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Issue #133

Especially them what assault the readers with the details of their lives in minute and tedious attention to detail. Especially since my life's just not all that interesting. (It's interesting enough to live through, but pretty dull to talk about.)

But sometimes it's unavoidable, especially by way of apology.

Readers may recall a couple of weeks ago to the day, I was pleasantly driving down the street when a car making a left turn decided to total my car. My insurance company, Progressive (which I'd recommend in a hot New York minute) instantly put me in a rental car while sorting out just how much would be paid out on my car. Problem is: once they make that determination, you have 72 hours, give or take, to get the car back to the rental company. (In this case, Enterprise, another company I've always liked for service and price and that I'd recommend without reservation... though reservations always help, of course...) Got the phantom phone call mid-afternoon Monday, which ended up putting a severe crimp in my plans for Tuesday, which normally involve writing this column. (Nothing like wasting six hours in an auto dealership to give you a splitting headache.)

Upshot: this is a crap column this week, and I'm sorry about that. I considered running a repeat, but if people really want to read old columns they can browse the archives, both for PERMANENT DAMAGE and MASTER OF THE OBVIOUS. Unfortunately, this also puts back the reviews for another week – the books are REALLY piling up – which I feel bad about because the creators deserve timely reviews, at least somewhat adjacent to the time of release. So please accept my apologies for another abbreviated column. Fortunately, there are at least some interesting letters to keep you busy, and some short commentary below. (The virtue of doing at least some things well in advance.) Hopefully, all of this is over with after this. Knock wood.

Thanks for your support during all this. I appreciate it. (For those who were concerned about my physical health, really, the worst I sustained in the crash was basically a sprained torso, which has hurt some ever since but has gotten increasingly mild; I've had sprains that lasted longer. My bruising is pretty much down to a painless jagged yellow streak across the top of my chest. No, you can't see any pictures. But thanks for asking.)

On with the show, as Bugs Bunny used to say:

"ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLYEntertainment Weekly sells 1,750,000 copies per issue... So where do Marvel and DC get off declaring that they have the same rate base?

The top of their webpage says that Total Audience based on 3.52 readers per copy Marvel Junior/2.46 readers per copy Marvel Senior plus Senior plus Dotcomic downloads of 600,000 per month/300,000 each Junior and Senior. Dotcomics downloads will be BPA audited in 2002. It's astounding that no one has called them on that "Will be BPA audited in 2002" baloney... wasn't that almost 3 years ago now? Let's see the audit figures before I hand over my $70,000...

And since when does one geek buying 20 Marvel Comics a month = 70.4 different people? 3.52 readers per copy of Marvel's comics? Really? Not "one copy sealed in plastic and never touched by human hands and one copy read by a 50-year-old child and then tucked away as a 'reading copy,' huh? Not "seven for the shelves and 3 put behind the counter in plastic so we can gouge people for it as a 'Hot Book' in 2 weeks," huh? Assuming the rather low "20 Marvel Comics per Marvel Reader per Month" figure, that means that as few as 80,000 people could be reading Marvel's #1 selling X-Men books... and that's a far cry from a 1,800,000 reader base.

I'd also love to see some independent research proving what Marvel is saying here... that they sell 1,400,000 to kids/tweens per month. I'd love that... but it'll never happen because it's just not true. Even dividing it by 3.52 or whatever."

"I tried checking out the Phosphorescent Comics website. No soap.

[NOTE: Yeah, made a mistake on the link, which didn't get corrected until later in the week. This is the correct link to the Phosphorescent Comics website.]

"Got some spam domain. But I'll take your word that it's good. So here are my suggestions [for improving their visibility and sales]. I've been paying attention for a while now, and these are the best tips I've picked up:

1) Marketing/advertising. Maybe this doesn't apply to Christian, as he's kind of on the financial brink already, but it's really the only way to sell anything.

I heard a legend about Coke and Pepsi conducting a mutual experiment where neither company advertised for a set period, and even their sales plummeted. So for comics, you absolutely have to get your name out there. And there are cheap ways to do it. Ads on CBR, Digital Webbing, Newsarama can't be too much. Heck, maybe even Marvel will sell you an ad on their website. Send copies to Time, Entertainment Weekly, industry pros who pass stuff around and talk it up.

There are also grass roots methods: tape a few pages to a telephone pole in front of your comic shop, or even better, on the store's block, tape one page per sidewalk slab so that by the time they get to the door, they're halfway into the story and hooked.

I think it was Warren Ellis, in a Bad Signal entry, who said there were 30 comic stores or so that did something insane, like 20% of the comic traffic. Those are keystone marketing venues. Believe me, most of the other 2500 stores follow the big stores' lead. You can send 5-10 copies to each top-ranked store at media rate and you've lost virtually nothing: seventy, a hundred bucks? But you've sent the stores a $30 gift certificate to see if they like the book. Plus they're more inclined to give free stuff shelf space and clear a %100 profit I've also found that the bigger stores, who know they're going to sell the spandex, are very willing to give shelf space and even a push to cool indie stuff. Jim Hanley's Universe is great for that, and with all of the comics pros that shop there, you're spinning two marketing ploys at once.

If you can't afford that, it costs even less to photocopy 5 pages of a comic and give it to comic stores to slip into customers' bags with the latest issue of CBG.

2) Timing. If a comic debuts, its best chance is Dec-Feb when the number of comics on the shelf is minimal. The Big Two aren't running any summer crossovers, specials or debuting new series until spring, normally. You're also in less competition with summer movies and activities. Winter is the time when folks stay inside reading. Spring and fall less so, but summer's the worst time to start a new, indie series.

3) Price. Keep it as cheap as possible. Solicit advertisements to bring down costs, though this isn't usually an option. Don't sacrifice quality, but find a cheaper printer (Canada, anyone?) and be willing to sacrifice unit profit for broader sales. Remember that a kid with five bucks has twice as much chance of finding something he likes to read if he can buy two issues instead of one.

Hope some of that helps."

Another take on marketing in comics:

"I have some thoughts for a small press that is trying to stay in business (from a background of logistics consulting and 30 credits towards my MBA in international finance). Take it for what it's worth:

1) Dump Diamond and outsource your printing and distribution to a cheaper country. I'm not sure how hard that would be to do, but I take classes with a software consultant who is currently trying to get his own small-business started in China via foreign direct investment, and I know that some educated Chinese expatriates can be found to help set up cheap short-run printing for a reasonable price (given a long-term strategy). If this is too exotic, I still have to think that there is a better solution than Diamond (a company with no appreciable competition, which takes a huge percentage of profits) out there for the average small press. At a minimum you would think an enterprising small business guy could collect his own distribution list (Cross Gen used to publish a list of potential sales candidates in the back of every issue by way of thanking them for their patronage), direct-mail or cold-call them to establish a personal relationship and let them know of the distribution change, print locally (or in a cheap labor country), and then personally mail out the issues with the help of cheap under-the-table (off-the-books) labor once-per-month.

2) Recruit a small sales staff whom you pay in comics. I would suggest sending a few exploratory letters to various fraternities and sororities around the country. maybe you could offer to sponsor a kegger for them in exchange for getting them to push your comic at all of the local retailers. Here you want to target big city schools: Fordham, Columbia, NYU, etc for NYC, USC or UCLA for LA, etc. I live in NYC, and I know that there are at least 25 comic stores within easy driving distance of Manhattan, so the question is, what college student won't push your comic in exchange for either free comics or beer?

Does that help or seem reasonable?"

There are a few problems to that. Diamond, as far as I know, doesn't have anything to do with printing comics; the company in question, Phosphorescent, is based out of Australia so I assume they're printing there or in SE Asia somewhere, and many small American companies are already publishing in Hong Kong, Singapore and European countries whose names escape me. While there are other distribution companies besides Diamond, the realities of the comics market are that, if you want to get your material into comics specialty shops, most of them deal pretty much exclusively with Diamond, mostly for convenience. It's a tough job for any distributor to get non-major name comics into any other venue, without some impetus already behind them. The idea of interning a sales staff isn't a bad one. The overall problem, though, is that most comics companies, even Marvel and DC, are undercapitalized for the necessary tasks in hand (see the first letter) so we enter the catch-22 of there not being enough profit in comics, in the eyes of most financiers, to merit the expense necessary to make comics more profitable. (I'd say if anyone wants to crack the bookstore market, books, not comics, are the logical way to go.)

"I have followed your column since Master of the Obvious. I've noticed that you make a comparison that I often make. That comic books (more accurately superheroes) and WWE Wrestling are very similar.

Case in point: Most have code names: The Rock, Stone Cold Steve Austin, The Game, The Hurricane. They all have powers/finishing moves that are unique to them: The Rock Bottom, The Stone Cold Stunner, The Pedigree, and Hurri-powers. If it isn't a bore to others, I'd like to get your thoughts on the WWE in one of your columns. I seem to have the same apathy for comic books and wrestling these days. Maybe they suffer from the same malaise. It would be really interesting to get your take on what's going on."

I don't really watch wrestling much anymore, but I keep an eye on it. Not much in it interests me these days. The WWE is saddled by a sad lack of creativity, though the recent ascendance of Eddy Guerrero and Chris Benoit is a good sign. Eddie, at least, has SMACKDOWN more or less to himself, and audiences all over have responded to Eddie, who's a great performer and talker, with great facial expressions, as "the Latino Steve Austin," though their shticks are nothing alike. Given the mushrooming size of the Latino audience and the wrestling traditions in that culture, if the WWE blows this one they're complete idiots. Benoit, over on RAW, has a much tougher time of it, since RAW is anchored around the boss' son-in-law, Paul "Triple H" Levesque, who dreams of being the modern Ric Flair but has actually turned into the modern Larry Zybysko (who, over in the defunct American Wrestling Association) became the perennial champion in the organization's twilight by dint of being married to the boss' daughter, and was constantly pushed as the best of the best though he was essentially a dull wrestler. (On the other hand, Triple-H, maybe finally noticing about how often the Rock got pinned without diminishing his monstrous popularity in the slightest, has finally started letting himself be pinned clean in finishes.) The main problem the WWE and the major comics companies have in common is that they have a tremendously difficult time getting any new characters across. In both cases, to some extent, this is the fault of the players, and it's usually played as being entirely their fault, but as frequently it's the presentation. The WWE seems to have forgotten how to build characters, and are so desperate for a new star they bury talent the instant the push seems to falter, which is often the result of them weakening the new character to keep established characters looking strong – but then they almost never build a comeback or a rematch into it. It makes for bad television and disappointed fans. You only have to tell fans just so often how they've stupidly misplaced their enthusiasm and they'll stop placing it at all.

"After reading your latest column I had a vaguely interesting thought. What if one company between the big two of Marvel/DC went under and got bought out a la WWF/WCW? I think that DC probably has the backing to do it if the situation ever came up. But what would happen to the properties? Would DC keep the Marvel line afloat, or would we see the Marvel properties incorporated into the existing DC universes? Would DCU and Wildstorm be the RAW and Smackdown! of the comics world, with Marvel properties split between them?

Here's my take:

1. The Avengers (Cap, Thor, Hulk, Iron Man, etc.) go to the main DCU Universe. DCU is where the big boys play, and the Avengers could be distributed evenly where necessary. Thor makes an interesting JLA member, and Darkseid makes a nice foil as Thor falls into the same sort of New Gods vein. Asgard and Atlantis make for two interesting settings beyond Earth-1 proper. Iron Man fits the Steel vein well, and Tony Stark/John Steel is an interesting mix of backgrounds leading to similar methods of operation. The Hulk would be an impressive addition as a villain in the DCU, especially the intelligent version. Hawkeye would have to go or be turned into a Flash villain. Cap would have his own series, and he and SHIELD woud be a Stormwatch:Achilles contrast to the JLA's Stormwatch.

2. The Fantastic Four keep their own series but get moved to Metropolis. Doom + Luthor = very bad news for both FF and Superman.

3. X-Men and all related titles except Exiles go to Wildstorm. No more crossovers with every title in the catalog. X-Men become the heavy hitters of the Wildstorm line, and X-Men/Authority has mucho cash potential as a one-time crossover if they absolutely feel the need.

4. Spiderman/Daredevil and all villains get moved to Gotham in the DCU. The rogue's galleries of Batman and Spiderman/Daredevil would then be interchangeable. Batman vs. Kingpin? Good. Spiderman vs. Clayface or Killer Croc? Good. Elektra/Catwoman? Very good. Daredevil vs. Two-Face in and out of the courtroom? Eh, maybe good.

5. Runaways/Alias/Blade/NYX all move to Vertigo.

6. Miscellaneous heroes and villains are used as needed in the DCU. Green Lantern vs. the Mandarin is pure gold (Mandarin: "How are you ever going to defeat me? You only have one ring.", GL: "I only need one."). Iron Fist would be a good guest shot in the Outsiders. Exiles, the only X-book to come over to the DCU, would be incredible considering all of the Elseworlds material available to be incorporated. The Flash gets all the weirdo spider-villains like Rhino, Sandman, and Electro.

7. The Punisher either moves to Vertigo or to Gotham.

8. That leaves leftovers like the Invaders (could be assimilated Borg-style into JSA) and Alpha Flight (who knows? maybe formerly known as the JLA or somewhere).

Just some thoughts. I'd be interested in hearing your take and seeing what I missed."

I don't really have any viewpoint on the selections, though if anyone else wants to play the game, you know where to find me. (If you don't, it's all way, way down there, at the bottom of the column.) But if you're drawing comparisons to the WWE-WCW buyout, then it's Marvel that would buy DC, not the other way around, since WCW was actually owned by Time-Warner (just like DC) at the time of the sale, when new managers came into Time-Warner and decided they didn't want the company associated with anything as low class as wrestling. WWE was the independent powerhouse that dominated the market over decades, despite back-and-forths with WCW over several years. So, if lightning strikes twice, Marvel buys DC...

That's how Watergate got started. Not that this is likely another Watergate in the making – at least on this, there's probably not any definably criminal Administration behavior involved – but the circus surrounding Rice's testimony will give it more importance than it may deserve. Unexpected bombshells notwithstanding, had Rice simply testified when first asked to, the whole thing would have been popularly ignored. By stonewalling, the admin built its own very visible mountain from what ran the risk of being a molehill of concern. What makes it a truly Watergate moment is that Republicans, ostensibly the sitting administrations allies, were most vocally leading the charge, in both cases Republicans assigned by the respective administrations in charge. No doubt many of the Hand Puppet's most adamant supporters will blame Democratic running dogs for the stirring up the beehive, but they're not the generals this time around. Up after Rice to testify – behind closed doors – the Veep and the Hand Puppet himself...

Lately I've been getting a lot of e-mails from people wanting to know what address to send review copies to. If you continue reading down to the bottom of the column, it's right there.

And, once again cribbing from last week (because, frankly, I'm running out of time):

Remember that the final issue of the first MY FLESH IS COOL miniseries is now out, with lovely art by Sebastian Fiumara. Next up: a little thing I like to call SACRILEGE, but more about that later.

You can also hit up your local comics retailer for:

DAMNED: trade paperback from Cyberosia, art by Mike Zeck and Denis Rodier, coloring by Kurt Goldzung

Crime. A parolee jumps parole to fulfill a promise to a dead cellmate, and finds himself hunted by mobsters looking for missing money he knows nothing about, in a city where he has no friends.

MORTAL SOULS: trade paperback from Avatar Press, art by Philip Xavier

Crime/horror. A police detective tracks and kills a female serial killer, only to gain her gift of seeing her targets for what they really are: the dead, who run the world, and who hate the living.

BADLANDS: trade paperback from AiT/PlanetLar Books, art by Vince Giarrano

Crime story, set in 1963 and starring the man who really killed John Kennedy.

BADLANDS: THE UNPRODUCED SCREENPLAY: text from AiT/PlanetLar

Screenplay version of BADLANDS, designed to ward off anyone who wants to make a movie of it.

PUNISHER:CIRCLE OF BLOOD: trade paperback from Marvel Comics, art by Mike Zeck and John Beatty

Crime. The original mini-series that transformed The Punisher from a minor character into a movie-franchise spawning star. Imprisoned for his killings, the Punisher fights to survive and escape, but the war he declares on organized crime once he's out takes an unexpected turn.

HATED AND FEARED: Best Of X-MEN UNLIMITED: trade paperback from Marvel Comics collecting a number of short X-Men stories, including two by me: a "Blob" story with art by Sean Phillips, and a "Lockheed The Dragon" story drawn by Paul Smith.

GREEN LANTERN: TRAITOR: trade paperback from DC Comics, art by Mike Zeck, Gil Kane, Scott Kolins and Klaus Janson

Superhero action. Three generations of Green Lanterns – the alien Abin Sur in the old west, Hal Jordan joined by the Atom in the Silver Age, and the modern Green Lantern Kyle Raynor – battle an unstoppable cyborg powered by the stars and driven by a religious calling to snuff out all life in the universe.

FRANK MILLER'S ROBOCOP, monthly comic from Avatar Press, art by Juan Jose Ryp

Science fiction action. The most faithful adaptation of a screenplay in history. From the version of ROBOCOP 2 that was never filmed, Frank Miller's vision of the decaying future city of Detroit is realized for the first time, as Robocop crosses swords with a demented squadron of military police and a program-altering self-proclaimed moral watchdog, while the real police go on strike and OCP readies an even more powerful Robocop to replace him.

I encourage the patronage of local comics shops where applicable, but don't forget that if you can't find what you want there, you can always shop the fine online retailers Khepri and Mars Import. Lately I've been getting a lot of e-mails from people wanting to know what address to send review copies to. If you continue reading down to the bottom of the column, it's right there.

And, once again cribbing from last week (because, frankly, I'm running out of time):

Remember that the final issue of the first MY FLESH IS COOL miniseries is now out, with lovely art by Sebastian Fiumara. Next up: a little thing I like to call SACRILEGE, but more about that later.

You can also hit up your local comics retailer for:

DAMNED: trade paperback from Cyberosia, art by Mike Zeck and Denis Rodier, coloring by Kurt Goldzung

Crime. A parolee jumps parole to fulfill a promise to a dead cellmate, and finds himself hunted by mobsters looking for missing money he knows nothing about, in a city where he has no friends.

MORTAL SOULS: trade paperback from Avatar Press, art by Philip Xavier

Crime/horror. A police detective tracks and kills a female serial killer, only to gain her gift of seeing her targets for what they really are: the dead, who run the world, and who hate the living.

BADLANDS: trade paperback from AiT/PlanetLar Books, art by Vince Giarrano

Crime story, set in 1963 and starring the man who really killed John Kennedy.

BADLANDS: THE UNPRODUCED SCREENPLAY: text from AiT/PlanetLar

Screenplay version of BADLANDS, designed to ward off anyone who wants to make a movie of it.

PUNISHER:CIRCLE OF BLOOD: trade paperback from Marvel Comics, art by Mike Zeck and John Beatty

Crime. The original mini-series that transformed The Punisher from a minor character into a movie-franchise spawning star. Imprisoned for his killings, the Punisher fights to survive and escape, but the war he declares on organized crime once he's out takes an unexpected turn.

HATED AND FEARED: Best Of X-MEN UNLIMITED: trade paperback from Marvel Comics collecting a number of short X-Men stories, including two by me: a "Blob" story with art by Sean Phillips, and a "Lockheed The Dragon" story drawn by Paul Smith.

GREEN LANTERN: TRAITOR: trade paperback from DC Comics, art by Mike Zeck, Gil Kane, Scott Kolins and Klaus Janson

Superhero action. Three generations of Green Lanterns – the alien Abin Sur in the old west, Hal Jordan joined by the Atom in the Silver Age, and the modern Green Lantern Kyle Raynor – battle an unstoppable cyborg powered by the stars and driven by a religious calling to snuff out all life in the universe.

FRANK MILLER'S ROBOCOP, monthly comic from Avatar Press, art by Juan Jose Ryp

Science fiction action. The most faithful adaptation of a screenplay in history. From the version of ROBOCOP 2 that was never filmed, Frank Miller's vision of the decaying future city of Detroit is realized for the first time, as Robocop crosses swords with a demented squadron of military police and a program-altering self-proclaimed moral watchdog, while the real police go on strike and OCP readies an even more powerful Robocop to replace him.

I encourage the patronage of local comics shops where applicable, but don't forget that if you can't find what you want there, you can always shop the fine online retailers 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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