"Making comics respectable" continues to lurk in the back of a lot of fans' minds. A lot of professionals too, if the frequency of the phrase's appearance in conversation lately indicates anything. Particularly when something like the BATMAN or SPIDER-MAN movie comes along, there's suddenly a lot of gurgling about how this is "our" chance to finally prove to the Uberkulture that We Matter. That we are not, in fact, some pitiful cultural wasteland of stunted juvenilia but a vibrant avant-garde of creativity capable of showing the Uberkulture The True Way. This leads to some interesting notions, like to win the respect of the masses we must turn out Truly Great Work with Undeniable Literary Merit (of course, that depends on your definition of literary merit, dunnit?) or that we must prove the upstandingness that will win their hearts by weeding out the gaudy and the extreme, cleaning up our act, and creating "responsible" fiction.
As Joe Quesada has been heard to say on occasion, fuggedabouddid.
Respectability is for chumps.
Comics have had their moments of respectability. The world at large notices them and grows interested in them when they make money. Respectability in America is a function of money; if you make enough money you become respectable even if you're notorious. If you don't make money, you're a joke. The idea that comics can "become respectable" artistically is not only fairly ludicrous, but artistically poisonous. Much better we should be notorious and controversial; right now, very few people talk about us at all. (Unless, this month, they're talking about SPIDER-MAN.)
But you don't win respect by programming yourself to what you think are someone else's tastes. The Comics Code never brought comics an ounce of respect, though it did, for a time, mollify newsdealers. The cold fact is that people either like what going on in a comic book enough to buy it or they don't, and in only the tiniest fraction of those cases does "like" extend from the specific to the general, as if someone buying THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS will automatically like BONE or THE FILTH or THUNDERBOLTS or even THE DARK KNIGHT STRIKES BACK. In my own experience I find many American adults actually have quite a bit of respect for comics, and have a great deal of interest in what it's like to work in the medium.
But that doesn't mean they necessarily like comics, or that they care to read them. A lot of fans (and pros) seem to confuse "respect" with "like," as though they were the same thing. They're not, and what a lot of this comes down to is a desperation to be liked, to be validated. There's a T-Bone Burnett song called "The Trap Door," that goes, "you can't get nothing if you want satisfaction." Maybe you've noticed that the only people anyone really respects anymore are those who don't care about respect. Like love, it's something you're less likely to get the more you want it.
Respect is a non-issue. What we need is marketing that actually sells comics, because that will bring in money, and where money goes respect follows, if grudgingly. At least in this country.
A handful of coming attractions that hit too late for last week's list:
From Joe Casey: Figured I'd leave out the obvious paycheck books and push the stuff that might normally fly under the radar.
IMMIGRANT SONG, a creator-owned, serialized back-up story appearing in the BATTLE POPE: WRATH OF GOD mini-series published by Funk-O-Tron. First issue hits in June. A rocketship lands in the backwoods of Bucksnort, Kentucky. A lone baby is found inside... unfortunately, it's been found by the Cornpole family! Redneck horrors and hi-jinks ensue!
HIP FLASK: UNNATURAL SELECTION, published by Active Images/Comicraft in July. Stunning, painted art by Ladronn. Truly the most beautiful book you'll see all year.
AUTOPILOT, a creator-owned strip illustrated by Sean Phillips, this 8-pgr. will appear in the upcoming anthology REVEAL, Dark Horse Comics.
MONOLITH, original creator-owned graphic novel illustrated by Scott Cohn, from Ait/PlanetLar. Larry Young... making comics better.
Okay, I can't resist slipping in a quick plug for my Wildstorm monthlies launching this summer, AUTOMATIC KAFKA (with Ash Wood) and WILDCATS VERSION 3.0 (with Dustin Nguyen). Wildstorm is taking a chance with this mature readers superhero line. If it works, a whole new area of the mainstream will open up for creators who want to push the envelope.
From Gordon Purcell: I'm doing my main work for Claypool Comics--a regular job penciling SOULSEARCHERS AND COMPANY with writer Peter David and an Elvira story in ELVIRA 114. I have a short story in SHOOTING STARS 1, an anthology started by folks at the Dixonverse website. My KOLCHAK THE NIGHT STALKER comic is now out from Moonstone Comics. I've drawn and inked lithographs of the 4 Star Trek series and some THE LEXX trading cards for Dynamic Forces. And I'm doing art for a series of regional Ford Motor commercials, which place real cars and trucks in hand drawn backgrounds--pretty neat looking!
From Terrence "Scooby-Doo" Griep Jr.: I'm working on WORLD CLASS COMICS #1, a $4.95 40 page b&w one-shot Image comics special with cover by Glenn Whitmore, stories by Gary Carlson, Jeff Pedigo, James Chambers and me, and art by Glenn Whitmore, Vatche Mavlian, Tim Stiles, Tony Manginelli and Ron Fontes. In this, Big Bang Comics continues to celebrate the magic of comics history with five great stories from the twilight of the Golden Age and the beginning of the Silver Age of Big Bang Comics. I think readers of Alan Moore's "America's Best Comics", classic comic books, and DC Archive Editions would love it.
All comics professionals are invited to tell PERMANENT DAMAGE what your new projects are.
Those who've been wondering just what the Hand Puppet's administration's real agenda is (me, I haven't been wondering) were last week given the opportunity to at last wake up and smell the coffee. You may recall that in the wake of 9/11, the Hand Puppet made it possible, for the first time, for the CIA to legally spy on Americans. (Not that they haven't been doing it for decades anyway, but no one had actually told them it was okay before.) So now we've got this chain of events: FBI field agents pick up on the hijackers pre-9/11, pick up on the flight school connection, ask Quantico for permission to up their surveillance, and the FBI bureaucracy (henceforth to be known as "The Feebs") buries it. Virtually strangles the investigation in the womb.
And is apparently not the only administration agency to follow that course of action, which should be raising more questions than it has so far.
Anyway. Following 9/11, the Feebs issue a report on how they knew nothing, saw nothing, heard nothing, and were completely without blame – I'm for some reason suddenly reminded of Walter Pidgeon protesting "What man can know his own dreams?!" in the '50s schlock-fi movie FORBIDDEN PLANET - only to have the Minneapolis field office circulate a scathing indictment of the Feebs, showing that not only was the FBI made aware of the hijackers' presence in the USA in plenty of time to do something about it, but flat out chose not to step in. (FEEB director Robert Mueller has since politely thanked whistleblower agent Coleen Rowley for basically unmasking him as a bald-faced con artist.) Of course, by now a seeming thousand unfollowed leads and blunders have trickled out - I'm particularly amused by the tale of the conscientious FBI agent who intercepted terrorist communiqués using the tracking/bugging software the Bureau touted as an absolutely necessary weapon on the war on crime, but who was so horrified by learning that he'd accidentally picked up "clean" information as well that he destroyed all the information in some act of ritual self-purification – that there's no question this wasn't simply a glitch of process but a systemic meltdown.
Last week, stalwart bastion of liberty Attorney General John Ashcroft, and trustworthy defender of the public weal Mueller announced the new reorganization of the Feebs, shifting the Feebs from crimestopping (which until fairly recently was little more than a listless cover for the political surveillance preferred by longtime Feeb director J. Edgar Hoover) drastically expanding the very bureaucracy that the Minneapolis (and Phoenix, and Paris, and who knows how many others) office couldn't beat their way past, and by announcing the Feebs will drastically step up... spying on Americans. Not that this is quite Cointelpro yet – while they've been given the mandate to infiltrate and observe political and social groups (presumably those considered out of step with the Hand Puppet's agenda) so far there's no indication they plan to act as agent provocateurs to goad those groups into acts that would allow the government to step in and shut them down (then again, if that's the longterm idea, as it was in the FBI's longrunning Cointelpro program, there wouldn't be any indication, would there?) – but what's the sense of the whole thing? It seems pretty obvious that FBI field agents are already quite capable of doing their jobs, so what they need isn't a bigger FBI but a more responsive and responsible one. Wouldn't it make more sense to throw support resources their way? Republicans always make a big noise about Big Government, yet here we have one of the hardest core nutcase Republicans around, Ashcroft, going out of his way to create Bigger Government, which, if recent history indicates anything, would be more likely to reign in field agents than facilitate them. And what's with this spying on American citizens thing? Because the CIA can do it now, the FBI should be able to as well? I've yet to see any credible suggestion from any source that American citizens knowingly and willingly abetted the Twin Towers attack. If we can believe what we read in the papers, domestic terrorists – such as the Unibomber, Timothy McVeigh, or the recent Mailbox Bomber – are all lone nuts. So where's the argument coming from that the Feebs should be given carte blanche to spy on social and political organizations?
But that's pretty much the Hand Puppet's entire social agenda in the wake of 9/11: greatly increase the ability of police, particularly at the Federal level (which fall under the jurisdiction of the Executive Branch), to spy on Americans, while limiting scrutiny of their own activities. (It's a sign of the times that the FBI's reorganization was followed by a press conference with friendly reporters, none of whom actually reported what was said. It's an "on-the-record" meeting without records.) Are we really naïve or scared enough to believe this is a good thing?
While recently I've seen many calling SIX FEET UNDER (HBO, 9PM Sundays) "best show on television," I don't think any regular reader is unaware I thought their sophomore season pretty much sucked. That it does remain one of TV's best dramas isn't praise for the show but a condemnation of the rest of the industry. That said, the season finale was spectacular, which was especially surprising given it was all quiet, small moments, with none of the operatic blow-ups that pushed too hard to be drama and marred the rest of the episodes. Characters played true to character, people had little victories and little defeats (I'm especially pleased to see Rico, my choice for best character in the show, get what he so richly deserves), the directing (by creator Alan Ball), dialogue and acting was so sharp and focused, it brought back what was originally good about the show: the sense that you weren't watching TV but peeping through someone's windows. And there was finally, in all the characters (David, in particular, has mounted a strong challenge for best character in series) a sense of growth and culmination after spending the season floundering in story gimmicks. Sure, there are the traditional cliffhangers but these also play as little bits of life, which should be the show's watchword next season. When SIX FEET UNDER plays it for drama, it sucks. When it plays it for little bits of life, it comes close to brilliant.
On the other hand, there's THE SHIELD (FX, 10PM Tuesdays), which some people have also been touting as a great show. I finally broke down and caught the last couple episodes (the season finale plays tonight as I write this). While not the worst show I ever saw, not even really a bad show as cop dramas go, it's really nothing we haven't seen in HILL STREET BLUES and HOMICIDE, with the sole innovation that the focal cop (Michael Chiklis' Vic) is pretty much totally lacking in moral values. Not that we haven't seen that before too, but the real shift is that he doesn't have fits of tormented introspection over his excesses, though the show does try to play both sides of that street. It doesn't help that (presumably for budgetary reasons) the same two uniformed cops and pair of detectives seem to respond to every crime scene; this results in a self-conscious and unconvincing dramatic compression. (In a bid for social depth, one of the squad cops is a female veteran while the other is a self-loathing black homosexual rookie who has decided to let Jesus reprogram him.) Also mucking things up is Vic's dorky undercover squad, who play mostly for comedy relief like leftovers from some Stephen Cannell action-comedy. And Vic, the show goes to pains to let us know, is, underneath it all, truly concerned with the cause of justice, he just has a wider (or narrower, depending on your perspective) definition than is "socially acceptable." This is illustrated in the two-part season wrap-up by playing him against a truly scumball crooked cop played by MIAMI VICE third banana John Diehl. It's funny to hear Vic's boys complain that Diehl's character doesn't play by the rules, and that's our cue: Vic may be out there but he has his own code, so it's okay to root for him. Eh. If you're going to flout the rules, at least show some conviction.
Back to the subject of very useful free programs for PC users. No less than Steve Gerber himself recommends Ad-Aware. The program roots through your system to find and remove those insidious spyware programs various applications install on your computer without telling you (particularly if you use fileswapping services like Gnutella or KaZaA). I've used it myself and fortunately didn't find anything. But if you want to rip the heart out of the jerks who want to track your movements on the web (you never know, it could be the FBI), Ad-Aware is the program to use. It's considered so effective that there are now spyware programs that search for Ad-Aware on your system and remove it before installing themselves.
I'm leery of recommending anti-virus programs, as bad virus protection is far more serious than a bad browser. Much as I generally loathe Symantec programs due to their tendency to crap up a perfectly good computer, I have to say I doubt you can do any better than their Norton Anti-Virus. However, if you want to try a free virus checker with reputedly similar results, you might check out AVG Anti-Virus. I've heard it recommended you should have a couple A-V programs and use both, so even if you've got Norton, AVG might make an inexpensive and hopefully effective alternate.
For a really useful Windows program, pick up Eraser , which scrubs old data right off your hard drive, making it extremely hard for your girlfriend, Federal snoops or that guy who bought your old laptop to access the information you thought you had deleted. It allows various level of security, culminating in what amounts to nuking your drive. I give Eraser my highest recommendation.
Another reader recommends CopyURL and Bookmark Wizard, free from Moon Software, for managing your browser bookmarks. If you've got any favorite free Windows software that can be downloaded off the web, go to the Permanent Damage Message Board and tell me what it is, what it does, and where it can be found. Only useful programs, no games or timewasters, and, sorry Mac fans (I'm not biased against Macs but I don't use one and have no basis for judging Mac recommendations), only Windows programs.
It isn't a comic book, but Patrick Neighly and Kereth Cowe-Spigai's ANARCHY FOR THE MASSES: An Underground Guide To The Invisibles (Mad Yak Press; $23.95 direct, postage included) is a stunning achievement. If there was ever a comic that deserves its own skeleton key, it's Grant Morrison's (with divers hands) THE INVISIBLES, sometimes the bane of Vertigo's existence and sometimes the bright spot, and here it is. The book goes issue by issue through Morrison's twisted punk-intellectual masterpiece and dissects it via synopses, meticulous footnotes and interviews with virtually every talent involved. Wisely, Neighly and Cowe-Spigai don't impose their own interpretations on THE INVISIBLES but provide all the tools a reader needs to have a go at it. Just fabulous, both a fitting exegesis and tribute to the series just as Morrison's follow-up THE FILTH is about to arrive. If you're a Morrison fan, if you want to see the layers of meaning and interpretation a comic book is capable of, or if you want to read a really good critique of a comics series, don't miss it.
Aussie whizkid L. Frank Weber's graphic album CRAB ALLEN is something of a modernized throwback (Icon Comics; $35.50 AUS) to lighthearted adventure strips like TINTIN (which Weber acknowledges in his dedication), and his affection for them really shows. The tale of a young photographer and his chain-smoking monkey sidekick starts with mobsters and mock-vampires and wickedly twists into political intrigue and wild action with style and savvy humor. The art gets a bit irregular in places but the storytelling and pace never flag (particularly in an extended gunfight scene that pretty much beggars anything ever seen in THE PUNISHER or 100 BULLETS. A very satisfying read.
Finally, a blurb: My MORTAL SOULS #2, from Avatar Press should be out today. The first issue was well-received; the crime-horror story involves a police detective who becomes aware that the dead run the world, and they hate us. In this issue he works out what to do with this knowledge as his newfound ability to discern the dead from the living, as he's haunted by the ghost of a woman he killed and hunted by the dead. Part 2 of 3, and if your dealer doesn't have it, tell him to get it. He can, you know. (A trade paperback of the mini-series should appear in late winter as well.) The art this issue by Philip Xavier is magnifique. So buy it. You'll like it.
Those wishing to comment should leave messages on the Permanent Damage Message Board. You can also e-mail but the chances of a reply are next to nil these days, given my workload, though I do read all my e-mail as long as it's not trying to sell me something. 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. You can also leave messages for me and have discussions on other topics at my Delphi forum, GRAPHIC VIOLENCE. Please don't ask me how to break into the business, or who to submit work to. The answers to those questions are too mercurial for even me to keep up with.
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I'm reviewing comics sent to me – I may not like them but certainly I'll mention them – at Steven Grant c/o Permanent Damage, 2657 Windmill Pkwy #194, Henderson NV 89074, so send 'em if you want 'em mentioned, since I can't review them unless I see them. Some people have been sending press releases and cover proofs and things like that, which I enjoy getting, but I really can't do anything with them, sorry. Full comics only, though they can be photocopies rather than the published version. Make sure you include contact information for readers who want to order your book.
If you want to know something about me, you can probably find the answer at Steven Grant's Alleged Fictions.