Issue #251

ANIMATED BEHAVIOR: otaku madness in Anaheim, andwhat it means to the rest of us

MANQUÉ AND SUPERMAN: the man of steel's feet of clay

BURNING DOWN THE HOUSE: the inadvertent side effects to striking a blow against the Administration's war on the Constitution

NOTES FROM UNDER THE FLOORBOARD: pirates, a world without the Comics Code, San Diego dreaming, and more

MAIL CALL: readers speak out on the challenge of comics history, preserving comics with Bit Torrent, Soledad O'Brien's futile stab at emotional justification, collecting Joe Maneely, the economy of single artist trades, the politics of serial fiction, the silence of the political and the artlessness of modern music

By San Diego standards, Anime Fest 2006 was, in some ways, laughable. At one panel a speaker, who now worked for an anime production company but began simply with a mad love for anime, talked about how the first anime con he attended (or perhaps co-coordinated, I forget which) a dozen years ago got a few hundred attendees, and he was thrilled to see there were that many anime fans, and now, to watch thousands attend Anime Expo, he was truly gratified. Hearing that would seem odd to anyone holding up Comic-Con International as the ideal (which, from the look of their conventions, Wizard apparently does): Anime Fest would vanish into the San Diego Con like a bucket of water poured into a lake. It might, in fact, be something of a comfort to American comics purists scrounging for evidence that manga isn't the market threat that many make it out to be.

And they'd be wrong. There aren't yet any national or international American manga/anime conventions yet that I know of, and San Diego is both; Anime Expo is regional, with most attendees coming from Southern California and the Bay Area. So was San Diego once. With the attention given it by the major players in the field, Anime Expo feels much like the later early days of San Diego, and in more ways than one.

The biggest one is the fans.

I noted this when I last attended, a couple of years ago. It has only amplified. If one element overwhelms you at Anime Expo, it's the sense of community, and union. Fan and professional alike go there with the same attitude, and often the same obsessions: while companies hawk their specific wares with gusto, there's also an underlying promotion of anime and manga across the board. The convention isn't simply about selling, but about bonding. For all the customers on the display floor - and most booths were doing a brisk business (the one notable exception was Wizard's ANIME INSIDER booth, which drew no apparent attention from anyone any time I passed by it) - there were easily as many in the courtyard between the convention center and the Hilton next door, taking pictures and making new friends. At least 35% of the attendees were in a costume of some sort, from the minimal to the highly elaborate, and many dressed in full costume continuously despite daytime heat mostly in the mid-90s. These were people who really wanted to be there. And they were mostly young, ranging from mid-teens to early 30s, with incredible enthusiasm and focus across the board.

San Diego used to be like that, too.

Which isn't to blame San Diego. It's big now. The changes are a side effect of being big. It's still the place to go each summer if you love comics, but there's no longer a broad sense of community permeating the place. It's factionalized, fragmented, serving many masters. But beyond the question of whether Hollywood or gaming or whatever is now too dominant a presence, what the big companies at Anime Expo seemed to share was a view that their fans - particularly the ones enthusiastic enough to show up for four days at Anime Expo and do things like stand for an hour longer than originally planned in long lines that wound up three floors to watch the American release of the FULLMETAL ALCHEMIST movie (I've seen it, it's good) without complaint - were valued allies, not marks, and that attitude hasn't been widely seen among American comics publishers since the early '90s. What's wrong with San Diego, and right with Anime Expo, doesn't really have anything to do with the conventions themselves. It's only symptomatic of the American comics industry's problems in general, of a disconnect between "producer" and "end user." Even few hardcore American comics fans really generate any impression they see any sort of payoff to their obsession, or that their obsession is payoff in itself, and you get quite the opposite impression from manga/anime fans. They celebrate their obsessions; fans of American comics, and the publishers who supply them, only seem to hope to survive theirs.

The reviews have been ambivalent as well. Virtually everyone noted it was an "homage" to the 1977 Richard Donner SUPERMAN, though whether it was an improvement, a modernization, or a knockoff appears subject to debate. More than a few noted the Christian allegory infused into the material. Others noted something a lot of Superman fans just don't want to recognize: Superman is no longer enough.

The Donner film was launched with the tagline "You'll believe a man can fly." A friend of mine said the theme of the new film was "You'll believe a man can lift heavy things." When SUPERMAN was released, superhero films were a rare thing, and even then watching someone flying on a movie screen wasn't that big a deal, but we were willing to ignore that, just for the novelty of Superman. What you saw of the character in the media was most the relatively inept SUPERFRIENDS style cartoons; to the general population, the film version did genuinely round out and humanize the character some. But now superhero films are fairly common, and no longer stigmatized; watching a character fly is nothing compared to watching a character fly while on fire! (Hawkman, in the comics, fell victim to a similar trend; when Hawkman began, the idea of someone flying like a bird was still a relative novelty, but by the time Hawkman returned in the '60s, there were very few characters who didn't fly and the character never again achieved the popularity it had known in the 1940s. Or Ant-Man, who was never very popular and had, as John Belushi disdainfully put it on a SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE, "the proportional strength of a human!") The ante has upped. Even strictly on the terms of the character, Superman has had a great run in various SUPERMAN and JUSTICE LEAGUE cartoons; any film version has to live up to perceptions of them as well, and those were far more sophisticated versions of the character than have even appeared in most recent comics.

The problem with Superman is that the character really doesn't make any sense. Oh, at the core he does: an orphan using his extraordinary abilities to protect his adoptive home. There's an emotional tug there that's simple to grasp. But no one seems to have any faith in that core anymore. What creators in particular fix on is the trappings. And the trappings are what don't make sense, particularly to the young. Why on earth does Superman need a costume? Answer: he doesn't. Why does Superman need a secret identity? Answer: he doesn't. I know a lot of Superman fans out there are now shrieking "Objection! Asked and answered, your honor!" because comics have answered questions like these time and time again, but the problem there is that the answers make no sense. Superman hears a cry for help, and pauses from the rescue to change clothes! He needs a secret identity so he can live "a normal life"? Why would he want to? He's Superman. So he, as reporter Clark Kent, can stay on top of the news so Superman knows where all the emergencies are? Like Clark Kent covers all that? So he can fairly win Lois Lane's heart? But he's really Superman! Why does he insist she fall for his cover story? Why would he even want to take the time off from being Superman? Isn't Superman supposed to be out there helping people?

Conversely, Batman makes sense, even now. He wants to avenge his parents' death. He dresses as Batman because the costume scares criminals and adds to his mystique. Spider-Man makes sense. He's a neurotic college kid who suddenly gains strange powers and realizes their potential for screwing up his life but feels a responsibility to use them, so he creates a second identity for himself. But Superman doesn't need any of that. He's Superman, and the trappings that weigh him down were really little considered Jerry Siegel cribs from his source materials, like dual identity of THE SCARLET PIMPERNEL, if not much later additions by other hands.

But way too many people, particularly within the comics community, identify Superman with his trappings and consider them immutable, and those trappings are no longer relevant. They're just confusing, and where they may once have given the character the sense of a more "real" existence, today the effect is the opposite.

Which is, perhaps, why some fans and creators have spent the past few years beating to death the idea of Superman as Christ allegory, which apparently strongly surfaces in the new film via Superman's dad, Jor-El, a long dead disembodied voice who now no longer sent his "only son" to Earth because that was the only available planet with humanoid life his telescope could find, but to "save" them - and, of course, ala the 1992 "Death of Superman" arc, which started up a lot of this nonsense, his apparent death seems to cast the world into darkness until he rises to fulfill his mission of earthly salvation. Good god, literally. For Christians, isn't this new identification of Superman with Christ a bit, um, blasphemous? (Not that he's the only heavy-handed Christ analog floating around comics in the last couple decades, by a long shot, and the whole bit is more than a little tired.) And why would anyone who's not a Christian have even the slightest interest in this?

Anyway, if Jerry Siegel had any Biblical analogies in mind for Superman, it was almost surely Moses, cast incognito down the Nile to adoption as a baby to save his life and let him grow to be a man of greatness, than Jesus. And maybe he just shares Moses' destiny as well: to deliver his people to the Promised Land, but be unable to enter himself.

Which isn't exactly a victory, but any port in a storm. (British courts also told Tony Blair the same thing at the same time, by the way.) The upshot was that the Administration, which is to say the office of the President, does not Constitutionally have the power to unilaterally choose which "captured enemy combatants" must be treated according to the Geneva Conventions, and which don't need to be. The reason this isn't a victory is that the Supreme Court didn't uphold the inviolability of the Geneva Conventions, even though they were also incorporated into American federal law in 1997. It declared the President didn't have the power to arbitrarily violate them.

Which doesn't mean they can't ever be violated, it simply means that if the Hand Puppet and his masters wish to continue to violate them, they have to get Congress' permission first. (Bill Frist and Arlen Spector are already talking up the urgency of such a bill.) All those messy politics. That the Republican-controlled/Democrat-pussywhipped Congress would grant him those powers if asked is hardly in doubt, unless, say, the Republicans in the House want to make it a trade off for the more draconian border policies they've been promoting, but, by and large, Congressional objection to the Administration's imprisonment policies haven't been based on any real opposition to how suspected terrorists are being treated by the Administration and the military but on not being asked for their permission first.

More interesting, though, and probably inadvertent, is the realpolitik meaning of the Supreme Court's decision. It essentially declares the President and his top staff supporting the Gitmo policy - particularly Cheney and Rumsfeld, who almost certainly concocted it - are in violation of the Geneva Convention, and what that translates into in plain English is: they, and anyone who followed their orders, have committed war crimes. Toss in those nasty federal laws that were also broken as a result, and an early opinion by former White House counsel and now attorney general Alberto Gonzales that if the matter went to the Supreme Court this would almost certainly be the outcome (rather than being the hero of this scenario, though, Gonzales in his memo not only points out that disobeying Geneva Convention #3 is possibly punishable by death, but follows up with a thin and ultimately inane strategy for trying to dodge responsibility) and you have evidence of an intentional disregard not only of international law but of American law, which the President and Vice-President take a solemn oath to uphold.

In other words, overtly impeachable offenses. Ain't jurisprudence grand? Not that any charges will likely be brought here (might be interesting to watch the Administration try to pull an overt coup d'etat if the covert one they've been pursuing since the Hand Puppet's first inauguration flounders on the shoals of the law, though, just to get it all out in the open) but what the Supreme Court has essentially done is make it possible for any country to bring war crimes charges against the Hand Puppet and his co-conspirators. Which, I guess, explains why the Administration has been so adamant about not supporting an International War Crimes Court unless American citizens were exempt from its reach.

By extension, one might even reason that the Supreme Court's decision undermines the Administration's whole support rationale that the White House has total and unilateral power to do whatsoever it chooses to pursue a war against terrorism. Even the idea in circulation could be a problem for the White House, regardless of who brings what charges or not.

So the Hand Puppet might be more anxious to give the House its draconian border policies in trade for prisoner-of-war camp cooperation, especially now that Mexico might find itself in the hands of a reformist government. (As I write this, the results have not been tabulated.) But we have to take our little gratifications where we can find them. Also gratifying last week was the Senate's marginal failure to push for an anti-flagburning amendment, the sort of thing both Republicans and Democrats (the bill had broad bipartisan support) like to try to shove through in election years to "prove" that they're "protecting" the American public. What was most gratifying about it is that even right wing radio talk show hosts are talking about flagburning is a non-starter with the American public, since it almost never happens anymore, and when asked about it they'd rather know what Congress is doing about other, more pressing issues.

Which, of course, is nothing.

Happy day after Independence Day.

It's quiet. Too quiet.

Funny what hits you out of the blue. Aside from ONEPIECE, which is amusing, I hate pirate strips. I don't know why anyone even tries to do pirate strips. I get the idea that they read WATCHMEN once and thought the pirate comic within the story was way cool, without knowing it had been lifted from Bertold Brecht and Kurt Weill's THREEPENNY OPERA. (Alan used to draw an English newspaper strip under the name of Curt Vile, so coincidence is highly unlikely. Not that I'm accusing Alan of anything; the pirate story in WATCHMEN is new in many details, extrapolated from "Jenny's Song" AKA "Pirate Jenny," about a hotel charwoman/prostitute who fantasizes being rescued from her dead end life by a horde of pirates - Alan and Dave's "the ship, the black freighter" - who destroy her town and butcher everyone on her command after revealing she's their pirate queen (if I remember correctly, she ends up murdered by the most famous character in the play, Mac The Knife), and is not specifically played out in the Brecht-Weill piece.) More recently, PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN revived something of a taste for pirate comics among some comics creators, but no pirate comic I've seen has anywhere near the wit and bravura of the film, which, in any case, doesn't have to suffer under the weight of constant stories. (Now that I think about it, the sequel opens this week, doesn't it?) In terms of 17th century swashbucklers, the interest just doesn't seem to be out there (and there can only be on CAPTAIN HARLOCK, so that route's shot). Pirates and apes/monkeys, these are things comics creators and would-be comics creators seem to get obsessed with, without asking whether there's any significant interest in such things "out there."

So imagine my surprise when an idea for a pirate comic popped into my head. A modern-day pirate comic yet. I'd love to share it with you but it might someday be of use, though odds are neither you nor I will ever see it. This is part of how a professional writer sorts out which ideas to pursue, since we all think all our ideas, at least at first blush (and way too often, way too long after that), are brilliant and worth pursuing. In this case, the limiting factor is context: the idea will only work within a specific context, and that context is Marvel Comics, specifically any Marvel Comics that will logically emerge from CIVIL WAR, unless they pull a fast one (and the emergence of characters like The Puppet Master suggests that might be the case but we'll see). Fact is, though, Marvel's bloated with writers already and they certainly don't need me, and probably wouldn't like what much of my extrapolation would call for, since it would call for changes in various aspects of the Marvel Universe. This is generally a very bad idea in pitches, if you're stepping in from outside.

Which makes it difficult to, say, analog the story into a creator-owned project to pitch to Image or somewhere else; retooling the context is too much work, and the pieces you lose are the pieces that makes the story interesting. I'd like to say there are some stories that only work in a specific context, but the truth is that most stories only work in a specific context. In a larger sense, context is story. You can crib unused ideas from one story for another, and those are fair game, but transferring a story wholesale from one context to another usually means it wasn't that much of a story in the first place.

So no pirate stories here, unless some crazy bolt of genius hits me...

Along similar lines, I recently got around to reading Warren Ellis' APPARAT SINGLES COLLECTION ($12.99), which gathers his excellent collection of one-shot stories done at Avatar not long ago. All the stories are wildly different, but generate from a single premise: what if superhero comics had never been created? Warren's concepts leap from his twisted extrapolations of pulp magazine archetypes: aviators, scientists, detectives, semi-mystical action heroes. The sorts of things that seized the popular imagination in the '20s and '30s but are now considered fairly mundane.

This blended in my head with some things I wrote about a few weeks back, about how the Comics Code had been specifically concocted to wipe out two things: EC Comics and CRIME DOES NOT PAY, both of which were riding high in the early '50s even in the face of Congressional investigations into the unsavory aspects of comics, and both of which threatened the dominance of market leaders DC Comics and Archie Comics, which, so coincidentally, were also the parents of the Code. (EC's Bill Gaines had suggested it; Irwin Donenfeld and Michael Goldwater then used it to target Gaines.) The popular view is that comics companies were forced to create the Comics Code to prevent Congress from stepping in to regulate them, but Congress had already moved on to other things by the time the Code appeared, with no results from their hearings whatsoever. One upshot of the Code was the elimination of horror and crime comics, both of which appealed to an older audience; their removal left a small opening that superhero comics crept back in through, starting with THE FLASH.

So I started wondering: what would American comics be like today had the Comics Code never existed? Any thoughts? A likely scenario has Marvel Comics never coming into being, since one of the few reasons Martin Goodman's publishing company survived the '50s (it nearly didn't, on several occasions) was that the Code pushed a lot of the competition off the stands...

Things are starting to shape up for San Diego. Right now I'll be at the Boom! and Moonstone tables, and possibly a stint at AiT/PlanetLar. On Saturday afternoon at 3, Danny Fingeroth (of WRITE NOW! fame) will be running a star-studded panel on writing for comics and related media, and I'll be on that, though I doubt I'll be involved with other panels.

Remember: CSI: DYING IN THE GUTTERS, a five issue mini-series with tons of comics guest-stars, starts from IDW in July, and WHISPER #0 arrives from Boom! Studios in August.

Another Comics Cover Challenge with no winner, and I thought this one was easy: every comic referred to judges or justice or featured a character with judge or justice in his name. And after I spent so much of last week's column talking about the Supreme Court, too. Oh, well. I know not but 'twill make me dream again, as John Bunyan said.

I'd love to do a Comics Cover Challenge this week, but my source of covers, The Grand Comics Database, is down for repairs again. The Grand Comics Database is a wonderful resource, but it occurred to me a couple of weeks ago that one thing would make it even better: a Boolean search function. So that, say, instead of looking for comics drawn by John Buscema or comics with the word CRIME in the title, you could search for comics with the word CRIME in the title that were drawn by John Buscema. Could some genius programmer with time on their hands pop on over there and offer their services? It would make an already great site so much better.

On to the gaudy pitches:

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.

Finally, if anyone's got any ideas for legal ways I can scrape together four grand by July 15th, I'd love to hear them. No, selling that much blood is not an option...

"I've never been very fond of the 'every comic is somebody's first' idea. It may be that History MA I have bouncing around in my closet, and a general desire to learn, but to me, half of the fun of reading comics was jumping in and figuring out what the hell was going on. I'm one of those people who jumped in with the late 80s/early 90s boom, and I think one of my first comics was an Avengers issue in space, with Spider-Man and Nebula, and Starfox, and I had NO idea what was going on, but I was presented with all of these great characters(well, not so much Starfox), and it was enough to make me want to track down a whole lot more, so that I could learn about them.

One thing that people seem to forget with that argument is that it's not the late 80s, or mid 70s or early 60s either. It's 2006, and we've got Wikipedia, the Marvel site, and message boards, and TPBs of just about everything (especially with the brilliant Essential and Showcase formats)... or dare I say it, the ability to quite illegally track down a digital copy of things that won't be reprinted anytime soon, like every back issue of Secret Society of Super Villains in order to figure out just who Funky Flashman is. Yes, it's a little effort, but if a new reader isn't captured by the characters and the circumstances enough to want to learn more, then they might never really enjoy the genre. The point is, it's easier than ever to learn more if you want to. it's also easier than ever to follow along what's going on with company wide crossovers, even if you just read three or four titles.

Certainly there should be a middle ground, but if there isn't, I'd rather a new reader get an exciting comic that shows the full potential of a shared universe for their first DC or Marvel comic than something bogged down with exposition. That's just me though."

In principle, I see your point, but on the other hand...

Ever bought a kit, spread out the parts so you could put whatever it is together, and then run across the instructions that require use of some specialized tool not included, or a type of cable, or some other ancillary equipment that requires you to make another trip to the store, or mail order something, or jerryrig a plausible substitute? It's really annoying. When you buy a kit, either everything you need to put the kit together should be included or the other required parts should be clearly visible before you buy the kit so you can make an educated decision about whether to buy it. It's the same basic principle. I hate to reduce it to simple commerce, but once you've paid your money for a package you shouldn't be required to put out any more cash to fulfill the promise of the package. Likewise, while researching past material via the Internet is certainly possible, and doubtless there are some who even find it fulfilling, you shouldn't be required to make that extra effort to understand what you've already paid for. It's really that simple. I noted a long time ago that continuity isn't necessarily a reader-crushing concept, since little kids are perfectly willing to delve into POKEMON minutiae and learn powers and attacks of a vast horde of odd little creature, but if you've ever watched POKEMON you can get the basic concepts and understand an episode perfectly well just from what's quickly presented in the episode.

" Bit Torrent activity is effectively the library that is preserving all those great pages of comic book history.

Set aside the problem of making in-print material, especially new material, available for free. That's a separate issue. These "pirates" are also actually preserving comic book history--at considerable cost to themselves with virtually no reward to themselves--every time they scan and make available an old out-of-print (and likely to never be reprinted) comic. (Note: I am not a scanner and have no connection whatsoever with these groups. But I've seen their work, and it merits further discussion.)

I think it's sad that comic book history must be "stolen" in order to preserve it. The best that Marvel/DC are doing is repackaging some of the more marketable material. The comics themselves, however, are artifacts that will be lost forever. These pirates often make good scans of the actual tangible comics, thereby preserving precisely what people saw when they bought them off the stands. I think that's worth doing. And it's something that the publishers are simply unable to do."

I think it's worth doing too, and it seems to me to be worth it to publishers to come to some sort of accord with Bit Torrent to ensure this kind of work - or set up their own online libraries along those lines. (I know it's possible to display online scanned pictures that can't be captured.) But with everyone psycho about intellectual property rights, I just don't see many publishers, and certainly not the major ones, working through that, which is a loss for everyone.

" I assume that you've seen this, but, in case you haven't, it seems worth pointing out. Last week, CNN posted an interview with Michael Berg, the father of one of the early decapitation victims, Nick Berg. The interview starts pretty straight, but pretty quickly turns farcical as Soledad O'Brien tries in vain to get Mr. Berg to say something that even vaguely supports the war effort and ends up with exactly the opposite."

I wonder why Soledad O'Brien cares whether Michael Berg supports the war effort or not. I always thought it a little tasteless anyway to go to a parent whose child has died as a consequence of a war and ask them to voice support for that war. I guess that's supposed to be their big opportunity to demonstrate their unwavering patriotism.

" I can almost assure you that an anthology of Joe Maneely work would be championed by Stan Lee (if he still has any pull in editorial). Everything I've ever read where Stan talks about the pre-hero Atlas work, he waxes rhapsodic about Maneely's work. A little of it has been reprinted here and there, but nothing consistently. As I recall the story, Maneely died in an odd train accident that his wife blamed on his overwork from Atlas. Apparently she claims that he was so tired that he accidentally stepped between two train cars and died. I don't know if she is still alive, or if there were any children, but putting out an anthology (or even a book like the Fantagraphics Krigstein book(s)) and having royalties go to the family would surely be the kind thing to do. Hell, create a scholarship fund or give it to ACTOR, if you have to. Not that corporate Marvel is going to pay any royalties that they don't have to."

I know Joe Maneely was Stan's favorite artist of the '50s, and have wondered what Marvel Comics would have looked like had he not fallen to his death. Maneely's absence functionally opened the slot that Kirby took in the late '50s, and Maneely almost certainly would have been Stan Lee's choice for artist on FANTASTIC FOUR had he been around. But whatever Maneely's pluses, he certainly wouldn't have been anything like the superhero artist Kirby was, and I don't see a Maneely-centric Marvel Comics gripping anyone's imagination. (Personally, while I like much of Maneely's work, he wouldn't be anywhere near my first choice as subject of an artist-centric collection.) As far as I know, Stan and Marvel editorial are on speaking terms, but I suspect his lawsuit against the company a couple years back effectively wiped out any vestige of his editorial influence there.

" Marvel's been slowly trying to reprint its pre-Silver Age catalog.There's a few Golden Age Masterworks, and there's a Tales of Astonish Masterworks. You might want to get in touch with David Gabriel at the Marvel Masterworks board with the suggestion. The problem I'll bet Marvel would have would be grouping the work by artist. They've tried such work with the Marvel Visionaries line (including a Ditko book), but the sales are soft. Granted, they might work better with 50s material, since it's fresher in the public's mind, but there are costs to restoring the artwork, so the books have to sell something. I'm with you, though. I'd love to see more material by such luminaries as Severin and Toth."

Not sure what you mean by it possibly working better with '50s material, since that strikes me as a much harder sell, but in order for it to work at all Marvel would have to educate its readers in the value of older material and that isn't really something that will quickly feed their bottom line. They are in business to make money, after all. By the way, to the best of my knowledge, Alex Toth only drew one story for Atlas in the '50s, though I haven't been through anywhere near all of what they published.

" Relating to your column about the lack of a sense of history in comic book art, I wonder if that's caused by the demands of serial fiction, which have driven comics almost since the day the industry was founded. With any kind of serial fiction, nearly everything else has to take a back seat to narrative drive (in worst-case situations, even things like plausibility and coherence -- not that we've ever seen that happen in superhero comics, of course). The real purpose of serial fiction is to get you, the reader/viewer, to come back again for another fix -- a day later for soap operas, a week later for most TV, and a month later for serial comics. The people who want to talk about serial fiction really don't want to talk about the artistry or the structure as much as they want to talk about who did what to whom and what's going to happen next. It's not exactly the most hospitable environment to really analyze and talk about the product.

There really isn't much written critically about the film theory behind Hollywood serials of the 1930's. In the entertainment section of the bookstores, there is far more written about film theory and film criticism than there is about TV, which is another medium dominated by serial fiction. Most of the stuff in the TV section are guides and behind-the-scenes books that cater to the existing hardcore fans of the shows, not unlike the most common writing about comics.

Criticism and theoretical books are also geared more for the people on the creative side of the fence. Only the really serious readers will tackle that material without any intent to create their own films or comics. Again, I wonder how the demands of serial fiction end up working against any kind of serious criticism or theoretical discussion- given a choice between working on the art (which gets you paid) and reading theory (which doesn't), it would seem that most artists would opt for the guaranteed short-term gain of producing more artwork over the potential of long-term gain of getting better at the craft."

I do think there's a perception that "serial fiction," regardless of medium, is less deserving of serious critical consideration than other types of fiction (unless it's written by Charles Dickens, of course). I don't think it's a matter of the demands of the material, though, because consideration of those demands would have to be included in any critical assessment.

"How strange it seemed to have an editorial piece about comics and politics, (along with music). Though it shouldn't seem so strange. I mean, if comics are an art medium and art is a form of self expression then why is no one expressing themselves in comics these days? Where are the Art Spiegelmans? We're in a war, our rights and liberties are being systematically eroded, the country is polarized and openly racist and persecuting and no one has anything to say about it? Not one artist has been moved to draw/write a comic about these times? (I'm not sure if DMZ is supposed to be a response to current events or just similar events throughout history.)

Are you the only person in the 'comics world' concerned with these issues? Is there no outcry or market for poignant stories of more substance? I realize no other medium has been overly tasked with addressing current events, i.e., no one is blasting Jessica Simpson for not being the modern day Bob Dylan, but comics are more underground and subculture, I would think that something would have come out by now.

Anyway, it was nice to read someone else in the industry has a concern and consciousness for things other than spider man's new suit."

There are many more people in comics concerned about the current political situation, but I'm the one who has to fill a column every Wednesday. I would like to take this opportunity to blast Jessica Simpson for not being the new Bob Dylan, though, and traditionally (aside from underground comics) most comics creators have tended to be fairly conservative, in a relatively apolitical sort of way. Just the nature of the beast, I guess; many of the people drawn to comics, particularly as a profession, are sucked in on a basis of nostalgia, and nostalgia tends naturally toward conservatism.

" I couldn't agree more with your opinion about Modern Music. I've been saying the same thing for years. I've heard it before, do something new. Everytime I hear "the latest and greatest", I can't help thinking, "It's been done. Hendrix/Ian Dury/ did it better 30 years ago". And I don't think it is strictly record company policies, either. Record companies have always tried to churn out more and more of whatever sells. Personally, I think the Creative Music Muse has either become more selective, or is taking more extra-long weekends, and the $$$$ Muse is filling in the gap."

I don't know that modern musicians are any more or less driven by money than musicians at any time in history, though certainly the major record companies are far more driven by the desire for money than at any time in history, though this is the culmination of a music marketing path that began in the '70s. The music business does its best to subtly (and quite often not very subtly at all) dissuade talent of any real creativity at all, preferring the now time-honored Hollywood cliché of "something new and different, but familiar and comfortable." But so does any business, once it reaches a certain point. The point of music marketing today is to convert all product to comfort food, because comfort food is theoretically the easiest sell, and marketing rules the business.

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.

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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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