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Issue #46

by  in CBR Exclusives Comment
Issue #46

We descended on Manhattan at night, cutting the lights and engines to glide unnoticed between the fires. The descents were now restricted to cloudy or moonless nights. Landing a plane in darkness had become more dangerous; the tribes had learned to polish sections of street to resemble bodies of water, hoping to lure us into a crash they could scavenge. We had taken to equipping the underbellies of planes with ultrasonic sensors that measure surface tension, distinguishing water from asphalt. They once tried to keep us out by setting as many fires as possible, giving the illusion of a greater population than existed, but the practice died as supplies of flammable materials dwindled. Even the mirrored streets are vanishing, broken up to burn the tar for fuel.

We chose the East River between the old Roosevelt Island cablecar and the Queensboro bridge, now stripped and impassable, and moored the plane below the surface to avoid discovery. Greta smiled, smelling herself on me as we checked the equipment: body suits, filter masks, guns. We had three bullets between us, our munitions long since depleted, but the sight of guns alone usually scared off would-be attackers. Greta’s graying eyes suggested she had caught the plague. If she had, I would have to kill her.

Soon the fires would be spent for good, and New York would exist only as a ghost town.

Fascinating experience recently. Tried working in an entirely new way.

Started a few months back when X-MEN UNLIMITED editor David Bogart (who has since moved on to administration, replaced by C.B. Cebulski, who so far has been extraordinarily tolerant and helpful) asked me to run a few story ideas past him. Among those was Kitty Pryde pet Lockheed The Dragon, at that point lost in the mists of time, since surfaced in Chris Claremont’s new X-project. To be honest, I’ve never liked the Kitty Pryde character and never thought much about Lockheed, but the character held one charm: he was co-created by my old pal Paul Smith, and I had this notion that Smitty (he’s affectionally called Smitty, but as far as I know that’s his idea) might be lured into doing a ten page story with his old character. That’s pretty much the virtue of a book like XMU, as far as I’m concerned: the chance to work with artists I don’t normally get a chance to work with.

Well…

The first response I got from David was that there wasn’t a chance in hell Smitty would do the story – Image’s LEAVE IT TO CHANCE (co-created by Paul and James Robinson and also featuring a Lockheedish pet dragon) ate up all his time – and without Smitty there was no story. Which I knew all along; that was the whole point.

Well, turned out when I contact him (it was left in my hands) that a) Paul was just hitting a break from LEAVE IT TO CHANCE and b) had himself pitched a LOCKHEED THE DRAGON mini-series not too long ago, and told Marvel was not interested. Short version: he was game. None of us had any idea just how game he was.

I know something about Smitty not many writers know: he likes to work from short stories instead of plots. He never gets them, of course, but short stories let him know what the story is completely while allowing him to adapt them freely to the comics page.

So I surprised him by writing up the Lockheed idea as a short story. (Surprised C.B., as well.) Way too much in it to fit into the twelve allotted pages, but if you want an artist who can edit and trim a story and still end up with what it needs, you want Paul Smith, who in turn surprised all of us by turning out the art, pencils and inks, in record time.

Back when I first started working with Marvel, Roger Stern was editor and one day bitterly suggested a new hyphenate: the writer-letterer. Writers were jamming too much copy onto pages, see, without any allowances for space. (Many artists return the favor, jamming pages so full there’s nowhere to place copy without covering things up.) If writers had to letter the books, Roger reasoned, they’d reign themselves in more. (Showing just how much Roger, a writer himself, really knew about writers.) Though I don’t have a computer with enough speed or memory to handle it professionally, I’ve been puttering around with computer lettering for awhile now, using the much vilified Photoshop and some of the very professional fonts available from Comiccraft. Receiving .jpgs from Smitty, I decided to experiment and do the copy placements on computer. (Printable copy I can’t produce; placements I can generate just fine.)

I started the usual way, writing the story in Word, transferring the copy to Photoshop to fit into the art. Pretty quickly it became apparent this wasn’t the optimal way to work. After wrestling with it for a couple of pages, going back and forth to rework the copy, I stumbled into a much more efficient way: write the story right onto the art using Photoshop instead of Word.

The short story helped me too, as it turned out. Everything I needed was there, in that blueprint: dialogue, imagery, exposition. The result was something much different from anything I’ve written before, and much different from the style of most comics stories. (Better or worse I couldn’t say, but different, starting with the past-tense voice of a short story rather than the in-your-face present tense favored in comic books.) The sheer gorgeousness of Smitty’s art made me even more respectful of it than I’d have been anyway, but Smitty is nice enough to leave open space so there’s room to fit copy in around his pictures. And it turned out I easily fit possibly 30% more copy in that I would have otherwise, without losing or covering anything.

Downside: it’s slower than writing and ballooning, though I imagine speed will come with experience. Upside: it’s a really fun and satisfying way to write a comic book. Most of the time we write, balloon on overlays or Xeroxes, and turn it over to other hands, so that writers rarely see the finished work and how everything fits together before publication. This way, it materializes right in front of you. It’s exciting to watch.

I predict over time this will be how comics will be lettered: writers doing it for themselves, as part of the act of creation.

I don’t imagine letterers will like this prospect much.

No idea when the Lockheed story will see print, by the way. You’d have to ask Marvel.

If it’s Wednesday morning, ‘m about halfway down Interstate-15 to San Diego. No reviews this week, no political diatribes. No time. Had to finish the Lockheed story and prep for San Diego. Lots of meetings, particularly producers for some reason. The SHONEN JUMP launch party starts things off early this year, on Wednesday night.

If you’re at Comic-Con International, I’ll probably be found at Larry Young’s AiT/PlanetLar Books table (1801/1900 as the booths are laid out, or right as you come in the central doors) or at Matt Haley’s table in Artist’s Alley. Autographs are free, but tips are accepted. (Don’t think I’m kidding about that, either.) I’ll have a few items for sale if you want something signed but don’t have anything. Larry will also have BADLANDS: THE UNPRODUCED SCREENPLAY and, hopefully, the BADLANDS reissue available.

I’m on the 60 YEARS OF CRIME COMICS panel, with Max Allan Collins, Al Feldstein, Greg Rucka, Brian Azzarello, Howard Chaykin and William Woolfolk in Room 9 on Saturday at 1 PM.

If you have comics or graphic novels you’d like me to review, feel free to hand them to me. I’m driving, so I don’t have to worry about overloading my suitcase. If you have promotional shotglasses, please give me one as I collect them. (Give me a business card as well and I’ll be happy to give you a mention in two weeks.) Sorry, but don’t try to give me any writing samples; my lawyer doesn’t like me reading unpublished work. And I don’t critique art – but I’ll be happy to critique any artist’s storytelling.

And next week I’ll be recovering from the Con. Something will be here, but not sure what yet. Maybe something strange I’ve been holding for just such a moment.

Forgot to last week, but I want to welcome the inimitable (unless you’re Grant Morrison, of course) Mark Millar to the Comic Book Resources family. Go read his column The Column right now.

Some concluding messages on recent discussions:

For what it’s worth, the restriction on which publishers can get Previews covers was publicly acknowledged back during the distribution wars, when Diamond was signing up exclusives. The exact numbers that each publisher was guaranteed was never explicitly stated, but it wasn’t difficult to calculate from a perusal of the covers themselves: DC and Image each got 10/year, and Dark Horse and Acclaim each got 2/year.

Even Marvel was shut out for the first two+ years they were back with Diamond… not just as punishment for competing with them, but because Diamond was contractually obligated to give the covers to the others. The only reason Marvel gets any covers now is that Acclaim is gone. I assume they either bought the cover rights from Acclaim or (more likely) negotiated a deal with Diamond that locks in those 2/year.

Hell, Diamond would probably prefer to give more covers to Marvel these days (it’d spur more sales than a DC cover promoting a Vertigo book or an Image cover spotlighting their “alternative” titles), but they can’t. The more I think about it, the more I wonder if Diamond is less the “conspirator” here than it is “self-inflicted victim”.

Another data point to consider: As most people (understandably) fail to notice, Wizard is also a “Premier” publisher. They have reasonably deep pockets, and are friendly enough with Diamond. Yet they’ve never had a Previews cover to promote their comics.

So even if CrossGen manages to break into the front section of the catalog, don’t expect to see a peek at Meridian’s panties on the cover of Previews any time soon.

And let the letterers weigh in.

From Scott Brown of Cyberosia:

Since you asked about cutting and pasting on PD…

I flip back and forth between my word processor and Illustrator, or the word processor and Quark. I cut and paste and proofread all in one go (and if I happened to have written the comic, I revise my dialogue, too). If going from A to B is a straight line, why follow a curve by retyping?

Jason Maranto suggested:

It’s all cut and paste, the only things that could cause problems are cross platform/program formatting issues… for simplicity’s sake scripts should always be saved in rich text format (*.rtf) which is the same format most email programs use to keep things the same from program to program and platform to platform.

Michael Thomas (one of millions who also wrote to tell me the movie SERIES 7: THE CONTENDERS is already out on DVD, added:

I do computer lettering for a few indie titles. In this case, the writer is correct; the majority of that job is cut and paste. What’s there is all that’s there. The writer’s frustrations lies with one of two things: either he’s not checking his script before it gets to the letterer (I’ve edited on the fly for glaring errors that I catch, although it’s not an official duty) or the editor to whom he sends the script is changing the script before they send it on to the letterer. The second I don’t experience much because the people I deal with tend to be the writer/editor/publisher all wrapped in one.

And I owe an apology to Kip Manley for misreading his intro to BRUNO: LEBENSRAUM. When he “claimed” that BRUNO was something other than comics, he was having a bit of fun both with dissertations like Scott McCloud’s UNDERSTANDING COMICS and with the many critics who, on praising Art Spiegelman’s breakthrough MAUS went through hoops to explain why MAUS wasn’t really something as vile and mundane as comics. In fact, Kip reverses himself and reveals the joke by the end of his essay, something that somehow escaped me. Sorry about that, Kip.

Finally, regarding Attorney General Ashcroft’s plans to institute a semi-amateur secret police force in America, one reader wrote:

I found this about the TIPS program today. I don’t think the Justice Department’s plan to continue this even in the face of bipartisan opposition has received much media attention at all.

He suggested checking out this link. It should be noted that the U.S. Postal Service has refused to join the call, while the US Army is resisting a related call to use the military as a domestic police force. Meanwhile, it turns out earlier this year that Ashcroft was so disturbed by the naked breast on the statue of Justice at the Justice Department that he spent $8000 to have it covered up. A small price to pay to keep those kiddies pure and innocent, I guess… (In a related matter, did I mention the Pope called the Church’s current ongoing pedophile sex scandal “a shame.” Does that man have a gift for understatement, or what?)

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.

Those wanting to subscribe to the WHISPER e-mail newsletter should click here.

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. Be warned that this site is functionally dead – I’ve switched to a different server and am prepping a new page – but it’s still up and the backstory details are still germane even if the news page is a bit dated.

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