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Issue #58

So what's actually happening in comics these days?

Not having gotten out to a comics shop in awhile, and basically subsisting off the comics people mail to me, I wasn't sure I was the one to answer this question. I mean, sure, there are things that I like, but I'm talking about cultural movement, things generating interest in the medium.

Scouring around, I don't really get a sense of much going on, in a cosmic sense. A quick scan of the "big news" today on NEWSARAMA and THE PULSE reveals: Bill Rosemann is leaving Marvel. Marvel's SOLDIER X is rumored cancelled. Brian Bendis's short works are being collected. Image is creating a superhero line. Another publisher has signed for trade paperback distribution through Diamond. And if you've got Peter or Parker in your name, you qualify for a discount on the SPIDER-MAN DVD. Not having either, or any interest in the SPIDER-MAN DVD, that doesn't really raise my blood pressure.

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Nor does much of the rest of it, though I can see the virtue of a Bendis collection, and as I like Darko Macan's writing I'm sorry to see his SOLDIER X go.

Now that the Internet has two identikit comics rumor sites, a quick look at them indicates (these may not necessarily be true): Hasbro only gave Dreamworks an American license for TRANSFORMERS, and the Image version can't be sold anywhere else in the world; DC's T.H.U.N.D.E.R. AGENTS revival has hit snags; an artist who can't be named is taking his project that can't be named to a publisher who can't be named instead of another publisher that can't be named; Marvel's split into four editorial groups; BLACK PANTHER might be cancelled; and Psylocke may be coming back from the dead. And those were the highlights. I start to fall asleep just condensing stuff like that.

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Aside from (arguably) Frank Miller, there's no artist, not even Alex Ross, whose art is guaranteed to generate sales. There are excellent writers in the business now, and Marvel in particular has learned to capitalize on them best by attaching them to known properties, but look at sales charts and it's pretty clear that not one of them generates sales on the strength of their names alone, though many have cults built around them. (When Neil Gaiman returns to comics we'll see if his name can generate sales on its own merits; he's the likeliest to do it.) Even Warren Ellis' new book, Wildstorm's GLOBAL FREQUENCY, launched only in the 40,000 range. Today that's considered a huge victory, particularly for a creator-owned title, particularly one that isn't a superhero comic. And Warren has a very vocal and appreciative fan base that he has been actively nurturing for... at least since the recently ended, long-running TRANSMETROPOLITAN began.

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So I decided to ask around on various Delphi forums. I know it's still popular in comics pro circles to diss the Internet, and there are some reasons for this, mainly that it creates a sense of false intimacy that some fans take way too seriously (Stan Lee actually started this back in the old Marvel comics when he stated repeatedly in letters pages that the readers were the real editors of Marvel comics... but, trust me, he didn't mean it literally) and it provides a level of anonymity (if desired) that seems to open the floodgates of obnoxiousness. It's probably best if everyone views pop culture discussion groups on the Internet (which is basically what the Delphi forums are) as one big cocktail party where you might get into conversations with people, but that doesn't mean you really know them. The longstanding argument against Internet fans (and I've heard this from many more fields than just comics) is that they're not representative of the whole, which is probably true but considerably less true than it was 10 or 15 years ago. Regarding comics fans specifically, it's probably far from true anymore, particularly if you subscribe to the belief that the only people still reading comics are those who want to work on them. At any rate, the hardcore comics fan is probably not particularly indistinguishable from the hardcore comics fan on the Internet, which means they are our audience base, something DC Comics tacitly acknowledged when eliminating letters pages because the Internet now serves the same function. (Which sounds good on the surface, but is a bit unfortunate, as the great joy of letters pages for the letter writers was the knowledge that you were actually interacting with someone involved with the books you were writing about. Though there are enough comics pros easily accessible on line now that perhaps the Internet has become an even more guaranteed means of getting your thoughts to them, so maybe DC's right. Or maybe they just weren't getting enough letters to fill columns with.)

At the moment there's an amazing array of comics-related forums on Delphi. Probably the most like the old Warren Ellis Forum, which was often the forum out of all on Delphi with the most amount of hits and messages, is Ace MacDonald's Super Lime Jumping Station. (What the name means I haven't a clue.) The others I frequent the most are The Larry Young Forum; Justin Gray and Jimmy Palmiotti's Paper Films; the Absence Of Ink forum; Skate Jesus; Cyberosia; a reviewers' site called Comic Book Galaxy; The Lea Hernandez Forum; a site for aspiring comic book writers, Speech Balloon; a private forum for discussion between comics retailers and creators; and my own Graphic Violence. (The last is the only one I spend significant time on; the others I check in on once or twice a week.) I decided to ask on a handful of forums what, if anything, is actually happening in comics today.

Bear in mind the question I was really asking didn't mean whether or not there was anything worth reading out there. There are always going to be interesting projects going on. I'm talking about momentum, come sort of cultural movement, the sort of thing that gets comics deep down in your gut and haunts you until you get your hands on them. I'm suddenly reminded of something I haven't thought about in years. When I was a kid, I remember waiting for AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #42 to appear. This was right after John Romita took over on the art and they had just finished their big blowout finally revealing the secret of the Green Goblin after years of teasing it, and it was an exciting time for the book, a sea change from the Ditko years. The neighborhood comics spot was Hansen's drug store. We knew the days comics came in – Tuesdays and Thursdays – and we knew what was supposed to come out at what time of the month. But the day AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #42 was due, the comics just didn't come in. We (the not insignificant group of us in the neighborhood who read comics) didn't know why. Hansen's didn't know what had become of the comics, nor did they really care. But just before bedtime that day, I got a call from a friend who'd discovered the comics had accidentally been delivered to the Sentry supermarket next door to Hansen's, and the issue, along with a slew of other comics, was available there. I couldn't get there until the next day, but that night I dreamed – actually dreamed – of rushing into Sentry to snatch up the precious issue.

That's the sort of fanaticism I'm talking about, that "must have" sensibility that utterly overwhelms your synapses. Is there anything even remotely inspiring that sort of fanaticism today?

And the answer is: yes. But it won't be a source of comfort to many.

Some of the responses:

"I like the Dead Tree guys, especially Edwin Ushiro's stuff. Very cool juxtaposition of computer effects and old skool zine Xerox machine thrashing. Ed, particularly, will take s Xerox of his organic and deft pencils, and them swap out the black cartridge with red toner and xerox the same piece of paper. What results is a muted, fuzzy, off-register piece which looks like what you see through fogged glasses on a cold spring day in New England. Basically, the only interesting, ground-breaking, balls-to-the-wall stuff going on in comics is, as always, the DIY guys."

"I'm loving QUEEN AND COUNTRY by Oni. As well as a lot of their other stuff, such as THE NOCTURNALS (whenever that comes out), JETCAT CLUBHOUSE and the accompanying ODDVILLE. I've not been disappointed with anything I've picked up from Humanoids who I would happily just write a big check to on a monthly basis."

"I had a hard time thinking of anything else besides FORLORN FUNNIES and POP GUN WAR (from Absence Of Ink) that I'm really excited about."

"I've been thinking the same thing lately. The only book that's really doing it for me is TEENAGERS FROM MARS. I had a huge stack of stuff I got at SPX and was bored with most of it, and I've been bored with superheroes for even longer. A month or so ago I got a shipment of AiT and Humanoids books, thank God. Vertigo has a lot of interesting things coming up, but I'm pretty let down by THE FILTH. I'm digging Y: THE LAST MAN and 100%, and FIGHT FOR TOMORROW. Meanwhile, I'm trying to help take comics into the 21st century. I taught myself Flash this weekend and love working in that style, it's so futuristic."

"THE FILTH (Which is so far above and beyond Mr. Morrison's X-MEN stuff); POWERS (The most clever Superhero comic out there); Y: THE LAST MAN (Great Post-Apocalypse fiction); SUMMER BLONDE (Adrian Tomine); AFTER THE SNOOTER (Eddie Campbell); HOW TO BE AN ARTIST (Eddie Campbell); QUEEN AND COUNTRY; ONE PLUS ONE; and, coming soon, GLOBAL FREQUENCY, MEK and all the new Alan Moore material coming from Top Shelf (LOST GIRLS)"

"The only thing I find remotely interesting right now is the big push that manga is making in the American marketplace. SHONEN JUMP and RAIJIN COMICS are two high profile (and heavily backed) magazine launches; and all three major manga publishers (Viz, TokyoPop, and ComicsOne) are making headway into the bookstore marketplace. And Dark Horse's Studio Proteus books continue to do well in the Direct Market, with LONE WOLF AND CUB being the top graphic novel release month-in, month-out for well over a year. I know manga makes up at least half of my own current comics reading."

"New books by Lynda Barry, Jason Little, Kim Deitch, Phoebe Gloeckner, among others. Upcoming (in the long-term) books by Richard McGuire, Mazzucchelli, Spiegelman, among others. The English-language edition of David B's EPILEPTIC Vol. 1 was the event of the year as far as I'm concerned. Lots of good new editions of older stuff in the past year with more to come. The big events in comics tend to be books, and books tend to be culminations of long-term, often public efforts or a re-presentation of things we've already seen (classic comics or books fallen out of print). There's stuff going on, it's just not hip, sexy and now. Sorry."

"Minicomics. There are a bunch of minicomics creators out right now that I'm looking forward to following the progress of. Elizabeth Watasin, Carla Speed McNeil and Colleen Doran are exciting to watch, and I'm very tickled with TOM STRONG. I guess it all depends on what you're looking for..."

"Artistically? It's a golden age. Business wise? Check out Serializer.Net. Maybe Scott McCloud wasn't so wrong. There is more fundamental change going on in comics than at any time since the whole implosion. It's just not very exciting (bookstores increase shelf space!)"

"Currently, I'm excited by the Doubleday graphic novel releases and the wide variety of minicomic work available. When I'm feeling jaded and bitter about corporate comics, reading the work of someone like Wendi or Pam Bliss or Kris Dresen perks me right up."

"Going on? I really don't know. I picked up Eric Drooker's BLOOD SONG last week. I just discovered his stuff with the re-release of FLOOD and this but I'm kind of surprised that we aren't all talking about him. Looking forward to seeing GLOBAL FREQUENCY on Wednesday and seeing how this is going to work out. I'd like to see more Gary Leach on a regular basis, though. While everyone's raving about the latest issue of THE FILTH, it was the first one that kind of lost me. I'm willing to ride it out though. Morrison rarely disappoints in the long run. It seems like CEREBUS inching closer to #300 should be a bigger event than it's turning out to be."

"There are great comics by people who are getting started now: Wendi and Sean Frost's JOHNNY PUBLIC; Rafer Roberts' PLASTIC FARM; PROGRESSIONS; EVOLUTION COMICS. Anytime a new issue of STRAY BULLETS, LOVE AND ROCKETS, or any of Alan Moore's ABC comics comes out is a day of celebration for me. I'm especially loving PROMETHEA, and STRAY BULLETS continues to be one of the best crime books on the market. Of course LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN is also one of the most thrilling reads lately. I'm enjoying CHOBITS, ANGELIC LAYER and WISH by Clamp, and the ASTRO BOY reprints are long overdue and satisfying as hell. The most exciting new collection that I'm looking forward to getting is Jason Little's SHUTTERBUG FOLLIES. In short--there's plenty of exciting things going on in comics, for people with their eyes and minds open wide enough. It's a great time."

"Six (Eight) Comics That Interest Me Right Now and Why: 1. PAPER RODEO, free tabloid weekly done in Providence by comics artists so outright weird I can't understand what the hell any of them are doing. It's the cutting edge from 2011! 2. HYSTERIA IN REMISSION. I liked the Greg Sadowski B. KRIGSTEIN book, but hopefully this massive, all-comics collection from Robert Williams will deliver the goods, making the case for Williams' comics and perhaps making room for more really satisfying single-volume collections from major but somewhat obscure (to comics people) artists. 3. KRAZY AND IGNATZ. Still the best comic strip of all time, although not very well loved by modern comics fans. A second wave of comic strip reprints emphasizing readability over completist-itis would be a wonderful thing. Next up: GASOLINE ALLEY from D&Q! 4. EPILEPTIC. Not only a great book, but the fact that it's an English-language book from the fantastic French publisher L'Association rather than some noble but compromised edition by someone in North America is really encouraging to me. 5. "Ben Katchor," Ben Katchor, Metropolis Magazine and "Maakies," Tony Millionaire, Various Alt-Weeklies -- the two best regularly appearing comic strip features. 6. THE WORLD ACCORDING TO SEMPE. Just a solid, lovely book by a master cartoonist. The new Ronald Searle book from University of Chicago Press looks great, too. Honorable Mention: Jason Little's SHUTTERBUG FOLLIES (downside -- not enough interesting cartoonists of Little's generation to benefit from such a publisher); Serializer.Net (downside -- revenue model may be more interesting than the comics, although webcomics boosters tend to harrumph scornfully if you suggest this); Increase in Manga's sales presence and relevance (downside -- they're not quite to the artists that interest me yet, although I recognize the facility of some of the mainstream manga artists and enjoy them quite a bit); mini-comics formalists like Kevin Huizenga and Jason Shiga (downside -- may have developed a comics language too delicate to gain a wider audience for all they do); Steve Rude's CAPTAIN AMERICA mini-series with Bruce Jones (downside -- Rude's comics are woefully out of favor right now, so I might not hear about this until after it's been out); forthcoming graphic novella from Joe Sacco about the role of para-military gangs outside Sarajevo during that regions mid-'90s crisis (downside -- there is no downside to Joe Sacco)."

"I'm really busy these days and I seldom get to visit my favorite comic shop. I'm sure that there are interesting new comics out there, but they are probably sold out by the time I get there. Most of my attention is on Anime these days. I take a few minutes each week to order up some fan subs. At $5 to $6 a tape/VCD, this is good and inexpensive entertainment. Every week a little CARE package arrives with lovingly subtitled shoujo classics. Right now, I am having a lot of fun comparing the CHOBITS manga to the anime series. One very interesting development is the name recognition of the Clamp studio. Most kids can tell you what manga or anime they consume by title. Fewer kids remember or care about the authors behind the stories. Within that subset of adolescent manga consumers, the one name everyone remembers is Clamp. It is the first and sometimes only studio brand the kids recognize. Another development is the success of anime on cable TV. The Cartoon Network's Saturday night Adult Swim block, which features anime programming exclusively, achieved a healthy 49% growth in its target demographic of adults 18-34 when compared with the same time slot last year. Much of the growth was due to male viewers 18-34, where numbers were up by 85%. The most impressive fact about the Adult Swim block, however, is the fact that it was number one among 12-24-year-olds among all cable networks during its Saturday night timeslot. Cartoon Network - 1st choice of the dateless."

"Puckett & Scott are back on BATGIRL."

"Paul Pope has promised more THB, between that and 100%, it's all comics really needs."

"Dark Horse have something major planned for next year but the creators involved are sworn to secrecy. Vertigo has two potential hits on its hands (FABLES, Y: THE LAST MAN) after a long drought. Cross-Gen rolls on. Marvel's momentum is lagging badly with sales per title dropping significantly and total sales being kept up only by expanding the number of titles published. On the other hand, Marvel's backlist is finally starting to grow their total sales."

"I have no grand insights. But I think things in comics are changing, just at such a glacial pace it's hard to notice and infuriating for people who would like change to come much more quickly. I think it's now universally accepted that trade paperbacks and OGNs will replace monthly comics and that bookstore sales to non-fans will become a bigger and bigger part of the business. The interest in manga is surprisingly broad and strong. Cross-Gen's ascension to near-premier publisher status makes it the first serious direct market publisher since the early days of Image and Valiant Comics. And I take a little bit of encouragement in such entertaining (if not groundbreaking) books like Y: THE LAST MAN, 100%, GLOBAL FREQUENCY, FABLES, QUEEN & COUNTRY, ALIAS, THE FILTH, 100 BULLETS, etc., finding at least moderate success. Five years ago, I think all these books would have been largely ignored by the marketplace. These aren't big changes and they're frustrating slow, but for comics they're at least a half-step in the right direction."

A few retailers chimed in as well:

"Aside from a list of great books and baby-step advances in distribution that I've seen covered in other threads, the best thing that's happened to me as a retailer in the last 60 days or so is Image's announcement that they're changing their discount structure. For anyone not in the know on this, the exclusive Diamond publishers all set their own discount levels to retailers. When Wildstorm 'jumped ship', Image locked their discount levels for existing accounts, but didn't change the plateaus needed to qualify for the higher tiers. Thus, existing accounts were able to continue buying at thier old disocunt, while new accounts (like mine, as recently as last month) had to try and somehow buy enough Image comics despite no Wildstorm to qualify for a competitive discount. The net result was that I (and probably other retailers) simply ordered all my trades at the beginning of the month on my regular order form to qualify for a decent discount, but then didn't reorder anything for the rest of the month, as I do with DC and Dark Horse. So Image finally decided to change their policy to the same as Dark Horse's... they now base their discount on a retailer's overall Diamond discount, which will place me solidly in the 50% level every month even when I don't have a stack of trades to bulk the order up with. This allows me to reorder weekly on Image, which means I sell more, despite ordering 'less' on my monthly order. I hope that makes sense. So I'm pretty pleased about that. The only thing better would be if Marvel decided to do the same, or at least adopt DC's discount levels. Marvel's discount levels make it impossible for a startup like mine to qualify for comparable discount without putting trades on the initial order instead of reordering. DC, for the record, has very reasonable plateaus with plenty of product. I reorder their stuff weekly, and, not surprisingly, they are far and away the top publisher in my store."

"One thing I'm appreciating more as a retailer is comics' move into libraries. Several high-profile creators are appearing at library conferences around the country giving speeches about getting gns in libraries, and there's been a big push within the librarian groups to get more graphic novels. We're getting orders from all over this state and a few next door, even up into Canada now. I think more retailers are working on getting in touch with their local libraries and schools to sell them comics & gns."

"The "outside world" is starting to take comics seriously as a medium. A customer of mine is teaching a course on comics at the University of Iowa, and at least five of his students have come to us for help on their papers. Each of them has said something to the effect of, "I never read comics before, but I'm getting really excited about them because of this class!" I think part of the reason is because Corey made it clear at the beginning that it would not be a blow-off class, and they would actually have to work to get a grade. He started them all off with readings from UNDERSTANDING COMICS. I don't think these sorts of situations could arise if there were not books being recognized for their literary/artistic merit being published on a regular basis in today's market. These kids are not snobs, they don't avoid the mainstream, they're just excited about a rich medium they've never explored before, and they expect it to be good."

"Oh yes, quite a bit actually: 1) The constant rise in trade sales. Especially where manga is concerned, we're selling more trades by the week. Case in point, the LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN trade shifted eight copies with us in 24 hours. We're a small store so numbers like that are pretty unprecedented. 2) The new wave of material from Vertigo. MIDNIGHT, MASS., Y: THE LAST MAN and FABLES have all gone incredibly well for us and continue to do so. Plus, DC's unusually responsive trade program where these books are concerned is incredibly helpful. 3) The increasing interest we're getting from school librarians and the orders that go with that. I spoke to a conference of local school librarians recently and ended up with about six hundred pounds worth of orders from 45 minutes work. 4) Some genuinely excellent comics. TEENAGERS FROM MARS, ELECTRIC GIRL, HALO AND SPROCKET and RAVEN are all superb pieces of work which have all performed very well for us. These are great books and it's nothing but satisfying to see them sell."

"Good things: New markets are reaching out for comics. Bookstores and libraries are both seeing real growth in serving their clients via comic stories. New voices in comics, the reinvention of Vertigo is working, many a start up is finding favor, whether its the MARS kids starting strong or folk like Cyberosia mining an untapped backlist. And the spawning ground that is mini comics and zines seems reemerging. Not to mention the web comics. Speaking of the web, the growth in targeted sites, allowing a number of voices to be heard, trends spotted, and questions like this one to be asked of a wide spectrum of the comics community. The continued growth of backlist from midlist publishers [AiT, Slave Labor] joining the entrenched DC, Dark Horse, D&Q, & FBI lists. Marvel finally getting its act together with their backlist. The phenomenal growth in Manga trades, DH, Viz, Tokyo Pop, and Comics One have all had great sales. Their collective success outside the DM bodes well for the health of the industry., ie new readers. Bad things: Lack of capital at all levels, lack of space at the retail level. Lack of information systems to co-ordinate the smooth integration of the volume of new books into our stores and warehouses. Lack of time."

So what's to be gleaned from all this?

In my callow youth, we used to talk blissfully about the day when the "dinosaurs" (corporate comics) would collapse and die of their own weight while small furry mammals (creator-owned comics) ate their eggs and thrived. The problem with this model is that we now know with reasonable certainty (unless you're a creationist, in which case the scenario doesn't apply in the slightest) that it was a catastrophic event – probably a meteor collision off the Eastern coast of what's now Mexico – that caused severe climatic changes that made the world an inhospitable place for dinosaurs. Small furry mammals had tentatively co-existed with dinosaurs for eons prior to that without any noticeable shifts in the food chain. Dinosaurs were there to eat, and, to the extent they were noticed at all, small mammals were there to be eaten, a scenario vaguely resembling corporate comics' view of the comics scene today. Without the cataclysmic "extinction event," the dinosaurs would most likely still be alive and the dominant species on earth today, and, with hundreds of millions of years of evolution behind them already at their peak, it's hard to imagine they'd have evolved further without some other environmental stimulus for it. Small mammals had their niches in that "society," but they were not a niche the fuzzy beasts would ever have grown out of had new niches not abruptly become available.

Even then it took damn near forever.

That's about as far as I'm willing to draw those metaphors. But that's approximately where we are in comics these days: at a moment where we have both the simultaneous illusions of many things happening and nothing happening at all. There are numerous good and interesting comics out there – but virtually none approaching enough of a critical mass (which has nothing to do with critical approval) to really mean anything to the business as a whole. Or even providing their creators with the means of making a living. (I checked with several creators involved with the oft-mentioned Serializer.Net, for instance, and no one there yet seems very sure there's any money in it.) While there's a generally increasing interest in the medium, there appears to be declining interest in the general output of "the dinosaurs," which may or may not be significant, depending on what kind of tricks they can learn, and how quickly they can learn them. (The two main tricks they've picked up lately are depending on media projects for publicity, and – at Marvel at least – employing World Wrestling Enterprises promotional tactics of arousing controversy and attention by stomping all over what passes for taste and intelligence – witness the recent flap over the use of "the "n"-word" in MARVILLE, a move that could only have been calculated to get attention - which seems to be working for Marvel even while it has lately been failing miserably for the WWE.) The big question at the moment is whether, in the current environment, anything, especially from outside the corporations, will ever again generate enough critical mass to make comics "cool" to a sizable enough segment of the general public to make them economically feasible for the people creating them. (Creatively feasible is a given, in creator-owned comics anyway.)

What we have are a lot of little niche items vying for attention, in a system geared more toward burying them or waiting for the dinosaurs to eat them.

The cold comfort can be found in manga, cited time and again as selling briskly. This does wonders for manga, but nothing for American comics, as manga readers often make the distinction and shy away from those things American. If anything threatens the dominance of "the dinosaurs," Viz does, and Viz isn't a small furry mammal, though it's often viewed that way; it's a thunder lizard from outside the eco-system, an offshoot of one of the Japanese "dinosaurs," and at the moment it appears to have no natural enemies capable of stopping it. American comics have done an absolutely miserable job of learning from manga and capitalizing on it, both of which strike me as very possible, and perhaps even mandatory for long-term survival now of the American comics market. As far as the potential audience goes, manga obviously speaks to the present day in a way most American corporate comics don't, which is reflected in their sales, but so far the closest anyone has come to adapting to the challenge is "manga-izing" American books, such as Marvel's recent "manga X-Men" projects, which means keeping the same familiar content and slapping a "manga style" (now increasingly done by actual manga artists) on it.

In other words, despite the severe downturn of the last decade, it turns out there is still a vast audience for comics.

Just not ours.

All the niche product is great, but what we need is something explosive to draw attention back to this region of the medium, something so cool people will dream at night about buying it. The only relative certainty is it ain't coming from corporate comics if it comes at all; they've proven time and time again their idea of a big deal is to bring back AQUAMAN. Without it, we're more or less doomed to be a cluster of niches: small beasts clawing for subsistence in a hostile world. And almost nobody looking. Generating great comics is crucial, certainly, but it's not enough. The comics audience was a community once, and we need a community again, generated by the comics and centering on them, not peripheral to them. We can't afford to leave it up to Delphi.

A couple brief words about TV: more cancellations, with NBC sending the longtime weeper PROVIDENCE (Friday 8PM) on its way sometime in December. Not really sure what they're up to, since NBC last Friday finally took the night for the first time all season, with CBS's HACK (9PM) abruptly losing ground. More axing to come as November sweeps approach, I'm sure.

Meanwhile, AMAZING RACE (Wednesday 9PM) bopped back ahead of the WB's BIRDS OF PREY in the ratings with a truly exciting episode last week. Don't worry about BIRDS OF PREY; it lost a large chunk of its debut audience but still does more than well enough to suit the WB. Now that we're getting to know the AR3 teams better as they're being whittled down, this is starting to seem like the best batch yet. (No Will-and-Tara style histrionics so far, though.) Meanwhile, my other favorite "reality" program, TOUGH ENOUGH debuted its third episode last Thursday (MTV, 10PM) with an hour-long assault on 25 candidates for inclusion to whittle them down to 13. As the producers focused more on athletic ability, this batch also seems to be a better fit than last year's contestants. The show had some truly scary moments, as when one woman landed square on her head trying to do a standing somersault; she didn't make the cut. Watching people train for a career in pro wrestling may not be your idea of a good time, but three seasons in I still find it fascinating stuff. (In part due to no-nonsense trainer/judge Al Snow, who can go from tough to tender and back again in the blink of an eye. Al's got a rep of being something of a crazy man in the squared circle, but he's bedrock here.)

Don't forget: Oct. 24 is United Nations Day. Kids still collect for UNICEF at Halloween, right?

Those wishing to comment should leave messages on the Permanent Damage Message Board. You can also e-mail me 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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