Issue #158

Had a chat with someone a few weeks ago about Spider-Man, I forget who, and they mentioned how Peter Parker doesn't have to be a miserable loser because he's, you know, a scientific genius and should be able to invent stuff that will make him independently wealthy, but Marvel really let that slip away over the years. Why was he wasting time taking photos for pennies when he could be out inventing the next superglue? In fact, one Lee-Ditko story had him trying to do exactly that, offering the patent to his webbing to a glue company in exchange for the money to buy medicine for Aunt May. The problem: no one wanted glue that would evaporate after an hour. If he wanted to sell it he needed to do the research and development to achieve permanence with his webbing (which, between you and me, strikes me as considerably easier than developing a formula for making glue that evaporates after 60 minutes), and he didn't have the time. What he obviously did have is attention deficit disorder, since he never bothered going back to what was clearly a good bet.

And, yet...

There are some things that are worth walking away from. Marvel made the right move to downplay Peter Parker's scientific expertise.

Why? Because there were egghead heroes galore in comics. Marvel itself by that point had Mr. Fantastic, arguably the greatest scientific mind of the age (and he did keep the Fantastic Four funded via patents on inventions), geneticist Henry Pym (Ant-Man), nuclear physicist Bruce Banner (the Hulk), and technowizard Tony Stark (Iron Man). The company was thick with them, and, despite the mood of the day (inflamed by Sputnik and the Russians' initial ventures into space) that every boy should grow up to be a scientist (or astronaut), none of them were really igniting widespread passion.

Unlike Spider-Man.

See, the whole shtick of Spider-Man, what set him apart from all the other characters anyway, was that he was supposed to be everyman as superhero. He was skinny, insecure, prone to tantrums and misunderstandings, emotionally vulnerable – everything the reader of the day was suspected to be. He was, let's face it, the sort of socially inept jerk who read comic books. It endeared him to the readers. Tony Stark was a genius, a multimillionaire and he could get any woman he wanted. Peter Parker couldn't even get a cab.

So emphasizing the everyman aspects of the character and downplaying the boy genius elements fit the character logic (all you had to do was accept his genius extended to the ability to concoct webshooters and no further) and increased his mass appeal.

(Recently I read a Marvel collection of Tom deFalco's SPIDER-GIRL and it turns out that Parker, when he retires from the Spider-life, will become a police scientist. With a goatee yet. From Peter Parker to Barry Allen. Go figure.)

Above all else you have to be faithful to character logic.

Recently Cartoon Network's been running the anime CASE CLOSED (aka DETECTIVE CONAN; weeknights 1AM). It won't be around much longer – they've opted not to continue with it – but it's amusing enough: brilliant teen detective Jimmy Kudo runs afoul of a couple mystery men who poison him, but the poison reduces him physically to a ten year old, and he takes on the identity of kid Conan Etigawa (I'm sure I'm mangling these spellings) and lives with his girl friend and her hack detective father – and doesn't tell them who he really is! (His cases, clever little bits of fluff for the most part, are fun to watch, with the killers always broken down to confession by sheer force of deductive reasoning alone, even the lawyer who'd know that all he'd have to do is keep his mouth shut and keep denying everything and a jury would probably let him off.) Jimmy's reasoning for this is that the evil men might find out he's alive and come after the girlfriend or her father, or force the information from them, so for their own safety he's keeping his secret from them.


This is one bit of standard superhero character "logic" that never made any sense to me. All a hero would have to do to keep his girlfriend from being targeted by bad guys is not respond to her in public, yet there's always this weepy business of "I must keep my identify from her to protect her." Hey, how are the bad guys going to know she knows the hero's secret identity if she doesn't tell anyone? The real subtext of that whole line of reasoning is that women just can't keep their mouths shut.

But Jimmy Kudo's supposed to be a brilliant detective. Yet he doesn't seem capable of adding up facts in evidence in his own case. 1) The guys who youthenized him had no contact with him before the event and didn't know who he was. There's no reason at all to think they even know who Jimmy Kudo is. 2) They poisoned him and left him for dead. As far as they know, he's dead. Why would they even be looking for him? 3) If he's using his girl and her dad as a cover for his own investigation into the identities and whereabouts of his poisoners, it would go a lot more smoothly and quickly if they were helping him. 4) He's not protecting them at all. Several episodes are dedicated to one person or another being contacted by Jimmy, and one has Conan revert to Jimmy briefly. These appearances or contacts are always connected to his girlfriend, so if anyone is looking for her, they're going after her anyway. All he can really accomplish is to make sure she doesn't rat him out to save her own skin, but odds are they'd torture her for the information anyway, to be sure.

I like the show well enough, but this is bad character logic. The real reason why Conan doesn't tell them his true identity is that the writers don't want them to know. The logic of the story overwhelms the logic behind the character, and that's the worst kind of character logic there is, next to logic at all.

Decided to try Mozilla's new Firefox browser while I was at it, which is being touted as an Internet Explorer killer, not to mention supposedly far less susceptible to attack than Microsoft's browser. (If it becomes really popular, I suspect this'll change, just as Linux viruses have started popping up to demonstrate that operating system, like Mac's OSx, isn't that much safer than Windows, only less popular among virus writers.) So far it seems to work okay – has a nice little download manager – though running it at the same time as Outlook or IE seems to be a good way to lock up a computer. I'm not exactly convinced it's better than IE (or my preferred browser, IE shell MyIE2, which is now Maxthon). It doesn't seem to load that much quicker, but it does a nice job of blocking pop-ups, makes it easy to download plugins (or not, if preferred) and has a lot of other features Microsoft might want to duplicate in the next version of IE.

I'm looking for other interesting software available on line – I still wholeheartedly recommend the powerful, free antivirus program Avast!; I've tried it on several machines now without problem, it autoupdates its virus definitions and its resident presence is totally invisible except when cutting some virus-laden file off at the knees, unlike most other AV productions like resource hog Norton AntiVirus j – so if there are any you particularly like, drop me a line about them.

Artists: if you want your head used in "Two Heads Talk," email it to me. Color or black and white, it's your choice, but all heads should be .jpgs 3" wide x 6" tall, 150 dpi, with no figure in the top 3". No trademarked characters, but otherwise it's entirely up to you. No heads rejected, as long as they're clean, and you own it; we only use it once. Please don't put a panel border on. And please list a website or other contact site so all your new fans will know where to find you. Oh, and don't forget to put HEAD in the header so I don't assume you're a virus and trash you. Because I will, you know.

The most important moments of the campaign still lie ahead, namely the three debates. The Hand Puppet's people tried playing fancy with them, as expected, trying to cut out one debate and narrow the scope of questioning – they must've thought they were dealing with the 9/11 commission – but finally reached the inevitable, traditional outcome: three debates. Might not change anything, as in the Gore-HP debates, or might change everything, as in the Clinton-Bush debates. No way to tell just yet. (A number of other things also wait in the wings that threaten Pres. HP's image, like rising trouble and deathcounts in Iraq and the upcoming Enron trials, just starting today.)

But the weird thing about the campaign at the moment isn't how polls are favoring the President, but how the Democrats seem to think the major obstacle on their road to the White House is Ralph Nader. It's this kind of thinking that has killed their campaigns before, though Kerry finally seems to have awakened this week and started, however tepidly, kicking at the Administration's weaknesses. Even there, I just want to kick the Democrats. They're currently running a very interesting ad suggestion a shall we say cognitive dissonance between the President's statements on Iraq and the economy and the somewhat darker realities of each situation – except if you listen instead of watch it comes off sounding like a campaign ad for the President. Stupid, stupid, stupid. Kerry also doesn't win points for claiming the Iraq invasion was justified despite the outright lying and falsifications the Administration had to justify it with. The fact is that Saddam, regardless of whatever damage he was inflicting on his country (and the jury's still out on the before/after picture, though it was mildly entertaining to watch CIA asset and current Iraqi Prime Minister Allawi – widely proclaimed by his own people as "a tool of the Americans" – in Britain the other day to ask for more soldiers but demand other countries "step up" rather than leave it to England and America, no doubt following the script his American handlers passed to him on the plane over), was, despite retaining the ability to stupidly mouth off, was contained and no threat to American security in any way. The fact remainss that if there was serious reason to invade – instead of, oh, putting more effort into the still-ongoing but less obviously winnable war against al-Qaeda – they wouldn't have had to concoct so much falsehood. Or did they simply feel claims were enough, and evidence or verification were for wimps?

That's an interesting question this week, in the light of CBS' broadcast of "documents" painting a dim picture of Pres. HP's questionable "service" record. There've been some interesting things coming out about that lately, such as the man who pulls strings to get him (after he had failed all the tests) into the Texas Air National Guard above numerous other more qualified but less connected applicants at a time when getting into the National Guard was very difficult. It's hard to correlate the Man-Of-Action-In-Chief with the Party Boy determined to stay the hell out of Vietnam at all costs. (By the way, it seems to me that the Democrats have the perfect opportunity for a great political ad by snipping that part from the recent speech where the President said, essentially, "I promise there will never be a terrorist attack on American soil on my watch," and contrast it to a before and after shot of the Twin Towers site in NYC. A little late to be making that promise, isn't it?) Right wing pundits are making noise that Pres. HP's service was "honorable," and he "fulfilled all requirements" necessary to leave the program with head held high – except actually showing up for it when he was supposed to, of course, while others (I ran the link a month back; go look for it) have pretty much filled in all the blanks and it's nothing to be proud of. Interestingly, with that still looming over the President's head as debates with a decorated war hero approached, the CBS "revelations," now clearly proven to be forgeries, have the curious odor, familiar to anyone who has studied CoIntelPro and other operations against the antiwar left in the '60s, of an intelligence "cutout." That's a procedure whereby potentially damaging information is defused by the planting, and subsequent exposure of, false information relating to the situation. A cutout serves two purposes: to confuse the issue for some party (usually the general public), and to drive any further speculation on the underlying question into the ludicrous realm of "conspiracy theory." (This will itself probably strike some readers as a ludicrous conspiracy theory, but the theory and practice of cutouts is well established.) Curiously, it may also serve to moot criticism of Pres. HP's campaign for collaborating with the "Swift Boat Veterans" character-assassinating John Kerry (at least two advisors were forced to resign over it) by seeming to tie Kerry advisors to the CBS revelations. (In fact, there's no sign Kerry's people had any contact with the forger before CBS, already hot on the story, asked them to meet with him, meetings that also apparently came to nothing. But that isn't stopping the President's people from screaming "dirty trick.") If nothing else, the incident will likely make Kerry's campaign gunshy about meeting with any other potential anti-HP whistle blowers for the remainder of the campaign.

But at least all this sudden talk of forged documents returns us to the more important spurious (it's tempting to say manufactured) "evidence" supporting the Iraqi adventure that's the much-touted Iraqi adventure that's serving as the cornerstone of the Hand Puppet's foreign policy. (Far from the only instance where the administration's touting a sow's ear as a silk purse, but more on that next week.) If the Democrats actually want to mount a campaign, they'd seize the opening and turn the question back to that. But you sort of have to wonder if they really do.

Kudos also to CBS for what's probably the most helpful promotional item ever. Go to your local Blockbuster Video and, if they have any left, pick up the CBS SNEAKPEEK FREE DVD, showcasing their new fall series: the Jason Alexander sitcom LISTEN UP, the John Goodman vehicle CENTER OF THE UNIVERSE, and the dramas DR. VEGAS, CLUBHOUSE and CSI: NY. The really great thing about the DVD is that it compressed entire hour and half-hour shows into between five and ten minutes, cutting out all the connective tissue – it's fascinating how much you really don't need – and giving only the "highlights," the parts they apparently want you to believe are really good. It's a real timesaver, believe me: LISTEN UP's highspots are embarrassingly not funny – Jason Alexander's clearly trying for a George Costanza-ish screwup who's yet both ridiculously successful professionally and cuddly, and he's just not a leading man – that it makes the leadfooted CENTER OF THE UNIVERSE seem only lackluster by comparison. CLUBHOUSE, about a kid who learns life lessons as the batboy for a pro baseball team (yeah, no one I'd look for moral guidance to more than professional athletes...) is the sort of sentimental treacle CBS is probably betting will play well in Indiana, while DR. VEGAS is... well, if I want to see Green Valley Ranch Station, the casino where the show is shot, I can drive a mile or watch the reality show about the same place, Discovery's AMERICAN CASINO (8P Fridays). Otherwise, DR. VEGAS plays like the all the other lightweight "edgy" dramas CBS has populated (and died on) Fridays with for the last several years. Of course, CSI: NY is... hey, it's CSI. You like CSI or you don't (though neither :NY nor its predecessor spinoff :MIAMI (10P Mondays) have managed to capture the Grand Guignol humor of the original).

But not only is SNEEKPEEK DVD idea is great, it should required of all networks by law. Had NBC issued one, millions wouldn't have had to suffer through the painful FRIENDS spinoff JOEY (8P Thursdays), which transplanted the dimwitted but lovable actor to Los Angeles to mostly bicker with his ex-slut sister, played by THE SOPRANOS' Drea DeMatteo. It's not quite awful yet, but, by the second episode (which lost three million viewers from the first), it was working on it. Who'd've thunk it'd turn out to be Chandler who was Most Valuable Character on the original series...?

But HBO, which is now developing series with other FRIENDS alumni Lisa Kudrow and Courtney Cox (is this going to be like networks trying to get a successful spinoff out of the players in SEINFELD?), comes to the rescue again. The network saved summer with ENTOURAGE, a quirky sitcom about an on-the-rise actor and his coterie navigating the excesses and obstacles of Hollywood, and now THE WIRE (9P Sundays), David Simon's drama of underresourced and undersupported cops battling Baltimore's underworld and political structure, is back for a third season. The second season, mired in the necessity of reassembling (not to mention rejustifying) a special unit using wiretaps (hence the title) to build cases against drug dealers, crawled along in a morass of storyline offshoots and character bits for too long, and, until the last few episodes, felt anemic compared to the brilliant first season. But season three, with the wire still in place, the unit still together if frustrated by lack of progress, takes off like a rocket, with the drug gangs reorganizing in the face of urban renewal, and political newcomers looking to pressure and unseat the landed power structure, both setting off this year's row of dominos. There wasn't even a tiny flaw in the first episode. Catch in on rerun on an HBO channel this week, and book your Sundays for the next few months. THE WIRE is a show that's worth not missing.

"I'd pay it. Maybe offer for $5 locked for online reading only and $10 for a copy that can be printed?"

As it turns out, I decided to publish in two flavors, one .pdf edition optimized for reading onscreen, and one optimized for printing out, and charge $5.95 regardless.

"Tidbits, one of the longest-running internet magazines and focused on the Mac, has had apparent success with their "Take Control" series of .pdf books. Everything is $10 or less. The books focus on setting up

networks, troubleshooting and the like. I think your suggestion of $5 is appropriate for material that is essentially already available but repackaged."

And here's an alternative suggestion:

"Instead of selling all 300 pages for $5 (which I would never buy because I can't imagine printing all of that out and won't read it from the screen), why don't you sell bundles (maybe a month at a time) for $.50 or $.75. I'd do that, and since its practically free there's much less incentive for piracy. Plus, you should see a whole lot more money."

In theory, I guess. (Since I announced it a couple weeks back, TOTALLY OBVIOUS has been doing fairly well, by the way.) Unfortunately, I'm not really set up for micropayments at the moment, which is really what you're talking about, but it's an interesting idea. I'd consider doing it with original prose short stories, and might if I can work out a few details.

"I personally wouldn't pay for a .pdf column collection, but I would pay for a .pdf collection of prose material. I would love to see a return of @VENTURE in this way."

Also an interesting idea, though I doubt @VENTURE would ever return under that name, which was a bit too clever for its own good. But publishing a fiction magazine still appeals to me. Warren Ellis, in his BAD SIGNAL, talked a bit about the economics of electronic magazines a few weeks back and made a good case for them. Certainly something to think about...

A couple weeks back, someone suggested retailers operating comics lending libraries in an attempt to lure in new customers, which brought a furious round of responses from retailers and others:

"I'm not a retailer myself, but the store I used to frequent in college, Alakazam, in Irvine, CA, had such a program. They had a library of books that you could borrow for a week at $2 a pop, and if you decided to buy the book, the $2 would go toward paying that. It seemed popular enough (I read around half of the selection in the year before I headed off to Germany), and on my visits since then I've noticed that the selection has grown. I know the owner, Marco, also opened a second store, but I can't remember where, and I don't know if he continued with the lending library at the new place. The upshot is, the reader in Tustin can check a scheme like that out for himself (or herself) with just a twenty minute drive or so.

Also, addressing some of the reader's other points, Alakazam did a lot of those things, like pointing interested customers to other work by various creators. Based on my love of PREACHER and STARMAN, Marco introduced me to Warren Ellis' work, starting with PLANETARY and moving on to THE AUTHORITY, STORMWATCH, and TRANSMETROPOLITAN. I guess it's fair to say that by looking for more stuff to interest me, Marco got me back into comics after a few years of not keeping up (speaking in Italian about Dark Horse's translations of DYLAN DOG and NATHAN NEVER helped too, though)."

While Alakazam may have found success with the lending library concept, other retailers were far less receptive:

"The answer is "almost certainly not," because, despite what some gripers would have us believe, TPBs are still priced pretty reasonably as entertainment options go. In order to make them attractive as a rental alternative to buying, any individual rental would have to be priced quite cheaply, meaning it'd probably take 5 or 6 or more turns to get your money back. If I can sell that book to just two of those people instead, I've made twice as much money as renting to the five, and probably done only 1/5 the work of keeping track of all that paperwork. Americans are used to taking their rentals home. A TPB, even a well-made one, will in all likelihood be rendered unreadable by the time it has actually recouped the same profit that selling a single copy of it would. In an era where public libraries increasingly have reasonably-stocked GN sections, and the words "I read it at B&N but wouldn't spend money on it" are a common litany on at least one discussion group I'm a regular on, the idea of doing a huge amount of work to essentially jump into competition with myself is not appealing. I just don't think the economies of scale can be made to work profitably, except in a really densely populated area with a huge amount of pedestrians and ancillary products like food and beverages to supplement the rental income... like, say, in Tokyo, about the only place where I've heard of this model working at all."


"If you're going to apply the same system that works for a library then you´ re going to accept the fact that the more popular books won't always be around for the customer to read. Also, what would you do about late fees or missing books? This would cause more headaches than profits. Too much money spent for little return is money wasted. Sales on floppies are falling and tpb and gn sales are rising and becoming more integral to any comic store's business. A comic store as a lending library, although it may sound good on paper, would in practice be naïve and business suicide. It's a perfect example of having a cow and giving away the milk for free."


"One other thing to consider with the possibility of renting trade paperbacks... I am not, nor have I ever been, a comics retailer in any capacity, but I did spend a good portion of my high school years in video rental. The reason rentals worked so well prior to the DVD revolution in terms of public demand (aside from, you know, not having to go to a theatre with a bunch of mewling infants, teenagers in various states of undress, or morons catcalling the screen) is that the price structure on home video fell into two categories: priced to rent, and priced to own. The initial VHS release of films was often priced in the $80-100 range for most major and minor studio films; as purchasing these films upon video release was cost- prohibitive to most consumers, rental was the sole option they had at the time. This is part of the reason that the DVD revolution has changed the face of video rental in the country (now everyone can, for the most part, purchase a film at the same time it is available to rental outlets), why start-ups like NetFlix are doing so well, and why major chains like Blockbuster are coming up with new business models to compete. It must also be noted that, no matter what "everything's coming up roses" tactic comics pundits want to take to demonstrate the health of the industry, the demand for comics now does not guarantee (nor even indicate) that a rental system would be profitable, or even an effective loss leader."

On the other hand, one new Southern California comics shop (hasn't THE O.C. made comics cool again yet?!) takes a different approach:

"I am opening a new store, Pulp Fiction, in Long Beach, California specializing in graphic novels and comic books (along with anime and manga, toys and collectibles). My partner and I are lifelong readers and collectors, and we are also both socially active. Our store will reflect these passions and we will be very proactive in both encouraging people to read and making a difference in the community.

We believe we have come up with several innovative ways to market graphic novels to different segments of the population. We have set up cross-promotions with key businesses (movie theaters, used book stores, coffee houses, and ice/hockey rinks) within the city and tailored our advertising efforts to appeal to each specific group. We will also be working with clubs at the three major universities that are within a five mile radius of the store. Finally, we will be running or sponsoring several community events (a give the gift of literacy campaign this Halloween, a food drive over Thanksgiving, and a celebrity fund raiser for the Make a Wish Foundation over the Christmas holiday to name a few) designed to do good and raise awareness of our store and products.

We have also worked hard to create a bookstore ambiance that is very customer friendly. Our store has new furniture (hand-created bookshelves and bins), carpet and lighting. We have comfy chairs for our customers to sit around and read, which we encourage, and will offer free coffee. For the more hardcore fans, we have a vast selection of all their favorites at great prices, along with many fun events (a graphic novel book club, art classes, free movie nights, children's reading hours, etc.). We believe our store should not just be a place to shop, but also a place to hang out.

As a long time reader and bookstore aficionado, I know that 99% of the general public thinks of comic books (and graphic novels) as nothing more than children's entertainment and would never even consider buying a graphic novel or entering a comics shop. Combating and changing this perception will be an uphill battle. Our goals are enormous. Even trying to get people to read anything in this day and age is a challenge. Trying to get them involved in making the world a better place is an even bigger one. We need all the help we can get."

Pulp Fiction's grand opening will be the weekend of Oct. 9, if Long Beach area fans are interested.

Recently a teacher wrote in mentioning he uses comics to teach kids, and I asked whether he ever got grief from parents over that. He wrote back:

"Quite the opposite, actually. I got this email from a parent last year:

Thank you for everything. You have had a significant impact on ******. The courses you offered as after school activities were consistently ******'s first choice. Your class on comic books got ****** reading more than anything any of us have tried. Not only is he reading more, he is writing more as well, as he tries to write his own comics. I think this class was the perfect thing for young boys, who need fun and exciting new challenges and appealing ways to integrate academics with fun.

I'm sure I would get a little grief from some of the more uninformed parents if I were to offer them in the classroom but because it is an after school activity, students (or their parents) choose to sign up for the class and know exactly what they are getting. I do read every comic to make sure it is age appropriate and not the least bit offensive before handing them out. I find most mainstream comics today to be appropriate for children but when you're dealing with other people's kids, you need to be careful not to make those kinds of parenting decisions for them. Classes start up again in a couple of weeks and I've been picking up comics at smaller shows in the area. I've already had to put a number of issues back because they had one "hell" or "damn" or were just a little too bloody or violent."

Finally, a lot of feedback on the "stupid publisher tricks" piece:

"So... how goes the career suicide?

Seriously... exceptional work. You nailed it solid. So... how many publishers you figure you torqued off? Or is it more a Boss Tweed circle?"

Hell, if nothing's killed me yet nothing's going to. (And you know what Nietzsche says: that which doesn't kill me makes me hungry. Or something like that.) I can't imagine I pissed off any publishers except new ones, as those were the only ones I was talking about. At least right now.

"What strikes me about this list the most is how universal it is. The overall problems you point to here are the shortfalls that any new business that is destined to fail falls into.

The problems you describe could be applied to any new small business in this day and age, be it a restaurant, a video rental store, a coffee shop, clothier, book store, so on. You have to be ready financially, you have to have a damn good business plan, and you have a good way of getting the word out, and have some reason for people to come to your place instead of the giant corporate shops that don't have the same struggles with finances you will.

It's hard; if it wasn't, everyone would do it."

Hmmm... maybe it's time to do a comics publishing infomercial, and get rich selling "inside secrets of publishing comics" to poor saps looking for get-rich-quick schemes. I wonder how the Amway model of comics distribution would work...

"One you left out is trying to expand into all different kinds of programs at once. It's fantastic that you're going to try to shove comics in the face of kids in libraries and military outfits and make them available online and publish trades in digest form and oversized form and regular form, etc... but each of those requires throwing money at the idea until it catches on, money that could be spent promoting the actual product your selling, or paying the talent and printing costs."

Is that some kind of backhanded Crossgen reference?

"One of my favorite Seinfeld episodes is the one where George does the opposite of every instinct he's ever had, and it leads to instant success. Your commentary about publishers falls under this concept. I once remarked to a pro when I was thinking about a marketing plan that all I had to do was do the opposite of current business practices in the industry and I'd succeed."

Only one way to know for sure, I guess...

I hate Nazis. That's in case I haven't made that clear before. I hate them. I don't mean I hate them the way everyone hates Nazis. I mean I'm sick to death of stories about Nazis, the WWII goosestepping variety, stories about Hitler, certainly "they saved Hitler's brain" stories. Kill them. Kill them all. So, of course, Michael T. Gilbert has to go and produce a MR. MONSTER (Atomeka Press, $6.99), written and designed by Michael, with gorgeous finished art by George Freeman and colors by Laurie Smith, that merges the "they saved Hitler's brain" cliché with a pastiche of MARS ATTACKS! and other Cold War-era alien movies and... it's so resolutely tongue-in-cheek it's good. Gilbert's Mr. Monster's been a cult favorite for a couple decades now, and it's good to see him back. Get it.

One of the more important stories of the counterculture wars of the '70s was the assault of the Air Pirates on all that's good and decent in America, namely Mickey Mouse. To be specific, on Disney's rights to him. In the early '70s, cartoonist Dan O'Neill (one of my personal heroes) hooked up with fellow cartoonists Bobby London, Gary Hallgren, Ted Richards and Shary Flenniken to form the Air Pirates, named for a group of Mickey Mouse villains, and produced a pornographic underground comic, MICKEY MOUSE MEETS THE AIR PIRATES FUNNIES (published by "Hell Comics" as MICKEY MOUSE had, in the '50s, been published by Dell Comics), based on the principle that Disney had done such a good job indoctrinating Americans with images of Mickey Mouse and pals that they tacitly belonged to American culture, not Disney, and were fair game. As frivolous as it sounds, it set off a string of lawsuits, court decisions and legal maneuvers that haunt us to this day. Bob Levin tells the whole story in THE PIRATES AND THE MOUSE: Disney's War Against The Counterculture (Fantagraphics Books; $24), lucidly placing the events in cultural context and entertainingly spelling out not only what happened but why the battle and the outcome were both important to our cultural lives. Though primarily prose, the book's well-illustrated with photos and rare Air Pirates comics strips and art. THE PIRATES AND THE MOUSE may not ultimately be the definitive word on the subject, but for now it's an absolute must for anyone interested in comics history or the effects of comics on the general culture.

J. Marc Schmidt's EGG STORY (Slave Labor Graphics; $3.95) is one of the weirder little graphic novels I've read lately. Drawn in a deceptively simple yet effective style, it follows half a dozen anthropormorphic eggs from their "birth" (they meet in an egg crate after being snatched from their mothers, the chickens) and gets increasingly surreal as they take over their "captor's" house (she's off on vacation) and try, with some success, to function in the human world. There are flaws to the story – once the first two parts are played out, Schmidt tortures our goodwill a bit overmuch to keep the story going, it never really gets beyond mildly humorous, and there's no logical ending for it besides a brutally nasty one, which would go against the story's grain – but it's got a strangely hypnotic quality as well. I had to know what was going to happen. It didn't do much for me when I got there, but I had to know. That doesn't happen very often.

More next week.

For those in the New York area, former Marvel editor Danny Fingeroth is moderating a biweekly series of six talks with comics pros at the Museum Of Comic and Cartoon Art on Broadway, starting October 4. Among those interviewed will be Denny O'Neil, Jimmy Palmiotti and Mike Mignola, and Danny's threatening secret special guests as well. Check with the Museum if you're interested.

Awhile back I made a call for better comics criticism. GRAPHIC NOVEL REVIEW, from the people who brought you MODERN TALES, takes a decent stab at it.

Writers and artists: remember that in early October, we'll be holding another festival of upcoming comics, so email me info (including publisher, cost, names of collaborators, and a brief, like 50 words brief, TV Guide-like description of the concept) and a .jpg of the cover (only one per project, thanks, and keep them in the 50k range) and I'll set it out for my thousands of readers to salivate over. But don't forget to get it in!

For info on my work and related matters, go to Paper Movies. Order a .pdf copy of TOTALLY OBVIOUS, collecting all my "Master Of The Obvious" essays on comics and culture into 300 pages of sheer joy, while you're there. More stuff up there this weekend.

See you next week in a brand new show.

Those wishing to comment should leave messages on the Permanent Damage Message Board. You can also e-mail me but the chances of a reply are next to nil these days, given my workload, though I do read all my e-mail as long as it's not trying to sell me something. IMPORTANT: Because a lot of people apparently list it in their e-address books, this account has gotten a slew of virus-laden messages lately. They're no real threat but dealing with them eats up time I don't really have, to the extent I can no longer accept unsolicited e-mail with attachments. If you want to send something via attachment (say, art samples) ask me first. If I say okay, then send. Unsolicited e-mail with attachments will be wiped from the server without being read. You can also leave messages for me and have discussions on other topics at my Delphi forum, GRAPHIC VIOLENCE. Please don't ask me how to break into the business, or who to submit work to. The answers to those questions are too mercurial for even me to keep up with.

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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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