After the dramatic failure over the last couple years of various companies to turn the Internet into just another marketing tool, it's easy to forget the Internet was originally created just so people (military and academic, anyway) could share information. When the smoke finally clears, this may be the ultimate destiny of the Internet. Certainly as an advertising venue it has its limitations (and recent Congressional proposals for dealing with spam could cripple that aspect further), and while expanded bandwidth as a reasonable option for a large audience could finally transform the web into an entertainment medium, indications are stronger that the entertainment most people want to see on the web is what they put up themselves. (Certainly the predominance of self-generated comics material on the web would seem to bear that out for our market.)
A lot of people write me to find out how to do this or that in comics. While I've been in the business for two decades, I'm hardly an expert at everything. So when writer-artist Howard (BAREFOOTZ; STUCK RUBBER BABY) Cruse recently notified me of his excellent online guide How I Color My Comics Using Adobe Photoshop, it occurred to me that the web may be full of information on all the aspects of producing comics, from conception through distribution. (Thanks, Howard.)
There are a few books out there on various aspects of creating comics. For a good overview of the modern comics medium and market, there's Warren Ellis' COME IN ALONE collection. (You can also read the pieces online here but the book collection is easier and more personable.) For a grasp of general aesthetics and storytelling it's hard to beat Will Eisner's COMICS AND SEQUENTIAL ART and GRAPHIC STORYTELLING though some may prefer Scott McCloud's UNDERSTANDING COMICS and REINVENTING COMICS. There are others. The problem is that most of these are general aesthetic discussions and not hands-on nitty-gritty how-tos. The few how-tos that exist, such as HOW TO DRAW COMICS THE MARVEL WAY or THE DC COMICS GUIDE TO WRITING COMICS is that their outlook tends to be parochial and their focus is on the glamour jobs: writing, even more glamorous, penciling. Furthermore, most are technologically not up to date, especially in the face of rumors that Marvel's debating shifting the whole process to computer to cut costs and time.
If Marvel does it – at this point it's hardly an untested concept, since many comics people have already done it – and does it successfully, every company in the business will fall in behind them. Which will change not everything, but a lot.
Chuck Dixon writes BIRDS OF PREY and NIGHTWING and is about to make his home at Cross/Gen, and his site DIXONVERSE is chock full of information on writing, storytelling and surviving the comics business. (Plus Chuck agrees with me that the 50s western HIGH NOON is an unmitigated pile of steaming overrated monkey crap, so how off could his perspective be?)
Milestone's Dwayne McDuffie's site features scripts and treatments for examination.
2KComics is a quasi-collective of Devin Grayson, Brian Vaughan and Jay Faerber, with a collection of resources including lectures and query letters.
Other perspectives on writing comics can be found here.
Steve Lieber (now drawing DETECTIVE COMICS and soon to work on the historical drama MORNING DRAGONS) has written a number of essays on comics. He recommends the essay "On Style."
Jessica (ARTBABE) Abel's site includes considerable practical information on the art and craft of drawing comics.
THE LOOMIS PROJECT is an attempt to bring classicist illustrator Andrew Loomis's teachings to a wider audience. It covers every aspect of figure drawing, with philosophical musings. If you want a solid grounding in figure art, you can't do much better than Loomis.
Artist Scott (NIGHTWING) McDaniel has written a number of useful tutorials on the art and craft of storytelling and drawing comics.
In PDF form at the bottom of the page: A Comic Artist's Guide To Reproduction.
As a complement to Howard Cruse's site, check out D'Israeli's Guide To Computer Coloring.
The Creating Comics Mailing List Resource Page.And that's the round-up so far. Thanks to Nate Southard, Megan Bradner, Jack Fear, Amie Brockway-Metcalf, Hirudo1, Steve Lieber, Dave Garcia, Loren Gillespie, M.A. Fahmy, James Reddington and Marc Bryant for their input. But I know there are other sites out there. If you know of any – not just casual chit-chat about comics but down and dirty practical advice on the various disciplines necessary to create and publish a comic book – e-mail me with them, and get your own name mentioned here.
GHOST WORLD finally showed up here in Las Vegas last week. Everything comes through here eventually but sometimes you have to wait for it. And once in awhile the wait's worth it. GHOST WORLD, directed by Terry Zwigoff and co-written by creator Dan Clowes, is simply the best adaptation of a comic book to film ever. I can't say it's for everyone, though. The humor is dry to the verge of panic, laughter a nervous release. It can be read as the story of a teenage girl refusing to grow up or as the crusade of that girl to stave off her absorption into a soulless culture that exists to, as T-Bone Burnett once put it, praise the bad and destroy all the good. Either way, it's the ultimate anti-teen film, and it's a small miracle it came out of anything even remotely resembling Hollywood produced it. The ending's a bit shaky – does it represent escape or suicide? – but next to MEMENTO it's easily the best film (and, I suspect, a lot more connected to the life of many teens than teen fodder tripe like SHE'S ALL THAT) I've seen this year.
There was a time when TV sitcoms dealt with something besides smut, right? Not that you can't get bored to tears with "classic television" on Nick At Night and TV Land (or any number of cable channels dredging up what shows are left over; anyone remember when new programming was the supposed promise of all that bandwidth? Whatever happened with that?) but isn't anyone capable of writing or performing anything but sexual innuendo anymore? People bitch about porn but at least porn's open about what it is. Showtime's smutty but at least there's an occasional payoff if that's what you're looking for. Not so network TV. They hint, flirt, and tease, and I wish either kick out the jams or find some other subject matter because they're taking sex and vulgarity way beyond boring to just irritating. (THAT 70S SHOW, for instance, demonstrated its continued unwatchability with a joke about the letters FU they beat to death for what seemed like an eternity.) The operative theory, born in the 80s, was if sex wasn't involved no one would watch, but continuing failure of cookie cutter shows – JESSE, THE STEVEN WEBER SHOW, etc - berthed between the fabulously successful FRIENDS at 8PM Thursdays on NBC and the formerly indomitable 9PM slot that night (now held by the collapsing WILL AND GRACE, itself a victim of the vulgarity/smut syndrome)indicates smut ain't selling much these days neither.
Witness INSIDE SCHWARTZ, the newest FRIENDS follow-up. Star Brecken Meyer's been a favorite of mine for a couple years now, usually playing a decent, befuddled salt-of-the-earth type in films like DANCER TEXAS POP 81, TAIL LIGHTS FADE and last year's sleeper ROAD TRIP. In other words, one of the few new character actors. A shame INSIDE SCHWARTZ is so stiff, predictable and hopelessly middle-class. In the opener, Schwartz pines after his longtime squeeze dumps him, then hustles girl after girl to find a date that will show up the ex at a dinner party. Schwartz's dad (THREE'S COMPANY Richard Kline returning from beyond the grave) introduces him to a woman who turns out to be... well, you can guess. Trust me: you can guess. Anyone who's seen a sitcom in the last ten years can guess. The big gimmick here is that sportscasters break into the action to treat Schwartz's every sexual maneuver like the climactic play of the Superbowl. It's just sad.
I mean, is it so hard to come up with good shows for good actors like Meyer? Vincent D'Onofrio has shown his manic chops in dozens of movies, while Kathryn Erbe was always creepily psychosexual as death row Shirley Bellinger on OZ, but their detective roles on LAW AND ORDER: CRIMINAL INTENT could just as easily be played by manikins. I used to watch LAW AND ORDER when it had actual characters, but in recent years producer Dick Wolf has dumped the concept of character altogether for almost entirely plot driven stories, in which the characters just trundle through their trademark shtick: the apotheosis of the MATLOCK formula. The pseudo-spinoff L&O:SCU continued this trend (as did Wolf's thankfully failed DEADLINE, another case of a good actor – Oliver Platt – adrift in crap) and CRIMINAL INTENT is nothing more than an SCU clone. The first ep's "clever police work" pivots on a penny-pinching forger breaking character and leaving his most valued piece of equipment behind when he moves, and a second criminal being stupid enough to take a cop's word for something she could easily disprove in three seconds. D'Onofrio and Erbe deserve better than this, and so do we.
In this week's mail: SUPEROSITY and BLACK PLAGUE AND JIMMY THE LEPER from Keenspot Entertainment (Box 1525, Temple City CA 91780; $2.95@). Though not badly drawn, BLACK PLAGUE... is unfortunately yet another fairly humorless superhero parody comic, complete with swastika touting Nazi supervillains. (Plus a very flat joke about Jewish starfish.) C'mon, guys, superheroes clichés are just too easy a target, and it's like trying to market-protect yourself with the very thing you're mocking. Everyone call a moratorium on them, okay? (But I did like the black tar heroin joke, so it wasn't a total waste.) SUPEROSITY, compiled from comic strips already published online could also be confused with a superhero parody, given that the main character wears a cape and big letters on his shirt (not that you'd know it without the cover) but it's got more in common with strips like CATHY and DILBERT in that it deals with various social phenomena. Not quite up to the general level of either of those, though, but not bad either. Creator Chris Crosby shows talent and might have a future doing this, but both his linework and his wit need some discipline first. Not sure why he felt compelled to annotate the strips: Chris, next time let the work speak for itself.
On the political front, over attorney general Ashcroft's admonitions both the Senate and the House are trying to come up with more tempered anti-terrorism bills, but what I've seen of them haven't been much better than the original. But adding more insult to last month's injury is the flurry of cheesy war profiteering. I keep getting e-mail from places like The Patriot Outlet telling me to show my patriotism and my support for America by buying t-shirts and baseball caps from them, picturing the flag and the Statue Of Liberty. "United We Stand Apparel" it's called. Everywhere you look companies are selling flag this and America that and dedicating whatever to "the victims" however disconnected and inappropriate the product, and what's it really showing support for, besides their bank accounts? If they really give a rat's ass about what happens to America instead of just banking on your kneejerk jingoism, I've yet to see any evidence of it.
Even worse is the corporate rush to profiteering: using the "war on terrorism" as a spurious rationale for fast tracking free trade, opening the Alaskan oil fields despite the environmental impact, and cutting corporate taxes. Russell Mokhiber and Robert Weissman wrote a good article on the subject; unfortunately I don't have a link (if anyone can provide one, please do). And SDI (aka Star Wars) advocates are pushing hard for their agenda, as if Bin Laden's going to throw an intercontinental ballistic missile at us, despite continuing studies indicating such a thing will be cripplingly expensive and won't work. But this is the American way, after all: when in doubt, throw more money at people who already have it. That's the main difference between Democrats and Republicans, after all. For all the years of Republican bitching about how Democrats try to solve every problem by throwing money at it, the only thing that truly separates them is who they want to throw money at.
It's all war profiteering, plain and simple. And it's disgusting.
Those wishing to comment should leave messages on the Permanent Damage Message Board. You can also e-mail but the chances of a reply are next to nil these days, given my workload, though I do read all my e-mail as long as it's not trying to sell me something. You can also leave messages for me and have discussions on other topics at my Delphi forum, GRAPHIC VIOLENCE. Please don't ask me how to break into the business, or who to submit work to. The answers to those questions are too mercurial for even me to keep up with.
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I'm reviewing comics sent to me – I may not like them but certainly I'll mention them – at Steven Grant c/o Permanent Damage, 2657 Windmill Pkwy #194, Henderson NV 89074, so send 'em if you want 'em mentioned, since I can't review them unless I see them. Some people have been sending press releases and cover proofs and things like that, which I enjoy getting, but I really can't do anything with them, sorry. Full comics only, though they can be photocopies rather than the published version. Make sure you include contact information for readers who want to order your book.
If you enjoy PERMANENT DAMAGE, check out our brother column, Larry Young's LOOSE CANNON.
If you want to know something about me, you can probably find the answer at Steven Grant's Alleged Fictions.