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Issue #143

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Issue #143
  • Back when Marvel was publishing WHAT IF…? (the first time), I came up with a joke idea that nobody ever got: WHAT IF… STAN LEE HAD DRAWN THE FLASH? Even if they had, there was never a snowball’s chance in hell Marvel would ever have done the story, and that’s okay, it was never a story, just a joke. It was even okay they never got it. Nobody ever does. But here’s what happened: in the late ’70s, Stan Lee, who to that time had been the editorial head and main writer of Marvel Comics, became its publisher. About the same time, Carmine Infantino, who had previously mainly been known as the artist who co-resurrected The Flash in the mid-’50s and relaunched the superhero as a (the) comic book staple, and a key artist of the “new look” Batman of the ’60s that broke away from the traditional “Chester Gould-look” Bob Kane Batman (not that Kane ever drew all that much of it, but that was the myth, enforced by Kane’s signature on every splash page, and that traditional also ended with Carmine’s arrival, at least on Carmine’s work) became executive editor, then publisher, and finally president at DC Comics. Correspondingly, the same rough time period saw a dramatic rise of Marvel’s fortunes and an abrupt decline of DC’s, though that resulted from many factors (like Marvel’s break from the distribution company in bed with DC) and was really a culmination of a decade of slowly shifting fortunes. For those who don’t know, in 1961 DC was the undisputed king of the hill and Marvel’s publisher at the time, Martin Goodman, was on the verge of closing up shop altogether.

    Most of the shift can be laid at Stan’s doorstep (not to mention that of collaborators like Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko). Once unleashed by Goodman, Stan became a shameless and relentless self-promoter, identifying himself with Marvel and, for the first time, turning comics into what amounted to a spectator sport. (Of course, had Stan not produced or co-produced material that backed it up, it wouldn’t have mattered – something that seems to escape most of today’s shameless, relentless self-promoters.) DC editors and executives spent the ’60s snorting down their noses at this, touting Superman and Batman, patting themselves on the back over the company’s traditional market strength, comparing sales figures, and generally being blindsided. To all appearances, Carmine, reputedly a political animal even during his freelance days (Gil Kane used to tell me lovely stories of Carmine in their youth in Brooklyn), was perfectly happy to play that game, though his “regime” did see the first major influx of new talent (like Neal Adams, Howard Chaykin, Len Wein and Marv Wolfman, Mike Kaluta, and Walt Simonson) into DC since the mid-’40s. He brought in editor Dick Giordano and a slew of talents like Denny O’Neil and Jim Aparo from Charlton comics, “stole” Jack Kirby from Marvel (and then cancelled all his books out from under him, reputedly before sales figures ever came in), installed Joe Orlando and Joe Kubert as editors. Dozens of new titles were introduced on his watch. All the shake-ups accomplished pretty much nothing. Marvel rose, DC sank.

    Carmine, as I mentioned, drew The Flash. Stan turned Marvel into a powerhouse.

    So: what if Stan Lee had drawn The Flash? Would his flair for self-promotion have helped DC? How would the field have changed? There would’ve likely been no Marvel, for starters. There would likely have been few superheroes as well, aside from Superman and Batman and whatever camp followers like Green Arrow and Aquaman trailed at the backs of their books.

    Because Stan Lee can’t draw.

    Stan Lee filed a lawsuit against Marvel awhile back. Last week, Carmine Infantino filed suit against DC, and its current parent company, Time-Warner.

    The weird thing is that Carmine’s suing over rights to The Flash.

    On the surface, it seems spurious, a suit designed not to be tried but to squeeze a settlement out of the company. This wouldn’t be surprising. An awful lot of corporations find it easier and cheaper to pay money to make lawsuits go away than to defend them in court. It’s got its advantages. If serious issues are involved, it’s easier to put non-disclosure into a deal than to get a judge to seal court records. If you leave these things up to other people’s judgment – say, a judge or jury – you can never quite be sure what you’re going to get. Juries can be swayed by extralegal issues – a frail old man standing up for his rights against a monster corporation? – and judges can interpret the law, particularly in the grey areas. Settlements are often just safer.

    Of course, DC can wave the indisputable fact – and I’ve heard this over and over from fans lately too – that Carmine didn’t create The Flash! Created in 1939 by Gardner Fox and Harry Lampert, the Flash was around almost a decade before Carmine got anywhere near him – and that was the original Golden Age Flash, last drawn by Carmine four years before he drew the Silver Age Flash, the character in question. Seems like the sort of thing that would get thrown right out of court, and there are reasonably good odds that would happen. Depending on the judge.

    Because, looked at one way, this is a cut and dried case, which is to say no case. Looked at another, it’s nothing but grey areas, and quite possibly decades of shaky business practices may be coming back to bite the comics industry in the ass.

    Not that DC should be singled out. Even in the ’50s they were among the most scrupulous publishers out there. (Remember, though, that traditionally “scrupulous” and “publishers” weren’t often used in the same sentence.) But the suit casts a spotlight on DC at the time. The common wisdom among fans on the web seems to be that Carmine did the job work-for-hire and he has no rights in the character. But let’s go back to the ’50s, to see what a legal murk we’re possibly wading into.

    Remember, “work-for-hire” as a legal concept didn’t come into existence until 1977. But if you invoke “work-for-hire” as applicable, you open up all the aspects of the work-for-hire law, which includes: an “author” (which can mean either a writer or an artist) must specifically sign away his property rights in order for a company to claim them. In other words, a contract must exist specifying a work is being done work-for-hire, and this must be agreed on prior to commencement of work.

    The ’50s was an era when companies didn’t do contracts. Freelancers were hired with a handshake. Jobs were assigned, turned in, vouchered, paid. Companies actively discouraged freelancers from consulting lawyers and frequently refused to deal with any who did. Courts tend to view that kind of thing as harassment and intimidation, though no one has ever brought it up in court in conjunction with the comics business though I’m aware of.

    So what have we got?

    In an era when paperwork isn’t of prime importance, DC decides to take a go at resurrecting The Flash. Julie Schwartz, editor. Robert Kanigher, another DC editor who shared an office with Julie, writer. The only other two to have any idea how it all really went down. Both dead. So it’s Carmine’s word against the dead. Almost.

    We know how Julie Schwartz operated. Usually, before he brought artists into the mix, he’d sit down with his writer and they’d work out a story together. The writer would go write a script. Full script. Julie would commonly rewrite the script. The script would be given to the artist, who would be expected to follow it to the letter.

    It may not have quite worked that way in this case, which seems to have been a rush job. (Otherwise, why didn’t Julie have Gardner Fox, who created the original, was working at the time for him on other books, and wrote most of the subsequent Flash stories for years, write the “pilot,” instead of resorting to his office mate, who commonly didn’t do all that much work for Julie?) Kanigher’s version, preserved in an interview, was that he told Infantino to go home and design The Flash as he was writing the script. In his version, his only instructions were that Carmine should make the character not look anything like the original. Like I said, Kanigher was on staff at DC (Carmine wasn’t; he was a freelancer at the time), but he wasn’t working in an editorial capacity on The Flash. Taken at face value, this could be interpreted that Carmine, when he designed the SA Flash, was not working under editorial direction. He apparently designed the character – both the trademark costume and the Barry Allen identity – without editorial supervision or input. In Carmine’s version of the story, he brought his designs in, they were accepted, on with the show.

    Aside from the order that it was to be an entirely new character.

    Carmine’s sleek red and yellow design became the character’s trademark, in a legal sense: the distinguishing identifiable elements. Despite the names, there is no way to put the Carmine Infantino Flash next to the Harry Lampert Flash and confuse them. They’re totally distinguishable characters. This is very different from, say, John Byrne’s revamp of Superman, which is visually indistinguishable from any version that went before. Furthermore, every version of The Flash since has been significantly based on Carmine’s version or on his design for Kid Flash.

    So it’s as much a trademark issue as a copyright issue. Maybe the question isn’t so much “who owns The Flash?” as “who owns the trademark to The Flash?” And what exactly did Carmine sign away to the company? On paper, it appears nothing, meaning DC has to fall back on the concept of “commonly understood standard business practices.” He claims he only gave them permission to use his designs in comic books, and subsequent use in media, advertising, etc., were not permitted and he was never recompensed for them. Which brings us back to a judge or jury interpretation.

    Like I said, it’s hard to see Carmine actually winning this case in court. (He also wants credit for the new look Batman, which varied from the earlier version only by being more realistically drawn and having a yellow ellipse around the Bat-symbol on his chest, which I’d always heard was a publisher imperative to guarantee the trademark, and Batgirl, who had an original design but one substantially based on Batman, though he has somewhat more claim to Kid Flash, the Elongated Man, and Deadman.) If nothing else, Time-Warner’s lawyers could bury him in legal costs and tie him up for years. But, like I said, the case exposes a long history of shaky business practices in the industry, and it’s hard to say how a court would view them. No creator lawsuit against a comics publisher has yet generated a major, expansive precedent, but almost all of them have created little precedents, and, at some point, these little precedents will overlap each other and trigger something major. Every case gives every subsequent one, even Stan’s, even Carmine’s, at being The Big One.

    With much vaster implications for the industry, the other question raised by this suit is: to what extent does a complete and total redesign of an existing property become a new property? That’s a question DC and other companies probably don’t want answered, unless they can guarantee it falls in their favor, and, since they can’t, it’s probably one they don’t really want asked. Gil Kane, remember, also created a totally new design for Green Lantern, and, if what he told me is true, he created the Silver Age Atom by himself and took the idea to Julie Schwartz, who, with the success of Flash, Green Lantern and Justice League Of America, was looking for more ’40s heroes to revamp. If Carmine even manages to lay claim to the trademarks, rather than the entirety of the property rights to the Silver Age Flash and his other characters, all hell breaks loose.

  • Sometimes you’re in it for the long haul in comics whether you want to be or not. Around ’94 – ten years ago – Gil Kane and I created EDGE, sort of an anti-superhero intended to be more or less our last word on the subject, for the fledgling Bravura line at Malibu comics. (It was their creator-owned line, with even the line name owned by the creators in general and Walt Simonson in particular.) Similar to what Jim Starlin planned with ‘BREED for the same line, we’d originally planned three four issue mini-series that, together, would be the whole story, giving us plenty of time to flesh out the premise (revolving around society affected by the superbeings suddenly appearing in its midst, and the man out to stop them though they appeared like heroes to all the world, and certainly by most interpretations were) and build to a rousing conclusion, while exploring (and, hopefully, undermining) the limitations of the genre and the true nature of “superheroics.” As it turned out, we only saw three issues published. The fourth, the climax to the first arc but in no way the climax to the series, was finished but never saw print.

    And not for lack of trying. I approached several publishers to run the last issue, but this was the problem: no one wanted to reprint the first three issues (which came out right as the market was collapsing and racked up not bad but not stunning sales) and no one wanted to publish the fourth issue on its own. (It also didn’t help that the ending in #4 isn’t a traditional superhero story ending.) Things weren’t helped by publishers taking the Xeroxes for #4 for consideration, then never giving them back and never getting in touch to even say either yes or no. (Slave Labor Graphics, I’m looking at you.) Then someone showed up claiming prior rights to the trademark “Edge” and threatening to sue us over it, and, considering the amount of revenue it wasn’t bringing in and the growing likelihood it wouldn’t, it just wasn’t worth our while to fight about it. When we signed off on that deal, we pretty much signed off on any revival of the series. In theory.

    There were other problems, the most severe being Gil’s death. I’d think no one even cared about EDGE anymore if I didn’t get three or four e-mails a week asking if the fourth issue will ever be made available. There was one guy who had the notion of somehow using Edge to cash in on the resurrection of Marvel, on the basis that Marvel had bought Malibu and Malibu had published the book. That pretty much shattered when I told him Bravura wasn’t part of the assets Marvel bought, that they couldn’t be said to have ever had anything to do with EDGE even by inference.

    Marvel was a problem. THE ULTIMATES was a problem.

    Our superhero group in EDGE was named The Ultimates. Had it been done, we were going to call the second arc THE ULTIMATES. Marvel introduces ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN and I’m mildly amused. They introduce ULTIMATE X-MEN and I’m mildly amused. They announce ULTIMATE AVENGERS, and I’m mildly amused – until it’s announced they’re just going to call it THE ULTIMATES.

    Understand, I could’ve theoretically made a claim on the name (unfortunately, Gil had passed on by then) since we used it first, but this gets into another murky area and going after Marvel would cost a lot more in legal bills than it would’ve been worth to me. I did consider pumping out my own ULTIMATES comic in advance of Marvel’s – it’s not like I didn’t have some claim to the name – and even approached some publishers about it. Might’ve happened, too, if not for the glacial pace the business moves at these days. One publisher finally did come back to me with great interest – about four months after Marvel started publishing their own book. Enterprises of great pith and moment turn awry and lose the name of action. It was time to pack it in and forget about it, so I did.

    I still haven’t read THE ULTIMATES, though, just out of spite.

    Then, just like that, things changed.

    About eight months ago I get an e-mail out of the blue from Byron Preiss. A real entrepreneur, Byron was one of the pioneers of graphic novel publishing in the ’70s, when he gave Howard Chaykin his first real shots at glory via adaptations of Alfred Bester’s sf classic THE STARS MY DESTINATION and a new Samuel Delany novel, EMPIRE. If you haven’t seen them, they rocked. They still rock. I’ve never had much to do with Byron. Nothing personal, not a choice, just the way things worked out. I did some non-comics work for the company he had in the ’90s. I’ve never met him that I recall. He’s got a company called IBooks now. They’ve been quietly putting out a fairly impressive line of graphic novels, by the likes of Joe Kubert, Richard Corben, Moebius, Alex Ross, etc.

    And Byron says they’d like to repackage EDGE as a graphic novel. If the concluding issue exists.

    But.

    There are conditions.

    He doesn’t want it called EDGE. I don’t know why. I never asked. Since we’d signed off on the settlement, we couldn’t call it that anyway. He suggested THE LAST HEROES. Which actually fit the long term. I didn’t have a problem with it.

    And he wanted to continue the series past Gil’s four issues, in new graphic novels rather than miniseries, with a new artist, hopefully one who wouldn’t imitate Gil but who could capture his strengths. If I had any other story ideas for it. If such an artist can be found.

    There are moments in this business when all you want is to beat people over the head with a stick. A lot of those moments. There are considerably fewer moments when everything seems to come together, when all the breath flows out of you and all the strength leaves your arms and you just sit there like a ragdoll, agog at how things can fall so neatly into place when you weren’t even waiting for it.

    Those are the moments I remember there’s a long haul. We live so much in the short haul in comics, from check to check, little project to little project, and the short haul is often so frustrating and disappointing it’s easy to forget the long haul, when often the long haul’s what’s really worth it.

    Ten years, and this summer – I know it’s being solicited this month – the first arc finally wraps up. Beyond that, I wasn’t planning to go to San Diego this year, but now Byron wants me there for the unveiling enough to underwrite the trip. I can’t remember the last time someone paid for me to go to a convention.

    It doesn’t feel like dreaming, but it does feel like falling down the rabbit hole.

  • Catching up on a couple week’s worth of mail:

    “‘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.’

    But isn’t that really just an extension of “Proportion”, or good artistic technique? A level of quality that allows it to be real, a level of consistency that makes it so?

    And, arguably, isn’t “Storytelling” – since the Artist is illustrating the action, not (technically) writing the underlying story – simply a technical ability to provide emotional hooks in the visuals to draw you in? Having provided you with a world that is real, they then have to give you a reason to come in and look around. (With “Dynamics” then being the ability to make you want to stay, and live for a time in the world that they have created and sucked you in to.)

    Maybe there aren’t three “Comic Book Particles”, but merely two, Technique (physical) and Storytelling (emotional). But I think that your original three were probably better, and “Immediacy” is not one of the particles that makes a good work, it is the combination of those base particles into Comic Book Gold, to beat the alchemical metaphor some more. Immediacy is that visceral reaction to the work you have mentioned before, or Morrison’s “Comics are the new Drugs”. The creation and presentation of a world so… there that “You Must Read This Comic!”

    Or we shoot that cute dog on the cover.”

    To some extent, I can go along with all that. Except ‘good artistic technique’ is what we generally call craft. That’s technical ability. A lot of people have technical ability, a lot of them know how to do things. But there’s a difference between knowing how to draw, and even drawing well, and pushing that to an intangible connection between the reader and what’s on the page. That’s really difficult, even if you understand the elements and how they work and work together. Doing that, managing to get that intangible across, is what, in this business at least, we commonly call artistry, and it’s not even remotely mere craft or even the culmination of craft, though it’s very difficult to attain without some mastery of craft. There’s plenty of art in comics, considerably less artistry.

    “If the U.S. is going to offer to destroy and replace one of “Saddam’s” torture houses, shouldn’t they do the same for all of them? (I am assuming that Saddam used more than one prison for this purpose.) Because, if they are only interested in razing Abu Ghraib, wouldn’t that mean that they really just want to (attempt to) erase a stain on the U.S.? I think that this is obviously the case.

    The idea of destroying all of Saddam’s prisons used for torture was one that I initially (upon reading about it) supported. A quick conversation with members of my family quickly turned me around. I have to preface this by letting you know that my grandparents are Holocaust survivors (or “fabricators,” if you believe the words of Papa Gibson and others). Three years ago, I visited the Dachau concentration camp in Germany (it is near Munich). From what I can tell, the only reason why these camps still exist is to serve as a reminder of the depths of what people will do to other people, in the hope that such a thing will never be constructed again. So we have Abu Ghraib, and countless other prisons throughout Iraq, where there is little doubt that crimes against humanity took place. Ultimately, it is the role of the victims of places such as these to determine their outcome, but if the decision were up to me, I would never destroy them. They serve as a symbol of despicable acts, acts that should always be remembered. If we choose to forget the hardships that we had to endure to one day attain freedom, how valuable can that freedom be (how do you define good without evil)? I guess that Bush’s offer is now just one more item to be added to the list of things that I disagree with.”

    No arguments with that here…

    “I’ve been a professional illustrator and graphic designer for almost ten years. Originally from Holland, I have been living in L.A. for almost 2 years now as a struggling freelancer in Dubya’s lovable economy. I’ve been an avid comic fan for about 25 years and I’m visiting the Comicon this year. In Holland, becoming a comic artist was pretty much out (comics there are mostly translated foreign ones or ‘funny-cartoony’ if actually Dutch) so I’ve never professionally pursued it. Now, however, I want to give it a serious try.

    I guess I mean to say I’m not a 16 year old kid with 3 Spider-Man sketches on notepad paper with stars in his eyes. I’m sure there are many. I understand things in terms of work, business and professionalism. I also understand the current state of the market and that my chances may well not be bigger than said kid. The many points you and the commenting editors make are greatly appreciated, but if you have a minute to spare (that one probably made you chuckle already) I hope you can share some more advice on a few other points that may be of interest to me and many others like me:

    1: 5-6 pages of sequential art, telling a single story. That is simple and clear. However, as someone in your column of last week suggested, I would also like to add some covers-in the form of both lavish pin ups and dramatic, intriguing scenes. But I wonder, is the cover artist niche by now even more oversaturated than the page penciller’s and should I not even bother? Let alone only trying out for cover artist?”

    You probably don’t need any more than one or two three page sequences. A good editor will be able to tell what they need to know from that. There’s always room for another good cover artist.

    “2: If covers are still worth showing, another question: My covers are highly detailed pencil drawings, which I then scan and digitally paint in Photoshop, making the finished piece a digital file. Since I doubt editors have their laptops with them, I plan to print them out. Is 8×10 big enough for that or should they be bigger? And should I add the original pencil piece to that, or would that be redundant?”

    I’m not sure the size of the sample matters as long as it’s not smaller than published comics size and can be folded for easy transport is bigger than 8.5″x11″. Don’t attach original art to samples packs unless you don’t care if you ever see it again. There should be original pages in your portfolio to show editors, though.

    “3: You mention business cards as a viable alternative for writers. A person in the T-shirt business once advised me to create a business card at postcard size and have all my info on there together with some art. Basically creating a small sample-flyer. Would that be a good idea here? And is it done to hand those out outside of the portfolio setting?”

    I don’t see any problem with handing out postcards instead of business cards. It’s a bit unorthodox, but not enough to matter. As mentioned in the article a few weeks back, generally don’t give your business card to anyone who doesn’t ask for it. If they want it, they’ll let you know, and if they like your work enough they’ll want it.

    “4: Much like sending in submissions adapted to a specific company, is it a good idea to create several mini-portfolios for a con? Showing Dark Horse a (partially) different one than Marvel? It does give an opportunity to adapt to different editors’ needs.”

    It won’t hurt, but it’s probably not necessary. It’s been a long time since editors at any given company would only look at samples specifically aimed at that company.

    “5: Seeing the state of the market, do editors actually still look for talent at cons or are they just being courteous to fans now? Or do only people with revolutionary new styles (new Sienkiewiczes) still have a shot?”

    No, editors are still looking. There’s never enough great talent available. But great’s the key word. It pays to either be great or very, very lucky.

    “Though chances are slim at best, as we say in Holland: ‘No’ you’ve already got. ‘Yes’ you can still get.”

    I always liked the Dutch…

    “I read this week’s installment and took interest in your comments on the GUNDAM SEED anime. I found it interesting and somewhat confusing that you likened it unto an inferior knockoff of GUNDAM WING. I’m not positive, but perhaps this is due to a overall lack of familiarity with the Gundam franchise as a whole. I certainly couldn’t blame you for that, as its twenty five years of various timelines may seem impenetrable to the casual observer.

    The MOBILE SUIT GUNDAM franchise began in 1979 when Yoshiyuki Tomino wanted to break from the then-current Japanese tradition of the god or super robot, and portray giant robots as a futuristic weapon of war in a manner that was more realistic. The first series (simply MOBILE SUIT GUNDAM) told the tale of civilians caught up in a civil war between the Earth Federation and the Zeon Archduchy – refugees of a neutral colony attacked by Zeon operative who are forced to take up positions on an experimental ship carrying experimental Mobile Suits in order to survive, constantly on the run from pursuing Zeon forces, left to fend for themselves by the largely unsupportive Earth Federation who is using them as a distraction. The initial conflict of what is known as the One Year War ended in that series, but the story of the involved characters (most notably Gundam pilot Amuro Rey and metal masked Zeon pilot Char Aznable) and related events carried on for years through several more TV series (Zeta Gundam and ZZ Gundam) as well as various direct to video series and films. These works (4 TV series, 5 movies, 3 or 4 video series at final count) make up what is known as the Universal Century (UC) timeline, named after the calendar in use in the Gundam Universe.

    In more recent years, the UC timeline has largely been abandoned in favor of a new independent Gundam series every few years, each taking place in it’s own ‘universe’ or timeline. G-GUNDAM, GUNDAM-X, GUNDAM WING, TURN-A GUNDAM, and most recently GUNDAM SEED. They have had largely mixed response, but the two biggest successes, and therefore most well known stateside, have been WING and SEED.

    When WING was made, it bore a few resemblances to the UC Gundam, but the story was incredibly different, focusing not on refugees of a space colony attack forced into war, but five special operatives each with their own one-of-a-kind mobile suit sent to Earth to wage their own private war on the domineering Earth Federation.

    In contrast, if SEED should be called a knock-off of anything, it’s the original UC Gundam which it shares far more with in terms of plot points and themes. It’s openly billed by the involved creators as an updating of the original UC Gundam material. Whatever similairity it bears to WING is due to what WING likewise drew from the UC Gundam storyline. A good number of fans found SEED, after all was said and done, to be superior to WING, which many feel started falling apart about 3 episodes in. That is, of course, a very subjective thing and not one universally held by any means.”

    Thanks very much for the history. From a dilettante’s perspective, though, the characters and situations in GUNDAM WING are more interesting that those in GUNDAM SEED and the animation style more appealing. But it’s not like it matters that much to me one way or the other. If push comes to shove on spacefaring anime, I’ll take COWBOY BEBOP

    “Like Jazz superhero stories are a uniquely American art form. The first widely accepted and successful commercial American novel was The Last of the Mohicans. It is essentially a superhero story. In many ways, that book set the tone for what popular American literature and movies would become over the next 150 years or so (i.e. the lonely ranger protecting frontiers people from the dangers of the American West and other tales of strong men saving societies from which they are socially segregated). These stories appeal uniquely to Americans because we revere the prowess of the individual and disdain the social safety net. Examples exist in American history that have grown through the telling: Davy Crockett killed a bear when he was three; this is the origin story of a superhero.

    Why don’t companies like Dark Planet sell their stories on the Internet via downloadable PDF file which I can print at home? My local comic shop doesn’t carry their stuff, and I really don’t want to make the commitment of pre-ordering. I like to buy comics on impulse, and I think that they ought to aid me in this.”

    That’s certainly something comics companies should pursue, in theory, but so far there’s really no business model for selling comics via .pdf file online. Should someone have any success with one, you can bet they’ll all be doing it overnight.

  • The Democrats are still fielding a Presidential candidate this year, aren’t they? If so many people weren’t bitching about the Hand Puppet these days, it’d be hard to remember there’s even a campaign going on. Where’s John Kerry been? What’s he doing? When was the last time he was even mentioned in a newspaper, let alone the network news?

    Not that his absence has hurt him much, though it hasn’t helped either. The Hand Puppet’s campaign managers have launched a series of ads sternly tsking Kerry for apparently contradictory (or politically convenient) stances on various issues, and all those ads haven’t twitched the polls even vaguely. The Iraq situation, continuing doubts about the economy (claimed to be growing stronger, though everyone I know in Europe who does work for American companies complains about how strong the Euro has grown against the dollar, even if European companies aren’t), increasing criticism of the Hand Puppet’s programs and continuing little revelations about administration malfeasance and stupidity have apparently undercut any gains the ads might have had. I imagine Kerry’s preserving his war chest, saving his own adds for after the Republican convention. (You may recall the brouhaha a few weeks back about Kerry considering not accepting the nomination until the Hand Puppet accepted his, on the ground that once he accepts all kinds of limits apply to how much he can spend, giving the Republicans a month long spending advantage.)

    The Hand Puppet’s most recent Kerry attack ads have been of a curiously singular nature. Kerry voted for the war in Iraq. Now he wants it stopped. He voted for the “No Child Left Behind” act intended to “reform” education in America. Now he wants it replaced. He supported The Patriot Act (and you know that one’s good ’cause it’s got the word Patriot right in there!) and now he wants portions of it repealed.

    Dang, that man’s wishy-washy, ain’t he?

    Kerry has so far not “answered” any of these ads that I’m aware of, which is almost unreasonably smart for a Democrat. Democrats have so traditionally jumped at bait that Republicans don’t even bother going for good stuff anymore. The fact is anyone on the defensive looks weak, so it has become common strategy to Keep The Other Guy On The Defensive. Among Republicans, that is. Democrats, always eager to claim “the high ground so they can at least claim, as Gorilla Monsoon used to put it, “the moral victory, have never quite figured that out. Well, James Carvell figured it out, but he’s got a Republican for a wife. In 2000, Al Gore had bigger problems than defensiveness, but being on the defensive (particularly about “guilt by association” with the heinous Clinton, which he was never going to escape anyway because he was Clinton’s vice president) didn’t help – and he still won the popular vote.

    Thing is, these recent attack ads on Kerry present him with a real opportunity to put across a difference between the Hand Puppet and himself that preys on the growing perception of the President. The question is whether he’ll use it.

    Take the “No Child Left Behind” ad. The program is a disaster. Intended to “force” schools to a new educational standards (which, if missed, would end federal funding to those schools) but not financing any way for them to achieve such goals, it has resulted not in better education but in a new emphasis in the robotic prattling of data, as schools shift emphasis from appropriate curriculums to passing standardized tests in large enough numbers to please the Feds. Teachers, watching their students grow increasingly bored as they recite and playback rote, are on the verge of rioting. Several states have pulled out of the program altogether.

    The Patriot Act was touted as a means to arm America better against terrorists, and it was pushed through in a superheated moment when everyone was looking to make a stand. That it was the wrong stand, rife with elements that drastically undercut the Constitution and sowing the seeds of a police state, is not only the opinion of increasing numbers of editorials, but of increasing numbers of courts, which are slowly striking down section after section of it, while there’s as yet no evidence whatsoever that it (or the vast new sections of government it created) has made us one iota safer from terrorism. Numbers of Congressmen of both parties are calling for repealing aspects of The Patriot Act, even as the administration is trying to push the even more heinous “Patriot II” through Congress.

    As for the War In Iraq, the lies that generated support for it, and the bloody muddle of the current situation, probably no reminder is needed.

    This administration is littered with failed, debased programs that were pushed through as “major reforms.” The supposed act to reform senior care turned into a handout to drug companies and HMOs, with seniors worse under the provisions (and paying more for Medicare etc.) than ever before. Seniors are getting increasingly hostile about it, despite AARP’s management supporting the bill, something that threatens to decimate AARP’s ranks. Even Cubans, traditionally strong supports of Republican presidents, are at odds with the current administration, hardcore anti-Castro Cubans furious that he’d orchestrate a mission to Iraq to depose a dictator but leave Castro untouched, and not so hardcore Cubans upset that, to please the hardcore, the Hand Puppet closed off travel to Cuba, leaving many of them once again unable to see their families back on the island.

    What can Kerry say to the ads? Never mind responding to them individually or defending his record on specific issues. All he has to say is this: “I don’t believe there’s room for partisan politics in Washington. I really believe we’re all here to get things done. For the people. And when your president comes to you with a plan to get things done, and it looks good on paper, you give him the benefit of the doubt. But things that look good on paper don’t always work in real life. When policies don’t work, when they start hurting people, those policies have to change. Because we’re not here to hurt people, and no policy is more important than the people we serve. Which would you rather have? A president who refuses to change his mind once it’s made up? Or a president who can learn and adapt to the times?”

    Or maybe they want to somehow condense that to a simpler soundbite. But if I were John Kerry’s advisor, I’d say this: the administration is trying to paint you as a man who changes his viewpoint. Turn that into a strength. Paint yourself as a man who thinks on his feet, who can quickly alter strategy and policy to adapt to rapidly changing circumstances instead of doggedly clinging to failure. And paint the Hand Puppet as not that.

  • JOHNNY RAYGUN QUARTERLY #2 (Jet Pack Press; $2.95) is sort of a guilty pleasure. An unabashed knockoff of Kirby’s ’60s Marvel comics by Rick Woodall and Matt Talbot, it’s a self-aware, silly, decently drawn collection of comics clichés, in a stew of fratboy humor and ridiculous situations. “ENTER… THE FRIENDS OF EVIL!” I can’t say it any better than that. By my standards I should hate this book, but it’s not exactly a parody – it’s more a loving, tongue-in-cheek homage – and it’s strangely entertaining. Fun. It’s fun.

    RUULE VOL 2: KISS AND TELL #1 (Beckett Comics; 99¢) is a shift from their first series in a few ways. The sci-fi mysticism and post-holocaust setting have given way to a straightforward crime story, involving a tough private detective protecting his territory against encroaching mobsters but growing more intertwined with them as disaster looms in the form of a woman, set in an indeterminate present. (It could be the ’30s, for all the contextual evidence of timeframe.) It’s pretty good, if underwritten. In Jeff Amano’s hands, the pretty good story pumps breathlessly along but the players are more types that characters, though he at least leaves the promise of fleshing them out in subsequent episodes. Craig Rousseau’s art (with nice coloring by Giulia Brusco and the typically good Beckett Comics production values) more than gloss over Amano’s flaws, though. It’s a really nice package, made more appealing by the 99¢ introductory price (which I notice they’re also offering on other books). It’s a good deal.

    Not such a good deal is LUCIFER FAWKES: ORCUS EX MACHINA (Rorschach Entertainment; $3.50), an ambitious flub by Ulf Inwiehe & Ryan Sargeant. Both have potential, but the story – a postsuperhero mini-epic involving a “technosorcerer” attempting to invoke a demon on behalf of mysterious masters and grizzled, worn magical superhero who confronts him. The conclusion disintegrates into a typical “twist” punchline, all suggestions of revelation dripping through the rest of it evaporates, and the characters never get interesting enough to be interesting while they spout lots of “cutting edge” babble. For some reason, the whole time I was reading this I was thinking of THE MONARCHY

    I don’t know how I missed Stuart Moore and Ryan Kelly’s GIANT ROBOT WARRIORS (AiT/PlanetLar Books; $12.95), an original graphic novel that came out last December. Maybe Larry, knowing my general antipathy to giant robot stories, decided not to send it to me. Or maybe he figured Kelly’s art, which is at some points cramped and ugly and at others full of the inspired madness characterized by John McCrea’s work in HITMAN, wouldn’t appeal to me. (Kelly’s work grows on you.) But Stuart has written a very funny political satire, inflected after the fact by the events of 9-11 and its implications for America. Stuart Moore’s turning into one of the best comics writers in America. Buy this.

  • A few notes:

    Xeric foundation winner Gai-Bao Tran has started his own website.

    Those interested in ordering THE LAST HEROES should consult June’s PREVIEWS catalog. I’ll try to have all the ordering info next week. By the way, I’d like to thank Gary Groth, Tom Spurgeon and Dirk Deppey (and anyone else at Fantagraphics involved) for their help in putting THE LAST HEROES together.

    Not sure what my San Diego schedule will be like yet. I’ll let you know.

    Finished the new ROBOCOP mini for Avatar a couple weeks ago, plus a Robo-short story, though I’m not sure what the venue is. Some dark and vivid projects on the horizon over there for the end of this week. In the meantime:

    Speaking of Avatar, I’m told they’re resoliciting the entire run of MY FLESH IS COOL this month. If you missed it the first time out, take this chance to bug your retailer for it. Among a slew of hot reviews, my favorites were from COMICS INTERNATIONAL, which had this to say:

    MY FLESH IS COOL 1

    by Grant and Fiumara

    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. 8 [of 10]

    MY FLESH IS COOL 2

    Evan Knox comes round to discover his worst fears have been realised. The drug ‘go’ is being sold on the street, and society is crumbling across America. Steven Grant’s story takes a bold leap here: from a ‘cool’ thriller with the wish-fulfillment fantasy of taking over other people’s bodies, we’ve moved on to the nightmare scenario where the hero’s powers are no longer unique. What was gritty is now apocalyptic. 8

    MY FLESH IS COOL 3

    This excellent miniseries concludes in the same vein of nudity and violence established in parts one and two, with the outcome decided by a competition to see who’s the most ruthless son of a bitch. Even given the desperate and grotesque situation readers have seen unfold, the final episode still holds some shocks and surprises. 8

    Do I really have to tell you to order it? (Sorry about the hardcore hype, but if I don’t do it, who’s going to?)

    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.

    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.

    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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