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Issue #16

Some time ago, when she was an editor at Epic, I told Jo Duffy that since I'd bought a VCR I no longer knew what time it was. Because, as a freelancer who set his own hours and didn't of necessity interact with specified people at specified times the way people with more traditional jobs do, the only external timecheck I had was what was on TV at what time and since a VCR let me timeshift everything (and I still pretty much don't watch any TV at the time it actually airs) using one destroyed whatever sense of time I had. Now that I've mostly replaced programmed TV with movies on tape and DVD, things have only gotten worse.

This morning I realized I now measure time by commodities: how many contact lenses are left before a refill is necessary, how many miles until the car needs a lube job – and by how much whatever will cost to replace, and where the money will come from. I can tell it's after Christmas by the way the days are already getting longer, but I have to think very hard or look at a newspaper to figure out what day of the week it is. I can't decide if I've turned criminally capitalistic or if I've spiritually connected with my agrarian ancestors. Either much of humanity throughout history, probably much of the world today, had no built-in time sense either or they picked up subtle external signals the way hound dogs sniff pheremones. Time as we tend to think of it is artificial; there's no concrete difference between a Tuesday and a Wednesday, no real division between years. The science fiction writer Philip K. Dick, in his later years when he was either a pure visionary or a drug casualty destroyed by the amphetamines he'd wolfed down for decades in order to churn out novel after novel in order to make a living, depending on your interpretation, proposed that every year was the same year replayed over and over, and we were all still citizens of the Roman Empire. There are religions that suggest salvation is freedom from concerns of time and connecting with the eternal. Yet while our divisions of time are artificial (except insofar as they measure the earth's rotation, the revolution around the sun, the moon's revolution around the earth, etc., which can be concretely established as paced recurring phenomena and measured) time is our only reality as cells eventually deteriorate and bodies fail and, unlike commodities, can never be replaced. Are commodities a way of defeating time, of saying this and this may be replaced, time can be turned back? "Good as new."

At any rate, I have enough contact lenses to last another half year.

If you haven't been reading Greg McElhatton's comics reviews at I-Comics, you're missing one of the better reviewers on the web. Greg's got a best of 2001 list up, but modestly (and wisely) he doesn't claim they're the best comics of the year, just the best he reviewed. Which is all any list can really claim, right? Greg also goes by alphabetical order rather than trying to rank a diverse bunch, which also shows admirable restraint. To wit:

1) AGE OF BRONZE (Image Comics)

2) ALL THE WRONG PLACES (Laszlo Press)

3) BOX OFFICE POISON (Top Shelf Productions)

4) THE FALL (Drawn & Quarterly)

5) FINDER (Lightspeed Press)

6) HEY, WAIT... (Fantagraphics Books)

7) LA PERDIDA (Fantagraphics Books)

8) MANYA: MAP TO THE MOON (VP Books)

9) ODDS OFF (Highwater Books)

10) PISTOLWHIP (Top Shelf Productions)

11) QUEEN AND COUNTRY (Oni Press)

12) SLOW NEWS DAY (Slave Labor Graphics)

13) THE SOAP LADY (Top Shelf Publishing)

14) SON OF THE GUN (Humanoids Publishing)

Greg's one of the better reviewers in the business. Listen to him.

Just had to check out this week's WEEKLY WORLD NEWS while waiting to pay for groceries, since it cover-featured Osama Bin Laden's Las Vegas binge. Still printed in smudgy black-and-white, this little brother to the NATIONAL ENQUIRER is still the best of all the checkout line scandal mags, and they revel in rubbing your nose in the undeniable fact that they're making everything up. Other rags at least try to make their stories sound borderline plausible, but not the WWN. Their current mascot [Batboy]is the 13-year old Nosferatu-faced "Batboy," a supposed freak of nature who has various adventures from week to week; after patriotically joining the army in the wake of 9-11, turns out Batboy is now on Bin Laden's hit list for having flown over the terrorist in Afghanistan and pissed on his turban. Also turns out the "Bin Laden Vegas video," "found in a cave by American troops," was "shot" three years ago, and the four page photo spread of "Bin Laden" gambling, carousing and getting lap dances is full of hilarious, blatantly doctored pictures where Bin Laden's face has been pasted onto some stand-ins body. (For those who don't know, a number of the hijackers did meet here in Las Vegas at an Econo-Lodge in the weeks before the hijacking.)

But more germane was another article, in which a Fundamentalist minister from I think it was Wichita (doesn't really matter, since he's fabricated as well) has begun a crusade to ban Superman, since the Man Of Steel is obviously gay. I didn't get through the ten point list, but among the rationales: he wears a body stocking costume that shows off all his, ahem, musculature; he prances around in a cape; he dresses up as a sissy when he's Clark Kent. Makes me wonder if the WWN didn't stumble across the Apollo/AUTHORITY brouhaha and start extrapolating. One place they totally bollixed it: one proof was that Superman never marries Lois Lane. Whoops. I guess she could still be his beard, though... (By the way, if you're in New York City, BATBOY THE MUSICAL is still playing at the Union Square Theater. And I see now a time-traveler has arrived from the future to warn us that by 2020 the USA will be overrun by hideous mutant freaks who enslave humanity, with Batboy as the lascivious, oppressive dictator of America. I just wish the disoriented chrononaut could remember why they abolished the country of France...)

2002 started out with a bang. In 2001 I went weeks without paying work (paying work in my context meaning money I'll see within 30 days, or in time to pay bills). In the first week of 2002, I've been asked to write a 38 page special; to ghost another long project; to create a new mini-series; while my second graphic novel for AIT/PlanetLar now has an artist so I have to finish the work on that; I'm really late on my third Platinum graphic novel; and AIT-PlanetLar publisher Larry Young has ensnared me in yet another crazed publishing scheme (albeit one that doesn't take a lot of time on my part).

The problem: it's all due by Friday. And somewhere in there I've got to rebuild my computer before the old hard drive dies completely. Welcome to the freelance life...

Got a curious little self published comic called MONDO SIMIAN ($6.00 postage paid) from Engine A Publications (e-mail for details), by Justin Colussy Estes and Patrick Joseph. By little, I mean 4¼"x5½", but it's 100 pages long, much more a mini-graphic novel than a mini-comic. The cover letter warned me I'd be reading a lot about gorillas, and they weren't kidding. It's sort of the alter-PLANET OF THE APES where humans are leaving earth to the gorillas, who are expected to carry on human civilization without them (and here they're pretty much like us before we go). Of course, it's not really about gorillas at all since they fill in for us here – they make movies, wage wars, have religions, golf, paint, pine for their lost youth, etc. – and, as is usually the case with this sort of thing, the art and lettering are a touch erratic, but the book's very inventive and wry, with a sad undercurrent of social criticism. I liked it.

Absence Of Ink Press (Absence Of Ink Comic Press, Box 875, Lincoln CA 95648) publishes, naturally, ABSENCE OF INK THEATER ($2.99 @), a mature readers black and white anthology title that, if nothing else, is chock full. As I've said before, with a few exceptions anthologies are the commercial kiss of death in the comics market, which is a shame because they're a great training ground. (Marv Wolfman and Len Wein have both cited their training in the short form in the minefields of the old DC Comics anthologies like HOUSE OF MYSTERY and THE WITCHING HOUR.) Short forms are in one sense a pressure cooker – there's no room for anything that veers from a very narrow focus, and an awful lot of material has to be compressed into a very few coherent panels, a challenge not a lot of comics writers and artists are up to – but they're a good place to hone skills and refine styles without intensive commitment. (Whatever else, 5-8 pages remains just 5-8 pages.) And it's much easier to apply what you've learned working in short forms to long forms than the other way round. Not surprisingly, the best material in AoIT stands alone. Or maybe it's because it's all written by Rob Vollmar and drawn by Pablo Callejo, who made the choice of breaking their serial CASTAWAYS, a 30s hobo roadtrip very reminiscent of James Vance and Dan Burrs' much-lauded Kitchen Sink series KINGS IN DISGUISE, into discrete sections rather than serializing it as most of the book's other features are. RAVEN'S END, a series by Kevin Gunstone and Alessandro Sacchia is pleasantly drawn by Sacchia, who shows promise, but the story, set in medieval Japan, descends into a slew of fantasy story clichés even while the actual writing isn't half-bad. Worst of the lot is Rick Johnson's tedious sword-and-sorcery rehash BUNE'S WORLD, which looks and reads like a fanzine reprint from 40 years ago. But CASTAWAYS, clever, witty, grim, and well written and drawn, is price-of-admission quality,and Vollmer and Callejo are worth keeping an eye on.

Rick Smith and Tania Menesses' SHUCK COMICS ($2.95 @; Rick Smith, 1755 Emerson St. #A, Denver CO 80218) is one of those books so of themselves you wonder where the hell they popped out of. Though if you're smart, you're just glad they did. Not sure who does what on this book, but it seems strongly influenced in both story and art by Marge Henderson Buell's work on LITTLE LULU, though there are elements of Walt Kelly's POGO in the dialogue. Shuck is a mild-mannered suburban living goat-headed demon of some sort who wears a codger mask and lumberjack shirt while out raking the leaves, has a talking black cat, and throws an annual Halloween party to keep the dead occupied on the holiday. There's even a precocious girl next door named Thursday Friday. And it turns out being dead's a pretty complicated existence, what with Purgatory and all. The stories are gentle and touching, the art's pleasingly stylish. This isn't like anything else you're reading. I don't think charming's too strong or syrupy a word for SHUCK COMICS. Seek it out.

Antony Johnston's novel FRIGHTENING CURVES ($12.95; Cyberosia Publishing, 129 Highland Ave #4, Somerville MA 02143), with fab paintings by Aman Chaudhary (artist on my forthcoming graphic novel WHISPER: DAY X from AIT/PlanetLar Books), is being resolicited this month through Diamond. I reviewed it some weeks ago so I won't do it again, but if you want to read a good short Brit-mod horror novel with cyberpunk overtones, get your local comics dealer on it right now. Order up.

An old theme, and one I thought I'd harp on a little as my intuition is it'll matter in the coming year. It's time to make a choice. Are you a comics fan, or are you a superhero fan?

I've got nothing against it if you do just love superheroes. Everybody's got to love something. But I get a lot of e-mail from readers who bitch and moan about how bad comics have gotten, and when I ask it turns out all they're reading is superhero comics. I suggest other things, and they hem and haw and mainly because they've lived their lives buying BATMAN and AMAZING SPIDER-MAN - and if you want to buy them, fine, I'm not saying you shouldn't – that's all they really want comics to be. It's like saying you grew up watching THREE'S COMPANY so what's the point of checking out anything else on television?

But there's a lot of really cool material out there. Some of it is material that pushes the comics form, some pushes the content. Some is just good on its own merits. On the Warren Ellis Forum last week, someone asked what genre should replace superheroes in comics. The answer is that genre is irrelevant. Why not have superhero comics if they're good superhero comics? Why not have any genre? Genre doesn't make anything good or bad. I've even heard good disco records.

And if you love the medium, the medium is worth loving for its own sake.

A long time ago, I wrote a story that revolved around the question "do you love life, or do you just love your life?" Same thing. Do you love comics, or do you just like the comics you like? Does the form itself matter to you at all? Are you willing to seek out unfamiliar material because it might push the medium or do something new with it, or just be worth reading, regardless of genre or format? Because many comics shops (before I forget, I got a number of e-mails from Oklahomans informing me that really good comics are available at many fine shops in that state, including all the titles in the Top 10 listed last week, so I apologize for the mischaracterization) only carry Marvel and DC to speak of, many actively ignore anything non-superhero regardless of quality or potential market, and the only one who can affect that is you. You either stick your nose in and start demanding your dealer carry the comics you want to see, or you don't complain when he doesn't, and all you can get are superhero comics you don't want. If you're not willing to try new things, don't complain when all you can get is what you've seen a million times before. If you hate it when some civilian reduces all of comics to "guys in tights," don't bitch if you haven't done anything to negate that image.

Now there's a new year's resolution for you.

My new favorite comics shops, by the way, are ALTERNATE REALITY here in Las Vegas (4800 S. Maryland Pkwy #D, Las Vegas NV 89119) and MELTDOWN COMICS in Los Angeles (7522 Sunset Blvd, Los Angeles CA 90046). Both emphasize new comics of many styles and genres, and both are fine models on how to market new comics. Great selections in both, and shops all over the country could learn from both of them. If you live in either town or are passing through, be sure to check them out.

I'm still looking for picture postcards for a project I'm working on: the standard 6"x4" type (just the rectangles, none with scallops or fancy shapes, thanks) with scenery photographs on them and preferably horizontal orientation with no writing on the front. It doesn't really matter what the picture's of. Send to: Steven Grant, Paper Movies, 2657 Windmill Pkwy #194, Henderson NV 89074. Thanks.

Those wishing to comment should leave messages on the Permanent Damage Message Board. You can also e-mail 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. 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.

If you enjoy PERMANENT DAMAGE, check out our brother column, Larry Young's LOOSE CANNON.

If you want to know something about me, you can probably find the answer at Steven Grant's Alleged Fictions.

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