Issue #152

Take ratings for comics, for example. Recently the call for that went up again in a retailers' forum from admittedly well-meaning people who claim it's the best way to protect retailers from malicious prosecution by overzealous district attorneys looking to score cheap points. Never mind that most prosecutions have occurred because labels allowed cops and DAs to zero in on "material harmful to children" and the actual availability of that material to children never really enters the equation. (Just ask Jesus Castillo, who was arrested for selling an adult comic to an adult.) Never mind that ratings without an expensive promotion campaign to tell everyone – and by that I mean everyone, not just comics readers – what the ratings mean are meaningless to anyone. (And you can't just crib the MPAA's rating system. They've got those trademarked. They'll sue.) Never mind that the MPAA's ratings system has distorted filmmaking, and if we don't notice it now it's because we've been with it so long now that almost everyone autodistorts their ideas going in, usually to ensure their films will be PG-13, the most profitable rating, so studios will be more inclined to make them. You don't think that's coincidence, do you?

To their credit, most of the retailers shot down the idea, preferring to cope with the problems in their own way. Let's face it, comics shop prosecutions aren't a particularly big business for district attorneys (unless you live in, oh, Arkansas or North Texas), who have just as often as not faced public ridicule for going after such weak and often politically motivated targets. And there are better ways than ratings to deal with it. Ask Kurt Busiek about it sometime. He has an approach based on marketing that's amazingly sensible, developed while he worked in Marvel's marketing department and evolved in the years since. Maybe I'll interview him about it one of these days.

Then there was Michael Chabon's keynote speech at San Diego.

Now Chabon is a smart guy and a good writer, and when he called for "more kids for comics" (thanks to Heidi Macdonald's blog The Beat for pointing to a pro-heavy Millarworld discussion of it) on the surface it sounds like a great idea. Hell, I'm in favor of more comics for kids. It's not exactly an original idea, and it always sounds like a great place for activism. The general argument – not that Michael makes it, but most people who start on a children's crusade have this in mind – is that the business went into the doldrums because we stopped creating comics aimed at kids, so kids stopped buying comics, so now nobody's buying comics because they didn't get into the habit while they were young. As I said, I'm building a bit of a paper tiger here because Michael Chabon didn't argue this. This is the standard argument. It's also deadheaded wrong.

To some extent, it's a chicken-and-egg type of thing. Did comics become more "adult" because kids stopped reading them, or did kids stop reading them because they became more adult? It's hard to argue that, say, DC Comics' 60 million years worth of continuity is just too convoluted for a kid to get into when millions of kids have learned all the names, mutations, powers, attack points etc. of some 300+ POKEMON (not to mention the extended continuity of dozens of characters populating that series) and hundreds of YU-GI-OH duel monsters, trap cards and magic cards. The lesson (which many boards of education also seem to miss): if it's interesting enough to them, they'll learn it.

Conclusion: DC Comics' continuity isn't too convoluted. It's just too dull.

But here's the problem: in America, kids comics aren't for kids. They're for parents.

Follow the logic here. Kids will follow what they're interested in. Kids obviously don't find what's being produced in modern comics interesting. (Neither do the vast number of adults, apparently, specifically the vast number of adults who used to read comics even as adults and have stopped.) In order to get kids interested in comics, comics have to be produced that address what kids want. But kids comics can't produce what kids want, because they have to take parents into consideration, and in the last 50 years or so (stretching at least as far back as Fredrick Wertham's SEDUCTION OF THE INNOCENT, which really is a textbook example) there has been a profitable industry in this country for Protecting Children, and that's come to mean protecting them not just against physical threat but against Bad Ideas.

And "bad ideas" have come to be defined as "ideas their parents don't like."

What do kids want, anyway?

We maintain this delusion that childhood, even the best childhood, is some idyllic paradise that should be defended as long as possible. A lot of parents, understandably, see it that way, because they have to work and fret and make sure the bills get paid and there's food on the table and all their kids have to do is play and watch TV and get their schoolwork done and eat the food and sleep. But that's not how kids see the world. Kids see the world as a place where other people get to tell them what to do, and they don't have much choice but to do it. Where parents control them part of the day, and teachers control them the other part of the day, and the rest of the time they're subject to various social controls from schoolyard bullies to the multitude of fears broadcast on the evening news every day to the stresses on their parents that invariably ricochet onto them. Kids are innately smart. They know what's going on even if they don't specifically know. They often learn early on not to let it show because that just increases the stress on their parents. So what do kids want?

Kids want to be adults. Maybe not in the "go to work, pay the bills, put food on the table" sense, but for kids being an adult means you get to make your own decisions and nobody gets to boss you around. What kids want is something that makes them feel a little more empowered now, that gives them the sense they have a little more control over their world. Comics folk are always raving on about how kids spend their money on nothing but videogames, but that's the whole appeal of videogames. By proxy, they're a way to get a grip on the world. Videogames allow the kid to function, symbolically, as the adult, and, furthermore, to face and defeat challenges. Videogames are the vaguely disreputable world all their own that comics used to be.

But adults don't want kids to be adults.

Kids want entertainment, including but not exclusive to comics, that – damn, I hate using this word, but it's the only one that fits – empower them in some way, because power (in the most innocuous sense of the word; no one's talking about world domination) is what they don't feel they have. Many parents don't want their kids empowered, except in "authorized" ways (meaning ways that don't challenge the parents or their own power).

Think back to the '40s. While most publishers weren't going to go out of their way to print anything that might get them arrested, comics weren't done with parents in mind. Parents hated comics. Kids loved them. They were crude, audacious, always opening some world the kid wasn't otherwise privy to. They were often vaguely more scandalous than other media (of which there was much less) kids were exposed to. They were escape in the best meaning of the word "escapism," a means for kids to escape, at least in their minds, their own powerlessness in the world. But back in the '40s, for the most part, comics weren't being done specifically for kids, or for anyone else (aside from little experiments like Charles Biro's failed magazine TOPS). They weren't not being done for kids either. They were just being done.

The introduction of the Comics Code just gutted all that. The Comics Code wasn't introduced to make comics safe for kids, but to make comics safe for parents. And to make the world safe for Archie Comics. It wasn't kids who had a problem with WEIRD SCIENCE or CRIME DOES NOT PAY.

From the moment that comics were made safe for adults, they stopped being a serious kids' medium. In order for a kids' comic to succeed, it has to contain at least some level of subversion that will likely make it unpalatable to the parent. Manga has that level, at least in Japan. In a culture that traditionally enforces the need to sacrifice one's own desires to the needs of the family or of society, and to still follow fairly rigid behavioral codes, even POKEMON, whose young hero leaves family and home behind to become the best at what he has chosen to do, has a subversive element. And even though we don't have anywhere near that rigid a social structure here (or, at least, not in the same way), that's at least part of the show's appeal here.

Michael didn't call for a total return to kids' comics or anything like that. I doubt kids' comics will ever be the driving force of the comics industry again in any case. He called for great kids' comics, and, sure, I'd love to see them too. But we won't. Unless there's a publisher out there who's willing to stand up to the barrage of parental/watchdog group pressure a really successful great kids' comic (by which I mean one that serves the purposes of kids, not adults) will inevitably call down.

It's not impossible. There are a few exceptions already, namely Bongo Comics' THE SIMPSONS (and related spinoffs), which sell fairly well and certainly have their subversive streak, and get away with it largely by being about cuddly TV icons who've been around so long and are now so ingrained into the culture that most parents are comfortable with the fart jokes and pretty much forget it was ever a subversive show (which has grown considerably less subversive over the years, aside from occasional spurts, by dint of the repetition that has set in... but at least they're still in there trying). (By contrast, a SIMPSONS Sunday newspaper strip a few years ago was killed because content kept offending readers and editors, despite being considerably tamer in most cases than the TV version.) And there's the part about marketing comics to kids, instead of to the Internet comics shop audience, and, given the current financial structure of the business, that's not likely to happen either.

As with filmmakers and MPAA ratings, we've become culturally accustomed to creating for parents, not for kids. At this point that's going to be hard to shake off because it's not just a habit, it's a survival technique.

But the current "wisdom" is that comics abandoned kids in the '70s and '80s to focus on a maturing market. They wouldn't have done that if a kids' market was still there at the time. We wouldn't be having this discussion now if the '70s/'80s market were still here now. The fact is we have a huge potential market out there of people who used to read comics, and a lot of them are being brought back in now via graphic novels and trade paperbacks. And they're the parents now. Want to get kids reading comics again? Expose them to comics. Get their parents reading comics again, they'll get used to having comics around, and then great comics aimed at kids might stand a chance, because they'll start seeking them out on their own.

And we have to stop this fixation on getting kids reading comics early if we're going to win them over. Any age someone starts reading comics is the right age.

I'm already loaded up with heads for the moment, so hold off on sending any more, okay? I'll let you know when the supplies dwindling. Thanks, and thanks to Patrick.

if you're a comics professional -

- but not self-publishers, unless you've got an established track record in the business (don't worry, we'll get to you later) -

- and don't produce mini-comics (ditto) –

- or webcomics –

drop us a line including:

Your name (you'd be surprised how many e-mailers forget this)

Your collaborators, if any

Project title(s) and publisher(s)

Estimated publication date, if known

And very short promotional synopses, preferably 20 or fewer words. Don't make me edit them down; I'll just end up getting bored and throwing them out. Feel free to include any decent sized scans of one (1) cover or really cool art page for each project if you've got any, just to help your name and project stand out a bit. (Include copyright or trademark info so we can run that too.) You don't get a lot of chances to promote your own work in this business. Take this one.

Deadline is Sept. 2 for inclusion in the Sept. 8 column, which is when we'll run them.

The competitors can do that themselves.

As in most other seasons, with five of the six teams already eliminated and one team on life support (in a quirky new twist, the Soccer Moms who arrived last on last Tuesday's episode aren't eliminated – it turned out to be a non-elimination round – but, in the shadow of The Sphinx, were stripped of all their money – contestants are given limited quantities at the beginning of each leg of the race and what they don't use they can keep – and won't be given any for the next leg, so, handicapped with a very late starting time – each teams starts a new leg exactly 12 hours after they finished the previous one – and having to beg for or somehow earn money to get out of Cairo, their chances of longevity don't look good... but stranger things have happened...), the race is coming down to a combination of brains, luck and timing. The most prominent team – a former BIG BROTHER harpy and her inexplicable (and now, apparently, ex) boyfriend – were eliminated early on, and personalities of other teams have been coming out. In the strangest AMAZING RACE twist ever, early sentimental favorites legal eagle Myrna and her plucky "little person" cousin Charla have turned into this season's big villains. Early on, Charla declared her ambition to use The Race to show little people can do virtually everything big people can, and damn if she wasn't off to a great start, doggedly lugging a side of beef a mile from slaughterhouse to butcher shop when her useless cousin proved useless. But Charla's strategy has increasingly shifted to preying on sympathy for her "condition," to the point of securing advantageous plane tickets by flat out lying, fabricating an urgent need to reach a doctor. (The strategy almost put them out of the race a week later when a belief that an air ticketer would go out of her way to help Charla proved groundless, temporarily stranding them at an airport all other teams have left.) It's Charla who ends up facing all the challenges, while Myrna's role is mainly to be obnoxious to the other teams (at one point, she tries to insist she was at a location first when she wasn't, and, failing that, tells the teams "We've got ourselves and God, we don't need favors from you" seconds after chastising one team for never having done anyone else a favor in their lives. Right now I'm rooting for dating couple Colin and Christie, who've demonstrated more smarts and usually better manners than most of the other teams, and who came in #1 on the most recent leg. But Myrna and Charla are classic villains now: smug, lying, scheming, always pressing for advantage (this week's previews show them commandeering Colin and Christie's waiting cab), and being just clever enough to keep themselves ahead of just desserts. (Clustered with a number of other teams on a connecting flight, they took off to find an earlier one while the others relaxed and waited, a lesson I'm sure won't be lost on the rest of them from now on.) It has become as big a game this season to wait for justice to catch up with the cousins, and hiss in amazement as they continue to slipslide toward dominance, as it is to root your favorite team to victory. And isn't that what great villains are for?

Tell me that Brian Azzarello has finally broken through and gotten Vertigo to publish a regular western series that doesn't have a horror angle, and that's worthy news, for all kinds of reasons. (He has, by the way. Good going, Brian!)

On to the other mail:

"Found this link over at Marv Wolfman's site. Basically it details the origins of the "Games" graphic novel that was never completed and it's present status. Don't know if you've read this or not before, but it might be something your readers are interested in."

I hadn't, and thanks. I'll pass it on.

"No matter how much covering, retelling, and classic material repackaging is put out the market is driven by new material. There is nothing else driving any entertainment business. The audience wants something they haven't seen before and there is little that they dislike more than feeling like they have 'been there, done that,' especially when they have already plucked down their hard earned money. Big Comics editors are not being all that unreasonable in their demand for this. This changes because as more things are thought up and tried what was innovative becomes something everyone has seen already. Today's comic fans are a hardcore, fairly sophisticated market that has read a lot of stuff already.

Then again there is nothing new under the sun. That doesn't mean that there isn't still plenty of room for new ideas, however, the trick is making it appear new and the primary device for accomplishing this is irony. Holding what is done now to what the greats were able to do is a little unfair. Some things they did simply can't be considered new and innovative because they already did them. The idea of an established good character going bad like in the Dark Phoenix Saga is not a real original idea anymore. You can still depict this, but to have that be the only thing is not going to be considered an original idea. The same goes for swiping. Most (if not all) of the basic panel designs have already been mapped out for the most part."

Oh, people like to say there's nothing new under the sun, but other people keep coming up with new things. But you're right: there's no way these days that any variation on Dark Phoenix is ever going to be considered an original idea ever again. As for whether editors are being unreasonable by demanding regurgitation, that depends on what you think improves the general health of the business. Maybe it is slavish imitation of the past, in sheep's clothing.

"I'd love to see you address, at some point in the future, the discussion making the rounds concerning the idea that comics are getting "dumbed down" because creators are more and more attempting to angle their comics to be Hollywood movie pitches, hoping for the big Hollywood score. As I understand it, creators are less and less creating comics that somehow cull the best attributes of what the medium can achieve by way of artistic value, while basically coming up with stories they hope will springboard up to the big screen."

These days I've got so many things going on it's hard for me to remember what's in any column five minutes after I've turned it in, but I'd swear I covered that or something like it a couple months back. But the short version is: some people retool their ideas for Hollywood success, some spend all their money on slot machines. The odds on hitting the jackpot are about the same. Trying to mold your work to Hollywood is a fool's game because they don't know what they want until they see it, but, since Hollywood loves any chance to turn down a project, there's no point in going out of your way to give them one. Wild, off the wall projects they can mash into shape all by themselves, but it's the wild, off the wall part that'll grab them in the first place. On the other hand, you don't want them glancing at something and saying, "Nah, too much like CATWOMAN." It's all a crap shoot anyway, so why not play with your own dice?

"What you said is true about writers and artists today, and thanks for the 2 rules you talked about. Everyone tries to be different in their style, but there are the few who can pull something different like how you talked about Neal. I think it's impossible to say that something is unique because you can always relate a story to that of a story that was done 5 years ago, thats just the way comics are they way I see. Right now my goal is to someday write comics of course there's probably many of us out there that want to, but i'm the one who's merely thinking about it and not done anything about it yet."

It's not impossible to be unique. It just takes more work than most people are willing to put into it.

"Your recent column about Neal Adams was interesting to me because of your mention of all of the "recapturing" that's going on in comics, unintentional or not. This stood out to me because Hollywood has been doing this for ages. William Goldman said it in his book "Adventures in the Screen Trade": (to paraphrase) All Hollywood wants to do is "recapture past magic." In other words they want to get lightning in a bottle no matter what. They re-make films all the time. They make films that imitate other films or filmmakers:(All the Star Wars-like movies that came out in the 70's or all the massive amounts of Tarantino rip-offs we've gotten since 1992.) Pop-Culture seems to cannibalize itself over and over. Your mention of pop music works so well too. There seems to be a barrage of music that sounds like the late 70's early 80's right now(Strokes, Hives, etc.)and even songwriter Ryan Adams seems to be one of the those artists' whose every album plays like "spot the influence." (His album Gold sounds like The Stones, The Who and many others from the 70's while his new album sounds like The Cure, The Smiths...and on and on and on.)"

It's a misunderstanding of Hollywood to think all it wants is to "recapture past magic." All it really wants is money and prestige, and if it comes down to one or the other they'll take the former and go for the latter next time. And something that used to make money always strikes them as more dependable than something that has never been tested. (A distant third is things that have been tried and "failed.")

I keep getting Ryan Adams confused with Bryan Adams... or was that Neal Adams? Or Nick Adams?

"I have attended the San Diego cons three times: 1995, 2000 and 2004. The gaps between attendance have allowed me to see how dramatically the show has changed in a way that may not be as apparent to those who have only attended since 2000 or who attend ever year and have seen gradual changes.

In my opinion, the change in size between 2000 and 2004 has not been for the better. As someone who truly enjoys comic books, San Diego is not a good show to attend. With over 100,000 people in the convention center on one day it is very difficult to move around the floor. Lines for some of the more known creators are almost guaranteed to be unreasonably long. I waited a collective 3 hours in lines for Jim Lee only to be told that he'd stopped sketching one time and that he would have to leave and that those of us still waiting were out of luck the other time. Those hoping to chat with Frank Miller or Neil Gaiman had it even worse as you had to win a raffle to even get in their lines. As recently as 2000, I was able to walk up to the Vertigo table at DC and not wait in line to meet Glenn Fabry, Darick Robertson and Chris Weston. Those types of opportunities did not appear to exist or were very rare this year.

The major problem I see with the San Diego show is its composition. It is no longer truly a comic book convention. Anyone who tells you it is lying to you. It is a pop culture show with fully half (if not more) of the booth space devoted to games, DVD's, toys or other merchandise. The problem with this is that these attractions bring in so many people that the comic fans are overrun.

I also found San Diego to be a very poor buying show, although this may be indicative of the market for back issues rather than the show today. As a collector looking for high grade bronze marvels I found little selection that was reasonably priced. Most dealers were selling issues graded as VF (optimistically in some cases) for higher than NM price. And CGC copies were through the roof. As examples, a particular dealer was selling VF copies of Amazing Spiderman 121 for $300, exceeding the NM price. Two dealers selling CGC graded copies in 9.4 had them for $875 and $925 respectively. Overstreet lists the 9.2 value around $260. Some markup is understandable but I can't fathom paying over three times the guide price. Ultimately, I left San Diego with 80% of my comic buying budget unspent.

In the end I had an okay time, but the show was simply too stressful to be enjoyable and I do not plan to return in the future. The Wizard World shows are large but more manageable and maintain a larger focus on comics. Even shows like Baltimore or Pittsburgh give a better experience for the comic book fan. It is disappointing that San Diego has become what it is because I have excellent memories or 1995 and 2000 which were as close to paradise as I can remember being."

I don't think anyone believes San Diego is a "comics convention" anymore. It has mutated beyond that, and, sure, things have been lost, but now it's more of a comics-centric media festival. (Or, as Heidi Macdonald puts it, Sundance In The Summer.) I don't think that's necessarily a bad thing, just something we have to adapt to, and Bryan Talbot delights in dangling figures of 250,000 attendees for Angouleme in front of anyone who talks about San Diego attendance, so it's not even the biggest comics-related show in the world. I saw quite a few fans talking to talent at the show this year, but you have to pick your spot. At any rate, I don't think it would do the show or the business any good if numbers for San Diego were to plummet. San Diego may be a regularly misleading indicator for the comics business, but at least it's an upbeat one.

" I feel like somebody should defend the art of marketing; if major companies are marketing such that their audience is shrinking rather than growing, then this is the fault of the companies, not the art itself.

It's indisputably true that the content of a comic is more important to the quality of that comic than the genre, but that does not imply that genres should be ignored. When used properly, marketing helps the publisher determine what the marketplace is looking for, so that the publisher can interact more effectively with that marketplace. On the surface, this might seem to mean that every comic published should be a superhero comic, but actually a proper marketing survey will tell you exactly the opposite. A real survey of the market will show you that the superhero market is completely oversaturated, and that there is therefore very little room for growth in this area of the marketplace. Intuitively, this is obvious: it is extremely unlikely that anyone will develop a completely new superhero who can become as popular as Superman, Spider-Man, or Batman. The market already has its successful superhero arch-types (superman, everyman, and anti-hero), so where can the growth come from?

The marketing survey gives you the answer: look to the genres that are under-represented but profitable. If you do, you'll see that there were only 12 science fiction titles in the Top 300 last month, but this genre was the second most profitable genre on average. Clearly, we can see that comic readers enjoy sci fi stories, and the marketplace is likely not oversaturated with these types of titles. Of course, you still have to produce a story that people like and that they want to buy in order to be competitive, but that was true before the survey as well. Marketing just gives you (as publisher) a means to choose between several different projects of similar overall merit.

Marketing also gives us the 80/20 rule, and I think this rule explains the change in the marketplace's attitude that you saw evidenced at the Comic-Con. The rule states that 20% of a market's customers are responsible for 80% of that market's profits. In comics, this 20% is the direct market, and this hard core of loyal fans are clearly responsible for the industry's continued existence. According to the theory, expansion of the market occurs when a portion of the 80% of unprofitable customers changes to become part of the 20% that is profitable; they go from being occasional customers to being key customers. The problem is that with the advent of the direct market, the industry in general has seemed to give up on the 80% required for marketplace expansion in favor of the easy profits to be made from the key customers. So we've seen the marketplace contract as customers have migrated out of the direct market without being replaced by new recruits. However, the success of so many recent comic book movies threatens to changes the marketplace's paradigm regardless of the strategies pursued by publishers. Despite the fact that most publishers still refuse to really work at getting their products out to new readers (with some notable exceptions), new retailers are demanding to be part of the movie boom (For example, most major book sellers now carry Trade Paperbacks of popular comics, especially with movie tie-ins). The market is growing outside of the specialty shops despite the industry's internal reluctance to go that route. And in the end, this is the only way that the industry will survive."

Tend to agree with you, but marketing to "outside groups" alone won't accomplish much, and generally only reinforces the old beliefs. As someone said awhile back in the Crossgen post-mortem, it's not enough to have, say, sci fi titles out there, they have to have content that not only appeals to science fiction fans but it something new to them that they can't get elsewhere. That's the X-factor in marketing – there are so many reasons why projects can fail, but all lead to the same conclusion for most decision makers in the business: they failed because they weren't superhero books. And the wheel turns...

"thanks on behalf of librarians everywhere for your notice of the latest GPO/SuDocs "withdrawal" of government documents. This is not the first time since 9/11 this has happened, nor will it be the last. You may be interested to know that this particular order has been rescinded by the GPO.

I cite the Cryptome link to include appropriate background on this issue for those interested.

The American Library Association is frustrated with these shenanigans and continues to lobby the government for levels of access appropriate to this "democracy" Americans are all supposed to be living in. That lack of sound you hear is the Democratic Party's response to these actions to stifle freedom of information, for those that still might believe there's a difference in the two parties after Kerry's statements on the war in Iraq and choice as a consideration for judicial appointment. Remember, though, when Kerry loses in November, it will be Ralph Nader's fault."

It's always Ralph Nader's fault. Just ask Ford Motors. They'll tell you.

"The Convention "protest cage" was a creation of the Secret Service, not Kerry or the DNC. Who's the Secret Service's boss again?

People come to you for political commentary which is almost always trenchant. When you say something that is almost certainly going to drive votes to Bush (or at least away from Kerry, which is the same thing), you have a responsibility to get your facts right."

I have a hard time believing anything I say, esp. if it's one little item out of many, will sway anyone to vote or not vote for someone. At best I hope I'll maybe get some people asking questions they'll try to get answered. That said, yeah, I got it wrong, at least in the details. No, the Dems didn't cut the deal for the Free Speech Zone. But neither did I see them making much (make that any) noise to protest it, or to go out of their way to show people their vision of America by making room for the protestors to make their views known. No, their main concern was a Big Show (much as it will be the GOP's main concern at the end of this month) and they were perfectly happy to tolerate anything that would allow them to put on the desired show, with its Big Image of total unity behind The Candidate. I hope we're not now in a situation where Any Criticism Of The Candidate Or The Party is perceived as treasonous Aid To The Enemy, because if we are we haven't learned anything. It's up to all of us to keep politicians honest no matter who they are. The convention was supposed to tell us something about the character of the Democrats as opposed to the Republicans. Sadly, it did.

"I live in Massachusetts and work in Boston. Although you blamed the DNC for caging the protesters, I believe it was actually the city of Boston and that State of Massachusetts which were responsible for such security measures. Both Boston Mayor Menino and Governor Mitt Romney are Republicans.

I don't know that a Democrat administration would have done things differently, but I don't think they're to blame for this one."


"'Meanwhile, alerts were issued for possible eventual attacks on New York, Washington and... Newark?! (That's almost a zen riddle: if a terrorist bomb goes off in Newark, how can you tell the difference?)'"

Wow that's a real enlightened comment. It's also funny how people wan't to say Bush never connected any of the intel (no matter how old that was i.e. flight training). Now we know that, like in Spain, they want to attack us in an election year. So what are some of the targets? Probably the targets that were set out years ago. Now when his administration actually puts the pieces together it's for political reason.

Which is also silly because after the DNC, in most polls he is even, a little behind, or even ahead. Hardly a reason to get into 'wool over the eyes' panic mode. Whatever. This coming from a guy who is so ahead of the curve he can make snide comments about a city being a target when if fact if a bomb went off, according to you, it really wouldn't matter because I guess it's urban but not too urbane. Millions of people work live and commute into Newark or pass through it to get to New York. So to answer your 'zen riddle' you can tell the difference if a bomb went off in Newark from the thousands of innocents dead. Idiot."

Thanks. I always preferred "idiot" to "moron." It's got more of a ring to it. As for the intel, look: this is an administration that has lied to us time and time and time again. Now they're in a position where they can make all kinds of statements without providing any independently verifiable evidence to back them up and we're supposed to believe whatever they tell us or the terrorists will win? As for panic mode, you obviously haven't been listening to the Hand Puppet's own campaign advisors on it. They're looking at all sorts of factors and going into war mode. It's not the polls they're scared of, it's the perception. But I do apologize for the Newark crack. Even I can't be enlightened 24-7-365, and people who live in Newark have it bad enough already without me making fun of them.

" I was reading your August 4th article and when I started to read your political ranting and I found a lot of inaccuracies. I really enjoy your column although I do not like your politics at all (I am a Republican, but not conservative i.e. moderate on social issues, and pro freedom of speech, basically a non-religious Republican, and I am not a big fan of President Bush, but I am very anti-liberal), yet I know you do want the truth. I hope you post the following on your upcoming article with your response to show the truth to your readers.

1. You say "John Kerry is, at best, a right-of-center centrist rather than the demonic "leftist" liberal the Hand Puppet's re-election committee is trying to paint him, only "left" if you're already standing well to his right."

This statement is 100% false. John Kerry has the ability to make himself appear to share a persons political beliefs, even when he doesn't. The National Journal, a nonpartisan publication, recently released a list of senators and where they stand on the political spectrum based on their 2003 VOTES. John Kerry was rated the #1 most liberal Senator in the senate, obviously ahead of noted liberals like Ted Kennedy and Hillary Rodham Clinton. John Edwards was #4, also more liberal than Kennedy or Clinton. And in case you want some more facts on his voting: he has never voted for a tax cut in 20 years on the Senate, and voted against a ban on partial birth abortions (which doctors, Democrats, and Republicans alike all say is unnecessary and wrong) and this bill easily passed through Congress.

2. "Meanwhile, alerts were issued for possible eventual attacks on New York, Washington and... Newark?! (That's almost a zen riddle: if a terrorist bomb goes off in Newark, how can you tell the difference?) This wasn't your garden variety vague terror alert, no sir! While no specific date for the attack was suggested, it was strongly emphasized that their information was very credible, and clearly demonstrated that our Office Of Homeland Security was Doing Its Job.

I don't know if you ever lived in New York, but here we take the terror threats seriously (I live in Brooklyn, NY and work in the city, across from the Empire State Building). If you have read articles on this you would know that the Prudential building is in Newark, and that terrorists main goal is to cripple our economy (see: WTC bombings, and its ensuing effects). When you mock the fact that it was said that there was very credible intelligence let me take a line out of a AP article today: "The Bush administration learned from a third person, separate from two prisoners identified this week, that al-Qaida was plotting to attack American financial buildings, officials said."

3. You say: "and they're still insisting it's credible just the way they keep insisting Saddam Hussein really does – or did – have weapons of masked destruction, honest! This at the time when the Hand Puppet is "acting" on Congressional recommendations following the 9-11 study by creating a central clearing house for intelligence – inside the White House."

On the point of Hussein having or not having WMD the following people have said that Iraq had WMD before we invaded the country: Bill Clinton, Al Gore, Tony Blair, Vladimir Putin, John Edwards, and John Kerry, who even went on to say that Iraq could have hidden their WMD in other Arab countries (and he even admitted he didn't read the intelligence report before Iraq was invaded).

You also attack President Bush by saying he wants a central hub for intelligence inside the White House. Please note the following line from a Reuters article: "President Bush planned on Monday to endorse the creation of a national intelligence director as part of intelligence reforms recommended by the commission that investigated the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, administration officials said. But Bush would not locate the national intelligence director within the executive office of the presidency, as the commission had recommended, according to the officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity. There have been bipartisan concerns about putting the director in the White House."

As you can see the commission wanted to put the intelligence director within the White House, while the President did not.

4."Part of the problem all along has been that the CIA has been – I can't believe I'm saying this – too influenced by administration foreign policy objectives (it really doesn't matter which administration); a major reason we're in Iraq today is that the CIA, courtesy of George Tenet, tailored their "intelligence" to what the White House wanted to hear."

According to you the CIA tailored intelligence to what the White House wanted to hear. If you say that they did this on their own then there is no proof that they did or didn't. If you mean the White House pressured them to get this information you are wrong according to the bipartisan committee on the intelligence reports say in Conclusion 83 "The Committee did not find any evidence that Administration officials attempted to coerce, influence or pressure analysts to change their judgments related to Iraq's weapons of mass destruction capabilities." They also found that the CIA was not pressured to link Al-Qaeda and Iraq, and that Bush did not lie in his State of the Union speech about Iraq trying to get uranium "When coordinating the State of the Union, no Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) analysts or officials told the National Security Council (NSC) to remove the '16 words' or that there were concerns about the credibility of the Iraq-Niger Uranium reporting."

The truth is the CIA didn't have a human source collecting information in Iraq since 1998 and every serious intelligence agency in the world said Iraq had WMDs.

And before you start saying anything about Germany, Iraq, and Russia, all 3 countries were receiving oil from the Iraqis, before Iraq was taken over (which gives them motive not to invade, Saddam was good to them)."

Okay, it's unfortunately a bit late in the day to start writing another long essay, but this basically comes down to whose propaganda one chooses to believe. Very briefly: 1) I know the National Journal calls itself nonpartisan, but I have no idea whether it actually is or not, or whether individual writers are nonpartisan (in some cases, nonpartisan simply means they don't lean to one side or the other, but cover both) or what their criteria was. But I've seen charts (wish I had the link on hand; I know Steve Gerber has it) positioning the Senate on the left/right map, and to call Kerry "the most liberal Senator" is like calling him "the world's tallest midget." It's a meaningless statement considering who he's being compared to. Without the specifics of the individual bills in hand, I don't find Kerry never voting for tax cuts particularly significant of anything (it makes for easy propaganda, though) and all him voting against a partial birth abortion ban means is that he's pro-choice, and I think we knew that. I don't think he was the only one. 2) Again, whether the administration's evidence for the latest terror scare was "very credible" or not we have no way of knowing. We have no grounds on which to independently judge it. 3) It's true, there was much intelligence suggesting Saddam Hussein was pursuing WMDs, and had been for years, and somehow it all seems to get traced back to the recently discredited Ahmed Chalabi, not to mention spread, through much of the '90s, by Dick Cheney and his cohorts. It's also true that by the time the decision was being made whether to go to war, much of that had been discredited – the CIA discredited much of it and was told, again by Cheney, to go back over it until they reached conclusions that matched the administration's goals, something normally mute CIA intelligence analysts were actively protesting well before the invasion. (The same thing seems to have happened in England, whose MI-6 recently backed off from their intelligence reports, leaving Tony Blair dangling in the wind.) There was credible enough doubt of it all to keep it from becoming an issue, but the White House still forced the issue. On the subject of the intelligence "czar," the President isn't following Congress' guidelines. He has placed the "czar" inside the White House but not in his "executive office," translating into he won't make it a cabinet post because the Cabinet is answerable to Congress as well as the President, and Cabinet members have stated official powers within the government. By making the "czar" an "advisor," the Hand Puppet effectively cuts him off from the outside scrutiny a Cabinet member would have, and allows the White House to control the flow of information. 4) What conclusions the Commission did and didn't draw have to be put in the perspective of their working conditions. The White House tried to shut down the commission at least once, and to the end refused to release many papers to them. You may believe it wasn't compromised if you like. I believe that it was. That Germany, France and Russia were playing footsie with Iraq makes a good rationalization for why they didn't back the Invasion and weren't willing to commit troops to it, but if there's any actual proof of that apart from propaganda sound bites I've yet to see it.

"I thought you might be interested in this. September is going to be "National Preparedness Month," though apparently they're trying to keep it a secret for now: There is no reference to it on the Department of Homeland Security site. But Tom Ridge is making a big announcement on September 9. That's more than a week into the month, but it is close to the 9/11 anniversary, of course. This article by Bob Harris provides more details."

Harris makes a good argument for the timing being interesting, but until it happens I'm not convinced it will, and, Hand Puppet propaganda aside, I don't see much reason to get worked up about it. My guess is that if it's nothing more than a pro-Administration pep rally, they'll get their heads handed to them.

Alex Ness has an interesting interview with former First/DC editor Mike Gold running in his PopThought column.

For those of you who were caught up in Avatar's Frank Miller's ROBOCOP, celebrate. I'm told #7 will be in shops in September. (Don't look at me. My end was finished months ago.) In the meantime, my ten page ROBOCOP story "Killing Machine" will be available, again from Avatar, next Wednesday.

For those who sent in wild marketing plans for THE LAST HEROES, which I did with Gil Kane before he died, I'm sending what we've got in the first week on to iBooks for consideration. And I don't know what I was thinking last week. Of course there'll be a prize (besides thanks and credit) for the person who comes up with the more effective and least expensive marketing scheme for the book: a signed copy. I mean, it's the least we can do, right? Blame last week's "no-prize" announcement on fatigue, and don't forget there's still plenty of time to get your ideas in.

I also want to thank again those who donated to my medical emergency fund over the last couple weeks. Since I couldn't thank them via email, let me extend a big round of gratitude to Eric of Decatur and Jim of Falls Church. I appreciate it, guys.

Finally, the traditional weekly pitch-a-thon. See you next week.

CATWOMAN THE MOVIE AND OTHER CAT TALES, a trade paperback from DC Comics, includes a Catwoman story I did with Brad Rader, where the FBI sets a trap for her using one of Catwoman's criminal rivals as bait.

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. (Cyberosia publisher Scott Brown tells me this has been doing a very brisk reorder business, so I want to thank everyone who's buying it.)

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.


: still available in three issues from Avatar Press, art by Sebastian Fiumara.

Crime/science fiction/horror. A hitman earns his living by throwing his mind into other people's bodies, but civilization threatens to crumble when his secrets get into the wrong hands.

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 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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