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Issue #232

by  in CBR Exclusives Comment
Issue #232



    BLAST FROM THE PAST: sleeping with Ed Brubaker

    LET THE CONSPIRACY THEORIES BEGIN: Utah makes trouble as Saudi Arabia takes over and other stories

    NOTES FROM UNDER THE FLOORBOARD: Conventions, new reviewer, Comics Cover Challenge, Punisher, Macbeth

  • February’s a strange month, from a freelancer’s point of view. It’s always crunch time, on several levels. It’s short, so no matter what week of the month it is, you always see the next mortgage payment looming up on you. Come Thanksgiving or so, many companies shut down until mid-January to all intents and purposes, so it tends to be a lean month for checks. Because they start up again in mid-January, February also becomes a time when editors start pestering for work, in mad attempts to catch up.

    The short version of which is that I’m desperately under the gun this week and something has to give, so I’m running an old column, with some new features attached.

    But it’s a great old column from 2003, my lengthy conversation with Ed Brubaker, who at the time was carving his cult niche with SLEEPER at Wildstorm and GOTHAM CENTRAL at DC, and who has since become a key player at Marvel, on CAPTAIN AMERICA, DAREDEVIL and now UNCANNY X-MEN. Amazing how little things have changed since then.

    Call it a cheap plug or call it sharing the wealth, next up are the first six pages of my PAT NOVAK FOR HIRE mystery thriller coming out imminently from Moonstone. I like the book. It gave me a chance to play, disrespectfully, with private detective motifs, to do the sort of modern noir I love to write but is so hard to find a place for among current publishers, and to work again with Tom Mandrake, who some of you may remember from MARTIAN MANHUNTER, THE SPECTRE, GRIMJACK and so many other comics. If you want to see more Pat, pester your retailer for the book (Star order #DEC053113) because we love retailers and always want them to get first crack at customers. But, if your retailer doesn’t want to help, don’t forget you can order it directly from Moonstone. The downside of these pages is they’ve got no lettering yet, but so maybe I’ll run the lettered versions next week so you can see the process.

    Okay, it is a cheap plug. If I’m not going to, who will?

    Then there’s a new political section with some curious information, and the usual Notes From Under The Floorboard.

    Finishing the first issue of my new CSI miniseries for IDW, and finally wrapping up a screenplay I should’ve had done weeks ago. See you next week in a brand new show, if no one figures out new ways to waste my time.

  • This is something I’ve wanted to do for awhile – conversations with people in the business – but it’s hard to get them to loosen up. Everyone goes into interview mode to pimp their latest projects instead of just talking and swapping ideas and viewpoints. As evident from recent interview after recent interview, Ed Brubaker, writer of BATMAN, CATWOMAN, GOTHAM CENTRAL and one of the best books you haven’t been reading, Wildstorm’s SLEEPER, has been out stumping for the forthcoming SLEEPER trade paperback collection. I was lucky enough to catch him in the ebb of interview mode, when he was willing to chat about all kinds of things. Bear in mind both of us were a little punchy, so the conversation is spiced with some joking and sarcasm. To a large extent, we’re sorting out what we think about things, we’re not necessarily trying to lay down doctrine.

    By the way, SLEEPER, the trade paperback, will be out December 17th – just in time for that last minute stocking stuffer – for a mere $17.95, the same price you’d have paid had you bought the singles. Plug over, on with the chat.

    SDG: Let’s talk about the changing market. As little as five years ago, any comic that didn’t sell high numbers, regardless of the press it got, would be cancelled. Now it’s more common for titles with not necessarily great sales to find new life — or at least a second chance — in trade paperback collections. SLEEPER is a recent title that has gotten terrific reviews and has found a strong core audience, but is still struggling to expand that audience. So what’s the plan for the trade paperback? Is it being used to consolidate those sentiments and prompt wider interest in the title the way DC used trade paperbacks to build TRANSMETROPOLITAN?

    EB: That’s the hope, at least for me. SLEEPER got scheduled for the trade treatment mostly because Scott [Dunbier] and Jim [Lee] [of Wildstorm] wanted it collected. Because they feel, regardless of resistance in the market, that it’s a good book and could find a wider audience if given the chance. As you and I both know, getting that chance is a lot easier in trade form, because it’s closer to a realistic publishing model than regular monthly comics publishing is. This way, when readers approach a retailer asking about the book, there’s a solid package available to the retailer that they can always get within a week or so. With the monthlies, people have to try to hunt down the back issues, most of which are out of print, and if a retailer didn’t order a book the first time out, he’s unlikely to try to get back issues for a fan. Getting a trade is easy.

    And maybe with this steady shift to trades becoming more and more popular with readers and retailers, the distribution system will start to be a little more like the book distribution system, so retailers can more comfortably stock the books. I was just saying to someone else that if I were a comics retailer, I’d be getting most of my trade stock through Ingram or some other book distributor, so I didn’t have to do it all non-returnable. Then you’ve got product on the shelf that can earn its own money instead of having to fit it into your weekly comic budget.

    SDG: I know you’ve been trying hard to promote the SLEEPER trade paperback. What have you found are the biggest obstacles?

    EB: The biggest problem, I think, is the same one we’ve faced with the monthly series. I want more retailers to start carrying this book, and I’m not sure exactly how to make that happen. With the trade, people automatically assume that’ll help the series, but what happens if the same retailers that don’t order the monthly decide not to stock the trade? I mean, if they’re not taking a risk on the 3 dollar item, what makes you think they’ll take it on a much higher-priced one? And how do I reach those retailers?

    As you well know, talking about the retail community online is basically pointless, because the only ones that’ll read your criticisms are the ones you aren’t talking about in the first place, the ones that are really trying to be good retailers. Robert Scott (of Comicaze in San Diego) pointed that out to me a long time ago, and I believe him. If a retailer is online, trying to find out about product and the industry on a regular basis, then they’re one of the good ones. The ones I want to reach with my promotion aren’t going to read an interview with me about SLEEPER in the first place, most likely.

    It goes back to my point that the direct market is just kind of backwards. We work in the only field where a book can get 100 percent rave reviews, can have people really buzzing about it, can get nominated for a bunch of awards, and still, none of that affects its sales. Why is that? In movies, book publishing, even video games, reviews and awards are crucial tools for the product to succeed. But in comics they’re really irrelevant for the most part. The only major difference I can see in those markets that makes any sense is this irrational business model that the comics distribution network uses. One that puts all the burden and risk on the retailer, not the publisher.

    SDG: I’ve been wrestling with this very issue. It seems to me a lot of problems we’re currently having with comics arise from the traditions of the direct market system. It has trained publishers, retailers and readers alike to expect certain things that may no longer be applicable. I caught a lot of flak from retailers a couple months back by running a column suggesting that retailers are the only ones who can really market comics. I got many responses, from some very good retailers, about how marketing comics is the publisher’s responsibility. Now I see this as a multifold problem: both things, though apparently contradictory, are true. I think it is the responsibility of the publisher to somehow get the word out about books like SLEEPER. But the result of the direct market is that there’s really no venue besides the shops that’s proven effective enough to make it cost effective to promote there, and promotion to the shops basically goes to retailers, not to the consumers. Retailers, obviously, have to order books long before their customers get a chance to check them out, which means that by the time the customer even sees a book its sales potential has already been mapped out, by the retailer, by the distributor, by the publisher.

    When you start filtering in comparatively complex, sophisticated material like SLEEPER, things exacerbate, because you don’t necessarily end up with that “instant hook.” What do you do with a book intended to develop over time, which is often a far more satisfying reading experience? On the other hand, you get the type of reader who, understandably, doesn’t want to stagger through that experience month-to-month. They’re the ones who say they’ll wait for the trade paperback, which in today’s market makes a good deal of sense, but when the trade is finally available many times they don’t become aware of it. And while publishers may be willing to risk publishing a trade paperback of a low-selling series, often they aren’t interested in adding huge amounts of promotional money to the mix. Many retailers also don’t see the point of promoting collections of material that didn’t have meteoric sales in the comics run, even though there’s apparently a growing audience that wants it onlyin trade paperback. Is there any way out of this morass, or are we just plain screwed?

    EB: I don’t know if we’re completely screwed, but it certainly makes publishing anything outside the top 25 or so comics a lot bigger challenge than it should be. I’d like to see the publishers start putting more marketing behind the trades than the monthlies, since that’s where both they and the retailers make more money in the end. With the rising interest in Graphic Novels from bookstores and libraries, maybe we could start to see some more co-op advertising in the book review sections of local newspapers, things like that.

    SDG: The problem with virtually any kind of co-op advertising in comics is the inability to determine a cost/effectiveness ratio. But I think the transition to books and how it’s affecting the entire industry is the important aspect of the business right now. I’ve been saying since the mid-’90s that the “depression” is actually the shifting of comics from a magazine economy to a book economy. The problems with this are that with the shift comes considerable economic stress that really no one, whether publishers, retailers, distributors, readers, talent, whoever, was particularly well-equipped to withstand, and there’s an adamant desire of most to not let go of aspects of the direct market system that have been of benefit to them. I’m not sure the transition is something that can be accepted piecemeal. I think it’s possible to wean away from the magazine economy and into a book economy, but the transition has been largely imposed on the business by circumstances and not something that has been approached with any conscious thought and planning by any sector of the business. At least not that’s obvious.

    EB: Yeah, it feels more like a gradual shift instead of a new plan, which is what I wish it would be. But look at the smaller publishers, like AiT and Oni, they’re doing original graphic novels now instead of comics, or, in Oni’s case, about even with the comics. But they’re moving over to a regular book publisher’s business model before the larger publishers, putting out books in the red, seeing their profit further down the line.

    SDG: I know AiT are sticking their big toe back in the monthly comic waters with a new book from Brian Wood, which seems to be going a little against the flow, but, yeah, it’s the smaller publishers that seem to be moving most eagerly to the book publisher model, I suspect because the current arrangement of the comics direct market effectively cuts them out of any real presence there. It’s sort of a truism that the direct market was really created to sell superhero comics, but I think it’s more accurate to say it was created to sell X-MEN and BATMAN. If it was really geared just toward selling superheroes, superhero comics would theoretically be more successful in general in comics shops, even superhero comics that throw away all the rules like SLEEPER.

    EB: Well, we have to remember how few comics got published when the direct market really sort of took over. I worked at a store in the early ’80s, when I was in high school, and you had maybe 20 comics a week at the most. From the big two, at least. Then you’d have the Pacific Comics (the first company to publish only for the direct market) and Eclipse stuff, but those were erratic compared to the Marvels and DCs. You had very few black and white comics to worry about ordering before the big boom. I think the direct sales system was just never designed to function for this amount of product, really. If DC and Marvel only published about 50 comics a month, then it would be easier to sell stuff outside BATMAN and X-MEN.

    I think one of the reasons the direct market is being clung to so hard is the large discount that retailers get through it. Most stores get at least 50 percent off, and if they were to shift to a more typical bookstore discount, their profit margin would shrink a lot. They’d maybe get 25 or 30 percent off, something like that. So retailers don’t want to see their profit drop to half, even if in the long run it might mean they could carry a wider variety of stuff and make more money overall. The direct market has trained this entire industry, from the top down, to look at the short run, not the long one. No one likes change, really, but as comic prices creep upward, with the content and package staying the same, something’s got to give.

    SDG: The discount probably has a lot to do with it, yes. In some ways it’s like your hand stuck in a cookie jar where you can only get your hand out by letting go of the cookie you want. But the continually rising cost of comics is certainly a major factor in the depression of the business. The way most comics are created these days, 22 pages is simply not enough to get a particularly satisfying story, or even story segment, going, and paying $3 for it, I can see why many people view that as not value for price. Of course, I think most comics publishers would love to publish a 200 page comic with 60% ads for $6, but where are they going to get the ads from? No one will spend enough on advertising to such a relatively small market to make it worthwhile. So it’s fairly clear the trade paperback format represents far more value for price to most buyers. Provided it’s something they want in the first place.

    EB: Sure, the TPB is sort of becoming the default package that most everyone, from publisher to retailer to fan, would rather have. But remember the first boom and bust after the black and white boom? That was the Graphic Novel boom. Of course, the material being collected was for the most part not worthy of sustained shelf-life, which is why the retailers got stuck with the shit end of the stick on that one, too. All those boxes of graphic novels sitting next to quarter bins filled with RADIOACTIVE BLACK BELT HAMSTERS. We could see that again if we aren’t careful.

    SDG: Well, this is something I’ve been saying as well, that no one really wants to pick up on: as graphic novels become increasingly the norm, companies are going to drastically cut down on the amount of material they’re publishing. They’ll have to. It’s going to make things creatively much more competitive than it is even now. I don’t think the comics market has even begun to consider the real effect of graphic novels, how they’re going to make change things creatively as well as financially. We’re sort of in the position the paperback was in during WWII, where most things being published in paperback were reprints of old material that had been in pulp magazines or whatever. Novels serialized in pulps, short story collections, or low cost reprints of the hardcovers that most book publishers felt were their true calling. But the real value of the paperback came after the war, when the original paperback novels came into vogue. It wasn’t overnight, and the product, largely produced by the pulp writers, was widely derided, but it started selling like mad. (And we all know how MAD was selling, haha.) Book publishers didn’t really want to think of the mass market paperback as an original medium, but the public forced them into it. I think it’s possible, with the right product, that the public could force comics publishers to start thinking that way.

    EB: Yeah, I think we’re starting to see that with Vertigo, really, as it’s evolved over the years. At those panels Karen always asks how many people buy the monthlies and how many buy the trades, and the amount of raised hands on the trade side gets bigger every year.

    SDG: You’ve written BATMAN and you’re still writing CATWOMAN, both fairly popular titles. There’s a theory growing in popularity in the industry these days, particularly among retailers it seems, that talent should move back and forth between popular company-owned properties and more personal projects, to use the popularity of the one to feed the prospects of the other. You had a very successful run on BATMAN, arguably the #2 most popular concept in the business, and now you’re doing SLEEPER. So how’s that theory working out for you?

    EB: Not too well, obviously. (Laughs). It’s a rare writer who can come along and make his name on a big character and carry it over to his other more personal work. Especially on something like BATMAN. You always sort of feel like a place holder when you work on that book. Sales rarely fluctuate based on who’s writing it. When I took BATMAN over it was being written by Larry Hama, who was literally hated by the fans and my stuff immediately started getting good press, but sales were exactly the same as when he wrote it. I think it really depends on the circumstances of your run, who the artist is, all that stuff.

    But I think that theory is flawed, if not outright wrong. I can’t think of that many popular creators who’ve done more personal or creator-owned work and more high profile superhero work at the same time who’s gotten those benefits. All that happens is their straight super-hero stuff sells better, for the most part. Geoff Johns is one of the biggest writers in comics, but POSSESSED didn’t sell anywhere near FLASH numbers. Bendis’ more personal work was already doing pretty well before he landed the ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN job, even.

    SDG: Of course, ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN far outsells Brian’s “independent superhero” book, POWERS, and, of course, the longstanding popularity of the Spider-Man character has something to do with that, but you have to wonder how much of that also has to do with the nature of the direct market. Clearly, no one has figured out how to promote POWERS to an audience hungry for ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN or even DAREDEVIL, and, particularly given what Brian has done recently in DAREDEVIL, it can’t be presumed the audiences for that and POWERS are all that far apart.

    EB: No, they’re not. Anyone who digs Brian’s DAREDEVIL is going to like POWERS. But it’s like what you said earlier, this immediate bottom line aspect of the direct market has made it so the publishers, in general, have shifted the burden of promoting material to the retailers. Because even before a book is published, we know what it’s numbers are, we know if it’s a success, before anyone has even seen it. The only exception to that I’ve seen in a long long time, is Y THE LAST MAN, which got terrible initial orders and is now Vertigo’s best-selling book since PREACHER. Every other book that started out with numbers like that stayed right where they were, and some of them were just as good as Y. As we know, in every other field of publishing, every book starts out in the red (with the obvious exceptions of Anne Rice, Stephen King, etc). Even in newspaper publishing, you can go years without seeing a profit on something. In comics, you hit that bottom line immediately, so there’s no need for anyone but the retailer to care about promoting beyond the initial order phase.

    SDG: This is the what the direct market has “trained” us for, again. We can’t say the talent didn’t benefit, at least for awhile, from the immediacy of the process. But those were different market conditions. The direct market trained us all toward certain expectations, though those expectations differ depending on what part of the business you’re in.

    EB: Yeah, I’d certainly be more than happy to benefit from a boom the way the previous generations have. The direct market is set up really well for everyone to make a killing under the right circumstances, but under the wrong circumstances it becomes kind of like a Ponzi scheme. Everyone makes money until the bubble bursts and then the retailers are left holding the bag.

    SDG: But it’s not only the retailers holding the bag. Often the talent is, too, and, in emotional terms, the reader. How many people were driven out of the market by stories that had never finished? I’ve heard from more than one person who refuses to even consider buying mini-series anymore because they either never get finished or they get collected into trade paperback, so where’s the incentive? What more and more people — not publishers, usually — seem to be coming around to is a point of view that the individual issues may as well be skipped and stories should just go straight to trade paperback/graphic novel. Which seems like an awfully big jump, but French comics publishers went through a similar thing and came out of it quite profitably, just jumping right past serialization and going for the graphic album. Is this where American comics are ultimately heading, or will the cost issue kill that momentum?

    EB: I don’t think it’s the cost issue as much as the quantity issue. We publish a lot more comics on a monthly basis than they do in France. If you get to the point where you switch over to original GNs only, then it’s like I said above, you have to start examining whether each story really deserves that package. Does every JLA or AVENGERS story deserve to be a nice slick trade? That’s where the pulp roots in the industry really show themselves, because obviously the answer is no…

    SDG: Obviously. But to publishers like Marvel and DC it makes sense to do that, to cater to the core comics shop audience. I wouldn’t be surprised if that audience bought more JLA collections than, say, volumes of TRANSMETROPOLITAN or SLEEPER. There are reasons it’s not wise – it’s backwards-looking, it creates a sense of glut, and much of that material really shows its weaknesses when massed together since it was never really designed to be read that way – but I understand why publishers would be more interested in short-term profits than so far unproven long term detriments…

    EB: I’m not saying there couldn’t be JLA or AVENGERS stories worthy of the nice treatment in a market of all original GNs, but I doubt there would be 6 a year that were, you know? As for the comparison in sales, I hated the SPIDER-MAN movie, and I loved ADAPTATION. But which one made more money?

    That brings up a point I’ve been meaning to make. I see a lot of people online saying that SLEEPER should be selling 200,000 copies or be in the top ten, but that’s just crazy talk. It was never designed to be the most popular mass-appeal book in the industry. I think SLEEPER could easily sell 30 thousand, maybe even 50 if the market were stronger, but I don’t see it becoming one of the most popular books. Most of my favorite stuff, in music, film, books, is all stuff that is very personal and you know is never going to reach as many people as a Stephen King book. My favorite writers all do okay, and I love their work, but they rarely crack the best-seller lists, except for some recent hits in the crime genre like Dennis Lehane with MYSTIC RIVER.

    I don’t see anything wrong with writing something that’s not intended to be the biggest event in the world, and just a good book instead. V FOR VENDETTA is arguably better than WATCHMEN, but it’ll never sell anywhere near as many copies. Does that mean V failed? Of course not. Every project can’t be designed to please everybody, that’s just not realistic. ADAPTATION was never going to reach the numbers that the SPIDER-MAN movie did, but it’s a far better film, and it certainly deserved to exist.

    SDG: You were making a point about the ‘pulp roots’ of comics before I interrupted.

    EB: Right. Just as much of the material from BLACK MASK didn’t deserve to be treated the same way that Hammett and Chandler were treated, not everything published in monthly comics deserves to become a trade paperback or graphic novel, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t deserve to exist. So if we move completely away from the monthlies, we lose that pulp essence to some degree, and we lose the disposability of the superhero medium, in a way. And I mean that in the best way possible. The coolest thing about superheroes is that they grew out of the pulps, which were cheap throwaways. I think this gradual shift to trades might also come down to the fact that general audience is now down to the only people left who are still willing to buy comics regularly, so why not give them better packages?

    SDG: You’re speaking mainly of the superhero audience?

    EB: Basically, yeah, or just the mainstream comics audience in general. If we’re down to the bare minimum of people still willing to purchase comics in any form, and I pray to god we’re not, then why not give them the stuff in the format they prefer?

    SDG: I think this is an important issue from a creative standpoint as well as an economic one. To a large extent, the 22 page story segment is an artificial construct imposed on us for economic reasons, and feeding that beast requires certain concessions most of us make automatically. You either bring the segment to a close at the end of 22 pages, or you need a hook there, a cliffhanger or some other tease/tension-heightener to encourage the reader to come back next issue to get the next segment. There’s no question that’s it’s fairly easy to master this structure, but when you start thinking of stories in terms of four issues or eight issues or twelve or whatever, when you start thinking in terms of trade paperbacks or graphic novels, hitting a major hook every 22 pages like clockwork becomes like writing, say, a mystery novel and making sure someone gets killed every 30th page. If we’re dealing with more real estate, shouldn’t we be considering ways to subdivide it so we can tell different types of stories and structure them differently, preferably in ways more appropriate to the intent? If a shift to books forces the market to unlearn a lot of things, it may force talent to unlearn a lot of things as well. When Mike Zeck and I were doing DAMNED over at Wildstorm, we were thinking in terms of trade paperback collection and making specific structural decisions with that in mind, so that when collected the story would read smoothly, it wouldn’t have the recaps every 23rd page and other things that mar so many trade paperbacks. I think that’s been a flaw in Marvel and Crossgen collections specifically, that there’s a strong emphasis every month with reacquainting the reader with the concept that works against trade paperback collection, there’s that “make everything insanely clear for the reader” emphasis monthly comics are prone to (and, perhaps not coincidentally, mostly fail at) that simply becomes painful and often embarrassing redundant in collections, particularly when the same descriptive phrases are used over and over, from chapter to chapter. What most writers have to do now, whether they realize it, is to accommodate the needs of what, structurally, are two mutually hostile markets. Did you feel any of this tension when producing SLEEPER?

    EB: Not so much with SLEEPER, because I’d learned that lesson on BATMAN and CATWOMAN first. I know what you mean though. I found it a bit frustrating to do SCENE OF THE CRIME and have to have a hook ending every 22 pages. It was hard to make that work, because it forced that artificial structure on me. I was writing it in chapters to try to make it more like a regular mystery, but I always knew all my chapters had to add up to 22 pages. With SLEEPER it’s often just wishing I had five or six more pages for each issue to really open it up more. That’s why I decided to experiment and make the comic a more challenging and dense read, with a lot of flash-cuts and tangents and such, to fit more story into each issue.

    SDG: I’ve started thinking very much in that way again, too. When I was writing WHISPER I spent a lot of time experiment with narrative compression with varying levels of success and by the time that book wound up I was burned out on it, so in my next project BADLANDS I shifted to what’s now called “decompressed” storytelling: no captions except time and place settings, a very cinematic flow to the story, long spaces where nothing in a pulp action sense really happens. What I’ve come to call Paper Movies. Now that sort of thing is very widespread, and spreading wider as talent gets used to the idea they’ve now got all this space to tell stories in. My problem with WHISPER is that I always ended up with about half again as much material for each issue as would fit and I had to come up with ways to get it in. My problem with much of the “decompressed” storytelling these days is that too many people are cramming four pages of story into 22 pages, and fooling themselves into thinking they’re adding nuance when they’re just taking up space, just bringing the story to a dead halt so they can go over here and demonstrate how sophisticated they are. That’s one of the things I’ve found very entertaining about SLEEPER, that it does go for a denser type of story and storytelling, because I really think we need to go that way now, we need to make comics into a richer reading experience, and that goes beyond mere story, it also goes to technique, and we need more inventive storytelling technique.

    EB: I know. It’s words and pictures, and you can do anything you want with words and pictures. I always get mad whenever I see another writer saying that narrative captions shouldn’t be used in comics, giving the old “show don’t tell” argument. But I say narrative does show, it just shows with words, not pictures. If you properly, it adds extra pictures and even emotions inside the reader’s head. Comics is words, too, so we shouldn’t be afraid to use them.

    It’s funny you bring up those recaps, though, because I recently reread Frank Miller’s DAREDEVIL run, and I rate that about the best monthly superhero book of the 80s, the only thing that really felt dated about it to me was those opening scenes, where he always had to explain who Daredevil was and how he got his powers. Every issue it was repeated. Here’s the best comic of its day, in many ways, and even it had to hammer that point into the ground every time. I think as a teen reading those, I just glossed over those captions. Hell, I glossed over a lot of narrative until Alan Moore came along, anyway, but I remember reading all the other DAREDEVIL narrative captions and just skipping the repetitive stuff.

    SDG: The last time I brought this up in the column, about bringing words back into comics more significantly, I got a flurry of e-mails from people on both sides of the issue assuming I meant a return to the days when you’d have a caption describing what the artist had drawn in the picture, or the use of captions as pure expository text, and the sort of thing you’re talking about with DAREDEVIL. It’s odd how brains short-circuit when discussing this, as if the only possibilities were old-fashioned gimmicks that have already been played out or are no longer really functional in most instances (though there are always going to be stories where those are perfectly valid and possibly the most appropriate techniques). But, since you bring up Alan, look at all the wonderful uses Alan has found for text in the ABC books, and that’s still only scratching the surface of what’s possible.

    ED: Yeah, PROMETHEA is a mindwarp of text and art, really, showing how the words are part of the artwork, even, and I assume that’s some of Todd Klein’s effect on it, too. Todd is a genius. But Alan Moore is always an inspiration to me because more than anything else he’s brave as hell. He doesn’t let any formal restrictions stop him from writing what he wants to write. If he wants to start 3rd person narrative in the middle of a story, he does. If he wants to have four different 1st person narrators, he does that, without doubting himself. And there’s also just a playfulness to the ABC stuff that really charms me most of the time.

    Another part of that whole equation is the dialog, and recently I realized how Warren Ellis is able to get so much story out of his work while still leaving it as open as he does, with those 4 and 5 panel pages. Warren has somehow mastered the art of writing expository dialog that is incredibly entertaining to read, so much so that you forget that’s what it is. He’s a great writer in a lot of other ways, too, but that’s something really brilliant, I think. I plan to steal that as soon as I can assimilate it into my style without anyone noticing.

    SDG: Getting back to promotion, it seems to me like there’s a counter-sense involved in some trade paperback collections, in that companies approach trades as “advertisements” for the monthly series, but there’s no real promotion for most monthly series, which often leads to a widespread perception that a book is cold even while word of mouth on it spreads. There’s a risk that mentality will also spread to trades – and some suggestion it already has – despite books being intended to have a shelf life. I was talking to someone the other day who said they didn’t pre-order trades but preferred to examine them on the shelf first. I’m not sure the industry can afford to look at trades the same way they look at pamphlets, and I’m not sure there’s any hope it will view them any other way, unless it’s forced on them.

    EB: Of course, some promotion does happen, but it’s debatable whether it can help or not. I know for a fact that DC keeps things around, books like SLEEPER and GOTHAM CENTRAL, and tries to let word of mouth spread, and will advertise books they think are worthwhile, and I’m really grateful for that support, honestly. But still, once you’ve passed those first issue orders, there’s rarely any turning things around. That just doesn’t make sense to me. The work should be judged once it appears, not three months beforehand based on a blurb and a tiny jpeg.

    SDG: In theory, companies should be prepared, under the current system, to do a two-tiered marketing plan, one tier aimed at the retailer for three months before release, one aimed at the consumer for two weeks before release, but it’s easy to see that getting cost prohibitive very quickly, particularly with the current “instant gratification” mentality you mentioned. I don’t know, maybe they should start giving away free issues of things on the Internet on a regular basis. I know some have, but I don’t know to what extent it actually affected sales of comics or trades. It also seems to me more publishers, particularly when they build up a sizeable enough catalog by a particular talent, might want to emulate what Larry Young did with Brian Wood, the whole “Brian Wood Month” thing he does periodically to sell more copies of CHANNEL ZERO. You know, actually work to create the sensibility that a specific creator has a specific body of work, it’s renowned, and it’s available, come buy it. I know DC has spent over a decade doing this with Neil Gaiman, and now SANDMAN books are on the New York Times Bestsellers list. That’s certainly an investment that has paid off huge over time.

    EB: Like that ad in all the DC books a while back about the various works of Warren Ellis. There’s a name that has a lot of TPBs attached to it, in several different genres, all of high quality. You do notice a certain amount of barrel-rolling among books once you get enough of them. I’ve certainly noticed more people trying out CATWOMAN lately who read GOTHAM CENTRAL and vice-versa, and I think people who buy the SLEEPER trade and dig it will look me up and see what other trades I have, or at least I hope they will. And then they see, oh, two CATWOMAN trades, SCENE OF THE CRIME, POINT BLANK, the LOWLIFE trade. It starts to add up. Giving away free comics never hurts, but I’ve rarely seen it help that much, either. I think giving away a bunch of free SLEEPER comics a week or two before the trade comes out might help get more people to try the book, maybe, though. Because even if they can’t find it at their local store, they can find it online. That’s where that kind of viral marketing pays off for trades, because everyone can find it at Amazon, at least.

    SDG: Well, there is some truth in the theory that trade paperbacks can be used to popularize more obscure and “difficult” material. If played right.

    EB: There is hope for certain books that are complex stuff like SLEEPER, though. Look at 100 BULLETS. Its numbers are a bit above break-even on the monthly, but the trades are huge. That’s a situation where until the first trade came out, people were on the fence about the book. I think it could go the same way for SLEEPER, if enough stores give the trade a try. Maybe that’s the new publishing model, to put out a book, generate a modest buzz about the quality of it, and then hook people with the trades. That seems to be what works most often lately. But it sometimes feels like it’s only Vertigo books that are being given this chance for the most part, and there are other good books beyond TRANSMETROPOLITAN, FABLES, and 100 BULLETS.

    SDG: I think Brian Azzarello’s a good example of a writer who… if you pick up a single issue of 100 BULLETS, you can tell, okay, this guy’s not a bad writer, this stuff is kind of fun, it’s unusual, but you might not necessarily get a vibe beyond “decent genre writer,” with material kind of like those quirky action films that show up late night on HBO. But if you read a span of 100 BULLETS at once, you start to see there’s a really interesting texture there, a voice that maybe doesn’t necessarily come through in a single exposure, that there are familiar elements but when the pieces are all in place it’s really something new, something we haven’t really seen before. The trade paperbacks really reinforce that, which is probably why they’re more popular than the pamphlets. I know the same thing happened with TRANSMETROPOLITAN, DC was comfortable enough with the comics sales after awhile but they were never really very good, but the trades have done just great, and when you read the material in bulk, you see this vast panorama that Warren obviously had in his head from day one, this really cool voice, that’s suggested by the individual comics but really only comes into clear focus over time. SLEEPER strikes me as a book very much in that tradition. The question, I guess, is whether anyone’s got the patience to let the trades click in.

    EB: I think those two books, and even PLANETARY, prove they do, if they’re exposed to the material. I definitely have heard from a lot of SLEEPER fans, who tell me they get a lot more out of the issues when they go back and reread them. They start to see the overall subtext of the material, notice the extra stuff, like the way we’re examining the superhero genre while telling a very espionage heavy story. I think the best comics are the ones like that, where when you read a bunch of them at one time, you really feel it. PROMETHEA actually does that, but that’s Alan Moore, so at this point in time that’s expected. I just reread all the PLANETARY so far and was blown away by the fact that we’re just now meeting Anna Hark, who is one of the most important characters in the book, and here it is, nearly 2/3rds done when she finally appears. What it is with Brian Azzarello is that he and Eduardo Risso make that texture you’re talking about together, and with each story it becomes more clear. That’s what makes them so great, is that fusion. Eduardo makes you realize how deep Brian’s writing really is. I think Sean does that for me, as does Michael Lark. Of course, the material I write for them could really only work with them drawing it, in a way. I know I couldn’t picture PLANETARY drawn by anyone but John Cassaday.

    SDG: I was going to bring up the contribution of Sean Phillips to SLEEPER. He’s a tremendous artist, very versatile and extremely underrated. I did a throwaway Blob story for X-MEN UNLIMITED with him that was really just a long joke and a punchline, but he drew it brilliantly, and I’d work with him again in a hot New York minute, so I’m a little jealous of you on that score. Did getting Sean as an artist and developing a working relationship with him alter any of your plans or development of the series? What are the strengths he brings to the book in your estimation? Like John on PLANETARY, it’s hard to conceive of SLEEPER being drawn by anyone else.

    EB: SLEEPER was kind of designed for Sean, really. We’d been talking about doing something for years, and we finally did GOTHAM NOIR with Carlin, which was a blast, so I’d had Sean on reserve, sort of, since then. So when I came up with SLEEPER and pitched it to Scott, I never even suggested anyone but Sean. I think he’s really done amazing work here, loosening up his style to an almost European Munoz kind of inking, just splashing his brush across the page. The black and white pages look just as good as the color ones do. Sometimes even better. He’s also the fastest artist in the world, which is scary. But yeah, I’ll work with Sean for the rest of my life. Him and Lark are guys I’ll always want to write for. They bring such a personal touch to what they do, and they’re smart, they draw the story like a writer, too, so they make me look good by making sure it all flows. Pretty pictures are nice, but if the page doesn’t flow smoothly, it’s not good comics.

    The funny thing about Sean is he doesn’t want me to tell him what’s coming next in the book, so I end up writing for him as my audience and my collaborator. It’s nice, because if I’ve pleased him I know I’ve done a good job.

    SDG: I’ve had that experience with artists, and it’s interesting, guys who say, “Don’t tell me what’s coming next, I want to be surprised.” I’ve got no problem discussing stories in advance with artists, but it’s gratifying for them to want to have that excitement of the first read, to translate that energy into their art, and I’ve found it makes for some very entertaining comics. You’re right that you end up writing for the artist as the audience, and I think that often makes it easier to focus on the story, on the specific elements and effects you want to emphasize, than writing for the editor as the audience, or the audience as the audience, or even just writing for yourself.

    EB: Well, you’re always writing for yourself for the most part anyway, but, yeah, it’s great to get to that point with an artist. Then you know you’re really a team.

    SDG: Speaking of letting the trades kick in, and Vertigo, you were talking of Vertigo titles that were as good as Y that never really got that level of support, and one book that sticks in my head is your DEADENDERS. I have to admit the first couple issues of DEADENDERS did nothing for me. It’s been a long time since I’ve read them, so at this point I couldn’t tell you why, but I kept having people I respected tell me DEADENDERS was a damn good book, so I kept up with it, and by the end of your first arc I thought it had really kicked in. Now it can’t really be said that DC didn’t support the book — it did run a year and a half or something, and there has to be some limit on how long publishers are expected to keep projects going with no return to speak of — but did DEADENDERS ever get a shot at trade paperback? That really strikes me as a book that would’ve done much better if it could’ve been read in bigger chunks.

    EB: They really went all out for DEADENDERS, actually. That’s the biggest promotion I’ve ever had for a series at all. They gave away the first issue free to retailers. You ordered number 2 as if it was number 1, and you got twice that many number 1’s for free. It was a bit confusing to retailers, I think, because it was so different, but it was cool of DC to do that. And they put out a trade of the first 4 issues around the time issue 11 came out, but at that point the writing was on the wall, I think. The fact that DEADENDERS didn’t succeed with all the backing DC gave it was really disheartening at the time, but I think there were a bunch of factors involved. It was during a time when everyone, even retailers, were predicting Vertigo’s end, because PREACHER was finishing, so that hurt all Vertigo books. 100 BULLETS is really the only thing that launched during that time that’s done well, and that’s mainly the trades. Also, DEADENDERS was a teen sci-fi romance adventure. It was hard to explain in one sentence. I’ve always sucked at the easy to explain high concept. That’s why I was so thrilled when I came up with Sleeper, because it was “DONNIE BRASCO as a super-hero.” Of course, I think DONNIE BRASCO bombed at the box office even with Depp and Pacino.

    SDG: I don’t recall, but it has had a long and happy life on DVD. Which sort of parallels what we’re talking about with comics.

    EB: Yeah, it does. I’ve actually started thinking about the trades like DVDs myself, too. You get some extras, an afterward. If it’s worth owning, at least.

    SDG: What might really be interesting is having writers, artists and editors do “DVD commentary” on the collections…

    EB: I’m of two minds about that. Sometimes I think those things detract from the work. If you’re talking about technical aspects, that’s interesting, but I don’t always want to know why a writer wrote what they did, because if I like a piece of writing, I want to like it for my own reasons.

    SDG: I can understand that, but I also like technical analyses of things, why certain creative decisions were made in certain places, especially as a result of situational obstacles. When I talk about writing – and I think it extends to any “creative” activity – I bring up that most of what we do is actually problem solving, figuring out how to get from point A to point B. Of course, most DVD commentary is self-serving drek, but occasionally you find one that’s really illuminating. Listening to Doug Liman discuss filming GO or THE BOURNE IDENTITY for example, how certain problems forced him to think of certain solutions that ultimately made for better movies. Also, it’s hard to remember now that not long ago it didn’t look like DVDs were going to replace videotape as a popular format, and it was the inclusion of commentaries and other bonus material like cut scenes that prompted consumers to start paying more attention to them, despite their being higher priced than tapes. It’s a gimmick more comics publishers might choose to emulate. Anything that both gets more trades stocked and convinces the audience and retailers they’re a viable alternative can only be good, especially where non-top 10 comics are concerned.

    EB: Look at that saturation tests that Bob Wayne did a year or so back. They proved that if retailers put more copies of mid-level stuff on the shelves, the actually sold a significant amount more of them. Yet, in general, orders on the mid-level stuff stays the same because, I guess, the retailers don’t have the money to invest upfront to stock the stuff so most of it is sold on a subscription basis. That’s a failure of the market, not the comics themselves. Every book can’t be a top twenty hit, everything can’t be THE ULTIMATES. But those mid-level books have an audience, even if it’s a smaller one. It’s the kind of audience that is more likely to help the industry diversify and be taken more seriously by the general public. The thing is, I think if they had their druthers, a lot more retailers would stock that stuff deeper, they just simply can’t afford to. DC can’t afford to go returnable on all its comics, either, so we’re basically stuck until something in there changes.

    SDG: And we’re back to the Catch-22. The system can’t really change until someone’s willing to put money/risk into changing the system, and there’s no one at the moment, with the current market conditions, who can afford to do that. (Or no one who has the money who also has the incentive to take the risk.) So let’s go in another direction: to what extent can the writer structure the material to take better advantage of what’s available? This is a question I know a lot of people think we’re not even supposed to think about. Take DEADENDERS, for instance. Looking back, would you have structured it differently?

    EB: I don’t know. Looking back is always hard. I think what I would’ve done differently is not done that book at all. I know a lot of my fans love that book, and I have a lot of affection for it, but it wasn’t exactly what I wanted to do right then. I wanted to follow-up SCENE OF THE CRIME with another crime book. But I second-guessed myself and came up with DEADENDERS because it was something I’d been kicking around for a long time that I thought Karen and Shelly would like, and I knew I could mine whatever was left of my checkered past for fun stories. But I think if I had it to do over again, I might do something else instead. I’m not saying I regret doing the book, I think issue 8 of DEADENDERS is one of the best things I’ve ever written, but I think it might’ve been a better move to stick with the crime angle at the time. See, that’s hindsight for you, it’s ever-changing. I’m in a good place now, with SLEEPER and CATWOMAN and GOTHAM CENTRAL, and DEADENDERS helped get me there, really, because it taught me a lot about writing and deadlines. And it was great working with Shelly and Warren and Cameron.

    The funny thing is, Jenette Kahn almost sold DEADENDERS to Sci Fi a few months ago, but they thought it skewed too young for their core audience. They loved it otherwise, though. I always think, sci-fi teen rebellion on scooters, how did that not hit?

    SDG: They should try again, now that Sci Fi Network has been bought by NBC, they might be more interested in a younger demographic. I’m not sure why anyone would think DEADENDERS would only appeal to a youth demographic anyway. But this brings up another issue about recent comics, more and more, publishers are viewing comics/trade paperbacks/graphic novels not as stories but as potential licenses. Has this been a problem for you re: trying to get projects off the ground? Considering how no one can really predict what will be a vital franchise or not — there’s no telling what NBC or Sci Fi Network will suddenly decide they want to make into a TV show — it seems to me this is an unhealthy and quite possibly counterproductive habit for the business to get into.

    EB: I actually have almost no interest in selling comic projects to Hollywood. I’ve had one thing optioned, THE FALL, which [David] Goyer bought and wants to direct. I wrote the screenplay for that, and I’ll wait and see what happens, but it wasn’t an easy job, adapting my own short comic into a feature length script. I think the next screenplay I write will just be an original idea for a film. I tend to think of different ideas for a comic story than I would for a novel or a screenplay. Same thing if I wrote a mystery book. I wouldn’t just come up with an idea that I thought would be a cool movie and write a book instead. That seems like going about it the wrong way, and I worry that you wouldn’t end up with a good comic or a good movie that way, you know? You have to focus on what you’re actually writing, not what could happen with it later. I’d certainly take the money if something of mine sold, though, and go see the film. I’m not like Alan Moore that way. I just have very little interest in hustling this stuff around or gearing all my work to sell to film.

    SDG: The only real virtue to it is the money, which none of us have enough of, and with that you have to be careful. I’m not that interested in adapting my own comics to movies, I’d rather have someone else do that, for a couple reasons. First, I’ve already done that story, one of my biggest problems as a writer is that I’m always already working in my head two or three stories down the road while I’m trying to finish the one of the word processor. Going backwards just rubs me the wrong way. Second, I’ve also already got a specific vision of what the story should be, so having people come in and tell me, no, we want this, we want that, especially when it’s for reasons that have nothing to do with the story. (“Oh, Robert DeNiro’s out, he took another movie, but we signed on Chris Rock in his place, rewrite the lead character to fit him.”) The second is why most producers don’t want writers adapting their own work anyway. I’d much rather write original screenplays, or adapt someone else’s work.

    But I agree with you, there’s really no point in doing projects believing they’re perfect for Hollywood and trying to use comics as a sales tool, which is what a lot of people are attempting these days. Hollywood is interested in what Hollywood is interested in, and that changes every 17 seconds or so.

    EB: Yeah, you just end up wasting energy that could’ve been used to make your comic a really cool comic instead of a really cool idea for a movie. If they want your idea, they’ll buy it and ruin it later anyway, if they ever actually make it.

    SDG: Getting back to structure, when you approach something like SLEEPER, obviously by this point you have to have it in the back of your mind that a trade paperback is an objective. In fact, at this point, as DC and others have experienced, the real money is likely to be in the trade paperback collection. For over a decade I’ve referred to the growing likelihood that most pamphlets would actually become “loss leaders,” basically monthly advertisements for the trade paperbacks, and to a large extent that has come to pass, though most publishers don’t want to admit it out loud. Even as successful as some Marvel monthly comics have been, Marvel’s aim is now clearly to get those suckers out in trade paperback as soon as humanly possible, which suggests they’ve decided trades are where the real money is. So, when you’re writing SLEEPER, to what extent do you think of them, structurally, in terms of trade paperbacks? If you let the prospect of trade paperbacks influence the structure, to what extent are you undermining interest in the monthly editions?

    EB: I was just talking to Joe Field about that yesterday. With SLEEPER, I actually modeled it on an HBO show season instead of a comic book arc, because I wanted to do something different and to have each issue be as complete and satisfying as possible, while being part of a larger character arc, instead of part one of six. It’s like you know Tony Soprano goes through a character arc and ends up somewhere different at the end of the season than he started, and a ton of plotlines come and go throughout the 13 episodes or so. I wanted SLEEPER to be like that. That makes both the trade and the monthly equally valuable, I think.

    SDG: That’s an interesting take. Of course, a problem with SOPRANOS is that, while they did exactly that in the first season, which had a lot to do with why the show got all the raves – we saw this man, an ostensibly powerful man consumed by doubts about his own strength, actually go through a period of transition, of real change – once the show was established to recur, it settled into a more cosmetic pattern, where the possibility of real change is implied but is structurally impossible without undermining the core setup of the show. I know I’ve been harping on structure, but I’ve come to realize that, particularly in a project that’s meant to have a recurring commercial appeal, structure becomes an increasingly important element of fiction, because it can become a trap as well as a boon. Do you plan to continue that structure with the next SLEEPER arc, or will you be mixing things up some?

    EB: I’m still waffling on that. I think the cool thing about SLEEPER is I don’t have to have a status quo to return to, if I don’t want it. The set-up for Season Two is different from what we’ve done so far, though. The main character arc is a lot different, and my ideas for Season Three, if it gets that far, are even further out there. So, yeah, I guess I’m mixing it up. You have to to keep it interesting, even to yourself. You have to keep pushing those characters into different places to see what they have to say about it. To see what questions it brings up.

    To some degree, I actually find status quos comforting, as a reader, at least. I read the Harry Potter books and you always know at the end he’s going to be back with the nasty muggle family that hates him, and somehow that’s okay. Rowling even did something brilliant and made that a plot-point in the last book.

    But your SOPRANOS comment reminds me of the old Stan Lee story about telling all the Marvel editors, “Up till now we’ve had change, from this point on, we just want the illusion of change instead.” or something like that. That’s what all episodic fiction is based on, in a way. Unfortunately, without real change, you end up with emptiness most of the time. That’s why Bendis kept going in the same direction with that DAREDEVIL story and never let up, never had Spider-Man dress up like Daredevil and show up in court next to Matt Murdock. Because he wanted his story to mean something. He didn’t just say, let’s do this for five issues and then hit the reset button. Any other big book like that would’ve restored the status quo within six months, so I always cheer Brian on for the courage to stick to his guns on that one.

    To answer your other question about writing for trades, I think we as writers have always secretly thought of the trade when we were writing the single issues. It’s just not a secret now because so much stuff gets collected. I wish DC were more like Marvel that way, really, because outside of Vertigo they really wait a while to put out trades. GOTHAM CENTRAL is up to issue 12 this week and no trade yet. It’s on the way I’m told, but if CG was a Vertigo book that got just as many Eisner nominations as FABLES, you can bet there’d be a few trades out already. Now Marvel puts out trades faster than Vertigo, so much that even I’m waiting for the trades on most of their stuff that I like, because they’ve trained me to believe I won’t have to wait too long. With DC, you don’t know about the wait time, still.

    SDG: I kind of understand that in that it’s a crap shoot for companies, especially when they’re trying to balance their own tastes with apparent market performance. You can say, oh, AUTOMATIC KAFKA is a natural for trade paperback collection, and I think it is, I think it’s definitely the sort of book that would read much more coherently and have much more impact in collection, but it’s a rare marketing person or publisher willing to stake their careers on it. That seems to be the only real value to awards in our business (though I’m sure award administrators would vehemently disagree with me): as a justification for whoever makes decisions on what to collect, so they have something besides their own judgment to point to in the event a product fails in the marketplace.

    EB: There may be some truth to that, but I think it inevitably comes down to the taste of the people either in charge of making the decisions, or the ones who know how to work those people.

    On the awards, though, I can remember those first San Diego cons when they had the Kirby awards, the year Alan Moore was out and won everything, and I recall caring what won, and looking for books that won if I wasn’t reading them. I wonder if there are people like that today, too? I wish the awards mattered more than just a pat on the back, though. Because they usually do honor some of the best work in the industry. Why don’t retailers on the whole care about that? Why don’t they have Eisner nominee sections in their store every year and push those books on readers? I’ve heard of some that do that, but it should just be standard practice, like the way mystery bookstores have an Edgar shelf. I’ve often grabbed a book just because it won the Edgar or the Shamus. The sci-fi awards, like the Hugo or the Nebula, can make an author a lot of money in royalties because they get picked up and pushed by the book clubs. If the Eisners had that kind of clout it would be so cool.

    SDG: The Edgars and Nebulas got that kind of clout because mysteries and science fiction moved out of back pockets and onto library shelves, and there was suddenly money in the genres. Not to mention public acceptance, not so much in terms of everyone rushing out and buying the new Bob Silverberg novel, but in that most people no longer heard the term “science fiction” and said, “hey, you don’t really go for all that death rays and little green men junk, do you?” The subject became water off a duck’s back, nobody cared if you read science fiction. Same thing with mysteries. Comics haven’t quite gotten there yet, but I don’t think it’s far off, especially now that libraries are widely taking them on. I don’t know for sure but I suspect libraries, which account for a lot of book sales, were the first to really pay attention to the awards, because they made it easier for librarians to decide what to buy. I suspect that’ll eventually be the effect in comics. But in order for awards to mean anything, they have to be publicized. If every comic or book that won an Eisner or a Harvey had it pasted on the cover like a badge of honor, and comics shops gave award winners places of honor, and press releases went out to all news outlets pimping the awards like they were really big, important deals, eventually a wider public would respect them some. I think if there were, say, some sort of real Academy Of Comic Book Arts, and writers voted on the best writing, artists on the best artist, etc., and you could put that sort of organizational name to it, make it seem like this person was chosen by their peers as the best in their discipline, that could be leveraged more than the awards we have now. It’s sort of an “if we had some eggs we could have some ham and eggs if we had some ham” situation, but if awards actually impacted the financial value of comics to some extent, people would pay more attention to them.

    Or we could have star-studded televised awards ceremonies. That might work too…

    ED: I’d certainly watch that, though my wife might kill me to get the remote. (Laughs.)

    SDG: One last thing. I read the interview you did with Rich Johnston and wanted to address something that was just skimmed over there: the ethical dilemma of selling both trades and pamphlets to the same readers. You mention the truth that more and more readers are waiting for the trades to buy material, but low sales on pamphlets work strongly to convince comics companies that a trade would be unsuccessful. “Waiting for the trade” increases the odds that a trade will never exist, but is it fair, or even wise, to ask customers to buy two editions of the same project? The basic assumption behind publishing trades seems to be that everyone who bought the pamphlets will want the trades, but many readers are increasingly resenting this, particularly if the trade brings nothing new except the ability to store the story on a bookshelf. Are companies basically trying to capitalize on customers the way the multiple cover craze was intended to, and, for awhile, did, in the ’90s?

    Personally, I think there should be some sort of “value added” for trades, the way most DVDs are. But I’ve also heard from readers who get pissed off when material that wasn’t in the pamphlets appears in trades, apparently that also makes some feel like they’re being taken advantage of. (I can’t say I really understand the mentality, but it’s out there.)

    EB: Yeah, it’s a real dilemma, because you don’t want to give anybody the wrong end of the stick. I think selling the same readers the comic and the TPB is fair as long as the reader likes the book enough to want the trade in the first place. That’s how I am. It’s unfortunate that we’re at this place where every reader has to make the decision whether to wait or not, knowing that waiting could kill a book that they think they’ll enjoy. It’s unfair, really, but as we’ve been saying in this whole discuss, the direct market is kind of defined by how unfair it is to the consumers, both retailers and readers. That unfairness ultimately hurts the whole market by slowing its potential growth.

    Did you see Marvel just cancelled a bunch of Tsunami TPBs? It’s exactly what we’re talking about: people couldn’t afford to stock the monthlies and fans waited for the trade, so retailers didn’t order the trades, either.

  • It’s the pattern of the last fifty years, at least: every time the government “officially” puts some issue to sleep – say, who killed Jack Kennedy and why, or what our reasons for invading Iraq were – someone comes along to upend it. Now the official version of what happened to the World Trade Towers on 9-11 has gotten some pretty serious criticism from a very unlikely source: Brigham Young University physicist (and lifelong Republican) Steven Jones.

    He studied the collapse of the towers and realized the physics were all wrong. The heat from exploding jet fuel wouldn’t have been enough to melt steel girders in the buildings, though melted girders were found. Hit the way they were, the towers wouldn’t have collapsed the way they did. The time of collapse doesn’t meet physical models (it was too fast). Then there was the third collapsed building, untouched by any plane, that fell exactly the same way as the others, despite other buildings near it being virtually untouched. And he can demonstrate, via a video of that building collapsing, that it was a demolition job. He can show where the squibs explode in sequence up the building before it collapses, he can show where steel girders eject out of the walls before any dust and rubble. The implication, since the rate and pattern of collapse is identical to those in the main towers, is that they were also demolition jobs. (You may recall that at the time both NYC mayor Rudy Giuliani and the Twin Tower’s architects believed the buildings were structurally sound enough to withstand being hit by aircraft, and were flummoxed when they weren’t.)

    Jones doesn’t make a lot of claims as to why anyone would demolish the Towers and blame it on terrorist-occupied aircraft. But if he’s right, some implications can’t be ignored. If the demolitions were timed to coincide with the crashes, then someone had to have coordinated them, which means someone knew specific details of what the terrorists were planning, and well in advance. The odds on terrorists, working in sync with those on the planes, precisely mining the Towers are pretty slender, since NY branches of the CIA, FBI and DoD were housed there and one assumes (though maybe that’s an outlandish assumption, given the sloppy ways all three agencies seem to handle security and intelligence) security would have been tight enough to spot the pretty large amount of explosives needed to pull off the job. So if Jones is right, either the government was extremely lax, or the government was involved.

    At which point we seriously crawl into “conspiracy theory.” At which point, someone always dismisses it with “with all the people it would have taken to carry it out, someone would have talked.” Which also dismisses – understandable when you’re a citizen in what’s arguably the most open society in history, but we should never forget that’s only a comparative, not a superlative – the number of subcultures in our culture that revolve around codes of silence, from frat houses to police forces to the CIA. The idea of a group of people pulling off something and keeping their mouths shut about it is actually quite conceivable, and if it went on as a matter of course every day, how would we know about it?

    The real question would be why, and that’s usually a much trickier question. The usual way to begin sorting that out is to ask who benefits. (Seems to me I wrote a column about that, oh, around Sept. 18 2001. Check the archives.)

    And Jones isn’t alone. A steady stream of other researchers, including physicists and engineers, are demolishing other elements of the official version, which refused to even consider at least 115 facts. Don’t expect to read about it in your daily paper for awhile, though. There’s a war on!

    Which may be why so many Congressional Republicans are upset over the administration’s sponsorship of a Saudi Arabian firm taking over management of six of the United States’ biggest domestic ports. You may remember Saudi Arabia; it’s where much of the world’s oil and most of the funding (not to mention personnel) for al-Qaeda comes from. Homeland Security honcho and longtime Hand Puppet circle insider Michael Chertoff said there are “assurances in place, in general” that American security wouldn’t be compromised, and that’s good enough for him. Which suggests maybe he’s not the right guy for his job. I’m not a fan of “punishing” entire populations for acts committed by some of their number, but even to me putting, essentially, Saudi Arabia in charge of the security of American ports seems too risky for comfort. It’s almost like the Administration is now trying to encourage another terrorist attack on American soil. (Congress is only likely to grant another extension to the Patriot Act at the moment, while the Administration wants it permanentized; another attack might do it, since 9-11 did not only make the Patriot Act possible but made swift and unthinking passage virtually mandatory in Congress.) One thing’s for sure: somebody will make a lot of money off this deal going through, and it’d be nice if we knew who ahead of time.

    In fact, the Administration seems dead set on facilitating some sort of disaster. After months of the DoE getting clobbered right and left on the proposed Yucca Mountain nuclear waste depository, with exposures of lies, rigged data, safety violations etc., not to mention total lack of a coherent plan for transporting nuclear waste to Nevada from various power plants around the country, threatening the bring the thing to a complete halt, the Hand Puppet declared as “sound science” a new plan to bypass many of the holdups and get the depository going regardless. Scientists are already lining up to decry the new “sound science,” but the Administration needs Yucca Mountain if they’re going to push forward their new nuclear power agenda. The Hand Puppet has already started handing out invitations to other countries to dump their waste at Yucca Mountain as well, making it necessary to bring it through many of those same ports the Saudis will be in charge of.

    Either someone’s up to some really canny thinking in the Administration these days, or someone’s not thinking at all.

    By the way, last week I mislinked an article on the Pentagon’s designs on the Internet to a marginally related Christian Science Monitor story. The real link is here.


    I guess convention season starts in earnest this week, with the Publisher’s Weekly Comics Convention in New York City and MegaCon in Orlando this weekend. PW is the upscale convention while MegaCon is the tradition, so it’ll be interesting to watch who wins head to head, though personally I’d rather go to Florida in February than New York. Comic Book Resources has a number of stringers covering New York – not sure about Orlando – but if anyone wants to drop me first hand notes on either convention, I’ll be happy (all things being equal) to run them next week.

    I don’t know if Jonah has announced this or not, but Hannibal Tabu will soon be bringing his comics review column to CBR. Welcome aboard, Hannibal. Hannibal’s been covering media news here for some time, but he was also the comics reviewer over at UGO, where the editor thought so highly of his reviews that he stopped using anyone else’s. But that editor moved up and a new one came in, apparently a James Sime devotee who decided UGO would only run upbeat positive reviews from now on. I know our mothers all told us that if you can’t say something nice about anyone, don’t say it, but that doesn’t really work for reviews, and here’s why: audiences stop paying attention to reviewers who only say nice things. And it’s not just because audiences are vicariously vicious and love watching needles get stuck into any voodoo dolls that don’t have their name on them, but also because, when it comes to reviewing, if audiences don’t know what you don’t like, they have no sense of whether to trust your opinion of what you do like. It’s patently obvious to even the most casual reader that the critic who likes everything has no critical faculties. It doesn’t even matter if the reader hates everything you like and likes everything you hate; even that’s something for them to go by. Anyway, Hannibal brings a different edge to his reviews, and we can always use another good comics reviewer. Look for him soon.

    Congratulations to Nicolas Juzda, who correctly identified the covers in last week’s Comics Cover Challenge as being to comics that featured a character with the word “Voodoo” in their name. Nicolas directs your attention to the Fanzing archives, containing 54 issues of the late, lamented online DC Comics fanzine. Thanks, Nicolas.

    In his column this week, Alexander Ness gets perspective on The Punisher from a number of people who’ve worked on the books, including Jimmy Palmiotti, Tim Bradstreet, Mike Baron and me.

    Also want to thank everyone who wrote in about last week’s “Macbeth pitch,” including the teacher who decided to have his students write a movie pitch for Macbeth, without looking at notes or the play, for their exam. (Turns out they were studying the play. Who knew?) I’m flattered, and I want to go on record right now as giving open permission to any teachers to use anything from any edition of this column they think might be useful in the classroom. It’s the least I can do.

    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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