Issue #308

Comics Worth Reading recently brought up a story I otherwise would have missed: Heroic Publishing's attempt to pump up interest in its throwback superhero series, "Captain Thunder & Blue Bolt," returning, after many years, to THE CHAMPIONS by issuing a press release announcing the issue's scarcity.

Which is a pretty familiar ploy among smaller publishers, especially the ones who can't or won't cop to market changes that have sent many potential readers who miss books to Ebay or to the inevitable eventual trade paperback collection, or to the Internet. (Comics Worth Reading noted that the supposedly "impossible to get" issue is a free giveaway on Heroic's own website. Not the same thing as a printed copy, I know, but there's a rapidly growing audience, most born since 1990, that don't care.) Not that Marvel didn't get good traction off something similar during the Jemas years when they announced a new policy (is it still in place?) of not second running comics when the first run sold out. But Marvel is Marvel. They can get away with that sort of thing because a collectors' market for Marvel comics, though nowhere what it once was, already exists. And, much as comics shops may grouse about it, when Marvel says jump most of them say "How high?" because that's just the way it has always been since the direct market began. The lesson most other publishers have gleaned from this over the years has been "to get the direct market to do what we want, we must behave like Marvel!" Instead of the considerably more obvious and accurate, but from their perspective more intolerantly repellent, "You ain't Marvel!" The only other company that was ever Marvel was Image, and only for a couple years.

The "no copies left!" ploy is only one of the smaller publisher bag of tricks, and likewise mostly throwbacks to a happier era, the early '90s, the last major bloom of a collectors' market triggered mainly by the debut of Image and a terrible general fear among comics fans and others (this was also the birth of the speculator market) that something really cool (featuring some appealing element or add-in) or hot (potentially valuable or at least profitable) might slip past them. Back then there were mountains of ploys intended (you couldn't really say they were designed, unless wishful thinking counts as design) to turn comics and lines of comics into "collectors' items": sealed bags, multiple covers, specialty covers, "superhero universes," artificial scarcity. (I'll always remember some fly-by-night little company at some convention with huge signs at their tables guaranteeing no book they publish would ever have more than one printing or a print run above 250,000 copies, but all you had to do was try to read - to look at! - one of their releases to see why.) But the idea that anyone could come out of nowhere with questionable mastery of only the equivalent of the three basic chords to become The Next Big Thing, long a cherished rock'n'roll dream, had taken hold in comics, and even after almost the complete destruction of the business, as multitudes of customers who scarfed up copy after copy of the death issue of SUPERMAN only to finally figure out that it wasn't going to pay for anyone's college education in ten years after all, and the business' slow Sisyphusian upwards crawl ever since hasn't yet crushed that dream.

And, slowly, over the past couple of years, like ghosts that can't quite find their way to the graveyard, the multiple covers, the suggestive but not quite declarative press releases, the assorted come-ons and gimmicks, have been trying to make a faltering return as well. The big problem with all these gimmicks is that they're only good so long as your audience is willing to behave like complete flaming idiots, and that sort of thing you can only pull off on the crest of a tsunami. Everyone's got to want to get on board more than they want to stop to think it through, and a pool with almost no ripples gives everyone plenty of time to think. Without the element of audience panic, gimmicks are useless.

But you can't really blame small publishers. It's an era - let's face it, it has always been an era - where coming out of nowhere and trying to establish any sort of market traction at all is damn difficult. I can see where a company like Heroic would trot out the "Studio 54" ploy: "we're so hot you can't get through the doors." But that only works when people do want to get through the doors, and at least some people are seen going through the doors. You can only tap into a collectors market where one already exists - or have something so relentlessly and compellingly seductive to the popular psyche that they've got to have it.

Which is another damn hard trick to pull off and, barring a sudden nostalgia mania, won't be done by looking backwards. I can understand why revivalism appeals to publishers so much - look for that pre-identified name brand - especially when companies like Devil's Due can do well with things like G.I. JOE, while Dark Horse has managed to massage CONAN and Dynamite RED SONYA, HIGHLANDER and other revivals into a sales showing. And of course many publishers want to see revivalism as a viable end in itself, but it's not just what's revived but what's done with it. While something like GI JOE, whose fandom never really died out, can be done mostly by carrying on the tradition of the Marvel Comics version, and CONAN can be revived on the promise of handling the character right enough to wipe out bad memories of a decade-long decline before cancellation of the first run (and Conan, too, has always had a core market that never went away) most older comics properties have no natural constituency large enough to build on, and promising material that's basically exactly what was done the first time is in most cases a recipe for another failure.

The only promise worth making regarding old properties is that you'll do them "right" - and the only way that works is if you pay off on the promise. Which isn't to say it will work if you pay off on the promise, just that it won't if you don't.

If you don't, looking to old gimmicks won't help. People don't buy for the gimmicks anymore. Some publishers still do gimmicks just because they draw a little more attention, but if gimmicks were getting significant juice this time around more people would be trying them. Gimmicks and cons (as in con jobs, not conventions) have too little value to too few people, since while few characters from the '90s really punctured the general consciousness, there's a vague widespread awareness now that the gimmicks of that day are full of sound and fury and signify nothing. All gimmicks are effectively cons, either an admission that your product isn't strong enough in itself to draw in the eyes and the wallets or a means of fleecing your audience out of more than the product is worth. But if you're going to resort to gimmicks, you'll get more mileage with one no one's heard of before. Even fooling some of the people some of the time takes imagination.


Frontline soldiers sending letters to the New York Times explaining that Iraq can't be won. Republican "family values" senators being busted for coming on to cops in Minnesota public toilets. More administration figures heading for the hills as scandals simmer around them. States threatening to start primary season this year. Corporations looting American funds in Iraq. The news just keeps getting better and better.

The abrupt departure of Alberto Gonzales this week after months of his refusal to budge - or say anything meaningful - over the growing attorney scandal in the Justice Department puts current White House attitudes in perspective. Gonzales, who had said many times that he would not resign under any circumstances because there were many more objectives to fulfill first, reportedly decided it was time - this seems to be administration code for "there's a scandal breathing down my neck" - to devote time to his family. The official report is that the Ghost tried to talk him out of it and failed, but the Ghost's comment that Gonzales' name was "smeared" for partisan reasons (the growing list of Republican congressmen who wanted him gone, or at least to seriously answer their questions about policies and behavior in his DoJ) were just partisan as hell) as Gonzales was heading out the door indicates how it really went down, esp. since Gonzales' little exit dance almost perfectly mimicked Ghost svengali Karl Rove's exit a few weeks ago. Since both appear to have been integral players in the scheme to replace decorated but independent-minded Federal prosecutors with new prosecutors whose biases and inexperience were ignored as long as they fit the correct ideology (just in case you thought the Soviet system was dead), the current White House philosophy, since their general posture is that the White House is by its very nature incapable of breaking the law no matter what it does because it is the White House that determines what is the law and what isn't, is that the investigation (and connected ones, like the one into the backdoor communications system established by the National Republican Committee to avoid communications between Republican staffers of various segments of the government going into the public record despite laws necessitating it) was begun strictly to humiliate and tar important administration officials, and once those officials are gone, the investigations will go away too. It also suggests that the administration is growing more wary of testing the boundaries of executive privilege, which was being liberally used to shield Rove, Gonzales and other Ghost loyalists.

The question now is whether Congress - Democrats and Republicans alike - will consider the departures enough of a victory, which, if the investigations were generated out of partisan rancor and nothing else, it probably will be, but dropping them would be a defeat for America, since not pursuing them (and anyone involve in any wrongdoing), would merely let the precedent stand, for later administrations of any stripe to repeat or elaborate on. The other questions are who'll want to walk into the tiger trap that Gonzales turned his job into, and whether another administration loyalist can slip through the nightmare that a Congressional confirmation hearing will almost certainly become. But at this point can the White House risk the powers of the attorney general's office in the hands of a non-loyalist?

Whoever's attorney general for the rest of the Ghost's term could end up being very busy, since racketeering and defrauding the government seems to be the new major sport among government contractors both here and in Iraq - with protection from inside the government, and not just Halliburton (protected by the office of its former boss, vice president Dick Cheney) which has several times been caught skimming hundreds of millions off the budget for their contractual Iraq reconstruction duties. FORBES recently ran a piece on how our military has been routinely imprisoning whistleblowers who've reporting embezzlement and black marketeering by companies allegedly engaged in Iraq reconstruction. Reporting the crimes even to America-based authorities routinely resulted not in investigation of the allegations but in imprisonment and "interrogation" of those making the allegations - which including not only grotesque overbilling but truly dangerous things like selling arms to Iraqi insurgents. But whistleblowers inside the government here have routinely found themselves demoted, reassigned, fired, ostracized and otherwise harassed in a wide range of departments, also despite laws designed to prevent that. The message across the board is that the true criminal is anyone who gets in the way of people making as much money as possible off the government by whatever means - and that this administration sees its true role as shifting as much money from public coffers to rich (and, in most cases, connected) as possible.

But just to end on an upbeat note, there's plenty to laugh at too. States are now scrambling to leapfrog each other for the privilege of being the first to run primaries, because nobody wants to be marginalized and small states want to have say early on in who each party's candidate will be. Right now it's pretty much to the point where the candidates will be determined as early as March, which would at least have the beneficial effect of pretty much shutting everyone up until July and August, when the party conventions traditionally occur, because candidates will need to conserve as much campaign money as possible for the later head-to-head months of the campaign. But it seems to me there's a better way to handle all this: divide the campaign season into ten primary/caucus dates, and every fourth year (2010 for the 2012 campaign season) hold a lottery to determine which state gets which date. One season New Hampshire might be the first state to vote, the next it might be the last. The process would excoriate tradition, sure, but since it has turned into a bitter and divisive tradition, it's time to get rid of it anyway.

A few graphic novel/trade paperback reviews:

From Archaia Studios Press:

MOUSE GUARD FALL 1152 by David Peterson ($24.95)

At $24.95, this elegant hardcover collecting Peterson's fantasy series, pitting a civilization of mouse warriors against traitors and enemy creatures, is a much better value than the slender individual issues were, with the benefit of much greater cohesion, and the characters much easier to keep straight. Peterson's lush art and straightforward plotting and dialogue put the book well above most other latter day heroic fantasy adventures. Very good, but despite the use of fuzzy little animals as characters, not really a story for younger readers.

ROBOTIKA by Alex Sheikman ($19.95)

Unlike MOUSE GUARD, Sheikman's tale of a future samurai traversing a science fiction landscape doesn't benefit much from collection - the only real difference is the coloring, which is pretty good... or were the comics in color and for some reason I remember then in black and white? - but it doesn't hurt it any either. The strengths are the same - Sheikman's art is strong and imaginative - and the weaknesses haven't changed - the story is still a gibberish hodge-podge of almost random elements apparently plotted by Cuisinart, with generally perfunctory dialogue. Rereading it in collection, I sense a lot of French comic album influence, which doesn't help the readability much, but this was obviously a comic intended to be looked at rather than red anyway.

From Penny Farthing Press:

CAPTAIN GRAVITY AND THE POWER OF THE VRIL by Joshua Dysart & Sal Velluto ($19.95)

Pulp throwback comics, pretty well done. I can't say I've ever felt much empathy for '30s-based stories, though, and this volume, collecting the six issue series published a few years ago, doesn't alter that. This was basically a vanity project done on behalf of Penny Farthing's Golden Age comics-loving publisher, but it's mostly a hodge-podge of the familiar, from the Rocketeer-stand-in hero to Nazi occultism directly orchestrated by Der Fuhrer himself to generic characterizations and a general style that's much more in keeping with 1990s Hero Comics titles, esp. those by Roy Thomas, than 1930s DOC SAVAGE pulps. Dysart and Velluto are generally pretty good talents, and from a craft perspective I can't fault the book, but neither seems very interested. Is it too much to ask that everyone knock off the "homages" already, because they almost never work out all that well...

From Fantagraphics Books:

KAFKA by Robert Crumb & David Zane Mairowitz ($14.95)

Was there ever a more perfect match than Robert Crumb, the misanthropic social misfit who, as much as anyone else, deserves to be called the father of underground comics, and Franz Kafka, the Czech bookkeeper whose claustrophobic tales of existential horror made him, arguably, the father of 20th century literature, not to mention 20th century man? Nope. Crumb and Mairowitz do a great job biographing the complex Kafka, depicting him as a sexually repressed obsessive compelled to write but who found his own work to be more black comedy that the unrelenting darkness it's usually considered today. Along the way, they cite from his books, and summarize where culture and appreciation of his work has gone since Kafka's death, with a long section on the Eastern Bloc's uncomfortable, mutable relationship with his work. The whole thing's fascinating, and an excellent job

THE LIVING AND THE DEAD by Jason ($9.95)

The last Jason book I read, THE LEFT BANKE GANG, was close to comic genius, this one's a pedestrian zombie "silent movie" where a meteor raises the hungry dead just as a Depression-era dishwasher raises enough cash to finally rent the streetwalker he loves. Despite a thin commentary on what constitutes true love, unless you count using cartoon dogs and birds as zombies and victims, this book brings no innovations or insights to a now bloated, decrepit genre.


It's appalling that Herriman, a pivotal, surrealistic genius of the comics form, is all but unknown today, though I suppose turning his classic Krazy Kat into some sort of franchise would resurrect him, though Krazy Kat is one of those strips that, done by anyone else, wouldn't be itself. This book beautifully collects some of Herriman's earliest work, as he was shaking off the influences of things like MUTT AND JEFF and refining his style into something truly remarkable, and before the daily newspaper strip format started its slow degeneration into the sad and rigid thing it is today. This is, really, where it all began - the linguistic gymnastics, the crazed puns and psychedelic backgrounds, the incessant but ever inventive variations on a theme that would mark the strip for the rest of Herriman's life, printed in its original size. I imagine archivists are the main market for this, but everyone should be. Great stuff.

From First Second Books:

THE PROFESSOR'S DAUGHTER by Joann Sfar & Emmanuel Gilbert ($16.95)

Set in Victorian London, this tale of a repressed heroine quickly takes an entertainingly bizarre turn as she takes up with an Egyptian mummy, copes with her problems via mass murder, and ends up on an adventure involving eternal life and Queen Victoria herself. It's a lot of fun, at least until it peters out; the ending is less resolution and more running out of gas. Good art and, until the last couple pages, writing, though.

From Scholastic Books:

THE BABY-SITTERS CLUB: THE TRUTH ABOUT STACEY by Ann M. Martin & Raina Telgemeier ($8.99)

Which answers the musical question: how the hell do you dumb down The Baby-Sitter's Club?! It doesn't, however, answer why?! Believe it or not, I actually read the original of this story once, so it's kind of galling to see it stripped of much that was genuinely interesting. It's also gutted by the cutesy artwork, which douses all of the tense moments of the original novel and works totally against the realistic spirit of the books, which tend to be very good in that respect. But you don't have to take my word for it; I ran it past girls who'd read the original too, and they're response was the same: read the novel instead.

From Twomorrows Publishing:

MODERN MASTERS 12: MICHAEL GOLDEN by Eic Nolen-Weathington ($14.95), JOHN ROMITA... AND ALL THAT JAZZ by Roy Thomas & Jim Amash ($24.95)

It's kind of weird that Michael Golden, except for art collector flaps, is in eclipse these days, as he was among the most influential artists of the '80s, with generally stunning work, and he's more than capable of producing stunning work today. He was my editor for awhile and my artist once (on a few pages of a DEATHSTROKE pretty literally turned out overnight to save the book's schedule), and I always got along with him great and loved his art, so it's great to see him getting some props and I'm not going to be impartial about it. Everything that's not art is a softball interview that never really presses him on anything but gives a good overview of Michael's career and a decent personality sketch. But it did occur to me while reading that book that the weakness of these "Modern Master" volumes is while they present the respective artists well, they never really establish why the artist is important to comics beyond "look, good art." In many cases - and this isn't a rap on them or their talent - they aren't. But Golden is, and that should have been brought out more. In JOHN ROMITA..., Romita does get that treatment via interviews conducted by Thomas and Amash that are awash in history and context, and paint a fascinating picture not only of Romita's career but of the workings of the places he drew for, and, regardless of your own impressions of his work, the book portrays not only why John Romita was important to the business but what he thinks was important to the business, and in his own work and life. Really good.


If you're looking for a dispassionate dissection of Image Comics and its ups and downs over the years, this collection of interviews, mostly with the founding members but also with a smattering of others connected, affected, influenced or raised by Image like Brian Bendis, likely isn't the place to look. Whatever your impression of Image, though, it nonetheless paints an entertaining picture of the heady and chaotic time of its founding, how the business did and didn't change as a result, and what Image Comics means in the long term. Well-illustrated too, but on Twomorrows books that goes without saying. Good.

From Virgin Comics:

VIRULENTS by Shamik Dasgupta, Dean Ruben Hyrapiet & Parag R. Godse ($4.99)

Muslim terrorists in Afghanistan desecrate an ancient temple and unleash - well, zombies. (The text calls them vampires, but they play more like zombies.) Soldiers battle back. Not bad but, aside from connecting the zombie plague to Indian mythology, nothing especially original.

From Top Shelf Productions:

THE SURROGATES by Robert Venditti & Brett Weldele ($19.95)

This has a great concept - cops trying to catch a serial murderer in a world where for their safety (in sexual contact, walking down the street, etc.) people transfer their minds to android bodies that can look any way they want them to look - but it derails on an obvious storyline that rather than exploring the possibilities of such a culture swerves onto a religious/Luddite storyline about trying to return society to "normal," meaning the way we do things now. Dialogue's good - the investigating officer seems very influenced by Fred Applegate in FROM HELL - and Weldele's art gets more expressionistic as it goes along, but once the half-crazed messiah enters the picture, the story never really recovers, and the ending just goes flat. It's never a good sign when authors introduce concepts and then back away from them.

From Image Comics:

ELEPHANTMEN: WOUNDED ANIMALS by Richard Starkings & multitudes ($24.99)

A hard guy semi-spoof, in a cyberpunk future where humans and animals have been gene-spliced into new species and hippo-man private detectives dress like it's still the 1940s. This collects much of the ELEPHANTMEN series (that's what the manimals are collectively called) concocted by Starkings, who had an interesting visual idea (with good art by Ladrönn, Moritat. Chris Bachelo and many others) that still hasn't quite amounted to anything. While the characters are generally fun, the storytelling and realization of the future world are superb and they're endearingly unafraid of experimentation with style and content, the story's a little thin. Put a real story in it, and this could be a hell of a series. As it is, it's more of a hell of a videogame on paper.

From Hard-Bullied Comics:

HARD-BULLIED COMICS by Steven Earnhart & Rudolf Montemayor ($13.95)

Another hard guy semi-spoof, this one in a chaotic near-future of kitchen sink elements like aliens, clowns, manimals, mermaids, Harleys and the same damn guns private eyes have flashed around in films since the '40s. Earnhart & Montemayor's work picks up steam and confidence as it goes along, but the series never quite comes into focus, maybe because the book's world never feels anything but random, and not in an interesting way.

From Vertigo:


Scottish crime writer Mina's Constantine arc didn't win a lot of support during its run, probably because it plays on a lot of well-trod Constantine turf - sinister cults, plots against Constantine directly, bargains with devils etc. - that the trade collection will bring into even stronger focus for Constantine cognoscenti. It is, in fact, exactly the sort of Constantine story someone would write if they'd never read Constantine then were given the whole run to read and told to come up with a "Constantine" story over the weekend. If they were very good writers, which Mina fortunately is. It's unfortunate her run didn't last long enough for her to burn off expectations and kick open an original take on the character, because, aside from a much too abrupt ending that depends on continuity not re-established earlier in the arc, Mina plays well with HELLBLAZER and produces a story that, by and large, would convince someone unfamiliar with the series that they ought to be. Manco's art is generally good, but the coloring reduces a lot of it to murk. The book has since gone on to someone else, but maybe Vertigo could give Mina another shot on something of her own making?

From Villiard Books:


A theme anthology centered around the editor's postcard collection, taking cryptic messages written on postcards by unknown persons long ago, and letting writers and artists concoct short stories based on them. Results are generally good, if variable (there's only one real clunker in the bunch, about a dull post-WWI superhero), but they swing toward elliptical vignettes that mostly want to present some minor epiphany about the bittersweet nature of human existence but end up just a little maudlin and sentimental. It's an interesting experiment, and the work (by people like Harvey Pekar, Phil Hester, Rick Spears & Rob G, and Tom Beland) isn't bad... but not a lot sticks with you either. Which is usually the nature of "new work" anthologies.

This week a budding publisher with eyes on jockeying his intended company into a Hollywood career - apparently he read my columns but hasn't taken them very seriously - asked what would be the best way to convince Hollywood his comics would make great movies.

I figure I've beaten the "come up with stories they think will make great movies" into the ground, so, based on sweeping generalities:

The four issue miniseries.

This is if your focus is strictly on Hollywood, since the four issue mini-series, esp. if it doesn't threaten to produce any continuing characters or concepts, has become something of a non-starter in the comics market. Readers, once enthralled by the format, have mostly convinced themselves to either not emotionally invest in something finite (personally, I think this is borderline idiotic, but I'm just reporting what I'm told) or to wait for the trade paperback and read it all at one sitting. So if you choose the four issue miniseries, bear in mind that it's a loss leader, probably in more ways than one. You have to expect it to be a sales tool, not a product - and you have to hope no one in Hollywood asks too often what the sales were. (In most cases they don't seem to care, but it does come up.) The format is also becoming something of a dud in the book market, as bookstores (don't know the situation in comics shops) are starting to skew toward longer works, and 88 pages, the content length of most four issue miniseries, is a bit shy of the bookstore comfort zone by anywhere from 20-50 pages, depending who you talk to.

The virtue of the four issue miniseries, as opposed to other formats, is that it mimics the screenplay, and screenplay isn't only something Hollywood understands, it's something that Hollywood has reduced to a structural science, so that often in screenplays what they absolutely look for in addition to great characters and story and correct punctuation is that the screenwriter is familiar enough with the format to know on what pages all the beat points (introduction of the hero, the first action, the first pivotal complication, etc.) fall. They do check these things.

So why four issues, when screenplays come in three acts? Because the second act runs twice as long as the first or third acts. Your miniseries parallels the screenplay like this: first issue=first act; second & third issues=second act; fourth issue=third act. This may sound trite and mechanical - and whaddaya know? It is! - but one of the reasons Hollywood has come to love comics is that they don't need to visualize a story, they can just look at the pages and there it is! Which, when you think about it, is how we all respond to comics. There's an immediacy to comics that other print forms don't match, so we can hardly hold falling to its appeal against Hollywood.

Properly done, what a four issue miniseries can demonstrate to Hollywood is that you not only can generate a story that can make a cool movie, but that you understand Hollywood story structure. Or, at least, that your stories fall into a structure that Hollywood understands. It's not something I would expect them to recognize consciously; we normally only recognize our own patterns when something breaks them, and our immediate response to the rupture is usually to restore them, not examine them. It probably won't even register that you've adapted to Hollywood script structure, but I expect they'd appreciate it nonetheless, all other things being equal. (Like your concept, characters and story being worth a damn.)

Bear in mind that I don't recommend artificially rebuilding your story to fit someone else's expectations. But that wasn't the question. When it gets down to it, there's just not a lot you can do in any case to guarantee any response from Hollywood at all. But if you want to bring it down to something mechanical, that's the best I can offer.

Notes from under the floorboards:

Not much going on this week except that I lost a crown off a root-canalled molar a few days ago and discovered the root canal had "wishboned" (split in two, which I gather is fairly common in old root canals, and mine went back 23 years) so nothing could be done but remove the tooth. So I lost a couple days to getting over that, but it wasn't terribly exciting or painful, and neither was anything else in the last few days.

BBC America's JEKYLL, despite a few amusing revelations, exited with something of a whimper in its final episode last Saturday, after filling with promise over the previous couple. Not sure where the imagination collapsed, but after several hours of demonstrating what a superpowerful, superfast, unpredictable monster Hyde was, the creators decided to send him out by having him just stand there, while a handful of bargain basement soldier types who are also just standing there pump bullet after bullet into him. All to make some tortured point about love. I certainly wouldn't have predicted it; here we're led to expect a hurricane and they give us drizzle. But that's the BBC for him. No second series would seem fairly easy to predict, though, even with the climax peppered with excuses for one...

To anyone who's interested, for the next few days you can get a track, "Radio Nowhere," from Bruce Springsteen's new album, legit, by clicking here. I'm no big Springsteen fan, but it's not bad. Windows users might have to switch to IE, since I couldn't get it to download in Firefox, but you can listen to it online regardless. (Addendum: as I was about to send I found out the song is also available free at iTunes.)

Congratulations to Nicolas Juzda, the first to correctly identify last week's Comics Cover Challenge theme as "continents." Due to the tooth and resulting time complications, I didn't think to notify him of his victory until yesterday, but hopefully he'll send in a site and we'll run it next week.

For those who came in late, almost every week I run a Comics Cover Challenge: the covers of seven seemingly unrelated comics (thanks to The Grand Comic Book Database for the covers) from throughout comics history are spread, usually not in any particular order, down the column. But a secret theme - it could be a word, a design element, an artist... anything, really - binds them together, and the first one to e-mail me with the correct solution can promote the website of their choice, subject to my approval. (Not that it's been an issue so far.) Most weeks I also hide a clue to the solution somewhere in the column, for those who can't see right through it. 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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