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Issue #53

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Issue #53

Delphi started out years ago as an “information service,” sort of a huge database for business, then tried to go mainstream and waded into a futile four-corner match against AOL, CompuServe and Prodigy to become King Of The Internet Services. (Which, of course, AOL won, though CompuServe and Prodigy still linger like shrunken heads. AOL has since swallowed up Time-Warner-Turner, and, by extension, DC Comics, but now faces trouble from the Securities And Exchange Commission that may see it spun off again and inadvertently give a boost to current distant competitor MSN.) Following the rout, Delphi mutated again, into a free service based on banner ads that allowed pretty much anyone to create their own discussion/chat forums. While they’re probably not making any money, Delphi now hosts hundreds of special interest forums, but, for those who haven’t been paying attention, the most special of all has turned out to be The Warren Ellis Forum, run by Warren himself with the aid of a bevy of “filthy assistants” (ala TRANSMETROPOLITAN’s Spider Jerusalem). It has, time and time again by a wide margin, been Delphi’s most popular forum.

To commemorate the end of Warren’s long-running TRANSMETROPOLITAN, which closes its scheduled run next issue in the tradition of SANDMAN and PREACHER, The Warren Ellis Forum shuts down in October. Though there are those who felt Warren used it to mercilessly promote himself, it was used far more often to promote the medium and the business, often to those who had been away and had stopped paying attention and to those who had never had much experience of comics in the first place. Warren also co-created the sites Ordering Comics, to encourage advance ordering of interesting product in keeping with how dealers order the stuff, and ArtBomb, to advance graphic novels. You may or may not like his work, but, for his advocacy of the past five years, Warren deserves the title of comics’ MVP.

But, as The Warren Ellis Forum closes down, Warren has shifted to an e-mail newsletter, BAD SIGNAL, a sort of blog where he tracks whatever he’s thinking about at the time. Blogs (I just found out the term derives from “weblogs,” which is too cute by half) are generally pretty poisonous affairs, but this turns out a lot easier to take split along a string of e-mails than dripping down the infinite length of a web page. Warren also has the advantage of usually being interesting, and BAD SIGNAL continues his advocacy as often as not.

A recent issue was particularly interesting, and he didn’t even write it. It reprinted a post by Amanda Fisher of Missoula’s comic shop Splash Page:

The following was written by Amanda Fisher, manager and co-owner of progressive comics store The Splash Page in Missoula MT, for The Warren Ellis Forum. It’s reprinted here with her permission.

#########

“Amanda says: Open a Comic Book Store!”

Or start saving your money so that you can buy into my franchise in a few years. 😉

Seriously, there aren’t enough specialty comic book stores out there. And don’t talk to me about bookstores; I love bookstores, and I love that bookstores are carrying more graphic novels. But a bookstore with graphic novels is not like a local comic book store, just like department stores’ music sections aren’t as cool as your local record store.

Owning a comic book store is as hard as any small business, but you can make money and you can do something that you love. And when you open a store in a town that doesn’t have one, you’re personally bringing something new and beautiful to your community.

What we need, though, are the people who are willing to approach a comic book store as a business, not a hobby. This has been said a hundred times, but one more time before Warren closes the doors, I’d like to send out the call to all of the young, driven, entrepreneurs out there. Just like Larry (Young)’s Do It Yourself ethic for making your own comic, you can have your own comic book store. And, in my opinion, this industry needs you.

If you’re thinking of starting a store, don’t go into it because your basement is full of bagged comics and you love to read. Go into it thinking of creating a profitable, exciting business that fills a niche in your area, which you have the experience and drive to make successful.

Anybody who’s looking into doing that can get a lot of free help and advice from other people in comics who want to help you succeed. I won’t volunteer any other retailers (yet) but there are lots of the guys who can help you. You can always email here or here with questions.

Start at the top: check out www.sba.gov for information on small businesses.

Go to Mel Thompson’s site at www.comtrac.net for information about point-of-sale software, but also some tips about the daily to-dos of comics retailing. Mel’s been a consultant in the industry a long time.

Dave Wallace of Fantasy Shop, Inc, has written a specialty store retailing guide that is inexpensive and useful.

(There’s another book called SO YOU WANT TO BE A COMICS RETAILER by Rick Boal that is useful, but out of date for minor details—it was written in 1996, I think.)

There is a new generation of readers out there, and we need a new generation of retailers to be there for them!

Amanda Fisher

The Splash Page, Missoula MT.

Fact is, Amanda’s right. After a severe downswing, comic shops are on the way back, making money again, and, if many retailers I’ve spoken to aren’t lying, they’re being driven by graphic novels the same way bookstore sales are. Many years ago I said what was happening to comics in the ‘90s wasn’t so much a recession as a shift, kicking and screaming all the way, from a magazine economy to a book economy. I don’t get to say this very often, so I’m going to say it here: I was right.

As far as I can tell, there are only two important qualifications for running a comics shop now. Understand how to run a business, and love comics. Not Marvel Comics, not superhero comics, not the comics you read when you were 10, not the semi-porn bad girl comics you grooved on while stoned in high school. Comics. The medium. Because talent can sit out here and do the coolest, most adventurous work imaginable, and if there’s no one out there with the brains and cool to get it to a reading public, it’s all for nothing. Bookstores are great, and I’m thrilled graphic novels are doing well in them, but there’s also the small thrill of being able to shop in a place where the medium actually means something to them, especially if it’s inviting to the general public instead of hermetic and foreboding, as many traditional comics shops have been. And we need all the outlets we can get.

To subscribe to BAD SIGNAL, click here and send a blank message. Don’t try to subscribe through a mail server that uses a profanity filter. (Warren’s also got a new column, Brainpowered at ArtBomb

TwoMorrows Publishing has slowly been putting together an impressive line of magazines: THE JACK KIRBY COLLECTOR; the always interesting COMIC BOOK ARTIST; Roy Thomas’ quasi-fanzine ALTER EGO; COMICOLOGY; and Mike Manley’s magazine for comics artists, DRAW!. (They also have a pretty interesting line of books.) There’s a fannish slant to most of their output, in the old sense of the word: for the most part, these guys really seem to love what they’re writing about.

As sort of a companion to DRAW!, TwoMorrows recently introduced WRITE NOW! for comics writers, edited by former Spider-Man writer (ain’t we all?) and Marvel editor Danny Fingeroth. The first issue, which came out around San Diego, featured Brian Bendis, Marc DeMatteis, Stan Lee, Mark Bagley, Tom DeFalco and Joe Quesada. The second features…

Well… me.

Among others, I’m sure. But, ironically, Danny asked me to write an article on surviving comics. (Meaning: continuing to work in any market climate.) Not that I’m not qualified to write it – there aren’t many who’ve lasted so long in this business with so little to work with – but survival’s been a little dodgy these days. For the last year or so I haven’t been following my own rules. (To see what those rules are, you’ll have to read the article.) My focus has been on original graphic novels, creator-owned comics, and media deals, almost all of which pay off the back end, and the back end can be a long time coming, particularly if there are publishing delays. Fortunately there’ve been royalties and other money trickling in, and once things start appearing a comfortable flow of cash shouldn’t be far behind, but the adjustment period can be tense. Writing the article became an eye-opener, as I reacquainted myself with all the things I haven’t been doing. Much as I hate to, a big push back into work-for-hire might be in order, at least for awhile.

Oh well. Live and re-learn.

After 16 months, THE SOPRANOS re-emerged on HBO (Sundays, 9PM). As the show crawled through the first new episode, I found myself thinking over and over it I hope this will be the final season for the show, as creator David Chase has threatened several times. (Though season 3 was originally supposed to be the final one and he reneged on that, so I don’t hold out much hope.) It was largely a catch-up episode to remind us of all the salient points – Adriana’s new girlfriend (seemingly being groomed for an affair with Tony) is an undercover fed, Christopher’s still doing drugs while suffering under the pressures of the job, Tony’s seeing a shrink, Carmella’s concerned about money, Ralphie’s an opportunistic creep, AJ’s having school problems. Too much Junior, waaaaaaaaaaay too much Janice. One interesting riff surfaced with Paulie in some backwater jail awaiting a hearing and Silvio caretaking Paulie’s rackets in the meantime (hinting at a possible rift in the family, with Paulie eventually siding with a New York mobster moving in on Tony’s operations). The episode was rife with hints of future plotlines, yet had no real focus, though the acting – especially by Gandolfini, Michael Imperioli and Steven Van Zandt – was as good as ever and carried the thing.

But the main problem of THE SOPRANOS is that we know their shtick now. There’s just not that much more to the mobster life that they haven’t delved into. (Okay, Tony salting duck food with stacks of $100 bills we haven’t seen before, but that was about it.) There are two ways they can go now: repeating the same bits over and over with mild variations ala OZ (always the better show, but even more trapped than THE SOPRANOS by its milieu), or bringing it all to a head and putting some real tension back into it. (Remember in the first season when we really couldn’t guess whether Tony was going to be jailed, or whacked?) Of course, that would require an ending, so let’s throw away the obvious ones: no dead Tony, no prison. I’m hoping Chase, who started into the show with something really clever and innovative, can gracefully exit the same way.

He co-created SEINFELD and was reportedly the model for George Costanza on that show, so it’s no surprise writer-producer-actor Larry David plays a blustery, socially inept writer-producer named Larry David on HBO’s CURB YOUR ENTHUSIASM (Sunday, 10PM). What is a surprise is that, unlike virtually any other sitcom now running on TV, it’s actually funny, a condition not hurt at all by David’s apparently lack of interest in being liked. It’s also something of a school for sitcom writing: what passes for the action (the episodes often have a Sienfeldian “about nothing” quality) evolves almost entirely out of character, threads weave effortlessly through several plotlines at once, and every planted seed flowers and is cleverly reaped by the end of the episode. Set against the backdrop of the entertainment world, it also shares with THE LARRY SANDERS SHOW the peculiar and always fascinating spectacle of actual celebrities (Ted Danson, in the season opener) making themselves look bad. It’s not the sort of thing I’d miss if it went away tomorrow, but while it’s on I’ll watch it. Did I mention it was actually funny?

The less said of HBO’s THE MIND OF THE MARRIED MAN (Sundays, 10:30PM), the better. Let’s just say it’s everything CURB YOUR ENTHUSIASM isn’t. Or vice versa.

Last week I made the comment that I didn’t think Muslims paid quite as much attention to anniversaries as we do. When I said it, I was being half-flip, but, to my surprise, I received the following:

After all the information that has been given over the last year about Islam and Muslims everyone seems to have forgotten that many, many, many Muslims do not observe anniversaries of any type. With the exception of converts like myself, Muslims don’t celebrate birthdays. The Prophet Muhammad did not do it so most of Islam follows his example and does not.

The irony is that the Puppet and his administration are on “orange” level of security for 9/11/2002. I believe that if there were another attack by al-Qaeda (no matter the scale) it will not ever land on a 9/11 again. For the pure and simple reason that they probably believe it to be against Islam.

I was glad to see you mentioned something of this in your 9-11 column.

I wish I could take credit for that being more than an accident, though now that I think about it I probably read it thirty years ago or so, when I studied comparative religion. Anyway, thanks for the cultural insight.

On the balcony, by himself for the first time in a week, Jacoby lit a Galoise, sucked in the rough smoke. London’s air was damp and bitter with pollutants that mingled pleasantly with the taste of the tobacco. In his eyes, the true European Union.

Following the successful completion of negotiations, he had spent the afternoon catching the sights of London. His New Year’s resolution had been to see more of the places he visited, to glimpse the fading local cultures before they vanished into global anonymity. But nothing had stirred him. All of it, even the celebrated changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace, seemed little more than a tourist trap cribbed from some semi-mythic history that no longer held any content or meaning, like careening down Thunder Mountain in the Old West at Disneyland.

Not that history itself had any meaning anymore. On the balcony of his suite, looking south over the Thames and, in his imagination, the world far beyond, Jacoby felt on the cusp of the future, though he knew the future was already here, had already swallowed up the world. All that was left was for the world to realize and accept it, and that would come. All history had led to this time, and now history was no longer necessary.

Slowly exhaling the sweet smoke, he felt a twinge of remorse over the negotiations. He’d been indoctrinated in patriotism since he was a kid in Massachusetts, year after year saluting the flag and reciting the pledge of allegiance, had even proudly volunteered and served in the Venezuelan War. Patriotism was a hard thing to shake. During his years at the American branch of the corporation he’d still considered himself an American, but in his current role such considerations were counterproductive. Nations meant nothing anymore. As nations had risen from medieval Europe to consolidate principalities, empires had risen from nations to economically bind distant parts of the globe, and America had risen to unseat the tradition of kings and in effect redistribute wealth and generate possibility, corporations had risen to take the final step past obliterated boundaries and unite the world. Borders had never been more than imaginary lines. To the extent they still existed, it was for show. (Jacoby again thought of Disneyland, where you could wander from Frontierland to Fantasyland without realizing it and no one batted an eye.) Certainly there were mercurial boundaries between corporations, but money was the only real border left. The world now divided into only two lands: those with money, and those without.

Imposing conditions on the USA had exhausted him, but he reminded himself he hadn’t damaged them. Not really. If America chose to continue their wars (an ongoing exercise in nostalgia tolerated by the corporations as long as the wars stayed away from major markets) they’d have to learn to pay for them. The bank seizures imposed in the negotiations were illegal by American law and would doubtless spark a season of riot and recession, but the WTO had authority to override any local laws when it came to monetary issues, and the US had been more than willing to tolerate that when it was in their favor. Besides, he reasoned, it was good for them. It was time the country graduated to truly become a citizen of the New World, and if that meant painfully learning some humility, it was a small lesson.

Soon, he knew, there would be no more America. Not really. The whole world was America now. He pictured the old generations of immigrants flocking to the New Land to find a place to belong, hundreds of years of them, carrying bits and pieces of their old countries but eventually assimilating, wave after wave. In his vision this was the future, wave after wave assimilating into a shared future, a truly shared world at last, and it would take decades at most, not centuries. America would assimilate. Two generations, perhaps three, then no one would be left to remember what life had been like before. They barely remembered now.

Jacoby knew he’d miss things about America. Not democracy, though. The tyranny of the ignorant, he called it, though no doubt Americans would continue to hold elections and call them traditional, like Buckingham’s changing of the guard, another nostalgic ceremony held largely for the amusement of tourists. What form representation would take in the corporate world he didn’t know, but these things were still evolving. New possibilities were always on the horizon.

But there was nothing wrong with a little empty tradition either.

He took a last puff of the cigarette and stubbed it out on the concrete balcony wall. After a last look over the Thames, he returned to his suite, leaving the slider open, and slipped on his Gucci’s before heading to Heathrow for his next flight.

A correction to last week’s Image piece: I mistakenly said BASTARD SAMURAI was by Michael Oeming and Miles Gunter. While they’re the co-writers and Oeming also inks the book, the penciling and coloring is by new Gaijin Studios roommate Kelsey Shannon, who co-created the series with Oeming and Gunter. Sorry about that. Thanks, Cully.

There’s been a lot of Internet action thrown my way lately. If you haven’t decided to read BADLANDS, my crime novel, set in 1963 and starring the man who really shot John Kennedy, as drawn by Vince Giarrano, yet (AiT/PlanetLar Books; $12.95; ISBN 0-9709360-8-7; STAR code 16194), check out reviews by David Alan Doane, Don MacPherson and Augie De Blieck. When you’re convinced, it turns out you now have two convenient websites to order from: Khepri, which now has a slew of my work available in their Steven Grant Bookshop, and Mars Import, which also has a Steven Grant page listing my available work for sale. This is what Larry Young calls “showing the love,” but where I come from love is like butter: it’s better with bread. Support these two online retailers, please. (Both Khepri and Mars Import have pages for many other comics talents as well.)

If you’re going to be in the Las Vegas area at the beginning of November, the local library system is hosting the first Vegas Valley Book Festival, at the new library complex about a mile from me, as it turns out. While guests include novelists like John Irving, Stephen Coonts, Lee Goldberg and Tom Robbins, of particular interest is a program dedicated to “comics as literature,” featuring ZIPPY THE PINHEAD cartoonist Bill Griffith, Scott McCloud, Gilbert Hernandez, Jill Thompson and Steve Gerber. And people wonder why I think Las Vegas is a cool place to live…

Congratulations to Heidi Macdonald, who has added comics news contributor to PUBLISHER’S WEEKLY to her resume.

Finally, I’d like to wish Denny O’Neil a speedy recovery from his recent medical crisis. (I’ve yet to hear definitively whether it was a heart attack or a stroke.) Denny and I have had our ups and downs over the years, but he’ll always be one of my big early influences and a premier writer in mainstream comics. So get well soon, (you get this next bit one time only, Denny) Sensei.

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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