Issue #117

Another slew of stuff from IDW. Max Allen Collins, Gabriel Rodriguez and Ashley Wood continue channeling the CBS hit show CSI in CSI: BAD RAP #3 ($3.99). It's kind of stunning how effortlessly Collins hits exactly all the necessary beats to replicate the show here (though, from the few times I've watched it, I don't remember the Grissom character tossing out quite that many bon mots); whether that's good or bad depends on how much you like the show. But they've got it down, no question. The murder of retro-punk rapper Busta Capp is still unsolved, but the CSI team is leaving no red herring unturned as more carnage erupts, so I'm putting my money on them solving the crime by the time the mini-series ends with #5.

Gabriel Hernandez also draws CVO: ARTIFACT #2 ($3.99), providing a Chaykinesque cover and strong Tommy Lee Jones-ish interiors. The videogame-inspired concept (vampires and other monsters as a covert action team for the government) still isn't very interesting but Hernandez and writer Jeff Mariotte have finally settled into the book enough to make you forget about that, for at least a few pages.

Like almost every other issue in the series, nothing much happens in Steve Niles and Ben Templesmith's DARK DAYS #5 ($3.99) except for heroine Stella doing the two-backed beast with a sympathetic undead and moving toward a suicidal-looking final face-off with her true enemy. But at least nothing happens with panache. I like Niles' dialogue and characterization enough that I'm willing to give him the benefit of the doubt on this one, but #6 better have some kickass twist to it.

GRUMPY OLD MONSTERS #1 ($3.99) by Kevin J. Anderson, Rebecca Moesta, Guillermo Mendoza and Paco Cavero, about an old folks home for "special needs monsters" is... well... cute, who team up to help a little girl save Castle Frankenstein from demolition by the Van Helsing Corporation. The writing's pleasant, the cartoony art's well done, and doing all the backgrounds in color holds is an interesting technique. It's... well... cute. At this point I don't know what else there is to say about it...

Monsters are on Image's mind, too, with SWORD OF DRACULA #2, by Jason Henderson and Greg Scott. In case you missed the review of #1, it's about a covert ops team (lots of those going around these days) dedicated to hunting down Dracula, presented as "the Osama bin Laden" of vampires, so this is a post 9-11 take on the mythos. Sort of. The team is obviously gearing up for other enemies beside Vlad Dracul, and it's well handled, but something about the book remains inchoate, as if Henderson, a good writer, just can't quite get a grip on things. Greg Scott's art, though good, really needs the benefit of color; just too much expression is lost in black and white. But at least it's good enough to be a book I want to like, and even the best Dracula series in comics, Marvel's TOMB OF DRACULA, took several issues to coalesce. Of course, they still had that luxury in those days...

Also coming up at Image is the return of John Layman and Dave Crosland's hero trapped in a (when last we saw him) urine-soaked kiddie show dragon costume. The underlying joke of STAY PUFFED #1 ($2.95) may have been overtaken by current events ("Puff" is now a soldier stationed in Iraq), but it's just sick enough to still work. This is the sort of thing Garth Ennis does when he's in a funny mood, but it's possible Layman does it better. But where's the dragon suit?!!

SSS Comics' ECLIPSE AND VEGA #2 ($2.95) is out, courtesy of Saul Colt, Christopher Eisert and various artists. I'm forcing myself to not make a bad joke about the artwork out of Eisert's name, but the real problem here is the writing; imagine every superhero comics cliché crammed into one interminable package. It's bad. End of story.

From Australia and 24 Hour Cynic comes Owen Heitmann's engaging HOW TO SAVE THE WORLD: A BEGINNER'S GUIDE ($3.50). With decent proto-ARCHIEish cartooning, it's an amusing little paper movie about a school being overrun by zombies. Sure, it's got its share of horror movie clichés, but at least Heitmann is obviously aware of them and has fun with them.

PANEL:ARCHITECTURE ($3.95) is a curious anthology from Ferret Press and the Panel website featuring stories centered around, in one way or another, buildings. As with most anthologies, esp. those packing a number of pieces into standard comics space, these tend to be more vignettes than stories, but all are decent and a couple, particularly Tom Williams' "Columbine," are pretty good. Check it out.

Ferret Press has also released Dara Naraghi's BIG CITY BLUES ($3.99), where Naraghi (I suddenly realize I don't know if "he's" male or female) sort of presents the flip side to ASTRO CITY, a metropolis full of "normals" who periodically get steamrolled by this superhero fight or that. The book's hindered by uneven artwork (there are several stories done by several artists, including Naraghi's frequent cohort Steve Black, whose art has gotten much better but still isn't quite what I call good, but it has taken on an interesting Spain Rodriguez quality), but Naraghi's plotting and dialogue are starting to pay off on the promise of earlier work. Worth a look.

Emily Blair's self-published SOAP OPERA ($2.95) is a funny, bittersweet meditation on the interaction of life and junk media. It's very strange, both mannered and naturalistic, generating a suffocated atmosphere that's amplified by art that often invokes woodcuts, as the story's heroine removes herself more and more from life, feeling more intimate and personal with a soap character than with the people she knows, until she's trapped in the interstice of the two worlds. Every element of the work coalesces for a specific effect and nothing extraneous dumped in. With the strongly controlled pacing, dialogue and art, Emily Blair plays like a master of the form already. What else has she done? If this is a debut, it's the best debut I've seen in a long time.

Fanzing and Shooting Star return with another supersized anthology, the 80 page giant JOB WANTED ($5.95). Shooting Star anthologies tend to be hit-and-miss affairs, and this doesn't break their streak. Despite the title, there's no underlying theme, and, as with the other SS anthologies, JOB WANTED has mostly mildly entertaining stories that do way too many newish riffs on familiar old concepts. Which doesn't make them bad, just not quite memorable. The one standout in the book is J. Morgan Neal, Gregg Noon and Philipp Nuendorf's "Rogue," a vignette paralleling the taming of wild broncos in 1867 Texas with the capture of Africans for slavery. JOB WANTED isn't a bad book, but it'd be nice to see a little more originality instead of variations on themes.

Like Saddle Tramp Press's THE AMERICAN AMORISTS ASSOCIATION GUIDEBOOK VOL 1, a sardonic parody of underlying PLAYBOY/MAXIM attitude toward relations between the sexes, paradoxically very closely based on a 1935 Rex Stout essay. I've no idea whether the Stout piece was intended to be funny, but AAAGv1, but some of this stuff is hilarious.

Getting to the graphic novel portion of our program, Saddle Tramp Press has also released HOLLIDAY: COLD DECK ($10.95), the latest in Dave Samuelson and Jason Wright's quasi-historical series of tales about legendary consumptive gunslinger Doc Holliday dueling with various supernatural horrors throughout the West in the 1870s. In this one Holliday tracks down a werewolf, and thought that sounds bland on the surface Samuelson and Wright keep it interesting with a twisty story and some increasingly Gene Colan-inspired art. They've both really grown into the material, improving vastly over their early work. (There's also a nice little bonus tale of Doc Holliday and Wyatt Earp, drawn by Samuelson's presumed brother Dave.) A decent package for the price.

Finally, from IDW, there's Steve Niles and Elman Brown's hardcover adaptation of the classic Richard Matheson story I AM LEGEND ($35), about the last man on an Earth overwhelmed by vampires. I can't say I really care for Brown's artwork, but it's not bad and it works all right with the material. But it was always a good story, and Niles has made sure it's as strong here as in the original. Pricey but worth it if you're a horror or Matheson (or Niles) fan.


A word about sending review copies. As I mention elsewhere, I'll review pretty much anything I'm sent, though I can't guarantee I'll like it. Sending review copies means you understand I'm going to say what I think, and the chips will fall wherever. And, please, only send what you want reviewed. Lately I've been getting packages full of elaborate cover letters, press releases, posters and other promotional fluff, and I appreciate the sentiment but I don't want any of it. Nothing but the work itself is going to affect my response to the work, and the rest is just stuff I'll have to throw out. (Now, if you want to send me a shot glass related to your book, that's another matter, but be sure to pack it well.) Save your money. You don't have to introduce yourself, or tell me your background, or explain a little bit about the project. (Unless it's something acutely important, like the book was published in Finland, and all the dialogue is in Finnish with English translations in the back.) If we're ever at a cocktail party together, I'll be happy to listen to all that while I sip my Cabo Wabo, but in this context I don't care. Trust me, when I'm reviewing, I'm not your friend. The only thing that matters to me at that point in time is the work, and whatever you have to say that's germane to it, if you didn't say it there, you're out of luck and better luck next time. All I need in a cover letter, if it's not already in the publication, is the price of the book and contact information, preferably a webpage interested parties can click to. You know, so people who want the reviewed material can find out more about it. If all that's in the publication, a cover letter is superfluous.

Okay? I'm not trying to be snotty, I'm just saying...

"They're not comics, but the Animated Batman site is a fine site with criticism for that particular show. The writer is an academic (philosophy, I think) and fully recognizes his own pretentiousness (his original title for the site was something like "The Most Pompous Batman Animated Review Site in the World"), but his episode critiques are all very well written, very well thought out, and right more often than not. The essay section contains some great stuff, too, though not all of it is written by him."

"As coincidence would have it, as you've been starting to talk about comics critism and reviewing, I've had a piece in press with my normal venue, the New York Resident (the 3rd weekly in town... more moderate in politics and with a readership in the 200-250K range, or so my editor tells me). I'm not entirely sure whether it fits your definition of criticism or review. I think it straddles the fence, somewhat, and my editor threw my humor column header on it.

I may be doing more of this. Lord knows I've got an obscene pile of manga tpbs on the floor. Manga seems to be the comics genre most willing to send review copies at the drop of a hat. Oh wait, they're acting like real publishers... never mind. My editor-in-chief was managing editor over at Ballantine before he came to the paper, so he's got a soft spot for comics and I'm the first writer he's had to do anything with them."

"It was brought to my attention that you had a letter from Scott Nelson, one of the reviewers from Paperback Reader, in your column. First off, I'd like to say I appreciate the link and exposure to a very large audience of comic book fans that read your column.

I don't know what your feelings are towards PBR as a review site but I do want to let you know we don't pretend to be anything other than a few comic book fans that just like sharing our opinions on comics that we read. For the most part, we've had some good feedback from time to time from people that read reviews on our site, which I'm glad to see.

Again, I appreciate the mention, and I appreciate you not directly slamming us like you did to the likes of Fourth Rail. I can't but help agree with you on your opinion of their reviews because sometimes I wonder if they are reading the same comics I'm reading when I read what they have to say about them. But, as I see it, we all have our own opinions."

Um... I didn't slam Fourth Rail. I printed a letter that slammed Fourth Rail. Agreement with me on any topic isn't a criterion for having a letter published here, and I often let comments stand by themselves without sticking my two cents in. That doesn't automatically mean I agree, just as listing sites here doesn't mean I automatically accept their own self-characterization. It only means I leave it up to readers to make their own decision. Which is all I can really do anyway.

"In response to your column about comics criticism online:

The Comics Interpreter is first and foremost a venue for PRINT criticism, but some of our best (albeit older) critiques are online..."

"You're putting the cart before the horse.

The emergence of criticism in a community is not a function of education first, but rather of density. When you have enough thinking on the topic there will be some mental cream to float to the top, but American Comics is a long way away from that critical mass. I looked up the attendance statistics for the Metropolitan Museum of Art today. 5 million people a year attend that museum. I'm sure most are school children, but many are not and the Met is not the only museum in the country. The museum/gallery-going public is more than numerous enough to form and support a critical community (and, as a pleasant side effect, force children to learn about it!) – American comics readers simply are not numerous enough. We can't hope to have a critical establishment emerge from an industry that daily reaffirms its irrelevance as a living cultural force. Comics will be fertile ground for criticism when we start making a product that appeals to people.

Unfortunately it brings us back to the old discussion – and the only one worth having in American Comics' current deplorable state – why don't more people read comics?

The sad answer: Comics are crap.

While most of anything is crap, most modern comics are completely incoherent--and worse than ever. Simultaneously satisfying the demands of monthly and collected publishing options is ripping to shreds what's left of our ability to tell a story well. New readers are likely to be met with a product that reinforces all their negative preconceived notions about comics, but without the ironclad guarantee of a fun read that was once comics' hallmark. No more guilty pleasure, just increasingly expensive disappointment. While this situation continues sales can not rise (reliably) and criticism cannot emerge.

If we're mixing our metaphors, it's not a case of carts and horses, it's a case of chickens and eggs. Comics may be crap. But you'd be hard pressed to find a dozen comics readers who agree the same dozen randomly selected comics were crap. There's no reason those dozen readers can't ultimately develop a critical language capable of credibly arguing what's crap and what isn't. That's partly what criticism is all about, find an at least intellectual standard for quality, then continually challenging and attempting to perfect it. It's an ongoing process. I'm not sure what museums have to do with anything. I recently attended an exhibit of 19th-20th century painters here and felt some paintings were wonderful and others were crap, regardless of the expert voice on my guide stick telling me why the paintings were all wonderful. So what? All that's needed for a literature of criticism to spring up is a critical mass of critics, not audience. And whether comics of the last ten years are crap (which is as broad an overstatement as I think possible in the context), the fact remains we have over 100 years worth of comic strips and comic books to work with now – there's no reason to relegate ourselves to the last ten years – and certainly anyone skimming the cream from that will find more than enough excellent work to develop critical theory from. They can even apply their critical theory to more recent comics to credibly discuss why they're crap. Is the content the medium? If the content is crap, does that make the medium itself crap and unworthy of discussion separate from content, or is it a reflexive thing, as in the G.K. Chesterton aphorism that any idea incapable of being expressed in language is an inept idea, and any language incapable of expressing that idea is an inept language? The French CAHIERS DU CINEMA critics rescued a number of forgotten "classics" and talents from obscurity, such as CITIZEN KANE, even as they bitterly complained of the collapsed standards of the films of their own day. Believe me, if pro wrestling can develop its own base of critics (and it has) and television (the vast majority of which is certainly crap) can develop its own critical base, comics can develop one. Some of your statements indicate you have a nascent critical theory of your own ("10+ years of quality not being the major force in the marketplace has let to a severe drop in craft (ability, not talent), leaving us with a group of professionals who far too often simply do not understand how to perform the task before them."). How about developing that?

"Just as a heads up: there is an excellent article about Nietzsche's concept of the ubermensch and its application to comics, particularly in light of the general trend among superhero comics to maintain the status quo. The author is Matthew Wolf-Meyer and it was published in THE JOURNAL OF POPULAR CULTURE. If you are interested, the MLA citation is:

Journal of Popular Culture, Wntr 2003 v36 i3 p497(21)

The world ozymandias made: utopias in the superhero comic, subculture, and the conservation of difference. (Critical Essay) Matthew Wolf-Meyer."

Thanks. Anyone know a web address for this, or is it strictly print?

"The real thing that comics needs isn't more critics of particular comics. It is really unnecessary. People don't want to read a criticism of the latest issue of BATMAN, they want to know if it's good or not. Criticism doesn't really examine whether something is good or entertaining, it looks at its effectiveness. It examines what is done and how it is done in terms of style and pacing. It looks at the influences behind the techniques used. Then, after all that, it determines if the book is effective in what it tries to accomplish. This has no bearing on entertainment value. Most comics are there purely for entertainment. There is nothing wrong with this. Comics are mostly still a children's medium, no matter how hard we try to fight this. The major audience is children. The problem is that most kids don't care why something is effective; they care if something is entertaining. Who wants to write a critical study of the latest issues of Spiderman that will never be read? Criticism isn't even what we need. We need more critical studies of all books. It would be very difficult to write a critique of the latest issue of AMAZING SPIDER-MAN without knowledge of the character and his history, of the artist and where he comes from, of the author and what he has done (and also past authors and artists and what they have done). Criticism is about impact. What impact does something have on the industry and (possibly) entertainment and the world at large? What are the ideologies expressed? Are they latent? Is this something that has happened over time? What does this book say about the world – is a major question that any comic book critic should be asking. Bringing back the fact that comics are mainly for children, most of them use the same techniques, the same styles, and present the same ideologies. You would be hard pressed to find a major market book that challenges its readers. Take a look at Stan Lee's books of the '60s. They are very good. They are incredibly entertaining. But most of the characterizations are all the same. The dialogue does not vary that much (aside from the Thor stories where everyone has to speak in Shakespearean English). Think about how many "woe is me" characters Stan wrote: Spider-Man, Daredevil, Captain America, Silver Surfer, The Thing... the list could go on forever. This is not to say that all the books were the same, but they all followed the same process. Criticism does not work well with comics because it is nearly impossible to critique on single issue. Criticism should examine a particular run by an author or artist or a storyline. It should be used to define genres of books. There is another problem; criticism is based on multiple readings. A critique cannot be written with just one viewing, it is based on multiple readings. Criticism also is not something to be read once before deciding to buy something or not. It is something that is read to enhance the enjoyment of something already read.

The main problem is you get people saying things like this "All you get is some college kid's essay on Neil Gaiman's SANDMAN." Why are comic book fans the only beast of the world that consistently stunts their own growth? These are the exact kind of essays we need to kick start comic book criticism. Do people even realize that comics are a viable topic of discussion in college classes? I studied Batman many different times in college, in the same classes that where there were discussions of Shakespeare and CITIZEN KANE. Why are we throwing away these essays that college students write rather than to publish them? The French New Wave movement in film began in the 50's in France when a bunch of young people got together and wrote critical examinations of film and published their own CAHIERS DU CINEMA. The French New Wave produced some of the most effective films the world had ever seen, and its influences can still be seen in critically acclaimed films today. College students are writing well thought out critical examinations of the medium they love and the people who should be reading them are throwing them out!!! Why? The comic book fan is such an interesting beast in that we don't like other people telling us about what we read. Why? This does not make sense. This is not to say that all these essays are good or worth publishing, but how will we find the ones that are if we're so quick to dismiss them as just some kid writing about The Sandman. There are no authorities right now on comic criticism. We can create our own. So I will champion this effort. Send me your essays. I'm sure there are other people out there who would be willing to work with these essays and to try and publish them, so let's get these people together and put out a pamphlet or set up a website to publish these essays. They would do wonders for the development of the medium. I can't possibly be the only person who sees this. Let's get these essays out for people to read about their favorite books and learn about their influences, so maybe people will begin to go out and look at the books that were written before they were born. Let's publish these essays so that critics of other medium know that comics aren't just for kids. Most of all, let's publish these critical essays to push the boundaries of comics, to expand on what is and can be done with comics, so that the readers can actually help the medium grow.

I am serious about this. Please email me your essays, with the subject as the topic of the critique/essay/study and attach the essay as a word document."

I'd like to clarify the writer of that last one was a Sam Moyerman; if you e-mail in essays, you'll be sending to him, not me. I've got nothing to do with it. That said, I agree with most of the letter's points, but the argument that comics is still a children's medium with an audience mainly of children seems a bit hard to maintain in an age where most children neither buy nor read comics and the vast majority of material is inappropriate for children. To the extent we're a "children's medium," it's only due to the unwillingness of some companies and talent to move beyond a specific juvenilistic self-perception.

In other matters, my scheme for a computerized preview/ordering system got some interesting responses:

"Your idea regarding library-styled information access for new comics was interesting, but I think more could be done. The recent COMIC BOOK LIBRARY CD released with the "100 Complete Comic Books" demonstrates the viability of an idea author Murray Ward (the comic indexer) and I proposed a few years ago: monthly comic CDs.

Each month, there'd be three or four CDs with that month's comics on them (you should be able to put most of the comics in PREVIEWS on two or three CDS, at most; eventually a single DVD would replace the multiple CDs). The comics would be completely digitized versions, but with only the first few pages unlocked. You would use the CD to preview physical comics for ordering or, for a fee (a fraction of the cost of the physical issue), unlock the comics you're interested in.

The real beauty is that each month you'd have almost the entire month's publication list on CD for a few dollars. Should you decide six months or a year -- or three -- later that you actually did want to check out an issue (if, for example, the title became interesting or you need a copy for research), you would still have the option of unlocking it months or years later. Once the number of digitized comics becomes significant, special collections of single titles could be re-released on individual CDs (the entire run of FF, for example, on a DVD or 6 CDs), which would make reference work easier. It would also allow comic companies to sell old issues without new print runs.

While digitized comics can't replace physical comics completely, the idea of having thousands of comics on a rack of CDs is too cool to ignore. The ability to unlock an issue as needed for reference would be invaluable... or dangerous -- imagine, in an impulsive moment, unlocking an old comic or three when hit by a sudden attack of nostalgia. ;-)

Murray Ward and I originally proposed versions in Adobe Acrobat format, where each issue would have a small text box containing the credits and names of all characters appearing in the issue (which would make it instantly searchable in Acrobat) with possibly a small text box along each page bottom listing the characters on the page (in white or "paper"-colored text, making it invisible). A simple database file could also be kept on each CD listing credits and appearances for every digitized comic up to that CD's release date; getting the latest CD would give you an instant reference file for creators and characters of everything digitized.

Setting up the system shouldn't be *too* much of a nightmare, logistically; it would mean a little more lead-time on issues. As it stands, most mainstream comics are given to the printer in digitized format already; the same files could be sent to the CD branch. In order to get them out a month or two earlier than the actual comics, it would take some coordination, but not overwhelmingly so; DC used to publish a whole extra week of comics for their "fifth week" events, this would be only slightly more difficult. Initially, I envision them producing the CDs simultaneously with the comics, introducing their collectable/coolness factor first, and, once accepted, letting them become more of a tool for pre-ordering. The unlocked CD sales would profit the dealers, and an automated online system for unlocking issues would also have to factor in royalties to creators, but all-in-all it's nothing that a decent computer system couldn't handle.

Ironically, as paper and production costs have escalated over the years, the cost for CDs and duplication have experienced an even greater drop. Hell, if I'd had a 100 comic books on each of those AOL CDs I discarded, my digital collection would be monstrously impressive. ;-)

We ran the ideas past both Marvel and DC a few years ago, but neither was interested in digitized comics at the time. Hopefully, as technology advances, they'll change their minds."

I generally like the idea, but I suspect CD comics need two things before they really become popular: a generation brought up on them (many current comics fans are reluctant to abandon the feel/smell of paper), and a wider availability of either portrait-orientated monitors or landscape-orientated comics. And, please, don't put emoticons in your e-mails...

"Regarding your on-line PREVIEWS idea, I would love it, but I don't know that the current comic-buying audience would. IMO, far too many people in the comic book world have loyalty to characters and titles than to creators. How many Internet message boards resound with the cry, "I don't know why I'm still buying this title" from the same poster for months or years? One board I frequent has a ton of fans of Paul Dini's work on Batman the Animated Series, the Animated Age Batman comic books, and his oversized Alex Ross collaborations. I tried flogging his MUTANT, TEXAS title from Oni Press and got no reaction whatsoever. The same thing happens to any number of other "hot" writers. There's a huge conservative streak in the comics population that doesn't want new stuff. Maybe that just means the on-line PREVIEWS idea should be targeted at new readers, not the old ones."

"Nice article on having computerized PREVIEWS. One issue that I don't think you mentioned: It's hard to read a full page comic on a 15-17" monitor. Maybe the dedicated browser could be set up so that the monitor could be placed on its side, thus better approximating the average comic book page."

Yes, I thought of that on Thursday. A better idea would be for whoever put this idea into practice to cut a deal with a monitor maker to supply cheap portrait-formatted monitors to comics shops.

"I just read your recent treatment on a computerized solution for browsing comics. You've got some really good ideas in there. I'm a programmer/analyst by trade, and I thought I might elaborate on it a bit and see what you think. I was thinking about something similar to this a while back when it looked like comics might really take off again.

First, instead of just upcoming comics, this could be more akin to a giant shared database of every comic, indexed by company, characters, and creators. Searching would not only provide new releases, but also older issues, and it could also be set up to show the amount on-hand at the store you are at, at all locations for the store chain, and at on-line locations for the store (each store could have an inventory database linked to the shared database of comic titles that everyone accesses). Publishers could release targeted advertising to stores in the system, and maybe also purchase advertising space on the systems pages, just like adv. space is sold today on websites. Stores could customize their own storefront on the system, by say, adding areas for employee picks, new releases, hot items, or whatever. New releases could be added to the system relatively easily based on Diamond's catalogue (which is already available electronically).

I like the idea of having pages for preview, but I would say that realistically, you offer this as an option for all issues(like when you're browsing music on Amazon and you can listen to certain songs on certain albums, but not all of them), so it's up to the publisher to upload preview pages. But at the very least you can add a short synopsis for each issue.

You could also add alerting to the system, so that a customer that's waiting for the latest Neil Gaiman book could get alerted by e-mail that it is coming out this week if they choose to. I love the idea of generating a pull list right from the terminal, but it could also store customer requests for series or issues that they can't find (thus giving stores more insight into their customers' buying habits, and enlightening them into what they should and shouldn't be buying more than just what's left on the racks).

Really, there is so much possibility for the system. Add creator bios, custom pages for publishers, user reviews for issues, or whatever. You can tie in inventory and accounting. And it could be implemented extremely easily. As you said, computers are insanely cheap - between $100-500 for a bare-bones system that can access the internet.

Monitors and printers are equally as cheap. Setup shouldn't be more than "install this software on your machine and go." And the cost of hosting could be covered by a nominal monthly charge (say $10 per store), and supplemented by advertising revenue. I can't imagine that customers would reject the system.

The only problem would be selling it. Even if someone had enough financial support to set up the initial database and do the programming, whether comic store owners would be accepting is another beast."

That's always the other beast...

Finally, a couple people took issue with my maxim that you shouldn't give people who aren't interested in comics comics as Xmas presents:

"I just wanted to say that the idea that no one should give comics as Christmas presents isn't exactly true in my experience. Last year I gave everyone in my family a graphic novel or TPB I thought they'd like. My two cousins got BONE and BLUE MONDAY and are now devoted comics readers.

My 10 year old boy cousin is now a hardcore manga fan and my 13 year old girl cousin has probably read everything Oni has to offer. In addition, their father has gone through all 10 SANDMAN books and continues to buy more GNs when he takes the kids to the comic shop or bookstore. I know it's just anecdotal but I'm a firm believer in the power of exposing people to comics with gifts if you choose the right ones to fit what they like."

"My mother-in-law, who thinks comics are trash but loves Schulz's Peanuts, softened her attitude a bit after reading the Publishers Weekly special on comics that came out a few months back. So I've bought her THE TALE OF ONE BAD RAT to start her off."

I stand by the maxim – get 'em something they want, not something you want them to want – but there are always exceptions...

Or was it Saddam Hussein? My reaction on seeing his post-capture picture was that he was Charles Manson.

Well, good. I doubt there's anyone who didn't want to see them catch Saddam Hussein and I'm glad they did. The reaction to the capture was interesting, to say the least. On Monday morning, all the radio stations were blaring how the stock market was skyrocketing upward at the news (all the markets nonetheless closed down for the day, with the dollar hitting a new historic low against the Euro), and here they continue to blather on about how Nevada's John Ensign was the only senator in Iraq at the time of the capture, like that made any difference. There are those who wish they'd just killed him on the spot, but, yeah, that's what we need: stories about American soldiers executing captured prisoners. That'd play well, and you know it'd come out. There's the theory that a dead Saddam would break the spirit of the resistance against the American presence in Iraq, but this is based on a couple faulty premises. 1: Dead people become martyrs for "struggles against oppression" (which, you know, from their point of view, that's what the Iraqi resistance is all about). 2: Attacks on American and other foreign personnel in Iraq are the product of Ba'athist extremists who desire to return Saddam Hussein to power.

Which is the administration's line, which they've been touting for months, which they were touting on news shows the morning of the capture. The claim (shattered by Monday night) is that Saddam's capture would end "hostilities" in Iraq. But that was always a theory for the political convenience of the White House, like Iraq having weapons of mass destruction capable of being an immediate threat to U.S. soil, or Saddam trying to buy fissionable materials, or Saddam being allied with Osama Bin Laden and al-Qaeda. (Speaking of which, heard an interesting report on public radio a couple weeks ago that I haven't seen verified anywhere else, that al-Qaeda has now transformed itself into a brand name, "licensing" it out to other insurgency groups to use in exchange for cash. Pretty weird and oddly Western, if true...) It's a convenient theory that allows the administration to pretend, mostly for the sake of mollifying American voters, that there is no very strong nationalist feeling in Iraq and the ever-growing number of attacks on American troops are the result of Saddam supporters or other terrorists (remember that recent report, discredited by most intelligence agencies but widely plastered across the media anyway, of how bin Laden has told Afghani insurgents they were on their own now because he was shifting al-Qaeda resources and personnel to Iraq to harry the great Satan) and do not in any way represent general Iraqi dissatisfaction with an American presence in their country. Who knows, maybe they're right. We'll see if the capture of Saddam Hussein, reportedly being a smartass again now that he's back to eating and sleeping in a heated room, will end up stopping violence against American soldiers there. I hope they're right, I really do. I hate seeing American soldiers pay for the administration's idiocy with their lives. But what it most likely translates into is the White House wanting to continue convincing Americans that our soldiers there are not and are not perceived as an occupational force kept in place so the Hand Puppet's corporate allies like Halliburton can loot Iraq and America alike. Odds are the vast number of people attacking US troops there also wanted Saddam captured or killed. The enemy of our enemy is not our friend.

If we're not an occupational force, and we're not there to reap the spoils of war (AKA oil), what's up with the Hand Puppet declaring those nations that stood in our way on the road to a war whose supposed premises evaporated like spit on an August Las Vegas sidewalk – France, Russia and Germany (and, briefly, Canada, but word is the Hand Puppet has supposedly relented on that) – aren't allowed to share in those spoils? If this war was for the Iraqi people, isn't it up to the Iraqi people to decide what will best help them rebuild their nation? If we're not in there as conquerors, why is the Hand Puppet behaving like a conqueror?

Still, the most interesting reaction was how all the Sunday morning pundits were drastically downplaying the capture as a factor in the upcoming presidential campaign. The common wisdom was that if we're still in Iraq in a year with our soldiers continuing to be killed daily there, and the economy is still perceived to be on the skids, the Hand Puppet will face a mighty uphill battle. It's a bit amazing to see so many ducks lining up, particularly when their position is correct. Now that the Supreme Court has decided to hear arguments on whether Cheney has to turn over records of his Top Secret energy policy advisory meetings with groups like Enron – can't wait to hear what they decide – and Halliburton's activities are coming under scrutiny (even as reporters were talking about Saddam Hussein on Sunday and Monday, they were continuing to mention Halliburton, so if my most fevered political fantasies are actually true and they trotted out the New Hitler to divert attention from Halliburton's piracy), which can only lead to scrutiny of other cozy admin relationships with other similarly-principled corporations like Bechtel, not to mention the aforementioned Enron and stock market manipulators too numerous to list... well, the potential's certainly there for a fascinating election season...

Speaking of the Supreme Court, they've also agree to hear a case involving whether foreign nations have the right to sue, in American courts, five pharmaceutical companies accused of rigging vitamin prices overseas. The really fascinating part of this is the drug companies' argument for why the suit shouldn't be allowed. Not that they didn't do it. They're not even arguing jurisdiction. They're arguing that if other countries are allowed to sue them, American courts will be flooded with suits against lots of other American companies. In other words, they should be allowed to get away with pricefixing overseas because, hey, everyone does it...

Another big surprise came today when Strom Thurmond's family announced the old bastard did, indeed, have a black daughter out of wedlock, and kept in touch with and supported her financially over many decades. Which must've been one of the worst kept secrets of the last fifty years, but it's nice to hear them admitting it. For those who haven't followed these things, Senator Strom Thurmond, recently deceased at 100, was one of the leading advocates of segregation throughout his long political life, even running for President in 1948 on a segregation ticket and leaving the Democratic Party over the issue. His only real contribution to American political life was causing the removal of Sen. Trent Lott from Congress last year for praising Thurmond's "accomplishments," inadvertently tarring himself with the segregationist brush. So the cry is out now publicly, as it was before when only "conspiracy buffs" believed in Thurmond's black daughter, over Thurmond's hypocrisy in fathering a black child but politicking against any sort of advancement for blacks. It doesn't strike me as odd at all. Given the era in which the 22-year old Thurmond slept with his parents' maid, I couldn't be at surprised if his own personal "shame" over giving in to "jungle lust" was actually what fueled his idiotic lifelong crusade. His daughter says they never talked politics, and he showed her his gracious, loving side. It's a shame the rest of us never got a chance to see it.


PALOMAR by Gilbert Hernandez (Fantagraphics)

LOUIS RIEL by Chester Brown (Drawn & Quarterly

WILDC.A.T.S 3.0: BRAND BUILDING by Joe Casey and various artists(Wildstorm)

THE COURIERS by Brian Wood and Rob G(AiT/PlanetLar Books

MARIA'S WEDDING by Nunzio DeFilippis, Christina Weir, and Jose Garibaldi (Oni Press)

SUPREME: STORY OF THE YEAR by Alan Moore, Rick Veitch and others (Checker Book Publishing Group

LAST OF THE INDEPENDENTS by Matt Fraction and Kieron Dwyer (AiT/PlanetLar Books)

ACME NOVELTY DATEBOOK by Chris Ware (Fantagraphics)

QUIMBY THE MOUSE by Chris Ware (Fantagraphics)

BLANKETS by Craig Thompson (Top Shelf Productions)

Best no one will read:

THE FRANK BOOK by Jim Woodring (Fantagraphics)

STORMWATCH: TEAM ACHILLES by Micah Wright and various artists (Wildstorm)

MARIA'S WEDDING by Nunzio DeFilippis, Christina Weir, and Jose Garibaldi (Oni Press)

BUDDHA Volume 1: KAPILAVATSU by Osamu Tezuka (Vertical Inc.

THE BAREFOOT SERPENT by Scott Morse (Top Shelf Productions)

BLANKETS by Craig Thompson (Top Shelf Productions)

That's it so far. Still open to suggestions. E-mail me.

Over the weekend, I saw IN AMERICA, Jim Sheridan's human interest story of an Irish family migrating (illegally?) to New York City after their young son dies, and how they try to hang together as a family in the wake of the resultant emptiness of the soul that eats at the parents. (There are two young girls, the oldest of which is the story's narrator.) He's a struggling actor who ends up a cabbie, she's a teacher by trade but settles for working in an ice cream shop – not that we ever see the mother working aside from one quick glimpse – and they take up residence in a top floor walk up dump somewhere in... some unspecified junkie-ridden NYC neighborhood. Nonetheless they manage to fix the place up really nicely, stupidly flash large sums of cash publicly without calamity, and gain a terminally-ill black artist neighbor as a friend. Paddy Considine (of 24 HOUR PARTY PEOPLE) and Samantha Morton star, Sarah Bolger plays the narrator, and it's almost a good movie. The directing's right on the money, the performances are sharp. But the script constantly throws in little bits for texture, like the girls' first Halloween costume party, without building on it. The world outside their apartment's a virtual vacuum. They're apparently illegals, but never once show any fear of being caught and deported. And the core crisis of the film is based on an impossible premise that renders the parents either ignorant as hell or grasping at straws. (I'd rather not spoil it; if you're interested, e-mail me and I'll tell you.) IN AMERICA's not bad, but how hard would it have been, really, to save the very flawed script?

I don't usually do this, but James Hudnall's a pal, so everyone should know that his new publishing company, Dark Planet (which just sold rights to his and Dan Brereton's old DC book, PSYCHO, to the movies), has an updated Web site, and, among other things, they're now selling Dark Planet merchandise. Stocking stuffers, anyone?

Over at Movie Poop Shoot, Marc Mason's SHOULD IT BE A MOVIE? takes on two of my upcoming Avatar projects, MY FLESH IS COOL (which should be on the stands imminently; if you can find it, pester your retailer or see below) and SACRILEGE.

Horror comics fans can check out interviews with the apparent Stephen King of comics, Steve (30 DAYS OF NIGHT) Niles, at Pop Thought.

As many sites have noted by now, Julius Schwartz is very sick in the hospital. Julie's arguably one of the three or four most important editors in comics (and a major player in early science fiction fandom as well); he was a key player in generating what we now know as "The Silver Age Of Comics" (thank you, Roy and Jerry) by recreating the Flash, Green Lantern, Hawkman, the Atom, the Justice League Of America, etc., before taking the reins of the Superman and Batman books, and as a semi-retired consultant and ambassador for DC he has been a mainstay of comics conventions for the past couple decades. He's 88, which isn't a good time of life to be getting seriously sick. Get well, Julie. Do it soon.

As for my stuff, I don't feel like typing a new spiel so I'm just reprinting from last week. Make any necessary timeframe adjustments in your head. I'm going to sleep now.

In case you haven't been keeping track, MY FLESH IS COOL should be out from Avatar today or next Wednesday, with art by Sebastian Fiumara and covers by Jacen Burrows. I could talk it up, but I've already done that in an interview here (incestuous, I know, but they asked), so what else can I say but "buy it, you'll like it." You might also want to ask after the latest issue of FRANK MILLER'S ROBOCOP, which should also be out right about now.

There was also a recent unexpected flurry of announcements about the optioning for film/TV of my previous Avatar series, the horror story MORTAL SOULS. (You can still buy the trade paperback, y'know.) The option has actually been in place for awhile, but I didn't bring it up because, in the Hollywood scheme of things, options just don't mean that much. An option isn't a movie or a TV show, and those are the only deals worth publicizing as far as I'm concerned. Which, I'm told, we're on the cusp of, so hopefully I'll really have something to tell you in January or February, when everyone in Hollywood's back from winter break.

And thanks to everyone who has responded to my fund drive (click on the link for information if you want to help out); you're really helping me through some rough moments and I appreciate everyone's gracious generosity in helping me continue this column and the various other projects I'm working on going. It'll probably be mid-January before I'm over this hump, but it's nice to know I have friends out there.

I had hoped to have a store for signed books, scripts, etc., open at Paper Movies by now, but, as mentioned above, this week I found all my time consumed by one thing or another. So, if you can't find MY FLESH IS COOL, or FRANK MILLER'S ROBOCOP, or the MORTAL SOULS trade paperback, or the DAMNED trade (with art by Mike Zeck and Denis Rodier), or the BADLANDS trade, or the BADLANDS SCREENPLAY, or any number of other books I've done, at your local comics shop, track them down on the fine online stores Khepri and Mars Import.

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.

Those wanting to subscribe to the WHISPER e-mail newsletter should 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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