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Issue #129

It looks like '90s nostalgia's back, courtesy of Marvel's SECRET WAR. Yes, I know SECRET WARS was an '80s book – I was there, man! – but this is a different nostalgia.

Seems the new version of SECRET WARS was unexpectedly successful, leaving many retailers in the lurch. You may recall back in the Jemas reign at Marvel – hmm, has the face of the heretic pharaoh Akhenaten been scratched from the carvings yet? – an edict was set forth that no more would Marvel go to second printings on books or fulfill backorders, leaving retailers to pump as much of their shopping money into Marvel books as possible and potentially drastically increase their risk by putting in high orders up front. (Should sales not be good, of course, the loss is the retailer's, not Marvel's. I'm always reminded of how Capital Distributing, during the merchandise craze that accompanied the 1989 BATMAN movie, spent month strongly urging retailers to Stock Up!, then, when the bottom fell out, ran an editorial chiding them for overordering and recommending prudence in ordering.)

Then, a couple weeks ago, they issued this proclamation:

"Let's start with some big news: SECRET WAR #1 is sold out and the backorders are mounting! Just so you don't think the people here aren't listening to you or your customers, Marvel is going back to press on the first issue – but this time, we're adding a gold foil commemorative edition cover at the same price! Here's the deal: In the MARVEL PREVIEWS #7 coming out next week, you'll notice that SECRET WAR #2 is solicited. All you have to do is order more copies of issue #2 than you did of issue #1, and the difference is the number of copies of the SECRET WAR #1: COMMEMORATIVE EDITION you can order from MARVEL PREVIEWS #8. Pretty simple. This way you are guaranteed to have enough copies of issue #2 to meet your customers' demands for issue #1. E-mail service@diamondcomics.com if you have any questions; they'll have the skinny."

So, in other words, if I were a retailer, to fill all the requests for SECRET WAR #1, all I'd have to do is order SECRET WAR #2 in enough quantity to match both the number of copies I sold for the first issue and the number of copies I have yet to sell. And I'll get them a month after the fact, and I'll have enough copies of #2 to meet the subsequent demand, except for those readers who read #1 and decided not to continue with the series (but that'll just mean more for all those even newer readers leaping about the runaway train, right?) and I can't be sure about the ones who haven't read it yet. And the replacement edition I get won't be the one I sold to my original customers, it'll be a special edition, meaning I've just effectively told my original customers that you get better stuff if you wait to buy a comic, if you collect as well as read. Which means a number of them will potentially be clamoring for the special gold foil edition, which I won't have unless I cut out some of the newer customers I ordered them for, but then they won't buy #2 either because they never got #1 so I better order to cover both the customers who didn't get it in the first place and the ones who are pissed off they couldn't get a gold foil version because they actually bought the book when it came out, but that means I'll have to order even more copies of #2, which means I'll be ordering well past my capacity to sell them, and...

Welcome to the '90s. And comics companies can't figure out why more and more readers wait for trade paperback compilations.

The weird thing is that I know Marvel's trying to be cooperative with this. One of my first questions was how they could claim backorders were mounting since they don't do backorders. Turns out Diamond insists on print overrun to replace copies that are damaged in transit or otherwise unsuitable for sale, so every once in awhile some book actually has copies to fill backorders with (though in most cases, I'm told, what backorder copies exist are usually snapped up by the larger retailers who get Tuesday delivery, when a book's successful enough to demand it). So Marvel can measure the demand for backorders without actually accepting any.

What I don't get is why they just had to muck it up with the special edition nonsense. That's like trying to create an instant collectible under the guise of helping out retailers and promoting a book. All they had to do was go back to press with it. Just do another run of the thing to order. No visible differences. The people who didn't get copies before and wanted it, it wouldn't have made any difference to them. What, they're going to say, "Gee, this is a rip, we only got the comic we asked for!"?

Further complicating this is Marvel's running policy, dating back to the Akhenaten era, of quickly repacking comics arcs in trade paperback. Meaning in eight months (give or take) readers will be able to get the whole saga in one package anyway. True, it's not likely to have a special gold foil edition, but one never know, do one? Everything about this suggests someone at Marvel, who the hell knows who, saw a need and decided to pry an instant collectible out of it. But do we really want to go back to the days when the packaging and not the content was what made a book collectible? Is it even possible to go back to those days? Can a collectors' market again be made large enough, can content that will shortly be repackaged ever become valuable enough, to let that happen?

It seems to me that the rise of the trade paperback, especially in Marvel's case where they have actively promoted the concept, will undercut that, barring some sort of widespread madness. Like it or not, the trade paperback is now the second pillar of the industry. (Though the economic factors are dissimilar enough to make prediction untrustworthy, the comics business is currently approximately where the pulp magazine was in the mid-'40s. They were still selling, but mass market paperbacks were coming onto the scene, collecting stories from the pulps into single author editions – instead of having to buy every issue of BLACK MASK – you could just wait for the latest J. Hadley Chase serial to be collected complete in paperback. Within a couple decades, it made more sense to publishers to go right to original mass market paperback with material, especially since the pulps were drying up. Vestigial pulps can still be found on some newsstands, true, so it's likely the comics magazine will never totally die away either, but though comics material is far more costly per page to publish it seems only a matter of time before most comics will be done original for trade paperback.) Policies are fine, and every company needs them, but if they go to the trouble of pronouncing a policy the retailers don't even like, they ought to either stick to it or junk it.

Of anti-character.

Seriously, I've been writing little reports on character after character, and it's like someone flipped a switch and the business decided the essence of character was a superpower or eight, a costume and a fighting name. Character after character introduced without motive, history or explanation, as if superpowers (or, often as not, some sort of expensive, heavily armed armor) were the most natural thing in the world. Which, I guess, in a world where half the population are super-powered mutants and the others are gods in drag, they are, and that's also part of the problem. A lot of this attitude comes out of X-MEN, which pioneered the concept that everyone had superpowers. But Chris Claremont, back in the day, was fairly scrupulous in giving new characters some background, even if it was a scratch-and-run set-up, which many tended to be because there were 40,000 characters in the book and growing. Sure, in the '40s and later there were plenty of characters, particularly villains, who only had costumed names, but even they were given some semblance of rationale. And, let's face it, as fondly remembered as they often are, '40s comics, especially superhero comics, were largely responsible for giving comics their reputation as low-rent juvenilia; the worst aspects of '40s comics (and there were some great ones) are not what the business should've been emulating, let alone amplifying. And even '40s comics at least pay lip service to background and motive: "I'm Beeswax from planet Buzz, and I'm here to destroy your world because your jazz music makes the drones restless," that sort of thing. But there '90s comics largely are, flooded with superhero comics that are nothing more than long fight scenes, and characters flying (often literally) in from left field with nothing but hubris and attitude – most of them sound like little kids trying to sound tough, with dialogue that make average pro wrestling promos sound like David Mamet plays – and fighting for no reason other than fighting, existing for no reason other than to be obstacles between a hero and his real goal, if goal is the right term; in most cases, the hero's motivation is also stripped to the barest '40s standards: "You're the bad guy so I must fight you, because I am the good guy – and you threaten my loved ones!"

If superhero comics don't exist solely for the fight scene before the '90s, they do by the end of them. No wonder even the speculator market fled in droves; it probably happened right after one of them actually read something they'd invested their money in. No wonder there's been a trend among major comics publishers to pull in screenwriters to write comics. It may not always show up on the screen, but there's an almost pathological insistence in Hollywood for every even semi-focal character in a movie to have at least some rationale for what they're doing, and if they ask and you say, "Oh, we just need someone there for the hero to fight," they'll throw you out." A function is not a characterization. In superhero comics, the situation is exacerbated by having figures pop up from the blue and start firing energy blasts out of their eyes like they were ordering lunch. Someone ordering lunch wouldn't catch your attention for more than a second. If we're to the point where someone firing energy blasts is about as common as that, slapping a bulky costume and the name KRUHHHHZH! (or whatever) on them isn't going to change that. (Also interesting is how many of those comics are written by editors moonlighting as writers, or writers who were formerly editors. But they're still just a subset of a wider, equally culpable group.)

I know there are some people out there who get annoyed when I draw wrestling parallels, but sometimes they're applicable. The wrestling business periodically finds itself in a situation where old stars suddenly end up retired or otherwise unsalable, and the business suddenly has to push someone else as the focus. The problem with this is that too often they've killed everyone else on the roster – that's jargon for having them lose regularly and often far too easily – and the audience doesn't see them as anyone special. If they're not presented as something special, the audience doesn't care about them. I know it's not an exact parallel, but the point still fits:

If a character's not presented as special, the audience won't think he's special. If they don't think he's special, they won't be interested, and a character who continuously goes up against an unspecial character, or enough of a string of them, eventually ceases to be considered special as well.

In a conversation last week, someone mentioned a quote from Paul Jenkins: "We need to care about the characters before we care about their conflicts." By which I presume he means the fight scenes, because other kinds of conflicts are what make us care about characters, but, whether you like Paul's work or not (and I know how easy it is to summarily dismissive a writer's observations because you don't like their output, but it's worth remembering that, in another wrestlingism courtesy of the late Gorilla Monsoon, even a stopped clock is right twice a day), the man's got that down. And, lord, it's appalling how many '90s comics didn't. And how many don't today. I noted to another writer recently that the core superhero audience seems to have shrunk down to a conservative audience only interested in existing properties. I now wonder if that audience is satisfied with comics that generate no emotional connection spontaneously, depending instead on a false emotional connection that's almost entirely nostalgic, a connection to what a character used to be rather than is now. I suspect they're not, mainly because the shrinkage hasn't stopped.

Obviously, people can dig up a number of comics that the above does not reflect. I'm not saying there weren't any great comics published in the '90s or today; there are, even in the superhero field. While it's generally true that we should be looking at the best the medium has to offer, the best is way too often lost in the swamp of everything else. It seems to me we have two choices: either scrap everything else and really make the best seem like something special again (and that's not going to happen because among "everything else" are a number of characters corporations aren't going to walk away from), or get aware and stop repeating our worst mistakes. That's something that shouldn't be a special event, but it apparently is.

Not across the board, but, seriously, according to the New York Times Online (I'd give you the cite, but I don't have it and you have to sign up to get it anyway; the reporter is Adam Liptak and the date is 2-28-04), the Treasury Dept. has declared that all material from embargoed countries must be published verbatim, from, to use the DoT's own words, "camera-ready copies of manuscripts." Can't be edited into Americanized English. Can't take out naughty words your readers might not like. Can't move anything around. Can't translate. Can't do squat but run it or flush it. That's all "trading with the enemy," and, since most embargoed nations are "terrorist" nations, in our book, like Cuba, North Korea and Iran...

I can't wait to see this one go to the Supreme Court. Then again, the Supreme Court's been a big disappointment to the Hand Puppet lately, threatening to weigh in on Guantanamo, and recently cutting the legs out from under forcing states to pay for religious education with a surprising 7-2 vote in an even more surprising decision written by Chief Justice Rehnquist. Not that it was a difficult case to decide; the upshot was that states not funding religious education does not equal religious discrimination, which, you know, should be pretty obvious to anyone who's ever read the Constitution, and the justices apparently saw it that way too. The Hand Puppet, however, has been calling for a series of "faith-based initiatives," and has been pretty specifically saying that denying state funding to religious groups is discrimination, so the ruling pretty much shoots that argument to, well, you know. It might also suggest where the court, an allegedly conservative one, would fall should the gay marriages issue make its way up the legal chain to them. A strong belief is the separation of church and state would arguably suggest churches may belief, preach and enforce among their own membership what they like but they can't direct the government's licensing practices. Or not. I'm sure legal arguments can be made either way, so it'd be up to them to decide. But that may also explain why the Hand Puppet is calling for a constitutional amendment on the issue instead. Courts, as far as I know, can't declare an amendment unconstitutional.

Not that even conservatives seem keen to start rewriting the Constitution these days (and, anyway, they're too busy figuring out how to populistically phrase an amendment allowing immigrants to be President, to pave the way for an Ahnuld Vite Howse run twelve or sixteen years, provided he doesn't implode in California before then). Not many politicians seem to be taking the idea of an amendment very seriously (and some are taking it very seriously; some prominent gay Republicans – boy, there's a seeming oxymoron – have quit the party and become Democrats in response, and if the Hand Puppet ever wanted to deliberately encourage a group into activism for an opposing candidate, this sure seems to have done it) and if you read between the lines there even seems to be a rising political awareness of the general societal acceptance of gays these days.

But, much as I'd love to believe the worst of the Hand Puppet, I don't believe his suggestion of a Constitutional Amendment that looks highly unlikely but hits the right buttons was just a callous political ploy to appease the Christian Right. (Which, despite Pat Robertson's announcement that God has already decreed a second Hand Puppet term (so why bother with that messy democracy stuff, huh?), has been getting pretty annoyed with him, even threatening to sit out this year's election, which might seem a hollow threat because who else are they going to vote for, but they might think it worth four years of a Democrat to get their message – don't ignore us! – across to the Republican Party in 2008; let's face it, now that we're well past the last announced due date for the Second Coming, they've got time) Whacko preacher Franklin Graham, who quietly picked up the franchise for converting Iraqi Muslims to Christianity, by the way, isn't his personal minister for nothing. In this case, at least, I think he's completely sincere in his beliefs. I wouldn't be that certain about Nixon-trained political puppeteer Karl Rove, but the Hand Puppet, I don't agree with him but this doesn't smell like opportunism. Just stupidity.

The White House has been taking a bunch of little beatings lately. (Those people who said the election is the President's to lose sure knew what they were talking about.) The Congressional Budget Office announced the White House's budget projects were overoptimistic to the tune of some $800 billion over the next few years, suggesting further tax cuts and the gassed-up trickle-down theory behind them amount to suicide. The Secretary Of Education stirred up a hornet's nest by stating the National Educator's Association, the biggest teacher's group in the country, was a terrorist organization and later claimed it was a joke, not seeming to get than anyone might not take a joke like that funny under a law where the President can literally declare anyone a terrorist and strip them of their civil rights; despite a half-hearted retraction later, there's little doubt that the language was intentional, a warning in the face of a general uprising – supported by far more than the NEA – against the ill-considering, failing "No Child Left Behind" law that's gutting out school systems instead of improving them. Conservatives are getting increasingly wary of Atty. Gen. Ashcroft and his systematic assault on civil liberties, to the point where when the Hand Puppet in the SOTU address sternly warned that parts of the Patriot Act would expire at the end of next year, Republicans and Democrats gave the half-statement (he hadn't gotten to the part about it being imperative to renew them) a massive ovation, and VP Cheney got an equivalent reaction when bearding Congress about extensions: stony silence. Interestingly, more Republican congressmen than Democrat seem to be pushing for modification or rollback of the Patriot Act, so it's not a matter of disloyal opposition. (Democrats, in fact, are uncomfortably quiet about the Patriot Act, for the most part.) If any of this bothers Ashcroft, he's too busy starting investigations into non-violent anti-war protests in Iowa, subpoenaing the records of sponsors the National Lawyer's Guild, and records of targeted students. (In case you weren't following the story, disclosure of the investigation led to more protests and Ashcroft flat out lying about the "true" purpose of the seizures and investigation, claiming it was for a purpose that none of the supporting material for the subpoenas bothered to mention.

I never did find out who the two dissenting judges in the school case were, but I'd almost bet on Clarence Thomas and Opus Dei acolyte Antonin Scalia. Scalia has had his own share of troubles recently, amid calls he recuse himself from sitting over a suit to pry Energy Task Force records from the clenched, petrified fingers of his good friend and hunting companion, Dick Cheney, and it recently came out he had taken a different hunting trip in 2001 courtesy of the state of Kansas, which subsequently pled a case before him, and never bothered to mention it to anyone. The week of the scholarship vote, he was on dissent on six different cases, indicating he's clearly out of step with the rest of the court – even traditional hardliner Rehnquist – as well as ethically iffy. Of course, that may just be the company he keeps: hunting pal Cheney's Halliburton (and don't give me that "no longer connected" crap; he still gets $150,000 per from them – he just can't collect it until he leaves offices, which some Republicans are suggesting might be before the nomination convention this year – and owns $18 mil in Halliburton stock) is now under criminal investigation by the Pentagon, New York City's comptroller and others, for activities in Iraq, opening an offshore subsidiary to do business in Iran, and defrauding the government.

Not that the Democrats have been anything but bratty lately, as Ralph Nader tossed his independent hat into the ring. It's a free country, why shouldn't he? They should heap on him thanks rather than abuse; if they lose the White House again this year, he's given them a scapegoat to blame it on. It's true that, in 2000, had everyone who voted for Nader voted for Gore, Albert would likely have been president. But it's hubris to assume everyone who voted for Nader would have voted for Gore. They'd just as likely not have voted for anyone. Nader is more or less accurate when he protests that a number of Republicans dismayed by the choice of the Hand Puppet as candidate voted for him as well as maybe Democrats. At any rate, he's not as likely to be a factor in this election anyway. (Ross Perot got second time around blues himself in '96, failing to rouse much interest at all that year whereas in '92, people actually spoke as though a Perot presidency were possible.) (I always hear "Don't Cry For Me, Argentina" when I hear the phrase "Perot presidency"... "You were supposed to have been important... lalala...") In 2000, Nader had political party – small, but they were there – behind him. This year, it's pretty much just him. In 2000, all the candidates were what ifs. This year, more people are acutely aware of the necessity of either getting the Hand Puppet out of office or keeping him in, depending on perspective; there's a greater sense of urgency out there, less interest in political experiment. But the bottom line is this: Nader, whatever his odds of winning (he lost by a mere 110 million votes last time) he's a protest candidate, and a protest against both parties. He can't siphon Democratic votes unless he's saying things Democrats want to hear, and pursuing policies they want pursued. All the Democratic Party has to do to keep them out of Ralph's camp is find out what the voters really want instead of trying to dictate what they're going to want.

Maybe it's just me, but TV's just been... gloomy...

So I've run through a little list of films on DVD. LOST IN TRANSLATION was a well-acted, pleasant little flick that wasn't nearly as good as it's cracked up to be. I liked it, but any year where it gets nominated for Best Picture has to be considered not a great year for film. I could've used a little more culture clash stuff and less deadpan Bill Murray angst – I love Murray, but his performances always have that satirist's insincerity underlying them – but the big problem I had with the film is that I never really got the sense the Bill Murray and Scarlett Johanssen characters actually needed each other, and I'm not talking about sexually. They're always somehow remote from each other, as if they're orbiting, not connecting. It's a good film. It's worth seeing. But it should have been a better film. Finally saw the vampire-werewolf flick UNDERWORLD, was bored silly after twenty minutes, fast-forwarded through to the end, stopping here and there to hear the various rationales and explanations, then hit the end long enough to hear them basically say: sequel coming. Eh. Still, it was better than THE TUXEDO, which feels like the clock ticking on Jackie Chan's career. Finally, caught the big screen version of SWAT, basically a made-for-cable movie in drag, a pleasantly mindless action flick that completely falls apart in the third act, as if whoever wrote it never read the rest of the screenplay.

"Your piece on self publishing caught my attention as that is my current venture. I'm almost done penciling the second issue and getting ready to write and draw the third. Nothing is scheduled at this point. But I'm on my way. My motivation I guess comes from having worked for various clients as a freelancer and watching deals go south due to conflicts with investors and intermediaries and having no choice but to watch it happen. And that's separate and apart from having no say in the ancillary side of things.

Being on the other side and working on an equitable basis with the inker whom I pay, fairly and on time has gone well. Having a stake in how this business is run and having an interest in changing it is worth the negatives attached to self publishing.

I remarked once to a professional that all one probably had to do was just do the opposite of current business practices and you'd probably succeed. There are a lot of headaches attached to it and I can understand others wanting to let other companies take the load, but once you do, you really no longer have any control over what is advertised or promoted. Another penciler years ago called Marvel to ask why wasn't his book being promoted and the person involved with advertising said; 'we don't know how to." It was so different from what they were publishing at the time, they just didn't know what to do with it. Advertising is key, and in most cases, wholly inept in this business. It'd be nice to have a say in how that's done. Being aware of how Diamond operates and having spoken to them, there are always ways around an obstacle. Dave Sim whatever else he did, was fiercely independent and maybe that's something we can't afford to lose..."

"It's certainly true that self-publishing comics isn't as viable as it once was, for a bunch of reasons; among them: fifteen years ago there were multiple distributors in the direct market, and they had to compete with each other on terms like "variety." With one distributor, there's absolutely no way to justify the amount of effort that goes into cataloging extremely low-selling books, if the only reward is the small amount of money that trickles in (and not whatever number of stores might pick a distributor based on breadth of available material).

The self-published comics that I see now veer strongly toward comics as Art Objects. The comics you site – CEREBUS, STRAY BULLETS, BONE – were utilitarian (especially CEREBUS) with their formats – unlike, say, NON or KRAMER'S ERGOT. They were based in the story, not the object. I think most people doing these comics today have migrated to the web. You lose less money publishing there, and can build an audience outside of the direct market. You can also package collections of the comics and sell them to the direct market, to bookstores, or online.

Of the current self-published comics you named, SHUCK and CRAB ALLEN both run at Modern Tales. SHUCK, I think, has recently shifted away from magazine format, and is following the web-to-book model (I think). I'd be amazed if anyone was self-publishing something in a utilitarian CEREBUS-format by 2005, but there are many more people self-publishing on the web right now than ever did in print."

"I find it very disheartening that this particular form publishing is in its death throes. At one time, most of my file at my local comic book shop was made up of self-published books. And while it does seem that the outlook of self-publishing is rather bleak now, I thought you should have at least mentioned the last remaining bright star of the field, namely Terry Moore's STRANGERS IN PARADISE.

Also, regarding Mr. Sim's supposed snobbery towards creating teams, I would counter-argue that CEREBUScould never exist without Gerhard's input, and that Mr. Sim has publicly stated on several occasions the he believed that "you entirely own what you partially create," meaning that he believes that if Gerhard, who is mostly a background artist, decided to strike it out on his own and decided to produce his own CEREBUScomic, then he'd be 100% in the right."

"What you wrote in your most recent column about the state of superhero fantasy was interesting. Titles like ASTRO CITY, COMMON GROUNDS, MARVELS, MAXIMORTAL, BRAT PACK and THE FACTOR prove that superhero fantasy does not have to be only about super-powered persons hitting each other. The titles that I have mentioned above have provided enjoyable stories using an aspect of the genre that often played its role in the background. Drama or rather telling stories about the mystery men and women as regular folks."

"I wanted to thank you for your eloquent thoughts on the Passion controversy. As a Jew myself, the last few months, I will admit, have given me great discomfort. But, believe it or not, its not the movie that bothers me. As long as there are good and bad Jews portrayed, I have no problem with it. It's Mel Gibson's father's comments about the Holocaust that truly disturb me, and the possibility that Mel agrees with them. If so, and the movie was made from a place of hated and bigotry, then that paints a completely different picture.

Even though I am Jewish, it amazes me how the message of Jesus completely gets distorted. It's all about love people. Do you think if Jesus were alive today, he would hate anyone, even non Christians or even atheists? I believe that if he was real, as long as people had love in their hearts and tried to do good to other people, he would have been satisfied."

I don't think I'd presume to speak for Jesus (though I'm reminded of Foolbert Sturgeon's underground comic THE NEW ADVENTURES OF JESUS, where he goes to a movie based on the New Testament, which ends with a Herculean Jesus breaking free of the Cross, uprooting it and beating the Romans to death with it, then standing atop the hill triumphantly holding the cross as the sun sets gloriously behind him and impressed women cling to him. As Jesus leaves the theater, a guy nearby says to his date, "I don't remember the book ending like that," and Jesus, eyes wide with admiration, says, "Believe me, it was better!" As far as I know, Mel Gibson doesn't share his father's views on the Holocaust.

"Just wanted to let you know that your tireless self-promotion has paid off: After reading your column on CBR for some years, I found myself incapable of not buying a copy of MY FLESH IS COOL #1 when I saw it staring me in my face at the local comic book store (Golden Age Collectable in Vancouver, BC). For what it's worth, it's also going on my pull list, so I'm there for the rest of the series.

One complaint only: It seemed to me that the pacing was far too quick; our intrepid antihero lost everything before we ever had a chance to grow to care that he had any of it. I don't know. It just felt to me like a good story which should have taken place over the course of two issues or so.

Still, I'm intrigued enough to keep on reading. Keep up the good work."

Yeah, that's the problem with three issue stories: you have to get in as quickly as possible. But, in the immortal words of Harvey Kurtzman, HOO-HAH! One down, 29,999 to go...

Also, belated congratulations to Erik Larsen and Eric Stephenson, who are now running Image Comics. I suspect a lot of people who think Image's line will suddenly turn into a bunch of SAVAGE DRAGON clones will be sorely vexed. Good luck, Erik/c; it'd be nice to see Image become a real industry powerhouse again.

In an Image-related note, another belated congratulations to Neil Gaiman, who not only finally cleared up the MIRACLEMAN situation (hey, who owns the stories from MIRACLEMAN APOCRYPHA?) but scored a big legal point for freelancers doing it. I don't feel like rehashing the details – read all about it for yourself here, but thanks, Neil!

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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