Because someone asked, a little expansion on something I said last week.
As I've mentioned a few times recently, and as much as people tell me they read the column regularly, it doesn't seem to have sunk in much, this era is the comics utopia comics fans and pros have long muttered about. Not that there are all that many genuinely good comics out there, but there never were, were there? On a popular level, "good" tends to be an irrelevant term anyway, which is why devotees of whatever can bitch about how the hoi polloi are too stupid to appreciate the respective item of worship. The fact is that popularity and quality just aren't linked, and while most people unconsciously demand a certain level of technical quality in anything what determines popularity is how much a particular... let's see, I guess the word "content" is in again... fills the usually unspoken emotional or psychological needs of the audience pool. Even devotees, though they prefer to think otherwise, are almost always drawn to their "content" for purely emotional and psychological reasons. In cultural terms, "quality" doesn't refer, to say, the technical excellence of writing or art, or how well acted a role is, but how well "content" punches buttons the audience wants punched.
The problem with this: these things are never static. Psychological and emotional responses are like lava in a lava lamp. The essential nature of the "lava" may never really change, but there's an only marginally predictable rise and falling of the "lava," and what shape it'll take on the next rise is also only marginally predictable. Likewise, audience responses can never be taken for granted. They may not be prone to accepting radical departures from expectations - unless those departures more successfully feed whatever emotional and psychological needs they're hungry to feed - but overfamiliarity breeds boredom. Cult "content" feeds the psycho-emotional needs of cult members, but general popularity requires a fine balance of familiarity and novelty that hits general psycho-emotional needs. Even if you manage, balancing acts are hard to sustain, and "culture" doesn't exist in a vacuum. Current events large and small constantly affect audience perceptions and alter their desires, and any "content producer" who assumes a static audience for even successful "content" is asking for it.
Which is why so often "content" loaded with every "element" (gotta love buzzwords, don't you?) that will absolutely guarantee widespread popular success instead dies a miserable, risible death as financial backers sob over their bankbooks and look for convenient scapegoats to lay the blame on instead of facing the failure of their own premises and judgment. Maybe Barnum was right and nobody ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American public, but intelligence was never what it was about. It's the tastes of the American public people go broke over- or under- estimating, because with tastes we're back in the realm of the psycho-emotional, and the "public taste" is a total crap shoot.
There are only a couple things to take into account when considering "public tastes." 1) There really is no such thing. Again, modern culture has splintered into hundreds of niche cultures - which doesn't please the marketers of "mass entertainment," since the scale they want to work on is cumulative, not modular. 2) It's always better to be on the waxing cusp of a cultural trend than to be on the waning cusp, because waning cusps tend these days to be dropoffs.
Pop culture success is a booby trap, and the more money made the higher the cliff, because companies or whole industries tend to view success as the natural order of things and the pinnacle of history, so when the inevitable public taste shift occurs, they don't know how to cope. Comics were more financially successful in the early '90s than they had ever been, and when that abruptly changed the industry coped with it by assuming the change was a fluke and continuing with the by then useless practices that had formerly brought all the money in. It hasn't helped. Record companies by the late '90s were making money hand over fist marketing heavily crafted virginal sluts and identikit boy bands, and their response to that balloon bursting has mainly been to proclaim that all conditions be forced to remain as they were in 1998. Which is pretty much the same thing as saying they'd rather not be in business much longer, because the rough thing about reality is that not adapting to it generally isn't a very practical survival technique.
So what's all this got to do with comics?
The comics business has seen a lot of mutation over the last ten years. Lots of successful movies based on comics, manga and graphic novels "mainstreaming" the medium with a lot of audiences who ten years ago weren't even aware of its contemporaneous existence, prominent comics/graphic novels placement in libraries, reviews in "legitimate" magazines and journals, college courses, using comics as literacy tools and art projects in schools, and not entirely negative referencing on hip TV shows, etc. All adding up to:
The comic book is no longer the pariah of pop culture.
Oh, sure, most people when they hear the phrase "comic book" will immediately think of gaudy costumes and flying people, but "graphic novel" provokes a different (usually much more idiosyncratic) response, and a certain level of respect. While there will always be those who will take the phrase "I read comic book" to indicate severe retardation, the same way the phrase "I like Leonard Cohen" will make some think whoever utters it is a morose, sappy girly-girl. (Go ahead; tell me that wasn't exactly what just went through your head, if it wasn't "Who the hell is Leonard Cohen?")
But most people don't anymore. They may not read them, and they may have no love at all for the content (in the word's proper meaning) of most comics, but the medium is now generally understood in American culture to be just like any other medium: whatever who's molding it wants to make of it. The content may still be viewed askance, but the medium has gained about as much respect as it really needs. It's now the equivalent to poetry; most people hate poetry but they acknowledge the theoretical value of its existence. (When they're regularly exposed to poetry, albeit usually bad poetry, via pop songs, it rarely registers as poetry.) Should comics ever really start making money again, that general respect will increase exponentially.
Someone mentioned to me after seeing San Diego that it's obvious the film business is now running the comics business. One of my points last week is that it's quite the opposite.
It's true that Hollywood has generally disrespected comics material, but when did Hollywood ever really respect any material? Respect isn't the issue, interest is. A few years ago, comics were a novelty in Hollywood. Now they're a mainstay. Not superheroes, comics. Superhero films have been very successful recently, but superheroes are generally considered now to be a Marvel/DC thing, even on the scale of the general public. Other superhero films have been far from successful. (It doesn't help that most are lame comedies that don't take their own concepts seriously long enough to make them convincing.) But "comic book films" not based on superheroes have also steadily been successful, and SIN CITY and especially 300, which may ultimately turn out to be the most influential film ever on the relationship between comics and Hollywood, proved that not only can comics provide great source material but that material drawn unadulterated diretly from comics can produce successful films.
It's a lesson that hasn't been entirely lost on Hollywood.
(On the other hand, it doesn't follow that any comic will make a successful film. A publisher I was talking to in San Diego brought up the Green Hornet - now apparently planned as a comedy starring Seth Rogan and Stephen Chow - and asked how I thought a Green Hornet film would do. The Green Hornet's heyday was on radio but the character, otherwise known for a short-lived, failed '60s TV show, has been kept alive the past 30 years mainly in various short-lived, failed comics versions so he's considered a comics character now. I spent the rest of the weekend canvassing various pros on the subject, and the overwhelming consensus, on both THE GREEN HORNET and the forthcoming SPIRIT film, is that while it's always possible they will have great scripts and execution to put them over, in general there's no wellspring of public demand for either, and the characters aren't generally well known enough to pass for iconic, while their trademark visualizations trap them into a "superhero" image where things like 30 DAYS OF NIGHT don't and can become their own iconography. "Superheroes" on film that don't derive from Marvel or DC - both now trademarks known to the general public - will have a difficult uphill climb in popular perception. Strangely, something like HEROES is partly successful on TV because neither Marvel nor DC are perceived to have conquered that medium, so HEROES can scratch that particular itch without seeming redundant.)
Hollywood isn't leading comics because it doesn't want to lead comics, and shouldn't, and - my ultimate point last week - any publisher or talent creating comics with the specific intent of generating material that Hollywood will buy is already riding on the downward cusp of cultural trends. That's the sort of thinking that kept comics in the dumper for years. (Remember when Marvel waited until the original kung fu movie craze had subsided to issue MASTER OF KUNG FU?) But Hollywood likes to find things on the upward cusp, even if the popular perception of Hollywood is that everyone copies everything to death. That's true too, because, just like with hundreds of talents working in comics it doesn't take long to narrow the list down to a relative few that are genuinely inventive, there's a huge ratio in Hollywood of producers riding other successful projects' coattails to serious, innovative producers. Innovation may always entail risk, but then you have things like the hugely successful STAR WARS or INDIANA JONES films being followed by scores of forgettable, failed space opera or period adventure knockoffs, usually sold not on a real idea but on a distorted perception of "what audiences want." Sometimes they don't want space operas, they just want STAR WARS. (Pre-Jar Jar Binks, of course.)
But nobody really knows what audiences want until audiences shell out money for it.
While there are genres and material Hollywood is theoretically more comfortable with, perceptions of what's "hot" there are no less fickle and unpredictable than public tastes, and that zombie book you've so calculatedly put together with the dead certainly that Paramount will snatch it up the moment they're aware of it is only as "safe" a property as how the last zombie film did at the box office. Trends "die out" all the time. They almost always someday come back - it only takes the next film of that type to be a box office hit - but in the meantime you're sitting on a "sure thing" that producers don't think they can sell a studio on and comics audiences will likely think reads like a prefab package not really intended for them.
Why this is now a utopia for comics: the general public no longer holds the medium in contempt and, in creative terms, we're now in a very real sense at the top of the food chain. Compared to most other media, we can afford to be as wild and innovative as we choose to be, as long as what we do is done well. (See definition of "good," above.) We're unfettered. Films may now be able to produce a Silver Surfer, but it costs them a million dollars a minute and it costs us a bottle of ink.
Why this is a dystopia for comics: we're hamstrung by our own structures. Our main distribution system makes individual expression (ie. self-publishing) financially unviable. Publishers, never a very radical bunch at the best of times, have grown increasingly timid in their publishing choices, esp. the ones aimed at "producing material for Hollywood to buy." They are by and large trying to ride the downward cusp. Comics are a product that can, in theory, be produced very quickly. The only real promotional tools most publishers employ are the Internet and the Diamond catalog. In theory, a comic can go from conception to distribution in three to four months, if you mark a little before when PREVIEWS needs their solicitation material as your starting point. Internet marketing is pretty much instantaneous and free. A shortened production time would theoretically enable publishers to focus their main marketing thrust for any title on the period during which comics retailers are putting in their orders with Diamond, which is the optimal time to make any promotional push. Quick production times would allow much quicker response to new social or cultural trends, giving comics a greater sense of immediacy. So why isn't this done?
Again, we're hamstrung by our own structures. Over the years, most publishers have slowed the submission and acceptance procedures to a dead crawl; it's not unusual to take years to get a comic through the ever-increasing number of gatekeepers and off the ground, and since that guts any prospect of immediacy, most companies veer toward material that has no immediacy and, especially with the big companies, retreads successful material of the past. (DC beats CRISIS ON INFINITE EARTHS to death, Marvel produces bigger and bigger beat-'em-ups.) Other publishers track down every pathetic half-assed semi-franchise that ever existed in comics, films or TV. (What, no one's bought rights to the WITCHBOARD movies yet?) Everything is delays, as everyone second-guesses everyone - and comics still don't sell any better. The situation isn't helped by talent, which far more often than not has been trained either by editorial incompetence, fanboy myth or personal predilection to ignore deadlines.
While we piss away huge opportunities.
There is absolutely no reason why a comic can't be produced from start to finish within a three month span. Technology, used properly, has cut out steps and shipping times. A page of art can be produced, checked by an editor and in the hands of the writer or letterer (depending on production style) on the same day. The closer to conception a book is produced, the more energy and immediacy it will have. Publishers need frameworks and guidelines whereby editors can unilaterally take on at least a few projects without going through extended permissions chains. Which means - and this may be the biggest stumbling block - everyone in the process needs to learn to trust each other more, and to not betray trust placed in them.
And that's the stuff - the energy and enthusiasm, the spontaneity and urgency - that'll make good material even more attractive and essential to Hollywood, not to mention audiences. Like I said last week, sure, it's a risk, a crapshoot, especially to today's mindset. But what isn't?
After San Diego, a lot of people have started talking about getting into publishing comics to get their stories out there. Reasonable enough, and hardly a new ambition. But these seem to include many people who don't really understand comics all that well, so a couple things they really need to understand:
Making a comic book is far cheaper than making movies or a TV show, but it's still not exactly cheap. Unless you're doing all the writing and art yourself, then it's just down to the cost of publishing. Now everyone thinks they can write comics, and that's looking like just one of those things we have to live with, but there's also a widespread perception out there, among non-comics people who are looking at the medium, particularly as a visual way of sneaking pitches to film studios, that they're going to get great art very cheaply.
Unless they're surgically adept enough to whack their artist of choice in the head with a hammer hard enough to wipe out any semblance of intelligence or self-interest but retain an idiot savant ability to still draw like hell on wheels, that's not going to be the case.
Drawing comics is time-consuming, and often emotionally exhausting. (A prominent editor suggests budding comics artists get themselves night jobs, to support themselves while learning their craft, so they can wake up fresh each day to put their full attention and rested enthusiasm into drawing comics before they have to go to their jobs.) There are basically three styles of art in comics: quasi-realistic (most superhero comics, to varying degrees), stylized in an interesting way, and stylized in an uninteresting way. The former remains the generally most popular, the middle the most distinctive, and the latter the most common and the most noxious. I don't mention the manga style because there is no manga style; much manga, like DEATH NOTE and VAGABOND is drawn quasi-realistically, while most of the collection of insipid clichés that generally pass for "the manga" style when Americans talk about such things fall more into the "stylized in an uninteresting way" category.
That's the category it's generally best to stay away from.
Here's the thing you have to understand: good art won't necessarily help your book, but bad art (and inappropriate art) will almost certainly kill it.
If the distinctions seem fuzzy, you're not alone. A lot of comics companies, often predicated on turning books over to whoever calls themselves an artist and can hold a pencil in order to get the product out, seem to have trouble with the concept themselves.
But even if your concept is great, there's nothing that will get your book disregarded as quickly as bad art.
Your problem: good art usually isn't cheap. Marvel and DC have seen to that. (Good writing isn't either, but my guess is the writing isn't your concern.) If the artist's rates are low, there's usually a reason for that, and you'll find out why the hard way, which can end up a lot more costly than paying enough to hire a good artist in the first place. If you've got a really good idea that's obviously destined to be a $150,000,000 movie - or you can con an artist into believing that's so, because, like I said above, it's always a crapshoot - you might be able to get the price knocked down a bit - if you're willing to give up a piece of the pie. In my experience, most people who want other people to make their ideas salable for them don't want to share, they want it all to themselves, because, after all, it's their idea.
But that's what you're basically asking an artist to do, when you want one to work on one of these "we're doing a comic to market our idea to Hollywood" projects: asking other people to make your idea salable for you. (Even moreso if you're also bringing on a writer.) In this business, if you don't want to share the pie that's called "work-for-hire" and there are rules governing it. The biggest of those rules is: money. The only way around it is to either hire artists willing to work just for the exposure - which usually indicates they're not ready for prime time and the resulting book won't look all that good - or to luck out and latch onto some artistic genius five minutes before they're discovered by the rest of the world, an experience only slightly more common than opening your back door to find a living dinosaur napping on your porch.
How to judge comics art, the quick version:
While full-page pinup shots are always nice to look at, it's how they drawn multi-panel comics stories that count. Can you look at a multipanel page and follow a story? Do the backgrounds look like they fit with the rest of it? Can they drawn normal looking people? Is anatomy consistent and does it look correct? Do figures look like twisted Wagnerian dwarves in one panel and Stretch Armstrong in the next? Can they properly draw hands, feet and ears? (These are the most difficult areas on the human body to draw correctly, aside from genitalia, which usually isn't called for.) Is a lot of the figure work covered by shadows? (This is often a signal that the artist hasn't learned anatomy, and they're covering over their deficiencies rather than correcting them.) Are the light sources consistent (good) or do they appear random (bad)?
If you can answer all these questions correctly, and the art looks pleasing and appropriate to your material, you've made a pretty good choice of artist. If you can't, find another one. Even a comic done to pitch a film project is an investment, and if it's worth investing in, it's worth investing enough to get it done right.
But be prepared to pay for it. If you're asking other people to help make your dream come true, it's only fair.
Notes from under the floorboard:
Yow. That turned out a lot longer and more time consuming than I'd planned. Sorry about that. Politics and reviews next week, but a couple things to mention in the meantime:
Lovely the way Congress decided that even though the Administration has proved itself time and time again to be a lying, conniving, untrustworthy pack of manipulators willing to gut the Constitution at a moment's notice new domestic spying powers exceeding what the White House asked for just had to be put into place before everyone took off for a well-deserved vacation, because, you know, the Administration really did have to have the power to spy on you for, you know, your own protection, and who are you going to trust to administer it according to the guidelines if not Alberto Gonzales, who has a flawless track record with that sort of thing.
And I bet congressmen are wondering why they have a lower approval rating than the Ghost... which, let's face it, takes some doing.
A couple quick reviews:
From The Blvd Studio:
THE BLVD SKETCHBOOK Vol 3.0 by the Blvd Studio (price unknown)
I don't go in for sketchbooks much, but this is a really lovely job, with mostly gorgeous designs, sketches and full drawings, in black and white, by Sean Chen, Tommy Lee Edwards, John Paul Leon, Bernard Chang, Trevor Goring and Walt Simonson, sometimes (particularly in Leon's section) in styles not usually associated with the artist. It's a thick book, with notes and thought process explanations by the artists, and it caps off with an interesting hodge-podge: each of the artists creates a character or setting and then each individually create wildly different short comics pieces using those elements. Hot stuff for anyone who loves not only the art but the technique of comics.
From Del Rey Manga:
GHOST HUNT Vol 6 by Fuyumi Oni and Shiho Inada ($10.95)
I'm still not all that sold on the art, but the series is apparently adapted from a popular Japanese novel series and the characters and situations - this time involving tracking down elusive phenomena in a cursed mansion where people have disappeared, and seeming to put the series' young vision-prone heroine in really serious danger for the first time - puts it over the top. It's one of the best manga Del Rey publishes, and they have quite a few of them.
From TwoMorrows Publishing:
ALTER EGO #70, ed. Roy Thomas ($6.95)
It's been no secret that ALTER EGO exists to feed Thomas' sometimes overly-eclectic and personal obsessions (I'm sorry, but how much more is there to say about the Golden Age Captain Marvel?) but this issue finally throws away any pretense otherwise to run an extended interview with Roy himself about his long and checkered career - and damn if it hasn't ever been better. Just answering questions rather than orchestrating articles, Thomas comes off as remarkably candid and entertaining, especially when discussing his long stint in Marvel editorial and why certain decisions were made there. There's not much that hasn't been covered elsewhere before, but it's all in one place here and for a lot of people this will be brand new material that gives unique insight into how comics companies really work. I usually like ALTER EGO but can't quite recommend it, but this one goes all out and so does my recommendation. Great issue, with the usual plethora of terrific art.
From First Second Books:
THE LOST COLONY BOOK 2: THE RED MENACE by Grady Klein ($16.95)
I don't get it. On some mysterious island apparently unknown to America lives a little civilization that's visited by a sideshow and a general, both out to rile them to either patriotic panic or the emptying of wallets by generating a scare over the threat of Indian attack. It's mildly amusing but doesn't seem to have much point, since most of the populace appear to be dunderheaded idiots - maybe that's the point - and the author frequently indulges in the same sort of petty racism he's apparently trying to skewer. The art's not bad but not especially striking either, and depends an awful lot on the coloring. Maybe it'd mean more with the first volume but on its own this just seems empty.
DORIS DANGER SEEKS WHERE URBAN MONSTERS CREEP AND STOMP! #1 by Chris Wisnia ($11.95)
Speaking of idiot savants, there have to be 73 virgins waiting in paradise for Chris Wisnia, who has managed to hilariously merge the frantic Marvel style of the classic Stan Lee-Jack Kirby NICK FURY AGENT OF SHIELD and INCREDIBLE HULK stories, with their often nonsensical and random plot developments, with the Lee-Kirby monster stories of ten years earlier - and it's hilarious. Giant monsters like Testicoom, Oopf, and Choopeepoo come and out while the titular reporter heroine encounters secret government agencies, secret societies, robots, liberation movements and more in an endless knot of twisty, half-voiced motivations, double agents and grand schemes that never cohere because the "episodes" drop in at random from a couple "decades" worth of mythical stories. It's the same damn joke every single time - and somehow it never stops being funny. It's sort of the CROMARTIE HIGH SCHOOL of Marvel Comics knockoffs. Wisnia's work is well liked enough that Real Pro Artists do monster pin-ups for him, and this oversized volume features plenty, from Russ Heath, John Severin, Dave Gibbons, Art Adams and many others. Whatever else can be said for this book, there ain't no other experience in comics like it. Go get it.
Remember SoundExchange? It's this amazing scam set up by the Record Industry Association of America (RIAA) to collect music royalties, allegedly for the benefit of the artists involved. The RIAA used their political clout to make it the only authorized collection agency for any music played on the Internet, with all kinds of clever little gotchas built in. Anyone who plays music on the Internet, even if it's music you've composed for your own site, is supposed to pay SoundExchange for the privilege. Then, see, you go to them and they pay you the money back. Except in order to use their service, you have to pay for their service. So on the one end, you have to use it because that's the law now, but in order to get what they then owe you, you have to give them money. And do they go looking for the artists to whom they owe money? Why, no, they do not. And, by sheerest coincidence, the money they don't pay out legally becomes theirs. Remember when setups like that used to be called racketeering? Anyway, it now comes out that, quite against the rules of their charter, SoundExchange has been using that money to pay for lobbying to get regular radio stations under their thumb as well, since, after decades of paying money (also in contravention of the law) to get their records played, record companies now have decided that music played on the radio encourages people to not buy records (which, given the crappy records they pay to have played, may very well be true) and that radio stations should be paying them. Anyway, SoundExchange is claiming any information pertaining to their - well, let's check the law that made them official; yes, illegal would be the right word - lobbying is proprietary, which can be translated to mean that racketeers don't give a rat's ass what the law says, they'll do whatever the hell they please if it means more money for them. I guess what's good for the White House is good for the gander...
By the way, if you haven't seen it yet, check out THIS FILM IS NOT YET RATED, director Kirby Dick's very amusing and frightening investigation into the structure and practices of the Motion Picture Association Of America (MPAA) to find out who rates movies and on what basis, capped off by Dick's discovery of film piracy by the ostensibly anti-piracy MPAA, which, like most self-proclaimed moral watchdog groups, pretty much never met a hypocrisy it didn't embrace. Dick lays it all out with heartsick hilarity. I know I've mentioned the film before but when I say see it, I mean see it and I mean now. Go! Meanwhile, the excellent newssite Techdirt brings up the excellent question, regarding current Hollywood renegotiations of the Writers Guild contract: why does Hollywood consider it absolutely imperative that they (producers, studios, MPAA) get paid for each and every "performance" of a film or TV show in any context forever and ever, and still claim it's impractical to pay writers for the same movies and TV shows more than once or tie payments to airings? So it's important to producers and studios that they get paid - but apparently even more important that nobody else does. So what else is new? (Yes, I know writers already get paid more than once under many circumstances - but it's newer uses for the material that the fight's over, uses that will become increasingly prominent over time.)
This is funny, if your life doesn't depend on the Michigan economy: car buyers are now swerving toward hybrids in a big way (the electric car still cannot speak its own name in Detroit) so Chrysler, newly severed from its German masters who felt the division was a money pit, has concocted a new scheme to revive its sagging fortunes: innovative new minivans! Still completely gas dependent, of course - but they've got more cupholders! And a V-6 option! (Muscle minivans?) And the American car industry wonders why it's in freefall...
Science fiction fans need not fear the latest implication of global warming: scientists recently dug up bacteria in Antarctic glacial ice to see if the bacteria, frozen between 100,000 and several million years ago, could be revived. Turns out it can! Whether we as a species carry antibodies for germs that predate us by many geological ages is hopefully a question we won't ever have to answer, but while the scientists doing the study have reportedly managed their samples under the most stringent conditions, what happens if glacial ice keeps melting? Never mind the threatened "supergerms," what happens when easter eggs from the planet's past wake up and start stretching their little cilia?
I see Warren Ellis is closing down his popular and often enlightening Engine forum site at the end of the month. Sort of expected, but a shame, as it was one of the few places on the web where talent could focus exposure for their projects. (I know Matt Fraction got a lot of mileage out of it.) If the comics community could only develop a similar forum that was equally adept at chasing out the morons and maintaining mostly intelligent discussion among a wide number of users but wasn't built around a personality cult...
I was discussing lettering via computer with someone the other day. Today came the notice that Richard Starkings' Comicraft, which produces really nice lettering fonts, has just released Kickback, based on David Lloyd's lettering style - and it's a really nice font. Definitely on my list of things to get now. If you're doing comics lettering, or considering it, and you haven't checked out Comicraft's massive catalog of fonts (my favorites are Joe Kubert and Wildwords), you're shooting yourself in the foot.
Congratulations to Russell Steele, the first to correctly identify the song in the 7-25 Comics Cover Challenge as Bob Dylan's "All Along The Watchtower." All the covers make reference to words or lyrics that appear in the song, in order, with the exception of the WATCHMEN cover, but that was a story wherein Alan Moore quoted the song and applied it thematically. Russell would like you to visit the very enjoyable 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. As in most weeks, I've cleverly hidden a clue to the solution somewhere in the column, but if you can't find it don't take it out on me. Some of my best friends are people who can't find the clues. Good luck.