Issue #13

TIME magazine online just published their 10 best/worst of the year lists, and, wonder of wonders, this year they included comics (including comics-related books):

1) The Golem's Mighty Swing by James Sturm

2) Hey, Wait... by Jason

3) Drawn And Quarterly, Vol. 4 by various

4) Peanuts: The Art Of Charles Schulz edited by Chip Kidd

5) The Great Women Cartoonists by Trina Robbins (go, Trina!)

6) All The Wrong Places by Tom Galambos

7) NON #5 by various

8) Pistolwhip by Jason Hall and Matt Kindt

9) Jack Cole and Plastic Man by Art Spiegelman and Chip Kidd

10) Heavy Liquid by Paul Pope

On the one hand, it's great to see Time positively and seriously acknowledge the medium. I'd almost think DC had been acknowledged as part of the vast AOL/TM conglomerate. On the other, few other things point up quite so strongly the discrepancy between what passes for comics in the comics market and what could pass for comics in the "real world." I've already heard complaints from fans about how Time focused on "highbrow" material and ignored "real" comics.

The only "mainstream" book on the list is Vertigo's Heavy Liquid. Superheroes are only acknowledged as nostalgia, and I doubt they'd've been recognized at all if Art Spiegelman's name weren't attached. No Grant Morrison, Garth Ennis, Alan Moore, Alex Ross, Brian Azzarello, Brian Bendis, Mark Millar. No X-MEN, AUTHORITY, 100 BULLETS. Not a mention of the two most widely mentioned comics of 2001, both from DC: Kevin Smith's GREEN ARROW and Frank Miller's THE DARK KNIGHT STRIKES BACK.

Not that it's surprising. The "mainstream" comics business is built on the twin peaks of sentimental moralism and pulp excess. I've always been fond of pulp excess myself, and certainly even the most touted writers and artists in "mainstream" comics have a fascination for it, whatever their particular pretensions. It's practically a pre-requisite for a career in the comics market, and it's a major reason many drawn to work in comics – particularly those producing comics centering around gaudy outfits and lots of action – are drawn there.

If one of your big impulses is to thumb your nose at common social mores and flip the bird at society, hitching your star to an "outlaw" medium and wallowing in pulp excess can be very satisfying. If you're one of them what cling to an anemically shallow black-and-white 60s comics moral code, your outlets these days are pretty much children's books, mainstream superhero comics or Sunday school, and only mainstream superhero comics (and things that manage to pass for non-superhero books like GI JOE) let you push that code while wallowing in pulp excess.

The irony, of course, is that what we call "mainstream" in comics is almost exactly the opposite of what mainstream culture calls "mainstream."

This isn't a plea to turn our backs on pulp excess and embrace the cultural mainstream. I'm not convinced there's much to be gained by it. Pulp excess, in fact, has been key in much of the material that has managed to stumblingly reached a broader paying audience outside the comics market in the last 20 years. But there remains that longing in many quarters of the business for "acceptance." It parallels the assimilatory fantasies behind Siegel and Shuster's creation of Superman. That acknowledgement seems important to a lot of people, a vindication of taste: an admission that "we" were right - our interests were good and worthy after all - "they" were wrong all along.

It ain't gonna happen.

And why should it? The real question is why we insist on trying to have it both ways. Publishers, talent, readers should all get it through their heads that they have a choice: they can court mainstream culture or they can continue along the lines of pulp excess. The myth that "broader acceptance" will bring increased fortunes remains strong, but it's clear breakthrough comics create their own audiences that rarely reflect on the general comics market. (Example: SANDMAN. Huge crossmarketing success. Basically no longterm effect on its corporate offspring, Vertigo Comics, at all, except they keep trying to milk SANDMAN spinoffs and imitate its gothic-mythic attitude, willfully ignoring that the few other "breakout" series they've had – PREACHER, TRANSMETROPOLITAN, 100 BULLETS, AMERICAN CENTURY - are by talent who fiercely imposed their own viewpoints on the material, as Neil Gaiman did with SANDMAN, without concern for "what has come before." It's this kind of material that creates breakthroughs, not packaged goods.) History has demonstrated that neither mainstream "acceptance" nor pulp fetishism necessarily translates to money. In real terms, neither one is particularly worth aspiring to.

And neither path, considered as a group, is superior or inferior to the other. Only individual projects matter. If Time's list betrays a particular bias about the material, it's no more and no more heinous a bias than is exposed in every COMICS BUYERS GUIDE or WIZARD best-of list. It's ridiculous to break the medium done along battlelines of "real comics" and "those other things." Comics is comics, and congratulations to all those, and the comics-related books, that made Time's list. Recognition isn't worth striving after for its own sake, but there's nothing wrong with it either, especially when the work is as good as what's represented there.

Speaking of pulp excess, Rurik Tyler sent me another issue of THE MIGHTY EYEBALL (Big Card Comics/Mighty Eyeball, 39 Bellow Ave, Eastchester NY 10709; $2.69). #8, which I gather is actually #2. (#6 was #1, which may be a veiled PRISONER reference but I'm probably just being paranoid.) The first issue was more a superhero parody, but Tyler seems already to have graduated from that – "<>Look, they ain't heroes because they're <>Big Eyeballs, they're just two big eyeballs that <>happen to be <>heroes! <>It's a personality thing!" he proclaims at one point – into a wild quasi-sci-fi western TUROK SON OF STONE-cum-manga kind of trip. But funny. Again, the real show here is Tyler's art, and the gorgeous cover paintings; he's easily one of the best self-publishing artists in comics today. I'd still like to see him do something serious, but more than that I'd like to see him get enough success self-publishing that he doesn't have to make that otherwise almost inevitable step to drawing YOUNG JUSTICE fill-ins if he wants to stay with the medium...

From Matt Starnes' Baker's Dozen Comics (4225 Blacktree Lane, Charlotte NC 28226: $1) comes TRANSPARENT, a black and white written by Starnes and drawn by Diego Jourdan. This is what's called practice. As you might guess from the price, this b&w features one 7 pg. story and a preview of a forthcoming work. Starnes' story is a little too slight, little more than a confection of people paying a karmic price for casual immorality, but I get the idea it wasn't meant to be more than a practice piece for Jourdan. Jourdan, meanwhile, shows promise as an artist, once he sorts out the influences he wears a little too baldly – the art shifts styles from panel to panel – and nails down his own style.

Off to Los Angeles today for some whirlwind studio meetings. The pass to California is snowed over so it's air travel this time, my first since 9-11. This bloody well better be worth it...

And this is fascinating. I just read where Marie Osmond is upset that The Osmonds haven't be inducted into the Rock'n'Roll Hall Of Fame. She says they're a really great rock band. This, of course, defies even the broadest definition of rock that I or anyone else except apparently Marie has even heard of. One of her brothers (not Donnie) followed up with the comment that there's a whole new audience for their music out there who don't know The Osmonds aren't cool. Give them time.

I generally steer clear of online comics, but when they come with a pedigree like Bryan Talbot, they're hard to walk away from. Check out Bryan's MEMENTO at his site. (No, it has nothing to do with the movie, but it's worth the time anyway.)

Those who claim to desperately want to write or draw comics should read the current piece on Larry Young's LOOSE CANNON column right now, before it goes away for the next installment. Larry pretty much hurls down the gauntlet to all the pissers and moaners who claim no one gives them a chance, particularly the artists who claim they have no good scripts to work up samples from. No, it doesn't include publication by Ait/PlanetLar Books but it's a chance. Take it if you dare, then show up at

By the time the next column appears, Xmas 2001 will have come and gone. In fact, New Year's Eve will have come and gone because it'll be a "Best Of" column next week since I don't feel like writing a column on Christmas. (I plan to be sleeping off the Xmas buffet at Sam's Town, unless something better comes along.)

I've got a little project going: I'm trying to compile the ultimate holiday music CD.

It's no secret that holiday music is the last refuge of schmaltz, and there's generally nothing more horrid than some pop star putting out a Christmas album that shifting from treacly pop Christmas songs (or, worse, ballads about dying kids being visited by angels) to overwrought, earnestly oversincere religious standards. On the other hand, I like the work of a lot of musicians and many of them have actually turned holiday songs into decent music, something that should be encouraged since we stuck with holidays music for the foreseeable future anyway.

Here's what I've collected so far:

- God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen - T-Bone Burnett

- God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen (instrumental) – Manfred Mann

- Happy Xmas (The War Is Over) – John Lennon & Yoko Ono

- It Came Upon A Midnight Clear – Roseanne Cash

- Navidad – The Gipsy Kings

- Rockin' Around The Christmas Tree – Rosie Flores

- Rockin' Little Christmas – Carlene Carter

- Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer – The Ventures

- Santa Claus Is Back In Town – Dwight Yoakam

- The Christmas Song – Radney Foster

So what I want are suggestions. What are the best holiday songs by your favorite musicians? And if anyone even thinks about mentioning Elvis, chipmunks or Patsy & Elmo, bear in mind that I'll let Warren Ellis choose your punishment. E-mail suggestions or list them on the Permanent Damage Message Board. Pop, rock, reggae, blues, jazz, country, hardcore, etc. – don't presume I have a preference. Don't care if they're respectful, traditional, irreverant or wild. It just has to be good music. Thanks! (Just stay off classical. Not that there are good classical holiday songs, but none of them count as pop songs.)

Happy Holidays, and I hope everyone has a really great New Year. Maybe we should try to go for that "peace on earth, good will toward " thing for real this time...

Those wishing to comment should leave messages on the Permanent Damage Message Board. You can also e-mail 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. 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 – 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.

If you enjoy PERMANENT DAMAGE, check out our brother column, Larry Young's LOOSE CANNON.

If you want to know something about me, you can probably find the answer at Steven Grant's Alleged Fictions.

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