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Issue #241

THE NEW COMICS COMPANY? the creeping philosophy of new startups and the hard easy way to run the odds

MEET THE PRESS: getting grumpy about hype

ADVICE TO THE COMICS-LORN:

CHRISTIAN IDENTITY: the Gospel According To Wesley Smith

Anyway, there are enough flaws in that kind of business plan that apparently even intended startups have finally figured them out, and hopefully the one key in everyone's mind is that for at least the last 15 years, lines founded on new superhero universes always fail.

Now, apparently, there's something in the air. Within living memory at least seven different would-be publishers have asked my opinion on the exact same scheme - and all seem to have come up with it independently. (Though I suspect SHONEN JUMP was influential in a couple of cases.) The idea:

Launch a comics company with creator-owned properties that have fallen out of publication, and once those and the publisher's cash flow are established, expand into original material.

Which, on the surface, would seem very sensible. Theoretically, it would cut the labor costs to zero, since the initial material's already done. The properties theoretically come with built-in fan bases. Publishing could be up and running in no time, with little output apart from printing and distribution costs. And there's potential for enough product to cement a market presence for the new publisher.

Here are the reasons why it's a bad idea.

1) There's not that much "creator-owned" material left out there that isn't spoken for. Of the material left out there that isn't spoken for, most of it isn't any good. Of the material left out there that isn't spoken for and is any good...

The short version is that the '80s and '90s were the golden age of misrepresented contracts. Many publishers danced the dance when it came to "creator rights" and it certainly made them sound better than Marvel or DC (at least until those companies instituted varying levels of "creator rights") but most "creator-owned" contracts of that era were thinly veiled work-for-hire contracts that basically said, "you 'own' the property, but we [the publishing house] make the ultimate creative decisions for the material and decide where, when and how the property and the characters within can be used - and that doesn't ever change. Sure, when called on it publishers could always make reasoned arguments for why it had to be that way ("but it's your character, honest! - we're just protecting our investment!"), but the practical result as far as would-be publishers now are concerned:

Many old characters and properties, even those reputed to be "creator-owned," are rights nightmares. You run the risk of having to pry any property you might want to use from the grasping dead hands of the former publisher or whoever now holds the remnants of the former publishing company. Take a look at the rights messes around old companies like Eclipse, whose "assets" were bought by Todd McFarlane and among which assets were thought to be things like MIRACLEMAN - and that was a property someone was willing to fight for.

After you filter out all that, and get down to what little precipitate is left, you have to ask yourself why the material didn't find an audience in the first place, and why this is a better time to release it than the original release dates were. The mistake a lot of people in comics - publishers, editors, writers, artists - often make is to assume something they liked would be a surefire crowd pleaser if only enough people saw it. That does happen once in a blue moon (the classic example being how THE HULK was initially cancelled after six issues, before eventually getting another series and becoming the blockbuster character he is today, but Marvel put an awful lot of time and work into familiarizing its audience with The Hulk before the relaunch) but far more often what failed then will fail now, unless changes and updates are made. If you simply reprint old material, you're either depending on the old fandom for the property returning - and more than likely most of them won't even be aware the property is back - or you're begging the current comics audience to accept the material as essentially new.

Between comics shops and Ebay, in most cases anyone who really wants the old material already has it; thanks to quarter boxes, obscurish stuff from the '80s and '90s is relatively easy to come by. With trade paperback collections you might stand a shot (albeit with a lot more upfront risk), but single issue comics reprints of, oh, SATAN'S SEVEN, are going to require a lot of sell.

The moral of this story: sure, when panning for gold you might find it, but in the immortal words of Bob Dylan, don't go looking for friends because all the good ones are already taken. Whatever small start-ups might think they'll be saving by digging up old strips to reprint, they'll probably have to spend that much just to sell enough copies to break even, because -

2) This is a business where it's very easy to gain a reputation and very hard to shake a bad one. Retailers routinely expect small publishers to almost immediately lose whatever heat they may manage to generate, and they base future ordering patterns on that supposition. So unless you've got a small miracle up your sleeve, the rep you begin with is the rep you end up with. (For instance, Alias started out as the company that was months late on all their books, which eventually all came out as a simultaneous flood rather than the originally promised trickle, and they've been struggling to get out from under that rep ever since, as it killed many retailers' interest in even considering the company's books.) Even companies producing very good books find it difficult to generate staying power; the operative philosophy (and if you're a retailer, feel free to correct me, but bear in mind this isn't a criticism but an observation because I really do understand the grim economic realities of your business) is that hot sells, hot has little to do with good, and no new company will continue to be hot for very long after it debuts. (Needless to say, retailers also have long memories of "hot" companies that immediately began screwing up their publishing schedules, making sudden talent shifts, etc., and undercutting their own heat on the apparent premise that nothing could undercut their heat, so you can't really blame retailers for skepticism.)

This has also historically been a business where reprint publishers - and there have been a few companies over the years that specialized in reprints - traditionally gain no ground. Start out as the company that publishes reprints, particularly the mediocre '80s/'90s material you're likely to be able to get your hands on, and that's what you become for many fans and most retailers: a reprint publisher. It won't take much work or time at all to train them to skip over your listings in PREVIEWS altogether, and at that point it really doesn't matter what you decide to publish.

So what's a budding publisher to do? The same thing as I mentioned last time the subject came up. Unfortunately in most cases it comes down to starting out with enough capital to support whatever your game plan is. But even if you have the money to run whatever size business you opt for at no return for several months to a couple of years, at this point it's worth your while to study the market, figure out a potentially profitable niche that no one else is serving, and fill that niche. Even if you're dying to do superhero comics - the standard logic would be: Marvel superheroes sell, so therefore if I want to have a successful comics company I should do superheroes the Marvel way, because there's a built-in audience for them. And there is! But...

Marvel already serves them. DC serves them for that matter. It's like Democrats trying to get votes by trying to look indistinguishable from Republicans (to the naked eye, anyway). People already have Republicans they can vote for. They don't need more of them.

If you want to do superhero comics, figure out something to do with superheroes that no one ever thought of before. That's basically what Stan Lee did. Then try to survive long enough for it to catch on. Same thing if you want to do westerns, giant robot comics, romance comics, whatever. Do something different.

Different enough to get noticed, and different enough that whoever wants to scratch that itch has to come back to you. Plain and simple, that's how to start a comics company. Stop looking for short cuts, because an awful lot of what start out looking like short cuts end up looking like dead ends.

Yet people continue to send me press releases like I give a rat's ass. People who apparently have never bothered to learn how to do a proper press release. If you're going to send them, the least you could do is make them as good as possible.

But the press releases I see are mostly rambling blather that never get to a point and if you're still awake by the second paragraph you still don't know what you're supposed to be getting excited about. This is partly a response to the pressures of the industry: most comics "press agents" feel they not only have to tell you what you're supposed to be excited about but go to great lengths to explain why you should get excited about it. Unfortunately, the "why" can usually be reduced to: because, gosh, we want to sell this. Because of that the hype is usually couched in the most generalized, adjectivized language, which completely defeats the purpose.

Because everyone does it that way.

Which is itself a good reason to not do it that way because by the time the recipient gets to you insisting that, gosh darn it, this book is the best comic that has ever been published and so much better than all that other crap so order it because everyone's going to want a copy, that's about the time they give up all hope on the comic even being worth mentioning.

So press releases can have messages from the publisher, interviews with the talent telling us how cool the product is, lists of all the awards anyone remotely involved with the comics has won, a lengthy bio of the building janitor, etc., wallowing in heaping scoops of empty hype that somehow eventually collapses into "wow, isn't that cool so let everyone know how cool it is!" In any event, it seems the operative philosophy among most "press agents" is that the longer the press release is the more it will impress everyone. Which is the exact opposite of true.

First rule of press releases:

Keep

it

Short!

Put all your important information in the headline!

BUSIEK AND GUICE CREATE A NEW AQUAMAN FOR A NEW ERA IN AQUAMAN #40.

See what I mean? Even if the recipient reads nothing but the headline, they get all the information you need them to get. (The AQUAMAN thing isn't a critique of any DC press releases, by the way; I never saw any for the book. I just happened to have the issue sitting here.) In theory, your headline piques their curiosity enough to lead them to the body of the release. A new Aquaman? You want your headline to pique enough curiosity to send the reader to the release body for more, but the main function of the headline is to get the core message out.

Start out your first paragraph reiterating the headline, doling out bits of additional information. "Following the events of DC's blockbuster series INFINITE CRISIS, Eisner-award winning writer Kurt Busiek has joined forces with accomplished artist Butch Guice to restart the long-running series with an entirely new character." Etc. A brief explanation of what makes this version more interesting than the old one, maybe emphasizing new readers will find the material easy to absorb. You don't have to make it sound exciting, you don't have to make it sound like a movie trailer. All you have to do is say it. Believe it or not, you'll sound like you have confidence in the product, and projecting confidence is half the battle.

You don't have to strip everything completely to the bone. Mentioning the series' (however tenuous) connection to another popular series that retailers did well with is perfectly apropos, but again: Keep. It. Short. It's one thing to cite "events" of INFINITE CRISIS in passing, it's another to recite what those events were. A press release is not the place for that. It doesn't matter what the events were, only that they in some way led to a new Aquaman, and if anyone's significantly curious about them, they can either dig up a copy of IC #7, or - and this would be preferable - they can buy AQUAMAN #40 when it materializes.

Decide what the three main selling points of the project are supposed to be.

Whittle them down to the minimum number of words, and bullet them.

Break everything into very quickly absorbed bites.

Then the only other things you really need in your press release are: a) release date; b) price and any necessary ordering information (ISBN #s, Star codes, etc.); c) contact information so that if additional information is desired, the recipient knows where to get it. On the off chance that there might be some media tie-in or special promotion for the project, sure, include that if you must - it might do you more good to issue that information in a separate, staggered press release - but just say it. As quickly as possible.

Think three. Three bullet points tops. Three paragraphs tops. If your press release runs longer than three-quarters of a printed page (including masthead but not necessarily including order/contact data), you're running too long.

The rough model:

Headline.

Introductory paragraph, reiterating and expanding on the headline, leading into

Second paragraph, quickly setting up bullet points:

- bullet point 1

- bullet point 2

- bullet point 3

Summary; may include contact, release and ordering information if none of it is buried in other information. Don't start mentioning other titles or any other information which does not specifically involve the topic at hand.

Keep it short, keep it focused, keep it clear. The idea of a press release is to get attention. People are simply more willing to invest their attention in something that doesn't require a lot of investment. End the press release blather. Again: keep them short, and to a very narrow point.

But, most of all, stop sending them to me.

"I've written a script for a graphic novel that I had planned to self-publish through lulu.com. Not being an artist or knowing any, I posted for help on the Digital Webbing boards. As I felt the project would be too big for a single artist, I advertised for sections of the book at a stated amount to be paid. (Yes, I was even offering money). I chose five artists, all of whom were willing to do multiple sections, made arrangements and off we went.

Eight months later, five guys had only produced 17 pages (I suppose I should say four since one of them asked for the money up front and then disappeared back into cyberspace with it). Feeling like it would never be finished, I paid what was owed, dismissed them and scrapped the project. But it sure would be nice to see it finished.

Is there any hope? Do I keep shelling money out willy-nilly until I chance upon someone who does what they say? Am I completely screwed? If you have any advice as a writer I'd love to hear from you."

Having had a number of projects belly up over the years because the artist never quite got around to it, I feel your pain.

It's unfortunate, but one of the risks of using untested talent, whether writer, artist, letterer, whatever - and it's a risk that makes many editors reluctant to give them a shot unless they show an enormous amount of commercial potential - is that you can never be sure of whether they can actually do the work required. There's a saying in the music business that you have your whole life to write your first album and six months to write your second one, and that parallels comics to some extent. I've seen artists produce the most gorgeous sample pages imaginable, which isn't surprising when they pore over them for weeks or months at a time, but when it came time to draw even a six page story on any sort of deadline, they turned out crap. (I'm only ragging on artists because that's the subject of the letter, but it applies across disciplines.)

And the fact is that while a lot of people want to be known as artists, actually drawing comics is work. A lot of would-be artists simply aren't prepared to work. A lot harbor the notion that getting something in print will help their chances of getting more work but they have specific ideas of what they want to draw, and when they take on an assignment that doesn't address that, they quickly lose interest. Then there are those - probably the bulk - who are simply overwhelmed by other aspects of their lives to the point where they can't find the time to finish the work. That can't be helped, but the problem comes from their unwillingness to officially bail on the job.

It's a basic rule of thumb that's for some reason difficult for even many professionals to grasp: if you for some reason can't finish an assignment you've taken on, tell someone in charge of the project as soon as humanly possible. It's embarrassing to admit you can't complete work you've taken on. It's damaging not to, and usually someone's reputation takes far less of a beating if they just come clean, before things hit crisis stage.

None of which helps your situation, I know. All I can say is learn from the experience. Really, eight months is nothing; there's no reason why your graphic novel shouldn't see the light of day. Start over and carry on. Finding decent artists is always a problem, on any rung of the business, but there are good reasons why most comics companies pay for work on acceptance at best, rather than give advances, that have nothing to do with cash flow.

If you're paying to get a project done, that makes you the de facto editor. Set deadlines next time, not only that you want work done but when you need it by. Don't pay advances. (Personally, I love advances and wish everyone would pay them, but some people like your absent friend just have to ruin it for everyone.) That's your safest bet. If these artists really want careers, you're their big chance to get used to working in a professional manner. Spell your terms out in advance, stick to them, buy art by the section rather than the page (so they don't get paid unless they finish everything they promised, though that also means you can't use any of the pages they did - but neither can they) and don't pay until the work is turned in, and don't be afraid to lose anyone who isn't living up to their end of the agreement. If you really want to get your series off the ground.

"My wife and I have been toying with the idea of entering into comic book retail and opening our own store. But before we do that, we wanted to see if there was any demographic information out there. I can't seem to find anything, but figured if anyone could point me in the right direction it would be you. We just want to find some hard information as to ages of people reading, where they are and that sort of thing. Like I said, if you know of any resources, I would greatly appreciate being pointed in the right direction."

I don't know. If any of our readers have information, please send it along and I'll run it next week.

However, all politics are local, as they say. I'm assuming you're talking of a physical retail store rather than something online, and you didn't mention what locale you're targeting, but your first line of research is in that town. How many other comics shops are in town, and where are they located? What bookstores sell comics? If you've got a Borders or Barnes&Noble selling comics, it shouldn't be too difficult to pry out of them whether kids, adults, college students, etc. are their prime comics customers. Do your local libraries carry any comics or graphic novels? If so, who checks them out? Is there a college market you can tap into? National data is interesting, but it's also automatically skewed in ways that might be useful to your proposed shop. The bulk of Marvel comics might sell to the 14-36 year old demographic nationally (I'm pulling that figure from thin air) but in your market it might be mostly 10-16 year olds buying them.

To the extent there are a lot of comics outlets in your target area, you have to ask yourself first of all what you can do to make your shop significantly better enough that customers will prefer to go to your shop rather than theirs. To the extent there are no or very few comics outlets in your locale, you have to ask yourself why not. The lack of someone already servicing a potential market doesn't necessarily suggest there's no market there for what you're offering, but it's an indicator you'd better make sure first that the market exists.

Most shops need parallel revenue streams to survive, and you might want to take that into consideration as well. As I mentioned a few weeks ago, a retailer friend of mine considers his successful shop a bookstore that specializes in comics rather than a comics shop, and he has tried to generate an atmosphere that suggests that. You probably want to think in terms of what other material might be salable alongside comics, and what demographics overlap there. I think it's important to have some sense of your demographics, but when push comes to shove it's not the demographics that are going to matter but your instinct for managing your demographics for maximum success, however you define that. Demographics are a tool, but you're the one who has to figure out how to use the tool.

Good luck with the store. And another question for the whole wide world, particularly comics retailers: what's the single best bit of advice you have for anyone who wants to open a comics shop? (Besides "Don't open one in my neighborhood," I mean.)

In fact, marriage to animals is already perfectly legal (or, at least, not specifically illegal, which means there's only good taste to stop you) in 26 states. But the whole argument is like saying that if you override a woman's right to decide what happens to her body the next thing on the agenda will be abolishing the 13th Amendment and reinstating slavery. Which, the way things are going, wouldn't greatly surprise me. Personally, I think gay marriage is a fairly bad idea, but in practice I find almost any marriage to be a fairly bad idea. I like the "civil union" concept - but it will only work if marriage is abolished as a legal, as opposed to a religious, concept. In other words, civil unions for everyone as far as the state is concerned, and no version of civil union ranking higher than another. Perfect legal equality. Churches would then be free to recognize whichever of the unions they chose as "marriages." In other words, if churches want to be the ones to define what marriage is, fine. Let 'em. It's time for a little serious separation of church and state.

Of course, that's contrary to much of the real purpose behind all this, because gay marriage is really just an alarmist smokescreen - a nice little sideshow for the rubes - for a much larger agenda that's definitely on the drawing board, particularly in the ultraright religious circles that currently orbit the Hand Puppet and many members of Congress: the concept that America should become a true "Christian state," enshrined in our legal and social fabric. Having spent much of the last couple decades making inroads, and expending a lot of time and effort to cow politicians into at minimum paying footsy with them, this is the outline for the next 20-50 years. A friend brought this up out of the blue today, complaining of the now prevalent and oft-repeated myth (which, in this instance, is a nice way of saying lie) that the "Founding Fathers" (you can go check my Thanksgiving '05 column for more on the subject) were Christians who intended America to be a Christian nation. I suppose if you consider our "Founding Fathers" to be the anti-Red zealots who inserted "under God" into the Pledge Of Allegiance and stuck "In God We Trust" on all our money (a curious juxtaposition), maybe you have a point. If you're talking about, oh, the framers of the Constitution, most of our early national documents pay lip service to Christianity at best and for the most part don't comment on it at all, except for that part about how there shouldn't be any official state religion. (The Founding Fathers has already seen how well that had worked in Europe.)

I was a little surprised he didn't know where this "Christian America" con game came from: '70s-'80s American neo-Nazism, spinning off the old "British Israelism" myth that the English were the lost tribe of Israel and true heirs to God's promise, which the Biblical Jews had spat on, and America was conceived as a land where God's kingdom could be built on Earth. From there the Americanized form of "British Israelism" gets into a lot of idiocy about how the Jews and Zionists and their lackey the Communists and Liberals have conspired to steal the country, something commemorated by one branch of Anglo-American-Israelism of the '70s and '80s, Richard Butler's notorious Aryan Nations. (Butler considered himself a preacher and a staunch Christian and called his church the Church Of Jesus Christ, Christian, thereby sidestepping the fact that Christ was paradoxically not a Christian.) The main branch was Herbert W. Armstrong's Worldwide Church of God, which, all things considered, were a fairly tolerant bunch who harbored no particular ill will toward Jews. The other wacko splinter of the "faith" was ex-Klansman Wesley Smith's Christian Identity Movement, which based itself in the South and Midwest, existed in obscurity for a couple decades before picking up a lot of steam in the 1980s as the economy burned a lot of people, and it was Smith who concocted and popularized the "Christian Republic" concept - with its underlying message that the only true choices for a Christian race are dominance or enslavement, and that tolerance is a sin against God - that many right wing "churches" have since incorporated into their philosophies.

Obviously, not everyone who calls themselves Christian, even if they're right wingers politically, buys into all the neo-Nazi minutiae of the various movements, and probably don't even know it exists (The churches themselves certainly don't advertise it.) or that their only real differences with the Taliban are not so much philosophical as canonical. The difference between banning gay marriage and requiring women wear the burka is, when you strip away the politics, negligible. The message in either case isn't so much that morality is served but that challenging the Fundamentalist viewpoint (and they are all Fundamentalists, regardless of religion) is intolerable.

The real damage from these churches hasn't even been their political policies, so far, but the way liberalism in American religious culture has been gutted and pulled further and further to the right by the ultraright being allowed to define what constitutes "a true Christian." (Somehow it never involves challenging the concept of war, even though, as John Prine once put it, Jesus don't like killin', no matter what the killin's for.) Even the American Catholic Church (which tended liberal when I was growing up) has gotten into it, thanks to ultraconservative Catholic groups like the Opus Dei, which, though not the insanely evil connivers THE DA VINCI CODE paints them, supports a medieval concept of Catholicism that demands total unquestioning obedience to the Pope and views Secularism as a scourge. Not surprisingly, Pope John Paul II, whose main accomplishment as pope, once you whittled away all the hype, was to banish the "liberation theology" whose social activism had improved the lives of the lower classes throughout Latin America from the mid-'60s to the mid-80s, made the Opus Dei an official order of the Church, and made a point of espousing on many occasions the Opus Dei view that the word of the Pope on all matters is infallible.

Which reminds me: ABC News, in their never-ending quest for the truth and using it to pimp the movie version of THE DA VINCI CODE, recently ran a series of "exposes" of the groups Dan Brown targets in the book: the Opus Dei, the Freemasons, the Knights Templar, etc. Also amusing was the recent lawsuit against Brown by the HOLY BLOOD HOLY GRAIL authors, whose underlying theme Brown lifted wholesale for his novel, just as Garth Ennis did for PREACHER, and it was another funny juxtaposition. BLOOD authors Biagent and Leigh produced what they claimed was a historical treatise - in fact, their underlying concept of a "centuries old" Priori de Sion protecting the royal bloodline of Christ was concocted by a disgruntled French fascist in the aftermath of World War II - which made the information therein fair game for Brown's fiction, as British courts recently agreed. Had they marketed their book and its multitude of sequels as fiction, they'd have had a case. Brown's publisher has gotten much mileage from hinting but not stating that DA VINCI CODE is thinly veiled non-fiction, which has been the book's appeal for much of its enormous public, including, possibly predominantly, many self-proclaimed Christians.

ABC routinely leaps on any sort of Christian anomaly for a good sideshow. A couple months ago I saw them dust off the old "Pope Joan" legend of a medieval woman who disguises herself as a monk, lives as a man, is eventually elected pope, and gives herself away by giving birth while celebrating Mass and was thus stricken from the rolls. It's hardly unknown - Lawrence Durrell wrote a novel about it, which was the first place I ran across it, c. 1971 - but ABC unveiled it breathlessly, as if it were the religious expose of the millennium. Which no doubt upped their ratings some. More recently, they made much ado about the apocryphal Gospel Of Judas, an old book that claims Judas had to betray Christ to fulfill Biblical prophecy and make Christ's required sacrifice possible, and as a reward Judas was made custodian of Jesus' true esoteric teachings while Simon Peter, basically portrayed as an idiot, ran a sham exoteric church. Again, it's hardly unknown to anyone who has done any reading of Gnosticism, and the general theme is recurrent in Gnostic texts. Furthermore, as with most gospels, the odds it had anything to do with the real Judas are pretty unlikely. It was popular practice in the very literate Romanized world to ascribe such texts to established New Testament names to lend their credibility, which is also why there is also a known Gospel of Thomas, Gospel of Peter, Gospel of Mary Magdalene, etc. ABC made a lot of noise about how Christians are very interested in the Gospel of Judas, and books like THE DA VINCI CODE, for clues about the real origins of their religion.

On hearing that, somebody pretty smart mentioned to me that she didn't know what the big deal was: if you're a Christian, you believe the Bible is the Word Of God, so the only important things theologically are what's in the Bible. And if you think things like THE DA VINCI CODE or the Gospel of Judas might hold unrevealed secrets about the religion, you're not really a Christian. End of story.

Free Comic Book Day is bearing down on us, and it's interesting how publishers are trying to get in on it nationally this year. TwoMorrows Publishing, for instance, is letting anyone who goes to their website on Saturday May 6 choose any one in-stock issue of BACK ISSUE, ALTER EGO, DRAW!, or WRITE NOW! stark raving free. Of course, you have to look for their dropdown menu of titles and checkout normally, and there's a limit of one title per address, but that's little enough to ask. Check 'em out.

Again, I want to thank all those who ordered HEAD CASES, my PDF-published script collection, in the last week. Those interested in ordering HEAD CASES, which includes almost 275 pages of comics scripts and notes, please go to my PAPER MOVIES site for ordering information. (I unfortunately had to strip out what art there was, except for the cover, because it mushroomed the file to over 100 megs and I couldn't cure the problem. Sorry about that.)

Still on the stands: PAT NOVAK FOR HIRE, the breakout crime comic Tom Mandrake and I had published last month. Check it out at Moonstone Books, then go pester your retailer for it. (Or order it direct from Moonstone if your retailer refuses to cooperate. You won't regret it; four out of five reviewers recommend it.)

Scattered throughout the column are the covers for this week's Comics Cover Challenge. Seven comics, one secret theme connecting them. Be the first one to tell me what it is in an email, and you can promote any website of your choice here. (We reserve right of approval, but that hasn't been an issue so far.) Normally I'd leave a clue to the answer but it's late and I'm tired, so you're on your own.

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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