Issue #236

NOTES FROM UNDER THE FLOORBOARDS: a public service announcement, WizardWorld Los Angeles and other premature items

THE HORRIBLE TRUTH: the inquisition ushers in facts about drawing company-owned characters, John Broome, what's up with Platinum, is America lost?, and many other topics

REVIEW SLEW: Gacha Gacha; Negima; Kagetora; Pastel; The Wallflower; Ghost Hunt; Sugar Sugar Rune; Othello; School Rumble; Genshiken; Planetary Brigade; Star Trek The Next Generation; Dan Dare; Serenity; The Last Days Of El Rey; and Kief Llama Xenotech

Just to be sure every professional out there is aware of this, since the deadline is approaching:

FOR PROFESSIONALS ONLY: In the April 5th PERMANENT DAMAGE, you can promote upcoming projects you've got coming up in '06. Needed are: title (and name of book it'll appear in, if it's part of an anthology); name of publishing house; names of collaborators; price; format; a short descriptive paragraph - really short; an art sample is optional, but if you want to send one keep it no more than 600 pixels wide, 72 dpi. PAY STRICT ATTENTION TO THESE THINGS. Thanks. This is your big chance to stand out from the crowd, so send that info in.

Great minds think alike and fools seldom differ, I guess: outspoken cranky comics retailer Brian Hibbs has a must-read column this week for everyone interested in independent comics or plotting to enter that arena as a publisher or creator. Unsurprisingly (to me, at least) it echoes several points I've made here over the long, hard months...

For those who came in late: scattered throughout this column are seven seemingly unrelated comic book covers. This is what we call The Comics Cover Challenge. In fact, they all share a secret theme. The theme could be anything: historical or social significance, shared creator(s), character names in common, design styles - anything. But there's also always a clue hidden somewhere in the column as well. The first person to e-mail me the correct solution to the challenge can promote any online site of their choice, subject to approval (not that approval has ever been withheld, but there's always a first time, and we must tack on the disclaimer). It's just that simple. Good luck.

Not sure what the attendance was at WizardWorld Los Angeles this past weekend, but I haven't heard any good comments about it yet. Interestingly, while everyone complained in previous years that WWLA was in Long Beach, not Los Angeles, moving it to Los Angeles seems to have pleased no one. In Long Beach it was a magnet for Hollywood producers, much as San Diego is, but no producer I talked to about it was going to bother this year, even though it was easier to get to. Maybe because it was easier to get to. A big problem is that the Los Angeles Convention Center is in the downtown dead zone, with few accessible eateries, bad parking, and Wizard was lucky enough to land the place the same weekend as the Los Angeles Marathon - which went right by the con center. The space was apparently roughly what they had in Long Beach, which spread the impression of underattendance, and most retailers I've heard from complained of sluggish business. (Of course, retailers almost always complain of that, regardless of the convention.) From what I'm told panels were mostly ad sessions of the comics companies, and many of those were underattended as well, including one featuring both Jim Lee and Joss Wheden among others.

Considering California and Los Angeles in particular have always been hotbeds of comics culture, this seems odd, especially with Hollywood interest in comics running amok and the huge success of the New York Convention just a few weeks ago. If that suggested a coming boom, WWLA suggests a coming bust. (Not that implications that broad can be taken from either, I'm just saying.) Maybe it's the "chain convention" syndrome. I remember when Creation Con, which started with a small New York base and were the first to steadily bring in media connections mainly by linking with Star Trek fandom until the conventions turned into only Star Trek conventions, took their cons on the road and started running them all over the country. After a brief spurt of building the market, they began eroding it wherever they went until there was no more chance of even breaking even doing a comics convention. I was never sure why, though it might have been the cookie cutter approach they took, streamlining their operation by basically making all their conventions identical rather than customizing them to the region. Having never been to one WizardWorld, let alone enough to compare them, I couldn't say if Wizard's heading the same route. But there is that "learning from history" thing that people for some reason refuse to get. Supposedly there were a lot of pro wrestlers running around WWLA, though. At any rate, maybe they should consider moving it back to Long Beach, or out to, say, the Santa Monica Auditorium.

I notice the Coca-Cola company, flush with its success in finally marketing diet cola to young men under the name of Coca-Cola Zero (which does actually taste pretty good, and has a different formula from Diet Coke), has "introduced" a new "citrus drink" called Vault (with its uncaloried variation, Vault Zero) presumably targeting the same audience. Surprise: it's Fresca! (Which Howard Chaykin once fairly accurately described as "cucumber soda.")

New interviews with me and Tom Mandrake on our PAT NOVAK FOR HIRE collaboration at Moonstone Books can be found here.

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? The script book, by the way, will finally be read by the weekend. I'd have finished it sooner, but, you know, life has a nasty habit of getting in the way.

"I'm an illustrator and my online portfolio includes some well-known comic characters. (Mostly done as a hobby or practice, I haven't really worked for any comic publishers) I often get emails requesting either to buy such a piece, or with a request for me to make a custom piece of someone's favorite character. I tell them I can't because those are copyrighted characters and I don't want to get into trouble. However, I've seen a lot of sites from other artists where such commissions are proudly shown and listed with offers of "ask me anytime" right next to it. Sometimes these are just talented (or not so talented) fans, but sometimes pros, even people that I know for very sure that have worked for companies like Marvel or DC or others-selling Batgirl and Wolverine sketches. So my question is, would you happen to know whether this is allowed? Do the companies allow it unofficially as long as it's single art pieces and not mass-produced prints? Or is it a 'perk' you get once you've actually worked for them? Or are they blissfully unaware and do artists big and small just assume Marvel will never visit their site?"

It's... tolerated. I don't think it has ever been settled in a court case anywhere, but, technically, selling an original sketch of, oh, Captain America is trademark infringement. Marvel owns the trademark, at least until Joe Simon decides to mount another court challenge, so by drawing and selling such a sketch you're profiting from their trademark, and, by law, they're the only ones allowed to do so. But the comics market has a strange history of fan art and fanzines, and arguable (though, I personally feel, fairly spurious) claims of "fair use" can be mounted, and the comics companies understand the value of catering to that market. In theory, if a fan buys a Captain America sketch from you, it's because he really loves Captain America, so Marvel sideways profits from your involvement because the fan's interest in Captain America theoretically increases due to your sketch. But that's... fuzzy. I think if you asked the legal departments of any comics companies, they'd say no, you shouldn't be drawing sketches of their characters. But the practice is so widespread and the comparative benefit to the companies of enforcing each case (which would require big legal costs and have to be done on a case-by-case basis) so minimal that comics companies have given de facto permission for their characters to be used in that way, which protects their trademarks while enabling them to look the other way. I wouldn't recommend rubbing their noses in it, though. If someone starts producing and selling their own Captain America t-shirts from their own original drawing, I guarantee Marvel's going to come down on that as soon as they find out about it. (In general, trademarks are voided if their owners don't legally challenge unauthorized use of them, but trademarks are not voided if the companies are unaware of the infringement. Like I said: don't rub their noses in it.)

"A few years back, there was a shot at ENEMY becoming a television series. I've noticed that your scripts tend to be more "filmable" than most comic book scripts; any chance of your name appearing in IMDB anytime soon as a writer (hey, at least you're #1 there)?"

Yes. After I get this damn MORTAL SOULS screenplay done, anyway.

"Shouldn't someone would come up with a cartoon dedicated to the troops in the war?"

Sure. Don't let me stop you.

"Very similarly to the Bush administration's lack of a plan for dealing with Iraq after the initial hostilities, right-to-life advocates never, ever say anything about what's to be done with all the lives they propose to save. I can only imagine that they think that the fear of unwanted pregnancy, and no recourse but to bring de facto pregnancies to term, will terrify wayward youth into a just and proper abstinence, or that if unplanned children are born, well, it will be a wakeup call to the parents to divest themselves of their irresponsible ways, assume their proper responsibilities, and become upright, churchgoing, wage-earning, consuming, tax-paying members of society. But I don't really think they have any plan at all; I think they're only focused on the one issue."

I'm sure there's a question in there somewhere, but what the hell. Forced labor advocates are a one-issue group, who essentially hold the view that everyone has the right to be born but what they do with their lives afterward is up to them. Interestingly, most of them not only demand that pregnancies be carried to term but also that means to prevent pregnancy are not made available, though I guess that's to be expected. I do think that groups who take it upon themselves to ensure that all fetuses turn into born babies regardless of the will of the parents should also underwrite, at minimum, all the medical care those babies will need until they are old enough to make their own livings, but, apparently, the view of the forced labor movement is that while parents should not be allowed any say before a child is born, birth bestows on the parents total responsibility for the child.

"What's the deal with Platinum? As a creator with something at the company, have you heard any plans about what their plans are in regards to actually releasing comics or graphic novels? They seemingly acquired this huge stable of potential creators, titles, and story ideas... but then nothing."

Not exactly nothing. Your confusion probably stems from a misunderstanding of Platinum's nature; it isn't a comics company but a media company. The properties they took on, to market to Hollywood as much as to turn into comic books, are being produced, slowly. Their plan was never to publish comics themselves but to package the material through publication at other houses, while using that material, published or unpublished, to sell movie and TV projects based on the material. As far as I know, it's all creeping along more or less according to plan, and the last I heard Platinum was planning to put its first books into production by this fall.

"What was the real John Broome like? What were his parents' names? Were his parents immigrants? Where were his parents born?"

I never had the chance to meet John Broome, though he was probably the first comics writer to have any identifiable influence on me via his work on GREEN LANTERN. From what I understand from Gil Kane, he was easygoing and fairly bohemian, and modest about his work. I know he was a traveler, at one point or another living in Paris, Japan and Thailand, and he had a farm in upstate New York where Gil and editor Julie Schwartz would go to plan GL stories. Gil once told me Broome grew (and consumed) marijuana on his farm, though I've never heard that mentioned by anyone else. (Remember, it was the '60s, when that kind of thing was far from uncommon.) By all accounts, he sounds like he was a very nice man. I've never heard anything about his parents, but if anyone knows, please pass it on.

"What does it take to be a great comic book editor? Does one have to be a good writer first, or does it require a somewhat different set of skills?

These days a keen sense for office politics couldn't hurt. There's no reason a comics editor needs to be able to write, though writers frequently become editors. What a great comics editor really needs to be able to do is distinguish between good and bad work and be able to explain why it's good or bad, and if it's bad be able to explain how to make it better. And, preferably, have a sense for how to make it better, and enough humility to listen and weigh arguments where his instincts might clash with the writer's or artist's, since new things often seem like wrong things until they're explained. Of course, from a fan's point of view, a great comics editor is one whose stable contained a large number of books that interest the fan. Companies have their own varying views of what makes a great comics editor, from the above to being able to produce books that sell to being able to keep costs down to discovering great talent to keeping preferred talent happy to running roughshod over talent, depending on the company and their philosophical bent of the moment.

"Looking back at your career, of what comic book/series are you the proudest?"

BADLANDS, though DAMNED, the PUNISHER MINI-SERIES and the PUNISHER: RETURN TO BIG NOTHING graphic novel, WHISPER and a lot of other things vie for a close second. I tend to hate my work for six months to a couple of years after it comes out, and warm up to it later. This is the sort of behavior that would make me a bad father.

"I agree with your assessment of American politics. What galls me more than the idiotic actions of the Hand Puppet and his cohorts, and even the pathetic so-called "opposition" put up by the Democrats, is the fact that all of these people were elected to office. Public ignorance and apathy has reached dizzying heights. Also, it seems that our government is run by the rich the (mostly) white and powerful. They act to preserve themselves and the interests of the corporations, lobbyists and other groups that got them elected, as opposed to thinking critically about what course of action is best for the country as a whole. My question is what can "average" Americans do about any of this? Are things as bleak as I think they are?"

No, not really. As of last weekend, Las Vegas was on the verge of voting in a resolution against the Patriot Act, one of several hundred municipalities around the country to do so now. Las Vegas is far more liberal than the rest of Nevada but it's still not really "liberal," aside from allowing casinos (like the rest of the state). The problem isn't that "average" Americans don't have any leverage, it's that many of them have been convinced they don't. The government may be run by the rich, white and powerful, but our governments can be changed, and while politicians at all levels might be eager to feed at the trough of the lobbyists (at least until it comes back to bite them in the ass) there's something they don't want even more: to be voted out of office. In 1967 it was considered political suicide for politicians to come out against the Vietnam War, despite growing anti-war protests. By 1971, a large segment of politicians were against the war, along with a rapidly growing sector of the American public. The two didn't happen coincidentally. "Average" Americans feel more comfortable expressing their true opinions if they see other people expressing those same opinions, both on the streets and at the polls. Unfortunately, there's a "we've won" syndrome when something is actually accomplished (like the USA getting out of Vietnam) that isn't realistic; politicians, good or bad, always need to be watched, and that's our job, because that's how we keep them in line. Thomas Jefferson had it right: eternal vigilance is the price of freedom. But Franklin Roosevelt had it right as well: we really do have nothing to fear but fear itself, which is the way we should start approaching politics. The rich, white and powerful mostly maintain their control via scare tactics, so a good rule of thumb is that when politicians try forcing issues via scare tactics, we should be much more adept at telling them to piss off. That'd change things in this country fast.

"I'm both writing and drawing a graphic novel at the rate of a page or two a week and I'm hoping once it's finished to try to get it published. Do publishers look at already-completed projects, or are they only interested in proposals they can critique before work begins? How does one submit such work and to whom?"

It depends on the publisher. Larry Young, for instance, prefers to see completed graphic novels from anyone he doesn't already have a working relationship with. It's important that all talent do their homework before pitching work to unfamiliar markets, and the best place to get information about what any particular publisher wants and how they want it is from submissions guidelines on that publisher's webpage. If that's unavailable, write or email them and ask. Always remember: when in doubt, ask. (Them, not someone else, since the answer can change at the drop of a hat.)

"I would like to you give an almost bullet point statement on what you feel a new writer should do who's just starting out- how they should approach the industries (not just comics, but all media), what they should focus on in their work, what should they look for when approaching not only new companies (as well as self publishing) but new readers as well. Plus, if there are any books out there that have helped you along the way that you think new writers should read, would be most keen of you to add as well."

In your writing, for any medium, focus on precision: using the most appropriate (and fewest, which, contrarily, doesn't mean few but the fewest necessary) words to get your thoughts across. I presume you're speaking of a career in writing, not simply writing. Remember that it's better to write than to not write, even if you're not writing what you'd prefer to write. If you want to be a fiction writer but are offered paying work as a sportswriter by all means take it. Doing writing of any kind is experience that will ultimately help anything you write. It's a truism that most writers want to have written more than they want to write; whatever else you do, write. Writers don't "have ideas," writers write. Approach all markets cautiously but not fearfully - and learn what is required by those markets. Unfortunately, commercial writing isn't something you can just make up as you go along. Remember that you aren't owed either publishers or readers, you have to work for them. None of which means you have to become anyone's best friend or serf, but you do have to figure out how to make market forces work for you, and that's unfortunately something everyone has to do for themselves.

Which is why I don't much recommend writing books. The problem with them is they tend to either have nothing in them but vague generalities, or the authors don't teach writing so much as the way they prefer to write. The way to learn writing is to read, and analyze what you've read. And you don't have to take anyone else's word for what's good or bad, but it's best to read a wide spectrum of material, not just where you're affinities lie. Perhaps the best book on writing I've read lately is Alan Moore's WRITING FOR COMICS Avatar Press, which doesn't discuss how to write so much as how to think about writing.

"In 1983 and 1984 you wrote two issues of GI JOE (9 and 20), drawn by artists Mike Vosburg and Geof Isherwood. How did you get these fill-in assignments, how did you approach the G.I. Joe concept, and what did you think of the outcome?"

I'm not sure how I got the assignments, aside from being in the room when they decided they need them done, since I never had much respect for the GI JOE concept, which readers of those issues might have recognized. (In the first, they fail miserably at their assignment and in fact make it possible for their enemy to almost complete his - that he doesn't is no fault of theirs - and the second is largely a situation comedy starring a single Joe.) I thought the result was okay, the first better than the second, though I like the cover of the second better (not surprising, since the design idea was mine and John Byrne did a lovely realization of it; John is a much more versatile artist than he is usually given credit for), but they must have turned out better than I thought since Joe fans often approach me in e-mails and at cons telling me how much they like the issues. Really, my assessment of my work is about the least important assessment of it there is.

"Sarcasm is often seen as the lowest form of wit. In a family analogy, it would be the one you leave to its own devices at a dinner, not paying much attention. What then of satire? Is it the one that leaves you feeling unsure and too set to say on either side of applause or dismissal?"

Sarcasm is not the lowest form of wit. Sarcasm is the lowest form of irony. The lowest form of wit is generally considered to be the pun, though I would suggest the lowest form is superhero parody. At a dinner, satire would be the one that leaves you laughing.

From Del Rey Manga:

GACHA GACHA Vol 3 by Hiroyuki Tamakoshi, 206p b&w trade paperback; NEGIMA Vol 9 by Ken Akamatsu, 208p b&w trade paperback; KAGETORA Vol 1 by Akira Segami, 202 p b&w trade paperback; PASTEL Vol 2 by Toshikiko Kobayashi, 224 p b&w trade paperback ($10.99@)

I lump these all together because they're all basically the same book: naïve and good-natured but sexually curious teenage boy gets into embarrassing situation with cute teenage girl(s) who smiles flirtatiously, giggles a lot, and call the boy a pervert when he time and time and time and time and time and time and time and time again accidentally encounters her in some stage of undress. Yeah, yeah, young love. Cute and funny. Gets real tired real fast. If you have to pick one, GACHA GACHA's probably the best of the bunch, though PASTEL's hero is suddenly displaying intelligence once in awhile, a rare occurrence for this sort of book. But there's nothing very original or interesting in any of them. Eh.

THE WALLFLOWER Vol 8 by Tomoko Hayakawa, 194 p b&w trade paperback ($10.95)

Another sex comedy, but this volume mostly throws away the sex for the comedy. A "scary" goth chick lives with four beautiful teen boys hired by her aunt to turn her into a lady. These are pleasant little romps about personality-altering mushrooms, unexpected offspring, sadistic partygoing mobsters and lovelorn ghosts, and while it's nothing memorable, somehow ignoring the series' central issue - the willfully unacknowledged attraction between the goth chick and the most beautiful of the beautiful boys - makes the stories much more readable. It's okay.

GHOST HUNT Vol 3 by Fujumi Ono & Shiho Inada, 202p b&w trade paperback ($10.95)

An occult twist on the teen detective genre popular in Japan, this volume loosens up from the formula established in the first two, with schoolgirl heroine Mai (who, though inexperienced, comes off as inquisitive rather than inane) and her supercilious teenage ghostbuster boss (she alternately views him with lust and disgust) directly threatened by supernatural forces as they investigate curses running amok at a girls' school, with a few nice character surprises. Earlier volumes weren't bad, and this is a real improvement. It still tends toward the formulaic - the solution to the case is obvious fairly early on - but there's a sense that it's looking to bust out in future volumes, and the characters already vary from formula enough to be interesting.

SUGAR SUGAR RUNE Vol 2 by Moyoco Anno, 218p b&w trade paperback ($10.95)

This one's clearly geared for pre-teen girls, with two young candidates on Earth to vie for the future queenship of the witch world, proving their worth by "stealing hearts." (The series jumps through hoops to turn a horror premise into something very innocent, which is kind of funny in itself.) The first volume was on the treacly side, but this picks things up some, firmly establishing the "bad girl" as the heroine and illuminating political machinations on their homeworld that spill over to Earth. The art's growing on me too. The book's hardly for everyone, but it has an edge that enlivens what would otherwise be safe "magical girl" material, and it falls into the HARRY POTTER milieu without even remotely duplicating that. Not bad.

OTHELLO Vol 7 by Satomi Ikezawa, 188p b&w trade paperback ($10.95)

Backstory: an insecure teenage girl aspiring to singing rock develops a brash separate personality who takes over in times of stress and has become the singer the girl wants to be. In the previous volume, the girl finally found out about her other self and retreated, leaving her other self in control, to the dismay of the rock star who loves her. This probably isn't the best place to jump in on the series, since it wraps up here in something of a showdown to determine which personality will survive, but it's well-handled, the art's good, and the finale is satisfying enough to make up for some of the filler that stretched out the series middle.

SCHOOL RUMBLE Vol 1 by Jin Kobayahsi, 186p b&w trade paperback ($10.95)

Easily the second best series Del Rey publishes (and not far behind the first, coming up next), this is a hilarious, wild high school romantic comedy that manages to be in the anarchic tradition (and reminiscent of the of style) of one of the best manga out there, CROMARTIE HIGH SCHOOL. It's very much the same sensibilities, as a cute but klutzy schoolgirl struggles to make her feelings known to the oblivious boy she has decided she's in love with while unaware of a tough guy student awkwardly trying to make her aware of his feelings for her. Short episodes, often ridiculously out-of-left field jokes and resolutions, fun characters, and ludicrous situations that somehow stay involvingly ground - it's terrific. Too bad Del Rey doesn't focus on more like this. (Are there more like this?)

GENSHIKEN Vol 4 by Kio Shimoku, 190p b&w trade paperback ($10.95)

This is the best series Del Rey publishes, and one of the best manga period: a very funny, bittersweet, very well-drawn study of the Japanese Otaku, those fans obsessed with manga, anime, films, videogames, cosplay etc. to the point of fetishism, and, as always, this volume manages to be both savage about its characters and protectively sympathetic toward them at the same time, as Genshiken (the Society for the Study of Modern Visual Culture, which encompasses all those obsessions) faces various crises, old members make life decisions, new members appear, unexpected relationships are exposed and hero Kanji finds himself abruptly thrust into the limelight. Lots of overt jokes, in-joke and genuine comedy and very little broad parody. It remains a very well done, uncharacteristically humanistic series that should be on everyone's reading list.

From Boom! Studios:

PLANETARY BRIGADE by Keith Giffen, J.M. deMatteis and various, 32p color comic ($2.99)

Skipping the action for the most part and heading straight for comedy, this issue introduces the bulbous Mr. Brilliant, a lonesome comics shop owner who's the smartest man in the world and at least temporarily ends the extradimensional invasion threat from the first issue with an amazingly elegant and distasteful solution (with repercussions doubtless to be felt for issues to come, duh duh duuuuuuuuuuh). Mostly its an excuse, like JUSTICE LEAGUE AMERICA and THE DEFENDERS, for the heroes to be snarky with each other, though Giffen and deMatteis also allow for some genuinely human response; you get the feeling the writers actually like the characters. Several different artists on the book somehow manage a more or less unified look. Not exactly serious, but not as lighthearted as you might expect from their earlier work either. It's good.

From Titan Books:

STAR TREK THE NEXT GENERATION: THE BATTLE WITHIN by Michael Jan Friedman & Pablo Marcos, 160p color trade paperback ($19.95)

Have I ever mentioned how STAR TREK in any incarnation is one of my least favorite things in the world? This is a collection of old DC ST:TNG stories that seem to capture the spirit and characters of the TV show well enough as the Enterprise tracks a murderous double across the galaxy - which for me isn't saying much but for fans it might be. Friedman's story is okay, though in Marcos' hands the characters, while their likenesses are generally good, have unnervingly shifting proportions. Could've lived without the WIZARD OF OZ reference.

DAN DARE PILOT OF THE FUTURE: PRISONERS OF SPACE by Frank Hampson & Desmond Walduck, 104p color hardcover ($24.95)

The space opera DAN DARE was one of the greatest and most influential creations of English comics, running weekly in EAGLE magazine for decades. This episode, originally published in the '50s, is very, well, '50s but it's easy to see why it was so beloved - plucky characters (if corny in the particularly '50s British way, as anyone who has read the original MARVELMAN stories will recognize), fast action, nasty villains, interesting complications and twists and good cliffhangers, all in two page chunks. Kind of amazing, in a way. The writing's about as sharp as the era allowed for, and the art's very good. It's certainly as good as anything coming out of American comics in the day, save some of EC's comics. Worth checking out. (Best line of the book: "A dead man's watch - yet still it ticks!" They just don't write 'em like that anymore...)

From Real Buzz Studios:

SERENITY: BASKET CASE by Buzz Dixon & Min Kwon, 96p color trade paperback ($7.97)

Continuing the Christian-themed, manga-inflected adventures of a fun-lovin' bad girl in a new school where the only ones who'll accept her are the Christian clique. She's far more settled in with this third book, almost getting along in school, as everyone's past sins and secret desires come to light thanks to an Internet "purity test." The philosophy may be kind of fixed and the story takes oddly overmelodramatic turns (having issues with parenthood, Serenity discovers a baby in a trashcan) but it's fairly funny, both on a character level and in the occasionally sly references (did you know an aged Archie Andrews looks like Mickey Rooney?). The series remains not bad. Two quibbles: this episode ends rather abruptly, without a decent sense of resolution, and the art, though also not bad, is still too simplistic. It needs a little more genuine weight.

From Low Key Comics:

THE LAST DAYS OF EL REY by Kyle & Nick Morton, 32p b&w comic ($)

In 1968, a couple slackers take a tour of Mexico, and their fate presages events in a Mexican outlaw town that harbors a particularly wanted man. The art's a little uneven - decent overall, though it starts out much stronger, in the first few pages, than it finishes - but the story, though mostly setup, is good and the delivery is sure. I look forward to the Mortons fleshing out their characters more. It's promising.

From Aeon Comics/Mu Press:

KIEF LLAMA XENOTECH Vol 2 #4 by Matt Howarth, 32p b&w comic ($2.95)

What can I say about Matt Howarth I haven't already said? At one point something of a darling of both underground music and HEAVY METAL magazine, and creator of the great anarchic comic of our time, THOSE ANNOYING POST BROS., Howarth is at this point of our of most undeservedly forgotten comics creators, and it's about time somebody got all his "Bugtown" material into standardized collections, at least. His wilder tendencies, and very creative use of sound effects, captions, and other normally staid comics devices, tend not to show up in his adventures of the androgenous Kief Llama, a "xenotech" who travels from world to world fixing machinery. This one's a fairly standard story about Llama encountering something on Mars that shouldn't exist there, and the solution (if not the specifics) is fairly obvious, but it's really a showpiece for Howarth's wonky sense of humor and his deceptively simple art, and it works fine. I miss his crazier stuff, though, but much of it's in evidence on his website, which you should check out


It's late and there are just too many of them, so I'll save the Devil's Due, Fantagraphics and a handful of other titles for next week, for that "ludicrously total spectrum" look. See you then.

Those wishing to comment should leave messages on the Permanent Damage Message Board. You can also e-mail me but the chances of a reply are next to nil these days, given my workload, though I do read all my e-mail as long as it's not trying to sell me something. IMPORTANT: Because a lot of people apparently list it in their e-address books, this account has gotten a slew of virus-laden messages lately. They're no real threat but dealing with them eats up time I don't really have, to the extent I can no longer accept unsolicited e-mail with attachments. If you want to send something via attachment (say, art samples) ask me first. If I say okay, then send. Unsolicited e-mail with attachments will be wiped from the server without being read. You can also leave messages for me and have discussions on other topics at my Delphi forum, GRAPHIC VIOLENCE. Please don't ask me how to break into the business, or who to submit work to. The answers to those questions are too mercurial for even me to keep up with.

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I'm reviewing comics sent to me - I may not like them but certainly I'll mention them - at Steven Grant c/o Permanent Damage, 2657 Windmill Pkwy #194, Henderson NV 89074, so send 'em if you want 'em mentioned, since I can't review them unless I see them. Some people have been sending press releases and cover proofs and things like that, which I enjoy getting, but I really can't do anything with them, sorry. Full comics only, though they can be photocopies rather than the published version. Make sure you include contact information for readers who want to order your book.

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