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Issue #141

by  in CBR Exclusives Comment
Issue #141
  • I was talking with someone recently about artists and realized I’m a lot harsher about artists as a writer than as a reader. Kind of like Phil Ochs’ old adage about a liberal being someone “slightly to the left of center in good times, slightly to the right of center when it affects them personally.” The fact is I’ve had an awful lot of bad art attached to my stories over the years (which I’m sure some will say is all my work deserves but that’s neither here nor there, and my tastes in comics art tend to run toward the naturalistic and/or stylistically idiosyncratic, and for some reason when I leave my fate in the hands of editors I rarely seem to get that. As a reader, I can overlook mediocre art if I like the story well enough. But there are still an awful lot of “readers” out there who are (or, at least, claim to be) interested only in comics art, and I doubt they’re willing to cut most books as much slack as I am.

    In a different conversation I resurrected my old adage about the three elements of comics art: proportion, storytelling and dynamics. (All of which, as in subnuclear physics, become the same thing when you break them down far enough, but let’s not go there today.) Proportion includes all the basic elements of art: anatomy, perspective, consistency, etc. Storytelling is, obviously, the ability to use pictures to tell a story. Dynamics are the tricks that catch a reader’s eye, that get the pulse moving, and dynamics are dismissed as cheap tricks by many, but they’re really not. They’ve become essential. Great comics art needs all three, but the market is such that if you can only have one, the one you want is dynamics. And, yet, in the midst of discussing this, I realized what I mean by dynamics – which under my definition covers a much wider range of techniques and effects than most people seem to suppose – I realized I’d had it wrong all along, and dynamics is itself a subset of something else much more important: immediacy. Dynamics make comics a much more immediate, visceral experience. Someone brought up Steve Dillon. At a quick glance, his art may look still, though he’s more than capable of big action when he wants to draw it. But the genius of Steve Dillon is the way he uses space, places characters and objects in space, to give his work such a sense of reality that it sucks you right in. You believe what Steve Dillon draws. His work isn’t usually dynamic in the sense that, say, Jim Lee’s is, but Dillon’s characters exist on the page; you can see where they moved from and they’re moving to, you can feel their muscles tense and loosen. That’s immediacy.

    To review, the three necessary elements of comics art: proportion, storytelling and immediacy. And if you can only achieve one, go for immediacy.

    Cleaned out the office over the weekend and ended up with piles of things to review:

    Del Rey books have recently jumped into the manga market with a mixed bag of four titles. Far and away the best is Clamp’s XXXHOLIC ($10.95), the semi-lighthearted adventures of a shopkeeper witch who’ll help people for a price, and the ghost-haunted young man who ends up as her housekeeper. Unlike some Clamp material (for those who don’t know, they’re a major manga studio), the art is clean, simple and easy to follow, and the humor and character expressions are great. Which makes the book even better in the moments when it turns serious, with a practical if marginally grim worldview espousing personal responsibility. Somewhat less successful, though potentially interesting, is Clamp’s TSUBASA ($10.95), which reinvents Sakura and Syaoran from CARDCAPTOR SAKURA as fantasy world teenagers before throwing in incongruent elements, crossing over a little with XXXHOLIC and starting a Marvelesque crossdimensional quest. It’s not bad, but so far it’s all setup. I’m not partial to the anime MOBILE SUIT GUNDAM SEED, which strikes me as an unrelated, dull knockoff of the far superior GUNDAM WING, but Hajime Yatate, Yoshiyuki Tomino and Masatsugu Iwase’s manga version ($10.95) is a little better than the anime. At least I can understand what characters are on about with the manga, even if the space fighting giant robot action is frequently incomprehensible. (The way they’re drawn the suits are difficult to distinguish, and if there’s a contextual trick to it, I’m not getting it.) The only real weak point in Del Rey’s initial releases is Ken Akamatsu’s NEGIMA! I know people who think Akamatsu’s LOVE HINA, about a wannabe male college student managing a boarding house full of girls, is hilarious, but once I got the joke it struck me as little more than a burlesque whose main purpose was to undress the female characters as often as possible. NEGIMA! is pretty much the same concept, except this time the boy’s a warlock assigned to teach English to a junior high school girls’ class. Adequately written and drawn, it’s also a burlesque anchored on a handful of recurring gags, such as the boy’s inadvertent ability to blow the clothes off girls when he sneezes. He sneezes a lot. And he’s nine years old, going on ten. It’s a bit creepy.

    I haven’t been following DEMO (AiT/PlanetLar Books; $2.95@), Brian Wood and Becky Cloonan’s serial about superpowered teenager, so it was a thrill to get #6 in the mail. It’s good. Wood seems to have reined in his stylistic excesses, and Cloonan’s art is pretty pleasing, for the most part. Of course, I haven’t a clue what has gone on in the book prior to this, but it’s not necessary for understanding this story, a journey into a memory of suburban angst. Cloonan’s art has one problem she really needs to work on, though: close-ups are really nicely rendered, but anytime she has to draw a long shot, figures lose shape and proportion. But that’s probably my most common complaint about young artists; it happens way too often, and usually makes it look like they decided to not even try. Cloonan, at least, always looks like she’s trying. There’s some nice life in this book. I wouldn’t mind seeing more of it.

    So what’s with all these pamphlets suddenly being issued by Larry “King Of Graphic Novels” Young? SCURVY DOGS #4 (AiT/PlanetLar Books; $2.95), by Andrew Boyd and Ryan Yount is a slight but amusing confection with art vaguely reminiscent of Spain Rodriguez’s underground work, which isn’t a bad thing. A crew of pirates stranded on land try to find help against the Hobo Mafia and spark a family reunion, culminating in a bloody battle of the bands. I’m not sure what they’re on about, but you’re not likely to find anything else like it. Their slogan is “Pirates Are The New Monkeys.” But I don’t like monkeys.

    Then there’s Larry Young’s superhero parody PLANET OF THE CAPES (AiT/PlanetLar Books; $12.95), with art by Brandon McKinney. As superhero parodies go, it’s not bad; on an alternate earth where Ben Franklin was inspired, Bruce Wayne like, by a raven to revolt against the English and form a new country, stand-ins for Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman and The Hulk have things so under control that the crises involve saving cats from trees and mopping up after each other. Things change when they’re inadvertently thrown into “our” world, but structurally the book’s all wrong. I don’t mind the story, but it doesn’t really get going until just before it ends, and it ends way too abruptly. Kind of kills whatever drama’s in the material, and there are too many space-wasting elements like whole pages involving an autograph hound that never plays into anything. And the ending generates one huge question that’s never broached, let alone answered. Like I said, it’s not bad – McKinney’s art works well with the story, and Larry’s usual talent for dialogue shows here – but it could’ve been so much better.

    Brian Kelly’s FRANCIS AND THE LAS VEGAS TRAMPS graphic novel (Brian Kelly Army Comics; $7) is another tongue in cheek pop culture romp with art oddly reminiscent of Spain Rodriguez’s underground work. An intergalactic rock band splits with their management to torment each other and pursue their own tour to an Elvis planet with giant human-brain infested robots, underground lairs, and floating monkey statues. I’m not going to remember it tomorrow, but it’s a well-done, fun bit of fluff.

    DEAD@17: BLOOD OF SAINTS (Viper Comics; $2.95@) continues to be one of the few recent self-publishing success stories, Josh Howard’s horror story centering around a resurrected teenager, a cult out to unleash evil on the world, and a counter-cult intent on stopping them. #2 of the series avoids the soap opera meanderings of the first issue and really cranks up the threat level, leaving some very nasty cliffhangers for the next issue. Howard’s Amerimanga art is more confident than ever before too. Sharp job. Those who missed the mini-series that launched DEAD@17 can now get it in trade paperback (Viper Comics; $14.95).

    Brian Kelly’s art also shows up in SOME OTHER DAY (Antihero Comics; $2), nicely illustrating a short David Hopkins story about a disintegrating space station raining down on a small Texas town. We never see the space station; the story focuses on human reaction to the event. It creeps up on you, but it’s quite good. This is the level of quality all mini-comics should aspire to.

    David Blumenstein’s NAKEDFELLA COMICS #8 (Nakedfella; no price given) is more of an underground comic than a mini-comic, back when everyone realized that anyone could make them. I’m not sure why the cover is the worst art in the book, but the deceptively simple interior art is quite good. The stories, from humorous riffs on John Wayne and urban revolution to slice of life jokes, are quite good as well. It’s a surprisingly satisfying read.

    The previous issue of SHOOTING STAR COMICS ANTHOLOGY (Shooting Star Comics; $4.95) was a bit of a letdown, but #4 is a big improvement over that. The bookends are another Aym Geronimo story, half by Sean Taylor, half by J. Morgan Neal and Todd Fox, involving an American superheroine in a bad situation in Egypt, and it’s vastly better than the last Aym Geronimo. The lastest episode of Yellowjacket is also, this one a straightforward pulp shootout, is also much better than his last story, with a jump in art and story quality from Scott McCullar. There are steps away from the generally pulpy tone of the anthology, like Jeffrey Moy’s videogame confection and Eric Burnham’s humorous Nick Landime one-pager. For the most part, the weaknesses that have plagued the anthology are flushed out with #4, and even the stories that don’t grab me, like Michael Hutchinson and Phil Meadows’ Time Meddlers, have decent art and writing. The only real weak spots are C. Adam Volle and Dustin Griffin’s “The Klansman Is Dead,” which is an interesting idea that doesn’t really play out properly (and why on Earth would the character be in costume at the end?), and Scott Rogers’ Bedbug, which just isn’t very good. Otherwise, not bad at all.

    WRITER’S BLOCK (David Miller Studio Services; $3.50) is a game played once a year where three different writers each dialogue the same story, making up their own plots as they go along from David Miller’s existing artwork. The 2003 edition guinea pigs are Mark Waid, Jo Duffy and Roger Stern, each “explaining” a battle between two pregnant warrior women. Mark’s comes off the best, with Roger’s entertaining and Jo’s way too overwritten, but the problem with these things is the stories are forced into a rigid package; there’s not really any room for a better idea to spring out, and the basic idea is a cute joke, but once you’ve got the joke repetition just deadens the effect. Maybe Mark was the best at justifying the situation, but maybe he just had the benefit of being first. The problem with WRITER’S BLOCK isn’t that any of the writing is bad, it’s that the underlying material needs to be better conceived.

    A mini-comic anthology this time: Vassar’s SEQUENCE MAGAZINE, Spring ’04 edition (Sequence Magazine; no price given). Like many of these things, it’s a mixed bag of mostly amateurish, pointless stuff from people who like to draw but don’t do it very well. Pretty much from the “life sucks” school of philosophy.

    Lettering guru Richard Starkings of Comicraft is a publisher on the side, with his Active Images imprint and a kickass little line of books. Top of the list is cartoonist Glenn Dakin’s TEMPTATION ($8.95), a comedic look at the Devil continuously trying to seduce the soul away from a desert dwelling recluse, mostly in one-page segments. It ranges from clever to hilarious, with art that’s said to be inspired by KRAZY KAT but reminds me much more of Foolbert Sturgeon’s NEW ADVENTURES OF JESUS. Get it. Also well worth the price is the repackaging of Al Davison’s harrowing, surrealistic autobiographical THE SPIRAL CAGE ($12.95), detailing his survival and eventual conquest of the spina bifida that crippled him from birth and a truly horrifying family drowning in dementia. Just amazing work, this time with an introduction by Alan Moore and some supplemental material, in case anyone needs further inducement. Then there’s a collection of David Hine’s excellent latter day gothic horror thriller, STRANGE EMBRACE ($14.95). No pseudo-Lovecraftian tripe here; this is the real thing. Finally, there’s Ilya’s SKIDMARKS ($12.95). To say it’s about bicycle riders in London is like saying THE FOUNTAINHEAD is about a building. Ilya’s story comes in little well done vignettes, but, cumulatively, they’re an extended snapshot of a lifestyle and the people who try to live it because they’ve got nothing else, told with wit, passion and style. It doesn’t hurt any of these books that Starkings has the sensibilities of an art director; the books all look great, and they’re worth every penny.

    Jason Henderson’s SWORD OF DRACULA continues at Image with #4 ($2.95) and a new artist, William Belk, replacing Greg Scott on art. Scott is, overall, the better artist, but somehow Belk works better on the book; the action is more comprehensible in his hands. The story also finally kicks into gear, as new enemies unleash new horror and heroine Ronnie Van Helsing has a confrontation with Dracula not unlike the meeting of Claire and Hannibal Lector in SILENCE OF THE LAMBS. I’m thinking, though, that the episodic nature of the story is getting in Henderson’s way a bit; every time he really gets going he has to stop.

    And damn if I haven’t run out of time with still a couple dozen books to go. Next week.

  • A couple things from the mailbag:

    “I read your Comic Book Resources article about breaking into the comics biz, and really enjoyed it. Based on what I have observed, read and experienced over the past 35 years, I’d say your article was dead-on, across the board.

    From 1967-1977, I thought the best thing in life would be to draw comics professionally for a living. My realization about the cold, cruel business side of the business never came as an epiphany, per se, but by 1978, I came to the realization that my ultimate path in life was not going to involve funnybooks. I was still a bit unsure I’d made the right decision until I received a particularly telling post card that same year from the legendary Wally Wood, with whom I’d been corresponding occasionally. On the card, Woody wrote about the upcoming publication of what he considered his magnum opus: WIZARD KING. He said that if he could gather up the money needed to publish his hardcover, and it was successful, then he would have finally “made it” in the business. To me, Woody was one of the most talented and, in my mind, successful comic book creators to ever to pick up a pencil. Yet here he was after nearly 30 years in the business, still frustrated, and still thinking he had not yet achieved the success he’d dreamed of.

    Since turning away from a possible professional career in comics those many years ago, I have learned skills, gone places, and achieved things that I once would have thought impossible.

    I still read, write and draw comics when I have time, but just as a hobby. As a matter of fact, I’ve gone a year or more without drawing a line. As a result, even after 37 years, I still have fun doing this stuff!”

    I’ve been doing comics in one form or another for 30 years now, and, despite various ups and downs, I still have fun doing this stuff. But, now that you mention it, I only met him once but I miss Wally Wood.

    “An interesting column on the subject, with what seems like good advice…sure to be ignored by the very people who need it the most.

    When Marvel did the BIG TRYOUT BOOK, I was one of the many who did try out, and got high enough in the writer’s category to get a more than just form letter, inviting me to keep trying, and send more samples. I worked on them for awhile, then had a large dose of reality hit me as I fell asleep one night.

    Visiting New York, staying with comic fans who lived there, taught me one thing. I didn’t like it. Maybe I could have adjusted to it, but it would have been like adjusting to prison life, considering the few bucks I might have made doing comics. By then, I was in my early 30s, and comic book writing didn’t hold the romance it had when I was younger. Most of the professionals I met were very unhappy, drank a lot, and tried to pick up the wives and girlfriends of fans. I realized that there was a good reason most pros of the past were from the same area. So, if I was lucky, I might just make enough money to survive, doing something that I wasn’t that crazy about anymore.

    Sometimes, I regret not sending in the samples, just to see the reply, but not trying harder to write comics. Yeah, these days, not living in New York probably wouldn’t work against working for DC or Marvel, but that’s after you’ve actually gotten work.

    Doing your own comic, working at some other job to pay for it, and selling it at shows, on EBay, etc, for cost or even below, is probably the best bet. With the coming dominance of trade collections, having a book ready to be distributed by one of the majors may even be better. I sell a lot of old comics on EBay, and recently had some poor guy write me, asking for my advice on how he could sell his graphic novel, which he described at length. I advised him to contact Diamond, and wished him luck, but I thought “if you have to write to a total stranger (not involved in publishing in any way) for advice, you’re in for a lot of trouble”. I’m sure he’s not alone.

    It’s a shame that writing about comics is much more interesting than reading most of them today.”

    You’re exaggerating the necessity to live in New York to break in at Marvel or DC. It helps, but it’s far from mandatory anymore, especially if your work is noticeably good.

    “I just read the column for May 19. It is the right mix of realistic and optimistic, it is certainly comprehensive. It is interesting to get an insider’s viewpoint. I think that the most interesting point you made was that most (all?) of the talent in comics did not break in by just sending in a submission.

    Please by all means keep the insider’s viewpoint stuff coming. You have the capability to be realistic without sounding too disheartening. It is every fan’s dream to one day work in comics, but the realities of working in comics are far different from any fan’s idea of it. It is a job and like any job it is work.”

    There have been people who broke in via submission alone. It’s not impossible. But it is a job, and, as I’ve said before, even bad work is harder than it looks.

  • I’m been remiss in not talking about some of the TV I’ve been watching – forget movies; I haven’t been to a movie theater since RETURN OF THE KING and there hasn’t been anything to entice me out of the house – and now that the season’s over, it seems irrelevant, but what the hey. In its third season, THE SHIELD (FX Channel, 10PM Tuesdays) finally abandoned the goofiness that degraded its first two runs and its elements cohered into the top-notch show it always threatened to be. Plotlines and characterizations have been balanced and executed perfectly, the Strike Team became an effective unit instead of the Three Stooges Under Vic, and really nasty things happened very credibly, without a lot of overdramatization. Oddly, the only downside to the season so far was last week’s episode directed by David Mamet (presumably in return for giving his girlfriend, the brutally bad actress Rebecca Pidgeon, a guest role) with stodgy pacing, but it was otherwise indistinguishable from the rest of the season. It would’ve easily been the best drama on TV if not for DEADWOOD (Sundays, 10PM), HBO’s savage but oddly comical western with great characters (particularly the two pivot characters, Timothy Olyphant’s violently noble sheriff-to-be Seth Bullock and Ian McShane’s brilliant evil visionary, bar owner and town crimelord Al Swearengen). I can understand where it might not be to everyone’s taste, since most of the action happens between the cracks except for sporadic fits of ultraviolence, but it’s a great show. THE SOPRANOS (HBO, Sundays 6PM), by contrast, is a show where everything happens on the surface now, and nothing really happens at all. Despite some great turns from Steve Buscemi and Drea DeMatteo (whose story arc recently came to an abrupt and predictable conclusion), the show has treaded water for this season as for the last two, becoming essentially a set-up for next year’s final season, which they’re building up to be a bloodbath. But is there anyone’s blood left on the show that we care about? On Fox, 24 once again managed to yank a fairly gripping third act out of a badly stumbling second act, but how many years can they keep it up? Finally, over on USA, there’s TOUCHING EVIL (Monday 10PM), a cop show about an elite team that hunts serial killers and particularly their braindamaged star detective, recovered from being shot in the head, and it’s not bad – it’s entertaining enough to watch – but I’d probably have liked it a lot better had I not seen the Robson Green Granada TV UK version on PBS’ MYSTERY a few years ago. Green brought a chaotic intensity to the role; the hero of the American version comes across as just perpetually befuddled, clawing his way through gauzy curtains of possibility where the Robson version excised them with surgical precision. The whole show is suitably dark, but it’s supposed to pass for mood, and it’s not. Like most British bringovers, TOUCHING EVIL is probably better if you know nothing of its pedigree.

    I’ve been watching AMERICAN IDOL (Fox, 8PM Tuesdays) with one eye this season (it’s impossible to keep both of them open), and, as we close in on the big finale, we’re faced with what I’m told the viewers of the British original are too familiar with: nobody deserves to win this year. I wasn’t a fan of Kelly Clarkson or Clay Aiken (oh, wait, Clay didn’t win last year! Who did?) (Just kidding. I know who won. But it looks like Clay really won, didn’t he?), but at least they had talent. Fantasia Barrino seems to be the winner elect – the only two singers who were developing into real talents this year were both eliminated under suspicious circumstances that pitted them one-on-one against Fantasia, leading to much speculation over the validity and security of the “voting,” which was about the only interesting aspect of the season – but hasn’t anyone noticed that she can only sing ONE DAMNED NOTE?!! She modulates the volume just fine, but she only singes one note. This season was enough of a mess, it’ll be interesting to see if an audience shows up next season.

    Speaking of next season, the networks have announced their fall schedules. (Or, in Fox’s case, their schedule for all seasons.) 27 reality shows (including a boxing champion reality show on seemingly every single network), NBC down to four “comedies,” cop shows and soap operas set in Hawaii, and more LAW AND ORDER and CSI spinoffs. I was thinking of running down the new shows (in more ways than one), but it’s all so depressing. Every year I think network TV can’t get any worse, and every year it does. The scheduling’s the most interesting thing about the new season: the latest CSI spinoff is going head to head against the original LAW AND ORDER at 10PM Wednesdays in a battle of the overexposed franchises, but the big battle is for the coveted 8PM Thursday timeslot that FRIENDS just vacated. The real challenger there is Fox’s hit THE O.C., which isn’t likely to upset SURVIVOR too much but could be the JOEY-killer NBC’s so afraid of.

    The funniest programming decision was NBC placing the pre-tiger bite Siegfried and Roy-inspired/produced animated animal show FATHER OF THE PRIDE in the 9PM Tuesday slot. For months they’ve been touting this as “a great show for all ages,” but now it’s in that slot it’s suddenly “adult animation.” You know, like SHREK was really aimed at adults. I’d expect it to be the first cancellation of the year except NBC tends to be fairly loyal to shows it has stuck its foot in its mouth over. Its main contender for the coveted “first cancelled award” that I see on the horizon is DREW CAREY’S GREEN SCREEN SHOW, basically a remake of the relentlessly hilarious WHOSE LINE IS IT ANYWAY?, which practically bored ABC to a standstill in its original Stateside version, with the added spectacular gimmick of having animated versions of what the actors are acting out run on the “green screen” behind them while they’re acting out. Nice to see the WB getting in the Abu Ghraib spirit.

    There was one unexpected high point to the schedule. After almost canceling the show last year, CBS not only scheduled a new run for best reality/game show ever, THE AMAZING RACE, for July, but has another season of it set for Saturdays 9PM in the fall. I don’t know who exec producer Jerry Bruckheimer had to punk out for to pull that off, but thank whatever powers there are little favors…

  • So… The Hand Puppet says Iraq will be a sovereign nation again after June 30. They’ll just have American troops all over the country, troops that certainly aren’t going to be answerable to the Iraqi government, with the continued threat of more troops not as the new Iraqi government decides they’re necessary, but as American commanders in Iraq think they’re necessary. And the prison at Abu Ghraib will be razed to the ground. If “the Iraqi people” want it destroyed. (Maybe they’d rather convert it to an amusement park. Call it Tortureland or something.) Paul Bremer and his people will be out, replaced by Ambassador John Negroponte to establish official relations between Iraq and the United States, while he officially sits in his brand new unofficial palace we like to call an embassy and unofficially oversees the workings of the new Iraqi state, with it already unofficially known that decisions by the new Iraqi government that we don’t like won’t be tolerated.

    In the meantime, Cheney’s Man In Baghdad, renowned con man Ahmed Chalabi, who was mysteriously spirited out of house arrest in Europe to materialize in the Middle East on the brink of our invasion of Iraq, has supposedly fallen on hard times, with American troops raiding his home and current headquarters. Possibly in return for stamping approval on (and possibly inventing) the Cheney-Rumsfeld scheme of sending in a small force of American troops who would be greeted as liberators rather than invaders, and providing much now totally discredited information about Saddam’s connections to international terrorism and weapons of mass destruction, largely used as the rationale for our invasion (though now we were really going in to help the Iraqi people, apparently as long as they don’t get picked up at random checkpoints or hold weddings in the desert with more than a couple army-age males in attendance). Both Chalabi and Cheney are said to be out of sorts over Chalabi’s exclusion from the new Iraqi Governing Council, mainly on the grounds that he was an American puppet and a conniving son of a bitch. There are accusations that he’s a spy for Iran, which wouldn’t be out of the question since he’s been doing deals with Iran for years, right up to the present day. Evidence was found in his headquarters indicating plans for a coup on the forthcoming council. But if Chalabi’s considered a threat, why did the raid not end with his arrest? He’s still walking about free, publishing a newspaper openly critical of members of the impending new government without US interference. (Bremer has been shutting down critical newspapers, without much mention of it here.) In fact, his newspaper has been trying to win Shi’ite hearts and minds by complaining about the exclusion of cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, our current Shi’ite public enemy #1 in Iraq, from the governing council. Given this and various other odd aspects, a question has to be asked: is Chalabi still Cheney’s man?

    There’s no doubt he was Cheney’s choice to head the new post-Saddam Iraq. Maybe he still is. In real terms the raid accomplished little except to establish Chalabi’s independence from the U.S.. Now he’s no longer our puppet. He’s a victim of American aggression himself, with a newspaper basically positioning him as the new voice for the Shi’ite majority (once al-Sadr is finally captured by American forces, that is). Here are possible futures for Chalabi in Iraq: 1) He’s arrested by American forces. 2) He’s arrested by Iraqi forces. 3) Somebody shoots him. 4) He rallies the Shi’ite majority and stages a coup on the nascent Iraqi government, putting himself or a surrogate in power. 5) He rallies the Shi’ite majority in a general election and places either himself or a surrogate in power. Which is most likely? They haven’t arrested him yet. He hasn’t been shot yet, in a country where shooting is now part of daily life. He isn’t known as a patient man. In the light of already revealed coup plans, choice #4 doesn’t seem far off the mark, and, should the new Iraqi government fail to specifically quell violence against American soldiers and control the population, a Chalabi coup “to save Iraq” seems pretty likely. Considering Negroponte’s strong connections to Cheney and Cheney’s strong connections with Chalabi, I’d be willing to bet American troops would be ordered to cooperate with a Chalabi regime to “restore order,” and Cheney would have the Iraqi government he really wanted all along.

    If there’s a Chalabi coup while Cheney’s still in office, that is.

    But if you can’t get to Iraq, don’t worry about it. Iraq will come to you. In case you haven’t noticed (and you probably haven’t, since it hasn’t been widely reported on), the Admin’s war on liberty here at home has been steadily proceeding, camouflaged by the madness overseas. The CIA and the Defense Department continue to hold thousands, Americans and foreigners, without charge or access to family or legal consultation. Airline passengers are targeted regularly for detention or denial of service, often based on nothing more than the spelling of a name. There’s no recourse to a court. Even if there is access to courts, prosecutors are now falling back regularly on “the Patriot Act” to deny defense attorneys access to witnesses, something attorney general John Ashcroft wants to “clarify” into the legal code. Ashcroft is arguing the ACLU is now prevented from commenting in public on any challenges to the Justice Department it may mount. The government has accrued to itself the right to gather information on any of us, and it’s against the law for us to know about what they’re gathering and how they’re getting it. And on, and on. The Administration is currently undertaking a rehabilitation of the Patriot Act, trotting it out against John Kerry, smearing his opposition to it (now… good one, John) as “unpatriotic,” ’cause, y’know, it’s got the word Patriot right there in the name! (And damn if that strategy hasn’t been playing well to Middle America.) The Justice Department continues to scream about the growing numbers of lawmakers who want to soften some of the more draconian aspects of the Act, and remember Patriot II, which the Justice Department denied it was even thinking about while quietly circulating it to sympathetic Congressmen? The DoJ just started trying to push it through Congress again, with one of its main provisions legalizing government surveillance of anyone for any reason, without any burden or proof or even suspicion (because, you know, there have been so many more terrorist attacks on American soil that we’ve been unable to stop) and imprison for five years anyone who revealed they’d been contacted by the government to supply information on anyone else.

    In the meantime, there’s the question of the upcoming election. You may recall some controversy over the ascension of the Hand Puppet, with supporters saying any questioning of the outcome is sour grapes, and much heckling of “the dangling chads.” But the chads were a smokescreen argument. The real fixing of the Florida vote started months early, with Florida’s passage of a law allowing the election commissioner to strike from the voting rolls criminals and others who shouldn’t be allowed to vote. Thousands had their right to vote stripped from them, often on the basis of their name, and, coincidentally, most were in minority neighborhoods that traditionally voted Democrat. That’s the real scandal of the 2000 Florida vote. Of course, many who were basically pillars of the community but were excluded sued. Many won. But they still haven’t been restored to the voting rolls. Now here’s the kicker: a voting reform bill recently passed by Congress requires all states to follow Florida’s lead, or risk losing their voting rights altogether. Add to that the growing scandal over computerized voting machines (and the Republican-run companies that control them), and it’s gearing up to be a critical election season in more ways than ever.

    Next week: some strategy advice for John Kerry, because any strategy is better than no strategy at all.

  • Normally, I’d pimp all my wares here, but once in awhile it just feels like enough is enough. I’m tired. If you’re really interested, go read the archives (there’s a link to them at the top of the page) or check back next week.

    See you next week in a brand new show.

    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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