Issue #153

Data deadline is September 3, which isn't that far away. Don't miss it.

On to my own private Everest:

Ah. First up, the trusty sherpas bring me the return of A1, from the thankfully revivified Atomeka Press, which originally grew out of the Anglophilia sweeping comics in the '90s. BIG ISSUE 0 ($4.99) is mostly reprints, but what reprints! Alan Moore & Steve Parkhouse's "Bojeffries Saga," a Steve Dillon romance comic, a great Dave Gibbons/Ted McKeever take on the psyche of Superman, and Bob Burden's Flaming Carrot, plus a superhero strip that's not particularly descript but has some of the best art I've ever seen out of Steve Pugh. It's hard to find many comics this good. Also from Atomeka is THE DAVE JOHNSON SKETCHBOOK ($6.99), a trade paperback assortment of really nice art from Dave Johnson. Dave's a terrific comics artist, so, personally, I'd rather see comics from him, but if you're mainly into art, run to get this. Garry Leach is Atomeka's designer, by the way, which may explain the line's great production values.

I continue to enjoy Greg Thompson and Robbi Rodriguez's mini-comic HERO CAMP (Atomic Chimp Press; $2), as the third issue (which includes a spot illo from Josh Howard, for you DEAD@17 fans) introduces a slew of young heroes and heroines on the camp bus. It's one of those comics that's simply fun to read, the kind of kid-centric comic that DC keeps failing at, and my one complaint is they should have thicker issues and longer episodes. They're really good at getting the right amount of material into the space, but it always ends too soon.

Speaking of Josh Howard, Viper Comics has issued Volume 1 of DEAD@17: ROUGH CUT ($3.99), a slender trade paperback anthology featuring various indie writers and artists, including Howard, telling stories that fill in the gaps around the popular DEAD@17 series. None of it's bad, it's all fairly well done, but neither do any of the stories add anything to the series, so it comes across as superfluous, and some of the stories unfortunately remind us of the series' debt to NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, something the series itself rarely does. I enjoyed Pat Bussey's joke strip "Fast Food" quite a bit, though.

Viper's also publishing in a trade paperback series Kazu Kibuishi's DAISY CUTTER ($3.99), a pseudo-western starring a legendary female gunslinger, now retired but finding herself forced from retirement by a poker game. It's nicely written and drawn, but the pace is sluggish, and so far it's unclear why Kibuishi felt compelled to add robots and exotic machinery instead of keeping it a straight western, since it otherwise plays that way. I'm interested but not convinced...

I have a feeling I missed something before Jason Moser's ELLIUM: HYBRID (Genome Studios; no price given). It's an interesting experiment, an ongoing graphic novel with different chapters done by different indie talents. Ellium is either a sinister near-future corporation, a collection of demons bringing about Armageddon, or a band fighting those demons. It's hard to be certain because the story's fragmented, with various chapters missing, and all the different voices aren't edited together into coherence. Again, I'm interested but not convinced, though the art is generally fairly stylish.

If nothing else, Beckett Comics continues to put out some of the most attractively packaged comics on the market. RUULE VOL 2: KISS AND TELL #2 ($1.99) continues a crime story about a mobster's quiet battle with combative strongman son-in-law, and now I suddenly get it: it's a retelling of the Samson myth. I've done that one myself, so I can't hold it against them, and Jeff Amano's scripting and Craig Rousseau's art are fine. The story is just without nuance is all. It's okay, but I can't help feeling there should be more. And suddenly I discover on the mountainside that there is more, as the action picks up in #3 ($1.99), as hero Sam Swede wars on the underworld, which starts feeding on itself and the cops get involved. The series gets better as it charges toward the bloody finale.

Also from Beckett, THE BALLAD OF SLEEPING BEAUTY ($1.99) also retells source material (is this a Beckett motif now? Did I space out on some original for the original RUULE series?), recasting the well-known fairy tales as a horror western. It's a nice job by writer Gabriel Benson and artist Mike Hawthorne, who's really developing quickly (the art this issue beats out last issue's), and there's enough action, not to mention a guest appearance by Lee Van Cleef, to make you ignore that not all that much really happens. (Reading a lot of comics in a row, I'm getting oversensitive to this. I want denser comics, dammit.) Worth checking out. So how is it Beckett's able to do such good production jobs at so low a price, anyway?

Following their recent tradition, Beckett introduces their newest title, FADE FROM GRACE, with a 99¢ #1. Also written by Gabriel Benson and drawn in a curiously pop art style by Jeff Amano, it's a romance comic, in which one of the partners learns he can be a superhero. On the one hand, they get it exactly right, bringing us step by step through the main characters' lives until they reach a life-altering decision. On the other, though well-done, the book is so cool and remote that it almost makes the same characters inaccessible. Again, worth trying, especially for the price.

T.J. May & Shelton Bryant's ILL CONCEIVED (Summ Publications; $3.50) also feels like a romance at the start, before turning into a horror story about a sterile woman aiding an alien invasion. It's suitably creepy without being overdone, aided immensely by semi-impressionistic art done mostly via pencil shading. Nice job.

SWORD OF DRACULA #5 (Image; $2.95) continues Jason Henderson's military/vampire saga with an APOCALYPSE NOW-esque Vietnam flashback starring John Kerry while, in the present, heroine Ronnie Van Helsing tries to convince the Lord Of Vampires to work with instead of against her, while Henderson casually introduces all kinds of plot threads. I feel like the setup's finally over and Henderson's finally letting loose on this strip. Henderson's a good writer, packing into one comic what most people today are cramming into three or four issues. Dracula shows his power, the final stage is set, and... the real strike against this book is that, after Blade, 30 DAYS OF NIGHT, and countless other comics and movies, vampires are, well, boring. Vampires, werewolves, zombies, resuscitated cadavers, ghosts, demons... it's about time we came up with some new monsters, isn't it? It's just hard to get excited by Dracula anymore. (Decent art by Terry Pallot, by the way.)

DIGITAL WEBBING #16 ($2.95) is its usual mixed bag of new talent, but in this case it's a pretty impressive bag. Anchoring the issue is "Crazy Mary," about a mutated mercenary hunting down bad guys. It's basically an explanatory setup, slender on the story, but James Woodward's photo-realistic (he only has trouble with eyes), almost 3D art picks up the slack. Really nice. Greg Scott, who used to draw SWORD OF DRACULA and is now drawing for Marvel, isn't a newcomer but provides the art for Chris Metzen's "Soldier: 76, The Vigil," set against a future American civil war. It's a fairly standard little military vignette, but well done, though there's nothing in it that couldn't have been set against, say, World War II or the Iraqi invasion, which is something Metzen needs to work on if he continues it. The other notable feature (there are a couple nondescript vignettes) is Troy Wall & Steve Morris' "Love And Paramnesia," the best written story in the book, and it's a pleasant little romance, beautifully drawn by Morris, who has sort of a Frank Quitely thing going on. Good issue.

Wow! Matt Howarth's SAVAGE HENRY: POWERCHORDS #2 (Aeon; $2.95) just came in, continuing the tale of ultradimensional sound aliens, who decide to take revenge on Henry. Howarth's wit and imagination (or musical tastes, for that matter) never fail. He does the best sound effects, too. Don't miss this. (And go over to the Mu Press site for a free issue of Howarth's THOSE ANNOYING POST BROS., to find out just how much fun comics can be.)

One of the great things about comics is that if you have a great, simple idea, there's virtually no better medium for carrying it out. Jim Massey's DEATH TAKES A HOLIDAY #2 (; $2.95) is just such, a collection of very pithy, not to mention funny, comic strips starring the Grim Reaper himself. Massey goes whole hog on religion this issue, with Death answering questions for school children (on career day, no less), delivering a message from God to Pat Robertson, and testifying at Jesus' terrorism trial. (That's why it's fiction; if Jesus were arrested for terrorism today, he wouldn't get a trial, or even have charges posted.) Also loved his deconstruction of the strip itself, as marketing experts simplify it to increase audience and profitability. Massey's a sick, sick man, and most "funny" comics aren't anywhere near as funny as this one.

I have to hand it to Nat Gertler; the guy has a gift for finding niches to exploit. Scott McCloud generated 24 Hour Comics Day, during which people were challenged to create an entire comic book in 24 hours. I'm not sure I get the point, but the results were strange and interesting, and Nat's publishing company not only collected the first results in 24 HOUR COMICS (About Comics; $11.95), edited by Scott McCloud, but Nat set out to stage more 24 hour events and collected those results in a second, much thicker volume, 24 HOUR COMICS DAY HIGHLIGHTS 2004 ($24.95). The first volume's probably the better of the two, with all of the selections pretty well drawn, and a very sickly funny story by Steve Bissette, a Neil Gaiman written-and-drawn piece (as good as you'd expect from Neil) where he essentially channels Eddie Campbell, and a typically bizarre metaphysical piece from Al Davison. But the second volume (edited by Nat) has its treasures as well, including a Jefferson Powers fumetti, a Paul Smith short where he misses the main point of the exercise but produces a funny little piece nonetheless, and a Josh Howard space opera. The weakness of the second volume may be the familiarity of the concept; unlike the stories from the first 24 Hour Comics Day, it feels like people were more prepared for it, with more preplanning and less spontaneity. Still, for comics at their rawest energy, it's hard to beat these two books.

And here, on the About Comics plateau, we set up base camp for now, in the shadow of the Image peaks. Next week: the final assault.

I suspect most retailers would rather police themselves, and, frankly, I've always found the "inappropriate-for-all-ages-material racked in the wrong place" to be a much bigger problem in videostores. I remember spotting the soft core porn ADVENTURES OF GWENDOLYN IN THE LAND OF THE YAK-YAK racked in the "children's adventure" section at one porn store, and did mention it to them. I've done it with other movies. To my knowledge, most retailers flip through comics prior to racking them to ensure there's no possibly actionable material in them, which is a good practice to get into.

"Keeping in mind that the First Amendment was established in order to protect political speech, not diversity in entertainment, I will agree that rating systems are somewhat ridiculous. Identifying different types of content is a good idea, but depending on that alone to prevent say kids from being exposed to certain material is wrongheaded. It still requires an adult to be right there in order to properly control such things. Even then kids will go out and look at it anyway, you definitely can't control everyone all of the time. I don't buy the idea that comics are getting beaten by the inherent superiority of all of the other media out there. We had videogames, television, and movies when I was growing up too. What appealed to me the most about comics was that I was in control, even more than when I played videogames. Comics allowed me to spend as much time as I wanted on each panel admiring or analyzing what the creators had done there.

Making comics than don't feature killing, sexual situations, and general evil behavior by the protagonist character do more than just prevent parents from getting ticked off at whoever did the thing. They can show kids that world isn't such a nasty place after all. That may sound corny but it's true, the SIMPSONS comic is a good example. That is an edgier property than probably any of the 1970s or 1980s comic book/cartoon efforts, but in the bigger picture it isn't all that bad and just fine for kids. But there is definitely a time and place for the really edgy adult stuff. Perhaps the concern is that the edgy types of material are overwhelming the rackspace making parents uncomfortable with buying their kids really anything from the shops. Just sending out a quick memo on the issue of kids' comic habits is not going to be enough. As I have said earlier one must have a passion for this medium first and the vast myriad of genres it contains second.

Well, I think there are levels. On the one hand, I don't think kids should necessarily be shielded from the notion that there are things in the world that make it a not always nice place, and in my experience the more people try to hide that from kids the more paranoid kids get about it, because they're not stupid. They know things go on. On the other hand, there's no real percentage in shoving the extreme worst of everything in front of their eyes ceaselessly either. A little balance would be nice. But I think part of the problem is that we – and by this I mean specifically the superhero comics market, but I don't exempt popular culture in general – fixate on a dualistic view of existence, which tends to exaggerate the endposts (hence our cultural obsession with good and evil, and supposed wars between... which bores me silly) and deemphasize any middle ground. Middle grounds are for wimps, y'know...

"I am saying amen to your comments about children and comics. My question: Were comics ever for children? My answer is no. I do agree that the change began in the 70s and 80s. The direct market, the retread of successful Marvel stories, and the maturity of the Watchmen and the Dark Knight Returns all had a role in the state of the current "industry". Hey, comics became commercial and profitable...eventually. Capitalism can breed mediocrity which is sad considering how innovative comics can be.

From a more personal perspective I have written two comics. One will be shopped around in Chicago this weekend. The point I am trying to make with my little example is how and unknown like me could possible take that comic to Hollywood and get a six figure deal. I'm not trying to write for Marvel or DC like the majority of the fanboys are. I think the bulk of Marvel and DC's greatest stories were written more than twenty years ago. On my end, I'm not writing for the children, but a comic book reader... not fanboy. Unfortunately, I know that the fanboy is what drives the Diamond market, but I digress.

I am nearly thirty, and I think I'm still to young to write anything for children in comic book format. Heck, I even taught high school for a few years. I know what they like: sex, booze, the most violent video games, and not doing their homework. I did have a few who liked comics, but it was that damn DRAGONBALL Z. So do you think that worrying about the children reading comics is a moot point?"

It's not so much a moot point as I suspect the things that might be done about it (as with most things) the industry simply isn't prepared to do.

"Your argument about comics for kids is a valid one. As an adult, I've recently quit buying comics altogether for a number of reasons:

1) The nearest comic shop is a 30 minute drive away (and it's a piss-poor shop, at that, preferring to cater to the 'card game' market and treating comics as a secondary product).

2) The expense. Comics just cost too damn much. Where I used to be able (years ago) to buy 10-12 a week, I was down to 2 a week at my last purchase.

3) The quality of stories. The big two are rehashing old story lines (none too well, I might add) and trying more to get mainstream coverage with shock and controversy instead of good storylines.

4) A dead character can't stay dead (except for Barry Allen, but how long with that last now that Hal Jordan is going to be Green Lantern again?).

My daughter is eight years old and has become fascinated with the new TEEN TITANS cartoon. As a result, she asks me hundreds of questions about the characters and storylines and how they played out in the original comics. Since I couldn't turn her on to the more modern version, I had to pull out my collection of Wolfman/Perez TITANS comics. Unfortunately, comics today are rarely written with the same since of adventure and compassion. And the ones that are on the shelf for kids are based on the current run of cartoons. When the cartoons ends, the comic product will too, I'm sure, thus ending her interest in comics.

It's become a Chicken-and-the-Egg scenario. And a sad one, at that."

Barry Allen will likely stay dead as long as they can get away with teasing bringing him back to life every year or so...

"I think you are spot on about them needing to feel like they were in control of there life. That's why they play video games, make up games to play in the back yard, and escape into books like Harry Potter. Cartoons do the same thing. They put kids in adult situations. I.e. saving the world. And that makes them feel more in control of a life that they have no control over.

Now the problem is "what's the answer", you have identified the problem... so where do we go from here to get comics in more peoples hands? Do we make them even more gender, cultural, and general to make the net bigger and bigger?

I just got back into reading comics one year ago from a 10 year hiatus, and I have to tell you comics are nothing like they used to be. All the stuff I wanted produced back then is being produced now. Now it's all not from the "Big Two". But it's out there now. Or maybe it was always out there and I just never got a chance to see it because the internet wasn't as big as it is now. I spend quite a bit on comics every month now because I'm getting the stuff I always wanted.

So I really don't see how people can say that there is nothing good out there to read. The sheer number of comics that are released every month would seem to appeal on some level to everyone. Or are people still pissed that the comic industry is not like it used to be? I work for a major telecommunications company and one thing is always constant: change. Because when it comes to money,last year's revenue is never good enough. If you want more money you have to change to be more appealing to more people. So that's why I usually buy comics that are more of the independent nature... IDW, Avatar, etc.

There is nothing wrong with making money, creators have to eat. Everything will change. You just have to look harder and in a different direction that the mainstream if the mainstream is not "doing it" for you."

I don't know if the "no change" thing is really that big an issue, though there will always be a subset of fan for whom comics is one big comfort zone and they don't want that zone upset. There's just a lot of uncertainty in American comics now, and that's been there since the speculator bubble collapsed. Things haven't changed that much; the business here still orbits around Marvel, the orbit is just more askew and rickety.

"I was interested in your most recent column about why kids don't read comics much anymore. I guess one should first ask comic writers (not you per se) if they are reading what kids are reading. I taught upper elementary and middle school for a few years and can vouch for the fact that kids do read, and most enjoy it. I could list two dozen authors easily that juvenile readers love: Jerry Spinelli, Richard Peck, Kate DiCamillo jump instantly to mind. My students loved books written by these authors and, after reading one for class, would seek out others on their free time.

Kids want to read about kids. Juvenile characters should be, to an extent, dictating the action and direction of the book, as you pointed out. Kids aren't fooled by a sucker writer who creates a grown-up character and prances him or her around disguised as a juvenile character. They want to read about characters that face the same shit they do day in and day out. Frankly, a super-powered meanie isn't too relatable (not that it can't work). And, yes, the good guy better win out in the end or you'll really piss them off. I've seen it happen. Dark and brooding "real-life" isn't the magic elixir to getting a kid's (or a parent's) dollar.

It irks me to hear adult writers obsessing about what kids will and will not read when all they have to do is ask any teacher what books keep flying off the bookshelves. See what books are winning Newberry awards. Then read those books. Twice. Three times if they must. Translating this to a comics medium presents a different challenge, but it's a worthless challenge if a writer doesn't have a clue what a kid will want to see translated in the first place. As a writer of juvenile novels myself, I don't read the latest sci-fi bestseller to see what concepts a 12-year-old latches onto. I read what they're reading. I believe you mentioned writing juvenile work at one point so this is not news to you, I'm sure. I just wanted to build on the quality points you made about "kid empowerment."

On a ranting sidenote, as far as I'm concerned people need to forget building their view of juvenile lit around Harry Potter. I can count on one hand the number of students I had wading through those books. Potter, though maybe good, is a fluke and an aberration. I know far more adults reading those books than kids."

That's interesting. Around here, the HARRY POTTER books are incredibly popular with kids, though I know a lot of adults read them too.

"Interesting bit about what kid's comics need to make it. Have you read EVEN A MONKEY CAN DRAW MANGA from Viz's Pulp line? There's a strip that deals with the very point you brought up. Interesting indeed. Also, have you seen Cartoon Network's CODENAME: KIDS NEXT DOOR? The show is about kids fighting the oppressive dictatorship of adults. It's like THE INVISIBLES for the under twelve set... even I (twenty-two years old) find it enjoyable sometimes. I'm pretty sure it's been done in Cartoon Network's anthology comic but I haven't read it. Probably just a fluke it got produced and is still going (fairly popular I understand) but it's interesting to note it was part of Cartoon Network's contest (in 2001 I think) where TV viewers (presumably mostly kids) got to choose the winner of several different shorts. The winner would then get its own regular show. The winner, of course, was CODENAME: KIDS NEXT DOOR."

I knew of the show, but have never watched more than a couple minutes of it. Interesting...

"Although I totally agree with your argument for kid's comics this week, I think there's also something else you didn't really touch on very much. It's that kids just don't care about the big two's comics anymore. I think they want something new. Superman isn't cool anymore (Batman will always be to some extent, but not enough to make kids read at him - it's like a classic cool or something). Someone related a story once where he asked a classroom full of elementary schoolers how many of them read Marvel comics (which is usually viewed as "cooler" than DC, I think), and they just replied that "Marvel comics suck" and said they read manga. I think they see Bats, Supes, Spidey, etc. at "old" and therefore not cool anymore. Manga, on the other hand, is brand new and bursting with energy (or at least speed lines). What's funny about that view is that the big two think that all they can publish are their "established brands" like Supes, Bats, Spidey, etc., but only publishing those may actually be what's turning kids off.

On an almost unrelated note - about ratings and such. I always check out the comic spinner rack at Border's, and I always see mature comics there. I thought it was amusing considering how much crap comics retailers have to go through for them. Once I even saw a kid - around 10 or so - buying a 100 BULLETS comic, and even talking to his mom about it (I don't think she was listening - I also don't think the kid knew what the comic was by what he was saying, but the thought of him buying the comic amused me and had me reminiscing about reading "subversive" comics when I was young)."

Some retailers have told me that SPIDER-MAN 2 made Spider-Man cool again, at least briefly. But, y'know, the character's been around for 40 years. That's a long time. Superman had stopped being even remotely cool long before 40 years had passed for him. But it's pretty obvious manga are doing to Spider-Man what Spider-Man did to Superman, even if it hasn't really caught up to them yet...

"The reason that everyone is jumping up and down is not because kids aren't reading comics. It is because they are not buying comics from the direct market. And why would they?

Here in Australia a 32 page book will set you back over $4.00. TPBs are nearly twenty. The only place to get them is the comic book shop and they tend to be inaccessible to kids. Plus comic book shops work on such a marginal profit line they never buy more copies than they know they will sell.

Kids are reading comic books when they can.

I worked my way through University in a comic book shop in Adelaide. Kids under 13 used to come in regularly with their parents to buy right out of the 50c or $1 box but never off the stands.

I studied both education and science at Uni and graduated to become a Science Teacher. In each of the schools I have worked at there are certain books that the kids constantly have from the library - comic books. ASTERIX, TINTIN, Charlie Brown and whatever other books the canny librarian may have purchased. I worked with one particular librarian who was fantastic in getting comic books into the school. Will Eisner, MAUS, JIMMY CORRIGAN, SANDMAN, SUPERMAN, SPIDER-MAN and everything under the sun. These books often have waiting lists 5 or 6 long. She has a deal with Dee's Comics here in Canberra to go through PREVIEWS and order through her.

It is a trend that has also been picked up by the local ACT library service. I've got Will Eisner's FAGIN THE JEW sitting on my desk at home which I found at the library. This is one of the 2000 graphic novel or comic book titles they have listed on the library database. I chatted to one of the librarians about the prevalence of them. She explained to be that all of them are very popular, disappear off the shelves as soon as they appear and the majority are stored in the Young Adult and Kid section of the library. Due to their popularity the library is buying more. Anything that can get this market to read is a good thing as far as the library is concerned.

Kids are reading comic books, just not where the direct market is looking."

According to the libraries I've spoken with, all that's true around here too. Comics survived from the late '60s-'90s by becoming a collectors' market, which also generated the comics shops, but with the collapse of the speculator bubble is it possible we've converted to simply a readers' market once again?

"There are a few comics that our kids like to read. My wife and I love comics and read them a lot. We've tried to get our kids interested in age-appropriate comics, but they haven't been real interested for the most part.

My son is 9; my daughter is 11.

There are a few comics they really like.

My son lives for the BIONICLE comic book (published by DC). We get it for free for his being in the free Lego club. (It's a way of promoting BIONICLE products.) He loves the comic though. If it came out once a week, he would use his allowance and by them. But it only seems to come out about once every two months, and it comes in the mail for free.

Seems to me like DC and Lego are missing a big opportunity there to expand BIONICLE comics.

He also loves Bongo comics, both THE SIMPSONS and FUTURAMA comics. All lot of the reference and jokes are over his head, but he really gets a kick out of the characters and their antics. My daughter also finds the Bongo comics somewhat interesting (interesting enough to read), but she doesn't get real exicted about them.

She does get real excited about Archie comics though, particularly the girl title ones (Veronica, Betty). She seems to find them fascinating and also amusing. So there you are."

I wonder if the Archie market is still largely a girls' comics market. It's something no one ever brings up much, but it would explain a lot.

"The answer is obvious but no one seems to want to address it. Comics are just too much money for kids. If a kid gets $5.00 from his Mom, he can buy two $2.25 books that week and in 10 minutes he has read them. My allowance back when I was 11 was $3.00 a week. That bought me 12 books for that week. Now a kid will only get one. I'm already thinking of throwing in the towel on comics after reading them all these years. At over $150.00 a month for them, it's just becoming cost prohibitive. I can get a book out of the library free. Marvel set the bar for their books at $2.99. Outside of Donald Trump's kids, who has the money to keep up with that? I dropped all of the Marvel titles at that price. DC already raised their Superman books by .25 cents. I dropped them. If the companies sold all their books at $1.00 each, kids would be back in the game as well as old timers like me who would buy all the books across the board at that price and the companies would make the same, at the very least, if not more money from new readers. What does this all boil down to? Greed! And that my friends is what keeps kids out of the comic stores."

I dunno, if kids are willing to pay $4 per pack for YU-GI-OH cards, it doesn't strike me that $2.99 is out of line for a comic book, or that they wouldn't be willing to pay that much (or get their parents to) if they really wanted it. The problem with getting comics out of comics shops and back into wider circulation is that most outside venues don't want comics unless they have a better price point, ie, unless they cost more. So that's another Catch-22. Experiments in publishing comics at lower prices haven't yielded very good results (aside from the suicide pricing of BATMAN 10-CENT ADVENURE, which got great sales but would be impossible to maintain at that price) though there are all kinds of possible reasons for that.

"I thought you should have mentioned the fact that kids are just not interested in superheroes. All the kids I know at church are into magna. They tape Adult Swim on Cartoon Network, although I had to explain to them to use a VCR. (**That made me feel very old**) They trade books or movies with me regularly. They have no interest in anything with superheroes. They know I have a lot of American comics and trades, but they could care less.

The other problem I have with getting them into American comics is where to start. For the ones that like Spider-Man, which book am I supposed to recommend. For the older kids I might recommend AMAZING SPIDER-MAN, for the younger kids it might be ULTIMATE. Then I have to explain how they are different. They want to read each other's books of course, but that leads to more questions........What a headache!! I have been collecting comics for some 15 years and I can barely keep all the history straight.

You're right, if the kids are interested, they will learn it, but there has to be a good story. I collect exactly 2 superheroes comics now. The rest are Gladstone, pulp reprints and magna. I have given up on my favorite character, Batman, because they no longer tell good stories. They are all about events now a days. The events bring in sales is the typical response I get when I have cornered someone from DC. Of course each event has to cover every book connected to Batman, with the tag line you don't need to read each one. Still it messes up the story line in the satellite books. The other event is to bring in big name creators to write a trade story that is overly drawn out and then leave and have the story quickly reprinted in a trade.

Sorry for the rant, but I have been surprised to hear the kids talking about the quality of the story. These are 10-16 year olds and I didn't expect it from them, but they do care. Some just want something that makes them laugh. What American comics are regularly funny? The only one I could think of is UNCLE SCROOGE AND DONALD, but that's not really their taste.

The other thing they bring up is price. An American comic costs 3$, usually. A magna book is 10$ and they see it as more for the money. Not that they have ever actually opened up an American comic to my knowledge.

When I started buying magna, there was one spinner rack in the store for it. Now the magna section is at least half the size of the American comics sections and has been growing rapidly.

One last thing, Magna really does offer something for everyone, even my wife is into some magna and anime now. There is real diversity which isn't something you get in America."

Diversity and value for money are both important considerations, but I'm not convinced kids are dead set against superheroes. I suspect it's more a value-for-money issue again. Citing Cartoon Network, I know TEEN TITANS is a hot show, and what's that if not superheroes?

"maybe another reason kids don't read comics is they're too damn expensive. When I was a kid, and we're talking the Silver Age, I could get eight comics for one dollar. And they seemed to be a lot more accessible at drug stores, grocery stores, liquor stores. Of course, that's all changed now with the emergence of your comic shop.

As for the comics, sure, all that heavy stock paper and computer coloring looks nice, but there was something fun about the cheap paper and low price. I guess I'm just some old fart reminiscing again, but comics sure seemed a lot more fun when I was growing up."

As I mentioned last week, things didn't change because the comics shop emerged. The comics shop emerged because things changed. The places you're talking about, the drug stores, grocery stores, liquor stores, etc., didn't want comics anymore. Not enough profit. As I mentioned above, if we try to go back to those places they'll undoubtedly want comics to rise in price, not lower.

"I think you make a number of good points, but I'm not sure I agree entirely with the overall tone of the article. I agree that there's no reason that you can't attract readers at a variety of ages... but I think that it's much less likely for an older reader to spontaneously come to comics than a younger one. Surely, most of Gaiman's audience came to his material in high school or college, from my expeirence. The problem, of course, is that many of them left comics as quickly as they came. Getting someone to read WATCHMEN or DARK KNIGHT RETURNS and take it seriously is not the same thing as getting them to read comics on a regular basis.

My main point of concern was comments like this: "Many parents don't want their kids empowered, except in "authorized" ways (meaning ways that don't challenge the parents or their own power)." There seemed to be an intimation that all parents do is live in a fantasy land where they keep their kids down and deny them any access to any material that might challenge them or introduce them to evil "bad ideas". Perhaps you're talking about a specific age when you refer to kids, but there's an awful lot more to parenting than just controlling your children's mind. Some concepts are inappropriate for children at certain ages to handle. Children are always testing boundaries, to find out what proper behavior is and what is and is not acceptable. Shaping a child's psyche is not as simple as 'let them work it out'. There is a significant difference between trusting your child and 'anything goes'. I suspect when you say 'kids', you mean 10 year-old boys. When I say 'kids', I think 4 year-old boy and 7 year-old girl... more specifically, my kids.

The fact isn't necessarily that kids are inherently smart enough to accept adult material nearly so much as they are able to filter it. The concept of mortality has little relevance to a 4 year-old as he watches Han Solo gun down a batch of Stormtroopers... but watching teenage Anakin slaughter some sand-people and then cradle his dead mother would be terrifying, upsetting and disturbing. Younger kids lack the emotional toolset to handle some concepts. A 10 year-old can handle those concepts much better, and a 12-13 year-old can and will handle adult material. I know I was reading the Byrne-Claremont X-MEN during their hey-day, and I enjoyed them immensely (but at 8-10 years-old, I didn't absorb certain elements... they just went past me with little subtext). How do you explain the idea of someone's mistress or sexual subtext to an 8 year-old? The concept of a killer for hire who doesn't get caught, and escapes justice? Not to mention sometimes truly poorly rendered political commentary in my entertainment. Plus, have you looked at some of the villains that Batman and Superman face these days? Serial killers, super fascists and hate criminals? Superman ripping the claws out of one villain's body (Equus?) and crushing the hand and mocking another (Weapons Master)? Superman standing over an impaled Wonder Woman (JLA), a villain called The Cruicifier (try explaining that one to a 7 year-old). Take a look at the new Batgirl. Heck, take a look at this cover to an issue of Robin.

I guess my point is that there is no reason that material can't be written that doesn't exclude kids, even when it includes adults. I can watch BATMAN: THE ANIMATED SERIES with my kids, even if I occasionally have to explain certain elements to my kids. The same applies to SUPERMAN: THE ANIMATED SERIES, most of JUSTICE LEAGUE (although some episodes of Season 2 were too intense for me to let them watch them), CYBORG 009 and other shows. A show like TEEN TITANS is perfect, walking the fine line between both worlds. But notice that in most cases, I have to refer back to TV shows for the kind of material I can work with. I could let my kids read INVINCIBLE perhaps, but not WANTED. I'm not advocating all comics should be for kids... far from it. I enjoy WANTED, POWERS, JMS' run on AMAZING SPIDER-MAN (which would be boring for my kids, mostly), and a host of other titles. I'll probably let my kids read the DC Animated comics, as they hew much closer to what I consider appropriate. I don't want to see more comics just for kids, I'd like to see more comics that don't present material to keep kids out. A story like AKIKO or ZOT! doesn't have have to remove emotional poignancy and relevance to tell a good story. Punches don't have to be pulled, but they have to be handled more with an eye towards a broader audience, if the comics industry wants my family's dollars... and let's face facts, I'm the one buying the comics, not the kids.

None of that even factors the continual rise in cost of comics, due to factors like the goofed distribution system that comics now "enjoys" and paper prices. When I was 9, a comic was 'still 25 cents!' Even at that age, I could afford three or four a week on my allowance, if I so chose. Now, for four normal comics, I would pay around $10….if I still bought them on a regular basis, which I don't. I purchase trade paperbacks occasionally, but the cost of comics and a lousy economy in the past couple of years broke me of the habit. Now that my finances are secure again, I haven't resumed collection with any zeal. That's an entirely different problem for the industry to solve, of course.

I'd like my kids to enjoy comic books, but unless there's a sea change in how those comics are delivered, my kids are going to take their entertainment dollars elsewhere, I suspect."

I meant your kids, yes; all kids are constantly testing their limits in one way or another from the moment they're born. But I wasn't saying parents have no right to police their children's reading habits, or that there aren't inappropriate ages for some content, just pointing out that what interests the child most is often what also horrifies the parent most, and fear over that is what makes most comics "for kids" actually for parents instead, which is why kids largely aren't interested.

" I've found the secret to getting comics into the hands of kids: actually give them a comic book! It worked for me. A few years ago through marriage, I gained an 8 year old nephew. I saw that he liked POKEMON and STAR WARS, etc. so I gave him a bunch of older books that I wasn't reading anymore. He totally dug 'em. I took him to the comic book store and loaded him up with new stuff. He wanted more. He took his SIMPSONS Comics collections to summer camp, where they were a big hit with the other kids. His younger brothers are familiar with comics now, and they're asking me about where to buy them for themselves. I'm pretty sure their parents haven't yet been in a comic shop, but they do look at Barnes & Noble and other bookstores for graphic novels for the boys. They're big fans of the STAR WARS stuff.

I wonder how many fans gripe about kids not reading comics but don't actually try to give a kid a book. Granted, not everyone has a kid hanging around that would like a comic book, but there are ways to do it. Donate to your local children's hospital or library. Ask friends and relatives if there's any kids they know that would want your old books. If we want the industry to include kids, (and I don't understand why we wouldn't) we need current comics readers to share with the next generation instead of hoarding their "prized collection". When you're pre-ordering your books, see if there's something in there for that kid you know. Use that pre-order discount that so many of us get, and spend two or five bucks on your nieces and nephews and see what happens! They might just dig it.

I just discovered AMAZING RACE this season, and I'm kicking myself for never watching it before. I miss the father/daughter team and the internet dating team. I really liked their spirit."

What can I say? It's a great show. (And, yes, I liked that team, but you knew they weren't going to last when he punctured his knee at the starting gate.)

"You call Charla and Myrna the "villains" of the show, and I've found that you're not alone amongst Amazing Race commentators in saying so. That seems somewhat bizarre to me, as they're finally playing the game. I've had enough of these reality shows in which no one uses their initiative and just does as they're told, so for me at least, they're the "heroes."

No one said they weren't relatively smart. They're playing a good game. But AMAZING RACE is different from most "reality game shows" in that it doesn't really promote being cutthroat with other players, and has rules about that sort of thing. There are all kinds of strategies for winning the game, and different teams have different strategies. Mirna, in particular, has apparently decided the optimal strategy is to be as brusque and unpleasant with other contestants as possible, to constantly harangue her midget cousin Charla for being slow, lazy, weak, etc., while forcing Marla to be the one to do every physical challenge then whining piteously and doing a generally inept job every time she ends up having to do one herself. Short-tempered, pushy, ill-mannered and obsessively self-justifying, Mirna comes across on TV as a really vile human being, and, as such, falls into the "villain" category – the only real one on the race this season – making her team "the villain team."

"There was a long email from a moderate Republican reader 08/11, which made several points. Point 1, which I'm going to shoot down in flames, was that, according to the National Journal, Kerry was the No.1 most liberal Senator. Being a regular reader of the Daily Howler, I've seen this particular Republican cherry-picking get shot down several times. Click here for the column that deals with the Journal's article and the Journal's rebuttal.

To quote the relevant parts:

"Are Kerry and Edwards really first and fourth most liberal? That rating is based on calendar year 2003, when both senators‹campaigning for the White House‹missed large numbers of the 62 votes the Journal used for its tabulations. (Kerry missed 37 of the 62 votes; Edwards missed 22.)

Writing in the rag Goldberg loves, Cohen laid out the big picture:

COHEN: The bigger picture presents a more nuanced view of the two senators on the Democratic presidential ticket. Since joining the Senate in 1985, Kerry has compiled a 'lifetime average' composite liberal score of 85.7 in NJ's vote ratings. Ten other current senators have a lifetime composite liberal score that is higher than Kerry'S. (See NJ, 3/6/04, p. 679.) Meanwhile, Edwards, who first joined the Senate in 1999, has a lifetime composite liberal score of 75.7, a number that puts him in the moderate wing of his party."


"And how crazily liberal is Edwards? Here are the Journal's annual rankings since he arrived in the Senate: John Edwards:

1999: 31st most liberal senator

2000: 19th most liberal senator

2001: 35th most liberal senator

2002: 40th most liberal senator

2003: 4th most liberal senator

When pundits call Edwards the 'fourth most liberal,' they are cherry-picking his rank from one year‹a year in which he missed more than a third of the votes used to make the tabulations."

As you rightly point out, this ignores the specifics of what bills are considered 'liberal', but it proves the argument of 'most liberal' is fatally flawed from the outset."

We seem to have a number of Daily Howler fans here, many of whom sent the same link, so please forgive me for not running all of them. Not that it's going to stop Republicans from calling Kerry America's most liberal senator. But the truly liberal senators die in odd plane crashes.

"Regarding the idea that Kerry is the #1 liberal in the Senate, I just couldn't let this one slide. This has become a standard talking point of Republicans everywhere, and has been examined by a lot of writers (see www.dailyhowler.com for example), and has even been exposed somewhat on the Daily Show. The rating does not grow out of any particular bias by National Journal, but out of a peculiar election year phenomenon. Because they've been off campaigning, Kerry and Edwards have missed a lot of votes in the past year. The ones they have made an effort to be present for have tended to be big important votes on which they have opposed the Bush Administration. This has skewed their records for this year to appear more to the left than they are. If you look at their rankings over the course of their tenure they appear far more centrist, as you point out. It just goes to show how stupid some of these ratings can be."

This brings up another question: given how the Hand Puppet's administration has behaved, is challenging them on important votes specifically "liberal" behavior. I know an awful lot of conservatives who've been appalled by many administration initiatives as well...

"Salon.com recently published an article that addressed and utterly demolished the National Review's determination of John Kerry as the most liberal Senator. I won't waste time summarizing it, because it states the matter perfectly in itself. The link will take you to page 4 of the article, which focuses on the National Review's claim."


The "message from the "non-religious Republican" who said Kerry is a liberal because he was pro choice left me confused for two reasons. He said that "partial birth abortions are wrong", which can only be a judgment based on religious reasons. Secondly, I've never quite understood how being 'pro choice' became 'liberal thinking.' Stressing individual rights, and opposing a big government making the decision about family values would seem to be fundamental conservatism. Of course the whole point is to make liberal have the same moral weight and authority that pinko had in the 50s and 60s, isn't it?"

Well, yes. 'Pro-choice' is now a 'liberal' issue (just ask any Republican woman, she'll tell you that) because the Republican decided to make abortion an issue since it's a sure winner with the Religious Right. However, I read that there may be challenges to the Republican platform this year from both gay Republicans and Republicans who support the right to choose (both groups are far more organized now than in prior years) so it could make for an intriguing convention. We'll find out next week.

"Every time I hear the charge that Kerry is the most liberal senator according to the National Journal I want to scream. It is not just that Republicans like to say it, that's fine it is their job to spin things like that. The thing that bothers me the most is that Democrats seem utterly helpless to counter it. On March 6 the National Journal published its top ten list of the most liberal senators based on career voting records and guess whose names weren't on the list."

What are you going to say to counter it? "John Kerry's not the most liberal senator in America!" I prefer Kurt Busiek's scheme, which is to wholesale redeem the term 'liberal' by returning it to common parlance. Would you rather have a liberal helping of ice cream, or a conservative one?

"Here's a very interesting set of clips from the Daily Show where Jon Stewart grills a Congressman who makes those claims then doesn't know where they're from.

And here's where it's explained how "conventional press wisdom" happens.

The only truly essential news show is disguised as humor on Comedy Central. Yep, that's America."

In the immortal words of Dan O'Neill, "You've got a sense of humor. Use it."

"Just a quick correction about party affiliations. That person who said he/she was from Boston must not be paying too much attention to local politics. Tom Mennino is a democrat and has been one his entire political career.

As for the Free Speech Cage. Yeah, the official protest zone near the Fleet Center where the convention was held was a joke, but free speech wasn't stifled in Boston. Every group that requested a permit to march down the streets of Boston was granted one and I saw numerous groups holding rallies on the Boston Common. The local stations covered it, but since there were no bloody riots with fires in the streets, I guess the national media wasn't interested."

So who used the "Free Speech Zone" then?

"You know, I really only have two problems with anything political you say. Number one, your incessant referall to President Bush as "the Hand Puppet". Regardless of your views of his administration or his administrative skills, he is the President of the United States. Respect the office as such, whether you respect the man or not.

Number two is the fact that you talk about politics at all. People rant and rave about decompression in stories, pacing for the trade and all. People throw fits over variant covers, whether it's because they don't want there to be any or because they didn't get them all. The only thing in comics that really hacks me off right now is the over politicization of the books that I read to escape the problems of the real world. Your column ties into this.

I enjoy your writing as far as comics go. I've been all over the ROBOCOP series, and I can't wait to read KILLING MACHINE. PUNISHER: CIRCLE OF BLOOD is really cool, and GREEN LANTERN: TRAITOR was also a blast to read. But dude, I don't care what you think about politics, and I really wish you (along with countless other comic book writers and columnists these days) would just shut up about it. And it's not because you're a liberal! It's because I don't care! If you want to write politics, put in an application to The Slate over on MSN.com. But since you and your column are currently residing on Comic Book Resources, talk about comics, and please, for the love of Stan, keep it to that. I don't give two pickled turds about your views as far as Bush v. Kerry goes. I read your column because I respect your $0.02 about the state the comic book industry and its readers are in.

The initial response is undoubtedly going to be "Well, if you don't like it, don't read it", which, normally, I follow. But sometimes you manage to ingraine it so far into the stuff I want to read about that I can't really avoid it!

So please... Steven... Shut up about the politics and talk about comics, OK, bud? And pass the word along to all your friends."

I appreciate your interest in my comics, and I really do appreciate your concerns – honest! – but... ain't going to happen. A lot of people tune in just for the comics stuff. A lot of people tune in for the political stuff. What's so funny 'bout peace, love and understanding? As far as the Hand Puppet goes, okay, you win. I'll only call him President Hand Puppet from now on. As far as respecting the office goes, it's a job, y'know? That's all it really is. It's not innately more or less worthy of respect than being the fries boy at McDonalds, with no stronger guarantee that the person who has the job is even competent for it. It's a job. The President – any president – is our employee, and no job of any kind is particularly worthy, or unworthy, of respect. The only thing worthy or unworthy of respect is whoever fills that job, and their worthiness depends on the person, not the post.

" I've been wondering for a very long time about the specific artistic duties of comic book artists. Typically, when you read a comic the art is split up into pencils and inks. However, I occasionally see it broken down differently and it's always baffled me. Could you please clue me in to what it means when the an artist is credited for breakdowns, layouts, finishes, and finished art? I most recently saw these credits in CATWOMAN but they were very prevalent in Frank Miller's run in DAREDEVIL (the first place I say those credits). "

On standard work-for-hire comics, there's a penciler and an inker. The penciler draws pretty detailed art in pencil, and the inker comes in with ink or paint to render it for publication. Some inkers adhere very strictly to the penciler's work, some take great liberties or bring their own styles to the work. Some vanish into the pencils and some overpower them. Mainly they put in all the black lines and spaces, then erase what remains of the original pencils. The penciler is largely responsible for the storytelling choices in the art, but what you see on the page isn't really the penciler's line work. It's the inker's. (Penciler and inker may be the same person, of course.) In the other scenario, a penciler with a strong inker (like Frank Miller and Klaus Jansen on DAREDEVIL) may work a bit more loosely. Layouts and breakdowns are really the same thing, the penciler making the storytelling choices: how the figures are positioned and posed, camera angles, etc. But they may just draw loose outlines for the figures; the pencils simply aren't very tight or detailed, because they know the inker is himself a strong enough penciler to come in and do all the detail work in the inking and tighten it up into a publishable story. In those instances, the inker becomes the "finisher" because he "finishes" the art, a more elaborate process than simply inking it. As a result, a finisher usually gets a greater percentage of the page rate than an inker does. My explanation's oversimplified, but that's the gist of it.

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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