Issue #245

NOTES FROM UNDER THE FLOORBOARD: the virtues of steady work & apologia, TV outs and ins, comics covers, quickie politics, link news and more

MR. MAILBAGS: feedback in the system about the number of The Beast, Venezuelan oil, Network Neutrality, the Zero, print on demand, environmental terrorism, and soccer in the free world, drinking with The Dead,

Not that I've ever had a lot of it in my impossibly lengthy career, but there are two great advantages to steady comics gigs, writing the same character month after month: you know where the money to pay the bills is coming from (if the publisher pays on time, which, believe me, even on steady gigs is often not a given), and your schedule is generally set enough so that everything you're working on isn't due at exactly the same time.

Unfortunately, that isn't the case here this week, leading to a very truncated column. (I also haven't had much chance to answer my e-mail, so if I owe anyone a response, please bear with me, thanks.) I wasn't expecting it, so we'll have to make due for today, but everything should be cool after this, at least until the third week of June when I have to go for jury duty. (Six states, and they finally caught up to me; unlike, say, New York or California, there are only two excuses for getting out of jury duty in Clark County, Nevada, and neither apply to me.) At least that I've got some warning for. Anyway, sorry. Better luck next week.

The TV season is crawling to a close, but at least 24 (Fox, 9P Mondays) went out with a bang, keeping things moving all the way through the final nailbiting minutes (while also featuring an unexpected but tasty guest appearance by Warren Ellis, I think) as the writing staff proved their collective memory is longer than we gave them credit for. The only problem with the show is the growing dependence on a single gimmick to keep things going: if 24 is even remotely accurate (and some people theoretically in a position to know tell me it's exaggerated but if we knew how close it comes we'd all freak out), the United States has the worst security in the history of the planet. Still, it was very satisfying to see evil President Logan finally taken down with a plot so devious only Baldrick could have thought of it, even if it was also completely obvious the second things took an apparently disastrous turn, while Jack found his inner Chloe with the help of a taser. But the final moments were the second sweetest so far on TV this year. The sweetest came at the end of the season finale of THE O.C. (Fox, 9P Thursdays), which I haven't watched all year but caught five minutes of while waiting for ULTIMATE FIGHTER (Spike, 10P Thursdays). THE O.C. ads promised a major character wouldn't survive the night, and while my money was on Peter Gallagher's Sandy, the victim turned out to be the show's main heroine, and major weak spot since its inception, Marissa, constantly played with wan, lipchewing robotic sincerity by Mischa Barton, whose method acting always seemed to consist of imagining herself with a bad yeast infection. The show was already so far off the track I don't see this redeeming it, but, hey. It can't hurt. (What do you bet the doctors will revive her on the table in the dramatic season premiere next fall? Paddles, STAT!)

The networks also announced their coming seasons last week, with the bright spot being the CW's renewal of VERONICA MARS (9P Tuesdays). The new shows are a strange bunch, heavy on the melodramas, many of which seem to be trying for the 24/LOST-style running storyline throughout the season. CBS, in fact, is going for its own version of LOST with a Skeet Ulrich vehicle, JERICHO, about a desert town cut off from the world by a nuclear explosion - but, of course, There's More Going On. NBC and Fox are actually running the same show next year, following a kidnapping and the efforts to solve the crime over time, except Fox calls theirs VANISHED and NBC's is called KIDNAPPED. Or is it the other way around? The three most interesting of the new hours are SHARK (CBS) mainly for the presence of James Woods, as a star defense attorney who switches sides in his old age; SMITH (CBS), a Ray Liotta-led ensemble piece about a robbery crew pulling jobs while Liotta's character fronts a normal life, which will hopefully dodge the bullets that ripped up Andre Braugher's similarly themed FX mini-series, THIEF; and THE BLACK DONNELLYS, which will be taking ER's place on NBC come January, about Irish gangs on Manhattan's West Side, which is mainly interesting for Kirk Aceveda, who hasn't had much chance to show off since OZ. In comedies, ABC's LET'S ROB MICK JAGGER sounds marginally promising, while Aaron Sorkin's new STUDIO 60 (watch it quick, because in its current time slow - 9PM Thursday, where the big battle this year will be for second place - it's not likely to last through sweeps) is likely to have a lot of potential (mind you, I'm not a big Sorkin fan, but I'll give this a shot) except for some reason NBC decided to do the show twice: Tina Fey's new half-hour comedy, 30 ROCK, has the exact same premise. (Oh, I get it: the hour show is called STUDIO 60 while the half-hour show is 30 ROCK. Haha.) (Yes, I do realize 30 ROCK refers to 30 Rockefeller Center. I used to live in New York.) All in all, though, it's quirky time at the networks (except for most of the other coming comedies, which sound dull as dirt). The big problem with networks, though, is that the quirky shows that have succeeded so far (and more haven't than have) kind of slipped past them, with unusual styles or hooks. The "quirky" stuff on tap for next season sound, at least by description, like networks desperately trying to apply elements of current "quirky" successes to new shows, because, y'know, the best way to come up with a product with a unique flavor and approach is to copy flavors and approaches from other shows!

Superheroes fared badly, though, with the tepid sounding HEROES (NBC) getting a slot but the previously much-touted ULTRA (the world's mightiest superheroine frets that she can't find a boyfriend; shoot me now) got bumped from CBS to CW to oblivion, and, despite an apparently lovely trailer, MERCY REEF (AKA Aquaman) didn't make CW's roster either; it's rumored to be in line as a mid-season replacement, though Hollywood types have also told me the studio and network hated the finished pilot. This actually fares well for the comics industry, though; with a few rare exceptions, the superhero on TV has generally been made to look a far, far dumber concept than in the comics, so superhero shows are usually something we can very easily live without.

Congratulations to David Gutierrez, who last week was the first to identify last week's Comics Cover Challenge theme as comics publishers that have gone out of business. Simple, huh? David has done some "DVD extras" interviews for DVDs that don't have them, like commentaries by Danny Bilson and Paul DeMeo for the DVD collections of THE FLASH and THE SENTINEL TV shows. You can access them at David's website.

For those who have never played our game, 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.) I usually include a clue somewhere in the column, and I would have this week but first I'd have to think of one. Good luck.

No time for political commentary this week, but last week I mentioned as an aside the government paying out several hundred million to the extremely trustworthy (that's sarcasm) and government-connected (that isn't) Halliburton to build concentration camps at unspecified locations in America. Apparently this wasn't as widely known as I thought, since many people wrote in asking about it. So, in lieu of my own commentary this week, click here for more information on that little bit of your tax dollars at work, which is especially interesting considering the number of right wing columnists this weekend, especially the terribly exercised Morton Kondracke, proclaiming that it's the patriotic duty of journalists to keep the excesses and criminal digressions of the Administration under wraps, and either you completely support the apparently all-encompassing "war effort" or you're a traitor. (Not that we haven't heard that before; it was very popular in the days when it became obvious to most of the country that Vietnam and Watergate were appalling sinkholes dragging the USA down.) And read James Risen's STATE OF WAR: The Secret History Of The CIA And The Bush Administration while you're at it, for a succinct and well-documented account of who's really running the government (not the Hand Puppet), what was known by the government prior to the invasion of Iraq (that Iraq had no WMDs nor functioning program to create them, but it was a message they chose not to hear) and who really decided torture constituted practical foreign policy. Quite illuminating; it's no wonder Risen specifically was on Kondracke's traitor list.

Sorry to be self-serving with such little time, but I've just been told a preview of my forthcoming CSI mini-series where my fellow columnist Rich Johnston meets an untimely end has just gone up. And so has an interview about my forthcoming WHISPER revamp. Just so's you know.

The WHISPER NEWSLETTER is now up and running via the Yahoo groups. If you want to subscribe, click here.

Available in pdf e-book form at Paper Movies and The Paper Movies Store:

TOTALLY OBVIOUS. Collecting all my "Master Of The Obvious" columns from 1998-2000, with still relevant commentary on comics, culture, creativity and the freelance life, revealing many previously unvoiced secrets behind all those things.

IMPOLITIC: A JOURNAL OF THE PLAGUE YEARS VOL 1. Collecting my political commentary of the early terror years, from Sept. 2001 through April 2005, revealing the terror behind the War On Terror.

HEAD CASES. A collection of comics scripts from work done c. 1992-1995 for various companies, including an unused script. Annotated.

"I also seem to recall reading that Slayer will be releasing their album on [6/6/06].

Also, I remember many moons ago watching a special on Christianity on A&E (before it became home to reality shows about flying and dying) that had a man on who said in dem olden days 666 was not about the numbers, but represented letters that came out to spell Julius Caesar."

Nero, actually, but he was a Caesar, so you're half-right. Actually, a lot of the Bible is written in code, particularly those sections written during periods of diaspora or occupation. I seem to recall that part of the Old Testament was written in a code called Atbash...

"The Citgo gasoline brand was inaugurated in 1965 by the Cities Service Company, an energy company that first rose to prominence in the early 1900s. Cities Service Company was acquired by Occidental Petroleum Corporation in 1982. That same year, Cities Service Company transferred all of the assets of its Refining, Marketing and Transportation division (which comprised its refining and retail petroleum business) into the newly formed Citgo Petroleum Corporation subsidiary, to ease the divestiture of the division. In 1983, Citgo and the Citgo brand was sold by Occidental to Southland Corporation, owners of the 7-Eleven chain of convenience stores; 50% was sold to Petróleos de Venezuela in 1986, and the remainder in 1990. From Wikipedia."

Huh. Thanks.

"I was curious what your thoughts were on Network Neutrality issue and the COPE act. I recently discovered this issue and was amazed that it hadn't gotten more press. It seems like the border security debate and the NSA/Carrier debacle have become front page news, while this issue has hardly been discussed."

Boy, I haven't even heard of this one. Give me a week. (Anyone else got a comment on it?)

"I've just read your latest column (as interesting as usual), and as much as I admire what the Middle Ages Arabs did for mathematics (I'm a math teacher), they did not invent the zero, even though the word comes from the Arab language. Look here, there's a detailed history and etimology."

I should have paid more attention during those History Of Mathematics classes.

"I've been printing books with Lightning Source for a couple of years now and have nothing but good things to say about them. Their site is easy to use and .pdf friendly. Lightning Source is a good step between offset printing and e-books (which they also do)."

I'll check them out, thanks.

"I thought I'd let you know about a print on demand called Ka-Blam. The company is run by Barry Gregory who also owns 01 Comics and used to work for Malibu and Avatar.I've got a project there called Zero Hunters and I've received the first two issues which were printed at Ka-Blam and I have to say that they turned out great-very high quality for a very reasonable price. I've tried Lulu before and while the quality is good also, the cost per issue is through the roof. Ka-Blam's prices are very low and you can actually make a profit."

To clarify: is Ka-Blam a pod comics printer, or do they print any kind of printed material?

"The bit in your last Permanent Damage about applying the Patriot Act to environmental activists reminded me of a recent interview of our local federal prosecutor, Karin Immergut (Portland, Oregon, by the way). She makes it pretty clear that she considers the ELF and ALF terrorists. Her definition is probably unusably broad, at least outside of punitive punishment."

Unfortunately, these days it's the President who gets to decide what constitutes a terrorist and what doesn't. In the current climate, a "liberal" expansion of the definition wouldn't greatly surprise me.

"After reading about James Kelly's visa/passport dramas, I thought this would be interesting.

We have the very strong possibility of a similar sort of incident occurring here in Australia. Our national Soccer league from next year has been admitted into Asia's Champions League (with all of the top teams from all over Asia competing to be Asian champion, naturally). I shudder to think what will happen when an Arab walks through customs, proclaiming he is a member of Al Qadisiya.

Al Qadisiya is Kuwait's champion team. Let's see them get into the States easily!!"

I don't know about the States, but they shouldn't have any trouble getting into Guantanamo Bay...

"Saw your question about POD; J. Michael Straczynski has been using Café Press to produce script books for his TV show BABYLON 5. The quality of the books has been excellent, good paper stock well bound. (Overpriced, but that's a different matter.)"

Hey, what's good enough for Joe was good enough for me. I haven't specifically looked into it, but, in Joe's defense, from what I have investigated about POD, often the terms of the deal force the price up in order for the "publisher" to make any money at all.

"I think you were right on with your observations about watching the consumption of alcohol at comic conventions. I was into the Grateful Dead for several years (actually still am) and witness absolute insanity in the early to mid 90s when partying got so out of hand that even the Dead told the rabble rousers that they better cool it, or they would never tour again. Eventually, things cooled down but the end was near for the band anyway and not before tragedy struck the fans. In St. Louis in 1995, tragedy struck that severally injured dozens of fans because people would not cool the partying off a little bit. Hopefully, the comic-con fans and industry professionals will control themselves and have fun without being self-destructive or disrespectful of others, as well as giving cons and comics a bad name."

Considering how long the Grateful Dead went and the weird stuff that accompanied them throughout their career, that nothing all that serious happened until 1995 was a small miracle. Not that I'd blame the Dead for any of it, but the milieu only stays as mellow as people let it be, and sooner or later someone decides mellow isn't edgy enough for them...

"I've used Lulu to self -publish. Lulu allows you to self publish with no up front costs. You do all the editing and typesetting yourself, but you can use Word to do it. You upload to their site, they convert it to a pdf, you proof it and you publish (if your books are already pdfs, you can just upload them). They set you up with a storefront for free, and you set the retail price over costs and govern your own royalty. Lulu does not make you sign away any rights. Lulu does encourage you to spend more. You can pay to get an ISBN Number and Bar Code, at what seems to be the going rate anyway, approx. $35. This lets you order copies for yourself (at cost) and sell them locally. It also makes them available through Amazon shops, making your books searchable and sellable through Amazon. I've received many compliments on my novel's physical look (such as, that's better looking than most self-published books, even from vanity presses)."

Three good choices, then. Let me go investigate some more...

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.

IMPORTANT PUBLIC NOTICE OF COLUMN POLICY: any email received in response to a piece run in this column is considered a letter of comment available for printing in the column unless the author specifically indicates it is not intended for public consumption. Unless I check with you or the contents of your e-mail make your identity unavoidably obvious, all letters are run anonymously.

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.

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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