Issue #29

Not a dream! Not a hoax! Not an imaginary story!

If there was ever a chance writer Peter David's little brouhaha with Marvel over his book CAPTAIN MARVEL was anything but a publicity stunt, that chance got shot completely to hell on Monday when editor-in-chief Joe Quesada personally entered the fray. For those who came in late, the "trouble" began when Marvel raised the price on several fringe books from $2.50 to a whopping $2.75 (which may not seem like much, but, considering most people's buying impulse switched off when pamphlet prices jumped beyond $1.99, every extra quarter asked prompts a new round of hemorrhaging) and Peter set forth a challenge to "save" the book. Joe briefly saw that challenge and raised it before calling it off completely (one particularly inventive scenario has the whole thing concocted as a way for Peter to leverage his embattled SUPERGIRL comic out of cancellation at DC, but I've never heard any verification it was due to be cancelled and I don't know how that scheme would work in any case, so my guess is no), and then Bill Jemas got involved, challenging Peter to a showdown involving a "sell-off" of CAPTAIN MARVEL and a new book created and written by Bill, to be called THE MARVEL, winner take all.

Bill subsequently backed off from the suggestion (it may have been outright stated in the original challenge, it may not have been, but I'm not interested in enough to go sniffing around press releases to find out because it's irrelevant anyway) that the "losing" book will be cancelled, so it's not winner take all after all. Clearly the idea is that Marvel Comics will be the real winner, with a hot new hit and an existing book saved from slow creeping doom by lots of new attention, especially from the ranks of fandom who have come to loathe Bill for his continuous sporting with them. (Some people have no sense of humor.)

The latest wrinkle is that Joe Quesada – and, Joe, if you're going to do another WWF-style promo, call me next time and lemme give you some pointers; I know a thing or two about pro wrestling, and you don't want to sound like Test in your promos, you want to sound like The Rock – has now challenged the other two with his own book, sort of, THE MARVEL KNIGHT. If I'm reading right, seems it was concocted awhile back, designed by Joe, written by Ron Zimmerman, drawn by an unnamed artist and shot down by none other than Bill Jemas himself. If that ain't grounds for a grudge match, Stone Cold Steve Austin don't shave his head. And if you ever thought Marvel wasn't going to pimp... er... pump this "challenge" for all its worth, THE MARVEL KNIGHT should bitchslap some sense into you.

As mentioned a few weeks back, I really like the idea of the challenge: editing by game show. It's brilliant. I'm surprised no one thought of it sooner, but like all great ideas it has the benefit of being almost obvious. Often, the truly great ideas in the comics business are the ones anyone could've thought of, but they didn't.

And I realized, reading Joe's little orchestrated rant of a press release on Monday, that someone's going to do this, so it might as well be me.

I challenge.

No joke. This is not part of the Marvel publicity stunt, and, frankly, there's a snowball's chance in hell they'll take me up on it. (Which isn't a dare, Joe and Bill, just a statement of fact; Vince McMahon, you know, doesn't acknowledge challenges unless he orchestrates them either. That's just good business practice.)

In his statement, Joe said, "So here's the deal and I'll keep it as simple as possible. My top secret, Ron Zimmerman project, which I will announce in a few weeks, will run for six issues as well. I guarantee that my mini series will outsell both yours a Peter David's crappy projects! So go ahead, you can foil to your hearts content and Peter can get his little Internet minions up in arms threatening to buy multiple copies, but I'll will show you that this project that you hated soooooo much is infinitely superior to anything you or Mr. David concoct, no matter how much you try to appeal to the speculators."

Me, I'm not going to do a Whiff promo. I'm not going to insult anyone. Peter David's a good writer and an established professional with TV and book as well as comics credits. I've never read his writing, but Bill Jemas is clearly a bright guy, so he could easily be the wild card in this match. There's absolutely no reason to doubt Joe's formidable talents as artist, editor and impresario. They're a tough crowd to beat, no doubt about it.

But I can do it. No question, no doubt.

So here's the deal: I get the available editor and artist of my choice. I get no editorial interference from Marvel at any level, including Joe and Bill; the editor will function as liaison, proofreader and paperpusher. I stay within accepted Marvel content boundaries, and I mean the Marvel Universe and not the more liberal Marvel Knights or Marvel Max (unless the other books are operating under those parameters). I will create a new character with "Marvel" in the name, and my artist and I will freely relinquish all claim to the character to Marvel Comics, except in terms of any equity arrangements for new characters currently in force at Marvel (because, frankly, this property's going to make a bundle for the company over the years). Like Joe's, this series will last for six issues. Marvel will provide the same level and quality of promotion for my series as for the others. Unlike Peter, despite a presence on the Internet I have no Internet minions, and I wish no special gimmicks for the project; this match should be won on the quality and entertainment value of the book and not on the skill with which chatchkis are propagated.

And, on an even playing field, my book will outsell the other three titles. Perhaps not on the first issue – I'm not foolhardy enough to make that kind of guarantee – but at the end of six issues mine will be selling the strongest.

I repeat: this is not part of the current Marvel publicity stunt. They have no reason to take me up on it. It's a tenet of pro wrestling: you don't accept challenges from outside your organization because you have no guarantee your champion will win, and having your champion lose a match that can't be rigged (sorry to disappoint any wrestling fans who haven't woken up yet, but, yeah, the results are predetermined) gets embarrassing.

So, even though I know Joe, I don't expect to hear from Marvel about this. As Joe mentioned in his original response to Peter, it's simply not in Marvel's best interest to take on challenges from freelancers.

But I'm ready. I'm serious. I can win. Bring it on.

Some interesting responses to last week's broadside on editorial lying. One comes from my old pal, freelance writer and ex-Marvel editor Danny Fingeroth, who brings a cross-disciplinary perspective to the subject:

"An editor's job (in relation to freelancer's) is a mix of roles, including parent, child, teacher, student, shrink, good cop, bad cop, friend, confidant, cheerleader, among many others. Each editror-creator relationship demands a different mixture of those elements. As in life itself, sometimes lying is just part of the process. When's it's capricious or gratuitous, however, then there is something very wrong.

Personal chemistry is most often a big factor in editorial-freelancer relationships. People who love working for me (or any editor) love it forpretty much the same reasons people who hate working for me hate it. Sometimes one editor can have a writer redo an entire story and thank the editor for it, other times an editor can request a two-word change and set off fireworks. The most difficult relationships can come when a new editor "inherits" a creative team from the previous editor.

Way back when, I inherited a comic written and drawn by the biggest name in comics. He was chronically way behind schedule, and the company was in danger of printing 11 issues of a monthly comic - one of the, if not the, biggest-selling comics in the industry - and I suggested putting in a "fill-in" by another almost-as-hot writer-artist. I got the go-ahead. The company made money. It boosted my status in the eyes of my bosses. And, quite significantly, THE READERS GOT TWELVE ISSUES OF A MONTHLY TITLE!!! Imagine that. They went to the store, and the comic they wanted was actually there! They could choose whether they wanted the fill-in or not. But it was there for them to buy.

I doubt that, today, I would have been allowed to publish that inventory. In today's dwindling market, when you'd think creators would thank god for their assignments and get jobs done ahead of schedule, there paradoxically seems to be more slavish belief in the irreplaceability of "big name" creators on titles, which leads to rampant missing of ship-dates. This is probably part of the general move to TPB's. (A move that, in my estimation, is doomed--how many graphic novels can Barnes & Noble stock? How many can they display with their fronts facing out? I hope I'm wrong.)

My point? Just that editors are caught, as you described, in the constant push-pull between the creators and the business folks. They are the bridge and the buffer between the two sides, using their own taste and judgment--when they can--to try to put out a decent story. (This is sometimes fun, believe it or not.) Sometimes the balance shifts to one side, sometimes to the other. Unfortunately, the ones who most often get neglected are the people who actually buy the stuff."

Then there were many e-mails like the following:

"I simply wanted to let you know how unbelievable the timing of your article. Not two days ago a very high profile editor just wumped 'the cold hard truth' in my lap (after I pushed and pushed and pushed for it, of course) in regards to the work I've been doing for him for the last six months (involving an artist, not just me). Pitches, projects and scripts, all asked for, all discussed and worked on and now all for naught. One big lie (or a series of small ones) for what reason exactly? God knows, but it's an incredible waste of my time and his, as far as I can see. Not something I'd have expected from someone of his caliber or from the company he works for.

I applaud your writing of this article and feel the message very deeply since I've just been kicked very hard in a very soft spot."

Everybody seems to have a story to tell.

On the political/legal side of life:

I see the new game for the right wing is the demonization of Colin Powell. Now, me, I've never been a huge Colin Powell fan, but I can see why people tend to like him. Besides all that war hero business, as secretary of state he has been something of a lone voice of moderation during the hand puppet's whackier moments. (Speaking of whackier moments, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld is now hauling out and dusting off plans for nutso defense "technology" schemes originally pitched and dismissed as ridiculous during the Reagan Era, which shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone, since we are living in the '80s again.) That sense of moderation (which is to say, an awareness that there are other people besides Americans in the world) is perhaps what's bringing down the wrath of such people as William Safire, who, in his fury that Powell would be sticking his nose into the Israeli-Palestinian mess, has decided it's Powell who's to blame for our "failure" to wipe out Saddam Hussein back in '91 when we had the chance, and it's this sop to pacifism that will allow Hussein to return and rain death and fire down upon us all.

What I don't get is this? If people like Safire are so knowing and so righteous, why the hell do they have to flat out lie?

Before you go rushing off to your word processors to e-mail me defending the good name of the right wing, let's review the scenario. In 1991, maybe under goading from the Bush White House and maybe not, Saddam Hussein claims the nation of Kuwait, which in the late 19th century was broken off from the Ottoman Empire by Britain. (A pretty unsustainable claim if there ever was one.) Following the invasion by the Iraqi army which we cheerfully armed during the Reagan era so they could continue their war with neighboring Iran, and dramatic testimony of Iraqi atrocities in Kuwait delivered to Congress by a woman, coached by a Bush-administration-affiliated public relations firm, who doesn't bother revealing she's a member of the Kuwaiti Royal Family, then President George Bush pere embarks on a campaign to drive the Iraqi menace out of Kuwait and restore democracy to the country, even though it never really had it in the first place. (Since its independence in 1961, Kuwait's rulers have shown a recurrent tendency to suspend the country's constitution at the drop of a hat, but it's the oil they freely flow to the West and not that specific peccadillo that particularly endeared them to the Bush White House, or so I'm told.) Though the outrage of the world fixes on Iraq, pere then finds he has a serious problem: for some reason, the concept of the USA charging onto Muslim territory to overthrow legitimate leaders of Muslim countries (like it or not, Hussein became president of Iraq more or less legitimately) didn't appeal to a lot of Muslim countries, who feared both the precedent and the responses of their own populations should those nations aid our war effort, and so resisted US entreaties to use their lands as staging grounds for the liberation of Kuwait. Which became something of an obstacle.

To overcome it, Bush made the solemn vow that our goal was simply to liberate Kuwait, and we had no interest in overthrowing Saddam Hussein. At least not at that exact moment. We would drive the Iraqis beyond the Kuwaiti border - which, in conjunction with our allies, we did - but not pursue them into Iraq. Which we didn't. For a good reason: that act of betrayal on our part could easily have put most Muslim nations in the world at war against us.

That was the deal. That's all I'm saying. To now put the blame for the action, which Bush pere himself signed off on, on Colin Powell, to try to remold history so that it was Powell's lack of will and flaccid condescension to "peace" at the cost of the security of the world that kept a malevolent despot like Saddam Hussein in power, is a lie. Of course, the truth doesn't undermine Powell's position in the government or his current, probably doomed, mission to the Middle East, and, of course, it doesn't rescue the Bush name from culpability, so I can see why clowns like Safire have to resort to lying to get their agenda across.

(By the way, know when I knew George Bush pere had lost his bid for re-election? My alarm radio woke me one morning to the strains of some country singer – never learned who the singer or the song was, so if someone out there knows, I'd love to find out – crooning, "Saddam Hussen still has a job but I don't/ he'll sleep in a bed tonight but I won't" around the second week of October '92. Country-freaking-western radio, the heart of the Republican constituency, and that song was being broadcast. And I knew right then that pere, who steadfastly maintained against all evidence that the health of stock market was the only true indicator of economic health and since all his cronies were making money there life in America was nothing but good, was history.)

In other news, the Supreme Court on Tuesday shot down the "anti-virtual child pornography" law passed by Congress a couple years back. It's a little hard to get too excited about the shooting down of any law that hinders the spread of kiddie porn, but in this case I have to agree with the court that the law's language was overly broad, covering anything anyone can even vaguely consider resembling or representing sex with a minor (the drug czar's teenage daughter who trades sex for drugs in TRAFFIC was given as an example). (And considering the content of some comics, particularly some manga, the law was a ticking time bomb for our field.) It's a problem of conservative and liberal lawmakers alike that when undertaking bills of this sort they just feel compelled to push everything to the limit instead of focusing on workable language applied to specific circumstances. Fortunately, the extinguishing of the law isn't really a backslide for anti-kiddie porn forces, as there were plenty of constitutionally-upholdable anti-kiddie porn laws on the books and the Congressional effort was pretty redundant anyway, and they knew that when they passed it. Which is typical of Congress. After all, it's only our money they're wasting.

And, interestingly, the Ninth US Circuit Court Of Appeals in February decided links are illegal. You know, like where you click on something on a webpage and it takes you somewhere else. A photographer sued a search engine to keep them from displaying thumbnails of his work that linked to his online originals. Here's the thing: while the judges said the thumbnails were fair use and the photographer could take a hike, they also said the search engine had no right to send users to the photographer's site via links, with the implication that the search engine could be culpable if someone linked from their site filches the photographer's photos (which anyone who can use a right mouse key can do) even though he's the one who put them online in filchable form, presumably so other people could find and see them. If this sounds nutty – and there are plenty who think it's in fact poisonous to the Internet – another Federal court has stated linking is a constitutionally protected activity. Various parties are trying to get the Ninth Circuit to reconsider the case, but this is something else that may eventually end up in the Supreme Court's lap for final decision. Given that Congress looks poised to surrender control over all new technologies to the vested interests like record companies that would benefit the most from suppressing them, it's probably best that lawmakers stay away from this issue.

Vertigo on Monday announced their new "Vertigo Pop" line, staring with TOKYO and I have to say I'm excited. Seriously. Because TOKYO is written by my pal, conspiracy researcher and frequent TV talk show guest Jonathan Vankin, who writes some mean fiction. He wrote a couple of Paradox Press' BIG BOOK OF series and as far as I know this is his first fiction comic. Jonathan lived in Tokyo for awhile and brings more verisimilitude to the project than a lot of writers could, and I hope you go badger your comics shops to order gobs of copies of it.

PLASTIC FARM is sort of a maxi-mini-comic, self-published magazine size by writer-creator Rafer Roberts (1552 Crest View Ave, Hagerstown MD 21740-6645; $1.95@). What starts off as your usual slacker-getting-dead-drunk-moping-over-some-girl story takes a strange turn when the slacker's problems are actually caused by a fictional dinosaur-riding cowboy erupting from his subconscious. And it gets weirder from there, with psychos, orphanages, monks, madhouses, etc. Roberts' art is perfunctory (it does improve as he goes on) but his storytelling is pretty good and he shows a flair for complex plotting and focused dialogue. He perhaps wisely abandons the art to David Morgan and Jake Warrenfeltz in #3, and while Morgan's work is serviceable, Warrenfeltz's, though rough in spots, reminds me of the work of the great Spain Rodriguez and has a lot of character despite its weaknesses. The story's direction gets less clear as the issues proceed but it feels like it's leading up to something, and I hope it is, and I have to say the covers are all very nice.

We had a windstorm yesterday, which (due to the window I left open in my office) conveniently scattered a pile of papers to show me I'd missed an envelope containing DEAD END #14 (Eight Ball Graphics, 174 Madison St, Cortland NY 13045; 75¢). Writer-artist Jim Coon, who does a nice enough job (and the production values on the book are very sharp for a mini-comic), explains death, creation and the afterlife. Anyone who's ever read a Jim Starlin comic may find it a bit familiar, but it ain't bad.

As you're probably sick of hearing by now, I'm writing a few books for Avatar Press, including MORTAL SOULS, a horror story about a cop who unexpectedly gains the ability to see the dead who run the world and who hate us. I haven't said much about artist Philip Xavier, who draws a lot of comics in France but is basically unknown here save for a couple pin-ups in Marvel books, and he's been doing great work on MORTAL SOULS#2. I wasn't too familiar with Philip's work either, and I'm really pleased with what I see. Here are a couple samples: Art by Philip Xavier. Do not use without permission.

If you want to see more, there's only one place: talk to your comics retailer. MORTAL SOULS #1 will be out shortly, and if your shop doesn't have it, there's still time for reorders. Hopefully coming up in future weeks: art for MY FLESH IS COOL (Avatar) and RED SUNDOWN (AiT/PlanetLar Books).

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. 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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