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Issue #4

I get a lot of e-mail. Lately I've gotten so much from so many different people asking the exact same questions about trying to break into the business I half think they're all being sent by the same person just to annoy me. So let me just answer the questions all at once, and then I won't answer any more e-mails about them.

To wit:

1) How do I sell my writing to editors at comics companies?

A: Write better than anyone else and use every opportunity to stick your work in front of an editor. Sooner or later some might read it. One of them might give you work.

2: What are the addresses of the comics companies?

A: Most companies print their addresses in the indicias either inside the front covers or within the first few pages of the comic.

3: Which editors are most open to unsolicited submissions?

A: None of them. That isn't to say they'll absolutely refuse to look at unsolicited submissions, or that they aren't theoretically interested, but this is the worst time to try breaking into the comics business at a major company level in recent memory. Editorial staffs are generally being pared, leaving editors with more and more work, even while the big companies are publishing fewer and fewer comics and they don't have the work to hand out to existing professionals. It's a tough, tough time. If you're not producing really spectacular work, don't even bother. You're better off self-publishing.

Which I realize offers no solace and little hope, but that's not really my job.

Another popular e-mail question I get is: what are you reading now?

Which, it turns out, usually means: what fiction writers do you pay attention to?

A: I don't. I rarely read fiction anymore, since William Gaddis and Malcolm Lowry are dead, and JG Ballard, James Ellroy and Thomas Pynchon only put out books once in a blue moon. Every so often someone will catch my fancy for a couple weeks, but that's about it. I get my fiction from TV and movies these days. And comics, when people send them to me. What I read is lots of non-fiction, because that's the real root of ideas. Read a lot of fiction and you'll end up saying, "hey, I could steal that bit." It's a bad habit to get into. Read non-fiction and you get new ideas by recombining elements no one ever put together before.

Which, it also turns out, parallels the thesis of the book I'm currently reading, John Ratey's A USER'S GUIDE TO THE BRAIN. The upshot is this: everything you were ever told about how the brain works is wrong. This book is fabulous, with great case studies and exegeses of the latest studies of brain mechanics. It describes how the brain forms in a fetus, what physical changes take place in the brain during learning, how new skills are absorbed into the nervous system, how the brain can constantly rebuild and remake itself. There are fascinating (if somewhat horrifying) stories of people tarred by the psychiatric industry as mentally challenged when their perceptual problems turn out to be physical and correctible. It discusses how personality forms and what role perception plays in destiny, and answers the question of whether biology is predestiny. (Answer: a bit of both.) I know a lot of people think this kind of material – any non-fiction – is dry and dust, but Ratey's writing is clean and lively, and with over 300 pages left to go, I've got 4 story ideas already. Plus it turns out what I tell people about where ideas come from happens to be right. And all this time I thought I was being poetic.

Next up: Haynes Johnson's history of the Clinton years.

[CPL Online]In the mid-1970s, one of the better little fanzines came out of Indiana: CPL. AKA, if you need to know the serious name, CONTEMPORARY PICTORIAL LITERATURE. One of those names that tries to attach weight to comic books, and it wasn't long before everyone involved decided CPL was, if not better, easier to say. Whatever other fame CPL may claim, it spawned a number of professionals: Bob Layton (who published it), Roger Stern (one of the editors), Roger Slifer, Duffy Vohland, Mike Uslan, John Byrne. And me. Among others. (Art is long, but memory is short.) It's hard to believe the last issue was in 1975. Part of the CPL focus was on Charlton Comics, then edited by Nicola Cuti and experiencing a minor renaissance, and Bob wrangled the rights to do the "official" Charlton fanzine, CHARLTON BULLSEYE.

Which, among other things, was going to feature new stories of the 60s Charlton superheroes like Captain Atom and The Blue Beetle. (This was long before DC picked them up.) Alex Toth drew a lovely Question story, and I was set to write a Question series for them. (Continuing on the Ditko version, which has little to do with the later Denny O'Neil version, Vic (The Question) Sage's aged protector in his TV gig died and the old man's slimeball son takes over the station, firing Sage, who ends up working for the only place that will let him tell the unbridled truth without trying to censor him: our version of the National Enquirer. Sage accepts this "demotion" stoically, and puts his new unlimited freedom to good use.) Just one more thing I'll never do (to the relief of fans of DC's Question, I'm sure). BULLSEYE collapsed with CPL for the best of reasons: Bob Layton went professional.

Lot of water under the bridge since then. Though nothing much precipitated it besides circumstance, Bob went his way and I went mine. It wasn't long before Bob was co-creating comics (DC's STAR HUNTERS) and within a few years he became what might be the first writer-inker in history, producing books like Marvel's IRON MAN, HERCULES and ANT-MAN. Jump forward another few years, and he's co-founding Valiant Comics with Jim Shooter, ending up as editor-in-chief there for awhile. Now he's putting together an online comics company, Future Comics, with Dick Giordano and David Micheline.

And resurrecting CPL as an online fanzine. Or, rather, what we used to call a prozine – sounds like some sort of neuro-inhibiter drug, doesn't it? – a fanzine produced by comics professionals. The first issue's up, with work by Bob, Roger Stern, Mike Baron, Steve Rude and Mike Vosburg. Bob's got commitments from a number of professionals for pieces. (Including me. I'm trying to whip up something a little out of the ordinary for him.) I must be in a nostalgic mood today for some reason, because it's kind of nice, for a change, to see a little bit of my past come back to haunt me.

I spent from October to April moving, and some things got shunted aside in the process. Cleaning my office the other day, I found the October 2000 COMIC BOOK ARTIST (1812 Park Drive, Raleigh NC 27605; $6.95 per issue), a good issue with a fabulous Walt Simonson interview, another Alex Toth rant, a John Workman interview, and a terrific section on Women In Comics. Back when CBA started, I had philosophical difference with its apparent reverence for comics' past, but that angle isn't the be-all and end-all for them I thought it would be. Good stuff. Now if only we could get a magazine like this to focus on the best of modern comics. (Oh, wait! Wizard's coming out with EDGE, so that guarantees fine journalism. But... wait a minute... that name sounds oddly familiar...)

After reading VICTORIA TECH SPECIAL #1 (Writer's Bloc Comics, 5001 Spencer St, Omaha NE 68104; $2.95) I'm still not sure what's going on in it, but as the current crop of Steampunk comics go (writer Eric Sirmenis lists the current ones in his text page in back) it ain't bad. Though I'm not fan of Steampunk, finding the Victorian Age and the fictions that came out of it among the most tedious available(I did like Michael Moorcock's Oswald Bastable novels, though. Do those count?) and I'd probably have a better grounding if I'd read the previous four issues, and Sirmenis handles VICTORIA TECH wobbles a little too much into the faux poetics this Victoriana seems to generate, he handles the character and action with flair. Lafe Smith and Billy&Deseree Crooks produce b&w art that's sort of a cross between Mike Mignola and Williams&Gray that suits the material nicely. There's something about the writing and art that's not quite ready for prime time, but they're not far removed.

From Comics Conspiracy (3729 Woodcreek Ln, San Jose CA 95117) comes an assortment: THE EXEC #1; COMIC BOOK #1-4; and a xerox of something called THE OCHLOCRAT. THE EXEC ($3.95) is an over-the-top action book, with one of the best production jobs I've seen on an independent book in some time: slick paper, full color, and a very nice cover by Chad Michael Ward. You could mistake this for an Image book – and I mean an Image book when Rob Liefeld was Image – and I suspect that's the point. As with VICTORIA TECH, writer Doug Miers and artists Carlos Paul, Jason Maranto and Randy Carmine aren't quite ready for prime time – they all need to break free of expected modes and develop more idiosyncratic styles – but that's really a matter of seasoning. I'm kind of surprised Image isn't publishing this.

Somewhat more original – for a superhero parody (see last week) - is COMIC BOOK ($1.95@). The art by Amilton Santos and Rob Lean is uneven and sometimes pretty, but even for a black and white book the production values are pretty good. Doug Miers scripts read like extended FIRST AMERICAN 8-pagers, but he's got a decent wit he'd be better served developing instead of doing more traditional material like THE EXEC: there's enough in these issues to show that's where his talent lies. But superhero parodies remain just too easy, and after four issues I still don't know what the lead character's name is. (I suspect that's part of the joke.

THE OCHLACRAT, coming in January, seems to be a political satire (much better) about a Punisher-style character created by the government to make sure the truth about politicians gets to the electorate. In the first issue, the Ochlacrat's out to figure out why a career politician voted against his party and betrayed the interests of New York City, and elements of it actually border on pithy. If we can believe in artistic evolution, this represents a huge leap for Doug Miers over THE EXEC. I'm not crazy about the art – no idea who did it – but it's adequate. Worth watching for.

There are moments when I think I'm losing my mind. Last night I was watching NBC's UC: UNDERCOVER and realized how much I missed MIAMI VICE. Considering I caught a couple old MV on TNT a few months back and found them laughable, the thought was a shock. But here's UC: UNDERCOVER, and damn if they aren't invoking that style. There's the quick cutting, the jittery odd-angle camerawork, the terse pseudo-pithy dialogue, the undercover shenanigans. And I have to say: I'm a sucker for it. There was a period where MIAMI VICE was the best thing on TV, from the point where they dumped Gregory Sierra and introduced James Edward Olmos to the end of the first season. UC: UNDERCOVER's nowhere near that good. In fact, it's not all that good at all. The dialogue has a bad tendency to lapse into drivel in the interest of terseness and there are weird moments that even seem to puzzle the characters. There's a little too much "homage" to shows of the past: you can almost see the creators picking this element from MIAMI VICE, that from CRIME STORY, that from THE KILLER, etc. But at least the show gives us fun-to-watch actors like Jon Seda (his pseudo-gunslinger cross-handed draw cracks me up everytime I see it) and William Forsythe, at least it's got a slick patina, and at least, running its special anti-crime task force through all kinds of hoops, pretends to being entertainment, and we all know there's precious little of that on the air these days. It still takes itself a bit too seriously, but when everything around it's depressingly ponderous, UC: UNDERCOVER becomes the confection of choice for the new season. (Don't know how long it'll stay that way, though. Squad leader Grant Show makes way in the second ep for new squad leader Oded Fehr – no great loss – but the break card shows all the cast but Seda. If Seda's out, kiss the show goodbye.)

On the other end of the scale's Steven Bochco's new show, PHILLY. There's nothing wrong with it. There's nothing particularly right with it either. God knows we don't have enough shows about defense lawyers on the air, and god knows none of us would survive another day without another TV defense lawyer in ethical crisis over helping scumbags beat the system. As SuperChicken used to say, you knew the job was dangerous when you took it, Fred. NYPD BLUE star Kim Delaney is a harried lawyer/divorced mom (does every female protagonist on TV now have to a fallen-away Irish Catholic living a life of constant domestic crisis beset by doctrinaire parents without a clue?!) whose partner Tom Everett Scott lives to pick up child pornographers as clients because they'll always need lawyers, and whose bitter ex-husband (Kyle Secor, desperately trying to prove his general excellence in HOMICIDE was some kind of cosmic fluke) just happens to be the DA she has to cut deals with, which allows her to blackmail him over private indiscretions in order to get her clients the terms she wants. It's another one-from-column-A-one-from-column-B show, in this case Bochco putting NYPD BLUE in a blender with LA LAW and THE PRACTICE and the whole thing is just so depressing...

But the real gem on TV now is... call those cable systems now... TECH TV, finally something worth thanking Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen for. The soul of the channel is its news coverage: not CNN style endless blather, but a focus on how advances in technology and how they're shaping our world. There are always fascinating tidbits hard to find anything else, about how San Francisco International can take remote control of incoming planes, or how scientists may have found the oldest galaxy in the universe, or what new techniques suggest a cure for cancer. Turning on TECH TV is like reaching into a box of Crackerjacks that's nothing but prizes. The channel also dispenses computer information and advice in shows like CALL FOR HELP and THE SCREEN SAVERS – with hosts who actually know what the hell they're talking about! - and SILICON SPIN provides focused discussions on issues as varied as whether there's such a thing as Internet sex addiction, if new restrictions on civil liberties are necessary, and whether war is good for the economy. Plus there's a slew of specialty shows on computer gaming and new audio technologies and such. Just an endless font of information. If you don't get it, get your cable company on the stick ASAP, and consider this an absolutely enthusiastic unconditional recommendation. If I had cable in my office, I'd never turn the channel off.

Saw John Dahl's JOYRIDE this weekend. I'm one of the few great admirers of Dahl's debut film KILL ME AGAIN (his follow-ups RED ROCK WEST and THE LAST SEDUCTION are spoken of highly enough there's no reason to do it here) and in his not particularly prolific career he's produced only one flat-out stinker (1996's UNFORGETTABLE). JOYRIDE's not his best work, but it's a pretty good thriller. Aside from trying to escape an onrushing truck by running directly in front of the truck when there's plenty of room to run to the side, no character does anything overtly stupid. Steve Zahn's probably at the top of his game as an irresponsible lowlife who cons his brother (Paul Walker) into pranking what turns out to be really the wrong guy, and even LeeLee Sobieski isn't as chipmunk precious as usual. There are things that you see coming that are still a joy when they play out, things that you probably won't see coming at all. Not a great film, but effective, and it's great to see Dahl get back to the modern west of KILL ME AGAIN and RED ROCK WEST. It's his milieu.

Speaking of movies, since September 11 there's been constant blather about how Hollywood will be forced to finally become "responsible" in the face of "the tragedies." (As Northern Ireland has "the troubles," we now, it seems, have "the tragedies.") Given that this is a more or less free market economy and what the public wants to buy ultimately determines what Hollywood (and every other "entertainment" industry) makes, let's do a little reality check on what's been selling the past month.

Sales of action figures are up, particularly "rescue figures." This doesn't seem to indicate children are shying away from "violent toys" (as the opponents of such toys have long labeled them), not does it indicate their parents are doing much to dissuade the choice.

In last week's top 20 TV ratings, seven shows were comedies, three were "reality" shows, and ten were hour dramas. The public seems to be embracing, rather than shying away from, unpleasant topics. Game shows like WEAKEST LINK and WHO WANTS TO BE A MILLIONAIRE are bleeding viewers, while the new "reality" shows are floundering. Among the healthiest shows: CSI and CROSSING JORDAN.

The big business at video rental stores is in movies hinging on terrorists and Nostradamus.

Michael Douglas' latest piece of tripe, the thriller DON'T SAY A WORD, was #1 at the box office last week, while this week Antoine Fuqua's TRAINING DAY, a sardonically dark work starring Denzel Washington as the world's most corrupt cop, bumped that out of the top slot this week, making a healthy $24 million. (A pretty healthy debut in any October.)

What this suggests is while America's own Taliban are calling for a "new morality" in the wake of "the tragedy," nobody else is really interested. (While there were certainly other factors involved, it's always worth remembering that Rome was at the height of what we consider its decadence when it was at the height of its power, while its fall came well after its conversion to Christianity and a strict morality took hold.) Ca plus change ca plus le meme chose. As Americans we like what we like – whatever we like – and we don't much like anyone telling us we shouldn't. In general, we like our entertainment, and I don't see that changing much.

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. 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 enjoy PERMANENT DAMAGE, check out our brother column, Larry Young's LOOSE CANNON.

If you want to know something about me, you can probably find the answer at Steven Grant's Alleged Fictions.

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