Issue #255

One of those weeks, I'm afraid.

Someone recently asked me to comment on the concept of the weekly comic, ala 52. I've got nothing against them, in theory. In practice, they can be a little nightmarish, which isn't to say they can't be done, because, obviously, they can, have been, and are. But almost always as anthology titles, since a single person or even a team producing a standard 22 page comic a week for any length of time borders on physical impossibility. That's over four pages per day, five days a week. There are a handful of illustrators that could maybe handle it, say Jack Kirby or Gil Kane or Joe Kubert. Maybe. Hence the anthology format, which American audiences are traditionally (at least for the last 30 years or so) very wary of.

Still, there have been various successes. Many manga magazines in Japan are published weekly, as 2000 AD has been for decades in Britain, but, again, they're anthologies, often with as few as five pages per series per week. The French, in the '60s on into the '70s, had a lovely idea - run however many pages an artist had finished of any given story in a particular week, until the story was finished and ready for graphic album collection - and other European countries did the same thing (resulting in masterpieces like Chartier & Giraud's LT. BLUEBERRY), but publishers ultimately found it more profitable to skip the magazines and go straight to album, something I suspect American publishers will also find the case if they ever abandon the magazine economy (not to mention obsessive serialization) and embrace the book economy, since that's where, financially, the business will eventually be forced to anyway. (Readers will only tolerate the ever-escalating price of the 22 page comic for so long.) Probably the best known American example was DC's ACTION COMICS WEEKLY, which went about a year in the early '90s (or was it the late '80s) before reverting to 22 page monthly format, but from what I gather, it wasn't exactly a flop. My understanding is that as far as sales went, it did quite nicely, but FedEx costs for moving all that material around - this was well before the Internet became a force that could move script, art, lettering and coloring digitally at no cost and extraordinary speed - put the book in the red regardless. Which argues that with current technology, such a thing might even be economical, if someone dares to try it. The question isn't really whether a weekly comic can be done - of course it can, though, as in the case of 52 it would by necessity be a writer's beast, since different artists would be required to alternate in order to make the very tight deadlines and in most cases even single issues would either carry several stories drawn by different artists (and we're back to the anthology) or have a single story drawn by multiple artists. Neither option seems particularly pleasing to the bulk of American readers.

Speaking of 52, I finally got a chance to read 52 and CIVIL WAR to date. Both of which are actually reasonably good. I mentioned recently that a couple weeks ago I'd spoken to a local comics retailer (Ralph Mathieu of Alternate Reality Comics here in Las Vegas, since I haven't plugged him in awhile) who mentioned that CIVIL WAR sells better than 52 for him, partly because you can explain the former to the uninitiated really easily and make it sound interesting, whereas the latter can't be quickly explained to save your soul. Having read them both, there's more to it than that. CIVIL WAR is not only easily explained but it's visceral, focused, and, not only in style but also in its abandonment of simplistic notions of good and evil, feels totally modern. (For those who haven't been following the story, a superfight triggers a disaster that convinces the government to regulate super-types, who are given three options: register, reveal their true identities, and become authorized government agents; get arrested; or retire and vanish. While currently swinging anti-registration, the series had made relatively decent arguments for both positions.) The completely intentional and more than perfunctory parallels to our current "war on terror" give it additional oomph and immediacy, and, at least so far, it is in no way aiming for any easy outs; you get the feeling there is no longer a status quo to return to, which would make it an incredible achievement for Marvel.

Which isn't to say there's anything wrong with 52, following changes in the DC Universe precipitated by the company's last supermegaevent, because there isn't. But it's also everything CIVIL WAR isn't. CIVIL WAR is in-your-face, insisting readers take a position, while 52 is restrained, almost laid back, bumpily meandering between a gaggle of storylines that slide in and out of view leaving a bewildering swamp of puzzles and clues in their wake. CIVIL WAR feels as though it's about something while 52 feels like it's about superheroes. If CIVIL WAR is a spear chucked right at the heart of a complacent audience, 52 is a fishhook drifting in the water, trying to tease the fish into taking a bite. Stylistically, it mimics both Marv Wolfman and George Perez's work on NEW TEEN TITANS and CRISIS ON INFINITE EARTHS; the series seems to aspire to being the best superhero comic of the '80s.

Huh. On the one hand, I've gotten email about stopping Congress from amending the Copyright Act to allow "orphan rights." (HR5439) This strikes me as a weird concept that someone hasn't really thought through. Corporations are nutty obsessive about protecting what they own, but this amendment would essentially allow them, and anyone else, to use virtually any material they wanted in any way they wanted as long as they claimed they tried to figure out who the owner was and couldn't. (As things currently stand, if you can't find the owner of copyrighted material to get permission for its use, you can't use it.) So if, say, Verizon wants to use Wazmo Nariz's quirky new wave ditty "Tele-tele-telephone" for a commercial jingle (good luck finding him, since Wazmo Nariz wasn't even his real name; he was a friend of mine and I don't even know how to find him) under the new rules they could just go ahead and use it anyway. And if the owner should complain about it later, or sue, "damages" would be restricted to - I love it when lawyers use this term, since it means absolutely nothing - "reasonable" compensation. Basically, what this translates into is if GM increases their profits by billions using your work without your permission, well, you're going to take whatever they feel like giving you and like it. Photos, music, copy, art, you name it if someone created it. Presumably corporations don't feel threatened by this because from their POV there's no reason for anyone not to know about them. But all anyone has to do to make the creator of a work "hard to find" is remove any credits or contact information from the proximity of that work, and it becomes open season for whatever purpose anyone wants to put it to, under the proposed new rules.

There is some slender upside to this, as it would make it possible for authors and scholars to publish material germane to their work whose creators or rights holders can't be found. But that doesn't come up a lot, and could easily be covered with a brief amendment all its own. What HR5439 does is removes most penalties for theft of intellectual property along with most recourse. Deregulation indeed. But what I find most intriguing is that it also provides a legal footing for the Internet piracy that many corporations, especially media corporations, have been spending millions to bribe Congress into halting via legislation. Obviously there are different lobbyists in play here. To read more about HR5439, click this.

On a parallel note, apparently the big thing in Sweden now is the Pirate Party, started by disgruntled software pirate whose website got shut down. Seems it's the fastest-growing political party in the country, already bigger than the Green Party with no slowdown in sight, triggering the formation of other Pirate Parties in most of Western Europe. I've heard there's also one in the U.S. now, but I haven't been able to track it down. Anyone know anything about it?

Diebold's voting machines are in the news again. The Open Voting Foundation has discovered just how easy it is to erase and replace the programming in their machines: real easy. All it takes is the flip of a dipswitch on the hardware, something anyone who has ever built a computer could accomplish effortlessly. Diebold machines, you may recall, have become very popular among election commissions across the country, despite producing no paper records of votes cast, or possibly because of it.

Speaking of elections, congratulations to Kansas, where evolution looks to be coming back to school curricula the hard way; the ultraconservatives attempting to drive the state's science departments back to the 1920s have been driven out in the polling stations, where voters have chosen candidates with at least half a brain to replace them.

Due to inaccessibility of my source for covers, The Grand Comic Book Database, no cover competition this week. Congratulations, though, to last week's winner, Bob Woodington, who was the first to figure out the answer was "rainbow." A lot of readers seized on "colors" as the theme, but only a clever handful took it that extra step, realizing the colors involved were the colors of the rainbow. Anyway, turns out Bob's a fan of magician/comedian Penn Jillette, and wants to direct everyone's attention to The Penn Jillette Radio Show. So go there, since you've got time to kill now. Knock wood, the Comics Cover Challenge will be back next week.

By the way, Jaime Colville recently interviewed Tony Tallarico, who is quite possibly my most loathed comics artist of all time. His work, I mean; for all I know, he's a prince, personally. And Alex Ness has an interesting article about First Comics up at PopThought. Check them out.

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.

Sorry it's a short one this week. Back to normal next week, lord willing and the creek don't rise.

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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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