Issue #137

If you don't know who Walt Wallet is, you don't know your comics history. Walt was the patriarch of one of the oldest extant newspaper strips, Gasoline Alley, which started roughly concurrent to the onset of the Great Depression and has since continued more or less in "real time," with characters aging, generations being added on. It started when young Walt finds a baby, a boy who'll become known as Skeezix, on his doorstep. Skeezix, now in his '70s, is about to lay Walt to rest.

Synchronicity's a word the seminal psychoanalyst Carl Jung coined to refer to a seemingly occult phenomenon he had noticed anecdotally: two apparently disconnected but at minimum thematically related events occurring more or less simultaneously, as if some more complex form of cause and effect was at work. You pick up the phone to call someone you haven't spoken with in a long time and find them on the other end of the line calling them, that sort of thing. Jung chalked it up to a function of the collective unconscious, and for a long time in the '70s, "synchronicity" became a catch-phrase for both the self-help shrink crowd and the "magic is real" crowd, and still pops up now and then, though the word's almost never used as Jung meant it.

The death of Walt Wallet is synchronistic in the way it neatly dovetails with an online conversation Steve Gerber (creator-author of DC's currently running HARD TIME) brought to my attention about a discussion of his classic HOWARD THE DUCK. Which also has nothing to do with Gasoline Alley. But, in a response to someone who expressed the desire to write HOWARD THE DUCK, Steve said

"That's fine. Just don't have the chutzpah to ask me what I think of it, because I've already told you -- I don't care.

One thing I really don't understand. Haven't you "always wanted" to write your own character? What's so damn special about the duck? That he comes prepackaged? That you have someone else's creativity to leach on? Shouldn't you be trying to write something that's special to you, not me?

This may sound harsh, folks, but if any of you really want to be writers – &@$* THE DUCK AND THE SPIDER IT RODE IN ON! HAVE AN ORIGINAL THOUGHT FOR ONCE!

It's not so hard. Hell, if I did it, anyone can.

And, in the end, you'll find it's more rewarding to yank your own crank than somebody else's.

This may be your last opportunity to "get it," people. Chances are, no creator in the comics industry will ever be this straightforward with you again... Stop and think for a moment where comics would be right now if Siegel & Shuster, Will Eisner, Jack Cole, Stan Lee, Gardner Fox, Steve Ditko, Joe Simon, Jack Kirby, etc., had only wanted to write and draw the stuff they grew up with. No Superman. No Spirit. No Plastic Man. No Marvel Universe. No Justice Society *or* League – you get the idea.

You'd still be reading "Maggie & Jiggs", "Gasoline Alley", and "Flash Gordon". Because no one would have invented anything.

All the stuff you love would never have been created.

The point of non-corporate writing and art, even – no, especially – if it has to exist in a corporate context -- is to create something new. Was it Gauguin who said that "art is revolution"? Hey. No revolution, no Green Lantern.

Which, incidentally, is pretty much where we're at in comics right now."

Hadn't thought about Gasoline Alley in years, and twice in one week it comes up, in distinct, separate contexts that underline, in one way or another, a changing of the guard. With the same message:

This age is done. Time for a new one.

This crap has got to stop.

This is becoming all too familiar an Internet game. Someone has an idea in mind for a project. The company is either being sluggish in accepting it or has turned it down. (I don't have any idea what Marvel's actual thoughts on Ben and Dan's GHOST RIDER is.) So the material gets online display, Internet fans do a little dance of eager joy, oohing and ahhing themselves into a vocal frenzy...

... and become an ad hoc pressure bloc to coerce the company into wanting to publish the material. Not that I think that's what Ben and Dan had in mind, but that's the practical upshot of all these things, and there have been more and more of them in the past few years. A good Internet response usually means 20 or so people back-and-forthing on a website; it can create an illusion of widespread desire for such a product, but it doesn't necessarily indicate a real market desire. The Internet's deceptive that way; people can say anything they want for free, but it's hard to translate that into a willingness to pay for something, as virtually every Internet site not serving up porn has discovered.

This is far from the first time something like this has been done, and I don't want to come off as singling out Ben and Dan because I'm not, but...

This sort of thing is embarrassing and amateurish. It's one thing to use the Internet to try to find a publisher for an original creation, or to otherwise finance it. With so many stumbling blocks, any venue for that's a welcome one. With something someone else owns, let's face it, it's just fan fiction. I don't care if it's professionals doing it or not, until a publisher buys a project it's just fan fiction. I can understand why freelancers want to work on company-owned properties – often it's the only way to get paid (dogs and mortgage holders gotta eat, after all), and it's possible to have fun, sometimes a lot of fun, doing it – but to so blatantly and openly go begging after something, I dunno. It's also a dodge for the creators. You're always going to find someone who thinks an idea is about the greatest idea ever conceived on the face of the earth, but it's not them you have to convince, it's an editor or a publisher or whoever makes the decisions at whatever comics company, and trotting stuff out for public viewing/opinion before it's sold is just trying to stack the deck as most companies are concerned. Companies make decisions based on a lot of factors besides (but usually not to the exclusion of) the talent involved and the quality of the work. Is the Wickline/Templesmith GHOST RIDER a hot looking package? Sure is. Would it make a good book? Probably. Might it not fit Marvel's conception of or intentions for the character? It might not. And anyone who thinks Paul Levitz or Joe Quesada can be pressured by "popular demand" into changing a decision has been paying too much attention to the hype. Remember the last time you were pressured into changing your mind on something? Enjoy it much? If you really want a company to give you the keys to the city, sell a million copy comic. Every major company in the business will be beating down your door.

Anyway, like I say, I don't actually think Ben or Dan meant anything by it, but other cases I've seen have clearly been bumbling attempts at coercion. Dangling product out in front of fans that they're never going to see in print might be good for the ego, but it's bad for the industry. It's easy to leave them thinking it's superior to whatever's being done with that character because you never have to pay off on it. In many cases, it's a juvenile response to being told "no." We can make all the noise we want about being adults, but that's not the same thing as growing up.

So let's stop all this nonsense, shall we, and save the promotion for books that are actually coming out?

Not that the White House hasn't been trying to cover up the cost of the war in all ways, including migrating monies appropriated for other services into the cost of the war, and fudging on upcoming budgets by not including projected war costs in them, apparently so as not to alarm the American voters during election year. Not that much about the Iraq situation has leaked into American news. Few have mentioned Ba'athist generals, the mainstays of Saddam Hussein's army (and, at one point, reputed to be the architects of rebellion against U.S. "liberation") are once again being openly recruited to run the Iraqi army, as 10% of the proposed Iraqi security forces have switched sides and joined the push to get America out, while another 40% have refused to get involved in the conflict at all. For those keeping score, it's apparently now ShI'ites who are the architects of Iraqi rebellion, not the Ba'athists. Considering one of Saddam's main functions pre-war was to suppress the ShI'ite majority, this now means we've taken on his role in Iraqi society. Not that it was ever likely to be any other way. From the beginning of our occupation, we insisted on an as-yet uninvented form of democracy for Iraq that would keep the ShI'ite majority out of control – that was mentioned very early on – and Britain's Independent recently ran a story I don't recall any American media picking up on: our admission, courtesy of undersecretary of State Mark Grossman, that the intended "Iraqi government" power is intended to the "transferred" to, will be nothing more than a façade for control by the U.S. ambassador to Iraq, backed up by the U.S. military, which would not tolerate any decision by the Iraqi "governing" council deemed contrary to American interests. In other words, neo-colonialism after all, with the new American embassy in Baghdad essentially a colonial palace, sanctified. That's what our soldiers are dying for.

"Just wanted to help you figure out what the term "silver bullet" meant. As far as I know the term was used by Frederick P. Brooks, Jr. in an article about software management. He said that "there is no silver bullet" for getting a project to arrive on time. I'm sure he wasn't the first to use the term, but in this context a "silver bullet" is a single solution to a problem, such as one methodology or one collection of best practices. The alternative to a silver bullet is a bunch of unrelated, perhaps even uncomplementary practices that get the job done, although they do so at higher cost and with an inferior result.

I don't think Dr. Rice understood the meaning of the term herself, as her usage was quite awkward."

"I read you recent column on getting out the word and supporting comics and related publications before they are canceled with great interest.

I am 46 and have been a major fan of the medium for almost 40 years, primarily DC and Marvel. In the last few years, my scope of reading has grown to include many independent and small press publications and I found their stories to be many times far richer and more enjoyable than books form the major two.

For approximately 18 months I have been a book reviewer for MIDWEST BOOK REVIEW, a well established and respected on line site which also sends out monthly print and CD ROMs to every public library, High School, College, University libraries, as well as Ingram, Amazon ands B&N to help them in determining what to order. MIDWEST also has a satellite broadcasted review show which sends the reviews around the world, as well as a TV show which helps to spread the word. I am also the editor and owner of a successful webzine entitled Camp Horror, which attempts to return horror back to something fun again – along the lines of the old EC stories, yet in prose. Add to that, I do weekly reviews on all media for Dream Forge, so as you can see, not only do I have massive readership, but also a means to get the word out to many which don't even know that comics are still around, or think of them as still the 'funny books' of yore.

I have sent out numerous requests for review copies of trades with publishers ranging from Marvel and DC to Fantagraphics and a slew of independent companies, and I am surprised by the lack of response I get. To be fair, DC sent me one packet which included the TPB of LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN BOOK 1, and a Xerox of the SGT. ROCK HC done by Joe Kubert (and nothing since despite numerous requests), and Checker has sent several as has Vanguard, Hamster Press, Top Shelf and TwoMorrows, as well as a few others, and they have all been ecstatic by the reviews I did for them, with several telling me that sales jumped from 10-30 percent, which they contribute to my reviews-a very nice compliment to say the least.

Yet many, seem to refuse my request to help them reach a wider audience; Marvel is one (no surprise there, I guess) but I have contacted so many independent and small press publishers I have lost count, and, yet, no response, not even so much as a thanks but no thanks to what is a very professional review copy request that I send. I cannot do individual issues at Midwest or any of the other sites, but I can do collections, and I am trying to get the word out as best I can; yet my requests fall on many deaf ears. Perhaps too many see their only market as being the same dwindling fan base that groups on Wednesdays at the comic store, and choose not to allow their sales to grow. As strange as that seems, to me it is the only reason I can surmise. Or, maybe, they don't want to send out a review copy gratis, preferring that if I want to do a review, I should buy a copy. I don't have that kind of funds available, and I would think it would be a small cost for them to pay for a chance to preach to someone other than the choir. I can get sent review copies from Warner, Pantheon, Penguin Puttnam, Tor, Ballantine and many of the major print houses with just a letter, yet not from AiT/PlanetLar, Future, Bongo, or even Devil's Due. Whatever the reason, it is, as I said in my email subject line, frustrating.

I appreciate your fervor, but I suspect you've got a perception problem. I'd never heard of the MIDWEST BOOK REVIEW before I got your e-mail, and I doubt many others in the business have either. Small publishers are the least able to afford to send out comp copies, especially of trade paperbacks or hardcovers, they get a lot of requests, and they're especially unlikely to send them out to unknown parties regardless of how professional the cover sheet looks. You might consider sending a copy of MBR with every request, along with circulation figures (including radio and TV audiences) if those numbers are available, or, at minimum, tear sheets of your reviews, along with copies of letters from other publishers thanking you for your efforts. If you don't do that already. If you do, I don't know what to tell you.

"I am an attorney, as attested to by the awful disclaimer that accompanies this email. [For those who are wondering, I detached it – SDG.] We have attorneys who specialize in intellectual property. (I am not one of them) They say that Mr. Webber needs to check where his trademark is registered - and whether Marvel intends to market "Icon" in Australia. It may become a good business deal for him. For example, the town of Budweis in the Czech Republic has a nice deal with Anheiser Busch so that Budweiser Beer by Busch can be sold in Europe.

That said, if Milestone's "Icon" trademark/registration is really owned by Time/Warner/DC (I know that supposedly Milestone owned its own characters, and DC just published them - but I wonder... In any event, I'm ignorant of the actual relationship) I would expect DC's lawyers to be all over Marvel if there is any chance to stick it in Marvel's eye. I note that the ICON trade paperback sold on Amazon says its published by DC, for example."

Rumor has it that DC's lawyers are looking into that very thing...

"Following the cancellation of WILDCATS 3.0 (one of the best comics on the market currently in my meaningless opinion), I'm just at a loss. The question I submit to comic publishers is why? Why should I, as a comic consumer, ever give consideration to picking up any new comic that is solicited, when it is clear that the bulk of promotion is going to the 'big guns,' titles that will never be laid to the grave (your BATMANs, SUPERMANs, X-MENs, SPIDER-MANs, etc.)? Why should I risk my time and money on a new project that they are not going to stand behind strong enough to make it last? WILDCATS 3.0 was just a brilliant concept. Brilliant. I loved that book. Couldn't wait to read it each month. I talked it up quite often in my zine for the MZS APA. Even went so far as to buy a couple of extra copies of the trade paperbacks and send them to a few other members to hopefully pique their interest. I made mention of it on the Reviews page of the MZS APA web-site (www.mzsapa.com). I should have done some subsequent reviews for it (beyond the first issue), but I've been a little negligent in my reviews of late. However, I did feature the second trade collection on the Future Picks pages. I just don't know what else to do. Even with those meager efforts to try to increase interest in the book, I almost feel like I did more than DC to try and promote it. I'm just at the point now where I don't want to bother with anything new. I can't trust that it is going to be around for any length of time. A great book like this gets dumped, meanwhile Marvel is pushing out even more X-Men titles (do we need that many mutant books?) and DC is kicking up an unclamored for FIRESTORM (and we could probably add DOOM PATROL to that list as well) and we've got all the SUPERMAN monthly titles plus more mini-series than I can count. (Do we need all those????) DC throws Jim Lee at BATMAN and SUPERMAN, brings in Michael Turner for an arc on the man of steel (and has him do some extra covers as well). Where was this stuff for WILDCATS??????? I'm just frustrated."

Maybe the answer is to simply to finite arcs of new material, and label them as that from the beginning. Commit to anywhere from 4 to 24 issues (and I mean both companies and readers commit). Do another arc if the first is successful, don't if it isn't. Of course, then readers will start talking about how they'll wait for the trade instead of buying the monthlies, so you can understand where this market is frustrating the companies as well. Of course, the obvious solution to all this is for everyone, including companies and talent, to skip the monthlies and go straight to trade, but that's more of an investment than most companies are willing to shell out. It's a conundrum...

"I conduct interviews for an entertainment website and, although the people I interview have a product they want to sell, I do try to take things beyond being a mere "puff piece". (Whether I succeed is a matter for readers to say). I recently interviewed Dan Slott about the internet reaction to SHE-HULK, before it was even published and have just posed similar questions to Dan Jolley about FIRESTORM. The problem faced by our site and others (I speak unofficially here) is that we face alienating the creators we rely on if we are too adversarial. If you as a creator want to promote a book are you going to talk to a site that questions your creative decisions?

I do agree we should be making more fuss over Awards however. I can remember when Claremont and Byrne's UNCANNY X-MEN won the Eagle award and it was actually mentioned on the book's cover. These days I'd certainly take a look at any book that had "Harvey Award nominee/winner" on the front, same as I'd at least look at a film that won a Sundance festival award or a Bafta nomination."

I've done a lot of interviewing, and there are ways to investigate someone's creative decisions without becoming adversarial about it, though sometimes talent will take any question that way. It's something you learn over time, unless you're imagining yourself to be a John Stossel-type jerk interviewer. I think a little give and take is expected, as long as the interviewer doesn't start trying to position himself as the expert on creative decisions. The problem with too many fan interviewers is they try to use the interview to demonstrate how much better their own taste is, and after you've done a few of those you tend to hold every interviewer in disregard as a matter of principle.

I remember at Pro/Con a decade or so ago, I was told the major publishers had met and decided to institute a "platinum" program, along the lines of what the recording industry does, where there would be certain sales levels, and comics that surpassed those levels would go "gold" or "silver" or "platinum" or whatever. I remember being told DC in particular was very keen on it. I don't know whether they discovered the RIAA had those "awards" copyrighted the same way the MPAA has G PG PG-13 R NC copyrighted so there was no way to use them, if comics sales sank below the point of even meriting such a thing, or publishers fell out over details, but I wonder whatever happened to that...

"I'm an 18 year old Colombian, and, while not an avid reader of your column, an avid fan of comic books, and an aspiring writer/penciler. Being a comic book fan in Colombia is not exactly easy. As it is, I've been forced to become a "wait for the trade" reader, because comic books here cost roughly 3 times what they cost in America... and I won't buy those god-awful translated editions. So what I do is save money so that every chance I get I order a couple trades. Whenever I can, I go to the US and buy more than a couple. But those chances are rare, since I'm not a wealthy person, so I'm more of a "wait for the money so I can buy the trade" kinda guy. On a side note that's probably the reason I hate the whole comic collector/CGC thing... there are people paying thousands of dollars for comics that they won't even read and here's me being able to afford a couple trades a year, if it's in fact a good year. Also the last single issues I bought put me off. They were some Marvel comics, more precisely Morrison's brilliant NEW X-MEN, and Jones' impressive INCREDIBLE HULK. The problem I had with these was the amount of advertising, or, rather, the placement of such advertising: an art page, and advertisement, an art page, an advertisement... that's the way it went for most of the issues. I cannot for the life of me understand why publishers aren't using advertisements in comics as a means to improve the actual pacing of the story, to ease off the transition from one scene to the other, to make it smoother or to actually build up suspense like commercials do for television. No, instead they choose to place them wherever they possibly can and make the whole reading experience frustrating.

Recently I discovered Comic Book Resources, yours and Johnston's columns, and the now defunct Millar and Ellis columns which I read from the archives, and today I read some things you had to say about the recent Wildstorm cancellations. You talked about comic book activism in the form of actually getting people to read the comics you enjoy. In June 2002 I met a guy who's now my best friend. He's a Colombian too but lives in Miami, so after we met in person he went back to the US and we started chatting it up on the Internet. But aside from our love of punk rock music we had nothing in common, so I tried talking him into comic books. Into picking one up and reading it. Into being actually interested in the stuff I had to say about the industry. And although he recognized the medium as a formal and legitimate one, he'd often refer to comics as "books for kids." Mostly to piss me off; oh and it worked. Months passed but this very good-looking kid did not give up, and one day I made a move that made all the difference. I got him into reading POWERS #1 from the Image website. He absolutely loved it and soon after he bought the WHO KILLED RETRO GIRL trade. He'd become a Bendis fan, so he bought a DAREDEVIL trade written by Bendis and painted by David Mack. He was really impressed by that one saying he never thought comic books, and more precisely superhero comics, were used to tell that kind of bizarre and emotional story. Now he knew of the broad possibilities of sequential storytelling, so one day I said "the best thing I ever read, and the most fun I've had outside of sex, was PREACHER, and I'm dead serious." He then went out and bought the first PREACHER trade and... told me I was right. Today he's not only a Bendis fan, but a PREACHER fan and a SANDMAN fan, and a constant Newsarama reader. He's into the medium. He's a fan. This guy was serious about his lack of interest in comic books, and he just needed proof that they're more than people give 'em credit for. Though none of the books I got him into needed or need any kind of saving, I'm proud to say that I got someone into comics, and that all that was ever needed was the right story... a story that can open some eyes, and if one very sexy guy, from a very distant (as it would seem) Colombia can get an almost-American into reading comics, just imagine..."

  • James Lowder, editor of PATH OF THE JUST, prose anthology I did a short story for last year, dropped me a line to mention there's a review of the book in the May SCIENCE FICTION CHRONICLE that singles me out for special attention. I haven't read it, but if you've got access to the magazine (it's news, not fiction) you might want to take a look and let me know. Thanks. Or you could go buy the trade, of course.

    As I mentioned last week, iBooks will be publishing the complete EDGE sometime this summer, while DC's including my CATWOMAN story in an upcoming trade collection due out around the time of the Halle Berry CATWOMAN movie. Keep your eyes open when you read PREVIEWS.

    While you're at it, order:

    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.


    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 Sebastian Fiumara.

    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.

    MY FLESH IS COOL, mini-series from Avatar Press, art by Juan Jose Ryp. To quote COMICS INTERNATIONAL, which gave it an 8 out of 10, "An experimental drug enables Evan Knox to work as a highly paid assassin and troublemaker who can take over other people's bodies. He can get to anyone, anywhere, without detection. He does whatever he wants, and uses other people in a ruthlessly instrumental way. The catch is this: what if everyone could get their hands on the drug? Both script and art are adult and gritty. This comic is cool."

    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.

    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.

    EXCLUSIVE: Firefly One-Shot Introduces Mal's Mother, Ma Reynolds

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