Issue #2

[Box Office Poison]There are graphic novels, but there are only a few graphic novels: works as dense, complex and hefty as what the rest of the world outside our little niche calls novels.

Add Alex Robinson's BOX OFFICE POISON (Top Shelf Productions, Box 1282, Marietta GA 30061-1282; $29.95) to the list. It should be said that while Robinson's a good cartoonist, with a flair for exaggeration and facial expressions, he's only an adequate artist. This isn't a book you read for the art. I presume Robinson also lettered the story, and the only way to describe the lettering is amateurish. Which is unfortunate; in this age when lettering fonts are widely, some even freely, available, there's really no excuse for goofy lettering. True, it can add to an auteurial ambiance, but it usually just makes everything else in the project look slipshod.

Fortunately for Robinson, the former's more the case here. It'd be a shame if something like that were to chase people off this book, an apparently semi-autobiographical (his bookstore clerk stories certainly ring true; been there myself) tale of broken romances, bad jobs, dead end lives and unsure friendships struggling for hope. It's starts slowly, wrapping the characters around slice of life vignettes, then dovetails into an actual plot (with one subplot vaguely reminiscent of Michael Chabon's THE ADVENTURES OF KAVALIER AND CLAY, as a budding comics artist becomes an assistant to a shafted old timer eking out a meager living drawing cereal boxes) with much thematic emphasis on the chasm between what people think and what they do.

But screw the plot. The real star of this book is Robinson's dialogue. It's not "comic book dialogue." I can't parade out One Great Quote because, like most dialogue, the individual sentences tend toward the prosaic. This is ordinary speech, simple, but string it together and it sings with the rhythm and poetry of life in all its complexity. That's not easy to pull off, and Robinson makes it look effortless, with characters fully drawn (in a literary sense) – mainly because Robinson takes the space and time to do it properly. Everyone's a surprise in this book. $30 might seem like a lot, but average it over 600 pages and it's nowhere near as expensive as a copy of X-MEN. And, in the end, a hell of a lot more satisfying. It's got a good ending, too. Buy it. Read it.

Ah, fall is in the air, and the airwaves are rife with the advent – momentarily postponed – of the new fall TV season. A new STAR TREK show that may kill interest in the franchise for good, MUTANT X, comedies about chefs and sportswriters, a show touting how the CIA are the good guys after all... this is what we have to look forward to. Right now the only thing I've seen is the debut of THE ELLEN SHOW, touted in the press as "the best the new season has to offer." If that's the case, be afraid. Be very afraid. There's no point in even dissecting the show. It's TV cookie cutter vanilla emotionalism with that wry distancing that's gotten really, really tired in comedy (and most other genres, not to mention most media), and deGeneres is now in the running for world's more annoying woman. Her chatterbox character is so incoherent she makes Chris Tucker in the horrifyingly bad RUSH HOUR 2 sound like he's reciting Shakespeare. And networks wonder why cable continues to eat their audience. Suggestion to Hollywood: either dump the San Fernando Valley housewife focus groups or get them involved from the very start of the process. There's absolutely no excuse for putting gutless swill like this on the air, though shows like this make the argument that comic books are still a valuable source of entertainment in the modern world.

Haven't yet had a chance to see the new QUINCY remake, CROSSING JORDAN (I guess NBC just couldn't stand not having something to compete with last season's CBS breakout, CSI) but since it's got Jill (LAW AND ORDER; ROBOCOP 2) Hennessey, Miguel (San Diego Con's Seduction Of The Innocent; ROBOCOP) Ferrer and is directed by Allan (ROCK'N'ROLL HIGH SCHOOL) Arkush, it might actually have some character. Someone asked me what shows I watch regularly, and... uh... looking at the schedule I guess I don't. The last network shows I actually liked were VENGEANCE UNLIMITED, NEWSRADIO and HOMICIDE. We don't even have the cheesy goofiness of Don Johnson and Cheech Marin on NASH BRIDGES to kick around anymore. Don't get me wrong. I want shows to be good. I want them to succeed. One of my favorite actors, Brecken Meyer, stars in NBC's new INSIDE SCHWARZ later this week. I want to like it. I wanted to like Danny Nucci's SOME OF MY BEST FRIENDS on CBS last season, for the same reason. But it was awful, and the ads for INSIDE SCHWARTZ are crushing what little hope I have.

Where's OZ when you need it?

Also in this week: DOCTOR ALQUIMIA, from O-Goshi Studios, Box 67, Colora MD 21917; $2. Have to say I've got doubts about this one. I like wrestling, but despite its innovative acrobatics I've never really gotten into the Mexican "Lucha Libre" style, and here we have what appears to be a whole Lucha Libre fantasy wrestling comic. That isn't a comic. Their artist broke his hand, so rather than postpone or get a substitute, they published the story as text instead. I applaud their audacity, question their wisdom. Still, there are some useful features, like Luche Libre FAQs, links and news. If you pick up Lucha Libre matches on Spanish TV stations and find it interesting but don't quite understand it, this wouldn't be the worst place to start.

If you haven't seen it, run out now and pick up THE FILTH AND THE FURY on DVD, director Julian Temple's retrospective on the musical/cultural phenomenon that was The Sex Pistols, with tons of rare footage and commentary by the Pistols themselves. Punk rock has long been treated as a joke, and by 1980 it pretty much was, but Temple makes clear the real ongoing significance of the Sex Pistols and what they could mean to us today. It's the perfect antidote for the mindnumbing insipidness that's passed for pop culture in the last couple weeks. (Or longer, depending on your outlook.) Includes the short documentary UNDEFINING PUNK, notable for an interview with original NYC punk Richard Hell. New Line Home Video N5086.

Finally, the paranoid view expressed last week has been refined some: while it's hard to make a case the government abetted (without anticipation of the results) the 9-11 hijackings, it's becoming much easier that certain parties are attempting to capitalize on it. Certainly the airlines, already up to pretty much pre-hijacking capacity (in fact, there's probably never been a safer time to fly than right now, since everyone's working really hard to avoid another incident), are trying to push through their long-desired agenda of getting support money from the government while using layoffs to deal with their growing labor problems, and they haven't been very clear as to why those are appropriate responses to the hijacking. (Or, rather, more appropriate than hiring trained personnel at real wages to man security stations in airports.) Hate groups are using the increased xenophobia as a recruiting method, while the press has pretty much closed its eyes to incident of violence against foreigners of color – while the story of Northwest Airlines bouncing four Arab-Americans just trying to get home to Salt Lake City off a jet in Minneapolis made the news, few bothered to cover an Alabama senator making anti-Muslim hate speeches that lumped Muslims in with Bin Laden's crew, and incidents like an American Sikh with turban and lots of facial in the Modesto area going missing on the same walk he took every night for years and later being found dead in a canal have gotten barely a breath on the news. (Local police did definitely state he was not the victim of a hate crime; though unclear on what the nature of the crime was, they evidently knew what it wasn't.) In Arizona, even Native Americans have been attacked, pretty much for not having white skin. There's a lot of fear among American Muslims, and nobody's trying to ease tensions. I can only hope this is a temporary paranoia blip in American culture, but being temporary doesn't make it any better for the victims, and what happened to the victims at the World Trade Center and the Pentagon is no excuse for it.

But the worst example of cynical capitalization comes from Attorney General Ashcroft, who's trying to use it to ram through a bill (now part of H.R. 2500) pretty much designed to undercut the Constitution and lay the foundation for a police state. Despite indications that the 9-11 attacks were partly made possible by the refusal of different Federal law enforcement and intelligence agencies to share information or otherwise cooperate with each other (a line of inquiry quickly abandoned by press in favor of scare speculation and jingoism) the Attorney General's argument is that only sweeping and basically unfettered police powers can turn the tide for America. They will turn the tide, but not on the front and not in the way he suggests. Here's a letter I sent out to my Congresspeople last week:

Dear --,

Thursday night President Bush gave a speech in which he said what the terrorists hated about America was our freedom. He said they will not be allowed to take that from us.

This morning I woke to find out why: the Attorney General is putting forth a bill that will take it from us instead.

As a constituent, I am as concerned as anyone about the tragedies of Sept. 11. I believe our security was lax. I believe it needs to be improved. But I do not equate the improvement of security with the sacrifice of essential American liberties.

I am disturbed by the Attorney General's attempt, the Mobilization Against Terrorism Act (later renamed the Anti-Terrorism Act, or ATA, now part of H.R. 2500), to use the World Trade Center/Pentagon tragedy to push through a longstanding law enforcement agenda that has been rejected by Congress for years.

I am specifically disturbed by the call for Federal power to invade the e-mail of American citizens; to remove controls on wiretapping; to permit the flow of any information gained via wiretapping regardless of its applicability to the fight against terrorism; to allow the American government to legally use information against American citizens illegally obtained by foreign governments; to seize the property and assets of any party "suspected" of terrorism; to increase the ability of the government to spy on American citizens; to allow grand juries to surrender sealed information to intelligence circles; to allow the President to designate anyone an "enemy of America" by declaring them without apparent burden of proof to be "under foreign control"; to prevent even discussion of terrorism (and, by extension, discussion of counter-terrorism); to create a DNA database of parties in no way even suggested to be connected to terrorism; and to extend the definition of terrorism to include virtually any criminal act committed without a profit motive.

I support efforts to increase security and bring a stop to terrorism, but not at the cost of hard-won liberties. Please preserve them by preventing the executive branch from gaining broad and mostly unnecessary powers that will damage our freedoms as surely as any terrorist bomb, and likely with far more lasting effects. Please do not allow Congress to be railroaded into passing such a bill in the name of "solidarity."

Thank you. I'm depending on you.

The news this morning indicates Congress is having as difficult a time with most of these measures as I am, demonstrated by the unholy alliance of ultraliberal Maxine Waters (Dem-CA) and ultraconservative Bob Barr (Rep-GA) to slow their path to a vote. I've done what I can to tip the scales, because these are proposals which, if passed, will not easily go away, and, in the absence of a terrorist threat and the presence of the right political agenda, can easily be turned against any of us, regardless of political orientation. I urge everyone to write their Congresspeople (if you don't know who they are or don't know how to contact them, find your Senators here and your Representative here.

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.

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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. I still haven't decided whether to cover online comics. 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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