Issue #26

This week's tempest in a teapot in comics seems to be Peter David vs. Joe Quesada for the future of CAPTAIN MARVEL and I've been besieged with e-mails asking for an analysis of the situation (and for my picks in the Oscars). There isn't much to analyze. Peter offers to write CAPTAIN MARVEL essentially for free if Marvel will publicize the book, while Joe basically (if a little belatedly) sees a public discussion as a no-win situation and claims the right of leadership to make the decisions. What can I say? Joe's right. It's Marvel's call to make, not Peter's – that's what happens when you do work-for-hire, the company gets to say what's what – and the question now is whether what essentially amounts to a stunt will result in enough new readers to more than offset the inevitable decline raising the price by 25¢ will generate.

I can see willingness to work what amounts to gratis (Marvel couldn't get away with paying Peter or anyone else absolutely nothing without jeopardizing the company's ownership of the material) on creator-owned properties, but work-for-hire? On the other hand, Peter's right about the price: I figured out a long time ago that once the pamphlet package jumped over $1.99, it hit a psychological wall in the minds of a lot of people, a factor in the sales collapse of the last seven years. Audiences simply aren't willing to pay that much for the old package, unless there's some other factor (coolness, for instance) involved. With other packages they show a bit more flexibility.

On the other hand, if a book's been around 31 issues and still hasn't "found an audience," it's not likely to. Maybe Marvel hasn't publicized CAPTAIN MARVEL as much as other comics, but three years is plenty of time for word of mouth to kick in if there is any. In a business where cancellation after four issues has become the norm, three years is a gift. Books that old have been known to find audiences, but only after major talent shifts and premise reworks. (cf. Alan Moore's SWAMP THING.) And the fact is that companies promote books that already sell. That's just the way it works. The fact is that it's mostly up to talent to promote their own work these days, often without help from the company. It's a tough position to be in. If you're working work-for-hire for Marvel or DC, unless you write Superman, Batman, X-Men or Spider-Man (or some variation thereon) regular promotion's just not something you can look forward to unless the book already sells without it.

One could say this is a war of ideologies – the continuity-laden CAPTAIN MARVEL (tapping, as Joe points out, into Marvel elements that vanished years ago) is almost exactly the type of comic Joe has dismissed since he arrived as editor-in-chief – but the decision to raise the price of the book a quarter in lieu of cancellation seems to be a straightforward beancounter business decision. Welcome to the wonderful world of work-for-hire comics.

As for the Oscars... I considered rerunning my cranky awards column from MASTER OF THE OBVIOUS, but if you're really interested either go look it up in the MOTO Archives or pick up the MASTER OF THE OBVIOUS collection when it hits print. (More on that later.) The short version: I couldn't give a rat's ass about awards in any field, and even if I did, the only movie from '01 I give a rat's ass about, MEMENTO, isn't likely to win anything anyway, so I have no incentive at all to care. The recent Harvey Awards brouhaha, in which Cross/Gen swept the nominations by means well within the process, only shows to what extent the process is meaningless, and to what extent awards are nothing more than publicity ploys. It would take very little effort to cook most awards in the comics field – I considered doing it with BADLANDS and the COMIC BUYERS GUIDE awards back in '94 – and I figure it's only embarrassment or laziness that keeps most comics people from trying it. And since there are plenty of energetic and shameless people in this business...

On the subject of shamelessness: I've been mostly missing-in-action on the stands the past few months, but that's about to change. The first issue of my MORTAL SOULS mini-series, loverly drawn by Philip Xavier, arrives from Avatar Press the first week in April: cop Eric Sharpe gains the ability to see dead people. And these ain't no namby-pamby crybaby SIXTH SENSE ghostly dead people. These run the world, and they hate us. It's a crime comic, it's a horror comic, and it doesn't go anywhere you'll expect it to go.

Let's not be coy about this: chances are your local comic shop won't have it. The orders weren't bad, but they don't allow for people coming in off the street. Which means, if you want it (and I know you do), ask your retailer for it right now. He'll say it's too late to order it, and he's right. But it's not too late – and never too early – to reorder it, so get him on the stick. Now. Go. (Tell him to order #2 & 3 while you're at it, since the time is now.)

[My Flesh Is Cool #1]In June, Avatar publishes my second mini-series there, the sci-fi/crime thriller, MY FLESH IS COOL, with covers by Jacen Burrows and art by Argentinian sensation Sebastian Fiumara making his American debut. Evan Knox is a most unusual hitman, taking a drug that sends his mind into other people's bodies so he can use them to complete his mission. In Evan's hands, the drug is a precision scalpel – but then it hits the streets. You may think you know crime comics, but you've (honest!) never seen anything like MY FLESH IS COOL. Tell your friends and hit up your retailer; this is the time to pester him to order it.

Interestingly, neither book has been published, and we've already got Hollywood crawling all over them.

[Joker/Batgirl]The week of May 29th sees the DC release of DC FIRSTS: JOKER/BATGIRL with art by Bill Sienkiewicz and Terry Moore, and a cover by Kevin Nowlan. See, Oracle, the former Batgirl, is trying to wise up the current Batgirl by relating the tale of her first encounter with The Joker, but Batgirl gets the wrong message entirely and hilarity, of the Joker variety, ensues. I don't get the chance to write many comedies, and this was great fun that ended up with great art as well. I've been waiting to work with Bill for 20 years (we sort of worked together in the early 80s, as he did the interior illustrations for the RACE AGAINST TIME teen adventure novels I mentioned last week) and it was worth the wait. (I never figured on working with Terry Moore, who draws the flashback to the former Batgirl's first Joker encounter, but that worked out great too.)

[Badlands]On June 19th, AIT/PlanetLar Books releases the BADLANDS SCREENPLAY BOOK, in anticipation of the re-release of the BADLANDS trade paperback on July 17th. (If there's one thing I've written that keeps dropping jaws and reaping praise, even years after it was published and long after it faded into relative obscurity in a superhero-obsessed field, it's BADLANDS, a crime story set in 1963 starring the man who really killed John Kennedy.) The screenplay book came about oddly, as did pretty much everything ever connected to BADLANDS; over the years I've been asked many times about the film rights (it almost got cinemized in '93, but was shut down, along with an adaptation of Don DiLillo's famed Kennedy assassination novel LIBRA, when movie studios opted to not compete with Oliver Stone's JFK) but everyone I talked to wanted to soften the story, so I decided to fend off annoyances by writing a BADLANDS screenplay myself. It was never really intended to be produced or published, but I have no objection to either, and publisher Larry Young was considering a line of screenplay books, heard about BADLANDS and, since he's publishing the trade paperback, hit me up for it. Hard. Both the screenplay and the trade paperback sport new covers by Brian Wood and Vince Giarrano, and the trade will have some new material.

And there's lots more where all that came from. Stay tuned – but while you're waiting, do me a favor and go order this stuff.

While I'm thinking of it: awhile back I figured if I had $6,000,000 in hand, I wouldn't have to earn a cent again for the rest of my life if I never earned another cent. Bank it, don't touch the principle, live off the interest. Not that I expect it, but if there's anyone out there who wants to make a seven-figure arts grant so I can just get down to work and not have to be bothered about money (knock wood, the only problems I have are money problems, the bane of most freelancers; everything else is great), get in touch. I'd love to hear from you.

Likewise, if anyone's thinking of starting up a new comics company, I'm suddenly deluged by well-known artists who want to work with me, but at the moment there aren't many economically sound options for creator-owned material, and I'd love to hear from publishers about that too.

Who's idea was it to put BABY BOB (CBS Monday, 8:30PM) on the air, and why do they still have their job? (If they do.) The show smacks of somebody losing a sizeable bet, though the really big losers are the actors stuck in this turd. Let us never mention it again.

I'm told last year was the worst in decades for the record industry. They're all wailing and moaning (and trying to figure out how the soundtrack to O BROTHER WHERE ARE THOU became a Grammy-award-winning hit (go, T-Bone!)) and blaming their losses on Internet file trading despite study after study indicating people who swap MP3s are likely to spend more on recorded music, not less. It doesn't seem to have occurred to them that what they're sinking most of their money into sucks, and is so lukewarm and programmed that the audience has been running like it's the Chicago fire. (Two words: Mariah Carey.) One of my relatives is a pretty hip 13-year old girl who just a couple years ago couldn't stop talking about popular music and bought all kinds of CDS, and now she never mentions it because everything's so boring. (She only listens to Spanish music stations on the car radio now.) Instead of actually trying to find out what music might actually interest an audience today, The record industry has been trying to ram draconian anti-technology and anti-competitive legislation through Congress and taking even more steps to make musicians de facto work-for-hire employees. After decades of creative bookkeeping and screwing artists out of royalties, the music industry actually has the gall to claim they're trying to look out for the artists' interests when battling MP3s and wide dissemination of new recording technologies and crippling the applicability of their product. Meanwhile, potential buyers are left to turn their attention and wallets to other things or scrounge to find interesting material that falls between the cracks of the music industry's pigeonholing and demographic biases, while executives refuse to consider the possibility that the world is changing or they're just wrong.

Sounds familiar, doesn't it? Maybe, as the music industry hits the level of the comics industry c. 1998, the comics industry can somehow capitalize on the vacuum to pull itself out of the slump. Of course, that would require imagination, and there aren't many corporations where that's prized anymore.

Remember the Iran-Contra Affair? For those who came in late, that was the Reagan-Bush administration's scheme (orchestrated by George Bush Sr. in a set-up that now seems to have been the blueprint for the Cheney role in the current administration) to circumvent Congress' injunctions against fomenting a war in Nicaragua by using Israel and other agents as intermediaries to, among other questionable activities, sell American arms to Iran to raise the money to send to the Contras which Reagan's people were supporting to overthrow the Communist government of Nicaragua. (We can, obviously, dismiss the many reports of drug trafficking by the Contras and those supplying them, since the CIA assures us they've investigated fully and found no supporting evidence.)

Well, Iran-Contra is back. Or, at least, many key players, who have quietly been getting jobs in the new Bush administration. Among the more notable names: John Poindexter, Elliot Abrams, Richard Armitage, John Negroponte, Mitch Daniels, and Otto Reich. One analyst described the recent hirings as rewards for good soldiers who fell on their sword, which suggests they fell on their swords to protect someone. Given who's currently in power, it's not difficult to figure out who that someone was, esp. since it's well-established that Iran-Contra was being run out of the vice president's office. Welcome to the 80s, ladies. With Iran-Contra back, can the S&L scandal be far behind? (Presumably without any Bush family members personally sinking S&Ls for their own profit this time.)

Time's unfortunately pressed, so though I have books piling up from POKEMON YELLOW CABALLERO to Craig Thompson's GOODBYE, CHUNKY RICE, reviews will have to wait for a couple weeks. But I wanted to mention this week's most unusual book, Warren Ellis' AVAILABLE LIGHT (AIT/PlanetLar Books, 2034 47th Ave, San Francisco CA 94116; $24.95), a slender hardbound. Awhile back, Warren got a Visor palm computer, attached a tiny, fairly low-res digital camera to it, and started taking pictures. Turns out Warren has a good eye and, though the irresolution of some of the photos is frustrating, by and large the digital camera lends an otherworldly aspect to the shots; some look downright pre-Raphaelite. Each photo is faced by one of Warren's short original writings: autobiography, short-short story, fragment, essay. This could have been little more than a vanity project, but it turns into a fascinating view into Warren's mind and out through his eyes. If this is an example of what he can do beyond comics, I wish Warren would write more prose and get a professional camera. Worth a look, especially for Ellis fans.

Next week, though, we feature A Very Special PERMANENT DAMAGE, so special it could win a daytime Emmy... (In keeping with this week's awards theme.) In the meantime – I've been meaning to mention this for weeks and keep forgetting – I still need picture postcards for my mystery project. The response has been very generous so far, but I still need a couple dozen more. Here are the parameters: standard straight-edged 6"x4" postcards, with scenery (without people in it), not art. Preferably without words on the front, but place names are okay. Send them to: Steven Grant c/o Permanent Damage, 2657 Windmill Pkwy #194, Henderson NV 89074. When I make my quota you get to find out what this was all about; I'll run the result here. For the price of a postcard and a stamp, you get to be part of the artistic process, and on top of that I'll appreciate 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.

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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.

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

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