage Knight, and Warhammer tournaments going on a daily schedule. Every store I visited is covered with promotional posters out the ass, with some covering up the windows so much that you can barely see inside. The fanboy employees are still there. Not to insult anyone, but everyone I saw working sported tell-tale long hair, multiple tattoos, facial piercings, or faded Wolverine t-shirts. As far as the uniform thing goes, this summer they wore straw hats. Seriously. Safari-looking, crocodile-hunting, wide-brim lame-ass safari hats. (As if comic shops weren't cool enough already.)
I can't comment on their loans, or their supposed advertising either. I have never seen or even heard of any. I also have never heard of any of their community efforts, but that could just be my ignorance. Their stores are still what they've been since I moved to Dallas-Fort Worth, maintaining the clustered, dated, piled "full of crap that won't sell" atmosphere they've championed since the early '90s. I'm not really bashing Lone Star here, though; at least they have survived as a chain instead of flopping like most of the comic stores in the area have. But to say they are innovativ, pioneers, and better than the rest of the comic shops is ridiculous. Check out Titan Comics in the middle of Dallas for a great store, with a great atmosphere, good advertising, friendly employees, (they are fanboys though) and a visible presence at all of the quarterly Dallas Comic Cons. Unlike Lone Star, which I've never seen at any comic con.
Congratulations to Lone Star Comics for surviving as a chain, and maybe there are some real businessmen running the shops. But the image that you claim has changed is still there. The demographic is still the same, the stores still look the same, and the product diversity isn't there. If you can find any walls that aren't covered with posters, I'd love to see them. If they ever get rid of the multiple card tables lining the middle of their stores that they supposedly got rid of, let me know. And if they start wearing those safari hats year-round, I'll be embarrassed enough for all of you.
I am only a customer. I don't work for any comic store anywhere, and have no personal interest in any of the DFW comic book stores. I shop at several different places, but my favorite is Titan Comics in Dallas. I buy action figures and comics occasionally from Lone Star Comics, and mean them no harm by what I write."
Not having been in Texas in years, I couldn't begin to guess who's right on this. Any other opinion?
On the subject of TV advertising, an interesting note:
" Just for kicks, I called up the local cable giant, Cable One, and asked them how much it would cost for them to make a commercial for my business and air it on their MSA (multiple service area).
$1000 to make the commercial. Film crew, copywriter, graphics, and all the whiz bang effects. A thousand bucks.
If I made it? $250 setup fee.
How much does it cost to air it each time?
The ad would rotate throughout the channels, all during the day. Not just late at night, or early in the morning. For $10 a pop, I could get it to air during specific shows and timeslots.
Cox Cable in Arizona had an even sweeter deal, offering free production and dirt cheap air rates.
Ad revenues are way down these days. This is an opportune time for comic shops to get on the air."
About "the revamp game":
"Interestingly, Judd Winick and Geoff Johns were playing this game at their Chicago Wizard World panel. Winick was describing the re-design of the old Green Lantern villain Tattooed Man (He's now got a shaved head, multiple piercings, and wears jeans and a black muscle shirt - prompting someone in the crowd to shout, "He's Greg Rucka!") Rising to the challenge of making any lame character cool, Johns came up with a new Kite Man, a mysterious serial killer given that name by police because he swoops down on his victims on glider wings--made from human skin."
The Tattooed Man revamp sounds more like one of the Village People, but Johns' Kite Man is surprisingly creepy-cool. Maybe somebody ought to hire him...
Finally, an unexpected new indictment in the Jesus Castillo case:
" You mentioned the Castillo case briefly in this week's PERMANENT DAMAGE. One interesting thing I don't think a lot of people are aware of - in fact, I think a lot of people are trying very hard not to talk about this - is a growing sense of dissatisfaction with the current administration at the CBLDF.
I've heard a lot of things and I've tried to put a bug into a few people's ears about this - because one day this is going to be a big story. But the CBLDF is apparently the holiest of holy cows in our industry, because no one is even questioning this.
Basically, I live in Oklahoma, in Tulsa, and I've heard more than one lawyer in our local comic book store speak at about the Fund's deficiencies. These are people who have done pro bono volunteer work for the Fund and been staggered by the lack of coordination and perspicacity on the part of the fund's leaders. They say that the fund is run by unqualified politicos. They say that the fund has been derailed by pro-pornography interests and funding (always a tricky subject in OK - you never know if someone is mentioning pornography because they are a Bible thumper or not). They say that the representation in the Jesus Castillo case consisted of a bunch of New York First Amendment lawyers who had no real interest in actually getting Castillo off on what would have been an open & shut criminal argument, but instead wasted their resources on the boondoggle of trying to prove that the 'Legend of the Overfiend' or whatever kind of tentacle love book it was was considered art - which backfired immensely in the jury room. They say that the Fund is basically dedicated to the defense of more abstract political freedoms as opposed to the actual nitty-gritty of getting people like Castillo out of trouble and keeping their businesses alive.
Now, of course, there's a lot of unsubstantiated stuff up there - but I've heard this from numerous sources. This is all rumor - but - if there's one thing the Nixon administration taught us its that where there's a stink, there's probably shit. There's nothing wrong with defending the First Amendment - of course not - but if it's a choice between defending a simple criminal case where a member of our community has been endangered and trying a longshot First Amendment precedent-setting argument, a lot of people think that the Fund has its priorities shot.
Of course, most people in comics are not lawyers, they don't know what's going on, they only see the Fund as the Good Guys and would never think anything bad about a not-for-profit foundation which effectively positions itself as the last line of defense against the forces of evil. But maybe someone needs to ask some tough questions in the legal community and see if the comics community's perceptions of the Fund's priorities match the realities."
And I've gotten word from Avatar that my long-in-the-works second project there, MY FLESH IS COOL, with art by Argentine illustrator Sebas Fiumara, is now finally ready to solicit. It's a sf-crime adventure – really, it's its own whole new genre – about a contract killer who completes his assignments from the safety of other people's bodies. But his secrets have been betrayed by the last person he'd ever expect, and now he's the only one who can halt the end of civilization as we know it, if he can survive long enough. Three issues of wild action and social critique, coming soon from Avatar. (Then, of course, there's SACRILEGE... but we'll save that for another day.)
Last week when reviewing the SHOOTING STAR COMICS ANTHOLOGY#2, I referred to one of the strips therein as "Amy Geronimo." The correct title is "Aym Geronimo." I'll blame it on my spellchecker. (But it was really my fault.)
Also, several people wrote to tell me that HBO has renewed THE WIRE for a third season. (George Pelecanos wrote another episode this week, by the way; some of the sharpest writing I've ever seen in a TV episodic, so if you get HBO, catch one of the re-broadcasts before next Sunday. It cooks.)
Make plans now to hit the Las Vegas Comics Convention, at the Mandalay Bay Convention Center here in Las Vegas Oct. 31-Nov. 2. I'll be there; the Mandalay Bay's my favorite resort on the Strip. Check out their website for more information. Conventioneers can snag some really sweet hotel rates at the Mandalay Bay, the pyramid-shaped Luxor, and the King Arthur themed Excalibur. (A bit of Las Vegas trivia: the Stratosphere resort casino, at the other end of the Strip, not only sports the highest roller coaster in the world but is the tallest building west of the Mississippi. Too bad they never put in their King Kong elevator, which would have climbed up the side of the Stratosphere with passengers in his hand, only to be shot down by biplanes while still holding the passengers.) (And some people wonder why I love Las Vegas...)
Finally, while FREDDY VS. JASON was the #1 film of the week, AMERICAN SPLENDOR, based on Harvey Pekar's autobiographical comics of the same name, was the top grossing film of the week, netting a whopping $26,000 per screen. If it's not in your town yet, don't despair. It hasn't opened wide yet; that's in a couple of weeks.
This is already long enough – reviews and politics back next week...
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. You can also leave messages for me and have discussions on other topics at my Delphi forum, GRAPHIC VIOLENCE. Please don't ask me how to break into the business, or who to submit work to. The answers to those questions are too mercurial for even me to keep up with.
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I'm reviewing comics sent to me – can't guarantee I'll like them but I'll certainly 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.
My old personal webpage – the one with all the information – has finally vanished, and it's about time, since I left that server almost a year ago. The new one isn't up yet, but keep watching this space for details.