Got an e-mail last week from a would-be comics writer asking for my help. I'm not mentioning his name because he could be any one of the dozens who send me letters like this. To wit:
I loved your run on X-MAN. I was curious if you would be willing to help a writer break into the field? I am a writer and am trying to find every possible way I can break into comics. I am a poor married college student, so self publishing is out the door. If you would be willing to atleast read a script I would only be too happy to e-mail it to you. I hope to hear from you soon. I am not submitting the script to you, people seem to flip out if they think you are submitting things to them. Talk to you later.
Sadly, there's nothing I can really do for him, or for any of you. The only way to break into comics writing is to prove you can write, at least to the satisfaction of an editor. Let's work this out. The only way I can be of help is to put in a word for you with editors. But I have my own professional reputation to consider – it's shaky enough to start with – so the only way I can in good conscience recommend someone is if I really like their writing, and, more than that, really like the way they execute a comic book. I can't do that if I haven't read their work. I can't read unpublished writing for legal reasons, mainly I don't want to have to waste time in court if someone decides I've plagiarized their unpublished work. (And don't start telling me you'll sign a waiver, because that won't keep us out of court – lawyers can find all kinds of way around waivers – it'll only keep you from winning. Maybe.)
In this instance, being a nice guy doesn't mean anything, for either of us. I know plenty of nice guys who can't write a lick and several right bastards whose craft is so flawless it makes me cry. Being a nice guy, or even being in need, is simply not a qualification.
This is one of those situations where the only way to do it is to do it. There's no short cut, and no other way. And I can't do it for you, and neither can anyone else. It's a tough road, I know. I sympathize, honest. If you can't publish your own comic, get an editor or publisher interested in your work. Getting published isn't easy, and making a living from published work is far harder than that. We've all been there. But that doesn't change anything. I wish I could help, but there's really nothing I or anyone else in the business besides an editor or publisher can do.
And, trust me, if you're reading this and thinking, "yes, but I'm an exception," you're not. Unless you're already a published writer, you're in the same boat as thousands of others, and the only one who can change that is you.
Regarding last week's commentary on revamping Jack Kirby's Fourth World books, Mark Evanier, who worked closely with Jack during that period (and who, as I mentioned, briefly continued the series for DC in the '80s), dropped over to the Permanent Damage Message Board for some additional perspective on the problem:
"Jack didn't particularly want to do super-heroes when he went to DC in 1970. Didn't particularly want to do IN THE DAYS OF THE MOB or SPIRIT WORLD, either. Didn't even want to do NEW GODS, except maybe to launch the book and hand it off to others. He especially didn't want to do 32-page comics for the same DC/Marvel audience.
"Unfortunately, throughout his career, Jack rarely had the chance to do what he wanted. Had someone said to him in 1970, "We'll do whatever you want," he'd have pushed for something that didn't look anything like anything anyone else had done... or possibly has done since. His main proposal at the time was for something upscale in magazine format -- kind of a non-humorous NATIONAL LAMPOON with stories about the issues of the day. DC wanted 32-page super-hero comics and, when he described the kind of magazines he wanted to do, Independent News couldn't see past trying to snag some of the Warren audience.
"If someone had said to Jack, 'You can do anything you want, creatively, and it doesn't matter if it sells or not,' I think we'd have gotten a lot of stories like STREETWISE and a lot of autobiographical war tales, not unlike Sam Glanzman's U.S.S. STEVENS series. I think he'd also have delved more into broad humor...
"I should add that I agree with most of what you wrote [on the subject]. I think the Fourth World books may be a bit too personal to their creator to lend themselves to continuation by others. When I got thrust into doing them, I never had the chance to ask the question whether I was out to emulate Jack's take on the characters or develop my own. As it happened, I still don't know which might have been the proper course; only that I managed neither.
"Yet another problem with following in Jack's footsteps was that Jack conceived THE NEW GODS as a finite story -- something that would go for a few years and end, with most of the key story elements being resolved and several of the key players killed off. Absolutely no one at DC ever wanted him to do that, so even in his issues, he had to "course-correct" and try to turn it into something ongoing and open-ended. I'm not sure he ever did.
"Frankly, I think that continuing a Jack Kirby strip in a manner that is worthy of his name is a very difficult assignment. I can't think of too many who have ever managed it in a manner I would consider successful. And, ultimately, I think that even if you pull it off, it's like becoming a real good Elvis impersonator."
Which we'll let stand as the final word on the matter. It's a sobering commentary on the comics industry, though, that even a legend like Jack Kirby never managed to prove himself enough that he wasn't forced to bend to the will of the business instead be set loose. (It also demonstrates the power of the power of the distributor, certainly in those days.) So why did DC want him anyway? Just to snag Marvel's crown jewel? (A mentality that seems back in full force these days...)
It must be publishing season. After a fairly slow couple month, books have been flooding in.
Since a couple people have asked, a clarification: yes, I do have different standards for "small press" and "professional" books. If what's sent to me is obviously someone's early work, I'm not going to be as hard on it as books I get from well-established publishers (which is why I can review books published by friends of mine or companies I'm doing work for, such as AIT/PlanetLar, because I expect a certain level of material from them, and, as most longtime readers know, I don't much care who I piss off. On the other hand, I'm not going to harangue some struggling newcomer for not being up to the writing standards of Alan Moore or the artistic standards of Michael Golden. I believe in learning curves.
And we have a lot of "professional" books this week, starting with SON OF THE GUN, VOL. 1 by Georges Bess & Alexandro Jodorowsky (Humanoids Publishing, Box 931658, Hollywood CA 90093;$14.95), published in the French hardcover album format that I've loved since I first stumbled across Lt. Blueberry and Druillet's LONE SLOANE years ago. In fact, though there's not much similar about their styles, Bess's art invokes memories of Moebius' Lt. Blueberry work, particularly in the desertscapes and the coloring, while Jodorowsky's story, complete with dwarves and self-sacrificing Christ surrogates, is more than a little reminiscent of his hallucinatory western EL TOPO. But it's a crime story, of sorts, set against the backdrop of a brutal banana republic, as a boy with a tail is abandoned by his parents, suckled by a dog and grows up seeking violence and vengeance while cursing the fates. In other words, Jodorowsky business as usual. Not that it's a deficit: SON OF THE GUN reads like 100 BULLETS on steroids and looks beautiful, and if it leaves more questions that it answers, remember there are more volumes to come.
Also from Humanoids comes Thierry Smolderen and Enrico Marini's NEGATIVE EXPOSURE (three issues, $2.95@). This is the kind of near-gimmickless humor-adventure American publishers can't be bothered with anymore, about a feckless photojournalist caught up in world events leading to increasingly bizarre adventures. It's like the European manga version of TERRY AND THE PIRATES. Worth reading.
Those enamored of Brian Woods' tour-de-force CHANNEL ZERO (AIT/PlanetLar, 2034 47th Ave, San Francisco CA 94116; $12.95) will want to pick up PUBLIC DOMAIN ($12.95) from the same publisher. It's not a graphic novel but a collection of design pieces, sketches, script pages and some of Brian's student comics, with commentary. Think of it as the special features on the CHANNEL ZERO DVD. As a record of "the making of Brian Wood" (not to mention a reminder of just what a good designer Brian is) and how talent mutates as it develops, it's illuminating.
Then there's COLONIA: ISLANDS AND ANOMALIES (AIT/PlanetLar, 2034 47th Ave, San Francisco CA 94116; $12.95), a collection of Jeff Nicholson's multiple award-winning series about a lost Caribbean island where animals talk, men made of fish walk out of the sea, lovely mermaids dally and the Spanish conquest still holds. It's such an odd work that description is automatically reductionist, but both Nicholson's writing and art are pleasingly clean and straightforward, with excellent characterization. Funny and unexpected, and worth every penny. Now I want to know what the Ghost Fleet is…
Then there's Ashley Wood and Sam Kieth's POPBOT, a beautifully designed piece of a graphic novel from Idea+Design Works LLC (2645 Financial Ct, San Diego CA 92117; $7.99). Mainly an excuse for Big Pictures, it's a fascinating but frustrating tale of a rock star cat with a roadie robot who hired a space-out Sherlock Holmes who uncovers the secret 100-year history of robotics and reveals a deadly plot. Etc. Pulling out throwaway cultural references with every breath, it strains just a little too hard to be hip, but what's really frustrating is the way POPBOT, with COLONIA and SON OF THE GUN, forms an uncomfortable trend: expensive graphic novels that end with "To Be Continued." The more money people pay, the less they're going to want to see those words, which is what graphic novels (unless you're talking really epic stories like the LT. BLUEBERRY graphic novels – but even those brought each "issue" to something like a conclusion) were designed to get away from. Still, great production work, and a high-class package. It can be purchase directly from IDW Publishing.
Working our way down to smaller press, Ken Knudtsen's MY MONKEY'S NAME IS JENNIFER is due out in March from Slave Labor Graphics, (P.O. Box 26427, San Jose, CA 95158; price unknown). The focus is on a psychotic pet monkey who'd paint the world with human entrails if he weren't clawed, neutered and forced to wear a dress and play with a little girl who adores it. I have to say I love the basic premise, and the early part of the story, with the family cooing over Jennifer while Jennifer seethes with impotent fury is great, like a Kyle Baker rendition of David Lynch's ANGRIEST DOG IN THE WORLD. The art, while falls into the Kyle Baker-Tony Salmons-David Mazzuchelli school, is a little underrendered, but it adds to the demented flavor. Where the work falls apart, for me, is when it turns into an adventure story with mysterious conspirators, mad scientists, and mention of impending transvestite ninjas, indicating the series is going to take the "kitchen sink" approach that's currently undermining a lot of work, including POPBOT. Shift the focus back to Jennifer and I'll be less iffy... On the other hand, in his COMICS BUYERS GUIDE column, Peter David said of ...JENNIFER "...I have absolutely no idea what to make of it..." and any work that leaves Peter speechless is good enough for me.
As I mentioned last week, in one of his last LOOSE CANNON columns, Larry Young challenged the world to create mini-comics and show them at the Alternate Press Expo. Not everyone made it, apparently, so Monte Williams sent his, PEPPERONI PAM (Box 652, Boonville CA 95415; no price), to me. (Thanks loads, Larry.) And it's... not terrible. Very minimalist art that's nonetheless very true to itself, an unusual story about a man whose father dies after hearing voices who starts hearing his dead father's voice as the TV plays on. Not really sure what it means, but if there were still underground comix this would certainly be at home there. Let's see something else, Monte.
There are a half-dozen other comics in the stack, but time's up so they'll have to wait until next week. Nice to see so much material coming through, though. Just one general comment: STOP PUTTING SUPERHEROES INTO STORIES THAT DON'T NEED SUPERHEROES! Everyone who's planning to do a small press comic with even references to superheroes in it, try it this way instead: don't. Do it without the superhero stuff instead. If it doesn't work, you can always put it back in, but what you'll probably find is that you just don't need it at all. So give it a rest, and for god's sake NO MORE SUPERHERO PARODIES. Go for a tougher target.
Meanwhile, the Hand Puppet has taken to fiercely rattling sabers at Iraq (backed by the Veep, who has proudly proclaimed that Americans love the president because he tells the truth – except when it involves his personal relationships with influential energy brokers) claiming that if they don't have world support they'll take down Saddam Hussein alone, so I guess that we're now just trying to see how much damage we can cause. It started when the State Of The Union address linking Iran, Iraq and North Korea in an "axis of evil," which had the apparently counterproductive effect of undercutting the liberal leadership in Iran that has been following the will of many, certainly among the young, in that country to pursue a rapprochement with the West, and giving a p.r. boost to the fundamentalist Muslim clerics there who can now say the liberals were dupes of America, which never had any intention of dealing fairly with Iran. Iraq's a different case. No one's doubting Hussein is a bad guy. But he's also a bad guy who (like the Iranians) who has refused to support Bin Laden or Al-Qaeda. (Iran in particular was very willing to aid the effort against Bin Laden; the Hand Puppet basically said, "No way.") The other Arab nations have made it very clear (from before the Gulf War on) that invading Iraq isn't an option they'd tolerate. Think about it: either Saddam has "weapons of mass destruction" or he doesn't. If he does have them, he hasn't been using them. Obviously our little invasion of Afghanistan sunk in: use 'em and lose everything. Obviously, as he showed several times during various showdowns, he doesn't want to lose everything, much as we'd love to have him out of there. Since his heyday against Iran (when we were arming him) and Kuwait (when we were trashing him), he hasn't threatened much of anyone outside his own country. (Not that I'm in favor of his little war on the Kurds, but if we're going to use that to justify an invasion, we'll have to invade Turkey as well, since they're doing the same thing. Except Turkey's our ally, so they're not in the "Axis Of Evil.")
So here's the problem: if Saddam actually does have "weapons of mass destruction" (and it's possible we know he does because we gave them to him) if we do decide to invade it means he's going to lose everything anyway, and if he's got nothing to lose what's to stop him from using them? Does anyone really think he'll go gracefully? Sure, he can't hit us, but he showed in the Gulf War he's got the means to lob a few missiles at Israel and hit them. Imagine missiles armed with nuclear warheads or bio-weapons. I'm all for putting pressure on the Iraqis to let UN arms inspectors (I'd keep Americans out of it altogether, frankly, or don't we trust our allies?) inspect, but what exactly do we gain by invading Iraq, aside from an expanding war? (Speaking of Osama Bin Laden, did we catch him and I missed it? Ain't it funny how nobody talks about him anymore? Shouldn't we get the Master Of Evil we've staked out before we go looking for more of them?)
I've received a lot of western art from potential artists for my forthcoming AIT/PlanetLar graphic novel, RED SUNSET, and I haven't been back in touch with most of them yet. Here's why: we probably have an artist but we haven't quite dotted the t's and crossed the i's on the agreement yet, so I've been holding off talking to anyone else until I know for sure. And who we've got, if it holds, really knows how to draw the Old West. So I apologize to everyone else for the delay. In the meantime, I'm finishing up the first three-issue arc of MORTAL SOULS and knee deep in MY FLESH IS COOL for Avatar Press - if you want info on them, pop over to the Avatar site and see for yourself – and may have something else to announce (several something elses, possibly) next week.
Those wishing to comment should leave messages on the newly redesigned 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. Make sure you include contact information for readers who want to order your book.
If you want to know something about me, you can probably find the answer at Steven Grant's Alleged Fictions.