www.cbr.com

Issue #25

It's true. Good things do come to those who wait.

A few months ago I started a talent search for someone to draw a noir western graphic novel I'm writing for AIT/PlanetLar called RED SUNSET. While I got many good submissions, none were quite right. The story takes place in that period when the initial wave of settlement was being overwhelmed by the full onslaught of civilization, and I needed something would evoke a specific sense of the Old West. It couldn't look like superhero art with saddles.

Larry and I were just about to give up when in walked John Garcia.

John, it turns out, has been around about as long as I have and was even hanging around Marvel trying to get work during my earliest days there, and even knew about a western I pitched way back called DUEL, featuring a Scots-Irish Civil War draft dodger and gunfighter named Selkirk Duel, which was never bought. (For those who care, the source of the name, Alexander Selkirk, was the real life model for Robinson Crusoe.) Though he has drawn westerns here and there, notably for the late, great Kitchen Sink Press, he makes his living in advertising – and besides being able to draw the West well, he knows gobs on the subject so he can catch me up on things as tiny as whether a burro or an ox would be pulling a cart. Which is exactly the kind of collaborator a writer needs on such a project.

So I want to welcome John Garcia and hope within a year we can make sure everyone knows who he is. I also want to welcome artist Toby Cypress onto my other current AIT/PlanetLar graphic novel, the crime thriller VIDEOACTIVE. (WHISPER,, though it's still being drawn, is written and done as far as I'm concerned.)

The spring TV roundup:

I've stated before that all concepts have their natural lifespan, and this seems to get truer by the day. There is a point past which bold new ideas are no longer terra incognita, and every possibility has been explored with repetition, reinvention or discontinuation the only remaining possibilities. I mentioned a couple months back how my favorite show, OZ seems to have run out of steam. THE SOPRANOS (HBO) followed up a brilliant first season with a lackluster, stumbling second season that rendered Tony Soprano's shrink Dr. Melfi floundering and superfluous, cuddled most of the cast in domestic shenanigans, and had Tony miraculously sniffing out problems by talking to dead fish, but somewhat found its footing again in the third season, which didn't really break any new ground but did pump up the tension and flesh out the mobsters some. I plan to watch when the fourth season hits, but I can't say I'm expecting much.

Falling into the SOPRANOS syndrome is the second season of HBO's SIX FEET UNDER (Sunday, 9PM). It's not that it's a bad show. It's still pretty entertaining, actually. It's also floundering, as character developments become more repetitious or haphazard. I'm already tired of "I'm gay and I'm no longer completely ashamed of it" David moping over ex-lover Keith (I thought we wrapped that up last season), while they're obviously having trouble coming up with something to do with Brenda, now that her pain-in-the-ass brother's locked up, and the mother, now that she has achieved full sexual awakening. But, mainly, we're in that "terra cognita" dilemma again: the elements of the show that made the first season memorable and interesting are also the ones that seem most staid now. Still a good murder of an hour, but it's no longer rock'n'roll, it's ballet.

If you're desperate to kill an hour in the worst way, catch UPN's new "sitcoms," AS IF (Tuesday, 9PM) and THE RANDOM YEARS (Tuesday, 9:30PM) while you can, because they won't be here long and they're about as bad as it gets. The latter is just a pedestrian sitcom, and if you long for the glory days of BOY MEETS WORLD, it's probably right up your alley. AS IF, though, manages to pack a whole script page worth of plot, character and dialogue into every ten minutes or so, and, with its jerky camera, spastic editing and cinema verité lighting, seems to exist solely to inflict motion sickness or epileptic fits on its miniscule audience. An old friend once said of Ingmar Bergman's "If I want pain and suffering, I'll throw myself down the stairs." Watching AS IF and THE RANDOM YEARS is even easier than that.

Meanwhile, there are finally a couple "reality" shows worth watching: CBS' AMAZING RACE II (Wednesday 9PM, repeated Fridays on UPN) and MTV's TOUGH ENOUGH 2 (Thursday 10PM). The first features competing couples racing around the world, the second wrestling wannabees attending a training camp with the winner grabbing a WWF contract. I never cared for shows like SURVIVOR but these are more straightforward and more fun, and, unlike monstrosities like NBC's FEAR FACTOR, with has about twenty seconds of fascination per episode as we see just what disgusting things people will be willing to for money (no one has been forced to literally eat shit yet, but I'm waiting for it), these hinge on personality, strategy and perseverance, and AMAZING RACE II has great locales and, unlike most of these things, rarely humiliates its contestants.

Outright lame was the BBC's most recent CASTAWAY entry, which supposedly isolated a number of modern Brits in the lives of their Iron Age counterparts, leaving them for seven weeks to dress and slave and make their own wormy food and exist the way their ancestors did. Except for the cameras all around, the doctor, the health inspector, the modern bellows the BBC imports because the one they made keeps catching fire, the rubber boots brought in to save them from evil bacteria, the motivational expert brought in to tune up their teamwork skills, etc. etc. Even the BBC must've figured out this was a turkey, since they made it a three-hour special instead of a running series, and by the time an old pill, in a state of unending annoyance provoked by the failure of the others to elect her tribal chief, starts snippily demanding the BBC import some "real food" on Sundays so the castaways can have something to look forward to, the whole thing becomes utterly ridiculous.

With TOUGH ENOUGH comes the return of one of the sickest shows on TV, CELEBRITY DEATHMATCH (MTV, Thursday 10:30PM). I hate claymation with a passion but DEATHMATCH remains a panic. The humor is genuinely evil, and not just in the creative ways they come up with to kill people (which, frankly, has gotten a bit repetitive itself); where else will you see Helen Hunt dueling with younger lookalike Leelee Sobieski, with a sick, sick climax that makes perfect Hollywood sense? Where else would THE VIEW castoff bimbette (and current DEATHMATCH interviewer) Debbie Matenopolous (actually voiced by Debbie Matenopolous, demonstrating she actually has some level of self-awareness) confront her squirrely clean-living replacement Lisa Ling and vomit into Barbara Walters' face? It may not be the best show on TV, but it's among the most audacious, and almost always good for a laugh.

Also hanging in there, valuewise, is Comedy Central's SOUTH PARK (Wednesday, 10PM), which began its latest season last week with some apparent major changes, mainly Kenny's really dead now. As in kaput, gone, has a memorial park named after him. Taking Kenny's place in show's main foursome of fourth graders is innocent fool Butters, and while the show no longer comes off as extreme, it's still plays with our sensibilities (not to mention savages them) more than anything else on TV. It was once hip to watch SOUTH PARK, it now seems hip to say you don't, but if one show has consistently weathered the storm of changing tastes and stood resolutely against them all, this is it, and it still unerringly skewers its share of pompous targets.

I haven't begun yet, but I'll probably kick into the last few episodes of X-FILES, just to see if they can actually wrap up all the series' convoluted runaway storylines as if there were actually a plan behind them all along. My guess is no, but we'll see.

One thing I've learned recently is that there are a hell of a lot of Hardy Boys fans out there. I keep hearing from them, wanting to know which HARDY BOYS CASEFILES I wrote. So here's the list: #3 – CULT OF CRIME. #6 – THE CROWNING TERROR. #14 – TOO MANY TRAITORS. #19 – NIGHTMARE IN ANGEL CITY. #29 – THICK AS THIEVES. #62 – FINAL GAMBIT. (There may have been one other in there somewhere, but if so I don't have a copy, and all my files from those days are inaccessibly on CP/M disks.) The packager that produced the series for Pocket Books/Archway, Mega-Books, went out of business years ago, and I have no idea how to reach anyone connected with it, including the other writers on the series. Sorry.

HARDY BOYS CASEFILES was an interesting experience in groupthink. Because I'd previously worked with Mega-Books on the RACE AGAINST TIME series briefly published by Dell (#1 – REVENGE IN THE SILENT TOMB; #6 – EVIL IN PARADISE) and because the PUNISHER MINI-SERIES had established me as an action guy, I was brought in on the Hardy Boys revamp. See, they wanted to modernize the brothers into a two-boy War Against Crime fighting unit, to which end they blew up Joe's girlfriend so he'd have tough guy vengeance on his mind. They were outfitted with a van replete with various nasty weapons, including a hidden wall housing a variety of guns, and were briefly as dangerous as any other Rambo clone on the market at the time. The series was supposedly aimed at teenage boys, but I suspect marketing reports skewed the readership somewhat younger, because while they started out freely using guns, it wasn't long before they were allowed to use a gun if they took it from a bad guy, but they weren't allowed to carry them. Then they couldn't threaten bad guys with guns, but they couldn't shoot them. Then they couldn't use them at all, but they could use knives. Then they couldn't use knives, but they could defend themselves with their fists. It got to the point where the publisher didn't even want them getting involved in fist fights, so basically their physical activity became limited to running and jumping. Keeping literature safe for America, I guess, so the horror of Columbine could never happen.

Oy.

All I can say is that the restrictions on Nancy Drew were even worse, which is why my HARDY BOYS-NANCY DREW SUPERMYSTERY or whatever it was called never got written...

A couple mini-comics: Dan Robinson and Robert Campbell have done SUBURBAN LEGEND COMICS (181 Madison Dr, Newark DE 19711; $1) and while I wouldn't exactly call it deep – with two stories plus cartoons in 16 pages that would take a small miracle – it's a harrowing enough reminder of why I got the hell out of suburbia. Lewd, crude, and energetic; I like that in a mini-comic. Robert Campbell's SUBURBAN LEGEND DIGEST (same address; free) is somewhat more ambitious, half illustrated modern fairy tale, half what appears to be the mini-trade paperback edition of a strip called MADISONLAND, another hellish epistle of suburban life, and a fragment about a boy's mad passion for Ms. Pac-Man. Weird and entertaining, at least in small doses.

Also entertaining is HOLLIDAY#2 (Saddle Tramp Press, $2.50), continuing the western saga written by Dave Samuelson and drawn by Jason Wright that I reviewed a few weeks back. Now done with the set-up and getting down to the real action, the book is better than the first issue, and while I'm a bit iffy on the apocalyptic villains of the piece (they don't quite come off as menacing as they're made out to be) the interplay between hero Doc Holliday and his arch-enemy and sudden partner Johnny Ringo is nicely handled and fills out the sketchier characterization of the first issue. Worth reading if you can track it down, but these boys have got to learn to put contact information inside the book.

Finally, in May Viz Communications (Viz Communications Inc, 655 Bryant St, San Francisco CA 94107) is issuing a trade paperback of Osamu Tezuka's PHOENIX: A TALE OF THE FUTURE ($22.95). Americans may know Tezuka as the creator of ASTRO BOY and the recent anime METROPOLIS. Done in bits and pieces over decades, PHOENIX is twelve interrelated but standalone stories set in underground cities on the ruined earth of 1500 years from now. This edition is the second volume in the set, serialized in 1967. Readers only familiar with current anime might find the art a little strange – it sort of looks like Scott McCloud drawing Popeye – has an adventurous innocence we really don't see in any comics anymore, with intellectual undertones that don't beat you over the head. It's like reading Jodorowsky without the unbridled cynicism, wildly and heartbreakingly imagined.

Some websites of interest to comics fans.

Some years ago, famed underground cartoonist Robert Crumb wrote and drew a biography of notorious science fiction writer Philip K. Dick, about Dick's later days when he was experiencing religious epiphanies and generally reducing to a gibberish mental state (during which he managed to write some of his most impressive books). It's on the web now, and can be found at the Philip K. Dick website. A fascinating work, on both ends.

Alex Toth is one of those artists that sends most professionals into spasms of ecstacy and many fans screaming for the hills. But he's great, arguably the greatest there ever was in the medium, and a great example of his work can be found at If I Were King.

A tutorial on creating covers by Brian Bolland is now up at Velouria. Among the revelations: how Bolland uses Photoshop. Don't miss it.

Those wishing to comment should leave messages on the newly redesigned Permanent Damage Message Board. You can also e-mail 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. 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.

If you want to know something about me, you can probably find the answer at Steven Grant's Alleged Fictions.

Rey Star Wars Allegiance
Star Wars Reveals Rey's Surprisingly Monstrous Jedi Training Partner

More in CBR Exclusives