Issue #297

Over at the Permanent Damage forum, someone recently vilified the notion of comics talent "selling out," specifically by allowing their comics to be butchered by Hollywood. I'm not unsympathetic - I hate bad movies as much as the next person - but the attitude epitomizes where many people go off the rails when it comes to someone else's creative work.

Comics fandom's sort of a microcosm of this, though it extends throughout society, to TV viewers, preachers, politicians, etc. The underlying premise seems to be that once published/produced/exhibited/etc., the creative work is no longer the product of the creator/s but of the culture that has received it.

In other words, work for hire writ large.

The whole concept of "selling out" is sort of a pre-'60s throwback, when the holy pursuit of "art" was sacrosanct and ne'er should it be soiled by taint of cursed Mammon. Or something like that. It's the romantic notion that "artists" only truly create art when they're suffering miserably and ground underfoot by debt and poverty. Which strikes me as a notion only Calvinists could concoct. Underlying it, too, is the idea that the percipient (whether reader, viewer or listener) is a de facto after-the-fact collaborator in the creative process.

So there's often a feeling of betrayal when talent takes a character or concept in a direction members of its audience don't want it to go. Not that this is a particularly new phenomenon - Sherlock Holmes fans raised such an outcry when Arthur Conan Doyle offed the trademark character he by then felt so oppressed by that he was eventually pressured into resurrecting him - but it's a fundamental misunderstanding of the author-audience relationship, if you're approaching the work as creative output. The only real allegiance the author (and I use that term in the general sense, not specifically of writers) has is to the work, and the work is the only thing the author can betray, unless the author has made specific promises regarding the work. If an editor has been promised a work will be free of swear words and it comes in peppered with expletives, that's a betrayal and the editor has the right to feel betrayed. If Ed Brubaker puts in a CAPTAIN AMERICA letter page that Captain America will be back from the dead next issue, and readers rush out to buy the next issue only to discover that Cap's still dead, that's a betrayal. If something happens in a story that the reader didn't see coming, even if the reader doesn't like what happened, that isn't a betrayal. Because that's part of the deal coming in: somehow you are going to be deceived.

Because that's what we do. We deceive. A little misdirection here, a little sleight of eye there, a little remolding the universe in the image of our imaginations. Optimally, fiction (and art) is, as someone once said, a lie that tells the truth. It's part of the act, it's what you pay for, and, ideally, as with most tricks, you come away from it surprised or delighted, the mundane predictability of life for a moment obliterated. That's all you're really owed, and, as most readers know, most of the time you don't even get that payoff. But when you do, it's frequently worth it, if the author gets the set-up right and doesn't just pull a non sequitur rabbit out of a hat.

If, on the other hand, you look at creative works as just another kind of product, feelings of betrayal make sense, because it's like if you ordered a McDonald's hamburger and got a slab of boiled ham and sauerkraut on a bagel. The whole idea of McDonald's, or Wal-Mart, or Regal Cinemas, or any other commercial trademark, is that anywhere in the world you walk into one of their establishments you are going to get the exact same thing you get in any other one of their establishments, no questions asked. Barring cultural variations like mayonnaise topping instead of ketchup, a McDonald's hamburger is always going to be a McDonald's hamburger, a bottle of Tylenol bought in Glasgow's going to be essentially the exact same thing as one bought in Poughkeepsie.

Which is why creative works aren't really "products," because they are defined not by their similarities but by their differences. If you buy, say, a Garth Ennis comic, you don't want it to read the same as a Kurt Busiek comic, or John Cassaday to draw in the style of Ted McKeever, unless there's a very, very good contextual reason for it. Composers and film directors are supposed to have stylistic differences, and what's the point of a LeRoy Neiman painting that looks exactly like Roy Lichtenstein painted it? To the extent artifacts coalesce into products, "art" goes out the window.

But since comics are mostly marketed as products, especially on company-owned books where varying creative teams are supposed to achieve roughly the same result, and the con of encouraging readers to believe that creative teams are their friends and open to their various suggestions about the progress of characters and storylines (what con men look for in targets isn't stupidity but loneliness) some confusion, and subsequent resentment, is understandable. Marketing dangles out its own promises, and the purpose of marketing isn't to pay off on promises but to pay off just enough that the buyer will believe just one more dip in the pool will bring the full payoff, over and over, until that dip becomes habitual, and profitable for whoever's making the promises. (William Burroughs has a good essay on this in a book called THE JOB, if you can find it.)

But accusations of "selling out" also seem to extend to getting paid by Hollywood to "let them" turn good comics into crappy films. Apparently, it's supposed to be a "take the money and run deal" for comics creators.

Whoever believes that doesn't understand how either the creative process or Hollywood works.

"Selling out" is this: you create, say, a superhero who can leap tall buildings at a single bound, outrace a locomotive, and bounce bullets off his chest. You establish him as a tough guy who doesn't take any crap from anyone, who believes in justice, and who isn't about to let the twisted niceties of a manipulated legal system stop him from stopping oppressors crushing the innocent under their bootheels. He's more than happy to beat down crooked cops on pay from mobsters, more than happy to bounce bullets right off his chest and through the guts of the thugs who fired the shots, downright thrilled to be able to grab dictators by the collar and leap a few hundred feet into the air before dropping them to their well-deserved deaths. Before a year is out, the character gets popular enough to be widely noticed - and suddenly he's operating with an entirely different moral code that includes no killing under any circumstances, working entirely within the law to resolve differences, always supporting authority and preaching submission to authority for your own good. That's selling out. Selling out is creating a skinny, plain nebbish character who an entire generation seems to identify with because his superpowers don't change the fact that he's awash in home troubles, bullied at school and ineffectual with girls, and suddenly he's a swingin' handsome hunk with a cool motorcycle and supermodel girlfriends.

From a product standpoint, it's hard to say either of those choices were bad ones: certainly Superman and Spider-Man have proven to be among the most enduring franchises comics have produced. From a creative standpoint, yeah, they gutted their original premises in order to be more profitable.

Alan Moore and Eddie Campbell selling the film rights to FROM HELL isn't selling out, regardless of the eventual movie.

A couple reasons. I know a lot of people in Hollywood, and while certainly plenty of bad movies come out of Hollywood, very few people there set out to make bad movies or TV shows. The Hughes Brothers didn't set out to make FROM HELL into a so-so film, they just got overwhelmed by translating the material. Likewise, I'm sure Alan and Eddie didn't have any reason to expect whoever bought the option would turn it into a so-so film. Films go through a lot of processing in Hollywood, and, as in any other creative medium, a lot of decisions get made and a lot of them are wrong. But it's not that easy to tell until the output is finished what the wrong decisions were.

There's no denying that Hollywood likes what Hollywood likes. For Hollywood, there's such a thing as "too dark." (For most comics publishers, too.) FROM HELL, I think, turned out to be "too dark." But you can never tell how they'll decide to go; a lot of it has to do with the package that eventually gets put together, and who's got say on what. A highly praised actor or director who wants to "go dark" can convince an entire studio to release that sort of product.

That's the thing, too, about the process: the way films are put together, often you don't have any idea what studio your producer will end up working with, even if he has a first look deal with one. Packages are put together piece by piece, and it's usually only when a certain number of "elements" are attached that a producer starts shopping to studios. But every "element" is likely to bring their own take on the property to the table. There are all kinds of ways projects can get screwed up. Right now, Cormac McCarthy's excessively grim THE ROAD, easily the darkest thing I read last year, has been bought and is being developed by Hollywood. Will they have the guts to do a totally faithful adaptation? The odds are against it, but with John Hillcoat, who directed the hellish Aussie western THE PROPOSITION attached, favorable odds rise significantly. Will THE ROAD, if it ever really gets made, be any good? It's a crap shoot.

And, basically, that's all an option is. It's author and producer gambling on each other. The thing about creating comics in particular is that comics almost never generate for anyone enough income; more is always good. More money can accomplish a lot of things, like staving off eviction notices or replacing that 12 year old computer that's hanging on by a thread. It can give you the leeway to produce a creator-owned book that you really want to do instead of scrambling for that big chance to write a KA-ZAR mini-series for quick cash to make sure the electricity stays on. People also drastically overestimate option fees; they can be a nice income bump but nobody gets rich off them anymore. That comes later, if you're very, very lucky.

But it's when the talk turns to money that the notion of "selling out" is most likely to come up. What do people think we're in this for? We're all out there trying to earn livings from our labors. What do we have to sell, if not our work? That's what we do. We convince publishers to publish it, and they try to sell it to you. "Selling" isn't the same as "selling out."

Beyond that, there's a popular impression that authors cling, or should cling, to their works like a mother clings to her newborn babe. It doesn't work that way. I know very few comics writers who don't like their work, but, hell, once it's done that's the end of the creative process as far as we're concerned. That's when it does become product to us, artifact, something to be sold. Because we're already on to the next idea. We don't have time to coddle the stuff.

So it goes out there. Customers buy it. Producers notice it. They buy the film rights. Fine. To authors, ancillary rights, while worth consideration, are strictly marketing. If Mike Zeck and I sell the rights to DAMNED to Joel Silver (we haven't, it's just an example) it means our project has generated a little more capital for us to work with. It doesn't much matter how good or bad the film turns out to be. It's not something we can control, not without being invited to or demanding it, and, frankly, demanding it is just hubris.

Because - and if you walk away with just one core concept, this should be it - the movie is not the book.

The movie is not the book.

The movie is not the book.

Whatever happens with the movie, the book stands on its own, inviolable. It just as good or as bad as it always was, still the same reading experience. If Joel Silver said, okay, go back and redo the book so the story goes exactly the way it happens in the movie, and we did it, that would be selling out. But they don't ask that, and we wouldn't do it. Likewise, we can demand the movie be exactly like the comic - and I've done this with BADLANDS a couple of times, fully aware of the consequences - but that's usually the same as saying you don't ever want the deal to happen. Because, strangely enough, Hollywood doesn't like being dictated to anymore than anyone else does. Sure, it's always an option to walk away from a deal and the money involved before the contract is signed, but not walking away isn't the same thing as selling out. It's just selling.

And the promotional benefits of being connected to even a bad major motion picture can be enormous. Movies sell books, and these days most film critics are hip enough to comics that if the source was far better than the movie, as with Alan's LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN, and mention it frequently in reviews, it can drive up book sales even as the film flounders. At this point, there's rarely a downside to having even a bad film based on a project come out, regardless of quality, because it can mean increased sales of your existing work and increased opportunity to sell new projects. And it means money.

But wanting money isn't selling out. Being willing to do anything to get money is selling out. There's a huge difference. But creating comics or anything else isn't exactly the spiritual experience it's often cracked up to be. It's just work. Lots of fun, and sometimes even rewarding, but it's still just work.

Mostly this "selling out" notion is a fan thing, a callow dismissal of the realities of existence and a resentment that something is no longer strictly in their little playground anymore. But was anyone's enjoyment of Garth Ennis' version of THE PUNISHER really diminished by not liking the movie? Did Ennis fans even care about the movie?

Sure, the odds are pretty good that if Hollywood makes a movie it's going to be crappy. But Hollywood also makes good films. People win the lottery, too. Filmmaking is a gamble, but that's the thing about gambling: you can bet only on sure things if you want to, but where's the fun in that? Someone - it may have been me - once said that adaptation is the sincerest form of treachery. That someone wants to pay you to use your idea as the basis of a multi-million dollar project, that's a compliment. Nobody wants bad films generated out of their ideas, but almost no one would turn down a good film made from that idea. But you can't have one unless you're willing to risk the other.

In a similar vein, over at The Engine, someone asked whether a dedicated screenwriting program like Final Draft is needed for writing comics.

The short answer, for those of you thinking about diving in: no. Unless you're dying to spend a couple hundred some odd bucks unnecessarily, it's not even recommended.

Keep in mind we're talking comics, not movies. If you're trying to write movies, by all means, get Final Draft. Hollywood has turned the screenplay format into something very rigid and immutable, at least until you've reached Elysian heights where the director and producer are working with you hand in hand and you're not trying to convince the studio of anything. Even under those circumstances, most in the film business prefer to stick with the tried and true, unless they're determined to prove how avant-garde they are. (It does happen, but mostly they're out to prove they can get another film made.)

In that milieu, basic formatting errors in a screenplay are enough to get a reader - the generally lowly-paid person a producer/studio exec makes read a screenplay to determine whether it's worth his time or not - to chuck it into the reject pile, on the premise that anyone incompetent at the basic mechanical aspects of screenwriting is likely incompetent creatively as well. A reader's job isn't really to find that hot new property the producer can get rich from, it's to weed out as much as possible. So they're always looking for a reason. If a couple hundred bucks can help you navigate that briar patch - and Final Draft can - it's money well spent. There are other screenwriting programs, even some free and shareware, but for better or worse Final Draft has become the Hollywood standard and you never know when you're going to run into a producer who figures that if you're not working with the program he's got - which is likely Final Draft - you're just an obstacle. If you're out to sell a screenplay, obstacle probably isn't the description you're hoping for.

Comics, however, have no set format. I think it was Mark Evanier who once said that whatever you, your artist and your editor agree on is the right format. There are a handful of standards - plot format, which is basically a story outline with smatterings of dialog; full script, where the story is completely written out to include all dialog and descriptions of the desired action for every panel; screenplay format, which also includes all the visual descriptions and dialogue but doesn't break everything down so rigidly - but there are virtually infinite variations (when I was writing X-MAN with Warren Ellis, for instance, Warren provided plots broken down into page blocks, occasionally interrupted by bursts of dialog delineating exactly what he intended the ideas and characterizations to be, and while it shared aspects of both plot and screenplay formats, it wasn't either of them) and it doesn't pay to get too attached with any one of them. In some ways, creating comics even more immediately collaborative than even film, on a more intimate level. Film generally begins with someone's focused vision, and then collaborators, dozens of them, are brought in at one stage or another to fulfill some aspect of that vision. More often than not, things go askew along the way, but the process still starts very narrow and generates outward.

And comics do work like that. But things are much less rigid in comics, and when artists come to you and say, "Hey, we should do something together," it's likely not the best time to start dictating what the material's going to be. Odds are pretty good the artist is starting with some notion of what they want to draw, and you probably have some notion of the artist's strengths, weaknesses, desires and hatreds, and as the idea forms and develops, the artist is also likely going to have a pretty good idea of how they want to work. Different artists like to work from different source material, and the story you provide is that source material. Some want complete full scripts, some want only the vaguest plots and want to chat out the development as they go along. I know one artist who prefers stories in short story format that he can "adapt" to comics. Even writer-artists I know often talk of how the artist in them clashes the writer in them, and writer-artists who write their stories out completely in full script before they start drawing. Throw editors into the mix and they have their own idea of what format they want to work with. Every so often a company will insist on a house format, usually with the misguided notion that uniformity will mean quicker production.

Rigidity of format goes a long way in movies and TV. Flexibility goes a long way in comics.

The fact is that the only program you need for writing comics is a low-level text editor that has tab and wrap functions. Basically, any program that can fully mimic a typewriter. Your only other consideration is communication: what are the people you're going to be working with - artist, editor, publisher, printer, etc. - going to be using for a word processor, and will they be able to open the files you send them? This sole factor puts the nearly ubiquitous Microsoft Word in the forefront, much as many people hate Microsoft, and being a decent, very flexible word processor (once you tap into features like macros, autocorrect, clipboard, etc.) doesn't hurt. Like it or not, it's the modern standard, though programs like OpenOffice Writer in the freeware OpenOffice Suite has similar functionality and can be coaxed to produce Word-readable files.

But a dedicated word processor like Final Draft? It's not necessarily the wrong tool for the job. Writing comics just isn't the job it was designed for. If you're a screenwriter and you've already got it and a copy of the comics writing template someone wrote for it, knock yourself out, as long as you're aware it might leave you less adaptable than you may need to be. If you're not writing screenplays, save your money, or spend it on something you'll enjoy more, like comics.

Every so often, I go through periods where I can't stand what I normally love, when it comes to the arts. Back when I was still living in Madison and reviewing six to ten mostly bad films per week for almost a year, I hit the point where when I quit that job I didn't watch another film for six months. Then I went to Brian dePalma's BLOW OUT, and subsequently couldn't bring myself to see a movie for another year. Every so often, music of any kind sounds like nothing but fingernails on the blackboard of my mind, and this will go on anywhere from a couple of days to a few weeks.

Now and then I just can't read comics anymore, unless I force myself to.

No idea why. Nothing seems to trigger it. Doesn't happen more than once a decade or so. But toward the end of last November, something snapped, and for close to six months, though I read a handful here and there, the thought of reading comics filled me with great dread.

So I haven't been doing a lot of reviews.

But I'm over it now.

From Del Rey Manga:

BASILISK Vol 5 by Futaro Yamada & Masaki Segawa ($13.95)

Wrapping up the story of Shogun-era warring ninja clans. Decently done, with a couple surprising moves, but anyone who didn't see the climax coming four volumes ago hasn't had enough practice. It was okay.

PASTEL Vol 5 by Toshihiko Kobayashi ($10.95)

This "boy lives with girl he loves but can't tell her for fear of driving her away" romance has improved significantly since they dropped most of the sextease horseplay and focused on the personalities. Lightweight but entertaining.

THE WALLFLOWER Vol 10 & 11 by Tomoko Hayakawa ($10.95@)

Another girl lives with boy story, this one involving a reclusive goth girl left in the care of four sexy bishonen boys. The core joke wore out long ago, but fortunately the author has dropped most of the heavyhanded drama and repetition and transformed it into basically a slapstick semi-romantic comedy. Not one of my favorite series, but it's always more amusing coming out of it that it seems like it'll be going into it.

ES ETERNAL SABBATH Vol 4 by Fuyumi Soryo ($10.95)

A science fiction inflected romance about two sort of dueling test tube baby supermen exploring the ethical conundrums of modern civilization. While many of the moves are familiar manga bits, like that "to save the world mankind must be scoured from it" bit that passes way too often for manga/anime motivation, by this volume Soryo seems to be veering his story down an unexpected path. Worth a look; after a period of seemingly treading water, it's getting interesting.

GURU GURU PON-CHAN Vol 8 by Satomi Ikezawa ($10.95)

Is this still going on? The "young girl dog has magic bone that turns her into a teenage girl with the moral sense of a dog" premise is supposed to be cute but is just creepy. From the looks of things, it's only got a volume left, but I've thought that before. The sooner it's done the better.

KITCHEN PRINCESS Vol 2 by Miyuki Kobayushi & Natsumi Ando ($10.95)

Very good, good humored manga about a young provincial girl with knockout cooking chops learning to survive in a snobby cooking academy. Good characters, a touch of romance, and it cleverly deals with issues without beating them to death. Plus make-them-yourself recipes. One of Del Rey's best so far.

PICHI PICHI PITCH Vol 5 by Michiko Yokote & Pink Hanamori ($10.95)

Sugary, empty undersea Sailor Moon knockoff, bordering on incomprehensible. I especially love the fight scenes. Every time a villain shows up, says "You will surrender to me," the heroines say, "No, we won't!" And that's it! Pass.

FREE COLLARS KINGDOM Vol 2 by Takuya Fujima ($10.95)

Of course, empty and sugary beats repellent. This series depends on how cute you think it is to imagine cats (and birds and rats, etc.) look in reality more like small people that travel in street gangs when they're not pets, and we only see them as cats. Or something like that. It's all innocuous enough until they trot out the sex stuff and homophobia. A complete waste of time.

SHUGO CHARA! Vol 1 by Peach-Pit ($10.95)

A surprisingly entertaining fantasy about an apparently confident young girl who inside is a bundle of insecurities, who has unexpected potential for change. It's cast in a fairly familiar Sailor Moonish mold by way of Card Captor Sakura - definitely intended for young girls - but interesting art and some unusual peeks into ethical questions puts it a cut above. Very good.

AIRGEAR Vol 3 & 4 by Oh!great ($10.95)

A pretty standard fight manga: big battles, cheesy nudity and mild smut, wild characters doing stupid things and patting themselves on the back for the dedication to the cause. It has its moments but doesn't pick up until the end of Vol 4 when a couple new characters are introduced, including a schizoid kid whose alter ego is a homicidal maniac. Too bad the series wasn't about him, but it's okay.

GACHA GACHA THE NEXT REVOLUTION Vol 2 by Hiroyuki Tamakoshi ($12.95)

Damn, I'm tired of these inept sex comedies. A glitch in a computer game turns a teenage guy into a cute little blonde teenage girl when he sneezes, descending into quasi-lesbian borderline sex scenes when his sexpot alter ego becomes the bosom buddy of the cute girl he's in love with. Complications ensue. Yawns too. Pass.

NODAME CANTABILE Vol 9 by Tomoko Ninomiya ($10.95)

Still about college music students trying to figure out themselves and their world as they develop their talents and relationships, and the bland description doesn't mitigate how good the series is. This volume, which jacks up both the fate of the orchestra the students have put together and the connection between hero Shinuchi and heroine Nodame, changes that not at all. Still excellent. Check it out.

PRINCESS RESURRECTION Vol 1 by Yasunori Mitsunaga ($10.95)

A young boy gets killed by a car, then resurrected by the blood of a Princess of Monsters to become her immortal servant. Very nicely drawn and written, it's like this strange blur, spiritually at least, between XXXPHILE and FULL METAL ALCHEMIST as the princess and her growing collection of allies get involved in a war of succession to the Monster throne. It's brisk, funny and charming. I liked it a lot.

PARASYTE Vol 1 by Hitoshi Iwaaki ($12.95)

Another very good series. Something unleashes a plague on humanity to cut down our numbers by 90% in order to save the planet, but one parasite goes wrong and forms an alliance with the boy he's supposed to supplant. As horror comics go it's more creepy (in a desirable way) than horrific, but fascinating, though it waffles into fight manga territory as well. Worth checking out.

Running out of time now so more next week. A lot more. And no manga, but once I started I felt I had to finish them out. Of all of them, I'd say read PRINCESS RESURRECTION and KITCHEN PRINCESS first. Can't vouch for other princesses, though.

Notes from under the floorboards:

Saw PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN 3 early Sunday morning, and liked it just fine. I've read lots of complaints about the story being impossible to follow but I didn't have the slightest problem with it, and was pleased to see that virtually all of the complex set-ups since the first film got decent payoffs. The monstrous battle scenes are terrific. I've probably had all the pirates I need for awhile, though. Meanwhile, saw a few things on video. Saw the Pierce Brosnan-Liam Neeson western SERAPHIM FALLS: don't. Saw the Cuba Gooding Jr. hitman "thriller" SHADOWBOXER, and was so bored ten minutes in that I discovered a whole new way to watch movies on DVD: watch twenty seconds of a chapter, then jump to the next chapter and repeat until finished. I could keep perfect track of the story and saved myself about 90 minutes, but I suspect that only works with really crappy films. Finally, Joseph Gordon-Levitt in BRICK. He's really good and deserves a lot more work than he's getting, and the conceit of Orange County high school students (shot on location in San Clemente, and the town never looked seedier) spitting out lines like they're in a '40s film noir (with Gordon-Levitt as a bitter loner investigating his ex-girlfriend's murder as he's drawn into a web of treacherous drug dealers) wears a little thin by halfway but the story picks up enough in the second half to compensate. Interesting, at least.

Seems Ed Brubaker called me out in CRIMINAL #6, out from Marvel last week. Watch what you wish for, Ed; blood's going to flow now, and you started it. (Watch CRIMINAL for future developments in this feud, and if you want to read a real crime comic, don't forget that Boom! Studios is in the midst of publishing my shocking mini-series 2 GUNS.)

By the way, my old pal Heidi Macdonald asked me to do a piece for her Publisher's Weekly comics newsletter PW Comics Week, so if you want to read what I wrote, click on the name and pop on over there.

To all those who figured out last week's Comics Cover Challenge theme was "helmets," congratulations, and congratulations especially to Darryl Johnson, who got it first, and who'd like you to bop on over to Truthout for always up to date investigative political reporting and commentary. Good thing he brought it up because I don't have time to write any political commentary this week but Truthout covers it all anyway...

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. Not this week, though, because this is the easiest Comics Cover Challenge ever, just for those of you who can never figure it out. If it's not a trick, anyway...

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?

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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