Issue #270

Felt like doing another "random comic" this week, as I hadn't done one in awhile and source material popped up courtesy of my old friend - maybe my oldest friend - Michael Alroy, now experimenting with low-res cameras and photomanipulation. His website features a gallery of buildings in the Southwestern neighborhood where he now lives, liberally massaged by filters and transformed into something else. It's a strange thing about low-res digital photos: they're often far more evocative and compelling than much higher resolution photos of the same people or places. Maybe because of their relative fuzziness, they allow for wider and more vivid interpretations, less representations of the objects they record and more objects in themselves. At any rate, Mike was kind enough to let me poach whatever I wanted, so I wrote a set of captions, pretty much freeforming off an initial springboard (it was, in fact, my and Michael's first shared memory of a death, of a girl we went to junior high school with), after which I collected photos from his site and dropped them in, more or less randomly. (The order they fell in was the order I plucked them off the site in, but I didn't specifically choose any picture to correspond to any caption, at least not consciously.)

Of course, I have no idea whether this was worth doing or not, but it's done now, so you tell me. Thanks again to Mike for his forbearance and cooperation, and thanks for yours.

Last week, you may recall, I tried another experiment, with four different artists drawing the same page of comics plot, to demonstrate the wide variety of visual interpretations even an apparently straightforward and simple scenario opens up. A couple artists made it in after the column went to bed on Tuesday but before it went online Wednesday, so a couple more examples for your pleasure.

As last week, the plot - intended to cover one page - was this:

(SETTING: Modern day; a very bad part of a major city, though the streets are apparently deserted. CHARACTER: A pretty if tense woman in her 20s, in good shape, nicely dressed; short jacket with side pockets, and whatever else she wears is up to you.)

WOMAN walks briskly down the seemingly deserted street, leaving her abandoned car (the hood is up, the driver's door wide open) haphazardly parked, and she speaks into a cell phone in her left hand while she keeps her right hand rigidly in her right jacket pocket. She continues to speak on the phone, tersely, as her eyes shift warily to take in her surroundings as best as she can and she keeps walking briskly. A shadow has fallen over her at an odd angle, but she has already reacted, spinning toward the shadow's off-panel source and aiming at it the .38 she has pulled from her right jacket pocket. She gasps in shock and panic as her eyes settle on whatever it is. Then she's bolting down the street in utter panic, firing randomly behind her, the cell phone left lying, open, in the middle of the street in her wake.

British artist/colorist Peter Doherty has been a mainstay on Judge Dredd at 2000 AD for the past several years. More of his work can be found on his website.

Peter's approach granulates the action a little more than the plot does, and focuses on the heroine more than her environment, and perhaps appears brighter in tone than the story calls for. But this isn't uncommon in pencil art, as spotting blacks (the art of shading for effect and darkening the page to pop certain elements) frequently doesn't take place until the inking stage, and anyone who writes comics quickly learns to anticipate these things.

Michael Netzer's been drawing comics since the mid-'70s, when he became (as Mike Nasser) a fixture mainly at DC Comics, drawing many of their major characters. Currently living in Israel, his website details his current projects. Michael also included a brief explanation for his artistic choices on the following page.

From Michael:

"Based on your allowance for our own pacing, I ended the sequence here just before the woman begins running and shooting.

It seemed to me that there would be a moment where she'd pull out the gun and think she can scare it off or make a stand... all this before she realizes she'd better get the hell out of there. So I thought this moment should be part of this sequence and hence it concludes this page."

Thanks again to everyone who collaborated in this little experiment. Hopefully this gives everyone out there a slightly better sense of what collaboration between a writer and artist really means.

Sorry, due to all the art there's no Comics Cover Challenge again this week, but as we'll be slipping back into copy mode next week, you'll find a new one there. For me, it's been a long day and I'm about ready to pack it in. I need the energy for a slew of new projects starting tomorrow.

As I'm sure everyone knows by now, the Democrats did successfully regain the House Of Representatives and achieved quasi-stalemate in the Senate (which is actually 49 Democrats, 49 Republicans and two Independents, though the Independents have tentatively thrown in with the Democrats but Dick Cheney is still president of the Senate so no one's really got a lock on it). Many of even the races that ended successfully for the Democrats were very tight, and while I can see them following the Hand Puppet's 2000 election victory stance and announcing they're going to govern as if they received a mandate (we may recall the 2000 elections were also, by and large, very close) it's probably a good idea not to. When the Republicans took both the White House and Congress in 2000 (with a little help from the Supreme Court, Kathleen Harris and Diebold, har har) I suggested they not take it as a vindication of their ideology. I believed then and believe now that Americans by and large have no interest in ideology, they only want things to run reasonably well with as few people as possible getting hurt in the process, and I think recent events have borne that theory out. But those who gain power in America far too often decide it's because of their ideology, and certainly the last few years have been a mostly failed experiment in getting Americans to be more concerned for ideology than for practical matters. That's maybe the great virtue and strength of being a nation of bourgeois consumers; no matter what the tide of the moment, the practical eventually wins out.

This is what Democrats should bear in mind. What essentially amounts to a rejection of the currently handling of the Iraq situation and a growing perception of a Congress wallowing in scandal and corruption while achieving little of substance (even the pre-election vote to build a fence between the U.S. and Mexico, to "deal" with what was largely a manufactured issue, accomplished nothing except a public relations ploy, since no funding for the miracle fence was included) should not be taken as a wholesale endorsement of "the Democratic agenda." No one even knows what the Democratic agenda is anymore, and that probably includes many Democrats. Party bosses are already talking of a 2008 White House victory, but that's hardly in the bag; how the Democrats fare then will depend on how much they're perceived as trying to accomplish over the next 18 months. It also depends on how much they've trained themselves now to avoid being seen as "obstructionist," and they'd better be aware that's no longer an issue, if they play their cards right. They need to set goals beyond simply "winning back the White House," push those goals through Congress, and let the Hand Puppet worry about being obstructionist with his vetoes. If they can do that with programs that can be marketed as popular (I know that sounds cynical, but it's all marketing now, as the superior marketing skills of Republican shills have proven time and again) they can make a case for a Democratic president in 2008. If they can't, they can't. The White House has already made its own intentions know, in its "conciliatory" post-election message; that the Hand Puppet referred to this as an opportunity for Democrats to prove they're as patriotic as Republicans, as if that were ever an issue and considering that the White House has largely defined "patriotic" as "endorsing whatever the White House wants," does not encourage expectations of interparty détente. At any rate, this is the time for work, not swagger, though, as always in Congress, the latter is likelier.

Goofy jurisprudence dept: before the Supreme Court is the case of a man who served over eight years on a conviction for a crime he didn't commit, then was released when new evidence revealed the real culprit. What's the problem? Andre Wallace wants, and reasonably so, to sue the policemen who had wrongly arrested him. Illinois, not renowned for its ability to arrest and convict the right suspects, has a statute of limitations of two years on such lawsuits. At issue is what two years means. Wallace's attorney is interpreting it as two years from release, while Illinois claims it means two years from the moment of arrest. Lower courts have agreed with Illinois. But how do you make a case for false arrest when you've been convicted of the crime you were arrested for? Such a lawsuit, in the absence of exculpatory evidence, seems a recipe for dismissal of charges. The Supreme Court seems to be siding with the State, and Chief Justice Roberts has already expressed that a two year deadline from the point of arrest will let cops sleep easier (I bet it will), and presumably those released wrongly suffering through the prison system for a decade or so should just count their blessings to be out, and be done with it. But we'll see.

Another WHISPER NEWSLETTER went out a few days ago with news everyone's been dying to hear, so if you want to read it for yourself, click here to drop me a line and we'll get you onboard. (Suggestion: put "WHISPER NEWSLETTER" in the subject line.)

A couple quick reviews:

From Fantagraphics:

E.C. SEGAR'S POPEYE Vol. 1 ($29.95)

Wow. This may be the stocking stuffer of the year. Cartoonist Elsie Segar, as gifted a humorist as has ever worked in the field, started THIMBLE THEATRE as a humor strip in the '20s featuring the Oyl family (particularly scion Castor Oyl) and segued it into a humorous adventure strip when they became the rage. In passing, he introduced a one-eye sailor for a sequence, and Popeye, no-nonsense walking malaprop, walked off with the feature, not to mention Castor's sister Olive. This volume is the great early stuff, before celebrity, spinach and subsequent contributors watered it down. Beyond that, it's a damn education in dramatic setup, comic timing, and deft characterization. There are only a handful of old comic strips that really deserve to be labeled classics. This is one of them, and this is the classic material. Not to be missed.

From Del Rey Manga:

GENSHIKEN Vol 7 by Kio Shimoku ($10.95)

Close to a perfect comic in any language, the series has taken to lovingly exploring the strange but familiar world of female otaku as most of the male characters edge toward (or past) graduation and try to figure out what to do with the rest of their lives. It remains mainly a gentle, fairly pithy examination of nice people learning, painfully, to become comfortable with themselves. Still great. Really nice writing and art too, and transparent translations, which are always good.

LOVE ROMA Vol 4 by Minoru Toyoda ($10.95)

I know people who love this series, but, man. It's like a cross between an early ABC After School Special, back when they were about the etiquette of dating rather than how to cope with your mother when she's a drug addict, and one of those sugary "Friendship Is..." greeting cards for those special occasions when the only special occasion is the urge to send a greeting card. Calling it gentle is like calling a hurricane breezy. Harmless but ephemeral, and not recommended by dentists.

AIRGEAR Vol 2 by Oh! Great ($10.95)

An urban semi-futuristic adventure where gangs rumble on skates that allow them to fly, this series seems to exist mainly for as many naked butt shots per capita as possible. Otherwise it's not bad, the art's clean and it's lively enough, but it's all familiar manga tropes, like the know-nothing but daring teen hero with the potential to be the greatest fighter of all. Not a disappointment by any means, but a bit too much of a déjà vu experience; it needs something besides the gimmick to set it apart.

We return to the valley of the shadow of reviews next week, but for now I'm out of 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.

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.

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

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