Issue #305

It seems I have a signing schedule at the fabulous Boom! Studios booth at San Diego now:

Thursday, July 26: 3-4 PM

Friday, July 27: 1-2 PM

Saturday, July 28: 5-6 PM

Sunday, July 29:

We're pushing my current crime comic, TWO GUNS. While I'm more than happy to sign anything, if you haven't yet seen the glorious thrillride that is TWO GUNS, I'm told they'll have plenty of copies available at the booth.

The Boom! Studios booth is at location 2543, right across the aisle from Marvel. I'll see you there!

Better late than never, small press/minicomics reviews:


Two interesting mini-comics. Davis' writing tends toward the straightforward and muscular, and his stories veer in unexpected directions, with a basically dark but non-trendy viewpoint. SNOWMAN, the more recent and a quirky little meditation on the delusions and trapdoors of the modern workaday life, is a significant leap in confidence and stylistic integrity over the art in WIFE, but WIFE, contrasting mundane behavior with apocalyptic imagination, is the more haunting story, and the art's not bad there either. Very good.

BANANAMAN #7 by Jim Cracchiolo & Chris Caldwell (50¢):

Mildly amusing bit of fluff involving dueling high school teachers in superhero costumes. The writing's passable and inoffensive (unless bad puns get your goat) but the Joe Staton-inflected art is clean and pretty nice. Not bad.

PROXIMITY 2006 by Larseny:

"Three short comics by funky fresh Eric Brown." Which pretty much sums it up. The first, about a man working his way through a maze of bureaucracy for permission to escape the "perfect" society, is pretty good; I could see this very short story being the basis for an entertaining movie. The second is the sort of cliché battle I'd expect from someone trying to stake their indie cred while feeding their fanboy obsessions, but it's hilariously redeemed by the final couple panels. The third is a fairly nondescript werewolf vignette. So it runs the gamut, but shows considerable potential.

NIXON COMICS: THE G-MAN by Alarming Press:

A two-page flyer outlining G. Gordon Liddy's Stalinist ODESSA operation on Nixon's behalf, and mocking Nixon's friendship with the notorious Bebe Rebozo. It's like reading underground comix again. Enjoyed the writing, the art left me a bit cold.

THE NOMAD CHURCH #3 by Daniel Merlin Goodbrey:

I've mentioned Goodbrey before (and will again before column's end) and he's one of the rare original talents in comics. His latest opus, though, has been a bit, um, normal for my tastes - he seemed to have toned down his surrealistic fantasies in a bid for wider appreciation - but this third chapter picks up the pace nicely. Good. Check it out. (Too bad about Curtis the semi-talking doubleheaded frog, though.)

NUMB by Joshua Kemble:

A curious meditation on the nature of inspiration, as a writer whose lover has left him tries to figure out a reason to continue writing. (Strictly speaking, waiting for inspiration is the mark of an amateur, but that's neither here nor there.) And then it turns into an object lesson about self-absorption, with a clever twist. Weaknesses in the art are covered well by substantial blackspotting and three color printing, but Kemble still needs to work on his art some. Good.

PURSUIT by Corey Bechelli:

A string of what seem to be photos photoshopped into line art. The technique is interesting, but what passes for the story is more or a Rorschach test; you get to make your own, with the title giving you a nudge in what I assume is the author's intent. As story, it's a bit weak, but as experiment it's interesting.

MINI RING KING and LEFTOVERS by Jury Rigged Comics ($2@):

Um... the term is actually jerry-rigged, but... MINI RING KING is little paean to boxing and pro wrestling, featuring three murky vignettes (one posing the fight between humanity and Lovecraft's Great Old Ones as a wrestling match) and some portraits of famous wrestlers. The main point of interest is artist Steve Black's work; a little more work on his anatomy and a little better blackspotting, and he'll be ready for prime time. Writer Sean McGurr plays to better effect in LEFTOVERS with a fantasy piece that would have been right at home in a '70s DC mystery book, and a decent piece on a little known bit of Cleveland history that would have been right at home in AMERICAN SPLENDOR. The art's reasonably good too.

And a couple graphic novels and collections:

From Fantagraphics Books:

CHANCE IN HELL by Gilbert Hernandez ($16.95)

An attractive hardcover, CHANCE IN HELL plays like a low budget, superheated '50s thriller film, the kind in grainy black and white that threw you into the action with little warning and rockets along without pause. Hernandez's heroine Empress starts as an orphan in a seeming post-holocaust nightmare, begging, sifting scraps to eat from demolished rubble, being casually raped by passersby and eliciting protective instincts from various juvenile delinquents. Violence surrounds her, even when she's transferred to a functioning city, where growing up just surrounds her with more hypocrisies. It's an intended study of a traumatized soul - the trauma occasionally explodes into violence as well - and it almost succeeds. The problem is it doesn't have an ending, it just stops, and the final page, after a run of sheer paranoia, is just mystifying. But up until then, it's pretty entertaining.

From First Second:

LAIKA by Nick Abadzis ($17.95)

The best graphic novel I've read in awhile. Abadzis follows the early development of the Russian space program - the one that sent America into such a moon-bound tizzy in the mid-/50s - via the intertwining stories of its architect, a former Gulag prisoner, and the small dog that becomes the world's first space traveler, on a ride they know she can't come back from. How much is fact I couldn't say, but without any histrionics, it's one of the most genuinely emotional stories in comics form today, a real tearjerker, and Abadzis' cartooning is deceptively simple; he manages to capture tiny little expressions and gestures that give both his people and animals tremendous personality, and his writing does a great job of capturing the spirit and culture of the time. For a story in which nothing much really happens, it's quite gripping, a real achievement. Highly recommended.

From AiT/PlanetLar Books:

THE LAST SANE COWBOY AND OTHER STORIES by Daniel Merlin Goodbrey ($12.95)

As mentioned above. Goodbrey does the same sort of surrealist adventurism Grant Morrison played with in DOOM PATROL, only Goodbrey's version is stripped of outside demands and operating by its own strange rule. This is a great collection of his best mini-comics, filled with true wit and strangeness. Get it.

From CMX Manga:

OYAYUBIHIME INFINITY Vol 1-4 by Toru Fujieda ($9.99@)

I know manga fans had a tiff with CMX when the company started, but if they haven't forgiven them yet, now's the time; this is one of the best manga series currently running. More a coming-of-age story than a romance, it features a number of Japanese high school students who come to realize they're reincarnations of famous romantic figures from Japan's medieval past, with some trying to fulfill vows of love and reunion from past lives and others who desire to leave behind a past that no longer has anything to do with them and live in the moment. It's fairly funny, with misunderstandings galore, but it does a nice job of generating character growth and making the situation and inherent mysteries credible. Fujieda's got an appealing art style too. It's one of those storylines that makes you doubt it can be maintained for long, but so far so good. Check it out.

So much for dedication to American-style democracy.

When the Ghost insists on sticking with Iraq (despite that country's president saying America's free to leave whenever it wants, though that may be just for consumption by Iraqi constituents, but if it is it's basically putting an official stamp on the widespread perception of the American army as an occupation force) until it has fully achieved "American-style democracy," it's difficult to know for sure what he means. Since his grandfather Prescott was involved in the '30s in a planned coup to replace Roosevelt with a military dictator ala Mussolini (BBC radio has just done a documentary on it, so you don't have to take my word for it) and was a major financier of smear campaigns against Democratic Congressional candidates in the post-war '40s, and the Ghost himself has railed against the Constitution as "a goddamned piece of paper" and praised the value of a dictator as long as that dictator was him, it's kind of open to interpretation. Certainly his behavior in the White House indicates he doesn't seem to believe it has anything to do with the rule of law or a system of checks and balances. And in the last week or so he has been on a real tear of trying to rule by fiat rather than process.

First it was the White House staff summoned by Congress to testify about possible White House involvement in the Justice Dept.'s replacement of a number of U.S. attorneys on apparently purely political grounds (one replacement shut down an Enron-level financial fraud case for no apparent reason, it was recently revealed); the Ghost ordered those subpoenaed to refuse to testify. Because he truly believes Congress has no right of oversight on any White House action, or to cover up the interference that Congress suspects? It's looking a lot like both. New information shows the Ghost's svengali Karl Rove sticking his nose into attorney appointments as far back as 2002, though the result didn't do much for the Republican cause (the attorney ended up prosecuting Republicans who backed his appointment), and supposedly no-longer-existing e-mails sent between the White House and the DoJ on a backchannel computer network provided by the Republican Party to transfer documents and information they didn't want on the public records keep cropping up. Undoubtedly Congress will now go to court to enforce the subpoenas - those summoned are already threatened with contempt of Congress charges - and this could turn into a major Constitutional brouhaha just in time for next year's elections.

Then Rep. Peter DeFazio, a member of the House Homeland Security Committee with full security clearance, asked for a look at the plans the White House drew up to maintain "continuity of government" in the event of a major crisis, the White House, after initially agreeing, simply told him no. No explanation. Ironically, his main objective in reviewing the plan, details of which are known to no one outside a tiny White House clique but which have been effectively given the force of law via the Ghost's signature, was to be able to soothe the growing number of Americans who see in the secret plan a conspiracy by a tiny clique to seize power, using a national emergency as an excuse. This "conspiracy theory" crops up periodically, but the White House sure hasn't been doing much lately to deny it credibility, especially as reports continue to suggest that Dick Cheney, who has consistently shrouded all his movements and records in as much secrecy as he can muster, is the one who really makes the decisions in the administration, even when counter-arguments come from other advisors en masse, as when he was recently pushing very hard (and presumably still is) for military action against Iran. If you're of a paranoid bent, you can easily see the Ghost's recent policy signings as setting up a row of dominoes waiting to be knocked over: our most aged battleship, the Enterprise, has been sent into the Persian Gulf to replace more modern craft there; any sort of Iranian incursion on the Enterprise provides an excuse to attack Iran; our invasion of Iran prompts another terrorist attack on American soil; a state of emergency is declared; the "continuity of government" contingencies that no one, not even those allowed to know, are allowed to know about. And Prescott Bush's '30s dream is suddenly our reality.

That chain isn't original with me, by the way. It's now a meme, spreading across the country. Not helping matters is the Ghost's latest policy signing, authorizing asset seizures of anyone caught aiding the "Iraqi insurgency." Asset seizures, which generally come well before any trials of the accused, are nothing new, and neither is their potential for abuse, but the White House said the main targets were those smuggling men or weapons over Iraqi borders. But how many of them live in any jurisdiction where the USA holds sway, let alone the USA itself? The rationale for the executive order is interesting: did you know we're in a state of national emergency? Why? Because we're not doing well in Iraq. He doesn't bother to explain how that constitutes a state of domestic emergency, but he knows one exists - because he signed it into existence with an executive order in 2003. And it's on the basis of his own executive order that this follow-up has cropped up.

It hasn't escaped the notice of most who've read the order that the language is vague enough that it could easily be turned to target many Americans: those - the 60% and growing - who now oppose our military entanglement in Iraq and the Middle East. Or Congressmen who threaten to do anything to stop the war, or challenge the Administration. Or writers who document Administration abuses, and especially anyone who might take to the streets to formally protest Iraq policy. All government agencies are now "directed to take all appropriate measures within their authority to carry out the provisions of this order." Given the frequently-repeated White House canard that criticism of administration policy is in effect giving aid and comfort to the enemy by encouraging them, we could be facing a period in our history even longer and darker than the past seven years. This has been the era of executive orders and signing statements - once practices very limited in scope and application - being treated with the force of law when American law, at a federal level, is only supposed to come from Congress. But now the Ghost views his office as having the force of law - the only force of law, given how many times he has ordered government agencies to ignore laws passed by Congress - and has set up a system of "laws" built one on top of another that are used to rationalize each other. The big question now is whether this is the form of government we'll be living under from here on in, or whether Congress and the Courts will do anything to return things to how that "goddamn piece of paper" says they're supposed to be.

Notes from under the floorboards:

I'm off to San Diego as you read this, so don't be surprised if you get no response to emails. Since my laptop collapsed, my portable e-communication choices are obliterated, so everything will just have to back up in my mailboxes for a week. (Unless, of course, Gateway or some other laptop manufacturer wants to donate one to the cause for review here, so if you're up for that e-mail me before 9A (Pacific) Wednesday morning and I'll tell you what hotel to overnight it to. Thanks!) (And to think there are people out there who can't imagine that I'm really a crazed optimist at heart...)

By the way, those wanting deep background on the origins of the San Diego Comic-Con can find it here, courtesy of Scott Shaw! Thanks, Scott.

If you're not going to Comic-Con International this week, but you have a computer and DivX Player installed, the DivX site is running regular multimedia report from the convention floor. If you've got the right cable company, G4TV will be running Comic-Con shows as well, and likely on their website too. Sure, it's all just vicarious pleasure, but even vicarious pleasure is better than no pleasure at all.

On a sadder note - ironic on the eve of the greatest pop culture vomitorium of them all - the world's greatest pure fiction newspaper, THE WEEKLY WORLD NEWS, is packing it in. No more Bat Boy, no more aliens sleeping in the Lincoln Bedroom, no more 1200 lb man taking up jogging to meet women, no more Castro training kamikaze dolphins for terror attacks on cruise ships. Somehow it seems like a much more mundane world now... Not that I ever bought it, but it was always good for a laugh when the person in front of you had 80 items in their cart... The website's gone too. Unless this is all another WEEKLY WORLD NEWS hoax...

Catching up on DVDs: Denzel Washington is okay in DEJA VU, but if any film was meant to never be thought about, this is the one, since the action seems very clever until you figure out the point where the twisty logic of the time travel thriller utterly disintegrates. BREACH, a docudrama inspired by the FBI's case against one of their own who'd made a career of spying for the Russians, starts out pretty slowly, but by the final third picks up enough steam to be worth it, abetted by a decent script and very good performances from Ryan Philippe, Chris Cooper and Laura Linney, which are enough to get you over the bumpy parts. Hollywood has yet to make a really good modern spy movie, though...

Congratulations to Chris Sequeira, the first to correctly identify last week's Comics Cover Challenge theme: scales. Chris would like you to visit Make Poverty History, website of another excellent cause. Check it out.

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. This week I forego the cleverly hidden clue for a blatant one: the answer is a well-known song title, though I don't think it was ever a Top 40 hit. So I can't accept approximations. This time it has to be the exact song title. I don't need the name of the singer, because it has been covered more than once. 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?

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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