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Issue #18

Now this was an interesting week.

Certainly a big week for Warren Ellis, anyway. After a year of sitting more or less in the background (if you discount consistent work on DC/Vertigo's TRANSMETROPOLITAN, DC/Wildstorm's PLANETARY, a host of pop comics for Avatar Press, MINISTRY OF SPACE for Image, and a plethora of other projects, as well as the most active forum on Delphi which has also become one of the most important news outlets on the web and a place a lot of web newssites get many of their "scoops" from), Warren leaps into 2002 in high profile.

First, it's announced (curiously, since DC has just canned the book) that his AUTHORITY characters, notably the most out of the closet couple in comics, Apollo and The Midnighter, are getting turned into dolls. (Er... I mean figurines... wait, I mean action figures! Yeah, that's it, action figures! They don't say what kind of action.) Okay, that's got nothing to do with Warren.

[Artbomb.net]But then he, with an Internet whiz named Peter Aaron Rose, unleashes ARTBOMB. (Not to be confused with artbomb, which is itself a pretty good site, particularly if you're an artist.) The purpose of ARTBOMB is to promote graphic novels, and not just any graphic novels but only graphic novels chosen by the staff (which includes iconoclastic maniacs like Brian Wood and Matt Fraction) for special merit. Not just a review site, ARTBOMB also presents new comics work, starting with Warren Ellis & Colleen Doran's SUPERIDOL. If you're looking for a way to change your comics reading habits (besides checking in here every week, I mean) it's the way to go.

So then Warren caps off everything by throwing a total curveball (given his outspoken criticism of the comics industry) and signing an exclusive deal with DC Comics. I can't say I blame him; I could use some financial security these days myself, and apparently the deal they offered was, to coin a phrase, super. Warren's right that in terms of some things that really matter to him, such as the ability to produce and market trade paperback collections, DC pretty much wrote the rulebook, to the point where Marvel's stuck playing catch-up to them in that area (though, frankly, Marvel's been catching on pretty quickly and their trade sales have mushroomed).

This is an interesting development. I've noticed many people who sign exclusive contracts with DC have a tendency to vanish from sight, not raise their profile. Bryan Hitch, for instance, had massive popularity coming off his run with Warren on THE AUTHORITY and his contract stint on JLA should theoretically have skyrocketed his status, given JLA far outsells AUTHORITY. Instead, by the end of his JLA run, Hitch's name was barely being mentioned and he has moseyed on over to Marvel to recover. (Not picking on DC here, by the way. Exclusives with other companies seem to have the same effect on much of the talent.)

But Warren's deal has significant differences from other deals I've heard about. It doesn't interfere with other projects he has in progress at other publishers, which isn't particularly unusual except Warren has a lot in progress. More interestingly, aside from an outstanding DC Universe superhero project commitment Warren made to editor Joey Cavalieri a few years back, everything Warren's going to create for them will be done creator-owned or creator-participating.

Now Warren's Warren, true, and there's every reason for DC to give him special treatment, as he has clearly demonstrated an ability to Get It Right when it comes to creating comics. He's an attention-getter. Whatever they're giving him, his work will pay for it and there's no question of it. Still, you have to wonder if this deal doesn't represent a sea change for DC, even if they haven't realized it yet? While the company has supported (tolerated may be a better word) creator-owned works in the past, I can't think of any other talent deal they've done that specifically encouraged them. It's possible that DC expects, once the relationship settles into place, to wheedle Warren into doing the latest MARTIAN MANHUNTER or SEVEN SOLDIERS OF VICTORY revamp, but I have to believe they're not that stupid, and I'd really like to believe that DC has started to realize that creator-owned works allowing talent to take off in all kinds of unexpected directions with the company's resources turned toward making sure they earn a good living off it is the best way to carve out a future, for the company, for the talent, for the industry and for the medium.

And a couple weeks ago, Marvel had a spate of firings and layoffs to tighten operations, and one of those lost in the shuffle was website scribe Marvel Dog, aka Kwanza Osajyefo Johnson, who apparently refuses (unlike so many chucked by Marvel) to go gentle into that good night. Instead, Johnson today issued what's tantamount to a declaration of war:

"BROOKLYN, NY, January 22, 2002 - Funky Comics has officially begun its membership drive. Founded by former Marvel.com employee and writer, Kwanza Osajyefo Johnson, Funky Comics is a newly forming collaboration studio where artists of all sequential art disciplines will work together to bring their creations to readers everywhere.

'There are a lot of talented comic book people out there. They are self-publishing, soliciting work from larger companies, and some have yet to venture forward into this awesome medium. The thing is, most of them are doing it own their own, pencilers without writers, inkers without pencilers, all running around after their day-jobs trying to bring their art to the people.'

Devoted to a life-long dream of dazzling the comic community, Kwanza realized that as a writer, it would take a lot of time, effort, and money to produce and promote his ideas by himself. He also knew that with DC Comics new "closed door" policy and the competition for work at Marvel the odds were stacked against bringing his work to the public. While the benefits of working for a major company guaranteed distribution and promotion, it could not warrant creative freedom or adequate financial compensation. In addition, the industry is currently dominated by one genre of comic book- the odds are intimidating.

Realizing that he does not need to face these obstacles alone, Osajyefo Johnson seeks to create a studio that would put creative teams together to develop the various comic projects of its members.

Through solicitation and via the studio's website, Funky is actively seeking editors, writers, pencilers, inkers, colorists, letters, web and graphic designers to aid in the development of the studio. Under a philosophy he dubbed Funk Theory Osajyefo had this to say.

"A lot of us are out there busting our butts writing, drawing, and pouring our time and money into submissions and proposals just so we don't have to work at the Gap anymore. If five folks are trying to get the art job for CAPTAIN UNDERPANTS, and only one gets it, what happens to the other four cats? They put a lot of work into something that will get them a page rate, and they didn't create the character nor do they own it. Nothing wrong with that (for the guy that gets the job) but Funky Theory is about helping each other out and putting our creativity to work for ourselves. We're not getting paid to submit, so we might as well put that energy into doing our own thing."

Funky Comics is looking to have at least five projects in the works and for the website's inaugural launch in April and is currently soliciting talent and looking at the works of artists and web talents of varying tastes and disciplines. Those interested can contact the studio via their website or at their forum.

With a dedication to bring other genres of comics to the mainstream, Funky Comics is a partnership that seeks to become one of the world's most prominent creation studios. Funky is focused on bringing its creators' work to publishers and promoting it to both the comic and non-comic reading audiences.

FOR MORE INFORMATION CONTACT: FOR FUNKY: Kwanza Osajyefo Johnson funkycomics@hotmail.com"

That's the spirit.

[WowComics.com]Also up and running is WowComics, the online publisher/distributor I ran into at COMDEX last November. Their goal is to distribute comics (not cartoons, comics like you'd read in a comic book) around the world, in many languages and many genres, with at least 40 small publishers using the service. Right now there are dozens of comics running, old and new (including some reviewed in their print form here). As with all such sites (though this is one of the more ambitious ones) the question is whether they can actually make any money off it.

Which is the big question facing Marvel as well, as Bill Jemas announces their intention to electronically offer Marvels via online pay-per-view "dotComics." This remains the dream of many, not only in comics (former "dotcomics" king and dot-com collapse victim Icebox is now back up – with all old material, as far as I can tell – and selling subscriptions) but in publishing, film, music, virtually every medium that can claim a web presence, but it remains that very little besides pornography has been able to sustain itself on what webgoers are willing to shell out. It's certainly true that the web is the easiest way to distribute and receive a lot of material – even fifteen minutes ordering and an hour downloading a comic via a 56k hookup beats waiting three to six weeks for the mail – but it's next to impossible to convince webgoers to adjust their buying habits. If you could get the latest issue of AMAZING SPIDER-MAN (just pulling the name out of the air, don't get all pedantic on me; substitute "Ed The Happy Clown" if you want to) delivered to your computer for $2.50 (which you could then burn to a CD for a permanent copy) instead of running across town to your local comics shop to pick up a copy, would you be willing? How important is a physical copy? Drop over to the Permanent Damage Message Board and let me know.

Awhile back, I mentioned when I was in Los Angeles the week of 9/11, many Angelenos I spoke with were dead certain that the next imminent attack would be on their city, and as time wore on and no attack came they were more pissed off than relieved, as if they'd been snubbed or told they were unworthy. Many readers thought I was exaggerating, so here's a snippet from writer-producer Rob Long, courtesy of the The Wall Street Journal and Film Comment:

"'Of course the studios are next,' a studio executive told me at lunch, in the days following Sept. 11. 'They'll definitely hit one of the big talent agencies,' a big talent agent told me on the phone a week or two later... 'Really?' I asked. 'Do you really think Al Qaeda ready VARIETY?' Eyes were rolled in my direction. 'Rob,' an entertainment industry attorney said to me, 'everyone reads VARIETY, okay? Don't be naïve.'"

Before I could even write about Hank Azaria's new NBC sitcom JUST IMAGINE (Tuesday 8PM) it's gone. Not surprising. It was a show so bad it made you long for EMERIL, the forgettable swill it replaced. Azaria's often been the best part of mediocre sitcoms like HERMAN'S HEAD and MAD ABOUT YOU, and I'm reasonably sure he's got some idea of what's funny, so it's a mystery as to why his show so sullenly wasn't. Maybe it's because TV shows about making TV shows have been way too self-referential a genre since THE DICK VAN DYKE SHOW went off the air, and Azaria's morose shitheel of a character had nothing on the happy-go-lucky goof Rob Petrie. The first episode spent much of its time making lame marriage counselor jokes only to have Azaria's screenwriter character pitch the same to his producer only to have her roughly declare that marriage counselor jokes aren't funny. I haven't figured out whether the show was intended to prove her wrong or right. (It proved her right.) You have to wonder how this stuff gets on the air, though I supposed NBC's desperate since Tuesday night has become their own private Bosnia and their foothold on traditional victory palace Thursday night has slipped badly, with them unable to place a hit in the post-FRIENDS slot. It couldn't hurt if they'd learn the #1 rule of sitcoms (wouldn't hurt if everyone'd learn it, actually): be funny. Good thing Azaria didn't give up his day job doing voices on THE SIMPSONS (Fox, 8 PM Sunday) though that might be small comfort since THE SIMPSONS has really shown its age this year. (Matt Groening's FUTURAMA (Fox, 7 PM Sunday) is now the cartoon sitcom to watch.)

Heard the report today that a "scientific study" has shown health benefits to sitcoms, as subjects showed marked declines in tension in anticipation of their favorite sitcoms (effects can begin days before airing), with tension vanishing entirely during viewing. No word on whether they tested this with action shows or dramas, but my instinct is the same applies.

Oh, yeah. X-FILES ends at the end of this TV season. I was tempted to say "ends again" but I see in TV GUIDE it's still on...

Still waiting for the final go-ahead on several things, but since last week I said I'd spill on the projects I'm working on, here's a list. Subject to change, of course, and there are a couple things I can't talk about under any circumstances so add two certainties to the list and wonder about them.

For DC: BATGIRL: FIRSTS, with art by Bill Sienkiewicz and Terry Moore. BIRDS OF PREY (single issue) with art by Dan Brereton. SUPERMAN: ANCIENT BLOOD graphic novel, from a story idea by Gil Kane, with art by Gil Kane and John Buscema.

For Marvel: various short pieces for X-MEN UNLIMITED, including Sunfire and Sabretooth stories.

For AIT/PlanetLar: WHISPER: DAY X graphic novel. VIDEOACTIVE graphic novel (crime). RED SUNSET graphic novel (western). MASTER OF THE OBVIOUS column collection. BADLANDS reissue, with retouched art and a new cover designed by Brian Wood. And possibly some unexpected ancillary BADLANDS material, but I'll let Larry announce that.

For Avatar: MORTAL SOULS and MY FLESH IS COOL (mini-series).

For Platinum: SOCORRO graphic novel (crime). PALADINS graphic novel (action-adventure). GUILTY graphic novel (crime).

The way things are going, that's just scratching the surface for 2002. More as it comes up. And I know I'm forgetting something, too...

A couple other notes:

This has been mentioned elsewhere, but I don't want anyone to miss it. I've known both John Romitas for a long time, and nicer guys (not to mention better artist; I've always felt both were incredibly underrated by fandom) are hard to find in comics. Turns out John the younger's two-year old niece, Jordan Atherton, has a serious cancerous condition and while the bulk of the cancer has been removed the treatments to remove what remains will be long, arduous and expensive. John's wife Kathy is organizing a charity auction to fund the treatment and save Jordan's life. If you're in or will be visiting the San Diego/Orange County/Los Angeles area today (Jan. 23), the auction (with Spider-Man and Cy Young winners Jack McDowell and Randy Jones in attendance, not to mention John) will take place from 6-8 PM at the Rancho Bernardo Inn at 17550 Bernardo Oaks Drive, Rancho Bernardo CA (858)675-8500. It's a $25 entry, with snacks and soft drinks, and there are some pretty nice items and vacations up for auction. They need your help. If you can't make it but would like to help, donations can be sent to: Jordan Atherton, Box 27543, San Diego CA 92198. Thanks.

Steve Gerber's return to HOWARD THE DUCK, drawn by Phil Winslade (the artist on Gerber's last major comics project, DC/Vertigo's NEVADA) comes out today from Marvel Max ($2.99). Gerber triggered a small revolution in '75 when HOWARD debuted, and something of a shitstorm in the '80s when he unsuccessfully sued Marvel for ownership of the character (which also had a run in with Disney over largely fantasized similarities to Donald Duck that resulted in Disney concocting an "authorized" redesign of Howard that's something of a subtext to this new series). Bringing the book out under the Max label gives Gerber unprecedented latitude, so it shouldn't be hard to see what the character hit the comics business like runamok fireworks in the wayback, and it's possible it'll happen again. Be sure to pester your dealer for a copy. (A MARVEL ESSENTIALS collection of the original HOWARD THE DUCK material will be coming up shortly as well.)

As stated last week, Larry Young's LOOSE CANNON column has come to an end, but his swansong column is still up with cranky words of inspiration, so if you haven't read it, grab this last chance. You won't regret it.

Finally (and I mean that in both senses), the Comic Book Resources bulletin boards are undergoing a revamp to make them faster, better designed and more responsive. Be ready for the odd problem, just in case, but theoretically it'll make for a much more pleasant experience. Just thought you'd like to know, since so many of you hated the old version...

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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