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Issue #229

by  in CBR Exclusives Comment
Issue #229

    THE NEW COMICS ECONOMICS?: structure considerations for new comics companies

    INDISPENSABLE AWARDS: as chosen by the readers, all the publications, talent and companies fit to win

    BIG COMICS EXCITMENT: a whole lot of readers fire back on the subject of exciting comics

    THANKS FOR THE MEMORY CARD: the limits of the democratic process in Palestine, while an experiment in Florida has dire implications for the electoral process here

    NOTES FROM UNDER THE FLOORBOARDS: an open letter to Ronald Moore, PAT NOVAK FOR HIRE, interviews and new websites and more

  • Interesting the things you run across in SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN. Recent issues talked about a species of fire ant that clones itself (the queen produces only eggs with the female genome, thus creating perfect duplicates of herself, but in fertilizing the eggs males replace the female genome with the male genome, thus creating an unvarying duplicate of the male, which means in the entire colony there are really only two creatures, essentially Xeroxed over and over and over), how Brownian motion (the apparently random movement of molecules in fluid suspension) turns out to not be exactly random, and how Donald Rumsfeld’s gibberish reaffirms evolution. In the course of discussing critical trends of the future, the magazine touched on the economic future, resurrecting what John Stuart Mill called a “stationary state” economy, one, as the magazine puts it “that takes heed of the inherent biophysical limitations of the global ecosystem so it can continue to operate long into the future”: a system that focuses not on growth but on sustaining itself in the long term.

    Which sort of flies in the face of capitalism, at least as it’s usually practiced. Certainly in the case of publicly held companies, the value of the stock market, theoretically, is to provide increased wealth to investors, and the way this is done is by growing company profits to the point that it can pay out dividends and other rewards on investments. In economic terms, as they’re usually discussed, to do otherwise is to go against evolutionary imperative; it’s the job of every company to keep growing and growing. Unfortunately, in most cases, the worm ends up eating its own tail, and whatever the intended purpose of a company before it seeks investors, once it has investors its purpose is to appease those investors. (As many who became millionaires during the dot-com boom and not millionaires during the bust discovered, venture capitalists were just as likely to bust out or force the selloff of successful companies in order to increase their own cash value, and often the price of receiving capital was to surrender that level of decision making to the VCs.)

    It occurs to me that most comics companies, large and small, are predicated, often unrealistically, on the growth economy model. Which isn’t surprising, since it’s the predominant model. Back when they originated, comics were considered a quick, cheap way to make a lot of money, and many companies did very well on them until they didn’t anymore, but now comics companies are less the stuff of economics and more the stuff of dreams, for most people starting them. Not that money isn’t at least part of what they’re dreaming about. I know very few in comics publishing who don’t have some fantasy of taking on Marvel on their own playing field or parlaying a small comics empire into a vast Hollywood fortune.

    But it seems to me the realities of our business now fall more toward the concept of a sustainable economy, and for most publishers achieving that is challenge enough. Look at the big launches of recent years, like CrossGen and Alias. A popular myth of comics publishing is that success is determined by market share and market share is determined by market presence, which leads a lot of people (who aren’t self-publishers, since those can usually barely afford the time and money it takes to produce one book) to put out not only way more product than the market is likely to absorb at any given time but far more than they can reasonably afford. A more reasonable model for the would-be publisher, particularly in the business’ current economic climate, is to initiate and maintain a small, possibly very small roster of titles. Ross Richie’s Boom! Studios makes for an interesting case in point. It’s predicated on maintaining the smallest standing workforce humanly possible producing (with outsourced expenses, including talent) if not a small roster a very small number of titles published per month. The formula would seem to be to calculate how much it would take to earn a moderate living, limit overhead, and produce only as many books as necessary to sustain that level. If you end up making more than that, great; the market will quickly tell you what’s sustainable and what isn’t. As I said, this is a market where even reaching sustainable levels would be a chore for many publishers. It’s tough out there, particularly for untested new product, and most publishers – market studies aren’t really prevalent in our field – far overestimate their initial potential sales anyway.

    First Comics makes another interesting case study. First was originally predicated on the sustainable model, with a publication roster of five titles that would only be increased by unanimous consensus of the five partners in the company. It worked fine while they did it, but then success set in. There is in comics pressure to follow success with a push toward greater success, and pressure to avoid seeming stagnant in the marketplace. Following their initial success, First wanted to avoid looking stagnant, since that theoretically gives off the wrong impression to the audience. They also figured if five books were successful, ten books would be twice as successful. They found that as they expanded their line, overall sales grew, but the sales on individual titles usually shrank. Dance that dance long enough and you reach the point in microeconomics where “marginal cost equals marginal benefit,” also known as the point where it’s no longer worth spending money. Even Marvel and DC have hit that point at various times in their existences, and been lucky enough to have buffers to lurch them over those humps. (DC was protected by its corporate parent; Marvel transferred to new owners.) Most companies don’t have those kinds of buffers.

    As I said, in capitalism as practiced the idea of sustainability rather than growth is considered unnatural, anti-evolutionary, but that’s a misreading of evolutionary theory. Survival of the fittest is usually interpreted to mean that those who become big and powerful get the prizes, but that’s inaccurate as well: “fittest” can only be defined in terms of a particular environment, and what it means is that those organisms, whether large or small, most capable of surviving in that environment are the fittest. The capability for survival is the sole true measure of fitness. Companies that want to survive should bear in mind that they need to survive in the real world, not in their own fantasy worlds, and set their goals and plans accordingly. There’s no shame in being and staying small – you can compute by any measure you choose – but not surviving, that’s something to be concerned about.

  • Results from the “Indispensable” poll of the last couple weeks, concerning 2005 comics. I’m listing everything that was voted for, in order of number of votes, because, let’s face it, people want to see what they liked get some credit. (In cases where people voted ties in any given category, I used their first listing, because I specifically said one choice per category.)


    Indispensable Graphic Novel of 2005: TOP 10: THE 49ERS (ABC/Wildstorm); WE3 (Vertigo); BLACK HOLE (Pantheon); TRICKED (Top Shelf); No award; SCOTT PILGRIM (Oni Press); PYONGYANG (Drawn & Quarterly); DEEP SLEEPER by Phil Hester & Mike Huddleston (Image); AGE OF BRONZE: SACRIFICE (Image); Y THE LAST MAN: RING OF TRUTH (Vertigo); STRANGERS IN PARADISE POCKET BOOKS #5 (Abstract Studio); USAGI YOJIMBO: FATHERS AND SONS (Dark Horse); THE WALKING DEAD Vol. 1 (Image); CRISIS ABSOLUTE EDITION (DC); 676 APPARITIONS OF KILLOFFER (Typocrat Press); SPIRAL BOUND (Top Shelf);QUITTER (Vertigo); ACME NOVELTY LIBRARY (Pantheon); THE WALKING DEAD Vol. 3 (Image); 100% (Vertigo);COURTNEY CRUMRIN TALES: PORTRAIT OF THE WARLOCK (Oni Press)

    Indispensable Single Issue of 2005: PROMETHEA #32 (ABC/Wildstorm); COUNTDOWN TO INFINITE CRISIS #1 (DC); SOLO #5; SEVEN SOLDIERS OF VICTORY #0 (DC); ALL STAR SUPERMAN #1 (DC); DESOLATION JONES #1 (Wildstorm); FELL #1 (Image); No award; JLA UNLIMITED #11; DAREDEVIL #80; BLUESMAN #1 (Absence Of Ink); NAT TURNER #1 (Kyle Baker Publishing); THE GOON #11 (Dark Horse); DAREDEVIL #81 (Marvel); WOLVERINE #32 (Marvel); ALL STAR BATMAN AND ROBIN #1 (DC); INFINITE CRISIS #1 (DC); ULTIMATES #9; ACTION PHILOSOPHERS #1 (Evil Twin Comics);DESOLATION JONES #2 (Wildstorm); SPECTACULAR SPIDER-MAN #27 (Marvel); OR ELSE #2 ();ULTIMATES 2 #8 (Marvel); CAPTAIN AMERICA #7 (Marvel); KLARION #3 (DC); NEW FRONTIER #6 (DC); THE SURROGATES #1 (Top Shelf)

    Indispensable Comics Writer of 2005: Grant Morrison; Geoff Johns; Dan Slott; Warren Ellis; Robert Kirkman; Brian Vaughn; Paul Grist; Mark Millar; Damon Hurd; Ed Brubaker; Greg Rucka; Joe Casey; Mark Sable; Brian Bendis; Daniel Way; Mark Waid

    Indispensable Comics Artist of 2005: JH Williams III; Frank Quitely; John Cassaday; Darwyn Cooke; Bryan Hitch; Alex Maleev; Eric Powell; Steve Dillon; Jose Landronn; Tom Scioli; Tim Truman; Ethan Van Sciver; Howard Chaykin; Frazer Irving; Jim Lee; Chris Samnee; Scott Morse; Phil Jimenez; Greg Land; Charles Schulz; Christy Lijewski; Jim Cheung

    Indispensable Comics Editor of 2005: No award; Peter Tomasi; Dan Didio; Tom Brevoort; Marc Chiarello; Scott Allie; Barbara Kesel; Steve Wacker; Chris Ryall; Bill Blackbeard; James Lucas Jones; C.B. Cebulski; Shelly Bond; Axel Alonso

    Indispensable Comics Publisher of 2005: DC; Oni Press; Dark Horse; Fantagraphics; Image; Top Shelf; No award; Vertical; Vertigo; Digital Webbing; Wildstorm; IDW; Abstract Studio

    Listings are both in order of total votes scored and order of tabulation. For instance, Greg Rucka and Joe Casey got the same number of votes for Indispensable Writer Of 2005, but Greg’s name came up before Joe’s so it got listed first. There’s no implied pecking order. SEVEN SOLDIERS was a clear lead for indispensable series, as THE 49ERS and PROMETHEA #32 in their categories, but they didn’t run away with the categories. Grant Morrison and DC were far ahead of the nearest runner up in their respective categories, though, while JH Williams came from behind to gain a significant lead over previous strong frontrunner Frank Quitely for Indispensable Artist. Most interestingly, “No Award” got far, far more votes than the nearest runner-up, Peter Tomasi, in the Indispensable Editor category, though Peter did much better than the #3 slot did and it fell off rapidly from there.

    To the winners of these ever so prestigious awards, congratulations.

  • Quite a few responses to my “exciting art” column from last week. I decided to run them without commentary:

    “Interesting thoughts on the state of comic book drawing. I’d have to say I disagree. There are a few exciting artists who can do that loose-and-lively cinematic thing you’re talking about. John Romita Jr is generally not as visually exciting as Gil Kane (when judged on the merits of a single image), but his figures are big, fast and fluid. I’d nominate the artists of INVINCIBLE as well. Cory Walker and Ryan Ottley do a great job of exactly what you were talking about. There’s also FEAR AGENT, with some remarkably ground all-out action. Of course, maybe you are right. Nahhh…”

    “One artist I find does exciting work is Frank Quietly. WE3 would be the best example but his work on THE AUTHORITY was also very good. At first his people looked ugly and the faces on said people looked downright bad. But I realized that something about it felt exciting. I believe it to be his excellent use of and understanding of scale and perspective. Big things felt and looked big and fast tings felt and looked fast.

    Scott Morse has done some exciting things recently which I believe has to do with his completely different approach to putting characters on a page. A Morse page has no blank space at all. Every inch is covered in paint and one can see many different layers to each panel/page. He starts off filling the page with background(s) and lays the characters on top. This approach often gives me the feeling that his world is full of life. Too many books today feature nicely rendered people in blank white space. Backgrounds need to make a comeback big time. It worked ok for Travis Charest because you could stare at his people forever because they had some much detail but too many artists drop the backgrounds in favor of more realistic people.”

    “I am almost complete agreement with you about today’s comic art. The word stagnant immediately comes to mind when I see many comics. Take the “great” Alex Ross, for example. Sure, his paintings are beautiful to look at, but they are absolutely motionless and do little to tell a story. My favorite art of recent years comes from guys like Bruce Timm and his “copycat” ilk. Their linework is fluid and dynamic. It’s the perfect case of “less is more.” I also appreciate guys like Kevin Maguire and Tony Harris whose facial and body expressions can make 3 pages of dialogue more interesting than an entire Image comic filled with fight scenes.”

    “With regards to your question of exciting art, the one guy who immediately springs to mind is Stan Sakai. This is mainly because I have just started reading USAGI YOJIMBO and he is on my mind, but I am constantly amazed at Sakai’s abilities to completely pull me in to whatever story he is telling. From a splash page showing a chaotic battlefield to a four page duel between Usagi and whatever character he is fighting, Sakai astounds me at how good his storytelling is, and how well he is able to capture that excitment you were talking about. He’s been around for so long that it is easy to forget just how well done USAGI YOJIMBO is month after month, and I don’t really see that much discussion about him anymore, possibly because of the fact that his work has always maintianed such high quality for the last 20 years.”

    “Great piece on comic art. I am a artist myself. My influences are the likes of Paul Gulacy, Tim Bradstreet, Jim Steranko … and etc. But there are a couple of guys who styles are exciting and beautiful: Mike Mignola … Tim Vigil … and Joseph Michael Linsner …”

    “I assume you’ve received a million e-mails like this already but, I’ll say that while the esthetic has changed over time from guys like Kane and Sickles, the percentage/ratio of great comic artists has stayed in the same ballpark. There are still a handful of guys doing great (not to photorealistic/ not to cartoony, academically informed) work in American comics. Duncan Fegredo, Ron Garney, Mike Mignola, Andrew Robinson, Jamie Hewlett, J.P Leon, Guy Davis, Charlie Adlard, and Paul Pope represent a good chunk of those artists. The only advantage I believe guys like Toth and Kane had was being more directly linked and influenced by great narrative illustrators (who were more directly influenced by great “fine artists”) from a different age.”

    [Keith] Giffen, Giffen, Giffen. You never know what your going to get and that makes him exciting.”

    “Sort of ducking your question about what art I consider exciting – I find a lot of comics art today interesting to look at, but not exciting stories in a sequential fashion. I really like John Cassaday’s art, but I think you hit the nail on the head – it doesn’t always tell a good story and it is often like looking at frozen images or snapshots of people. Alex Ross’ art is similar and I find myself getting tired of his work quickly of it because the vast majority of his shots are all iconic views of heroes in very strained positions. The same is true for Jim Lee – tons of iconic pictures (but less facial strain…)

    I like Cassaday, Sean Phillips, Michael Gaydos, Michael Lark, and Alex Maleev, but they aren’t exciting in the way you meant. I’ve read the first 2 issues of LOCAL and thought Ryan Kelly’s art was very exciting in how he told the story. In both issues, I found myself being drawn into the story even though I didn’t think the stories would be something that I’d like. I also like Carla Speed McNeil and find her work understated, but not really exciting. On the other hand, with all these artists, even if they aren’t always good at sequentially telling a story, their artwork is much more interesting to view than folks like Alex Saviuk or Juan Ortiz (with inks by Vince Colletta) – some of the artists I think of when I think of those backup stories in DC COMICS PRESENTS. The art in those stories also had a frozen character to them, but for the most part they were flat, 2 dimensional stick figure frozen, not the snapshot art that we see today, which is a whole lot more interesting to look at.

    I guess I’m saying that I agree with the point of your column. I think you will get a lot of responses about “exciting” art, but maybe not “exciting” in the way of how the artists tell a story, but exciting because it ‘looks cool.'”

    “I would tend to agree that the current photo-real/cinematic movement can detract from the quality of the comics. For me it is all about story. There are certainly some very talented illustrators out there whose work is beautiful but becomes too noticeable in and of itself, at the cost of the story. Greg Land comes to my mind – he is talented, but his style overshadows the story more often than not. Great art should tell the story, draw the reader in, give a larger texture and context for the story to live in.

    My current favorites are:

    Cory Nord on Dark Horse’s CONAN – a wonderful loose uninked style that really stands out as formally gorgeous images, but more importantly, tells the stories with kineticism, texture, brutality, sensitivity, the whole nine yards. It isn’t the most high gloss and polished art out there, but CONAN deserves something that is as roughly hewn as he is. Nord’s version of the Hyborian world is richly textured, deep, exotic and most importantly evocative of just the tone and mood that the stories need. Needles to say, Nord has a firm handle on how to stage action scenes in a visceral and exciting way.

    Adrian Alphona on RUNAWAYS – Alphona is a glorious storyteller in my opinion. I am currently in the midst of rereading the original run of RUNAWAYS and have been Marveling (pun not quite so intended) at how expressive his characters are. His work completely supports the story and mood. I am madly in love with his art right now. He is a terrific contrast to someone like David Finch who, though has great looking work, tends to draw the same face and expression on every character. Alphona’s characters are not just expressive, each character owns their own language of expressions that reflects their personality. Best of all his work is just damn fun to look at.

    There are certainly other greats out there, Steve McNiven, Juan Bobillo, Ryan Ottley… but those two really stand out as favorites with pretty unique sensibilities.”

    “Artists conveying a sense of movement: Darwyn Cooke (THE NEW FRONTIER, SOLO), Jeff Smith (BONE), Eduardo Risso (100 BULLETS), Frank Quitely (WE3, ALL STAR SUPERMAN) all very stylised in their own way but incredibly capable of capturing expressions, movement, action etc. with minimal brush strokes (in the case of Darwyn Cooke and Jeff Smith).

    I find it hard to describe how Risso works though, it’s a mixture of minimalism/negative space, but mostly it seems to be about just showing what’s needed at the right time, in the right amount of detail and any extra art all goes towards setting the scene, rather the cluttering the page.

    Frank Quitely surprises me with how well he captures movement but just go look at ALL STAR SUPERMAN #2 (with Lois running around the fortress) or WE3 (the animals attacking the soldiers in the van or pushing another soldier through the wall). It may be slightly overloaded with information and the way the page is structured has obviously been planned, but I love the fact that I can pore over them and go back to pick up details I missed at other times.”

    “Walter Simonson is one of the relatively few artists for whom I will buy a book sight-unseen regardless of writer. His art very effectively resonates with big, burly characters like Thor or Orion, and I was very pleasantly surprised that it works just as well on a more lithe character like Elric.

    Others I’d very likely buy sight-unseen would be Arthur Adams, Jose Ladronn, P. Craig Russell, and Junji Ito. I knew Arthur Adams’ art before knowing the names behind comics from his X-Men in Asgard stories. Ladronn’s shift from Kirby pastiche in CABLE to a more European painterly style in HIP FLASK certainly got my attention. Russell really turned my head with his RING OF THE NIBELUNG adaptation and his various collaborations with Neil Gaiman. I find it hard to differentiate manga artists since so many of them also write the stories themselves. I’m never sure if it can be just the writing or the art that draws me in. That said, Junji Ito’s excellent horror comics work on UZUMAKI and GYO has made me want to pick anything else I see from him.

    I’d also be taking a long, hard look at anything by J. H. Williams III, George Perez, Jose-Luis Garcia-Lopez, Juan Gimenez, John Cassaday, Frank Quitely, Makoto Yukimura (PLANETES), Richard Corben, or Mike Mignola.”

    “Your point about excitement in comic book art is well taken. I’d described the same feeling as a lack of narrative flow to friends. It’s part of the reason I can’t get terribly excited about most comic book movies. I read Jack Kirby comics, and I already know how those characters should move. The Hulk was massive and strong, but there was a certain grace to his movements, that the movie missed. Captain America is a great subject for a movie, but I can’t imagine the fight scenes moving as well as a Kirby short from the silver age.

    I’m also very tired of verbose narration, describing what I should simply be seeing in the panels. I don’t want to spend long minutes trying to determine who is saying what sentence, or in what sequence actions are taking place.”

    “Concerning your remarks upon photorealistic art in American comics, it’s interesting to note that until a few years back, I could cite exactly this subject as a major difference between European and American comics.

    I used to hate mainstream European comics because of their stiff posturing, bland action scenes and photorealistic art, or, rather, more realistic than American comics featured. American comics had art and a way of telling a story that communicated more directly the action and movement of characters, internally and externally. A lack of stiffness that was prevalent in European comics (comics by Jodorowsky or François Boucq immediately come to mind). Their presentation related more to everyday life and body language like we experience with our eyes and feelings instead of an elevated ideal posture that inhabited the comic panel. A ‘restraint’ like you name it.

    But due to the advent and popularity of artists like Travis Charest, John Cassaday, Bryan Hitch and Greg Land (some of whom even produce work for European publishers) the argument no longer holds. Everything is more fluid now, more hybrids present themselves and there’s a lot of cross-cultural mixing of styles going on (which is in itself a to be encouraged expedition). The difference now is more of a formal nature. The way the story is presented. The beats and ticks, the progression and juxtaposition of panels, etc. Obviously, I’m talking about certain subsections of art in Europe and the Atates, I’m generalizing in the extreme. I’m not talking about a Munoz, Igort or Tardi here.

    A perfect bland of ‘international’ and exciting art would be Paul Pope. That is art that truly raises my bloodlevel. The sheer energy and illustrative quality of his brushstrokes are a thing of beauty. And his style is constantly developing. Fascinating art that one can revisit time and time again.”

    “I enjoyed your comments about the state of art in comics today. I’ve had some of the same feelings, I think, though I wasn’t able to articulate and externalize them as well.

    I too have noticed a seeming division of artists into ultra-realistic, cartoony, and a kind or other, oddball, style. Some of the third category of artists appear to be, or at least appear to be attempting to, assimilate something of the manga style into their work.

    So anyway, I thought, what artists these days do excite me? As I thought of it, I was surprised that, though I buy some 15 or so titles a month, I couldn’t think of many.

    I rather like Paul Grist, specifically in JACK STAFF more than in his KANE work. I can’t really say why, though, because his nonrealistic style isn’t the type that usually appeals to me. But I feel a freshness and liveliness on his pages–and actually I like his black and white better than color–that I don’t often get elsewhere.

    I don’t really know José Luis García-López’s work, but the preview pages of his upcoming stint on JLA CLASSIFIED give me hope that he’ll evoke the same thrill for clean lines and striking compositions that I’ve enjoyed from Gil Kane, Carmine Infantino, and Joe Kubert, three of my comics gods.

    I’ve liked Mike Mignola from the first time I saw his work in a CHRONICLES OF CORUM comic, crude as it was. It may not be that he draws well–or maybe he does. But he extracts and refines well, wonderfully using abstract minima to evoke mood. I think he does action sequences very well.

    I enjoyed Rags Morales a lot on HAWKMAN. Some of the photorealism in art, which he somewhat brought to the character in regard to the great detail he put into Hawkman’s wings and armor, worked in a positive way to establish weight and power for a character who has presented difficulties to many artists. I really liked Darwyn Cooke’s NEW FRONTIER. Tim Truman on GRIMJACK.

    And last, I guess they don’t get more realistic and detailed than Frank Quitely. And I normally hate his work — FLEX MENTALLO, HARD BOILED — I bought, read, and wound up hating them both. But I thought ALL STAR SUPERMAN #1 was…interesting. And I really, really enjoyed ASS (is that an inside joke?) #2. Partly, I know, it was the exquisite coloring in the issue. And I love the Fortress of Solitude, so that helped. But I really was interested in Quitely’s interpretations of Superman and Lois. I don’t entirely agree with them, but they *are* interesting, and certainly not as outré as some I’ve seen.”

    One quick note: if we’re talking about the same thing, Geoff Darrow drew HARD BOILED, not Frank Quitely.

    “I don’t know about “exciting,” but the single biggest reason I no longer buy new comics is the “decompression” thing you talk about. For $3, I can get a comic published today, or for about the same amount of money per comic I can buy medium-grade silver/bronze age comics on Ebay. Both kinds of comics contain the same number of story pages, but the silver/bronze age comic will contain at least two or three times as much _story_ as the modern comic. Even if modern comics were still publishing stories about the characters I came to know and love as a child (which they mostly aren’t), modern comics just aren’t worth my money for that reason.”

    “Truthfully, there are a few comic artists that generally pull me in more so than others, one of whom is I guess expected: Mike Mignola. He has a certain style which makes you look beyond the heavy black inks to see what he wants you to see. I spent many years reading comics only looking at the main character in each panel and what they were saying in their word balloon, now I appreciate each panel. Guy Davis is another that just has such a funky style it pulls you along. He might not be the most technically crafted artist, but he makes you see what he wants you to see.”

    “I’m not an artist, I’m just a fan. The timeless quote, “I don’t know art, but I know what I like” probably applies here. Two artists, both quite different:

    Bryan Hitch: very much the photo-realism that you said pulls you out of the moment, but for me, it pulls me in. Hitch’s pages, especially the full page spreads, are eyepoppingly gorgeous. I believe someone coined the term””widescreen comics” and I think it applies. His style seems to compliment Millar’s stories perfectly. Perhaps I would feel different about his art if it was for a less realistic comic (like GODLAND).

    Mike Mignola: I’ve loved Mike’s work for years, ever since GOTHAM BY GASLIGHT back in ’89. I really can’t describe what it is about Mike’s work, but it has a Goya-esque quality to it that is perfect for books like HELLBOY, BATMAN, FAFHRD & THE GRAY MOUSER, Etc.)”

    “Just yesterday I was talking with my brother about a Burne Hogarth / Will Eisner contrast. I don’t know if Eisner can be blamed in any way for a trend in less exciting art, but it does seem that Hogarth doesn’t get talked about much these days. He stressed dynamism within single images, over Eisner’s focus on the sequential aspects of comic art – and Kane, not surprisingly, was one of his students. When Frank Miller came along he seemed to blend pretty well the approaches of Eisner and Hogarth (via Kane). I think to this day Frank’s art remains exciting.

    Anyway, you’re on to something. The excitement / dynamism seems to be lacking within more realistic comic art these days. I suspect it will come back eventually. A younger artist that surprised me recently is Kano – his run on GOTHAM CENTRAL infused the book with some great energy. Michael Lark had been doing great work on that series, but it definitely showed a more photographic / tv-influenced approach. With Kano you could see raw drawing, a bit cartoony but not too much.”

    “About a couple of weeks ago I was having a conversation with a childhood friend on the subject of comic book art very akin to the subject matter you were just writing about. My friend Paul is 45 years old, the same age I’ll be in a couple of weeks.

    I was telling Paul that the thing I loved about Marvel Comics in the late 60’s, when I first started buying comics, was the great distinctive artwork. My favorite artists at the time were Jim Steranko (my no. 1 fave), Jack Kirby, Gene Colan (especially his late 60’s Dr. Strange stories), John Romita, Steve Ditko, and later Barry Smith (getting into the early 70’s). What was wonderful about these artists was that when you saw comics drawn by them you knew who the artists were immediately.

    There’s still some writing I enjoy in contemporary comics – Ed Brubaker on CAPTAIN AMERICA and Brian Bendis in DAREDEVIL. But except for maybe Alex Maleev, all the artwork in comics all looks the same to me. Maybe you’re right and onto something when you talk about the coolness and detachment of the art from the reader. For me, the best example of the flipside of today’s photorealism that you discussed would be Jim Steranko’s style. I remember his TOWER OF SHADOWS story in particular, the way the action moved across the panels like a camera. But in the case of Steranko’s storytelling, instead of feeling pulled out of the moment I could never stop looking at the artwork.

    In a different way I enjoy Fantagraphics’ line the way I enjoyed Marvels in the 60’s. They even have that scroll down box on the top right hand side of their homepage website to choose an artist. And their really great artists like Crumb, Charles Burns, and Jaime Hernandez have their wonderfully distinctive styles, along with being superb craftsmen.”

    “Just finished reading your article :New Movement for Comics. well, skimmed it intensely. But you asked hard question because the more I uncover about “The Old School Artists” the less impressed I become with the here and now “pro’s”. Which brings me to Oliver Coipel. He is genuinely a breath of fresh air to the industry. Oliver has found the “middle ground” you spoke of. Somewhere between cartoony and photorealism is art that suspends our disbelief, and Oliver does it well. His ability to capture everyday motion is superb: small subtle movements, things that we do but are unaware of, or take for granted.

    He has the ability to capture facial expressions, from mad, happy, joyous, deep thoughts, anger, etc. but he doesn’t stop there. His anatomy is pseudo-realistic, yet cartoony simple, which could mean he gives you just enough information (photorealism) to suspend your disbelief, but doesn’t overdo it with detail (cartoony). Which helps him bring an emotion that can become so intense, you tend to get caught up in the moment. Hence i think just about everything he does, he makes it exciting to read.”

    “I’m 47 years old. I really miss the Gil Kanes and John Buscemas and Curt Swans. While I admire the skill of artist like Bryan Hitch and John Cassaday, the artists whose work I really admire today are Mark Bagley, Brent Anderson and Dave Gibbons. They all have styles that would fit right in with 70’s Marvel and DC comics, but are modern also. I really admire Mr. Bagley’s use of motion. I agree with you that too many comic book pages today look like mini-posters instead of pages from a story.

    I enjoy reading PLANETARY, but Gardner Fox and Mr. Kane could have gotten that story told in three issues tops and it would have been just as good. Different. But just as good.”

  • Hmmm. Exporting “democracy” really isn’t working out all that well, is it? Most recently, the election of vehemently anti-Israel party (or terrorist group, depending on your perspective) Hamas to leadership among Palestians didn’t really go according to American government wishes, but that’s the glorious risk of elections. Typically, American news anchors mostly spoke of Hamas “wresting power” as though they’d staged a bloody coup d’etat.

    While it’s not hard to understand why many Palestinians probably didn’t feel they had a lot to lose by backing Hamas – their previous government didn’t do a lot to forward Palestinians’ concerns, whether you think those concerns are justified or not – but no doubt the White House views it as a stolen election (where, no doubt, every ballot box came complete with a gun to the voter’s head).

    And it turns out they may know a lot more about stolen elections than they’ve been letting on. (That used to be the CIA’s turf, just one more place where reorganizations have more centrally located disparate services.) You may not have heard about it because for some reason the press hasn’t bothered to pick it up, but a very interesting experiment took place in Florida in mid-December. In Leon County, Finnish programmer Harry Hursti tried to alter election results in a Diebold electronic voting machine using a memory card of the sort used in digital cameras and other equipment, and which can easily be gotten for well under $100 by anyone. Diebold, of course, is the manufacturer who has been very aggressively marketing (and selling) their machines to counties all around the country, promising unparalleled accuracy, security and tidiness; among the things the machines do away with are paper records of voting activity, which are commonly referred to when disputed results need settling.

    Diebold wasn’t pleased by the testing. The Leon County elections supervisor isolated one voting machine and provided one Diebold-authorized memory card to Hursti, who easily programmed it. Standard voting procedures and systems checks were used. Eight people were asked to vote on whether Hursti could change the vote or not. Six voted no, two yes. Then Hursti voted.

    The machine’s tape readout registered were seven yes, one no.

    That’s tape readout. Apparently tape readouts can be easily changed without altering the underlying electronic totals. The only way to see if those are altered, which Diebold claimed was impossible, is to run the machine’s memory to a central tabulator, which tallies accumulated votes from various machines. The technician, fearful that Hursti’s real purpose was to plant a virus to disrupt future elections, refused to allow access to the tabulator – until Leon County announced they were dumping the Diebolds. The machine’s data was sent to the tabulator.

    Seven yes, one no.

    Which means, objectively, that Diebold’s foolproof electronic voting machines can be easily hacked. By anyone with a fairly rudimentary computer programming education, and it’s not like there aren’t tens of thousands of them around the country (millions, if you include the world).

    Or by Diebold.

    Consider that in 2004, Diebold’s president, a staunch Republican supporter, proclaimed that he’d do everything “in my power” to ensure the return of the Hand Puppet to the White House. You may recall that on election night 2004, things got kind of wobbly there for awhile. Among other things, we had Ohio sitting on the fence for much of the night (as Florida had sat on the fence for much of 2000’s election day) before it abruptly swung to the Hand Puppet after hours of exit polls suggesting the state was going Kerry, and it was Ohio that put the Hand Puppet back in. Not that that sort of thing is unheard of in American elections (and, if the response to Gore’s election result challenge in 2000 is an indicator, vote tampering is a time-honored if undiscussed practice in American elections and the party victimized by it is just supposed to grin and quietly play along) so there’s no reason to immediately leap to the conclusion of vote tampering. But consider that the “memory card” flaw in Diebold’s electronic voting machines is extreme and obvious enough that either Diebold’s programmers are complete flaming idiots or they had to have put it there. And if they knew about it, why would they leave it? In any case, Diebold is notoriously proprietary about their systems and their programming; they really don’t want anyone else getting a look.

    At any rate, the results of Hursti’s test has prompted several Florida counties to dump Diebold and return to paper ballots, which, though not as technologically advanced, allow far greater accountability. Other counties around the country are considering the same thing. But, as I said, the press doesn’t seem to think it’s worth mentioning.

  • Notes From Under The Floorboards:

    Open letter to Ronald Moore:

    I’ve really been enjoying BATTLESTAR GALACTICA, which throws me no end because I thought the ’70s original was merely inane. But you not only dumped the “let’s retell the story of the Mormon exodus set it in outer space” underpinnings of the series but drastically upped the complexity of almost all characters, supposed hero and supposed villain alike, and used the show to examine real world political issues without sentimentality. For a long time, I’ve been thinking you must be some kind of genius.

    Now I’m wondering if you’re not more of an idiot savant.

    That would explain why you’d feel possessed to go online prior to last week’s episode and apologize for how crappy it would be. Or maybe you honestly felt it was junk. But you’d be wrong. The episode was a fascinatingly brutal look as how underground economies flourish in times of acute social stress, and it’s an aspect of human existence that most space opera – and you’ve managed to figure out how to do space opera so that it’s not innately stupid – usually refuses to even acknowledge. Particularly when we’re all supposed to rally against a common enemy. Beyond that, it was the first good use of Apollo in the show ever; he usually is nothing more than a tense second fiddle to Starbuck, or frustrated wannabe rebel against his father. For the first time, he was a complex, entertaining character in his own right.

    If there was one off-kilter element to the show, it was the abrupt removal of Commander Fisk, who felt like he should have had more material in him. But that’s a minor point. Perhaps you felt the episode didn’t do enough to push forward long term storylines, but, following the temporary driving off of the Cylons, you’re obviously dedicating episodes to exploring aspects of life in a society made up entirely of refugees, and the subject matter of last Friday’s show is certainly an important aspect of that. Equally interesting was Apollo’s final determination that the criminals, held in check, were essential to the functioning of the fleet. It made for an almost startling TV moment, since TV is never supposed to acknowledge things like that.

    Anyway, your assessment of the episode was dead wrong, and the next time you want to sabotage yourself and your show, you should probably ask someone if they think that’d be a good idea. My bet is they’ll say no, and they’d be right.


    Steven Grant

    This is going a bit long this week, so I’m bumping the reviews back to next week. I think I’ll do another marathon then.

    I’ve been notified that the graphic novel I did last year with Tom Mandrake (GRIMJACK; THE SPECTRE) for Moonstone Books, PAT NOVAK FOR HIRE, is about to come out on February 28th, which gives you almost a month to pester your local retailer for it. It’s a sort of private eye mystery, slightly tongue in cheek and based on a short-lived radio show of the late ’40s that starred Jack Webb and Raymond Burr before they rose to prominence. This is an updating, set modern day, with hardboiled hero Novak’s ’40s film noir ethos colliding heavily with both the overexuberant optimism of the ’60s and the pandemic paranoia and pessimism of the current day. Also, any websites or other venues wanting interviews about PAT NOVAK, feel free to contact me.

    So I see Sam Alito has been confirmed to the Supreme Court. Big surprise. Always nice to see the Opus Dei (yes, he’s a member) get their ultraconservative hooks deeper into the fabric of American life.

    Catching up with interviews. For an interview with Frank Miller, click here. For an interview with Larry Young click here. For an interview with me, click here.

    Just in time for the Marvel revivification of his creation DAKOTA NORTH (not that they’re having him work on it or anything), artist Tony Salmons has launched his own website. Tony’s one of those artists who “got away” from comics but was pretty influential during his brief stint, and he’s verging on a comeback, so keep your eyes open for him. (Besides DAKOTA NORTH, the other thing he’s mainly known for is the excellent VIGILANTE mini-series he did at DC in the ’90s with James Robinson, featuring the ’40s singing cowboy character of that name, the one who recently appeared in SEVEN SOLDIERS OF VICTORY.) And starting a blog is Cyberosia publisher Scott Brown. Warning: among other things, Scott’s threatening to post poetry.

    A correction to last week’s column. The John David recently hired by Bookazine to run their newly expanded graphic novel distribution program is not my old friend who used to co-own Capital Distribution but the John Davis who worked for Koen Book Distribution. Thanks to Jackie Estrada for the clarification, and I apologize for the mistaken identity.

    By the way, before I forget, happy Groundhog’s Day. How did that myth get started anyway, that if a groundhog sees its shadow it means another six weeks of winter? (Translating to: if it’s overcast on Feb. 2, winter will be short, but if it’s sunny it’ll be long. Go figure.) Back when I was a kid in Madison, the prime groundhog, over in a small town named Sun Prairie, was Jimmy The Groundhog. I don’t think it was ever the same groundhog, but it was always Jimmy, and the news broadcasts would all make a big fuss over him, sending out camera crews to record whether he saw his shadow. It was the biggest malarkey of the year next to Truax Field radar reports mapping Santa’s progress from the North Pole on Christmas Eve. And for all the Catholics in the audience, Happy Candlemas. Go get those throats blessed.

    Is it my imagination, or is the message of this year’s 24 (Fox, 9P Mondays) that the wisest course of action in virtually every applicable situation is to ignore orders from the President? Hmmm…

    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.) This week’s is another relatively easy one; I’m not involved with any of them, but the answer is near and dear to me.

    By this time next week, my script book, annotated with tales of the genesis and development of at least some of the scripts, should be ready to go. 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.

    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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