I already bought myself some heat with Jackie Estrada, leader of Comic-Con International, on the soon to be defunct Warren Ellis Forum, by saying this year was an "average" Comic-Con. Of course, the Con was a third bigger than even last year (I think Artist's Alley was actually in Tijuana this year, but that's just a guess from the size of the place), and attendance was way up over last year. By any standard, that's a pretty successful convention, and in that regard I'd have to agree it was "bigger and better" than ever. Many publishers seem extremely pleased with the great response their upcoming projects got. I never check such things myself but it's been reported to me that while media-related promotional booths were much easier to come by this year, the bread-and-butter dealerships, with old comics and Japanese toys and the like, seem to be getting priced out of San Diego; as the show shifts increasingly toward being a Comdex-style movie-TV-comics trade show promoting coming wares, the "little guy" is being squeezed out, which may be fueling the rumor that WIZARD is considering running a WizardWorld West opposite San Diego at a cheaper venue in Anaheim. (Didn't the Comic-Con itself threaten to relocate to Anaheim a few years back?) Anyway, it was a big big show.
Which is what made it a pretty typical Comic-Con for me. Not that there weren't gobs of fans there asking for my autograph – many more than usual – but they did leave me with one apparently unanswerable question: if so many people read this column – and virtually everyone copped to it, from the heads of major comics companies to the fan on the street – how come I don't make more money off it? When you're living out in the hinterlands, San Diego becomes the main opportunity to see other professionals who you don't normally see or speak with during the year (among the highlights this year: chatting, however briefly, with Jimmy Palmiotti – we noted the similarity in our company names – and Mark "Sugar Ray" Waid, who seems in great spirits these days) and the larger the con, the greater the chance you will never find the people you want to meet. (This isn't a complaint, just an observation: a natural, if undesirable, byproduct of growth.) The con was "typical" because it had all the typical elements of a Comic-Con: lots of people, lots of announcements that really didn't seem like that big a deal to me, pretty much everything I've come to expect from San Diego, only moreso.
It did start out with one hell of a great party, launching Viz's new SHONEN JUMP anthology magazine with a great spread and drinks, and a decent presentation. (Thanks much to Viz director of sales and marketing Dallas Middaugh for all the time he spent with me and his eagerness to answer my many questions.) I haven't seen a cocktail party like that in years, and the new magazine looks like ten tons of fun. (It's a Japanese style manga magazine, slickly and attractively laid out, with a lot of different serialized features, most of which have never appeared in America before. Look for it.)
What seems like a lifetime ago, Future Comics publisher Bob Layton and I were pretty good friends, and while we haven't really orbited in the same circles in the past couple decades, we've remained friendly, so it was good to talk for awhile with him at San Diego, particularly about his plans to "self-distribute" his new line of comics, attempting an end run around Diamond. There isn't time this week to discuss Bob's plans and strategies, and I'm not entirely sure I understand them yet, but I hope to have an extended dialogue with Bob about them here in coming weeks. If he's right, it could make things pretty interesting.
Also pretty interesting are two pretty much ignored stories that came out of the con that could also drastically shake up comics:
1) ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY is reportedly expanding the occasional coverage of comic books and graphic novels in their Books section into its own regular section in the near future. As EW would immediately be the widest read source of information about comics product in the country and their emphasis has generally been on a much broader spectrum of material than, say, WIZARD commonly chooses to offer, this could trigger a big shift in popular perception of what comics are all about.
2) Barnes And Noble (as reported almost parenthetically in tiny print in a recent WIZARD, perhaps to avoid upsetting any big players in the game) have supposedly been doing so well with graphic novel sales (their big sellers, I'm told, are Viz, closely followed by DC and TokyoPop) that the megachain is considering opening a national chain of graphic novel/comics specialty shops. Which would certainly change industry dynamics on a couple levels, not only presenting a serious challenge to local comics shops (look how well local bookshops across the country managed to hold out against the double onslaught of B&N and Borders) but threatening Diamond's hegemony as well, since you know Barnes and Noble isn't going to bother buying their product through Diamond. And I can't help but wonder (without any evidence; this is merely suspicion) whether this might have had something to do with Marvel abruptly dropping out of their graphic novel distribution exclusive with Diamond a few weeks ago...
Speaking of Marvel, for all the grief they took over presenting a booth this year that was just a table with a "Marvel" banner hung behind it, the company greatly facilitated meetings with other pros by funneling many of their con resources into a hospitality suite at the Marriott, stocked with food and drink. Thanks, Joe! (And C.B., and Andrew, and whoever else was involved.) I should mention the small size of Marvel's booth didn't stanch a constant flood of autograph seekers.
Me, I mostly spent my time at Larry Young's AiT/PlanetLar booth, signing, schmoozing, meeting great guys like Jim Krueger, pimping the BADLANDS reissue (STAR code 16194) and BADLANDS: THE UNPRODUCED SCREENPLAY (STAR code 10610) (thanks, Fil!), stealing their water and fielding movie producers. We inadvertently had this wonderful little game going on, during which I discovered a whole new way to get movie producers to read your spec screenplay: sell it to them.
Weird but true. See, Comic-Con International is now something of a Mecca for producers, particularly this year when SPIDER-MAN and ROAD TO PERDITION are heating up the box office. They trot through, looking at the publishers' booths, eyeing the displays for new properties they can exploit. At Larry's table, they kept scanning the product - BLACKHEART BILLY, ASTRONAUTS IN TROUBLE, BADLANDS, BADLANDS: THE UNPRODUCED SCREENPLAY, FOOT SOLDIERS, etc. – and doing a doubletake back to the screenplay book. Which they'd all grab and start looking at as though someone had plopped the secret of life in front of them, usually saying, "What's this?!" And then they'd buy it.
Which is why there won't be any reviews this week, despite my promise last week of gobs. Many of them not only bought it, but read it. Now I'm unexpectedly on my way to Los Angeles for a couple days for a slew of meetings (which is pretty funny, considering the goal of the book, as stated in the introduction, was to prevent a BADLANDS movie from happening), and the prep work for that made reading a huge stack of comics and graphic novels (at least carefully enough to review them fairly) impossible. For now.
I had a couple really cool moments this year, though.
Friday afternoon, I was leaving Marvel's Marriott suite when I ran into John Romita Jr. I asked after his dad, and John said John Sr. was there, and had to go to the Eisner Awards that night to accept an award for somebody. I headed for my hotel thinking nothing more of it, until it suddenly clicked that story was b.s., and John Sr., a nominee for the Hall Of Fame this year, was going to be inducted. Every year, Jonah Weiland invites me to sit at the Comic Book Resources table at the Eisners, and every year I have the same reaction: I'd rather drive a needle through my eye than suffer through an awards ceremony. Yet I couldn't not watch John get inducted into the Hall Of Fame, so I showed up about halfway through the ceremony and took a seat, just about putting Jonah into coronary shock. John (and pinch-hitter MC Howard Chaykin, filling in for Sergio Aragones) thought he was there to accept the award for John Buscema, until Buscema's granddaughter walked up to accept it instead. It was a great moment when John Romita's name was announced, and an honor both Buscema and Romita greatly deserve.
The other cool moment came during my one panel (two cool moments, actually, if your idea of a good time – and whose isn't? – is to repeatedly whip Brian (100 BULLETS) Azzarello across the skull with his own baseball cap), 60 Years Of Crime Comics. Also on the panel, moderated by anthologist Jeff Gelb, were William (THE SPIRIT) Woolfolk, Al Feldstein of EC Comics fame, Max Allan (ROAD TO PERDITION) Collins, Greg (QUEEN AND COUNTRY) Rucka, and Howard (AMERICAN CENTURY) Chaykin. At one point, Al Feldstein talked of how the Comics Code killed EC Comics – and was pretty specifically designed for it – and later, after hearing us younger turks describe our crime comics, Al incredulously asked, "How are you guys able to do all this stuff? Don't you have to work under the Comics Code?" Which set off a flurry of people on the panel and in the audience trying to explain, but I just said into the mike, "I'm surprised no one has told you this before, but you won, Al." He looked stunned. "I won?" he said. "You won, Al," I repeated. He said, "Somewhere Bill Gaines is smiling in his grave."
Being able to tell Al Feldstein he won, now that's a pretty cool moment.
My weight was a topic of conversation at the Con as well (at least when people were talking to me). Or lack of it. I've spent most of my life overweight, except for a couple of years in the mid-70s, but at last year's Comic-Con I looked around at all the fat people there (sorry, don't mean this to be insulting, but it's true) and decided I didn't want to be one of them anymore. For the past year I've pretty much stayed out of sight while I dropped 50 lbs, heading for my ideal actuary table weight of 155. This led many people to ask whether I'd been sick (or, rather, whether the loss had been voluntary), and I have to think the harsh lighting of the convention center, merged with a running lack of sleep that week, added to the effect, since the picture Jonah took of me gives the impression of a pretty serious heroin addiction. (My face is fleshier than that, trust me.) And, once they learned it was completely voluntary, people kept asking me what system I used.
So here it is:
Or, rather, be careful about what you eat.
Bread, pastries, milk products, pasta in large amounts, sweets, soft drinks (whether regular or diet), beef, non-whole grain cereals, desserts, alcohol, coffee, tea, processed foods, gravies, basically anything heavy in fat or calories: bad.
Red salmon, albacore tuna, trout, buffalo, lean turkey, whole grain (particularly oat) cereals, beans, vegetables, soy milk, fruit, rice in small amounts, pasta in small amounts: good.
Red pepper flakes and pepper sauce (I recommend Louisiana brand) are good for pumping up flavor if you feel the need. Whatever portion you commonly take, take two-thirds of that. I didn't quit everything; I'll never stop eating pizza, which is largely bread and cheese, but we make our own from scratch, keeping the amount of cheese small and going heavy on the onions, bell peppers and soy pepperoni. And I don't worry about it when I hit buffets (a standard here in Las Vegas) but I only go there once in awhile. More than anything, learn to love water. Lots and lots of water. (At least you'll know you're not losing just water weight.)
Getting enough protein is an issue that I haven't quite solved. Stay away from so-called protein bars, which usually have up to 8 grams of fat per bar and sometimes 40 grams of sugar. The best protein-fat-sugar ratio is found in Pure Protein bars, which generally taste pretty good and have almost no sugar and much more protein-for-fat than most. But eat them sporadically. Pure Protein also makes a "meal replacement shake" in Strawberry and Chocolate that doesn't taste quite so good but has tons of protein and almost no fat or sugar.
Then there's exercise: start light, do it right – though as you convert to muscle, your weight loss will slow because muscle weighs more than fat. Someone told me awhile back you take years to put pounds on, you shouldn't expect to take them off in a hurry. A year into it, I'm still 11 pounds or so away from my goal, but I'll get there. Ralph Macchio told me maybe 20 years ago the secret to losing weight is to always stay a little bit hungry, and I've come to believe that's true. Losing weight's really not that difficult; all you have to do is want it more than you want to eat.
Anyone remember "The October Surprise"? Popularized by former Reagan staffer Barbara Honegger, it was a much touted story, eventually "debunked" by rhetoric more than anything else, that Jimmy Carter - his credibility ripped apart by various events including and most spectacularly the Iranian takeover of the US Embassy there and the holding of Embassy staff and employees as hostages for month after grueling month, and a failed military attempt to rescue them (masterminded by none other than the soon-to-be notorious Lt. Col. Oliver North, and by at least one version it was less a rescue attempt as a cover for making strategic contact with anti-Russian heroin growing hill factions in Afghanistan) – concocted a secret agreement with the Iranian government to release the hostages just before the 1980 presidential election. Which might have swung the election from Reagan to Carter, had not, according to the story, Reagan's own team negotiated their own deal with Iran to rob Carter of a rare political victory by not releasing the hostages until a later date, like, say, Reagan's inauguration. On the face of it, it sounds utterly ludicrous; would Reagan's people (giving the president himself the benefit of the doubt) have been so determined to commit treason to gain the White House (where, anti-Clinton Republicans should note, they comprised the most prosecuted administration in memory)? Perhaps the release of the hostages for Reagan's inauguration was simply the Ayatollah quaking in terror at the notion of Rambo coming after him after all (though the clandestinely cordial relations of the Reagan administration and the Iranian government during Iran-Contra suggests otherwise). At any rate, that story became known as "the October Surprise," a phrase that lives on in conspiracy lore.
So what, you ask? Nothing really, except...
Maybe you've been following the story of the USA's impending invasion of Iraq. Could happen, says the Hand Puppet, ought to happen, don't know when. But a few weeks back, Scott Ritter went public with supposed admin plans to deploy 20,000 Marines to the Iraq area in October, bluntly stating that many Marines means war. Not enough to actually win a war in such a large country as Iraq, but surely enough to rouse a patriotic America to support a much greater troop deployment to "defend" those already there. (This is how we got so many soldiers into Vietnam, remember.) Ritter's "revelation" prompted an interesting round of commentary on pundit shows, with senators and generals stating this is the time for public debate on the invasion of Iraq. Curiously, the generals played up the sheer crippling cost of such a venture, economically and in terms of human life, strongly implying it's clearly not worth it, while senators such as Democrat Joe Biden bluntly stated that we're not sure when we're going in but have no doubt that we are going in; it's a matter of deciding what's the best time. (The Democrats, idiots as always when it comes to "proving" how "patriotic" they're willing to be, seem to have accepted the spurious argument that we were "defeated" in the '91 Kuwait war by not removing Saddam Hussein from power when, I repeat, that was specifically not our objective in the war, and we had promised our allies we wouldn't even attempt it, and now, as then, such an attempt would probably lead us into war not only with Iraq but with every sovereign Muslim nation in the region.) Now it's clear that virtually none of our allies, from Britain to Saudi Arabia, support an invasion of Iraq in any way. Ritter's original commentary suggested there was no practical military value in attacking Iraq, and the impetus was political, pure and simple.
It didn't occur to me until the other day what political benefit could be got from embroiling the country in an unsupported unilateral effort that could end up seeing us fighting a dozen nations or more at once, but then it hit me. At what would think would be their zenith, the Republicans suddenly find themselves staring at the prospect of hard times. While Sept. 11 remains strong in American memory, the unbridled support for every unrelated bowel movement by the Hand Puppet has faded drastically, with many people now far more concerned with the flailing economy, now constantly wracked by scandal and investigation to the point where the Hand Puppet has been forced to take on his own natural constituency to save face, and in the many Congressional races across the country, Democrats are using (a bit disingenuously, let's face it – it's not like Democrats are up to their hair implants in Big Money as well) the economy as a wedge issue, with some success if you believe early indicators. It's an unlikely but not impossible scenario that the Democrats could take the House this November and strengthen their grip on the Senate, leaving the Hand Puppet in roughly the situation Clinton faced after "the Republican Revolution" in '94, unable to do anything but veto because the opposition party blocked his way on every front.
Say, however, October (particularly late October) finds us "fighting the good fight," single-handedly taking on a Satanic foe, the only nation with the fortitude and virtue to "do the right thing." Americans rally to support "the troops" and the embodiment of our highest national will, the Hand Puppet, and in order to do this, they need to give him the tools he needs to successfully avenge his father's – and America's! – '91 "defeat": a Republican Congress that will theoretically slash taxes to the bare bone while simultaneously appropriating hundreds of billions of dollars to the war effort...
AKA an "October Surprise." It wouldn't be the first time foreign policy was twisted to influence domestic politics. And, otherwise, why a timetable that has us spending winter fighting in a notoriously harsh climate? After 11 years of "victory," Saddam hasn't destroyed the world yet, and there's no apparent reason to believe that prospect will change between now and, oh, May.
So welcome to October Surprise II (though it's not much of a surprise anymore, is it?). The really sad thing is the Democrats are just dumb enough to clench up and wave their flags so that no one can hold not waving the flag against them, and help the Hand Puppet sandbag them. With one hell of a lot of sand.
I usually regret doing this, but...
I'm looking for an artist.
There's a project I've been wanting to do for years, a comedy-action thing. I've never been able to con a publisher into it. A few weeks ago I started talking with a new Kubert school grad named Sean Clauretie about doing BADLANDS II (Vince Giarrano is unavailable) to run in this column, Sean's been doing a great job, and it should start up in September sometime. And why it didn't hit me before I don't know but I realized I could do this other thing here as well. So I'm looking for an artist.
Before you rush to your e-mail programs, a few caveats:
This is not a "learn-as-you-go" gig. I'm looking not for just someone who wants to draw comics but someone, like Sean, who is already of professional caliber but as yet pretty much undiscovered. If you think that's you, fine, but take a long hard look at your work first.
This is not a superhero or fantasy strip, though it does require the artist be able to draw animals well. I don't want to see any superhero or fantasy art. No "cosmic" junk. I want samples set in "the real world."
There's absolutely no pay involved. At least for now. If it gets to print, we'll talk.
So what's in it for you?
As I discovered in San Diego, it seems like every publisher and editor in the business checks this column. Which means those people are going to see your work. If your work is any good, odds are pretty good they're going to start wondering if maybe work as good as yours wouldn't be an asset.
So if you really think you've got what it takes, send me two (2) pages of samples, following a single sequence. Use this as your header: PERMANENT DAMAGE ART SEARCH. (That's so I won't think you're a virus and delete your message. Somewhere in the body of your message, use the phrase "In reference to your August 14 column..." Sorry to put so many rules on this; blame it on the jerks perpetrating viruses via attachments.
One other caveat: due to time considerations, I won't be able to critique or respond to any submission, except the one I go with. If you want to make sure I got your sample, set the e-mail to spit back a message that I've received it. (If you really want a response, I suppose I could ask Simon Cowell to judge them.) Sorry for that inconvenience.
And good luck.
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. 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.