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Issue #208

by  in CBR Exclusives Comment
Issue #208

    The Shifting Sands Of The Comics Industry: one week, two small but potentially big events

    Paradise Postponed: Permanent Damage throws down the penciler gauntlet

    Down In The Flood: a survivor’s eye view of New Orleans, political humor, an open letter to Michael Moore, and, at last, recognition for Los Angeles

    All The Mail That’s Fit To Print

    Notes From Under The Floorboards

  • Interesting week. Aside from the notebook computer I’ve been working on deciding it’s going to start freezing up at least twice a day and the check dedicated to building the new rig still not yet showing up, two comics-related events have changed the ecology of the business a little.

    Warren Ellis, after years of resistance, decided to open up a new forum, The Engine. (For reasons that should be apparent in a moment, I won’t give you the url. If you want to take a look, subscribe to his Bad Signal e-newsletter, and at some point probably sooner than later he’ll tell you all about it.) Sure, to some extent it’s intended to serve the promotional function for Warren’s newer, non-superhero projects that the often imitated, never (sorry, Mark) duplicated legendary Warren Ellis Forum did before he closed it up, but it’s also intended to serve a more interesting purpose: to become sort of a bubble where comics creators can come together, visible to the public eye but removed from public interference, to discuss the current state of comics, specifically non-superhero comics, and try to brainstorm solutions to problems, to network and interact, to try to get things rolling. If history’s an indicator, the probability of such a venture generating significant change in the comics industry is small, but, like the man said, any chance is better than no chance at all. You never know.

    Then there’s Diamond’s announcement that comics/books selling earning less than ~$600 in orders for the distributor will be stricken from their roster, as nicely summarized by Heidi Macdonald. Approaching it as pure economics, it’s surprising Diamond didn’t inflict such a rule ages ago; even paying someone to handle the paperwork on such things probably costs more than it’s worth. On the other hand, there are other issues at work. Diamond went out of their way to become essentially the sole distributor for the comics business. Other distributors do exist – you don’t have to flood me with emails about them – but going through Diamond is about the only way any publisher can hope to make any money at all in the direct market as it exists today. There’s no doubt that the move can be – and has been – seen as an attempt to kill off new comics not from major comics publishers, since many new comics (Heidi cites CEREBUS and BONE) have to painstakingly grow an audience from levels far below the new Diamond cutoff. Certainly if you’re going to monopolize a market – not that anyone’s likely to call Diamond on it, but, yes, technically they hold a monopoly – you have some moral responsibility to facilitate offerings to that market. The question that we as an industry have to fumble with is: what’s the extent of that responsibility? There’s been some suggestion that this new policy is a gift to Marvel and DC, but it’s not like those companies don’t control the direct market anyway, or that there’s any small publisher today that, left “unchecked,” stands a chance of ending their hegemony. Not that most retailers would want it any other way, since ending their hegemony would likely mean ending the direct market itself, at least as we know it. So the theory goes, anyway. It’s a question of whether that’s bad comics or bad marketing. There’s no doubt that Diamond would prefer to go where the money is, which is the way most businesses operate, and you can make arguments either way that if the comics being cut were better they’d make enough money to be worth Diamond’s time or if Diamond and many retailers didn’t have ordering policies that worked against them many “small” comics would be able to find an audience capable of supporting them in grand style. It’s far from impossible that The Next Big Thing might start out as a little thing and evolve into a steamroller – it wouldn’t be hard to find examples in AMAZING SPIDER-MAN and TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES – but it’s also far from difficult to look at the vast mass of comics distributed by Diamond and see a few really interesting items drowning in an ocean of unadulterated crap.

    So where’s an answer? It might be something the Engine can be used to develop. The only real answer is a new distributor set up to facilitate small comics publishers rather than the big two. (You can’t really blame Diamond for knowing where its bread is buttered.) It also punctures the myth, generated first in the black and white mania of the ’80s (which ended in a lot of figurative bloodshed) and the speculator bubble of the ’90s (ditto, in spades), that all you have to do is produce a comic book and an audience will magically appear, or even that comic books are a shoestring operation. It demands money, time, sweat, promotion. It’s not that change isn’t possible. It’s that it isn’t easy, and this is a business where everyone seems to think everything should be easy and if it isn’t someone else should do it. Publishers who feel damaged by Diamond’s decision may feel they’re on their own now, but the truth is that they always were. And will be until they do something about it.

  • I had a lot more planned for the column this week, but, as it always does, life got in the way. I may as well accept it as a blessing in disguise. Following up last week’s article on penciling, I intended to do a small encyclopedia of types of shot for pencilers – I know Wally Wood produced something along those lines once upon a time – like high angle shot, low angle shot, two-shot, silhouette, etc. – with explanations of how they’re used in telling a comics story, their emotional value, etc. Now I’m wondering if (pro) pencilers reading this wouldn’t send in a scan of their favorite type of shot or shots along with how they apply them in their stories for effect. Credit, nothing drawn specially, nothing elaborate, just the chance to explicate your art a little. Any takers? You know the e-mail address.

  • Turns out, as water is pumped out of New Orleans and troops march in with the intent of forcibly removing the rest of the population, that as bad as the news told us things were in Katrina’s wake, they were softpedaling life in the flood. Maybe because, as in Iraq, they mostly went by the official word on things rather than go check out much for themselves. But, as it turns out, even the disenfranchised left in New Orleans can tell their stories. Is there some reason you have to go to the rinky-dink Los Angeles Herald-Dispatch to get any?:

    When Do The Saints Come Marching In?

    A Very Different Picture of post-Katrina New Orleans

    EDITOR’S NOTE: Redbone Press publisher Lisa Moore has been telling a very different story about the armed denizens of New Orleans.

    I heard from my aunt last night that my cousin Denise made it out of New Orleans; she’s at her brother’s in Baton Rouge.

    Her mother, a licensed practical nurse, was called in to work on Sunday night at Memorial Hospital (historically known as Baptist Hospital to those of us from N.O.). Denise decided to stay with her mother, her niece and grandniece (who is two years old); she figured they’d be safe at the hospital. They went to Baptist, and had to wait hours to be assigned a room to sleep in. After they were finally assigned a room, two white nurses suddenly arrived after the cut-off time (time to be assigned a room), and Denise and her family were booted out; their room was given up to the new nurses. Denise was furious, and rather than stay at Baptist, decided to walk home (several blocks away) to ride out the storm at her mother’s apartment. Her mother stayed at the hospital.

    She described it as the scariest time in her life. Three of the rooms in the apartment (there are only four) caved in. Ceilings caved in, walls caved in. she huddled under a mattress in the hall. She thought she would die from either the storm or a heart attack. After the storm passed, she went back to Baptist to seek shelter (this was Monday). It was also scary at Baptist; the electricity was out, they were running on generators, there was no air conditioning. Tuesday the levees broke, and water began rising. They moved patients upstairs, saw boats pass by on what used to be streets. They were told that they would be evacuated, that buses were coming. Then they were told they would have to walk to the nearest intersection, Napoleon and S. Claiborne, to await the buses. They waded out in hip-deep water, only to stand at the intersection, on the neutral ground (what y’all call the median) for three 1/2 hours. The buses came and took them to the Ernest Morial Convention Center. (yes, the convention center you’ve all seen on TV.)

    Denise said she thought she was in hell. They were there for two days, with no water, no food. no shelter. Denise [was with] her mother (63 years old), her niece (21 years old), and two-year-old grandniece. When they arrived, there were already thousands of people there. They were told that buses were coming. Police drove by, windows rolled up, thumbs up signs. National Guard trucks rolled by, completely empty, soldiers with guns cocked and aimed at them. Nobody stopped to drop off water. A helicopter dropped a load of water, but all the bottles exploded on impact due to the height of the helicopter.

    The first day (Wednesday) four people died next to her. The second day (Thursday) six people died next to her. Denise told me the people around her all thought they had been sent there to die. Again, nobody stopped. The only buses that came were full; they dropped off more and more people, but nobody was being picked up and taken away. They found out that those being dropped off had been rescued from rooftops and attics. They got off the buses delirious from lack of water and food, completely dehydrated. The crowd tried to keep them all in one area; Denise said the new arrivals had mostly lost their minds.

    Inside the convention center, the place was one huge bathroom. In order to [defecate], you had to stand in other people’s [feces]. The floors were black and slick with [feces]. Most people stayed outside because the smell was so bad. but outside wasn’t much better: between the heat, the humidity, the lack of water, the old and very young dying from dehydration … and there was no place to lay down, not even room on the sidewalk.

    They slept outside Wednesday night, under an overpass.

    Denise said yes, there were young men with guns there. But they organized the crowd. They went to Canal Street and “looted,” and brought back food and water for the old people and the babies, because nobody had eaten in days. When the police rolled down windows and yelled out “the buses are coming,” the young men with guns organized the crowd in order: old people in front, women and children next, men in the back, just so that when the buses came, there would be priorities of who got out first.

    Denise said the fights she saw between the young men with guns were fist fights. She saw them put their guns down and fight rather than shoot up the crowd. But she said that there were a handful of people shot in the convention center; their bodies were left inside, along with other dead babies and old people.

    Yes, a few men shot at the police, because at a certain point all the people thought the cops were coming to hurt them, to kill them all. She saw a young man who had stolen a car speed past, cops in pursuit. He crashed the car, got out and ran, and the cops shot him in the back. In front of the whole crowd. She saw many groups of people decide that they were going to walk across the bridge to the west bank, and those same groups would return, saying that they were met at the top of the bridge by armed police ordering them to turn around, that they weren’t allowed to leave. So they all believed they were sent there to die.

    Denise’s niece found a pay phone, and kept trying to call her mother’s boyfriend in Baton Rouge, and finally got through and told him where they were. The boyfriend, and Denise’s brother, drove down from Baton Rouge and came and got them. They had to bribe a few cops, and talk a few into letting them into the city (“come on, man, my two-year-old niece is at the Convention Center!”), then they took back roads to get to them.

    After arriving at my other cousin’s apartment in Baton Rouge, they saw the images on TV, and couldn’t believe how the media was portraying the people of New Orleans. She kept repeating to me on the phone last night, “make sure you tell everybody that they left us there to die. Nobody came. Those young men with guns were protecting us. If it wasn’t for them, we wouldn’t have had the little water and food they had found.”

    Kind of a different picture, innit? What’s now being widely decried by pundits as “anarchy” may be a self-imposed government trying to rise to the occasion and cope with the anarchy rained down on them by the complete abandonment of New Orleans by any “legitimate” government, city, state or federal.

    On the anniversary of 9/11, give or take, it’s worth reflecting that this is now two disasters presided over by the same administration that could easily have avoided either by paying a little attention. (Oh, wait, I forgot they were “cleared” of that re: 9/11 by a committee they routinely stalled, hindered and tried to shut down but which didn’t want to look “political”…)

    I see FEMA “head” Michael Brown, has resigned his post. Whether it was in a huff over being abruptly removed from Louisiana (just as the Hand Puppet was scheduled to make another photo-op trip there; avoiding guilt by association?) or part of a planned stratagem, as I suggested last week would occur, to “Tenet” him for the FEMA response failures (for those who don’t get the reference, CIA director George Tenet fell on his sword so the Administration could dodge responsibility for disinformation about Iraq’s fictitious “weapons of mass destruction” programs, and apologizes for “CIA failures” in gathering correct information when many analysts in the CIA had been trying to give them the correct information all along) I couldn’t say. In a curious “damned if you do damned because you didn’t” twist, the administration’s relief efforts have come under fire as well. Among other things, HUD’s sudden “find” of 500 low income housing units for use by New Orleans refugees was met with rage by homeless advocates who’ve been trying to get such housing from HUD for years, and told by HUD administrators such housing didn’t exist. Now not only does it turn out to exist (or, if it didn’t exist before, it turns out it could be produced quickly enough if anyone cared to) but flood victims have been pushed to the front of the list, ahead of other needy people who’ve been waiting for years. Private efforts have taken a similarly strange turn. Here in Las Vegas, Station Casinos has suddenly discovered they need to fill some 500+ jobs and are holding a job fair – business dress not required – for New Orleans refugees. (A number have come here.) Certainly no one should be castigated for trying to help the flood victims, but if things like low income housing and unfilled jobs existed, why weren’t they already being distributed to people who need them? Are we that blasé about ordinary suffering?

    But, you know, the worst is over (except for maybe the Carolinas… and the still-suffering Gulf Coast… and whatever happens to be in the path of the next hurricane… or earthquake…), so it’s time for America to get on with being America. Time to laugh again. So here’s a joke that’s been making the rounds. (It’s not mine, honest.)

    “Question: How many members of the Bush Administration are needed to change a light bulb?

    Answer: TEN.

    1. One to deny that a light bulb needs to be changed,

    2. One to attack the patriotism of anyone who says the light bulb needs to be changed,

    3. One to blame Clinton for burning out the light bulb,

    4. One to tell the nations of the world that they are either for changing the light bulb or for eternal darkness,

    5. One to give a billion dollar no-bid contract to Halliburton for a new light bulb,

    6. One to arrange a photograph of Bush, dressed as a janitor, standing on a step ladder under the banner “Bulb Accomplished”,

    7. One administration insider to resign and in detail reveal how Bush was literally “in the dark” the whole time,

    8. One to viciously smear #7,

    9. One surrogate to campaign on TV and at rallies on how George Bush has had a strong light bulb-changing policy all along,

    10. And finally, one to confuse Americans about the difference between screwing a light bulb and screwing the country.

    And after all is said and done, no one will notice that they never actually managed to change the light bulb.”

    Thanks, Bry.

    Finally, an open letter to Michael Moore:

    Dear Michael,

    I hear you’re planning a new documentary on the New Orleans disaster, and your intent is that the administration should be held accountable for their culpability in and exacerbation of the horrible event. No one’s a bigger fan of that sentiment than me.

    That said, please don’t make the film.

    Don’t get me wrong. I’ve watched and enjoyed many of your films over the years, going back to ROGER AND ME, your breakout about the disintegration of the quality of life in your home town of Flint MI as longtime employers General Motors abandoned the city. I enjoyed both your TV series, TV NATION and THE AWFUL TRUTH, despite your increasingly disturbing pattern of charging into corporate lobbies (the Chicken was a nice touch) and proclaiming your inalienable right to speak with some company president right up to the point where you’d scramble out after being threatened with arrest. Once or twice, it didn’t really matter, but after the seemingly thousandth time it suggested a certain, I don’t know, lack of commitment. BOWLING WITH COLUMBINE was a decent film that raised a number of good points but went weirdly screwy; what was that bit where you scurried down Charlton Heston’s driveway looking over your shoulder like you’d stumbled into a John Woo remake of THE MOST DANGEROUS GAME and expected sinister looking men with pencil mustaches and pith helmets to suddenly leap from the foliage and mow you down with elephant guns or AK-47s? BOWLING WITH COLUMBINE ended with a false sense of triumph, your triumph over the forces of evil at K-Mart that finally bowed to your demand that they remove guns and ammo from their stores. And how well they acquiesced; I can walk into my local Super K-Mart tonight and buy shotguns and ammo. It was gratifying to see your personal outrage over Columbine assuaged, but where’s any real victory? You won awards but changed nothing.

    And that was the problem with FAHRENHEIT 9/11. (I notice you’re working on a sequel.) Great premise, tons of great information. I’ve raked over much of the info here myself. I agree completely with your premise: the current administration could easily have stopped 9/11 if they’d been of a mind and focus to, and they manipulated justified public anger and fear over 9/11 into an unnecessary and unjust war in Iraq, which has really only served to exacerbate terrorism in the world, not combat it, and has weakened American economically and militarily. Got to go with you there.

    But that’s not what the film turned out to be about. Like BOWLING FOR COLUMBINE, it was really about you, and your personal outrage. Now I’ve got nothing against personal outrage, but when that becomes your subject, you’ve got problems. (I’m sure many of my more right-wing readers will find that this part of the discussion more than a little ironic, as many apparently believe I function entirely on personal outrage.)

    There was a graphic novel done in the early ’90s by two of the greats of modern comics, Alan Moore and Bill Sienkiewicz, called BROUGHT TO LIGHT, on behalf of the Christic Institute, which was then being sued for attempting to, um, bring to light covert actions by the Reagan administration and their privatized cohorts that meddled, often violently, in the internal affairs of foreign (particularly but not exclusive to Latin American) countries and were often funded by drug smuggling, gunrunning and a host of other lucrative crimes. The book is chock full of information. Just gobs of it. I know many comics fans and professionals who hold it in the highest regard. It’s a blistering read, dazzling to look at, and in many ways is a breakthrough event not only for Alan and Bill but for the comics industry.

    Many are still pissed off that the Christic Institute disavowed it. But the Christic Institute was right to disavow it.

    Because the whole style was so over the top that while the converted could easily fall in line and shout “Right on!” at the revelations, the book stylistically seemed almost intentionally designed to convince any on the fence or on the other side of it that anyone who believed what was in the book had to be a frothing lunatic. As a work of art, it’s staggering. As a mode of information and persuasion, it’s abominable.

    While more sedate, FAHRENHEIT 9/11 falls into that category, too. It seemed more designed to re-establish your credentials among true believers than to convince anyone who wasn’t already in your camp that something needed to be done. It got you notoriety and reputation, but, now, several years later, what has it changed? Sure, they love it in France, but all that does is gives you something in common with Jerry Lewis. But what it did here was made you bigger than the subject. That was partly the press response, but it was partly your fault too because, as I said, your outrage became the real subject of the film. That not only gave the admittedly over-the-top right wing response to the film credibility, it made it next to impossible for other, more dispassionate and more coherent documentaries about the abuses of this administration, many of which can now be seen regularly on the Sundance Channel, to find distribution. (You could, of course, argue that, being documentaries, they wouldn’t have anyway.) Frankly, it has gotten to the point where the more paranoid believe you’re secretly a government disinformation agent sent out to be a cut-out, to make serious matters seem ridiculous to the common man and convince them to ignore important information and reject it as “conspiracy theory.”

    At any rate, the film you’re now proposing has a very serious subject, and we could use a good documentary on that subject. Certainly there’s a story to be told. But we don’t need yet another film about your personal outrage, or this character (you) that you love to put on film. I think you could easily do a film without it, particularly in this instance when there are so many people who could be riveting just telling their own damning stories (see the news article above for an example), but I get the feeling you’ve come to believe that your on-screen presence is a major selling point of your films. Look back to your early films. Sure, you were there, but as a support player. Look at it this way: either you’re more interesting than your subjects, in which case the films probably shouldn’t be made, or the subjects are more interesting than you, in which case your presence isn’t really required, though you’ve proved you can be a fine unifying device for a film.

    Again, don’t get me wrong. I’m looking forward to your upcoming exposé of drug companies. I wish you’d go back to your thematic roots and do a really good documentary on how NAFTA and other trade pacts, and the constant bleeding of jobs to cheaper overseas markets, are converting the USA to a third world nation with a basically service economy, and how even tech jobs, a decade ago proclaimed to be the salvation of the American future, have largely gone overseas, how innovation used to be an American byword and now it’s mostly reserved for infomercial products. There are plenty of things people need to be made aware of, and you’re still a man who can do it.

    But if you can’t make a film that’s about New Orleans and the non-existent preparation for and languid response to the disaster instead of another film about you, stay away from New Orleans. You’ll only go more harm than good, and there’s been enough of that kind of thing down there already.


    Steven Grant

    Last but not least, I read that a supposed “authentic” al-Qaeda tape has sworn to rain down more of London and Madrid on Melbourne and Los Angeles. This should make my friends in Los Angeles very happy. As regular readers know, I happened to have been in Los Angeles on 9/11, and the city immediately shut down, with pretty much everyone seemingly (and very vocally) convinced that if New York and Washington were hit, Los Angeles would be imminently attacked next. On the morning of the attacks, it was a prudent move to shut down the city to all intents and purposes. As the week waxed on and no attack came, though, the general mood became disgruntled, as if Angelenos were peeved that their city (which is, after all, the entertainment Mecca of the world, no pun intended) wasn’t important enough to attack. Though L.A. Police Chief William Bratton dismissed (probably rightly) the tape as rhetoric, Angelenos can now rest secure in the knowledge that, yes, their city is considered important enough to attack. Congratulations. (Though… I dunno… there was something very fishy about that tape, like it was filmed in somebody’s parents’ basement in Fresno.)

  • A few letters, since I’ve been lax about those lately:

    [About when ALICE IN WONDERLAND etc. became Disney’s ALICE IN WONDERLAND etc.] “I imagine it was about the time that Disney and company decided that the traditional endings — and even plot lines — of morality/lesson-teachng fairy tales didn’t mesh well with commercial needs, where the ending has to be “Happily Ever After” (HEA) The real “The Little Mermaid” ends with her turning to foam on the beach and being washed away with the tide, or something like that, a far cry from marrying the Prince and achieving HEA. And thus, the cartoon is “Disney’s The Little Mermaid” rather than “Hans Christian Andersen’s The Little Mermaid”.”

    Well, I know “Beauty And The Beast” sort of ends the Disney way. Or was it the FABLES way?

    “I’ve gone to EuroDisney once, and don’t plan on going again. Or to take my kids there, when/if I have them. I found it intellectually mind-numbing and a sensory assault. I don’t like Disney, nor their attitude towards cultural appropriation. I find it hypocritical that the biggest supporters of the Sonny Bono Copyright Extension Act have built their empire on foundations laid on adaptations of works that belong to the public domain. I bet if you ask somebody in the street who created Peter Pan, they’ll say Walt Disney. The best way to own a piece of Disney merchandise without supporting the “evil Disney empire” is to buy it in Russia – Mickey Mouse is public domain there now.

    You’re complaining about $3 a gallon for gasoline? I did some math to convert it to the metric system, to find out how much more expensive we have it here in Portugal. Turns out we’re a few cents short of $6 a gallon. The last time we paid $3 was in 1992. You guys still have it easy. And that is the reason we love compact hatchbacks in Europe – because we’ve been paying taxes through the roof on oil-based products since the 1973 oil crisis, not because our cities have narrow and tight streets.

    It’s not exactly true when you say that, in light of the oil crisis, American car companies weren’t tooled to make small, compact cars. They were tooled, the problem was that the tooling was all in Europe. The truth is American cars sucked in the late 70s/early 80s. At the time, Japanese cars were beginning not to. And European cars, whether they sucked or not, were always more expensive than American or Japanese cars. Even so, American car companies had some good compact designs, with small engines, if not reliable mechanics. Up until 1978, Chrysler had a nice European subsidiary, aptly named Chrysler Europe, which was the result of the merger between the British Rootes Group, and the French SIMCA. In 1978, Chrysler sold Chrysler Europe to Peugeot, but sill managed to retain American rights to the car that eventually became the Plymouth Horizon/Dodge Omni. AMC had been bought by Renault by that time. They replaced the Spirit with a Renault 9/11 clone, called Alliance (sedan) and Encore (hatchback). Renault then sold AMC to Chrysler in 1985. Instead of using what they learned from SIMCA and Renault, Chrysler chose instead to start rebadging Mitsubishis assembled in Canada. Ford had both British and German arms to rely on to build a compact car. Unfortunately, the American Escort (which was a slightly uglier and underpowered version of the European model) never took off until it was replaced by a rebadged Mazda. And the Festiva, instead of being based on the European Ford Fiesta, was an old Mazda 121 design that was assembled in South Korea at the time. You may also recall the failed attempt at launching the Merkur brand, as well as the Ford Contour. Both European midsize cars, that the Americans didn’t want because they were too small and too expensive. The Focus was the first European product that was successfully transplanted to America. General Motors probably had the best technology to rely on. The late 70s Chevrolet Chevette/Pontiac 1000 were bad attempts at using outdated British technology from Vauxhall. They should have gone with German technology from Opel instead, as the 1982 Kadett D was a fantastic car and could have been used as the replacement for the Chevette… but it was introduced too late, in 1989, as the Pontiac Le Mans, at a time the European model had given room for a brand new generation, four years before. The Le Mans used a Kadett E bodywork with Kadett D underpinnings. By that time, GM had decided the larger J-platform was good enough and the Chevy Cavalier/Pontiac Sunbird were small enough.

    So the American auto industry did have small cars. They just didn’t know how to sell them. The public was never educated into buying them, because they still had the larger older gas-guzzler cars in the model line-up. Why buy a small Chevy, Chrysler or Ford, when we can have the big ones instead? If I want small, I’ve got these weird Japanese critters to choose from.”

    Actually, for a few years in America they couldn’t sell anything but small cars, which nearly put many U.S. automakers out of business. That, more than the $3 gas tag, was my complaint: we knew for decades that the price of gasoline couldn’t do anything but drastically rise, because we’ve known for decades that it’s a non-renewable resource that’s rapidly running out. And we haven’t done anything to prepare for the future. Instead it was decided to push big cars again, and let oil companies rake in the green while supplies last, and let the future take care of itself.

    “I found your recent article concerning Disneyland (and the following stage of nostalgia it brings) to be both brilliant and insightful. While I don’t always agree with the political views written in your column, I always respect them as they’re well researched and well thought out.

    San Diego has had its fair share of corruption, most recently to one mayor resigning (after being ousted as one of the worst mayors in America in both TIME and television) and two of his successors also being charged for corruption (on bribes and various other scandal issues). I spoke with my grandfather (who’s lived here for more than 50 years) about future new prospects and he responded “every one in the council is pretty much corrupt, you get used to it”.

    I can’t help but the same about any current American government or administration. Is there a time when the current administration is decent and helpful towards the American public? Or are we forced to admit that it was always be the same with our only joys of escaping the mundane to be Disneyland or comic books?

    One of the greatest things about being American though is our right to choose. Don’t like candidate, don’t vote for them. While it may seem in the short term to not matter-I feel that just the fact we still have that option is still a god given gift and something we can always be appreciative towards.

    So OK, the current government sucks? So what. There’s a good Padres game coming soon, and the mayor reelections (which may prove to be fruitless) are coming around yet again.

    What’ll probably most likely happen to our current oil crisis in the near future is that we will be forced to find another solution. Corruption and money laundering aside. Solar power, or whatever automotive choice we may have will come into being due to a crisis and not any near short term solution.

    Travel has always been one of my passions, but rising costs will certainly circumvent any kind of long term travel plans in the near future for the U.S. Despite what is currently told in the mainstream there are options. Europe can still be done on $50-$60 a day with an amazing transportation system, and some well cleaned hostels.

    The U.S though has a long way to go before even being foreign friendly for travel to outside counties. Shitty transportation systems, and high airline costs will continue to escalate before were forced to make a change. The voice of the consumer always drives change. It’ll just happen at the last minute.”

    There’s such a thing as a good Padres game? (I’m kidding, I’m kidding…) But the U.S.A. doesn’t really need to change its transportation/tourism options, since most foreign tourists (and American tourists, it seems) only want to come to Las Vegas now anyway.

    “Regarding your thoughts on “Dead West” as a Leone/Romero combination, its plot sounds nearly identical to Joe R. Lansdale’s novel, “Dead in the West,” which was also adapted as a two-issue comic book series from Dark Horse in 1993 (and subsequently reprinted in “Atomic Chili: The Illustrated Joe R. Lansdale” from Mojo Press).”


    [Regarding Salt Lake City politics:] “Rocky Anderson is a former ACLU lawyer and is about as far left as you get. I’ve met him a couple of times. He is a democrat, no friend of Bush and actually represents a large and emerging demographic in Salt Lake City. This is true because of the many new bloods who are sick of LA or Denver and come to the city to work. The more conservative demographic has shifted to Utah or Davis county and such. Overall Utah is Republican country, though. Early in the area’s history the church assigned political parties to neighborhoods to balance out the political demographic. There is a conservative base throughout the Midwest for that matter. And Kerry couldn’t capture the Midwest to save his life. You’re probably right about Bush l, but I also thought Brent Scowcroft had advised Bush l that going into Baghdad, would fractionalize the country and that the Sunnis, Shiates and the Kurds would never come together. I think the general in head of the troops wanted to go in.”

    I’m not “probably” right about Bush(1), I am right. To get Muslim nations backing for the Kuwait adventure, he cut a deal to stay out of Iraq, and kept the deal. I don’t recall Stormin’ Norman Schwartzkopf being an advocate of invasion, though. And I grew up in Posse Comitatus country, so I’m well aware of the Midwest’s conservative bent, though the Midwest, like much of the country, has strangely paradoxical threads running through it, like being the birthplace of Progressivism.

    “I read this the day after a discussion with my wife about an argument brewing in her church:

    This too is part of post-20th century America, though it has always been a part of America, even the America that Disney so fondly and falsely commemorated in his theme park, that the “common man” should shut up and trust in his leaders and let them deal with problems. Or, rather, let them let corporations deal with problems. Which flies in the face of the “rugged individualism” myth, but whaddaya gonna do?

    She tells me that following your leaders unquestioningly is “scriptural” and considering the founding fathers reasons for heading to America and the current position of the religious right, I wonder if that is ingrained in the American psyche in the same way “rugged individualism” is.

    It was interesting as well to read about the effects of an internet presence of creators on the sales of their work. I dismissed Warren Ellis early on as someone whose work was of no interest to me. It seemed to be brimming with a bitterness and negativity that had no relevance to me or my life and since I read comics for entertainment I ignored his work. However I began looking at and subscribed to his Bad Signal email and found him to be an intelligent writer with a great deal of interesting things to say, not just about the comics industry but things outside. Based on that I bought the first Planetary book and enjoyed it enough to buy subsequent volumes. I had a similar experience with your own writing, not being a fan of the Punisher and not having enjoyed your earlier writing at Marvel. Reading your column lead me to pick up Badlands which I seriously enjoyed.

    This hasn’t worked in every case, a number of columnists’ work has put me off buying any comic with their name attached so I guess the end answer is it makes little difference either way to sales of your work if you have a strong internet presence.”

    From the sound of it, it depends on the type of presence. But, y’know, we’re all acquired tastes. As for following leaders, virtually all leaders prefer to be followed unquestioningly, and certainly a great many religions (or, at least, religious sects) encourage that behavior, but that’s no reason to do it. But most of “The Founding Fathers” didn’t come to America to escape religious persecution, though there were certainly groups like the Pilgrims that did, but for economic reasons, despite the myth that America was “founded” for religious reasons. If you’re speaking of the United States Of America, that was founded in a whole different era from the original colonist anyway. I doubt what, say, William Penn originally intended to do with his King-given tract of land was of much concern to George Washington or John Hancock or Benjamin Franklin, so the “religious founding” of the “country” is pretty much irrelevant anachronistic nonsense.

    “I strongly disagree with some of your ideas. a couple include the idea that Disney wanted people “to shut up and trust their leaders.” I don’t think this is true at all. I believe that Disney only wanted to recognize the great contributions of some of our greatest leaders. One really has to be a cynic to take it the other way. Of course, we all see what we want to see but…

    Additionally, your referring to the president as “the hand-puppet” or something like that takes any real meaning away from your argument or statement. It comes off as petty and despite one’s political opinions, the office or the ideal of the office can and should at least be respected enough to refer to that person as the President. In the end, derogatory comments like that only serve to weaken america and the world’s perceptions of it.”

    I only call him The Hand Puppet because I believe in truth in marketing, and it’s nicer than other things I could call him. As for Disney and leaders, Disney is all about iconography – Ford’s “when the legend becomes truth, print the legend” – and iconography and politics are a dangerous and volatile mix.

    “Not sure if you’re aware of the podcast COMIC GEEK SPEAK, but between them and now you, I need to hunt down BACK ISSUE magazine. (And if you don’t listen to CGS… well there are worse ways to spend a hour and change. Five guys sitting around the table talking comics and having fun. Good stuff…)”

    I don’t get podcasts, unfortunately, but if I ever do I’ll check it out. If no retailer in your area carries BACK ISSUE, go straight to the source: TwoMorrows Publishing.

    “Much thanks to Steven Grant for his very kind words about HEARTBREAKERS MEET BOILERPLATE. A correction: the book is $9.99 not $17.99, and it’s sepia-tone and color not halftone. Thanks again!”

    Sorry about the price confusion. Great looking book, though.

    “About COMIC BOOK ARTIST. Top Shelf are now the publishers, and the 6th issue of Vol 2 was due last month but never showed, apparently it comes out Sept 8 – and it’s a special Will Eisner tribute issue!).”

    I knew they’d gone to Top Shelf, but, like I said, they seemed to have vanished after that. It’ll be interesting to see what they do with the Eisner issue.

    “….Fortunately (if anything about this complete FUBAR situation can be even remotely fortunate) the historic part of New Orleans (i.e. The French Quarter) was largely unaffected by the flooding. It is on slightly higher ground than the rest of the city.”

    The original reports I got indicate otherwise, but it’s good to hear.

    “Nice write-up on New Orleans. I have a tendency to read your column more for your insights on politics then anything else. This was a disaster on many levels and I agree that there will be plenty of blame to go around, but I fear that we will again not respond in the proper manner.

    The prices in my area (Maryland) went to almost $4 a gallon and the panic that was ensuing was frightening, yet no one wants to deal with the fact the end of cheap gas is coming sooner then anyone seems to want to know. Too many people with their heads in the sand.

    I think perhaps flooding New Orleans and christening New Atlantis as an underwater tourist attraction maybe the way to go.”

    Good idea. They can sell tickets in the French Quarter. But, again, I don’t think it’s what Francis Bacon had in mind…

    “Yes… it is all Bush’s fault. He stole all the billions of dollars the Democrats had earmarked to improve the levees in New Orleans and used it to murder Iraqis so Haliburton could make more money and funnel it right wing groups who then pushed for more war. I can very distinctly remember when Clinton was president how billions were being spent to improve the levees… then the very day Bush stole the 2000 election he demanded the levees be returned to the horrible state they were in before Clinton. Yes…that’s it…that’s what happened.


    Mastery of words and language sure doesn’t mean much does it?

    Your ignorance to the realities of the situation is what is obvious.

    I often find your political rantings humorous (at least the way you write about them) and informative… I appreciate other views than mine and like to have my beliefs challenged… but your comments about Katrina and the problems that set the stage for it made me sick. You really don’t understand how your hatred for Bush has clouded your mind do you?


    I pity you. You must be a bitter and tortured soul.

    If I believed in God I would pray for you… instead… if I ever have the chance… I just may smack you upside the head and hope that whatever is loose in there gets knocked back into place.


    P.S. If you will remember, the Bush administration opposed the creation of the Dept. of Homeland Security. I do believe Bush himself said he didn’t understand how creating yet another layer of bureaucracy would help anything. Then the Democrats began playing politics with the whole thing and we ended up with a bill the Democrats and moderates wanted and forced down the administration’s throat. But… wait… facts don’t matter… it was… whatever it is… wherever it is… whenever it is… BUSH’S FAULT!


    Whew! For a minute there I thought you were disagreeing with me.

    “This past weekend we had a little “Collections and Heirlooms” exhibit at my church, so I broke out some of the choice comics in my collection to display. I guarantee you I had no less than three kids somewhere in the ages of 8-12 come and ask me “What are these?” WHAT ARE THESE!? I couldn’t believe it. Now we all know that kids don’t read comics, but I was truly floored. I asked one of them that I happen to know fairly well who is my daughter’s age, “You don’t read comic books?”

    His response…”There’s no such thing as comic books anymore is there?”

    I didn’t even know what to say. The really sad part is that we actually have a spinning rack of recent Marvel and DC comics in the local grocery store (I’m from a very small town so we all go to the same grocery store).

    I don’t know what my point is here, I just had to share this story with someone.”

    I think the point may be that the first step in getting a new audience for comics is telling any potential audience that comics exist. Thanks. That scenario isn’t really unexpected anymore, but it’s still scary.

  • Just realized the column starts its fifth year next week. No celebration planned but you’re welcome to throw me a surprise party…

    Congratulations to the winner of last week’s Comics Cover Challenge, Michael Deeley, who chooses to promote the Daredevil fan site he contributes to, Man Without Fear. As he mentions, “Started and run by Kuljit Mithra, it includes a list of all Daredevil comics, with creator credits and character appearances; issue summaries; interviews; character profiles; and stuff you never knew existed. Public contributions are always welcome.” For those who came in late, every week I run a handful of old covers, scattered throughout the column, to comics that share a specific secret theme. It might be the covers that have something in common, or it might be the comics. Sometimes it’s easy, sometimes it’s tough, and I always leave some sort of clue, though you may not realize it’s a clue. The first person to correctly guess the secret theme for that week (and let’s restrict our guesses to e-mail so we don’t ruin it for other players, shall we?) gets to pimp whatever website they choose, though we do reserve the right to refuse promotion of porn, gambling and certain commercial websites, though that hasn’t been a problem so far. But what happened in the past doesn’t really matter, does it? What matters is what you do next.

    Did a long phone interview with John Siuntres last week for his Word Balloon website. Not sure when it’ll be up – it’ll be a sound file, baby – but I’ll let you know, and in the meantime you can check out interviews with Brian Azzarello and others that are already on the site.

    My two books – a collection of essays on comics, creativity, modern culture and the freelance life called TOTALLY OBVIOUS: the complete Master Of The Obvious (~300 pgs), and a collection of political essays covering the Terror Years (2001-2005) called IMPOLITIC: A Journal Of The Plague Years, Vol. 1 (~250 pgs) – are available in pdf e-format at The Paper Movies Store. $5.95@. Go get them. Thanks.

    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.

    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.

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