Issue #289

Notes from under the floorboard:

On the road this week, so this is on the fly.

Lots of response to last week's column - see below, since I'm making up for my bad planning with letters of comment - but someone asked what uses traditional comics publishers might have for the web. I can see at least three areas right now where the web and even bit-torrenting might come in handy for publishers:

1) As long as bit-torrenting is going on anyway, smart publishers will issue digital samplers to torrent sites - a nearly zero cost promotional effort. You might say, hell, they're already grabbing all our comics off the Internet, why help them? But odds are they're not. Odds are there are comics they've never heard of or for some reason never tried, so why not use what amounts to free publicity to dangle, oh, ten great pages from every title in a line for them to download and check out? The worst you could do is get no more readers for books that already don't have them, and many torrenters do go buy copies of books they particularly like. I know many publishers offer samples on their websites, but the downside of webpages is that readers have to go to them, which either generally limits you to a core group, or forces additional promotional efforts to publicize the website offerings. Bit-torrent samplers, which wouldn't void any trademarks/copyrights since specific and limited permissions could be included with them, would go straight out to a likely more general public than, say, an article on Newsarama would.

2) Among the biggest problems for companies these days is simply knowing what to publish. DC used to have a great gimmick with SHOWCASE, the original version, which arguably wasn't the best indicator of what would sell - I don't think any issue of the book ever had runaway sales - but was great at predicting what wouldn't sell. A lot of series in DC's mid-60s line came out of SHOWCASE and its sister title BRAVE AND THE BOLD, and it's hard to make a case that the company has benefited by their absence. (Of course, BRAVE AND BOLD continued life for a long time as a team-up title and is recently returned as such, and SHOWCASE revivals periodically pop up, first repeating the original concept, then resuscitated as NEW TALENT SHOWCASE to introduce not new publishing concepts but as a conduit for giving basically untested writers and artists a chance to show their stuff, and currently exists as the umbrella title for DC's black and white reprint telephone books.) Something similar could easily be rigged up on company websites. Why commit to an open run or even a mini-series for, say, GREAT TEN (a practically unknown Communist Chinese superteam DC recently introduced - I'm told Grant Morrison created them, but there doesn't seem to be enough of his touch on them to be sure - whose own title DC announced in the last week) when you can get let's say ten pages done and posted on your website for comment? (I have no idea how GREAT TEN will be, it's just a recent example.) There are a couple advantages to this. Besides exposure, it would force writer and artist (not to mention editor) to distill whatever their idea for the series is into ten pages, which 40 years ago would have been par for the course but is a virtually unknown art in this era of sprawling epics that take forever to get to the point. Those ten pages would have to be real grabbers - but, even paying talent, committing to ten pages is nothing compared to the cost of prepping possibly four full issues of a comic, if you factor in creative, editorial, production, printing and shipping costs. It would take a little while to train readers to bop over to "Showcase" on their own, so a little promotional effort would be involved, but it would be a great way to test new properties before committing heavy resources to them, as well as allowing potential readers the sense of participation and potential influence letter columns used to provide. Sure, there's some potential for abuse and manipulation there, but those things aren't that hard to spot and compensate for.

3) As several sites out there have already proven, the web can be used to find and develop new talent, at relatively low risk. Why aren't major comics companies using websites the same way? The problem with sites like DIGITAL WEBBING, not that it's not a good site with a number of successes to its credit, is that they're basically the blind leading the blind, insofar as commercial comics are concerned. Many artists just aren't ready for the major companies when they get work from them, except possibly for their work. I hate to keep using wrestling analogies, but the WWE uses a small network of regional feeder systems to train wrestlers, like Deep South Wrestling and Ohio Valley Wrestling. Marvel and DC have basically been using independent comics as a feeder system for years, but working for most independents is no particular training for the strange and specific rigors of working for the NY companies. Using a controlled website as a "feeder system" would likewise allow companies to train talent in their exact methods while giving those talents exposure in advance of giving them assignments for publication, as well as provide added exclusive content for the website (which a clever programmer could easily swerve toward additional attention to the company's focal promotions of any given moment). The downsides: a paid position dedicated to the site would likely be necessary, and, in the absence of some sort of anti-compete provision in the deal, any good talent would also be exposed to the competition. But odds are they already are. The advantage of a published NEW TALENT SHOWCASE-type deal: most comics get published on a regular basis. In the case of NTS or MARVEL COMICS PRESENTS-type books, the pressure falls on editors to fill pages. Which means if you don't have up-to-par material to put in those pages, you end up putting in sub-par material, because books must be released on schedule. I know comics fans will find that idea laughable, considering how many late comics there are, but that's still a chief operating principle in most comics companies, even if they frequently fall short of the ideal. A website has no such restrictions. There's no printer's penalty for putting up five new pages of a work on, say, Thursday instead of Monday. Nothing has to go up before everyone's satisfied with it. So there's no reason for anything sub-par to ever be up there, except faulty judgment.

Speaking of GREAT TEN, why does almost every superhero from a country other than the USA have to have some motif identifying them as representative of that country? Is the perception out there that American readers can't keep straight that a hero's home nation is, say, England if he doesn't wear a British flag or have a name like Captain Britain or Union Jack? Does every hero from Japan have to wear samurai armor or a rising sun emblem? Would South Americans even dress up as conquistadors? Does everyone really think Americans are that stupid, or are we trying to draw the attention of readers of those nationalities portrayed (usually with only the most fleeting knowledge of the mores, behavior and culture of those nationalities), or is it just a running exercise in benign bigotry?

By the way, last week's column got a link from the Los Angeles Times, of all places. They misstated virtually every one of my points they cited, but, hey, we takes what we can gets...

Congratulations to Ben Avery, the first of many to correctly guess last week's Comics Cover Challenge theme was "concepts taken from sources besides comic books." Not that I was going out of my way to make it easy, I think this is the first week that nobody, out of the dozens who sent in guesses, got it wrong. But Ben was first, and he'd like you to look at... hmmm... he never did get around to telling me. All I know is it's "an organization I've done some volunteer work for," so if Ben wants to drop me a line, I'll run the listing next week. For those who came in late: you may notice several comics covers posted in the column. This is what I call the Comics Cover Challenge. The covers are connected by a single secret theme - it could be a concept, a creator, a character, a historical element, pretty much anything - and the first reader who emails me the correct solution may choose a website of their choice (keep it clean!) for promotion in next's week's column. If you need any clues beyond what's here, you can search for them at the online source of our covers, The Grand Comic Book Database, and I usually include a hidden clue somewhere in the column. Of course, this week's challenge is probably so easy that you shouldn't need one, but I always automatically think that. Good luck.

As usual, you can find ebooks and other books by me and recommended by me available at The Paper Movies Store. Go buy something; I need the money. Then again, who doesn't?

We have mail:

"I say this as someone who does download comics. And I must say that you are absolutely correct. Marvel and DC publish so many books that meet the minimum standard of quality, but fail to exceed it. I like to get my regular superhero fix, but since so few books step up and exceed the bare minimum there's really no reason for me to choose one book over another. And if there's no reason for that, why is there a reason to pay? But, by law of averages, some of those books have to be, to my tastes, worth buying. Problem is, knowing is very difficult. If I download, then I can know exactly what I want. But at the cost, there is too many books to try and find what I want through experimentation. I'll save my experimentation for non-superhero books, which, it tends to be a bit easier to discern what's worth reading if I keep my ear to the ground. I'll always buy my Vertigo and other worthwhile books. But for experimentation and general superhero fix, it would be stupid to not torrent.

The problem is, I've always held this same policy with CDs, download to be certain at least 2/3rds of the songs are good, and then buy. But, many of my friends take the policy of, if I can get it free, why ever pay for it? And I fear this happens with comics as well.

The question becomes, what percentage take the responsible approach, and what percentage the irresponsible approach. Depending on the answer, torrented comics maybe a perfectly good thing for the industry."

The two main reasons to pay are a fair wage for services rendered, and that it's sort of the law. I'm not sure we can expect anyone to act responsibly, but I think the real question is: how much money does the comics industry make with and without torrenting? If sales rise proportionately to the growing interest in torrenting, we can at least make some inexact speculations on cause and effect...

"This an interesting issue, one which I'm currently studying in the process of getting my Masters in Arts Management here in Australia. Currently we are looking at copyright, digital rights management, and royalty collection.

The chief problem is that while payments are being received and distributed for downloads via, say, iTunes, the bulk of downloads are unpaid for, except through users internet accounts.

The easiest solution is twofold. Each creative industry (and I'm a theatre actor, kind of outside the downloader's sphere) needs a collections body to redistribute income to artists, much like licensing bodies do for music used in films. Once these collections bodies are formed, by negotiating with each other and lobbying effectively, a small tax could be introduced on download volumes. Setting a fair amount would be difficult, but then the people who download the bulk of creative properties would effectively be sending remuneration back to the creative artists, covering both legal and illegal downloads.

Yes, it penalises those who only download legally, but this isn't an unusual occurrence (non-smokers basically subsidise smokers hospital bills, after all). And the word "tax" is synonymous with "terrorism" in terms of popularity. But for the good of artists, it seems to be an effective way of reimbursing creators for work they have produced but have been indirectly stolen from."

Internet taxes are a dodgy issue, since the entire world is involved, and I'm not sure any collections agency is going to make a dent on, say, downloaders in Uzbekistan. The other problem with collections agencies is that, like most systems, once established their first order of business is not whatever they were established for but to keep themselves functioning. Even established companies like BMI and ASCAP get strange like that; Pete Townsend tells of how, in order for the Who to tour, he had to pay whatever collections company the Who use a sum in advance for the right to perform his own songs in concert. As the rights holder, in theory he should have been paid the bulk of that back at the end of the tour, but through accounting machinations that turned out not to be the case. Sometimes it's hard to see how these systems benefit artists, and before we begin using artists as a justification for raising Internet access fees (the only way I can see that such a "tax" system would be possible) we need to make sure it's actually the artists who benefit. Given that the RIAA recently lobbied into law here in the USA that recordings are now works-for-hire for the record companies, I'm not convinced record companies have artists' best interests in mind at all.

"Another good column, but I wanted to point something out that we seem to look over when we discuss internet theft. You say about it:

"No question that it's illegal, but it's illegal like bootlegging was illegal."

You're right, of course, but there's a further distinction that should be made. Internet theft is not the same thing as real theft. In the tangible world, theft involves deprivation-taking an item away from the rightful owner and then possessing it illegally. I'll steal your tall Starbucks Frappachino; you no longer have it; then I drink it, and it's delicious and refreshing. Internet theft involves duplication, which is usually legal because it can be justified as personal archiving, and then the illicit distribution of those copies.

That might seem like hair-splitting, but I think it's important for us to appreciate that the Internet isn't the digital version of the real world, but rather its own world. It isn't accurate or useful in this situation to conflate theft-as-deprivation and internet theft.

Another important point, and one that never seems to get any credence is Internet theft as a boon to the industry. Sales are up, and everyone has a theory on why. Most are correct to some degree; and here is another: I've bought comics after reading them illegally on the Internet. Your mind is blown, isn't it? THE WALKING DEAD, INVINCIBLE, PLANETARY, LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN, EXILES, PREACHER, TRANSMETROPOLITAN, CAPTAIN AMERICA, DAREDEVIL, and dozens of others - I've become a purchaser of each of these books because I tried them out on the Internet first. I don't know if I'm the very model of a modern comic book reader, but this is my take."

So far no one's financed a legit study of buying habits of torrenters, so, while I'd say anecdotal evidence does swing toward indications that torrenters buy more comic books, the matter of what's real or unreal about the Internet has yet to be settled. In the case of media, you could say it's all "unreal," given that the physical product is a mere conduit for the real product, which are the ideas, techniques and stories contained within the physical product. And these are apprehended and appreciated not in any physical sense (though some readers may be in love with the smell of the paper & ink, etc.) but intellectually, which also is outside the strictly physical realm. At any rate, there's no question that in torrenting you are receiving a "product," physical or otherwise, that you haven't paid for, when theoretically you're supposed to deliver some sort of recompense for the intellectual/aesthetic experience you're about to have. That's part of the stated deal. I think the lack of physical existence, discounting the number of bytes of your hard drive the process eats up, which are physically measurable, is what allows many people to accept that they're not really stealing. My comparison to bootlegging wasn't to suggest nobody was breaking the law, but that with bootlegging so many people were breaking the law that it became increasingly difficult, pointless and non-cost effective to try to enforce the law, and in the end it was more practical to do away with the law and try a different approach.

"I admit, I myself have downloaded music and comics via bittorrents. The ones that the RIAA and MPAA need to go after are not the people who are doing such things, but the companies that make the tech that enable those of us to do so. Sony complains about loss of sales with CD's, but yet they are out there selling CD/DVD burners so that I can make copies of stuff. Cox cable even in their TV and billboard ads support downloading movies and such. The idea of going after the small guy is wrong, go after the deep pockets and perhaps things will change."

Believe me, they try going after manufacturers of duplicating equipment, and in some cases they've succeeded. But it's a common ploy of the RIAA and MPAA to want to attach a tax (usually they'd prefer it prohibitive) to blank media to "compensate" for presumed losses, so you're not suggesting something they haven't already thought of. That fight, though, usually falls apart on the argument that they're throwing their weight around to stifle new technologies, and a pretty good case for that can be made too.

" I hadn't seen Dan's message online, but I do sympathize with him.

Although I'm an avid comics downloader, I do set certain rules for myself, and I think most others should as well. I download every single comic out every week, although I only read about 50-60% of them. I think it's an amazing way to sample new comics, give new titles a chance and keep up with the crossover craziness.

The rule I follow is to always buy the titles I enjoy, either in floppies or trades. For titles like IDENTITY CRISIS, ETERNALS, etc, which I know will get the premiere hardcover treatment, I prefer to read them on scans and buy the eventual hardcover or trade.

For poor-selling titles like SHE-HULK and indie titles, I buy the floppies to support the monthly title instead of trade-waiting, since Marvel has always been trigger-happy with cancellations.

On the other hand, titles like CIVIL WAR, CIVIL WAR INITIATIVE, the AMAZING SPIDER-MAN fracas, I know I have to read them out of necessity since most other Marvel titles in the next months will follow from their plot points, but since I don't actually enjoy reading them, I'm not going to pay for them because of Marvel's extortionate marketing strategy.

Finally, torrenting is the best marketing tool for indy titles. If I ever published my own indy, I'd make sure to put copies of the scanned issue inside DCP's weekly scanned weekly comics batch so that it would reach thousands of readers easily. It's easier to get a new reader to try your book if you essentially place the book free on his lap/screen. Is it really money lost for the indy publisher? Would that reader have picked up the copy otherwise if he doesnt read previews and his retailer didnt order it? For a recent example, this is how i discovered Virgin's WALK-IN title, which had received zero publicity but is now one of my favourite reads, and which I have easily emailed to my friends around the world to also hook them in..."

The argument of publishers is, of course, that it is money lost, but most don't understand the concept of a loss leader anyway, no matter how many Free Comic Book Days they live through. (Though how free Free Comic Book Day is, that's another matter...)

"I download a small amount Marvel/DC stuff (only a couple of titlese out of any given DCP pack or whatever) and read maybe a tenth of what I download after scrolling through. It's like flicking through comics in a shop. If you could quantify the number of downloads for, say, SHE HULK, it would not necessarily translate into the number of readers.

Also, I do buy the ones that really impress me, though there aren't a lot. I'm not hugely worried about Marvel and DC stuff and don't have to get every issue from whatever crossover is going on. The titles from the Big Two I purchase are usually just for the art.

When it comes to writers I'm more interested in creator-owned work. If I like a load of Marvel stuff written by Dan Slott or whoever that I've read from torrents I'll keep an eye out for original work from that writer. I rarely download creator owned work, save for first issues of titles I think I might like.

Ok, so the majority of downloaders are probably continuity-philes and the WFH is a lot of writers' main bread and butter, but the way I, and surely others like me, use comic torrents does show another aspect of the practice."

If there are that many people mainly interested in creator-owned work, why is there so little support for it in the marketplace?

"As someone involved way down in the depths of the underground music business, I've been following a lot of debate about torrenting with interest. I can see an up and a down side to the phenomenon, but generally I'm in the "good thing" camp, especially when used effectively enough to build hype in more mainstream areas. What really interested me about an article that more or less leaned into the against camp, was a statement made later in passing:

"I've since shifted to comics reading, starting with a stack of the Marvel and DC trade paperbacks stocked by the Las Vegas-Clark County Library System".

I have to admit, i find it very hard to see much, if any, difference between a library purchasing one copy (I'm guessing wholesale) and lending it to tens of thousands of people for free, and someone buying a copy (more likely retail) and distributing it electronically to roughly the same number of people. except that in the second scenario, a retailer gets a cut of the profit, too.

The exact same dichotomy happens in the music industry.

Weird, huh?

I guess libraries aren't a new exciting threat to democracy though, haha."

I'm not in the "against" camp so much as in the "I can see upsides and downsides" camp. Presenting the rationale for why bit-torrenting comics isn't a good thing isn't the same thing as endorsing that rationale, which I don't believe I did.

"I just read your article regarding illegal download of comics. There should be an e-book of each comic that is published, with enough advertisements. Comic book companies can make a profit through that avenue. It is impossible to stop illegal downloading so the best bet is to harness it and just try to take charge of the course it will take. If a comic really does capture someone's interest then they will most likely buy an actual copy, or be convinced to do so, because nothing beats the crisp pages you can hold in your hands.

When my dad took me to the comic book store to buy that first comic it was just so wonderful to look at all these comics lining the walls. Parents should take their kids to the comic book store. It is a simple and effective way to introduce them to reading."

My best guess is that parents who want their children to read comics do take them, if not to comics shops, to bookstores or Wal-Marts or other places where at least some comics are available.

" Your article about bit-torrent downloading is very interesting. I'm a big comic fan, I download a lot of comics and I feel bad about it. I travel a lot, I was in Asia in the last 6 months from country to country, US comics are not easily available here and it would be an inconvencience to travel with a lot of comics in my luggage. In my view, comics in a digital format have a lot of advantage over paper issues and represent the future of the comics industry. I would be very willing to pay to download comics if Marvel or DC had such a service, like iTunes.

Think about it, how much physical space is needed for a collection of 10,000 paper comics? A complete room! 10,000 digital comic use something around 100 gigs, a fraction of a modern hard drive! It's really easier to find and read a back issue in a folder structure instead of searching in a ton of boxes. Digital comics don't degrade. They can be downloaded everywhere there is an internet connection. This would be an opportunity for the comics industry to sell comics in other countries where they don't ship.

Some may reply, who would want to read a comic on a big computer screen? We are in 2007 and the Tablet PC is going to be a standard in a near future. Tablet PCs are almost the same size of a comic. We can zoom on the image or text etc... After two year using my tablet pc to read comic, I just can't imagine how people can still read paper version!

I don't download comics to save money, digital comics are just a lot more practical and I wish in the future companies will open an I-Comic Store! Best of all, the anal retentive people that collect comics just to collect them, or the back issue market, could be satisfied with digital comics. I think DRM could be implemented in a way that allow people to resell "used" digital comic. It's proven that people are willing to pay for digital things, just look at Magic Online, or World of Warcraft, or Second Life."

You're preaching to the choir, pal, and there are some eComics initiatives starting up. But, at least in America, the Tablet PC has had a tough go of it, partly because they're more expensive than other notebook computers usually for less power and partly because there's no "killer ap" for them that makes them seem necessary to most people, though those who own them seem to like them. Could eComics be that killer ap? I dunno...

"I'm not trying to justify it. I've done it from time to time, sure, and one of the big ones is one you mentioned: I don't intend to shell out an increasingly high cover price amount for a steaming 32-page (give or take) pile of poo. So it's a risk-avoidance thing. Partly.

Partly it's dredging up stuff I'd have a hell of a time finding in shops - the complete run of Denny O'Neil's THE QUESTION, say. Though I suppose there's eBay for stuff like that (Must look for the Grell GREEN ARROW. So I'm stuck in the 80s and 90s. What of it?!)

The big part, though, is the self-perpetuating part of it. To get new comics, particularly the kind of thing I'm into - HELLBLAZER, or INVINCIBLE, or Y THE LAST MAN... Never seen any of those on the spinner rack at a gas station. And the nearest comic shop is on the other side of the Rockies, probably. Not entirely sure. I know there's none here in my area. If there are any up in the resort towns, I don't want to know about it because the prices are probably murder just to stay in business. So the death of the independent shop, which was brought on by flagging sales, which is in no way assisted by downloaders, leads to people having to go online for some books that just don't get collected, or having to wait for the trade paperback which may not save a book's sales, which makes comics sales go down even more...

Warren Ellis suggested several years ago now that the monthly issues should be loss leaders for the collected editions, more focus should be put on the GN format, and that this shit needs better distribution than Diamond, who can't seem to get things into stores outside of a certain market. I'd happily pick up more comics if I could find the ones I want at my local Barnes & Noble, or even if every six months (or so) at least some of my titles were guaranteed a TPB release."

I don't think I've ever seen a spinner rack at a gas station at all...

"I'd missed Slott's plea to those who download comics and as a writer and film-maker myself I'm certainly sympathetic to his plight. That said his claim that he has to use Bit-torrent sites to download movies not yet released on DVD in North America really doesn't stand up to scrutiny.

As a native of Northern Ireland I'm frequently in a position where the films, books, cds or comics I'd like to buy aren't available in my locale. Mercifully however this is 2007 and legal solutions exist. In the case of DVDs I own a multi-format, multi-region DVD player and have long since learnt how to order shiny discs from foriegn lands. Slott could certainly buy a similarly equipped DVD player and acquaint himself with the wonders of UK Amazon or Play.com."

Pretty much every DVD player sold these days can be fairly easily turned into an all-regions machine. The only difference between the Philips DVD player I've got and its more expensive "all-regions" sister model is a user-programmable code...

" Much like how someone will download a CD just to hear one song that they'd never pay for in the first place, I wonder how many people download a collection of 10 or 20 comics packed together just to get 2 or 3 comics they might have an interest in. Their interest may be just as fleeting as someone who thumbs through 20 pages in the store, skimming the story, but not buying the book.

The real question Dan should ask is: If every comic isn't failing, and all are being downloaded, isn't it possible that mine is just not as good or compelling as the top sellers?"

Given all the factors that go into what sells and what doesn't, that's not necessarily the conclusion to leap to.

"The publishers of comics along with the record and movie industry have failed to realize two things: the world of technology has changed their business models and it's created a new and different demand for their products. In terms of technology changing their business, downloading of media, whether it's music, movies or comics, is not just going to go away. The genie is out of the bottle and never going back in. Media companies need to develop a strategy about this part of the business and in truth, should have done that years ago. If they don't have way of handling this, then they're losing business every day they don't.

Secondly, this technology has created a whole new customer for media companies. Traditionally, there's basically been two types of customers for comics, those who buy comics monthly and those who wait for the collected trades. For those who purchase monthly, they are not only interested in the instant gratification of reading the story today, but I'd venture to guess that many of them purchase monthly due to current collectability and future value of that comic. While those who wait for the trades purchase to read the story in whole and don't purchase for collectability, as I don't think trades increase in value all that much.

Downloading has created a new customer, those who want even faster gratification, don't care about a hardcopy for collectability, aren't willing to buy everything that's put out and aren't willing to pay the price they're asking. With downloading, I don't even have to go to a comic store (yes, I said it and it should wake up every "comic store" owner). I do purchase the comics of those creators that I do like as I want to make sure they keep fed. I don't care about having a hard copy of every comic that comes out, as I'm tired of filling my attic with boxes of comics. Using CDisplay I can read the high quality scans and don't care that I have to use a computer. And if I was going to purchase all the $3 comics that come out every month, I'd have to spend hundreds of dollars, which I don't have.

What DC Comic and Marvel and others have lost in revenue by not having a downloading system is ridiculous. Let's say that DC Comics comes out with 10 new comics a week. At say, 50 cents per download (which I still think is high), that comes to $5 a week per downloader or for a full year, that's $260 a year. But multiply that by say 100,000 people and that's $26 million dollars. And since there's no printing, the creation process is from the creators to a file and out to distribution (at a very low cost level). And what if the download number is low and it's 200,000 people? If the comic publishers came up with a download system that was a reasonable price, I'd pay it. In the meantime, they're losing revenue every day."

Technically, technology hasn't changed their business model at all. It has just revealed flaws in it. The problem with business models is that they exist to generate the most income possible given the resources available, and the problem most media have with purely electronic transmission is that they haven't yet found or seen a system that allows them to maintain maximum profitability, which in the case of comics publishers means a monetary outlay from everyone who reads one of their books. It's relatively easy to control the distribution of printed copies of anything; electronic copies, without some sort of control system, are endlessly duplicable, which means they can't keep track of how many copies are actually being consumed, which means they can't keep track of exactly how many copies they should expect revenue from. Copy protection systems tend to hinder consumer enjoyment of products. So far no one has come up with a proven system of comics distribution, but it seems to me some sort of one-copy licensing deal would be what publishers would go for: a retailer, say, gets a master digital copy of a comic. Anyone visiting his store can view it on a screen, and he can reproduce the comic for them to take with them, but in order to do that his computer must contact the publisher's computer for a purchase code for the new copy, and without a unique purchase code the book wouldn't be readable. The code would also prevent the buyer from creating new copies without purchasing a new unique code for each copy. (Some software companies already use similar systems, so it's not out of the question.) Of course, this means anyone could buy a copy at a comics shop or online then become their own sub-distributor, which likely wouldn't please a lot of shop owners. Then there's the problem of a single reader moving his copy from computer to computer, which such a system would likely prevent. Then there's the problem that no copy protection scheme for digital wares hasn't been broken almost on release... In other words, there's no easy answer... yet...

"If the effect of WATCHMEN means a deluge of pretentious garbage that continues to this day, then it's still worth it to have the works of Alan more in existence, because no amount of crap can negate something that is a great piece of art. Modern comic fans (not you, just the general crowd) act as if the existence of questionable comics such as CIVIL WAR completely cancels out all the quality work in existence today. Maybe I'm biased because this is my generation but I'm very fond of this decade in terms of comics, most of the old greats are kept in print and interesting new work comes out quite often."

My citing Alan was simply hyperbole. I don't seriously think the industry would have been better off without WATCHMEN. (Bop on over to The Comics Journal for that viewpoint.) (See? Now I'm putting words in the Comics Journal's mouth?)

" I wanted to comment on your thoughts on Alan Moore. I see where you are coming from, and I agree that there are a number of mediocre writers who ape Moore's style unsuccessfully, but overall, I think the medium is much stronger for Moore's presence. I've been reading comics for 25 years, and in my opinion, there's never been a better slew of titles on my reading list. Many of them come from Vertigo, which I don't believe would exist without Moore and his work. Sure, many of these writers copy from Gaiman, but Gaiman started out as a Moore clone. He found his own voice, as did current writers who started aping his style. It's a matter of perspective, of course. The average super hero title is no better or worse than pre-Moore, but the non-superhero comic is so much better. EXTERMINATORS, FABLES, 100 BULLETS, CROSSING MIDNIGHT, Y THE LAST MAN, TESTAMENT, AMERICAN VIRGIN, and LOVELESS are some of the best titles on the market, and all from Vertigo. In the last decade, Vertigo has also published such classics as PREACHER, TRANSMETROPOLITAN, SANDMAN, and LUCIFER. I can't honestly say that any of them would have existed without Moore."

Yikes! Here I always thought Neil started out as a Lord Dunsany clone...

" One thing that struck me in your recent column, though, was that it is a bit of Alan Moore's fault that everybody is trying to emulate him. I do consider WATCHMEN a tremendous book in itself, despite its plot being a bit dated and only marginally relevant to the world today, but here's my beef with current writers: They look at Moore's work and don't see it as a challenge to beat him. They just try to fit in the pieces they liked (whiny superheroes, sexy superheroes, how many pop references can you cram in. My personal low was Millar referencing Freddy Prinze Jr. in ULTIMATES) in whatever big point they want to make about costumed people.

The thing people should do is to look at WATCHMEN, FROM HELL and others (BIG NUMBERS would have probably been a literary masterpiece, if it had ever been concluded) and tell themselves: I'm going to beat that man. I'm going to write the next WATCHMEN in terms of structural density, complexity and depth. But... here's the thing: I am going to do it with my own created world!

No pop references, no clever "well, this happened in ACTION COMICS 200, but that's not what really happened, what really happened was that Dr. Light raped Sue Dibney, look how clever I am". (not that Brad Meltzer is listening)

To emulate WATCHMEN in that way, well, just lazy writing, I think."

To emulate the form of WATCHMEN instead of the spirit in any way is lazy writing...

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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