(SARGASSO) SEA OF COMICS: turning the tables during the quiet season
SEA OF REVIEWS: Ghost Of Hoppers, Discovering Your Type Z Personality, He Done Her Wrong, Tails, Toupydoups, Living In Infamy
DICTATION LESSONS: the White House gets up to its same old tricks in shiny new colors as it preps another war and shreds the Constitution a little bit more
NOTES FROM UNDER THE FLOORBOARDS: TV, the Harveys, Ellis preview & more
But the Harvey Awards – see toward the column’s final section – reminded me of something. Longtime readers know my disdain for awards, so consider this more of a poll, and I hope everyone reading will take part, but since I often get complaints that, golly gee, I’m just not positive enough about comics, and maybe it’s time to do a small something about that. So what I’d like to know from you are your choices for:
Indispensable comics series of 2005
Indispensable graphic novel of 2005
Indispensable single issue of 2005
Indispensable comics writer of 2005
Indispensable comics artist of 2005
Indispensable comics editor of 2005
Indispensable comics publisher of 2005
One per category, and it can be anyone or anything that fits that category. This isn’t scientific and anyone who reads the column can respond, though I’d appreciate it if you at least use a real-sounding name if for some reason you absolutely refuse to sign your real name (but don’t worry; I won’t be sharing those names with anyone, certainly not here). No need to say why or explain your choices in any way. One response per reader, please. This is just a small way to redress the balance and give a little extra exposure to deserving titles. Email in your responses by noon Pacific time, Tuesday January 24 if you want them to count.
Extra credit: if there’s any topic you’d like me to tackle, feel free to mention that too.
Meanwhile, miles to go before I sleep…
GHOST OF HOPPERS by Jaime Hernandez, 128 pg b&w hardcover ($18.95)
The longtime creators of LOVE AND ROCKETS, the Hernandez Brothers, have got to be the biggest humanists in comics today. Jaime is the most traditional artist and storyteller of the three brothers, but that’s not a bad thing, and this continuation of his longtime heroine Maggie’s adventures is funny, touching and immediately accessible. The stories here, with an aging Maggie suffering obesity and periodic depressions as she manages an apartment complex and works through a variety of oddballs, are really vignettes smartly hung on a spine of continuing moods and intriguing story threads that subtly wander into the surreal. At this point, Jaime’s a real master of character too, and the unsettling loose ends of life. Great stuff.
DISCOVERING YOUR TYPE Z PERSONALITY by Bill Griffith, 128 pg trade paperback ($19.95)
Bill Griffith, with his character Zippy The Pinhead transformed into a syndicated daily comic strip without the slightest shift of emphasis from his original appearances, is one of the great unsung survivors of underground comics of the ’60s. ZIPPY‘s arguably the most bizarre thing you’re likely to find in a daily newspaper, Dadaist stream of consciousness humor that’s an equally gentle, bitter and biting assault on American life and pop culture through the ages, capable of jumping from Charlie McCarthy to manga in the space of a week. It’s a strange, strange world we live in; Griffith and Zippy are just the tour guides. Get it.
HE DONE HER WRONG by Milt Gross, 278 pg b&w trade paperback ($16.95)
One of the earliest graphic novels, it’s not terribly deep – the story, about a lumberjack whose girl friend is stolen away by a city cad who leaves her destitute and with children until the lumberjack, after many funny adventures, manages to track down and rescue her, is straight out of silent movies, which were probably the inspiration for this wordless book – but it’s spirited. The art style’s very 1920s, owing a lot to BARNEY GOOGLE and THIMBLE THEATER. I’ve never been as enamoured by Gross’ work as many are, but it’s hard to deny this is worth reprinting and worth checking out, for its historical value and clever, brisk storytelling, if nothing else.
From Bohemian Press:
TAILS Chapter One by Ethan Young, 40 pg b&w comic ($3.95)
Wow, not bad for a debut. Young’s art, while it could still use some polish, is surprisingly professional, and the decently written down to earth story, about a young Chinese-American working in an animal shelter and especially obsessed with cats, flows at an easy pace with effortless conviction. There are no shock endings, no mindbending surprises, just an effect little tale of a guy who cares maybe just a little too much about animals. Good monologue toward the end, too, and a monologue’s a hard thing to do well in comics. Good.
TOOPYDOOPS #1-2 by Kevin McShane, 32 pg b&w comics ($3.95@)
Kind of a funny concept. A couple Midwestern guys (one has a dog face, the other antennae) move to Los Angeles where the eponymous latter wants to break into comics. Except in this book, comics are like movies, and he’s auditioning for parts in the comics. (In the first, it’s a role in Image’s INVINCIBLE.) The funny animals-meet-Larry Welz art is pretty decent and grows on you but the funniest bit’s a short feature in the second issue about the characters pitching the concept around to comics companies. It’s nice to see comics humor that isn’t bad parody. Worth checking out. But if I were McShane, I’d lose the monkey. (Which he pretty much does by the second issue anyway.)
From Ludovico Technique:
LIVING IN INFAMY by Ben Raab, Derek Hughes, Greg Kirkpatrick & John Lucas, 32 pg color comics ($)
It has really gotten to the point where if you’re in independent comics and you want to do a superhero, you’d better have a different and interesting take. It’s kind of a fool’s errand in any case because if it’s too different, the superhero audience will think you’re trying to cheat them, and any superhero will keep the non-superhero audience away, no matter how original the concept. Catch-22. Hard to tell which side of the line Raab & Hughes’ idea – a Southwestern town named Infamy where supervillains who turn state’s evidence live ordinary lives in witness protection. It’s not bad, and the art’s a touch stodgy but attractive enough, but by the end of the second issue it still hasn’t reached escape velocity. Partly it’s the pseudo-X-MEN pacing, with a lot of little stories going on with interesting enough characters but they don’t quite cohere. That format works against the book; it mitigates any sense there might be that this fairly unique concept is actually something special. There’s nothing wrong with the story, but if Raab and Hughes want it to catch on, they ought to consider more strikingly inventive ways to tell it.
In the midst of this, various nations are trying to maintain a shaky wall of solidarity against the “Iranian menace,” mainly because the US has steadfastly insisted the only reason the Iranians would want nuclear power is to create nuclear weapons, on the specious circular logic that Iran is a member of the Axis Of Evil (because the Hand Puppet said they are) and they couldn’t possibly need the energy nuclear power plants would provide because they could just burn oil for power, so they only want nuclear power for evil purposes. Never mind that IAEA inspectors couldn’t find a hint of a nuclear weapons program in Iran. You just can’t trust inspectors; inspectors couldn’t even find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq! (Um… wait a minute…) Never mind that Iran has complied with the Nuclear Proliferation Treaty (unlike, say, the United States, which under the current administration has been stockpiling more nuclear weapons, ostensibly for the “war on terror”). While Russia has offered to provide the nuclear fuel for Iran’s power plants (thus basically reducing Iran to a client state dependent on a foreign nation for its energy needs, kind of like Saudi Arabia and the USA) and China favors polite discussion and non-interference (the same stance that kept us out of Axis Of Evil “partner” North Korea not long ago), British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw hilariously issued this convoluted public statement to suggest that all nations are lined up with the US and the UK on the matter: “The international community is not going to split on the issue of Iran, but it’s not been of one mind either.”
But this looks starts to look like a familiar pattern: choose a country against which America has some unresolved grudge (Iraq because we “lost” the Kuwait War when we didn’t depose Saddam Hussein, Iran because it held our Embassy hostage) so the American public will be predisposed toward a little justifiable vengeance; hurl around accusations with very little in the way of credible intelligence to back them up, and whenever strong contrary evidence to the contrary rears its head, yell the accusations louder; claim support from the world community (like a Coalition of the Bribed) for action against that country, and call for action by the United Nations. This call can have two possible outcomes: if the U.N. goes along, fine. If they don’t – like, say, they look at a lack of evidence for, oh, weapons of mass destruction and listen to what their own inspectors tell them instead of what the USA tells them, and call for a cautious road of more investigation – then the administration can cite lack of resolve on the U.N.’s part (or obstructionist opportunism by specific member nations) and choose to heroically shoulder the burden itself, for the future of the world. Like Iraq, Iran is by no means a terrific place to be, but if there were defensible reasons for attacking the country, the White House wouldn’t have to work so hard to manufacture them, and public sympathy.
It’s a great scam, as long as no one in America pays attention to anything but the outcome, and the press goes along with it. The character of the American press has changed significantly over the last 40 years. Used to be newspapers would go after news, and even when TV news came into play it rarely ever went after “exposes,” rather it reported in capsule form what newspapers were reporting. There was that investigative journalism craze in the late days of Watergate through the release of ALL THE PRESIDENT’S MEN, of course, which somehow led to Washington Post owner Katherine Graham addressing journalism schools to tell student not to pursue investigative journalism, and somewhere around the Reagan administration it quietly became unwritten rule in journalism that newspapers didn’t report major stories unless someone else reported them first. Fewer libel suit threats that way. Fortunately, in terms of stories involving the US government, there was still the foreign press – for all that the British government loves to stick their noses up Washington’s nether quarters, the British press has no qualms about openly covering the Washington scene – so papers were often able to use the European press as springboards, and in the ’90s anything became fair game as soon as Matt Drudge (who was under nowhere near the level of ethical restraint traditionally encouraged in journalism) reported it. Something happened after 9/11, though: suddenly it seemed the American press decided not to follow up (or, possibly, even read) anything printed in foreign newspapers, regardless of source, and only report on stories (involving the government, anyway) already reported on in other American newspapers, or on TV. Leading to curious debacles like the New York Times, the country’s self-proclaimed paper of record which has often been more than happy to do the government’s dirty work anyway, waiting a year to report on illegal wiretapping by the White House and the NSA. Investigative journalism often rises from whistleblowers who wish to remain anonymous, but now apparently there’s a quiet standard of not simply gathering enough evidence to support allegations but holding off on stories until a member of the administration will go on record to verify them. Which means all the administration has to do to kill most stories is simply refuse to comment. That’s the power of today’s press.
Which hasn’t stopped the Hand Puppet from his share of troubles, like a poll this week, for what such things are worth, stating 52% of Americans think he should be impeached for authorizing the NSA to illegally wiretap. (Now Al Gore’s on the issue, which may be the best means the White House has to defuse it, Gore’s credibility being next to zero. On the other hand, he’s a Democrat with nothing to lose and, at least today, he seems to have returned from exile more eloquent than when he left, so it’s possible he could kick up a fuss the weak sister Democrats in Congress show little taste for.) Or the endlessly dragging war in Iraq.
But this is a president who clearly thinks – or, since “thinks” is probably the wrong word for it, has been told by those who surround him – that it’s the job of the President to make law, and to choose which laws are real and which aren’t. According to the Constitution, it’s Congress, and undoubtedly the White House, which has gotten flak even from members of its own party over various issues (most recently the unconditional renewal of the Patriot Act), would prefer lawmaking in the hands of the President, as most presidents would. Of course, that would be a dictator, not a president, but, hey, you can’t make a security state without breaking a few Constitutional articles and amendments. The whole concept of “executive orders” is partly to blame, since there’s no real legal basis for them (nor the associated concept of “executive privilege,” made famous by Nixon and turned into a fine art by the current administration) but they come to be accepted in Washington as effectively having the force of law, but even so it’s never been established that they give a president the power to contravene laws passed by Congress. At best (all other things being equal) they’re get out of jail free cards for people following a president’s orders, but that doesn’t mean they exonerate the president who issued them as well.
Which perhaps explains why the Hand Puppet, in a speech to veterans over the weekend, put forth a new (well, not really new; it’s yet another Vietnam War relic, and probably from Korea or earlier as well) principle of Free Speech: it should end where “aid and comfort” to the enemy begin. As defined by the President, of course, and in this case, “aid and comfort” means criticizing the Administration, specifically questioning their motives for invading Iraq. Since they, specifically Cheney, trot it out from time to time, mainly when people are asking questions the White House doesn’t want to answer, it makes perfect sense they trot it out again now, and more stridently than ever, right at the moment they’re contemplating yet another incursion, this time into Iran. The theory behind the concept is that, in a time of war (though it’s easy to lose track of what war we’re talking about – the war on terror? The Iraq war, which the Hand Puppet himself declared over almost two years ago?), questioning authority is treasonous. But authority that can’t be questioned is dictatorial by default, and if the principle is true all that’s needed, really, if you’re “authority,” is to always remain at war.
Anyway, there really couldn’t be a better time for a new war, except that we haven’t got the manpower for the current one (so they’re starting a plan to ease soldiers out of Iraq and replace them with air power) nor the money. But money seems pretty irrelevant to a man who spent his childhood growing up with it and spent his adulthood driving companies into the ground only to have someone give him new ones; if the amount his government has spent is an indicator, the Hand Puppet understands no more about money than campaign sound bites about tax-and-spend Democrats and tax cuts. We still haven’t paid back the Iranians for that embassy stuff, unless you count selling them weapons to use against Iraq so we could illegally funnel the proceeds to the Contras to finance the overthrow of Nicaragua in the ’80s. There’s all that oil to consider, though, since Iran is the #2 nation in OPEC, the USA taking control of it could easily trigger an international energy crisis, but the Hand Puppet’s energy cartel patrons love energy crises, which mean $$$$$. For them, at least. There’s the arrogance of Iran, like Iraq under Saddam, trading in Euros instead of dollars, and taking over Iran would put a stop to that. There’s the theory that Iran is among those fomenting insurrection against the American occupation of Iraq and that taking out Iran would break the will of the Iraqi insurrection, despite Iran having friendly ties to their Shi’ite brethren nominally controlling Iraq now, who are theoretically our new powerbase there. Perhaps more than anything else, but not likely to be voiced, is the theory that midterm elections are coming up and even Republicans are trying to distance themselves from the Hand Puppet’s policies to make re-election more appealing (the only figure currently less popular than the Hand Puppet among Republicans seeking reelection is Jack Abramoff).
There are other rationales, the more the merrier, and doubtless the Administration will trot more out as others fall, the same way they did with Iraq. It’s a tricky path, designed to reclaim the Hand Puppet’s audience base and rally the faithful around another war and the subsequent need for loyalty, not to mention expand the pocketbooks of his patrons under the guise of making America safer, but it’s also got great potential for backfire. The early word is June for an attack on Iran, though that’s obviously hearsay. But, whenever it’s planned for, the time to stop it is now.
THE SHIELD (FX, 10P Tuesdays) and 24 (Fox, 9P Mondays) both re-opened for business with a bang this past week, and both were real treats. THE SHIELD‘s the more quasi-realistic of the two, with a cinema verite visual style and tons of moral ambiguity as it follows bent cop Vic Mackey, who continues to view himself as the noble hero of the story. What’s intriguing about this season is Forest Whitaker, introduced as a devious internal affairs officer with a metered speech pattern, hot on Mackey’s trail for the murder of a fellow cop all the way back in the first season. In moral terms Whitaker’s the hero here, a determined man tracking down a monster, and in most shows he would be, but Whitaker’s investigator is so manipulative, so implacable, so right that you find yourself cheering for Vic to somehow beat him. But that’s also because Michael Chiklis plays Vic as a smooth psychopath who unconsciously switches himself on and off in the cause of “justice” (or his own greed, whatever’s apropos for the moment) so that we’re charmed by his “good” side just enough to forget it’s really only the mask that allows his “bad” side to operate. If THE SHIELD is brutally sublime, 24 is gloriously ridiculous, a Saturday afternoon adventure serial for the Terror Years, and it begins with the abrupt murders of at least two long-running series characters, bringing another on-again, off-again psychopath, defrocked CTU agent Jack Bauer (who, last season, faked his death and went underground to avoid a White House-sponsored assassination) out of hiding to take on another gaudy, ludicrously complicated terrorist assault. In its fifth season, 24 has mastered the art of keeping things moving fast enough that you don’t really have the time to start asking obvious questions – how did the villains know Jack was still alive? How did ex-President Palmer learn of the terrorist threat? Why didn’t Jack go after the inside man before coddling his new squeeze’s almost murdered teenage son? – before it pumps on to the next shocking cliffhanger. If THE SHIELD has aspirations to being serious drama, and it’s about as close as TV gets short of DEADWOOD, 24 aspires to being a mad action comic book on screen. There’s more than enough room for both of them, and either beats 95% of anything else on any level of TV.
By the way, I hear NBC has signed up a pilot about a bunch of people who happen to be superheroes, so we can pretty much figure the media craze for superheroes, to the extent there ever was one, has probably jumped the shark, for lack of a better phrase. The brief write-up sounds like a cross between JUSTICE LEAGUE and FRIENDS. I smell another CAPTAIN NICE on the way, and I’m bored already…
Is the TEEN TITANS cartoon show on Cartoon Network dead now, or are there episodes to come?
If the thought of Warren Ellis writing barbarian fantasy puts your knickers in a twist, you can catch a preview of his new Avatar book, WOLFSKIN, by clicking this link. I’m told the art’s by Juan Jose Ryp, which is good, but did he ever finish drawing FRANK MILLER’S ROBOCOP?
For those interested in such things (meaning a comics professional), the 2006 Harvey Awards are open for nominations now. You can get an entry form at their website. Deadline is March 3, winners will be announced at Baltimore Con in September. I should mention that Baltimore, which runs Sept. 9/10, has a pretty impressive guest list this year. San Diego, aka Comic-Con International, is still the Mecca of the comics business in America (I’m guessing Angouleme in Europe, but I know Barcelona’s pretty well attended too, and more than a few Brits tout Bristol) but as it swells beyond all imagination a lot of professionals are attending smaller conventions instead. Not that it’s a competition, but regional conventions are a good way to not get lost in the mob.
So what conventions are there this year? Besides San Diego and Baltimore. Anywhere in the world. Send me dates, locations and guests.
Scattered throughout the column are the covers for this week’s Comics Cover Challenge. Seven comics, one secret theme connecting them. Be the first one to tell me what it is in an email, and you can promote any website of your choice here. (We reserve right of approval, but that hasn’t been an issue so far.) Normally there’s a clue somewhere in the column, but face it: last challenge was way too hard, and I’m too tired to get clever this week, so here’s an easy one. Good luck.
And don’t forget my two books are available in pdf e-book form at The Paper Movies Store: TOTALLY OBVIOUS, collecting my Master Of The Obvious essays on comics, culture, creativity and the freelance life; and IMPOLITIC: A JOURNAL OF THE PLAGUE YEARS, a running commentary on American life and politics in the first half of the Terror Decade. 250+ pages each, $5.95@ or both for $10.95. What are you waiting for?
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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