Issue #93

That's neither a good or bad thing. I think every talent in comics has to periodically reinvent themselves or they become stale. (I mean, come on, you don't really want to see someone writing the same way they did in the '80s, did you?) Grant Morrison did it, rebuilding himself from the "outré genius" behind his original INVISIBLES run and DOOM PATROL rethink into a mainstream superstar via JLA. Warren Ellis did it (though for it was more part of the longterm game plan) by shunting off work-for-hire books to creator-owned projects like TOKYO STORM WARNING. Even Alan Moore did it, coming back from his post FROM HELL sabbatical to update the superhero comic with TOM STRONG, PROMETHEA, etc.

These things can make for an interesting, tricky balancing job. Everyone has their own focus and obsessions, and dumping those is the best way to strip any semblance of personality from your work. Generally not considered a consummation devoutly to be wish'd (though I've had people tell me that's exactly what's expected of a "true professional). On the other hand, adapting to circumstances is a cornerstone of evolutionary behavior: change or die. (Or, as Stewart Brand once put it, to an anaerobic organism, oxygen is death.) Every so often adjustments are called for.

I've been thinking a lot lately about shifting styles. (I'm not placing myself in Grant, Warren or Alan's company, by the way. They were just good examples of successful reinventions.) To some extent, the project determines the style, and, particularly in work-for-hire situations, you're usually subject to editorial taste as well. For a large part of my career, I've been essentially a hired gun, doing the job I get paid to do. Even some of my own creations I've approached that way. (cf. TWILIGHT MAN, at First Comics, what I still think is a good idea that veered disastrously off-course as it collapsed from twelve issues to four, whole storylines were thrown out, etc. I tend not to separate character and storyline – the two inextricably shape each other, which isn't an especially useful sensibility in an industry where character is often consider this thing over here and story that thing over there that are only in the same place because it's expected – so disrupting storylines inevitably disrupts character for me.) But I try to approach stories in particular ways, and I've never been particularly satisfied with the restrictions on narrative in comics. For instance, I always hated the method, thankfully all but gone now but still prevalent when I first entered the business, of captioning a panel with information already represented in the art. (What Denny O'Neil called "idiotproofing the script.") When I was writing WHISPER I always found I had 1.5 issues worth of material I wanted in each issue, and developed what I called a "foldover narrative" – captions that didn't immediately appear to have any direct connection to the story in the panels, but which put forth certain information that juxtaposed (fans of Burroughs and Gysin's "cut up" writing will understand this, 'cause that's where I nicked the idea from) with the art and dialogue to create new information connections. As time went on, the placement of these "foldover" narratives became increasingly random, and the results more interesting. (To me, anyway; some thought they were brilliant and some thought they were unreadable rubbish.) A variation on this showed up in PUNISHER MINI-SERIES: CIRCLE OF BLOOD and the PUNISHER: RETURN TO BIG NOTHING graphic novel, where, following the Punisher's traditional first person narration, I wrote very coolly expressed, almost hyperrational, thoughts for the Punisher to intentionally clash with the white hot expressions Mike Zeck gave him, to suggest his underlying psychopathic nature. After WHISPER, I rethought things and came up with my "Paper Movies" concept in my JFK assassination crime thriller BADLANDS, where virtually all information aside from time and place settings was carried entirely in the art and fairly sparse dialogue, foreshadowing (not that I was the first, by any means) what's now become known as "widescreen comics." The "comics as movies" approach is one I've tried where possible over the last decade, but now I'm thinking it has outlived its usefulness.

Of course, it's a bad idea to be doctrinaire about these things. No one approach will be good for all talents, or all stories. But having a philosophy doesn't hurt.

Lately I've been reading a lot of graphic novels, including some highly acclaimed ones, and many of them just don't seem like much to me. Lots of pages, lots of pictures, no real content. No weight. Not even particularly good writing in many of them. Many read like... well, like comic books.

There are a lot of theories about comic books. Probably the most popular one among purist is the "comics as film" notion, or, more properly, the idea that the art in comics should be the main narrative vehicle, extending from the underlying principle that what separates comics from other art forms is the use of pictures, which is at least partly true. The logical extension of this is that the perfect comic would be one with no words at all – something that's tried with passing success now and then but always comes across as an interesting (hopefully) novelty, but not something that usually suggests a steady diet. There's certainly an argument to be made for the "pure art as pure comics" approach – I've made it myself now and then – but lately I've gotten increasingly dissatisfied with such a limited viewpoint.

Fact is, what separates comics from other narrative forms isn't the use of art but the interrelationship between art and language, and the ability of the medium to merge the two into a third thing that's both and neither. A long time ago, a friend of mine pointed out that until color became available in movies, black and white wasn't really possible. By which he meant: using black and white film as a narrative device wasn't possible until something other than black and white was available. (The same can be said for comics.) When everything is black and white, black and white evokes nothing. It's the environment. When color is introduced, black and white becomes just one more element in the palette, and can be applied in new and different ways.

This is also largely the case with "silent" comics. They only have significance in a medium where use of language is the commonplace. In other words, the language in comics is as pivotal to comics as the art is (meaning, likewise, the age-old argument over whether the writing or the art is more important in comics is a false argument; the only significant thing is what happens at their intersection.)

And I'm thinking: there's got to be some way to make the writing in comics better, in a formal sense. As we shift from comics to graphic novels, the weaknesses of the older form writing are just becoming too apparent to ignore. We need a new density of content, a weight, to make the new forms worthwhile. Simply transmigrating the style of the former to the latter is stupidity and suicide.

I don't have his ALTER EGO interview, but in it Gil Kane suggested a new sort of narrative in comics, where captions were used in a Mickey Spillane storybook kind of way. He employed this in his abortive HIS NAME IS SAVAGE, above, where pictures of prison guards beating our hero are accompanied by descriptive text:

"For an instant, silence hung as heavily as the surrounding mist. Then the air exploded with flashing truncheons, raining lacerations and bruises on Savage's back. He sagged under the furious hammering. Blows thudded with sickening impact onto his shoulders; well-aimed jabs gouged with terrible pressure at his kidney; sharp raps slammed against the base of his spine... But through the pounding punishment Savage's coal-hot eyes never left the leering face of Captain Bayard..."

Gil's philosophy on this was that this would create a density of effect that would give the reader a much deeper visceral (or intellectual, depending on the scene) connection with the material that would go beyond the standard comics experience. Gil never really got the chance to work out what he wanted – his main vehicles, ...SAVAGE and the later sword-and-sorcery epic BLACKMARK were too short lived and life after that for him was mostly the more controlled work-for-hire comics – and he was aware of all the flaws of those pieces, but he still held out hold for such a style (nobody gets it dead right the first time anyway) and spoke of it constantly, and we pleasantly argued about it regularly. At that point, I can't say I was really on board with it. I agreed with him about better content in comics, but I wasn't sold on the "Spillane narrative" no matter how much I loved those books, and I wasn't really sure what constituted "better" content in comics. I'm still not.

But now I'm thinking he had something there, at least in the concept of merging art and text for a denser fiction, a denser experience. Part of it's economic survival; the price of a standard comic has gone up precipitously in the last 45 years, from a dime to almost $3, but most comics are still essentially the same reading experience they were in 1963. Obviously they're generally more sophisticated in terms of story structure, but sophistication of the content hasn't quite kept up with inflation, or, for the most part, with the general sophistication of all age groups of American society. The stars of superhero comics are generally a little more flawed, but they're still mostly in the set Spider-Man mode if you scratch beneath the surface. Independent comics may have more varied characterization and more novel stories, but many of them fall into other traps. Gil, in a later COMICS JOURNAL interview, noted

"That's what I though Harvey [Kurtzman] and Will [Eisner]'s lesson was... that all of the pictures formed a continuity and if one picture overwhelmed all the rest it broke continuity. Only the narrative has a value. It's like in an animated film; no individual cel dominates... I think you'd have to build a whole new audience for the rhythms and understated qualities of TWO-FISTED TALES. Today you've got to snare the audience any way you can, with long panels, by short panels, by using whatever hype you can on the goddamn page. And when you think that way, the storytelling is subordinate to the hype... Everything becomes subordinate to the effect."

There's got to be some way – some serious intent – to recover what we've lost, and improve on it. There has to be some new merger of art and language in comics form – not necessarily what Gil attempted on ...SAVAGE, or even what Moore, Williams and Gray have managed on PROMETHEA but something – to enable comics reading to be a real experience. We've had some true "graphic novels" (I'd still rank FROM HELL as the first real graphic "novel," a book that can stand up against any novel anywhere) but it's time for all "graphic novels" to at least attempt to approach that state. And it wouldn't be a bad idea for pamphlets to think in those terms as well, considering so many pamphlets are mainly being published now as grist for the more profitable collections.

And now I'm rethinking my own approach to my work. But I'm not there yet.

I'm not looking to start a school, or crusade, or whatever. This isn't a manifesto. I'm just saying...

"First of all (and I'm sure you've already covered this, I probably missed it), one main reason why word of mouth doesn't sell comics like it used to is... we're a pretty elitist bunch aren't we? I was recently in my local comics shop, thumbing through a copy of TRANSFORMERS, trying to decide if I was going to buy it. The clerk was having a rather loud conversation with another customer about the '80s nostalgia wave. The customer asked why these books were so hot (TRANSFORMERS, GI JOE etc.). The clerk replied "I guess a lot of people like stuff that sucks". Boom. Decision made. I put the comic down and saved my $2.95. Now was this the publisher's fault? They had gone to the trouble and expense of marketing the book and packaging it in an attractive cover that caught my eye and made me pick it up and thumb through it. The clerk killed the sale. Not because I care what the clerk thought of the book (or me for that matter), but because I was teetering... and the clerk "talked" me out of the sale. You're correct that most retailers are ex-fanboys that know nothing about sales. Like I said, we are elitist to boot. The comics shop shouldn't be an uncomfortable place to go, but most of them are. Most are dirty, cluttered, and you get smirks when you ask if they have any SCOOBY-DOO comics. I often have to justify this last question by clarifying that they are for my 4 year old son. But so what if they were for me? I'm the one spending money. Name one other industry where the consumer has to justify the purchase to the salesperson.

As to supporting creator-owned comics... it's not that its "too hard". Its that I choose to spend my money on the items I enjoy. Simple as that. If I don't enjoy the creative team they put on FANTASTIC FOUR after Mark Waid and Mike Weiringo leave, I'll stop buying it. If Mark Waid puts out a creator owned book that I enjoy, I'll buy it. Fair enough? I think my complaint with Marvel's decision is that it is indicative of their current trend of using the comics to advertise their movie franchises, instead of the other way around. Its probably a good business decision, as they can make much more money off of a hit movie than selling 50,000 copies a month of a particular title. They seem to be steering FF in the same direction as the upcoming movie (if the buzz is accurate), which is fine with me as long as I enjoy the product. If I don't then I won't buy it. Simple enough."

"Caught your recent columns on retailers and they are part of the problem. Years back when I did some promotion for a penciler working for DC (it was for a how-to seminar) at local comic shops in the area, I found a range of comic shops. Some had their act together and others were downright horrible. One that has closed recently had comics in piles in the back issue section and ads on the front of the store that were months old and sun bleached. On the other hand, shops like Night Flight in Utah are top rate with attractive displays, guest signings and the like. Golden Apple in LA is top rate with an impressive inventory and guest signings. These can be counted on to actively move the industry forward. Others cannot, and their loyalties are often to the toys and role playing crowds. They may be the majority and I don't see them making any one's books a priority. The future to me are really the bookstores who cater to a readership demographic. This may be why Max Collins' ROAD TO PERDITION was packaged in book form. Your argument about the graphic novel being the future thus takes on more validity than some may be willing to admit. My ad teacher once said, "no one goes out of their way to look at an ad", and that's something comics needs to wake up about."

"I think the "Mark Waid off FF " story is striking and has received attention not because of the author-fired-by-corporate-owners angle, but because it highlights two notable facts.

1) Mark Waid has officially lost the 'hot writer' status he had gained in the 90's. You could see the course of his career leading there, but it hadn't sunk in. going from DC to Crossgen was, in hindsight, a misguided move; but when he stepped back into a high-profile gig meant to revitalize an important property at Marvel, i figured he was still on his feet. now it's clear that his career just spun out of his control.

2) mirroring the spinning-out-of-control theme, by firing Waid, Marvel reveals how slippery of a handle it has on the course of its own fate; trying approaches and discarding them in an almost desperate, frantic way

It feels like there's an accident waiting to happen, and Waid and Marvel are two parts of the same car veering wildly on an icy road. Could fall off a cliff, could crash head on with a truck; or it just might get through this okay - but only if that's God's plan, because neither Waid nor Jemas can save themselves on their own. riveting stuff."

"I think you missed the point entirely with your comments on the Mark Waid/FF issue. We understand that Marvel own the characters and can do whatever they want. What does that have to do with anything?

I don't read FF myself, but I can understand the fans anger here. Why would a company change something where sales have greatly increased, fan & critical acclaim has greatly increased, and the book is profitable?

Of course they can do anything they want.

The question everyone is asking, is not just 'if it ain't broke don't fix it' but 'if its going great guns at 100 miles an hour, why are you changing the engine?' Marvel obviously think they can do it better, otherwise why would they change. How could they possibly do it better? I guess we will be finding out soon, whether this will be another 'Ultimate' success or another MAXimum bomb."

You missed my point. This is the system you (by which I mean the editorial you) have tacitly supported, and whose behavior you have tacitly authorized. Mark's removal from FF may not be the fans' doing, but it's partly their fault, and partly their responsibility.

"In your recent columns you go to great lengths to make the case that retailers should be able to sell good product. What you seem to be missing, and what is prevalent in every entertainment industry, is that quality does not sell. That term was just made up by someone who couldn't get their proposal approved. Examples? Name the # 1 movie of 2003 in terms of box office this year. MATRIX 2, right? What's the #1 selling album for the year to date? (Is it the AMERICAN IDOL girl's album?) How about the #1 selling book for this year? (I'm guessing Hillary's book.) Number 1 TV show (FRIENDS?). Look through the topselling list in any entertainment category. Quality is not a prerequisite.

It's not to say that any of this stuff is bad. (Well, actually, I am saying MATRIX 2 was bad. Bleh!) The point is that quality is probably fourth or fifth on the list of items that guarantee sales. Previously known characters (think Lord of the Rings, James Bond or Spider-Man), stars (Michael Crichton, Metallica, Alex Ross), major advertising (HULK The Movie, Hillary's book, Wolverine) are just a few things more important to raw sales than the quality of the material.

I was a retailer for 6 years (1992-98) and believe it or not, I could not have cared less what I sold, as long as I sold something. This idea that some have that retailers are resistant to push anything but superhero product is absurd to the nth degree. They may like superheroes better (like the customers they serve) but they would not be in business if they didn't like money more! If I could have sold 500 copies of LOVE AND ROCKETS or MADMAN a month instead of X-MEN or SPAWN I'd have jumped at it. I used to set up displays, right in the front of the store, filled with Staff Recommends or Eisner Winners, just to have people walk around them to pick up the latest Valiant or Image title. I'd talk up books like STRAY BULLETS and DORK. Give out free samples. Nothing worked. Finally I got frustrated at what seemed a glass ceiling and closed my shop while it was still somewhat profitable.

Sorry if this seems a little depressing to those who'd like to see the industry expand out from the niche it's in. I really don't know what the answer will be. Part of the answer will probably be outside the traditional comic store but who knows at this point?

Anyway, I thought I'd clear up some misconceptions and give the view from someone who's been both consumer and retailer."

"Geez, Steven, I dunno.

I think you're missing a few subtle points in that analysis.

The biggest (wait, can something be big and subtle?) is that there's more good comics that need help than retailer's have the hours in the day to actively promote.

Each and every week there are a half a dozen or better books that are good quality and that should be selling to more people than they do -- this week, scanning down the list I see nearly a dozen -- it's just not possible to actively promote each and every one of them equally.

One of my "least favorite" questions is someone asking "so, what's good?" -- I'm personally of the opinion that Sturgeon's Law stopped applying to comics a few years ago. We're not running 90/10 rates in comics -- it's much closer to 80/20, maybe even as good as 75/25.

I've got a store that is brimming with "good material" -- the entire middle of my store is "recommended reading" (and that doesn't even count the "usual suspects" like our creator racks of Gaiman, Moore, Miller, Ellis, Ennis, Bendis, Wagner, etc.) -- I'm strongly of the opinion that I've got a comic for anyone in my store, but that absolutely means that some/many things that are worthy "lose out" on the "personal touch".

I think that if a person is a really good salesperson they can probably "juggle" 3-4 "A-level" recommendations -- but there's usually more "good" comics than that which come out each week. This week alone, do I push the FRANK HC, or the new

LOVE & ROCKETS book? The LOEG COMPANION or the LOEG ABSOLUTE EDITION? TOP SHELF ASKS THE BIG QUESTIONS or the new printing of KOCHALKA'S SKETCHBOOK DIARIES v1? PROMETHEA or Dark Horse's version of THE GOON? Where does that leave "Books I dig, but are more specialized audiences" like KNIGHTS OF THE DINNER TABLE or HUMAN DEFENSE CORPS or LUCIFER? That doesn't even count restocks of things I sold through on recently like the new TRANSMETROPOLITAN TP or the PLANETARY READER or QUEEN & COUNTRY.

And that's just the top of this week. Seven days later, a whole new batch of wonderfullness will arrive!

Sure, there's a whole lot of "passive" promotion one can do -- newsletter recommendations, rack placement, header cards, staff recommendation racks, etc. -- but when it comes to actively talking up and putting books in people's hands, the "Hey! This is really cool! You should read it!" technique, we're currently "suffering" from an embarrasment of riches.

It's not like it was during some points in the 90s where if someone said "What's good?" I simply went "SANDMAN" -- now the response is "Well, what do YOU like?" and working from there. Which means an awful lot of quality books aren't getting the direct push they really need to succeed to the degree that they deserve.

Which brings me neatly to the other major factor: people use language as they understand it, not necessarily as you take meaning from it.

By this I mean when a retailer says "This is a great book, but it's not selling as well as it should" there are often levels of nuance that are missing from a cold read of those words.

Minor background: I'm not by any means the largest store in the country, or California, or the Bay Area, or, hell, even San Francisco -- yet there are an embarrassingly large number of titles of which I'm single-handedly selling 1% or better of the initial Diamond orders!

So there are certainly times when I use a similar phrase where what I mean to say is "Why the hell isn't this selling better on the national level?" Where, if every retailer did as well as me, the title would easily place in the Top 50.

Even when I'm not speaking of the macro market, there are relative sales on the micro level to take into account.

For example we've done several waves of promotion with FINDER, but the book doesn't get much above 20 copies for us (initials, according to ICV2 were 1416 copies on issue #30 -- so our copies represent nearly 1.5% of the initial national orders).

When my "top-selling books" has a mental cutoff of at least 50 copies (though our best sellers are in multiples of 100), I feel FINDER isn't selling as well as it could/should.

Thing is, FINDER sells better for me than IRON MAN or THOR. Hell, for that matter, it sells better for me than IRON MAN and THOR combined. FINDER is in my Top 100, yet I still think that it isn't selling as well as it should.

If you asked me about FINDER, in most circumstances I'd give the fast answer of "Great book, but it doesn't sell very well". When I say that I know what I mean, because I understand the relative weight of the other material I'm stocking -- but as the listener, if you had all of the facts, would you consider a Top 100 title as "not selling"? On one relative scale (weighted against the 150+ copies of the last EIGHTBALL I sold) that's a true statement... but on another relative scale (weighted against an average midlist super-book) it's not true at all.

Anyway, while I do agree that many retailers could do a better job of actively hand-selling more quality material, I certainly don't beleive we carry the largest part of that burden -- at least not in a market flush with high-quality. If so, we really are screwed because there's not a chance in hell that any retail establishment has the time/man-power/ability to raise every good book up to it's optimum level of sales. Not even close."

"I'm a retailer who is a salesperson. If anything, my customers get tired of me recommending new books sometimes. So hopefully I don't fall into the same category as some of the retailers whom you mention, though I will readily admit they exist. (I personally can't believe retailers exist that still bag every single comic on the shelf. But I digress.)

One thing that is holding comics back is the lack of creator responsibility. ULTIMATES should be the number one book by far, but it isn't, because it ships awfully late. Warren Ellis' projects should sell better than they do, but they don't because when his heat was starting to hit its peak a while back, PLANETARY and MINISTRY OF SPACE both fell off the radar and became interminably late, poisoning the perception of his ability to finish a series forever. (And I know why it happened. I understand and sympathize. But the majority of comic buyers out there don't read forums like these. They don't know exactly why a book is shipping late and they don't care. All they know is what they want isn't on the shelf and they just invested a fair amount of money in a series that now appears to never have a conclusion.) JMS has shot himself in the foot by starting new series like SUPREME POWER in spite of the fact that RISING STARS sits around still uncompleted.

Creators need to take on more responsibility. This problem exists in no other field, because no where else do people buy part of an entertainment piece. The new HARRY POTTER comes out, regardless of when it ships, they get the whole thing. They don't spend $6 on the first two issues then never see issue three. Every time a book ships late it hurts the overall perception of comics among those people who want to be loyal to comics.

I love the trade paperback. I think it is a great model for everyone involved. It is more profitable and sellable for me, and I personally think a more enjoyable reading experience.

That said, if we are going to still be publishing the pamphlet, then the practice of "writing for the trade" so blatantly needs to stop. There are too many series starting up where next to nothing happens in the first issue to get people to come back. This works great in a trade because they have a complete package to read, but it kills pamphlet sales. Truth by Marvel is a perfect example. A book that had piles of hype, then people tried the first issue...and were bored to tears.

And this aplies to all stories. Do you intend to write 80-100 issues? Great. MAKE THE FIRST FREAKIN' ONE COUNT. 100 BULLETS, SANDMAN, PREACHER, Y THE LAST MAN, and FABLES are all books that have seen backlist success that the first issue presents a good start to the story, but has lots of stuff scattered about to make you realize there is more to what is going on. Ellis is a freaking genius at this, throwing you into the mix at top speed, but sprinkling in enough depth to keep you coming back. SLEEPER, that you keep bringing up, is an example of a good first issue, but it is a pity that SLEEPER is surrounded by the oppressive mediocrity of the Eye of the Storm line so far. 21 DOWN is a perfect example of writing for the trade. I read the singles, but by the time anything really seemed to start happening, I was too bored to care one whit about the characters involved.

I love comics to death, and I think I sell them pretty well, too. But that doesn't mean I can't improve, of course. However, help from others is always appreciated, and the people who can help me include creators doing a better job of producing stuff that my customers want to read on a timely basis.

One thing you may want to also mention in your discussion of retailers is the recent collection of Brian Hibbs' TILTING AT WINDMILLS column by IDW. If someone wants to really understand how difficult it is to be a retailer in this business, that book really spells it out. It is easy to kick retailers when they are screwing up, and sometimes it is very much deserved, but I don't think people realize how hard it is even for retailers that are decent. A great example is Hibbs pointing out how the current system tightly restricts growth because the risk to reward ratio on ordering a couple extra copies of a book with a hot buzz is so poor for the retailer in the current environment.

Oh and a couple other less important points from that column which I left out in my frustration of having to type everything a third time.... Numbers on FANTASTIC FOUR will drop. I think a large amount of the reaction has been one of bewilderment. We accept that Marvel is a bunch of money-grubbing whores. So it makes precisely zero sense to take the creative team that has made FANTASTIC FOUR sell decently for the first time in a decade or more off the book in any fashion to most people. But FF numbers will drop. I would expect issue #509 will be ordered at numbers aprroximately 50% or less of what it is getting now. I know that's what I'll be ordering, at any rate.

And the guy who said that the art is the most important thing in comics is WAY off base. If that was the case, Ellis/Hitch's AUTHORITY run would have easily been the best selling book on the market, and X-MEN, when it had several issues in a row that Igor Kordey had to scribble in a matter of days would have been at the bottom of the list. And we all know that wasn't the case."

From Lauren Katzive:

"Comic books satisfy your soul"

"Everything I need to know I learned from comic books"

"Choosy people choose comic books"

"Comic books, where art and text collide"

"Discover worlds of adventure with comic books"

"Comic books, an american art form"

"Comic books - illustrated classics"

"Expand your imagination with comic books"

From Matt Irvin:

"There's nothing like comics"

From "former comics retailer" Allen Clover:

"Comics They're Way Better than a Poke in the Eye with a sharp Stick"

"Comics... You can Touch them with a Ten-Foot Pole"

From "Peter":

"**** me. I read comics."

A similar, more aggressive, thought from Edward Puckett:

"I like comics, **** you"

From Dave:

"I read comics."

From Randy Wilbur:

" Comics: don't just read the story, see it"

From Daniel Craig Dean:

"Read _________"

"Don't Make Our Comics Kick Your Ass"

From Tom Moore:

"Thousands of stories. Unlimited possibilities. Read comics."

From Arune Singh:

"Take a look @ Comic Books"

From Bryan McKee:

"Comics: they'll draw you in"

From Timothy Harrison:

" Comics- releasing your inner child every week!"

"Comics- candy for the mind. "

"Comics- feed the need! "

"Comics- food for the imagination"

"Comics- open the cover and open your mind! "

"Comics- the new food group! "

"Comics- the new drug of choice"

"Comics- the ultimate head game"

"Comics- 100% of your daily allotment of fun"

"Comics- literary classics in the making"

"Comics- more than just pretty pictures"

"Comics- taking it to a new level"

"Comics- vitamins for the soul"

"Comics- dare to be different"

"Comics- so bad they must be good"

"Comics- taking you someplace else everyday"

"Comics- the secret is out! "

"Comics- your release from reality"

"Comics- giving you permission to be a kid again"

And lastly, one just for you:

"Comics- because the one in your hand is worth more than one Bush! (the President that is)"

From Lefty Brown:

"Comics, Not just for geeks anymore! "

"Comics, Something for everyone. "

"Comics, why ink was invented! "

"Comics: Read, Bag, Board, Repeat as Needed. "

"Comics, like Pop Rocks for the eyes. "

"I read...comics." (with pictures of celebs reading their fav comic)"

From Jeffrey Rummel:

"Comics. Because TV sucks."

Finally, two people came up with whole commercials:

From Scott Nelson:

"Remember how you used to laugh yourself silly watching Looney Tunes every Saturday morning? How about when you first saw Conan The Barbarian and thought it was so cool? Or how about watching detective shows like Magnum PI? Remember reading your first Sherlock Holmes story? Or the first time you saw a Jackie Chan film? Or thinking about how cool it'd be to hop along city rooftops like Batman or Spider-Man? Remember Dungeons & Dragons? How many times have you seen Nightmare on Elm Street? How many times have you gone on the Pirates of the Caribbean ride at Disney? Did you ever wear and Ankh or dress "goth" in school? Remember Punk music? Did you ever watch shows like Battlestar Galactica or Buck Rogers? Remember Platoon? Or Good Morning Vietnam?

Wouldn't it be cool if you could experience all that stuff for the first time… again?

Comics. Something for everyone."

From Micheal Deeley:

"The best way to kill 10 minutes in public.

If you're ashamed to be seen reading them, you can always hide it inside a porn mag.

It's the greatest sci-fi/comedy/action/historical/romantic/political satire you've never read.

I know the history of three separate universes.

"The Matrix" ripped it off. And everybody copies "The Matrix".

They have "reality shows". We have "autobiographies".

Remember those comics you used to read as a kid? They grew up.

Comic books. Art. Come back when you've put those together.

See a movie once for $8, or read a story anytime you want for $3. Decisions, decisions.

If you don't read it, how do you know it's valuable?

Did you hear the one about the Jewish mice and Nazi cats?

Captain Picard thinks they're cool.

Nicolas Cage thinks they're cool.

Ever read a novel and think, "What the hell does that look like?" We don't have that problem.

A 12-part story about a god-man saving the universe while working on his marriage. Is what you call "kid stuff"?

It's a good think you don't read these. You'd realize how boring real life is.

Yeah, we got autobiographical diaries, historical epics, gay romance, sci-fi social satire, post-modern fairy tales, and ultra-violent comedy. Oh, and those guys in capes too."

Some "contestants" may have confused ad copy with t-shirt slogans, but let the debate begin!

Your friend who has never read comics (and, remember, he's your friend, you know his tastes better than I do) has decided he wants to try them and he's got enough money in his pocket to buy three (pamphlets, not graphic novels). But... he doesn't want any of "that DC or Marvel crap!" (Hey, he said it, I didn't.) What three independent comics do you recommend, and why?

Answers can be e-mailed to me or posted on the Permanent Damage Message Board.

And don't forget DAMNED, the crime novel written by me, drawn and co-plotted by Mike Zeck, inked by Denis Rodier and gorgeously colored by Kurt Goldzung is coming from Cyberosia in August, with gobs of new material including an all-new ending, so the time to tell your retailer to order your copy is right this... er... damned minute. Also coming from DC: the graphic novel SUPERMAN: ANCIENT BLOOD, from a story idea by Gil Kane, with art by Gil, John Buscema and Kevin Nowlan. And in September, last I heard, my long awaited collection of all the essays from my previous CBR column, MASTER OF THE OBVIOUS, should be appearing from AiT/PlanetLar Books. In July, from Avatar, comes FRANK MILLER'S ROBOCOP, very faithfully adapted from Frank's original screenplays for the ROBOCOP films and bearing very little resemblance to what appeared on screen. Go get 'em all! (Or you can just mailorder them – the graphic novels, at least – from Khepri.Com, a great online shop that keeps abreast of all the great graphic novels.

Ed Brubaker fans – and who isn't? – will want to read an interview with him at Broken Frontier. But I thought there was an interview with Ed coming from Ninth Art. Whatever happened to it? (Speaking of which: hey, Heidi! Where's that piece on DAMNED you said you wanted to do when the book came out after you missed the AiT/PlanetLar reissue of BADLANDS?)

Click here for some interesting commentary by Todd Allen on online comics and comics marketing.

Finally, an amusing exchange between Justin (21 DOWN) Gray and another comics writer who shall remain nameless on Justin's Delphi Board:

Justin: Work for hire on existing characters is a little like falling in love with a stripper.

Other writer: It's more like falling in love with a corpse. You can get some action for awhile if you're willing to ignore the obvious but it'll all fall apart on you eventually...

Wot a wag, huh?

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.

My old personal webpage – the one with all the information – has finally vanished, and it's about time, since I left that server almost a year ago. The new one isn't up yet, but keep watching this space for details.

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