Issue #307

I don't read a lot of "how-to" writing books. As I've mentioned before, far too many of them are writers telling other people how to write like them, as if that were the standard of excellence, and some, particularly screenwriting and novel writing texts, seem to exist either to cull the competition by feeding wannabe writers mountains of misinformation or to demonstrate what an idiot the author is. It's often hard to tell which.

But once in awhile one catches my eye. Novelist Walter Mosley, best known for his Easy Rawlins novels but branching out quite a bit in recent years, has published a slim tome called THIS YEAR YOU WRITE YOUR NOVEL (Little, Brown & Co; $19.99) which appealed to me not only due to Mosley's name but because his advice is the sort of unromantic, practical down and dirty approach to teaching writing that I've always thought was in the best interests of whoever wants to know. He doesn't paint a very pretty picture of the writing life, nor of your chances of getting published even if you write a novel, but he does a good job of explaining the, um, "spiritual" (not that he ever brings up the word) rewards of fiction writing. It's solid thinking.

But whether you want to write a novel or not, there's plenty in his advice that applies to any sort of creative work in any medium. We all have to take in what we learn and adjust it to our particular situations, so "can't" and "shouldn't" become meaningless words in this discussion. Part of the life, particularly if you're making your living via creative output, is all about self-gratification, but talent that isn't at least somewhat pragmatic not only tends not to last long but often misses out on broadening experiences.

Something he mentioned early on struck me as particularly appropriate to those, whether writers, artists, editors or publishers, who work in comics or want to, and while I've written similar things here, it's always nice to see someone else say it, and better than I did:

"Our social moorings aren't the only things that restrain our creative impulses. We are also limited by false aesthetics: those notions that we have developed in schools and libraries, and from listening to critics that adhere to some misplaced notion of a literary canon. Many writers come to the discipline after having read the old, and new, masters. They read Dickens and Melville, Shakespeare and Homer. From these great books of yore, they develop tics and reflexes that cause their words to become stiff and unnatural.

Many writers, and teachers of writing, spend so much time comparing work to past masters that they lose the contemporary voice of the novel being created on this day.

You will not become a writer by aping the tones and phrases, form and content, of great books of the past. Your novel lies in your heart; it is a book about today, no matter in which era it is set, written for a contemporary audience to express a story that could only have come from you.

Don't get me wrong - you can read anything and learn from it. But your learning will also come from modern songs, newscasts, magazine articles, and conversations heard on the street. A novel is a pedestrian work about the everyday lives of bricklayers and saints."

And all that's very true, and it's something comics still hasn't quite figured out. Anything can inspire you, but the instant you decide you think Jack Kirby's a genius so you're going to draw like him (or Jim Lee!) or that Marv Wolfman's NEW TEEN TITANS was the greatest comic ever so you're going to write a new team book that's just like it and uses the same pacing and dialog quirks etc., you've just made yourself a nostalgia act. As Howard Chaykin once said, and it can't be said enough, no stalgia is good stalgia. The job now in comics isn't to repeat what's been done a million times before but to forge forward and get away from the 60 year old handcuffs that still shackle the industry. Not that I expect it to take, but I'm glad Captain America is dead.

Or, as Elvis Costello once put it, "Let's talk about the future now, we've put that past away." At any rate, read the Mosley book. Good stuff, with lots of other equally applicable practical ideas.

Had a thought about the music industry the other day. You know, the guys who haven't yet figured out that the Internet has changed their whole business. Funny thing is: while through the '70s and '80s album rock was king, in the '90s and well into this decade, during the heyday of chick singers and boy bands, the focus of the big record companies was entirely on the single. They rebuilt the business around it. The demise of the "hit single," as they exhausted audiences early in this decade, is more than anything else (except possibly arrogance) responsible for the collapse of music industry business. (If an industry still pulling in hundreds of millions of dollars per year can be said to be in collapse.) The record companies, of course, have blamed their fortunes on bootlegging via the Internet.

Which isn't really that off-base. Just not in the way the record companies think.

What the Internet has done, what the record companies intended whether they realize it or not, is to destroy the "album" as the medium of exchange for popular music. Fact is that most albums pretty much divide in two: songs you want to hear again, and songs you don't want to hear again. Even "concept albums" or "rock operas," like The Who's QUADROPHENIA, usually only have a couple of tracks really worth hearing again and again, and if by only listening to those tracks instead of grasping panoramic brilliance of the creator's art... hey, fair's fair. You put this stuff out there, you don't get to dictate audience appreciation of it too. I got the gist of QUADROPHENIA the first time, and color me impressed, but there are still only a couple of songs on it worth re-hearing. The Internet has destroyed album sales because it has made the album unnecessary. Not only has music gravitated to MP3 the same way it gravitated from vinyl to CD in the '80s (and it's not like the music industry didn't milk that tech shift for all it was worth, as people had to phase out their turntables and re-buy on CD everything they still wanted to own) but even if you buy your music rather than bootleg it (and the success of iTunes, EMusic, Wal-Mart and other venues suggests quite a few people are more than happy to buy their music, particularly if there are no DRM or other technological restrictions on the material that would require buying it again if, say, you buy a new MP3 player) the main advantage of buying online is that you can pick whatever songs off an album you like, skip what you don't like, and - this seems to be the part record companies can't get their heads around - they don't have to be the songs the records companies tell you you're going to want. Formerly known as "singles."

What this does is changes the entire ecology of the music industry. The record companies got what they wanted: people are now willing to buy on a per song basis. Many of them just don't think what the record companies want is cheap enough. (So far, EMusic has the best set-up, a low flat fee for x # of DRM-free songs per month, but because it doesn't get much love from record companies, its stock can be a little dicey.) What this means for musicians is, basically, that the album is no longer something they need to worry about. Albums will always have their place, especially as records of concerts or some other special event, but musical acts might just as well spend a month putting together one or two really good songs and releasing them via the Internet than spending six months putting together up to a couple dozen songs of varying quality and inspiration and packaging it as an album. All in all, it's probably the same level of exposure for much less work. It's still possible to make a lot of money off a single if enough people want it, but the problem for the record companies is that recorded music is pretty much back to where it started: as a come-on for live performances. And the Internet is to the point now where virtual unknowns can come out swinging and make themselves known, cheaply, to a very wide array of people in a fairly short timeframe. The mechanisms are falling into place (possibly already have) for acts to organize and finance their own tours, and that's where many of them make their real money. A number of prominent cult acts - Richard Thompson and Robert Fripp leap to mind - are already successfully marketing their own music via the Internet.

But these - cult stars supplying their rabid cults, live performances - aren't areas the record companies will find it easy to invade. They're just too big, gluttonous and top heavy for any of it to make economic sense on their scale. Yet the pins have been knocked out from under albums. In other words, they got what they wanted: it's a singles world now, and more power to it. It's possible the big record companies may not be able to make the transition, just like many of their biggest venues, like Tower Records, haven't been able to. So it's a crisis for them, but a huge opportunity for musicians/performers, and true relief for listeners.

Congress is on vacation and so am I this week, at least as far as politics go. Very little has changed, anyway - the stock market and housing markets are still shaky as hell and still threatening to take down the world economy with them despite everyone supposedly being "calmed" by useless displays from the Federal Reserve Bank; Iraq continues to get worse by the minute while the Administration refuses to hand over any documentation about anything (and if there was no cover-up in the Pat Tillman situation, where popular football player-turned-soldier Tillman was shot by friendly fire if Afghanistan and the Administration propped up the body as a heroic victim of enemy attack until the truth came out not much later, then why does the White House refuse to release any of their papers connected to the situation?); and, oh, this is new - China has now ordered all Chinese newspapers to publish nothing but good news, so that's probably another power the Oval Office will want Congress to rubberstamp when they return, since obviously nobody in the beltway gives a rat's ass about the Constitution anymore - but here are a couple articles you must read, until I can work up the interest to write on politics again:

Dick Cheney explains why Saddam Hussein should not have been deposed and what would happen to Iraq and the Middle East if he were. Ain't foresight wonderful?

If you're of the opinion that Rudy Guiliani is anything but a lying, manipulative Orwellian scumbag (not to mention flat out saying during a debate that freedom is a matter of following orders, so we can see which side of 1984 he falls on), you'll want to read this piece from the VILLAGE VOICE outlining Rudy's big lies and how he's disingenuously milking 9-11 and remolding his role in it before and after to pave a way to the White House. If you do think Rudy is a lying, manipulative Orwellian scumbag, you'll probably want to read it too.

Finally, columnist Robert Scheer described exactly how and why this presidency is betraying the Founding Fathers and leading American democracy down the path of destruction. On a side note, ever wonder why the Administration seems so blasé about all those subpoenas, the teetering economy and the growing unrest with its domestic and foreign policies. Maybe it has something to do with those secret martial law contingency plans they won't tell anyone, including Congress, about. All we know for sure about them is that they've recently been sniffing around ministers, asking them to step in to control their flocks in the event martial law were ever declared...

Don't worry, I'll be back up to snuff by Labor Day, when the white gloves come off.

A few letters:

"I was reading Lying in the Gutters (I know, I know, why don't I just buy a box of Bon Bons and switch the channel to Oxygen's all day marathon of "Bridezilla"?) and was reading his review of the Ditko documentary and was intrigued by the following statement: "But amazingly, Ross does something with Stan Lee that I've never seen on camera. He presses the point over Stan's acknowledgement of Steve Ditko as co-creator of Spider-Man and for about twenty seconds, Stan drops the mask. The huckster, the showman, the face-front of Marvel is gone and you see the true man behind... before the mask comes back up again. For someone who's been brought up on Stan Lee, hell I even interviewed him myself twelve years ago, it's incredibly unsettling and worth the whole programme."

I was a bit bemused by what he was trying to say, and thought as someone who has worked with Stan and knows Stan: Do you think the above meant we got to see Stan the Man and not the Showman, but a true human with feelings and passion for his work, or was it meant to be a "rip" on Mr. Lee who got peeved by the barrage of "Who created what" questions by the wannabe Walter Winchell of the 21st century?"

I've never really worked much with Stan - my one "collaboration" with him, Marvel's MUTANT AGENDA mini-series that was originally supposed to intersect with the SPIDER-MAN daily comic strip but never really did, was mainly handled through editor Danny Fingeroth after a conference call between me, Danny, Stan, and the late King Features syndicate editor Jay Kennedy - and I've only met him a few times, with our longest conversation being about three minutes and mostly discussing The Hardy Boys, a favorite of Stan's in his youth that I wrote novels for in the '80s and '90s. During my '78-'84 stint in NYC, when I hung around Marvel a lot, Stan was still publisher but was rarely in the office in my early days and then moved to Los Angeles, and while he did drop in from time to time - his visits tended to strike terror up there - he mainly called in, and the closest I came to him then was the cover of AVENGERS #187, which was my conception and the first "cover designing" I recall doing (though, rightly, the credit would go to John Byrne, who took my concept and did all the real work, a process we repeated a few times on the few covers I worked on up there, and he pulled them off brilliantly every time no matter what idiotic thing I came up with), and which Stan scolded Jim Shooter for, because Captain America's boot overlapped the logo. (Though spinner racks as a market force were on their last legs then, the logo was often the only part of a cover someone would see while flipping through spinners so it was important that their comprehension of the logo was unobscured.) But I never had anything like direct contact with him until around 1995.

What I do know of Stan is that he's nowhere near the glory hog and image manipulator he's often cracked up to be, and in person he's a very pleasant and congenial guy. There's no doubt he's a born showman, but more in the entertainer sense than the P.T. Barnum conman sense, and why shouldn't he be? He's good at it. Sure, you get a sense, talking with him, that he has a very guarded side. But who doesn't? But I doubt it has anything to do with trying to hide who gets credit for what. When you spend decades as the public face of a multi-million dollar company, one of the things you pick up very quickly is that you always have to be careful of what you say, because things people say don't get taken at face value. They get interpreted or misinterpreted, and when that much money's in play things like that have a nasty tendency to end up in court. So if Stan weren't at least a little conversationally veiled by now, he'd have to be a total idiot, and one thing you can say definitively about Stan is he's no idiot.

The fact is that no one's ever really going to know who "created" exactly what in the early days of Marvel. The stories are out there, but parts of them are contradictory, parts just don't make sense. Did Stan get the impetus for FANTASTIC FOUR from publisher Martin Goodman and the idea from his wife, or did Jack come in with idea and drawing in hand? Frankly, there's no good reason to doubt either story, except that they seem to be contradictory. There's no doubt Kirby and Ditko handled much of the plotting on FF and AMAZING SPIDER-MAN or that they were both prone to writing lots of dialogue notes in page borders or that Stan often acted on those notes. There's also no doubt that the dialogue they produced on their own was identifiably distinct from the dialogue printed in stories they worked on with Stan, or that Stan's FANTASTIC FOUR and AMAZING SPIDER-MAN had more in common, in dialogue and story structure, with each other than they did with, oh, NEW GODS or THE CREEPER, respectively. Which doesn't mean Jack and Steve didn't bring their own distinctive viewpoints and ambitions to the books and work them in, because that also very obviously happened. I don't think Stan has ever denied that he left an awful lot of the plotting on those books (and others, to the point where Ditko was openly getting plotting credit on the Doctor Strange strip) up to them, or that he frequently followed their leads on characterization. (One of the unconfirmed stories of why Ditko abruptly left Marvel involves Steve and Stan disagreeing on characterization.)

At this point, though, how much does it matter? Does anyone really doubt that Ditko at minimum co-created Spider-Man? Even Marvel has admitted it, as far as I know. Didn't he get a credit on the SPIDER-MAN movies, and there's the story (no telling how true it is, until we hear it from Ditko, which isn't likely) that they tried to pay him an honorarium based on the films and he refused it. Matter of fact, the only person I ever heard claim otherwise was Jack Kirby, who claimed he created Spider-Man.

As for Stan, sure, I believe there's a "true Stan" within who's different from the "face-front" of Marvel. But not that different. We all have those facets to our personalities, the faces we show in this situation or that. All that means is that he's perfectly normal, and expecting otherwise is itself a sort of dementia.

As for Ditko, "In Search Of Steve Ditko"?! Not that I doubt it'll be a fascinating documentary but, jeez. Hard to talk to? Maybe. I haven't tried in over 20 years, and when I spoke to him then he was private but pleasant enough. But hard to find? Not hardly.

Wait a minute! Lying in the Gutters? Rich Johnston's "Lying in the Gutters"?! Didn't I already kill him?

"That piece on 300 you wrote pretty much - and gratifyingly - sums up most of the strand of thoughts which were running on my mind while I was begrudgingly plowing through this plainly morally wrongheaded jingoistic ego trip called 300. Yet nobody would listen to me about it anywhere in here!

Sure, most of the critics that hated this film (making up most of sane civilization ) accurately pointed to its Fascism and its Nazi verve and the fact that its simply a C-grade bigoted sort of mess: Village Voice apparently saw through the OGN's obvious empty-headedness, amid the now-oh-so-trendy goofy novelty of the narrative form it's believed to be hiding behind. However, none of them got much into the narrative mechanism and the pieces behind what really ran it all to the ground & made it a failure. Maybe it is due to the fact that some of these bureaucratic tumbleweeds would not really investigate this type of narrative source material, or even be bothered looking at the comics medium enough to extend their analysis beyond their level. That bit's been pithily covered by your analysis, anyway. What surprised me is how the resulting downturn here even surprised you. The comic was already a blinking warning sign, made in the midst of what seems to be a point in time where the writer started feeling horrible and aged about past tendencies and rebellions (which back then pointed to 'liberal'), recoiling back to old-school tired biases in the foolhardy attempt to seem more 'fresh' - at least, from his stand point. It is only through this predilection that his work can matter to all of us and the rest of society from here on, something much of those petty-bourgeois hangers on and poseur-fans eventually hanged onto hook, line and sinker, from ALL STAR BATMAN & ROBIN, all the way (and most pointedly) to this screwup of a film and over the ledge. Unfortunately, as our brethren in greater fandom know well enough by now, this has also apparently come to mean that petty 'liberal' things such as character depth, pacing, complex meaning and sophistication ought to be brushed aside, because that's become 'old' and 'done with.' It slowly started to become apparent in the otherwise simplistic archetyping in SIN CITY and the treatment of its subject matter here. The OGN source material is not even historically accurate to begin with, despite previous hype about it having being accurately and extensively researched (as far as I can remember from its letter pages) - & in a very tastelessly, vacuous, juvenile, caricature manner in a rather bad way. That felt like a betrayal already. Moreover, it's been already quite 'intellectually tranquilized' by its 'necessary biases' in the form of its patriotic hoary hosannas, pseudo-macho posturings with its nauseating janus-faced homophobia and goofily deliberate racism, seemingly designed to counteract his past anti-Reagan satirical ramblings, to seem at least 'contemporary.' Subversion, it seems, is a mere temperamental shift for these people; simply the urge of just turning 'right,' when the signpost says 'left.' Damn the complaints! So I guess, the material saw the film coming, right?

Framing sequence aside of course, as well as the quite visionary artistic vision that anticipated films like GLADIATOR; as well as the rather interesting conceit of that pulpy predecessor, which was a sort of 'hypermanga Goseki Kojima-esque' take for the 'sandals and spears set,' not unlike in those typical early '80s era DAREDEVIL or WOLVERINE miniseries widescreen splash pages, with the ninjas only being taken out and replaced by Greek and Persian fighters and soldiers - or that massive bullet-fast massive simultaneous action pieces surgically grafted or transplanted into an already moribund genre at the time - which even became more moribund, and old and futile, thanks to Zach Snyder and this hackwork. Let's be fair."

And to be fair, you're ascribing an awful lot of motivations to Frank that probably aren't there. Frank and I used to hang out a lot, probably still would if we didn't live in different cities now, and he was interested in doing the Thermopylae story years before DARK KNIGHT RETURNS. But even Frank, the hottest prospect in comics at the time, couldn't have gotten that off the ground then. I was still in fairly frequent contact with him at the time he was creating 300, and, seriously, I don't really think he had any great ambitions for it other than doing a big action piece. Yes, most of what's in the movie was already in the comic, but the wider political context of the culture changed between media, and what in light of 9-11 seems horribly jingoistic and propagandistic read as fairly harmless when Frank was writing and drawing the book - because nobody, and I'm pretty sure that includes Frank, who certainly at the time didn't seem to be any more concerned about a possible "invasion" from the Middle East than anyone else was, framed the story in any way that had anything directly to do with us. Read the story as a comic, in basically a cultural vacuum, and you can argue about the various merits of characterization and whatnot but it's pretty much just a flashy piece of historical fiction. It could just as easily have been the story of Bonnie Prince Charlie rising up against the English. Seen ten years later, on screen with live actors speaking the lines, against the cultural backdrop of 9-11 and all the perceptions that horrid event unleashed on us, and it takes on quite different associations. There's no real reason to assume even Frank made those associations when he did the story. For the filmmakers not to have been aware of them, though, either they agreed with the viewpoint the film put forth, they didn't care about the viewpoint or it was willful blindness.

"Just thought I'd mention that, historically, those last two minutes are some of the most risible material in the movie. "300 Spartans nearly held off an army, but now we have 40,000!" Except that the Persians were finally defeated at a decisive naval battle, by the Athenians. (Who in this movie were categorized as "effete boy-lovers". Which is all nice and homophobic, except that "to Spartanize" meant about the same thing to an ancient Greek as "to sodomize" does now.)

The historical inaccuracies in that movie wouldn't bother me so much if they didn't add up, cumulatively, to a solidly right-wing, neoconservative agenda. Gorgo's speech before the Spartan Senate practically had the phrase "weapons of mass destruction" in it.

But I'm ranting, and I've already ranted about the movie."

Well, yeah, there is all that. The last two minutes, though, despite ridiculous historical inaccuracy, was at least rousing, which is more than I can say for most of the rest of the film. I do think you missed a bit of nuance there, though. The Athenians are derided for being effete boy-lovers. (Presumably there was also contempt for them being a race of sailors, too.) The Spartans were manly boy-lovers. None of that perfumed girly-man stuff; the Spartans meant it!

Notes from under the floorboard:

I want to thank everyone who wrote in over the last week to correct me about the Feast Of The Immaculate Conception on Dec. 8. It celebrates not the conception of Jesus but the conception of Mary, born free of original sin so that she could become a worthy vessel of the Lord. I did used to know that. But, man, three weeks from Mary's conception to Jesus' birth? Now that's a miracle!

(I'm kidding, I'm kidding...)

For those who just can't get enough of me, the latest segment reprinting my old Down and Dirty Guide To Creating Comics has just been published in WRITE NOW! #16, which also sports interviews with Stan Lee, Todd McFarlane, others, and lots of other stuff including a Silver Surfer/Galactus cover by Mike Zeck and Phil Zimelman. Meanwhile, Silver Bullet Comic Books has just posted an interview with me on the subject of TWO GUNS, my crime comic that is, yes, still being published by Boom! Studios and, no, I don't have any say in the scheduling.

If you haven't seen JEKYLL, the BBC miniseries by Steven Moffat, mostly known for the original (good) version of COUPLING and some of the most inventive episodes of the current DR. WHO run, BBC America is re-running the entire series (twice!) this Saturday, culminating with the final two, as yet unaired in America episodes (8P). The tale of a man who finds he has developed a bestial, powerful alter ego and learns he has a mysterious connection to the Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde of Robert Louis Stevenson's story, the series was originally dismissed by everyone I knew who had seen it. The first episode makes it clear why: though clever enough, it suffers from introductionitis, the great crippler of first episodes, where premises have to be set up. Past the second episode, though, the mysterious American-backed military industrial complex hunting Hyde no longer seems quite so clichéd, and movement picks up considerably. By last Saturday's episodes, the influence of the Hulk was in full swing (amusing, since DR. JEKYLL AND MR. HYDE was one of the big original influences on The Hulk) and the nature of the series was obvious: it's a modern superhero story. James Nesbitt plays the double role with convincing flair and a minimum of makeup (COUPLING's Gina Bellman does a great job as his confused and long-suffering but loving wife) and as popcorn stories go, this one pretty much beats the hell out of any other sci-fi/horror that has come out of England lately, including TORCHWOOD and excepting DR. WHO. If you've got BBC America, there are far worse ways to kill a Saturday, especially in this weather.

There are also far worse ways to kill a Wednesday evening than BBC America's HOTEL BABYLON (9P), a fun bit of slick trash set in a posh London hotel with a cast headed by Tamzin Outhwaite and Max Beasley. Think if they did a Masterpiece Theater version of an Aaron Spelling show - because that's essentially what it is. Great? Not really. But it's the sort of pure entertainment timekiller that virtually nobody in TV anywhere bothers to make anymore, and perfect for a midweek cool-out.

The other big surprise of the summer - no, not SciFi Channel's FLASH GORDON, which is as surprising as the sun rising and about as welcome as an appendicitis attack - is AMC's MAD MEN (Thursdays 10P), about the foibles and pressures of the Madison Avenue ad agency world c. 1960, when and where the Playboy philosophy was in full swing. Basically a soap opera - the lead character worries about burning out, being overtaken by younger staffers, or his wife finding out about his mistress or the dark secrets of the past he ran away from - it's fine on period detail, savage in its skewering of various mentalities of the time, and, perhaps best, deadpan in reminding us of the shifting mores our culture came from. (The hero blissfully drinks and drives, his kids crawl all over the car seats while the car's moving, at a party an unrelated adult scolds and slaps a kid and when the kid's dad finds out he backs up the adult, a kid playing "alien" covers herself in a dry cleaning bag and her mother mainly cares that the clothes in the bag aren't wrinkled, etc.) Visually, it's exactly what I remember the '50s being (I should point out I barely remember the '50s): not quite black and white, but a sort of grim sepiatone, a world where pastel is as colorful as it gets. Beyond the good writing and acting (it co-stars the very overlooked Vincent Kartheiser) it really evokes a claustrophobic, hidebound culture that has thankfully, and deservedly, been left behind... almost. Watch it. It's great.

In reference to the music rant above, it suddenly occurs to me that the Internet is basically inhospitable to large corporations. Many of them have tried, since it became popular in the mid-90s, to "colonize" the Internet, but while they're all used to being the glowing suns their spheres of influence revolve around in the 'real' world, on the Internet they're just one more tiny spec among a universe of tiny specs, and the mechanics of the Internet make it possible for any clever upstart to come along and beat megacorporations (which are often hidebound and built to freeze initiative within a maze of restrictions and prohibitions, and usually approach the Internet with the wrong business model anyway, feeling it's a blank slate they can impose their existing way of doing business onto rather than an entity with unique behaviors and requirements). For most corporations, the Internet is basically a new form of brochure. It's no wonder their results tend to be a little disappointing.

Congratulations to Ray Cornwall, the first to identify last week's ComicsCover Challenge theme as "trees." Yes, it sometime really is that simple.Ray would like to push his own site, the lovely Why I Love Comics.Go take a look and give him another reason.

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, yes, every week (including this one) I do cleverly hide a clue to the solution somewhere in the column, just to help you land the big prize. Ain't I nice? 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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