DANGER SIGNS?: a couple seismic shifts in the comics business suggest earthquakes to come
COMICS UNDER THE MICROSCOPE: review slew including Hero Squared, Fused! Tales, War Of The Worlds, Robotika, Wingnut & Fidget, Far-Fetchers, Owly, Witchking, Nodame Cantabile, Love Letters, Autiomaa, Glomp, Cry Wolf, Will Eisner, Baobab, Insomnia, Wish You Were Here, Acme Novelty Library, Dragonheart, Manga Secrets, How To Draw And Sell Comics, The Silver Age, Purgatori, Exile and Evil Ernie
NOTES FROM UNDER THE FLOORBOARDS: apologia, race, challenge, more
Recently Marvel editor-in-chief Joe Quesada triggered a buzz among Internet comics fans by suggesting in passing that Marvel might be interested in revisiting electronic distribution of their comics, noting that while old-time readers were generally only comfortable with printed copies of comics, younger fans who have grown up in the computer age are increasingly ambivalent about whether their comics are physical or digital, and it may be "selfish" of companies to impose physical comics on them. While that bit of logic makes a conveniently self-serving rationale, I'm not sure why anyone would be startled that Marvel (or, at least, Joe) would be considering this. They've toyed with electronic comics distribution before, and while Marvel certainly has the best saturation of any American comics, they still don't have anywhere near the sales levels they once had, and they're in a corporate situation where the pressure to increase sales is pretty much constant. As noted by many, Internet distribution of comics would have advantages like lower production (and no printing) costs, easily variable formats and saturation on demand - if (the big if) some way can be found to make money off electronic distribution, and by "money" I mean profits at minimum equivalent to what Marvel makes off printed comics. Several big problems with any electrocomics, though: no one has yet been able to make that kind of money on comics via the Internet, there no governor on how many copies of any single file can be shared (so one person could buy a copy of AMAZING SPIDER-MAN and sub-distribute it to an infinite number of close friends if they chose), and, all other things being equal, growth in the e-book market, once expected to change the face of book sales in America, has flatlined, except in extremely niche markets. Part of the problem is a dearth of technology for reading the damn things; computer screens are ridiculously unsuited for reading lengthy works, regardless of ease of downloading and now standard use of the pdf format.
Standard comics too are don't format well on the comics screen, though monitors give a sharp luminosity to the art that printed versions don't have, so that's one advantage comics on the computer have. Too bad landscape mode, not the portrait mode that most comics pages adhere too, is the monitor standard. That's another challenge comics will face in any shift to computer.
But a major comics publisher actually considering this, if it's not simply Joe musing, that's bound to have repercussions, and if it's Marvel the repercussions will be industry wide, since as Marvel goes so goes the business, at least for the last quarter century or so. As with the shift to "exclusive distribution," if Marvel leaps on the Internet distribution bandwagon virtually every other publisher in the business will as well, to "stay competitive," and where that will leave comics shops, already battered by the steady growth of graphic novel sales in general bookstores, is anyone's guess. That's another challenge for the industry, how to break the stranglehold the (largely superhero-oriented) comics shops have on the business without putting comics shops out of business, though comics shop owners are often more clever than they're given credit for, and I've little doubt the best ones would find ways to adapt and thrive under any circumstances short of a total business collapse. (Though technology that would let them adapt to electronic distribution hasn't yet affordably materialized yet.)
But is it coincidence that Quesada's aside appeared almost simultaneous to Speakeasy's announcement of new Internet distribution policies? Like most smaller publishers, Speakeasy faces a recurring ordering pattern even on their most successful titles. It's been long noted that most retailers will order the first issue of a new comic the most heavily. Second issues are commonly ordered at about half the level of the first issue, since retailers order three to four months ahead of on sale date so everything they order is a crapshoot and in the current economic climate they have to do what they can to minimize their losses. It's safer to risk underordering the second issue of an unexpected hit than overordering the second issue of an unanticipated bomb. The third and fourth issues show similarly diminishing returns, and for a lot of independent comics, third and fourth issues - which are, again, usually ordered before the first issue hits the stands - become totally unprofitable and are often cancelled, leaving seas (or, at least, puddles) of frustrated, dissatisfied readers in their wakes, not to mention disgruntled professionals. Speakeasy's new idea, made more palatable because they pay talent costs off the back end, after taking their cut, is to publish the theoretically profitable first and second issues via normal routes and publish the remainder of any miniseries online, though I'm not clear on whether it would be free or there would be some payment scheme involved. (Presumably, the printed issues would publish the web addresses of subsequent issues so fans could easily track them down.) At this point it's hard to say whether retailers would feel cheated enough by this plan to boycott the comics altogether (though for most indie comics these days that's not much of a loss) or whether they'll feel relieved at not having to split their time and budgets on comics with no real economic value for them.
Speakeasy's new approach does have one practical economic value for publishers. Most "graphic novels" these days are actually compilations of pre-published mini-series or series arcs, and the split print/electronic distribution would make it easier for them to completely expose properties before the "graphic novel" collections, which is where most comics make their real money these days. I'm sure a lot of smaller publishers will be watching Speakeasy's fortunes with any new system they set up. If it succeeds it will almost certainly become the new publishing structure for most indie comics, and it wouldn't surprise me if it led to the eventual abandonment of the printed mini-series altogether, since events regularly conspire to make that more difficult and less profitable all the time. If the printed graphic novel is where the real money is, Internet publishing, whatever profits may or may not be profitable there, might turn out to be the easiest route to it.
The other interesting shift lately comes from retailers, who are increasingly vocal about raising comics prices. Among other things, some recently complained that DC maintaining the price line on a TEEN TITANS collection that contained a greater number of comics than usual was driving their customers to eschew monthly comics in favor of the eventual collections, a policy that's been increasing among readers for a long time anyway. Others encouraged Marvel to raise the price of the forthcoming and hopefully wildly popular Stephen King project from $2.99 to $3.99 while still others argued that Warren Ellis was cheating them by having FELL sold for $1.99 when the market would bear an additional dollar in price.
This is interesting, because the traditional complaint has been that companies drive off customers when they raise prices, and make it harder for them to buy a variety of comics or try new titles. What it suggests is rising volatility in the direct market, which isn't surprising given that almost surely rents, utility costs, shipping costs, etc. are on the rise for most retailers and most must be feeling some pinch in their pockets, even if their clientele and sales stay spectacularly steady. It may be, given the increasing accessibility of comics material in bookstores and online, that comics shops have reached their saturation point. At any rate, the current situation is oddly similar to the position of newsstands c. 1975, when the few remaining newsstands, as well as other traditional outlets like grocery stores and pharmacies, decided comics weren't a profitable enough item for the space they were taking up. This and other rising costs prompted comics companies to a series of price hikes that did little more than erode their readership; the prices could never get high enough to compete with more salable items like PLAYBOY and ROLLING STONE. In short order, newsstands all but cut out comics altogether - there was just no percentage in them - which prompted the creation of the direct market. Now the direct market is going through the same throes the newsstands once did, threatening to send comics into another spiral of limited possibility, unless another system rises up to fill the gap.
Which brings us back to Quesada and Speakeasy. The Internet as alternative has been bandied about for a long time, but circumstances seem to be coming together to force the issue. The comics industry is ridiculously resistant to change, but if the foundation of the direct market teaches us anything it's that when the options come down to change or death, the industry will change, but it usually has to come to that. (It's hardly a coincidence that DC's interest in the direct market - they predated Marvel, though Marvel more effectively colonized it - surged at the moment they seemed closest to going out of business, and without DC's interest it's unlikely Marvel would have wanted a piece of the action, for various reasons.) As with little earthquakes, there's always the possibility that these small tremors are simply pressure releases, little blips that only indicate glacial change in the landscape, but there's a sense that we may be on the cusp of some major changes, that we're heading toward the comics industry's big one.
From Boom! Studios:
HERO SQUARED #3 by Keith Giffen, J.M. deMatteis & Joe Abraham, 32 pg color comic ($3.99)
Giffen & deMatteis do tongue-in-cheek superheroes again, with nothing much happening but a lot going on. If you haven't read it, it's pretty funny, as a slacker's encounter with his parallel world superhero self has transformed into a romantic quadrangle involving a worldkilling supervillain who used to be the superhero's girlfriend, the parallel world version of the slacker's current girlfriend. Who the superhero lusts after. There are unrevealed things going on that they're saving for the upcoming regular series next year, but amid all the wackiness and banter there are also serious reflections on responsibility, faithfulness and duty, making it a more complicated book than most superhero comics. Worth checking out.
FUSED! TALES #1 by Steve Niles & various, 48 pg color comic ($6.99)
Continuing the adventures, begun at Image and Dark Horse, of Niles' monster hero, a scientist trapped in an indestructible robot. It's sort of a weird little cross between Deathlok and Concrete, with character and situations swinging more toward the latter. This three story collection, one by Niles and artist Chee, one by Joshua Fialkov & Nick Stakal and one by Christopher Long & Andrew Ritchie, is nicely done, with all stories well crafted, but, contrarily, that's part of the problem. The hero of FUSED isn't a very well known property, and having three intensely diverse stories - Niles sets him in Iraq for a tepid meditation on the war and the political crossfire our troops are caught in; Fialkov provides a basic action story with a nuclear sub and a mutant octopus; Long writes a character study as the hero helps his ex-wife move and watches his past slip through his fingers - diffuses any grip we might get on him. The stories themselves are fine, but, collectively, they just don't add up to a very interesting situation or character.
When is a licensed comic not a licensed comic? Boom!'s new series elliptically follows the recent film version's cue but creates all-new settings and characters, then expands the scenario, becoming essentially the sequel to the film that will never appear. This first issue is mostly setup, establishing the characters, reiterating the situation and postulating that, after defeat, the Martians figure out a solution to their "design flaw" and return. (Marvel took a similar tack in the '70s, then veered off into sword-and-science comics, which doesn't seem to be the direction here.) It's not bad. My only real quibble would be that both the writing and art (which is mostly good, though it gets a bit erratic in places) need more intensity to convey the intensity of the situation. Otherwise, a pretty decent start. This appears in February.
From Archaia Studios Press:
ROBOTIKA by Alex Sheikman, 32 pg color comic ($3.95)
If you miss the old HEAVY METAL, this is the book for you: very interesting art with gorgeous coloring and production, and a gibberish but passably entertaining story. In the far future, a geneticist's work is stolen, and an implant-enhanced samurai is dispatched on a quest to get it back. I have a bit of a mental block with things like this, as every time I see the phrase "far future" I start wondering how we get from here to there, an far too often, as in ROBOTIKA, the answer is: we don't. Too often projects like this become a dumping ground for it's creator's particular obsessions (like, what is a samurai in feudal Japanese garb doing running around the far future?), but if you don't have a problem with that kind of thing, it's not bad. If you have a problem, check it out just for the art: a little more practice and exposure, and Sheikman could be a superstar.
From Behemoth Books:
WINGNUT AND FIDGET SPRING 2005 ONE-SHOT by Brian Clopper, 36 pg mini-comic ($3)
Clopper's been his own cottage industry for the past few years, producing a spate of comics, minicomics and books, many of which have been intentionally kid friendly and most of which have been pretty good. Not sure that applies to this. The art's good enough - I once described it as along the lines of Mike Mignola meets Wally Wood - but the story's just not there. Wingnut's a Yoda-headed bounty hunter in a Star Wars knockoff universe, taking on the hapless nephew, Fidget, of a Jabba The Hut stand-in as an apprentice as they travel the universe. There's some decent humor, but the two stories so far are basically just shaggy dog stories. They're okay, but that's about it. I like his "zip-a-tone" inking style, though, which gives everything a nice solidity.
FAR-FETCHERS: OPENING SALVO by Brian Clopper, 32 pg b&w comic (price unknown)
Unfortunately, Clopper decided to ink this book, apparently the initial section of what's intended to be a 100 page graphic novel, with pen and ink, and the results turn out... random... with inks ultimately obscuring his good pencils and occasionally rendering them incomprehensible. The idea is reminiscent of Bill Willingham's FABLES: friendly monsters from stories are falling into the real world, and the Far-Fetchers are a group of these monsters (like Flying Mummy and Stitched Witch) whose mission is to collect "figments," as the creatures are collectively called, and escort them to safety and obscurity as they appear in the world. There's a mystery too: the writer whose books they all devolve from has disappeared, and no one knows why. It's a decent kids book premise, but OPENING SALVO is really just premise. They defeat/rescue a "Stanley And His Monster" clone, then return to their headquarters and talk about themselves. Endlessly. No real build-up or tension; it's like visiting an insurance office. I like the idea, but the execution is stillborn.
From Top Shelf Productions:
OWLY: THE WAY HOME & THE BITTERSWEET SUMMER by Andy Runton. ($10)
I hope Top Shelf has some sort of children's book distribution deal, because OWLY belongs with kids books, not with graphic novels. Which isn't a criticism, just a marketing strategy. It's a very nice book, mostly wordless, starring a gentle, helpful owl whose adventures here include rescuing a young earthworm from a flood and helping it find its family, and reuniting two hummingbirds. It's more complex and interesting than it sounds, with good pacing and art, and confidently plays with themes of trust, friendship, selfishness and generosity. A really charming book for young reader children, it'll unfortunately probably be marketed only to comics shops, which is too bad. Runton's got the stuff.
From Phosphorescent Comics:
WITCHKING: AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF A DARK LORD by Christian Read, Paul Abstruse, PJ Magalhaes & Darren Close ($19.95)
I like Christian Read, and I like his writing, but WITCHKING, though decently written, doesn't quite work for a few reasons. This sort of heroic fantasy is well-trod and limited territory, making it overly familiar, and, structurally it's passive, a sorcerer-conqueror relating his life story to an estranged brother, which mostly strips it of immediacy. It has its good moments, particularly the sorcerer's youthful tribulations at his brutish family's hands, but it's further hampered by being, in the end, little more than a prologue to an implied sequel. On the other hand, there are people who live for this kind of thing, and they'll likely be very pleased with it; Read uses his story to explore various moral issues fairly effectively, and the penciling is good throughout, though the one inker is obvious better than the other (I've no idea which did what).
From Del Rey Manga:
NODAME CANTABILE Vol. 3 by Tomoko Ninomiya, 186 pg b&w trade paperback ($10.95)
This is a concept American comics would dismiss out of hand: a light comedy about students in music school. No slapstick, no pop gimmicks, just naturalistic storylines, pleasant art, and appealing characters whose love of music carries us over the hump of no actual music being possible in a book. It works. It's good.
A PERFECT DAY FOR LOVE LETTERS Vol. 2 by George Asakura, b&w trade paperback ($10.95)
The first volume of this series, an anthology of unconnected short stories involving love letters in some fashion, left me cool; art and story are decent, but the material began to get repetitive even by the end of volume 1. Same conditions apply here. Strip the manga-isms out, it's a pretty traditional romance comic. It's okay, but a day after I read it I'm having trouble remembering it.
From Boing Being:
AUTIOMAA by Tommi Musturi, 20 pg color sketchbook (price unknown)
Fairly nondescript as sketch art goes - Musturi's a decent artist, but there's not much here besides wild distortions - but the wildly impressionistic painted color is like Edvard Munch on acid. The art itself isn't very interesting, but the painting is spectacular.
GLOMP 7 by various, 192 pg b&w trade paperback (price unknown)
Another edition of the Finnish cartoon omnibus, spotlighting 22 international cartoonists. (Jeffrey Brown and Kevin Huizenga represent the USA here.) The art's generally more accessible than in previous volumes, and they conveniently subtitle everything for English-only readers. I'm partial to Nicholas Mahler's Zorro stories, Meirav Shaul's slice-of-life comedy and the work of Maria Isenbecker & Jan Solheim, but this is a book filled with interesting and unique styles. If you want a quick introduction to real world comics, it's hard to beat GLOMP. Check it out if you can find it.
From Open Book Press:
CRY WOLF by Douglas Crill & Daniel J. Frey, 70 pg b&w graphic novel ($12.99)
In the 1920s, a Chicago private dick goes to Borneo in search of a monster, and ends up a werewolf. This is one of those painfully earnest books that just isn't much good; the art is just flat out unpracticed, while the story has huge pacing problems and abruptly stops making sense just so Crill can get it where he wants it to be, abandoning the werewolf lore as set up so his detective hero can basically become a superhero wolf as needed. Skip it.
From M Press:
WILL EISNER: A SPIRITED LIFE by Bob Andelman, 352 pg prose trade paperback ($14.95)
Despite years of obscurity, Will Eisner is now considered the heart and soul of American comics of the 20th century, and that's certainly the story Andelman has chosen to tell in this affectionate and comprehensive biography. The tone is vaguely dislocating, though; unleashing and carefully organizing what amounts to anecdote after anecdote - if everything here is accurate, Eisner knew everybody and was connected to practically everything in comics, and even people very familiar with Eisner's life will likely learn things they never knew - but what's missing is any suggestion of a point of view. For pure biography, A SPRITED LIFE is great, but a serious critical assessment of Eisner's life, work, influence and legacy as a companion volume couldn't hurt.
BAOBAB #1 by Igort, 32 pg b&w magazine ($7.95)
Coconino Press, edited by cartoonist Igort, is a new Fantagraphics imprint of European style comics presented in a nicely design folio magazine format. Unfortunately, Igort's own BAOBAB, though nicely drawn, is the weakest of the initial offerings. The first section of a graphic novel, it uncomfortably tries to interweave three stories, about a young boy in pre-fascist Meiji era Japan, a monstrous African tree housing a monkey god who kidnaps people, and an eccentric Gahan Wilson-esque South American cartoonist growing too idiosyncratic for audiences. That may be Igort's problem as well; none of the stories is particularly compelling and there's little indication that an intersection is probable or that it'll be worth it if it happens. He obviously has something ambitious in mind, but no hook, which, unfortunately, is something any continuing work that wants to survive need.
INSOMNIA #1 by Matt Broesma, 32 pg b&w magazine ($7.95)
Curious vignettes. In the first, four skull faced men play poker and tell stories. In the second, road crew convicts reminiscences intersect the story of a broken down smuggler trying to escape a loan shark. It's all style, but it's a captivating style, with off-kilter stories that never quite go where you'd expect. I liked it.
WISH YOU WERE HERE #1: THE INNOCENTS by Gipi, 32 pg b&w magazine ($7.95)
The best and most overtly European (not to mention very LOVE AND ROCKETS) of the Coconino books so far. A boy visits his once ne'er-do-well uncle and swerves into the uncle's past, a tale of juvenile delinquency, corrupt cops and destroyed dreams with haunting repercussions. Deceptively simple, everything about it is spot on right, with terrific characters and sharp dialogue. Give me more Gipi any day.
From Pantheon Books:
ACME NOVELTY LIBRARY by Chris Ware, 110 pg color hardcover ($27.50)
Does Chris Ware ever sleep? Whatever else can be said about it, ACME NOVELTY LIBRARY may be the densest comic ever done; this book takes weeks to read. The book is a virtual maze of bittersweet sardonic humor, aping old comic strips and comic book advertising with a series of "continuing" strips like Rocket Sam, Rusty Brown, Big Tex, Tales Of Tomorrow and his more familiar characters Quimby Mouse and Jimmy Corrigan that scrape a comedic fingernail across the exposed nerves of fragile male egos, alienation and loneliness, fan obsession and the futility of progress that is simultaneously horrific and sympathetic. Difficult as his work may be for some, Ware is one of the best social critics we've got, as well as a terrific cartoonist and a really adventurous designer. A graphic novel is a graphic novel but ACME NOVELTY LIBRARY is an experience. Get it.
From Impact Books:
DRAGONHEART: HOW TO DRAW FANTASTIC DRAGONS AND FANTASY CREATURES by J. Peffer, 128 pg trade paperback ($19.99)
Most comics/fantasy art-related how to draw books are pretty crappy, usually done by "artists" whose work somehow never manages to materialize anywhere else. So far Peffer's one of those artists, but she's not bad, and neither is this book. It's obviously a basic primer for wannabe artists who haven't had much training, but Peffer draws well (at least dragons and similar beasts; there's nothing else in the book) and subtly places a lot of emphasis on credible anatomy. You could do worse.
This how to book strikes me as a bit mistitled. Hernandez is a decent artist and one of the earliest Americans "inspired" by manga style, but her work doesn't really resemble "authentic" manga (meaning Japanese) all that much. Again this is a good primer in basic cartooning, but "manga" here is pretty much just a euphemism for "comic book," and the book is really "how to draw comic books like Lea Hernandez." Not that she doesn't give a lot of good information on important topics like cityscape design, page layout and incorporating dialogue, but anyone actually looking for "manga secrets" will likely feel cheated. It's a decent book, but it's too bad they went for the quick cash-in rather than truth in advertising.
HOW TO DRAW AND SELL COMICS third edition by Alan McKenzie, 144 pg trade paperback ($22.99)
Now this is the real deal. McKenzie has, as Dave Gibbons puts it in his introduction, "long and varied professional experience" as a writer and editor, and the book is a compact masterpiece, incorporating a brief history of comics, discussions of requisite art tools, working with scripts, formats, basic drawing, and pretty much every other element of comic books down to future directions for the form. It's brisk and straightforward, beautifully designed, and filled with terrific art from numerous artists that quickly illustrate his points. (I love his quarter page demonstration of dynamic storytelling, comparing the same sequence in "standard" and "dynamic" modes that quickly show the value of the latter over the former.) This no-nonsense book makes an almost perfect compact bible for the medium and the business, and it's good enough that for the moment it's the one book everyone who wants to draw or work in comics should get. Top notch.
From Hermes Press:
SILVER AGE: THE SECOND GENERATION OF COMIC BOOK ARTISTS by Daniel Herman, 224 pg trade paperback ($29.99)
The Silver Age is often dissed out of hand these days as a Code-infested pinnacle of silliness, so it's good to see a serious examination of this very important period in the development of comic art. It isn't the definitive treatment, and Herman squanders almost 60 pages with historical preamble before getting to his main event, but he does a fine job of evaluating the important artists of the era and the impact of their work, from Alex Toth to Jim Steranko, including many like Carmine Infantino, Russ Heath and Russ Manning, who are rarely given much attention these days. In a sense, though, most of the book is an argument for the pre-eminent importance of Herman's (and my) favorite artist, Gil Kane, and it culminates in a excellent discussion of Gil's breakout experiments in form and content, HIS NAME IS SAVAGE and BLACKMARK, and how they influenced or presaged much of what would subsequently happen in the business. It's not an argument without merit - I've made it myself - but by climaxing with that focus, Herman inadvertently much of his preceding argument, and suggesting that the real importance of the Silver Age wasn't that it proceded with steady development (which it did) but that it culminated in explosive change. Very enjoyable book, though, well researched and illustrated.
From Devil's Due:
PURGATORI #2 by Robert Rodi & Cliff Richards, 32 pg color comic ($2.95)
Part one of the origin of the vampire Purgatori in the Egyptian court of Ahknaton and Nefertiti. Guess we know how he died now. Rodi and Richards are talented but still can't make the character very interesting. Eh.
RA SALVATORE'S EXILE: THE LEGEND OF DRIZZT BOOK II by Andrew Dabb & Tim Seeley, 48 pg color comic ($8.95)
I guess Salvatore has quite a following among the AD&D crowd, but this real by-the-numbers fantasy. Dabb and Seeley try hard (Seeley's sabotaged by musical chair inkers) as the story struggles, like most fantasy, to give off an air of greater meaning, but, man, it's twaddle, not helped by designs, coloring and speech patterns that make all characters virtually indistinguishable and the presentation boring as hell.
EVIL ERNIE IN SANTA FE #2 & 3 by Alan Grant & Tommy Castillo, 32 page color comics ($2.95@)
Undead psycho Evil Ernie unleashes his inner superhero on a cult of child killers as the cops try to close in on him. It's still an inane character (sorry, Brian) but Grant (no relation), an alumnus of the 2000 AD school of ultraviolence and low humor (and I mean that in a good way), is about the best choice I can think of to pull it off. Castillo's art is suitably creepy as well. But I've been to Santa Fe and this doesn't evoke the place at all, considering there are all sorts of interesting elements in Santa Fe that would make good backdrop. Still, a decent comeback after a shaky first issue, less a horror comic than very sick humor.
Haven't seen it yet, but Tuesday night was the grand finale of this season's AMAZING RACE (CBS, 9PM), an America-based family fun version that started out shaky but got good by the time it whittled down to five or six teams and the pre-teens all went home. (Cherubs and grueling tasks just don't mix.) The breakout for the series has been the evolution of an initially sympathetic family, the Weavers, who lost their father in a racetrack accident, into flat out villains, constantly badmouthing the other teams and even making snotty comments to passersby (for instance, while passing a bicyclist, their teenage son yelled out the car window for no apparent reason, "You wish you were Lance Armstrong!") and otherwise behaving in a constantly crass and crabby manner while continuously protesting their own virtue and bragging about how "The Lord" would ensure their victory over the evil infidels they're competing against. Not since Myrna and Smyrna have contestants so calculatingly pissed away any good will they may have had. If they win (at this point I'm rooting for - no, I'm not going to say because every time I do, that team gets eliminated) after various setbacks, sabotage and innate stupidity, it will go a long way toward suggesting there must be a God - and he's got a really nasty sense of humor.
Almost longer ago than I can remember now, Kurt Busiek and I wrote an issue of Dark Horse's THE HIRE, based on the mini-movie BMW ads starring Clive Owen and directed by John Woo, Guy Mitchell and others. Damn if it's not out now. (Publishers really ought to tell me these things so I can mention books before they're released.) Anyway, it's a little action adventure story about a man and his car. Go get it.
Working on a bunch of media stuff at the moment, but January's sizing up to be a big return to comics for me. Got the call from IDW that they want another CSI mini-series for the summer with a pisser of an idea I couldn't say no to. I'll let them tell you about it as things firm up, but let's just say this time it's personal. Also gearing up for a one-shot and possibly a series for Boom! Studios. Can't tell you anything about that yet either, but stay tuned.
Scattered throughout the column are the covers for this week's Comics Cover Challenge. Seven comics, one secret theme connecting them. Be the first one to tell me what it is in an email, and you can promote any website of your choice here. (We reserve right of approval, but that hasn't been an issue so far.) Last week's theme, correctly guessed by David Oakes (who has nothing to push), was drugs. The four books with drug references or slang in the titles were easy - SPEED (amphetamines), TEEN-AGED DOPE SLAVES AND REFORM SCHOOL GIRLS (heroin), MARY JANE (marijuana) and my own X (ecstacy) - while AMAZING SPIDER-MAN was a famous issue that went ahead without the code seal of approval when Spider-Man pal Harry Osborn gets hooked on pills, and SWAMP THING featured Abby Cable taking a psychedelic love trip after eating a potato-like growth that comes off Swamp Thing. The big puzzler was STRANGE ADVENTURES, featuring the first appearance of Deadman. Nobody knew it was also the first comic of the Comics Code era, authorized or otherwise, to include an overt drug reference, with the plot revolving around heroin smuggling. Nat Gertler did come up with a brilliant alternative reason for inclusion, though: the cover depicts "shooting up." Missing the cut were Quality's CRACK comics and Marvel's SPEEDBALL; I didn't like any of the CRACK covers I found, and there were too many superhero comics represented already.
I got a few hundred responses to last week's challenge, with many complaining it was way too easy. To balance things out, this week's is a horror. Good luck with it.
And don't forget my two books are available in pdf e-book form at The Paper Movies Store: TOTALLY OBVIOUS, collecting my Master Of The Obvious essays on comics, culture, creativity and the freelance life; and IMPOLITIC: A JOURNAL OF THE PLAGUE YEARS, a running commentary on American life and politics in the first half of the Terror Decade. 250+ pages each, $5.95@ or both for $10.95. What are you waiting for?
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.
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I'm reviewing comics sent to me - I may not like them but certainly I'll mention them - at Steven Grant c/o Permanent Damage, 2657 Windmill Pkwy #194, Henderson NV 89074, so send 'em if you want 'em mentioned, since I can't review them unless I see them. Some people have been sending press releases and cover proofs and things like that, which I enjoy getting, but I really can't do anything with them, sorry. Full comics only, though they can be photocopies rather than the published version. Make sure you include contact information for readers who want to order your book.