Issue #186

This is a down and dirty series on making comics step by step, from conception to post-publication.

First a caveat:

When people teach writing (this can be extrapolated to any kind of art, and probably most things) what they normally teach isn't how to write, but how they write. Students eager to find "the secret" that will turn them into successful professional writers (WRITER'S DIGEST makes a small fortune off them) often lap it up and repeat points as gospel, frequently stunting their creative development by trying to force their natural inclinations into someone else's straitjacket. In this series, I've tried to avoid framing things in terms of how I write, though doubtless that's crept in there. My objective here is two-fold: to get people thinking about aspects of creating comics (and while I've been focusing on the writing so far, I'll get into art, lettering, coloring and other aspects eventually; story, one way or another, always comes first) and to recognize, refine and organize my own thoughts on the subject. Everything here is, at best, a rough draft. But all writing "courses" are rough drafts. Participants in such things are advised to take John Bunyan's quartet from PILGRIM'S PROGRESS to heart:

What of my dross thou findest there, be bold

To throw away, but yet preserve the gold;

What if my gold be wrapped up in ore? -

None throws away the apple for the core.

All that said, there are some fairly rigid aspects to plot.

Plot has always been problematic for comic books, and for any dramatic medium where expression is limited by space or time. Comics, until the advent of the graphic novel, were among the most limited. Novels can go on as long as the writer can sustain them and the publisher permits. Plays and films are more limited, mostly by tenuous calculations of how little they'll accept for their money vs. how long they'll sit still, but it's flexible enough to accommodate one act plays and 12 hour films. Radio and television are limited by artificially fixed timeslots. Short fiction breaks down into stories of anywhere from 1000-several tens of thousands of words, but venues for such material are usually flexible about space. The amount of plot that goes into any of these varies with the form, but all plots make essentially the same basic mechanical demands (that is, separate from considerations of other elements like character or theme) regardless of the story's length.

Comics have traditionally been very limited by space. While, in the '40s, it wasn't unusual for comics to be 52 pages or more in length, individual stories rarely exceeded 8 pages, and even in "full-length" stories, such as Justice Society stories that appeared in ALL-STAR COMICS, stories usually split up into individual "chapters" that were complete little stories in themselves rather than the fitting the chapter style of traditional novels that highlight specific aspects of plot or character. While some very interesting stories can be told in eight pages, the space limitations, complicated by breaking the story into panels, or, if you want a film analogy, "frames," as well as the need to balance aesthetically balance the number of words and/vs. pictures on any given page, automatically imposed limits on the amount and sophistication of character and plot in the story. Even in the best short stories in comics, characters have been quickly sketched, wearing their emotions on their sleeves, and most comics short stories good or bad have locked into the straight adversarial plot: the very bad person does something bad, the very good person corrects the situation (or doesn't), the end. Good for quickly heightening (melo)drama, bad for character development or sophisticated viewpoints. (There are, of course, exceptions, certainly the work of Will Eisner and Harvey Kurtzman. Eisner, especially in THE SPIRIT, addressed the problem by underlying even his most dramatic stories with slapstick timing and a strong comedic sense, while Kurtzman in books like FRONTLINE COMBAT and TWO-FISTED TALES brought a remorseless laser focus to his stories, as well as extreme precision in both his words and drawings; both are absolutely essential reading for anyone who wants to learn how to properly write comics for maximum effectiveness in limited space. It didn't hurt that both seem to have had a natural instinct for the short story, and both - but especially Kurtzman -- were merciless in eliminating the extraneous from their work.)

The graphic novel is our escape from the dominance of space; in theory, as with novels, the space allowed to a comics story should be as flexible as that allowed to prose novels, with greater sophistication and more complex examinations, philosophies and convolutions possible, but so far it mostly hasn't turned out that way. Rather than using the space to expand their plots, many have been content to inflate their plots to fill the space. What was formerly done in a 22 page comic is now frequently done in a 48 page "graphic novel," with bigger pictures. It's no wonder that trade paperback collections are often more fulfilling reads than original graphic novels, since the pressures of plot per issue lead to more condensed, and therefore more elaborate and captivating plots across the entire package. Even some of the most acclaimed and groundbreaking "original" graphic novels, like Alan Moore & Eddie Campbell's FROM HELL or Chris Ware's JIMMY CORRIGAN are compilations of serialized stories, forcing a much greater density of plot that makes them feel much more like "real" novels than many of their meandering, straight-to-book-form kin.

The demands of plot:

All stories need a beginning, a middle and an end, even if one or more are only implied.

Bear in mind that plot structure is not plot: the beginning, middle and end don't necessarily need to be in that order. Anyone wondering what I mean should watch Christopher Nolan's MEMENTO, which starts at the logical end of the story, with the beginning in the middle, and the middle providing a brilliant, chilling conclusion. The plot of the movie could have been laid out in any fashion, but only the structure Nolan chooses tells the story he wants to tell.

Plot should be proportionate to space.

The right amount length for a story is not 22 pages or 8 pages or 128 pages, but the smallest amount of space it takes you to effectively tell your story. If you conceive of a "graphic novel" but you can easily fit your material into 18 pages, you should either tell your story in 18 pages or reconceive it to invest it with more plot. Likewise, if you've got 22 pages to work with, and your story would fit better in a 36 page special, you either need to get very inventive or restructure your story to fit the space, figuring out what elements you can defer later chapters, if any. Don't leave cuts up to your editor, because you won't be happy with them, and it's your story. You're the first person who should be happy with it.

Any plot element introduced into a story must have a payoff.

A plot element is any element that has a bearing on the course or outcome of the story. Which means virtually everything. If a character notices something on the street, that something should have some influence on the story. If an element is introduced, it has to have a reason. "Erika gazed out her window, impatient for any sign of Drake. A homeless man slept uncomfortably in a doorway, but otherwise the street was empty." The homeless man may never be seen or referred to again, but he has already served a plot purpose: to highlight Drake's continued absence. More on setting and its relation to plot later. If a character always carries a loaded pistol, any violent confrontation with that character should either involve the pistol or give a good reason why the pistol isn't involved.

You cannot pay off on a plot element that has not been introduced.

Meaning you have to play fair with the reader. You don't write a Flash story where Superman suddenly appears in the second-to-last panel and stops the bad guy instead, when you've never once referred to Superman in the course of the story. This sort of thing (and that's the broadest example of it) is generally known as a deus ex machine ending, or "the god from the machine," referring to Greek theater where plays would be brought to their conclusion by an actor playing a God, lowered to the stage by a hoist (the machine) and declaring an end to a play. Deus ex machine takes all kinds of forms. One mystery buff I know has noted how many comics mysteries have detectives solving the case by suddenly coming up with information never introduced during the story, so the reader never stood a chance in hell of solving the mystery themselves (and, in fact, the detective shouldn't have been able to solve the mystery either). That's a deus ex machine of a sort; a special condition introduced from nowhere that allows the story to close, and the traditional space restrictions in comics have made it seductive to many writers. Comics have special requirements in this regard: I remember in the '70s Batman stories often used the Ellery Queen gimmick of "Readers! Did you spot the clue the Batman saw?" Of course not - because the artist didn't draw it! To some extent, all stories are mystery stories, leading to a revelation for the reader. Plot is a progression of story logic to get the reader to that revelation.

I have a fondness for stories in which events have at least two possible interpretations, exoteric (the interpretation informed mainly by pre-existing reader expectation) and the esoteric (the "surprise" interpretation). A quick, off the top of my head example: a handsome, heroic looking type battles in the stratosphere against a monstrous creature trying to launch a nuclear missile at Chicago. In the absence of other information, the reader will usually approach the former as the story's hero and the latter as the villain. That's the exoteric interpretation. It has nothing specific to do with the story, everything to do with reader expectation. In the course of the plot, however, we find that Chicago is now a nest of alien bugs converting the planet to a giant anthill, and the monster is trying to exterminate them before human life on earth is impossible, while the heroic type is responsible for unleashing them on the planet in the first place and will do everything in his power to keep them safe. Again, that's a very broad example. But all stories, to some extent, must play against reader expectation, otherwise readers grow very, very bored.

Every plot must conform to the logic of the story you're trying to tell.

This is a fancy way of summing it all up. Every decision you make about plot should be a conscious decision, leading to a careful construction. It's your story, it generates its own logic, and by sucking the reader into the story's logic you overcome their unwillingness to suspend disbelief. Every time you introduce an element in the plot that breaks them away from the story's logic, you break that chain of suspension just a little bit.

Look at it this way: a storyteller is a con man. The way a con man operates is this: he starts usually from a premise of an emotional appeal to the "mark" (in our case, the reader) that vaguely promises a positive but rational benefit. ("Bet a dollar, find the shell the pea is under, and you get $20 back.") In more elaborate cons - most cults, for example - the con artist gets the mark in the habit of saying "yes" via a series of logically obvious propositions that the mark can agree with. Once the mark is in the habit of answering yes, the con artist drops a logical fallacy on him, and when the mark replies "yes" to that, he's got him. Once the logical fallacy is accepted, any other fallacy will also most likely be accepted if later fallacies do not overtly contradict the original fallacy. Story logic in fiction works on the same basic principle, and if you give your reader the opportunity to say "Hey, wait a minute...!" you've blown it. The mark makes a personal emotional stake in the fallacy he has bought into, often to the point where he refuses any contradictions to the fallacy in order to preserve that stake; the reader wants a personal emotional stake in your story, and your promise to the reader is that they won't be disappointed. The difference between a good con artist and a bad one is the bad one overplays his hand and tries too hard to convince the mark while the good one subtly invites the mark to be his partner in the con and convince himself that the con is legit. The plot is the trail of breadcrumbs you throw down so the mark can find his own way to the end of the story. Too few breadcrumbs and it's too much work for him. Too many and he gets the feeling he's being led. Suddenly switch from rye bread to white and you run the risk of him thinking, "Why white bread all of a sudden?"

Keeping things consistent helps keep the reader on course.

A con game and a story aren't the same thing either. A con game only pays off for the con artist; a good story pays off for everyone. In fact, a really good story fits the definition of the perfect con game, where the mark never even realizes he got took.

  • Alert for activists and would-be activists:

    You can say a lot of things about the flaws of our democratic system, but writing your congressman still counts for something, and this week we have something to write congressmen about. A few weeks ago, the Senate rushed through a bankruptcy reform bill written by the credit card companies with the sole purpose of protecting them - at the expense of everyone else. Possibly as early as this week, the House Of Representatives is due to consider it. If they pass it, it will become law, as the President is almost certain to sign it. It's called S. 256. You can read about it here.

  • The premise of the bill, as put forth by the credit card companies, is that most Americans file for bankruptcy as a means of defrauding credit card companies. That's most. Not the ~3% independent studies suggest. Credit card companies insist, despite billions of dollars in profit every year, that they're being financially crippled by bankruptcies, even though the bill does absolutely nothing to shut down the trusts and exemptions and fraud on employees and other legal scams that allow corporations and millionaires to hold onto their assets while fairly easily filing bankruptcy to dodge their debts. This is a bill aimed solely at average Americans. The credit companies cite a "skyrocketing" number of bankruptcies – but the number of bankruptcies per year is down considerably from its peak of several years ago, in the wake of the dot-com bust.

    I've known a few people who've filed for bankruptcy. In no case did they decided to do it because they didn't like credit card companies; in fact, every last one of them was upset about losing their credit. In every case I'm familiar with, and, statistically, in 97% of bankruptcy cases, bankruptcies are the result of catastrophic change in the debtor's standard of living, whether losing a job and becoming unemployed, developing (or having a dependent develop) a catastrophic medical condition, and other mishaps. Bankruptcy was never an easy decision for any of them. In social terms, filing bankruptcy is a public admission you're a failure. Nobody wants to admit that. And we live in a credit society, something credit card companies have regularly taken advantage of over the years. How do they react when one of their debtors falls on hard times and has difficulty paying? The standard practice is to jack up interest rates as far as possible (Congress previously eliminated the concept of usury) to make it as difficult as possible for the debtor to meet obligations.

    So what does the bill accomplish? It creates a single national average standard for living costs - rent or mortgage, price of food and gasoline, etc. - so that, should you hit desperate financial straits, you'd be judged by average costs in Iowa City rather than where you live. The lives of every single American will be reduced to a mean average statistic if the credit card companies get their way. Judges would no longer look at individual situations and decide what's best; all that would be predetermined. Your kid suddenly comes down with leukemia and treatments cost more than the cheap insurance your job has whittled you down to pays out for them? Tough. Lost your job and you need every scrap of your savings to keep up your house payments so your family isn't living out of your car or an old refrigerator box? Tough. Can't afford to pay your credit cards and put food on your table? Tough. Called into the armed services and suddenly your family's living on a serviceman's slave wages? Tough. Had your credit destroyed by identity thieves who left you holding the bag? Tough. Want credit counseling? You'll have to go to the counselor the credit company assigns, regardless of distance from your home town, and you'll have to pay for any expenses yourself, and you'll have no option . No more Chapter 7 bankruptcy, which wipes out debts for extreme cases; you're on Chapter 13, which requires every single dime to be paid off, with interest, at exorbitant rates, continuing to accrue.

    Which means, short of a miracle, your credit cards will never be paid off. Which is how credit companies prefer it. They don't want you touching a dime of your principle, they only want you paying the interest.

    Here's a sample of changes proposed to the bill that were shot down: closing the aforementioned loopholes that make bankruptcy a happy and profitable practice for corporations and millionaires. Protecting the homes of the elderly. Limiting the amount of interest the companies can charge. Protecting servicemen and their families. Protecting those with catastrophic medical conditions or undergoing severe economic setbacks. Prohibiting predatory lending.

    This is a bill designed to let lenders run amok. As I mentioned, lenders wrote it, after funneling millions of campaign dollars into Congress.

    There are two things you can do, right now. The House website now conveniently allows you to send e-mail directly to your representative through their system. Even if you don't know who they are, the site will find them for you. Click here to go to the House Of Representatives mail system. Tell them you are opposed to Bill S. 256, the bankruptcy "reform" bill, and you want them to vote against it. Be polite. Click the link and do it right now.

    Then, if you like, go to Debtslavery.Org to see what else you can do.

    And if you live in America and you think this has nothing to do with you, guess again. Even among the independently wealthy, financial disaster is just one diagnosis, car crash or bad investment away. You have to wonder if maybe the credit companies know something we don't. Despite continuing pronouncements of a rosy economy, the value of the dollar remains in freefall internationally (you didn't think the rapidly rising price of gasoline was jus' 'cause the dang A-rabs is a-gettin' greedy, did you?) while inflation is rising rapidly. (Just not according to "official" readings, obviously done by people who don't buy their own groceries or gasoline.) China, which has been buying up tons of American debt, is going into league with India to conquer the hi-tech world, and it's not unlikely that other Asian nations, particularly in Southeast Asia, will eventually join them in a European Union-type setup, leaving the still hated Japan out in the cold. The administration used to love to talk about the number of jobs being created until they never came anywhere near prognostications, without ever mentioning that jobs being lost are usually higher paid professional or union jobs, while jobs being gained are mostly low-pay jobs without benefits. Even in existing jobs, benefits are being constantly chipped away at even as health care and insurance costs go up and up and up, resulting in a de facto income decrease for most American working families. The administration is working hard, having turned over the treasury to the rich and decimated taxes while jacking up military spending to astronomical levels, to eliminate social programs that might help more Americans cope with growing economic disorder. One has to wonder whether credit companies are so eager to see this bill passed not strictly because of current greed but as a hedge against future widespread economic collapse.

    Just contact your representative and do it quickly, okay? Like right this minute.

  • My work out this month, because I know you can't live without it:

    I could write up all the things I've got coming out, but that's the equivalent of 4000 words right there.

    First though, a little payback. Around the first Wednesday of last November, I think I heard from practically everyone I know in Britain asking how on Earth America could possibly be so corrupt, xenophobic and/or gullible as to re-elect the Hand Puppet for a second term. Shoes on the other foot now, guys. If you've got a complaint, step up to the plate, 'cause your old pal, the Hand Puppet's Hand Puppet Tony Blair comes up for re-election in a month, and it's your country's turn to be corrupt, xenophobic and/or gullible. (I'm always darkly amused also when Brits complain about the CIA's more "insensitive" behavior overseas. Guys, whose foreign service do you think we learned that behavior from.) Things are so bad over there that even comics writers are speaking up. First this comes last week from Mark Millar:

    "Vote Labour not Blair

    There was nothing more depressing than waking up on Nov 3rd and facing another four years of George Bush. Here in the UK, we're heading for at least another four years of Tony Blair and the alternative parties are even more awful.

    What's unique, however, is that the government is actually very popular and Blair is the single liability. We want a Labour government, but we don't want Tony Blair. It's that simple and a strategy has emerged that could allow us to have another four years of the social and economic stability we've enjoyed under the present Labout government, but without the man who steered us into an illegal war and opened us up to enormous risk.

    Reg Keys, a paramedic from Wales, is standing as an independent candidate against Tony Blair in his Sedgefield consistuency based on the fact that Blair lied to us over the reasons for war in Iraq. Mr. Keys lost his young son in this illegal war and has become a focal point of rage throughout the UK and has backing from supporters affiliated to all parties. We want a Labour government, but recognize -- as Mr. Keys does -- that Blair should pay for his crimes and so he hopes to unseat him as a member of Parliament on May 5th, forcing his resignation as leader of the Labour Party and therefore Prime Minister. Mister Keys is just an ordinary person like you and I and is running his campaign from the back of a local pub. He has no real funds and is up against a multi-million pound election machine, but he has the backing of an ever-growing group of disenchanted voters who want to help him oust the Prime Minister without risking a non-Labour government.

    Please pass this circular along to ten friends and whether you're living in Bush's America or Berlusconi's Italy find the time to send cash or even a letter to support. The Prime Minister has a majority of 17000 to defend in an election where Labour morale is incredibly low. The Conservatives have already withdrawn their candidate to support Mr. Keys and the Lib Dems are currently deciding whether they should do the same.

    This is not impossible. All it needs is a little support.

    Do what you can and click the link below for further information.



    Keys for Sedgefield Campaign

    Jane Mayes

    07748 640 183

    Also, please send this to as many bloggers and international press people as you can. The more international attention on this particular race, the more the people of Sedgefield will feel they can make a difference with their vote.

    Best wishes,

    Mark Millar"

    And, yeah, I approve this message. Blair, who has been exposed in Britain as having actively participated in forming bogus "intelligence" for the USA to cite as justification for the Iraq invasion, as well as doing everything in his power to render Britain a police state (something Americans should take notice of since, from the days of prime minister Margaret Thatcher, Great Britain has been something of a testing ground for right wing programs that were later adopted by the United States; virtually everything one associates with "Reaganism" was "Thatcherism" first), is a horrid little turd, obsequious toward greater power, bullying toward those he thinks are weaker.

    Then this morning I get an e-mail from Warren Ellis (whose free Bad Signal e-newsletter you should subscribe to, because it's often loaded with interesting stuff) describing the various sorry alternatives in next month's election, and the overwhelming likelihood of a Blair re-election.

    I'd say "nyah-nyah" to our British cousins, but it's too depressing, until Mr. Keys can pull off a small miracle.

    As I mentioned, Blair promoted if not helped create some of the lies our government used to con Americans into supporting the invasion of Iraq. The source of most other lies has now come to light: Iranian double agent, international con man and Rumsfeld/neo-con favorite Ahmed Chalabi, who aspired to be the new leader of Iraq once Saddam was deposed (and still does, having told followers just prior to the formation of the new Iraqi parliament that he could convince the Shi'ites to make him president). The recent findings of "The Commission On The Intelligence Capabilities Of The United States Regarding Weapons Of Mass Destruction" investigating the Iraq allegations revealed the major source of "intelligence" about Iraq's notorious "WMDs" was a Chalabi confidante widely known as an alcoholic congenital liar who, basically, made everything up. More recently, the legendary "Niger Document" that indicated Saddam was trying to buy fissionable material from Niger and reputedly came from legitimate intelligence agencies in either Italy or Israel (and ultimately resulted in the White House criminally outing a CIA agent via their bought reporters when her husband condemned the document as a transparent forgery) now appears to have been faked by Chalabi and former Reagan aide/neo-con Michael Ledeen, who "washed" the falsified "intelligence" through German intelligence to "verify" it for American analysts, even though the Germans insisted it was highly questionable. (Even now, neo-cons here, when the forgery is mentioned, insist every foreign intelligence agency was also fooled by it so they should also be excused for believing it, when that simply isn't true.)

    It's clearer than ever before that the invasion of Iraq, and the "intelligence" that "justified" it was completely orchestrated.

    Readers of the report may note that while the CIA takes plenty of hits for "believing faulty intelligence," though there was enough of an outcry from CIA analysts against the "findings" (eventually insisted on by former CIA head George Tenet, mainly at the insistence of the White House) that the protest became uncharacteristically public, the White House itself comes under no criticism for "accepting" the faulty intelligence. This would tend to indicate it was the CIA, not the White House, which was at fault (completely ignoring reports that no less than Dick Cheney himself visited the CIA on several occasions to warn them to come up with the results the White House wanted or else, the "or else" apparently being administration bootlicker Porter Goss as new CIA head to purge the Company of "dissidents"). The fact is that the Commission was specifically not authorized to place any blame at the feet of the White House, despite describing daily presidential briefs on anti-Iraqi "evidence" as "dangerously one-sided."

    Our moral ground on torture slipped recently too, as it came to light that the CIA had created bogus corporations with bogus heads (including one out of Portland OR, Bayard Marketing) to get non-governmental status for private globe-hopping aircraft, the purpose of which was to transport terror suspects - meaning, basically, anyone the government takes a dislike to - to foreign nations for "interrogation" where they can be conveniently held and tortured without the CIA getting its hands dirty. Makes you wonder if the real motive for saber rattling against Syria is to shut them up about their role in the scheme, Syria being one of the CIA's client nations for torture management. This mainly came to light via both flight records and Canadian Maher Arar's lawsuit against the United States, which kidnapped him apparently at random while he changed planes at JFK Airport and held him for 13 days without contact with the outside world before shackling and blindfolding him, flying him on the Bayard jet to Maine, Rome, and Jordan before driving him to Syria to be tortured for a year. He heard his escorts call themselves the "Special Removal Unit." He was never charged with a crime. We never ordered him released; somehow the Canadian government learned where he was and interceded with the Syrians. Arar also revealed the existence of a secret CIA torture prison in Jordan, one of 24 such places around the world as it turns out. The entire program seems to have been authorized by Dick Cheney. No reason was ever uncovered for Arar's seizure, aside from his ethnic background. The US claims, of course, that Arar has no right to sue, which goes a long way toward explaining why we refused to be party to the World Court on war crimes.

    Our government in action, folks. Trust your leaders, where mistakes are almost never made...

    The lies are flying thick and fast on the homefront as well. Despite Republican denials, it has become obvious from incidents at various Hand Puppet appearances around the country that the Secret Service had nothing to do with that presidential appearances, paid for with public tax dollars, are being rigidly screened by the White House to ensure only "authorized" supporters of the Hand Puppet's policies are allowed to attend the appearances, which are by law supposed to be open to all American citizens. Administration operatives have been dressing to give them the air of authority usually associated with the Secret Service to ensure that "undesirables" - like Democrats, environmentalists, parents whose children have died in Afghanistan or Iraq - don't screw up any photo ops or give the press an excuse to present something other than the picture that there's total enthusiasm in the heartland for the administration's agenda.

    A little closer to home for me is the revelation of longer running lies involving the intended repository of the nation's nuclear waste, Yucca Mountain, which lies about 90 miles northwest of here. Basically, despite assurances that "many sites" would be examined, it was decided a long time ago by the nuclear power industry that Yucca Mountain would be the spot and damn the torpedoes, and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and Department Of The Interior have plugged merrily away on course, regardless of administration, blithely brushing aside the constantly growing mass of criticism of the project and presenting unassailable data proving the site's innate safety and desirability. Until recently, anyway. My own representative in the House, Republican Jon Porter, has unearthed e-mails wherein scientists involved in the study, overworked and underpaid and tired of changing demands from their bosses, decided to simply falsify data to make their masters happy. Porter runs a congressional subcommittee now investigating the matter, which, if it doesn't shut down the Yucca Mountain project entirely, will at least require scuttling all the existing "scientific" data and starting new studies from scratch, which, if it happens, will likely set the project back another 20-30 years, by which point all the nuke plants around the country, which have been pretty much wallowing in their own waste waiting for the repository to open up so they have some way to get it out of sight and out of mind (at least until it seeps into the groundwater or one of the tankers carrying it from New Hampshire overturns on the freeway west of Kansas City for a major radioactive spill) will be forced to come up with their own methods of permanent disposal. Caught red-handed, the DoI has responded predictably by clamming up and telling Porter's committee they won't be allowed to question the scientists involved, at least one of whom is still working at Yucca Mountain. The Hand Puppet's own eagerness to turn Yucca Mountain into a nuclear waste dump - he promised during his 2000 campaign here that he would not sign off on the project without studying the science of it, then after election promptly signed off without so much as glancing at the scientific date - is now explained as well, by the administration's desire to go back to '50s style nuclear testing in that general area.

    And the lies just keep on coming...

    "Two things come to mind:

    1) If Plot is what happens, and Character is what the person does, then there really is no Character. Much like life, we have a series of events, and responses to them. And while we can interpret those responses and grant them motivation, we really can't be sure Who someone is, only What they have done.

    2) If Plot and Character exist in a more synergistic balance - events happen, are reacted to by Character, precipitating new events, repeat - and Plot overwhelming Character is so bad, why are we so willing to deify Character over Plot? You claim that Character without a Plot to move them is a static picture. But a Plot without Characters to drive it is equally static. And while we idolize the Mona Lisa, no one is going to hang blueprints of a bank vault in the Louvre.

    (Well, outside of Warhol et al.)

    Is it really nothing more than a quest for understanding? And the cause/effect progression of Plot seems self evident, we remain in awe of our own self-awareness, confounded by the motivations of our Character? "

    Absolutely. Beautifully put.

    Character isn't what the person does. Character is what the person is. Characterization is what the person does. Plot overwhelming character is bad mainly because the character then ceases to be a character; they're reduced to nothing more than plot device. And I agree that plot without character is also static; I never suggested otherwise. I reiterate: while not identical, character and plot are inseparable. To discuss them, we have to pull them apart, like puzzle pieces, and it's the job of every writer to figure out how to put the pieces back together, in new configurations.

    "Any word on the last two issues of FRANK MILLER'S ROBOCOP? It's almost two years and only 7 issues? It's nine issues series, right?"

    Nine, yes. Still being drawn, still coming out, as far as I know. My end of it was finished months ago. For updated information, go to Avatar Press.

    "After seeing a short CNN blurb on Dan Quayle recently, I realized that he was Hand Puppet v0.5. The beta test. A just-plain-folks conservative underachiever with a chronically inept grasp of the language, but safely tucked away in the vice-presidency for the test drive."

    The corollary, I suppose, is that the Hand Puppet is Dan Quayle Mk.II... which makes sense...

    " Long time reader of your column, back as far as the start of Master of the Obvious. In your column you mentioned G4TV. I saw the Frank Miller interview just before going to see Sin City. Talking about well timed.

    I've always watched TechTV, since it was called ZDTV or something like that. You were one of the few people I know watched it too, and as I recall you liked that channel. Now that it's a gamer's station, how do you feel about it? I'm a gamer from the Atari days, an OG, original gamer and I'm still a gamer. Madden anyone? But I kinda mourn the passing of TechTV. They had some really interesting stuff that you can't find anywhere now.

    Can you talk a little about this in one of your columns?"

    This okay? Aside from ANIME UNLEASHED, I'd pretty much stopped watching TechTV by the time they merged with G4, due to lack of time. I never watched much on the channel aside from SCREEN SAVERS, CALL FOR HELP and the occasional program on spy tech anyway, also for time reasons, and since SCREEN SAVERS more or less still exists (though I forget what the new name is), and ANIME UNLEASHED (I've been enjoying READ OR DIE there, even in the small dollops they've been doling out), so I don't feel too put out by the merger. Given the consistently shaky status of TechTV's finances, it was only a matter of time until they merged or failed, so given the alternative G4TV's not a bad compromise.

    "Responding to your column from March 30 on the disturbing gimmick of rape in comics, this reminded me of something else I'd noticed in the press coverage for IDENTITY CRISIS and "Avengers Disassembled" from last year:

    Some of the press sources that wrote about both of these stories from DC and Marvel tended to take the side of DC's overrated "event", while dismissing Marvel's own so-called "event" on the grounds that it wasn't well thought out, without even asking or discussing in depth if IDENTITY CRISIS suffers from any such problems as well. What's surprising about that is the differences between the two stories: IDENTITY CRISIS featured a poorly handled scenario involving rape, in contrast to "Avengers Disassembled," which did not feature a rape scene.

    The thing I don't get here is -- how does a story involving a rape manage to be better than a story that doesn't? Beats me. Yet any press sources that talked about both (best example I can think of for now was Movie Poop Shoot) took the side of Identity Crisis almost completely, without even trying to discuss in meat-and-potatoes fashion as to why anyone would be offended by a story like that, while panning "Avengers Disassembled" on the other, and then even that side of the argument was superficial at best.

    To say the least, from what I could tell, it was a basically a case of favoritism by an uncaring mainstream media, without even showing any genuine interest in discussing the hard-hitting questions as to what makes the stories good or bad, and showed a total lack of concern for the better values of the comics and their characters and what makes them work overall. And if that's how the mainstream press is going to cover anything of the sort that goes on in comic books, then that's why I myself feel worried that, as a result, people who don't read comics could end up thinking that comics are written by and aimed at perverts. Which would not be good for the industry's reputation as a whole, that's for sure."

    Overall, I wouldn't rave up too many comics "critics" in the first place, but I don't recall any huge groundswell of support for IDENTITY CRISIS either; from where I was sitting, criticisms of IDENTITY CRISIS and "Avengers Dissembled" were spread around fairly evenly. That said, and despite my comments a couple weeks ago, I don't think a rape automatically disqualifies a story from being praiseworthy. I don't like the usage in general, but every story has to be judged in its own context. And while "Avengers Dissembled" may not have featured a rape, it did feature the worst case of PMS in comics since Dark Phoenix, fitting the archetype of the woman turned dangerously evil through sheer irrationality. If I thought comics writers were sitting around drooling with erotic anticipation over the rape scenes they were writing, I'd say the scenes were written by perverts, yes, but, given the fairly mechanical function rape serves in most stories it appears in, I doubt that's the case.

    But we're up some 7000+ words for the week, so you're not too cheated. Look for much more comics content next week, and in the meantime, don't forget to pop over to Paper Movies and order a copy of TOTALLY OBVIOUS, my pdf e-book collection of all the essays on comics, creativity, culture and the freelance life from my previous column Master Of The Obvious. (You can read a sample while you're over there, if you're undecided.) 300 pages for only $5.95 - now that's reading!

    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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