Permanent Damage: Issue #130

Wed, March 10th, 2004 at 12:00am PST

Comic Books
Steven Grant, Columnist

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  • I'm not used to comics companies changing course when they back up against the wall – the urge to declare the fault lies not in themselves but in their stars always seems to grip publishers and sometimes editors, all evidence to the contrary (or, as my old psychology professor phrased it, an irrationally held belief will grow stronger when confronted by evidence that invalidates it) – so it's great to see Crossgen trying to redirect its creative energies. Like many start-ups over the past decade, Crossgen started with a company-generated "universe." As mentioned before, inbred universes are a tough sell in comics, esp. since every company and their grandmother has tried (almost universally badly) to do one. Have any of them survived? The Marvel Universe, which started all this (it even drove DC to obsessively try to compress its history of titles into a cohesive universe, and the company's still trying to cope with the ramifications of that), grew organically and haphazardly; I suspect most of the heroes were originally based in New York City (the Fantastic Four miraculously relocated there a couple issues in) just so Stan wouldn't have to keep track of where they were supposed to be when he was writing 16 books a month. But people who try to work out grand overarching schemes for universes, with all the backgrounds worked out in minute and tedious attention to details, or who tie all character experiences together with a singular gimmick, pretty much fall flat on their faces. Part of the fun of comics is their sheer vivacity, the sense that anything could happen, and if comics aren't giving off something like that vibe, they're not giving mileage for money. Overthought pre-fab universes tend to be sterile, limited places, no matter how their creators may delude themselves otherwise. Better, any of you still plotting out such a thing, to come up with some down and dirty unifying focus then let the various talents run with the ball wherever the mood strikes them. Statistically, the output isn't likely to be any worse.

    Crossgen also double-whammied themselves with an earlier insistence – or marketing ploy, take your pick – that their books weren't superhero comics, when it was blatantly obvious to everyone they were. Oh, they dumped the costumes (not that most characters didn't have readily identifiable clothing they wore everywhere, so the distinction is negligible) and set most of the stories in fantasy settings, but the stories could easily have been issues of X-MEN, with super-powered people scheming and beating each other up every issue, and the plots were superhero plots. That sort of thing goes a long way toward killing audiences – readers who don't like superhero comics will be driven off by the bait-and-switch routine, and superhero fans will be irritated by the perceived elitism – which may partly explain how Crossgen could put so much effort into marketing with little to show for it in sales.

    The company's recent announcements of future plans, in the event it still has a future (which remains to be seen), show something of a learning process, though. The "Crossgen Universe" is, to all appearances, being phased out as titles are cancelled. Newer titles have been less obviously tied to some uber-continuity, and the underlying superhero trappings look to be jettisoned for straighter genre material. They already have a pirate comic and a spy comic, and their horror comic ROUTE 666 is being joined by another, RAVEN HOUSE. It's this sort of slow-build diversity they should have tried at the beginning. (New publishers seem to either limit diversification or flood the market with too many books at once.) If they can ride out the storm and market well, this could conceivably be a rebirth for the company. Like I said, it's great to see the company actively striking out in new directions. A big question is whether they can convince all the readers who walked away the last time that this time when they say they're not doing superheroes, they're not doing superheroes. (Companies that are doing superheroes might as well just fess up and try to sell them as such; no one's fooled, unless they want to be.)

    Two problems potentially mar the Crossgen outlook. First, in their recent press conference at MegaCon, several people from the company insisted they haven't abandoned their shared universe, which suggests either they don't get it (which wouldn't be surprising, since few companies seem to), or they just don't want to lose the handful of readers who like the shared universe concept. If Crossgen is insisting on continuing with a shared universe, they should learn the lesson: it's not a top-down thing. How many stories did Stan actually write, when Marvel was getting off the ground, where it was essential to know that Spider-Man and the Hulk existed in the same world in order to understand the story? It's possible to have a shared universe. But unless one person writes the whole thing, it's not very likely to have a micromanaged one that generates enough interest or energy to make it worth the work.

    The bigger problem facing them is their continued non-payment of freelancers they should already have paid. I'm sure they have every intention of paying off the freelancer debt when the company's flush again, but how a company treats its freelancers when times are good means nothing. That's not going to help their reputation with the freelance community at all. It's how companies treat freelancers when times are bad that counts.


  • Another busy week, with lots of work and various deals dangling in front of me, like Hollywood sniffing around MY FLESH IS COOL. A comics project that I'm not allowed to talk about yet. That sort of thing. Originally, I thought I once again wouldn't have time to do a column this week, so I hauled another MASTER OF THE OBVIOUS flashback out of mothballs to run instead, but then this column materialized. But, since this is the MOTO with the most personal meaning for me, and in honor of finally getting a deal in place to collect my old EDGE series, along with the final issue that was completed but never published, I think I'll run it anyway. Years later, it's still pertinent on many levels.

    From February 2, 2000:

    It's Monday. Gil Kane died this morning.

    I'm not exaggerating when I say Gil was comics to me. I only worked with him in the past few years, and our output together was scant: three published out of four finished issues of EDGE for Malibu/Bravura (we were never able to find a publisher for the fourth issue, once Malibu pulled the plug on the line); an issue of I-BOTSI-BOTS for TeknoComix (Gil also provided some terrific covers for the book); the two issues of LEGENDS OF THE DC UNIVERSE that start on sale in March; and a Superman graphic novel Gil was half-finished with when treatment for his cancer curtailed his ability to work. But there wasn't a month in the time he knew me that we didn't discuss projects which, unfortunately, will now never be done.

    I say in the time he knew me, because I had known him for much longer, from the very beginning of my days as a comics reader. When I was seven years old, years before the portable television was even heard of, I caught some childhood disease and was forced to spend a week in bed. What books I had – by then I was already reading like there was no tomorrow – I finished. I must have liked westerns on TV then, though I don't specifically remember that, because my dad decided to amuse me with ALL-STAR WESTERN #119, which turned out to be the final issue of that book. While not the first comic I'd seen – I vaguely recall being given an issue of Dell Comics' LONE RANGER by a barber in return for sitting still during a horrid buzzcut – it was the first comic I pored over, the first one that really caught my attention. I liked the stories okay, but what I really liked was the clean, quasi-realistic art. The lines looked sharp. The lead feature was DC's premier western hero, Johnny Thunder.

    With art by Gil Kane.

    But I don't think I knew that. Given that the artist on the second feature was his other mainstay, Carmine Infantino, I suspect Julie Schwarz edited the book, and Julie had a habit of identifying the talent long before it was de rigueur in the business, so I may have read Gil's name, but if I did it didn't sink in. Then. What sank in was his art style. It was months before I saw it again, on GREEN LANTERN #9, featuring an amazing collection of grotesqueries – crystals with tentacles, bird-faced creatures, human sized insects – and these were the heroes: that issue introduced the Green Lanterns Of The Universe. This was all so weird to me, so new, so different from anything I was aware of that in a heartbeat Green Lantern was my favorite character and I had a favorite artist. ALL-STAR WESTERN #119, to all intents and purposes, introduced me to comics; GREEN LANTERN #9 truly hooked me on them. Past that point, I was a goner. I found Gil's art wherever I could: on THE ATOM, Star Hawkins in STRANGE ADVENTURES, even Dell Comics' BRAIN BOY (and I never looked at Dell Comics). There was something about his work that opened doors in my head like nothing else did, but I didn't understand that until Green Lantern ceased to be my favorite character as soon as Gil left it.

    Gil's work was the underpinning of all my tastes in comics. He ruined me for other artists. I quickly grew so used to the fine linework and mellow, open coloring of Julie Schwartz-edited comics, and mainly Gil's, that when I saw my first Marvel comic, FANTASTIC FOUR #10, I was repelled by the thick black lines around everything, and refused to have anything to do with Marvel for years. I couldn't stand the cartoonier style of BATMAN, nor the lumpine staidness of SUPERMAN. What I wanted, though I didn't know enough at the time to articulate it, was lots more comics by Gil Kane. But there was a progressive attitude inherent in Gil's style that gave also me a taste for the idiosyncratic in comics art, for the kind of artist who creates his own style and makes the medium his own. I've liked the work of a lot of artists over the years, but I've never had another favorite.

    The funny is this: Gil was always frustrated by that work. He wasn't ashamed of it. I don't think Gil ever took on a job where he didn't try to do his best, however it turned out in his eyes. Most of the work itself he was proud of. But he was frustrated by the limits of the format, the enforced vanilla characterizations and repetitive content, the speed at which he was forced to produce in order to earn a living. The same limitations many of us chafe under today. Gil had a reputation for speed, reportedly matched only by Jack Kirby and Joe Kubert, but it wasn't his choice. Like most freelancers perpetually indebted, faced with Lilliputian page rates, his only option was to produce and produce and produce. He rarely wanted to turn his pencils over to other inkers, but that was the system. What we today hold up as classics of the Silver Age came out of his ongoing nightmare.

    Still, even that work set a style that revolutionized how action was handled in comics. Gil, raised on Alex Raymond and Burne Hogarth, on Robert E. Howard and AE Van Vogt, on John Wayne and Gilbert Roland and Edward G. Robinson, spent his DC years looking for a new expressiveness, a way to make the action in comics as vital and compelling as action was in the movies. Gil once mentioned that in '40s artist Lou Fine's work, everyone looked like a Greek god, and the same goes for Gil's figures, when they weren't Greek monsters instead. Particularly when Gil inked his own work, they looked like they were made of coiled springs, ready to rocket off the page. (His women simply looked pneumatic, some of the few really sexy images in '60s comics.) My best friend, himself an artist, pointed out that Gil's was the most geometric style in comics, and Gil designed on the principle that curves are static and angles mean action, something a lot of younger artists could stand to learn. His art had its mannerisms, certainly: when I entered the business, "Gil Kane up-the-nose shots" were something of a running gag in comics, and he produced hardly a single action story in the '70s that didn't feature a full page climactic punch where the puncher was in the background, following through on his swing, while the punchee flew backwards toward the audience in agony, his hands strangely contorted. In fact, in high school I taught myself to mime a Gil Kane hand: fingers and thumb splayed and straightened yet also curling up, above the plane of the hand, while the wrist knuckle protrudes visibly.

    Yet it's safe to say Gil was one of the major three influences, with Neal Adams and Jack Kirby, on action comics of the past three decades. His curse was that, like Adams and Kirby, his viewpoint, technique and style were so strong, so charismatic, that his style was absorbed whole into the unconscious language of comics, employed (one could say pilfered) by artist after artist after artist, until what he did was such a commonplace that many people began looking on his work as common as well. For a time, he was eclipsed in the business to the point that artists in interviews would list "influence" upon "influence" without mentioning his name, while the books they drew were saturated with Gil Kane swipes. With his work on things as diverse as Captain America, INCREDIBLE HULK, Tower Comics' Raven, Captain Action, Hawk And Dove, AMAZING SPIDER-MAN, Captain Marvel, Warlock, Iron Fist, The Flash, Conan and numerous other projects, Gil changed our perception of what action in comics should look like. Today comics are composed of swipes of swipes of swipes of swipes of Gil's art, so many generations removed that many artists don't even realize the original source. We're so saturated in his style, surrounded by it to the point that it's generally considered a part of the landscape, that he never really got credit for this. Let's make sure he gets it from now on.

    If it were a matter of art, Gil would have left comics long ago. His obsession was storytelling. He wanted to tell stories. He always wanted bigger stories, better stories. He fretted about structure, about character. He voraciously read, especially books on literary criticism, trying to attain the tools he needed to express the ideas he struggled to get out. He hooked up with writers he thought could give him what he wanted: Roy Thomas, John Jakes, Ron Goulart, Archie Goodwin, Howard Chaykin. And ultimately, but only chronologically, me. In addition to better material, he was always hungry for new formats and new venues, any way to take comics to different audiences, and to produce comics that might grab their attention.

    The word visionary, like genius, gets tossed around carelessly, particularly when people die. I wouldn't call Gil a genius. I'm disinclined to call anyone a genius. But Gil was certainly a visionary. And he put his money where his mouth was. He broke away from DC Comics in the late '60s, abandoning Green Lantern and The Atom to found the company Adventure House and self-publish HIS NAME IS… SAVAGE in black and white magazine form, intended for sale not with comics but among men's adventure magazines like ARGOSY and SAGA. There had been b&w comics magazines on the market before, notably Jim Warren's CREEPY and EERIE, but Gil's was the first to use the space – both more pages and the possibility of more panels per page – to tell a single story, a spy adventure soaked in ultraviolence. It was Gil's movie on paper, Mickey Spillane as James Bond, and with it Gil arguably invented the modern American graphic novel. The Comics Code overtly decided to kill it, first by interfering with the printing and, failing that, by crushing the distribution, so the magazine never had the chance to find an audience.

    Broke, he returned to servitude at DC until he could get the mass market paperback series BLACKMARK, Gil's post-apocalyptic homage to Conan, off the ground, through Bantam Books. Editorial shifts and distribution experiments put an end to that after one book, again without the project having the chance to find an audience. (Meanwhile, Gil's connections to the Robert E. Howard estate made it possible for Marvel to grab the rights to CONAN, a property that enhanced the company for well over a decade.) He started a line of hardcover graphic novels, Morningstar Press, which issued a beautiful Richard Corben-illustrated (I believe Jan Strnad wrote it, but I'm no longer certain) adaptation of Robert E. Howard's "Valley Of The Worm," which Gil and Roy Thomas also later adapted for Marvel. Again, Morningstar Press fell victim to distribution: there wasn't any. With John Jakes and Burne Hogarth, he tried to launch a combination novel-graphic novel series based on the King Arthur legend, EXCALIBUR. With Ron Goulart, he created the syndicated comic strip STAR HAWKS, innovating a two-tier structure that allowed a concentration of story unheard of in daily newspaper strips, and that succeeded for a couple of years, but as Star Wars interest faded, so did interest in STAR HAWKS, forcing Gil back to mainstream comics again.

    When I first entered comics, on several occasions Marvel editors asked me to write stories specifically for Gil to draw, and I leaped at every chance, but all ended up drawn by other artists, with the editors baffled, on questioning, that I ever thought they were for Gil in the first place. I never understood that. Gil puttered around Marvel, taking what work he could find, and did small jobs at DC until taking over the Superman slot in ACTION COMICS until the post-Crisis revamp. By the mid-'80s, debt, the need for a change, and the radically shifting comics market that suddenly emphasized hot new talent over mainstays, forced him out of comics to California and into animation as a designer at Ruby-Spears. I don't think he was ever felt satisfied there, but Gil and satisfaction were largely strangers anyway.

    Curiously, when I moved to Los Angeles in late '84, I ended up living half a block from Gil, in Brentwood. Though we knew people in common – principally Howard Chaykin – I never went over and introduced myself. I was afraid he'd think I was some stalker, or, worse, that I'd just start gushing uncontrollably. It wasn't until '92 that we were hooked up by our mutual lawyer, Harris Miller, to put together a project, ultimately EDGE, for what would become the doomed Bravura line at Malibu. Gil was surprised that, surface differences aside, I shared many of his attitudes toward comics. It didn't surprise me at all; an interview with Gil, done by Roy Thomas for ALTER EGO magazine, was the first semi-philosophical oratory on comics I ever read, and a major influence on my thinking about the medium since.

    Before we started to collaborate, though, Gil got cancer, the same kind that ultimately took the life of our friend Archie Goodwin. I watched both go through it with grace and good cheer, and I know it helped both that they had each other to talk to, a private little support group. The treatments, and the treatments to repair the damage caused by the treatments, took a lot out of Gil. There were months at a time when he couldn't pick up a pencil. At various points, his voice gave out, his legs gave out, his heart gave out. He didn't really want people to know. I think he was more concerned with creating something that he could proudly leave behind him, but by then the business was in a downturn and paying avenues for new projects, particularly adventurous new projects, shut down fast. The great frustration of working with Gil is that he came up with far more ideas than either of us could possibly keep up with. Almost every time I spoke with him until recent months, he was always excited by some new idea he had just had, chucking the previous one like old scraps. What was heartbreaking was that they were almost all great ideas – and the business was pre-programmed to reject all of them.

    Gil never stopped dreaming. Throughout all the ups and downs of his career, he continued to dream of something that was completely his, and successful, of something so good it redeemed the promise of comics. Whatever the state of the form, Gil always had a vision that comics could be something greater: far more sophisticated, exciting and pertinent than anyone was allowing them to be. That he failed to achieve that vision in his lifetime is also our failure. That he tried and tried and tried should shame the rest of us into emulating his effort. It's safe to say that comics art would be far different - and greatly impoverished - if Gil hadn't existed. We owe him more than we can even calculate now.

    When I finally got a chance to work with Gil, it was one of the greatest honors I've ever had professionally. That he continued to want to work with me was also a great honor. I don't really want to talk about him personally, not because I have anything ill to say about him but because that part belongs to me. I wish we'd connected on a market upcycle, with the opportunity to do more. Gil was my inspiration and somehow he ended up being my friend, and it's just sinking in that I lost my friend today, and, as much as I lost, his wonderful wife Elaine, and the whole comics industry, lost much, much more. I hope that when histories of the field are written, Gil places prominently and is remembered not just for what he did but for what he struggled to do, and I hope someone – everyone, really - is willing to carry the torch and achieve it for him, now that he can't.

    There was a story from the '40s that haunted Gil. I forget its title and author, but Gil and Roy Thomas once adapted it for a Marvel comic. It was about a boy born with wings who could fly like a bird. His wings get clipped, his life gets cluttered with daily concerns and responsibilities, but something in him just longs to fly again. When he finally gets the chance, death overtakes him, like Icarus trying to reach the sun. That was Gil.

    I hate eulogies. They always make me think of Orson Welles' TOUCH OF EVIL where Marlene Dietrich, with great hardboiled melancholy, eulogizes the piggish, vulgar and ultimately vindicated cop Hank Quinlan: "He was some kind of man. What does it matter what you say about people?" Whatever people are going to say about Gil, I wish they had said it while he was alive.

    Thanks, Gil.

    Damn it.


  • Been reading the latest Thomas Cahill book, SAILING THE WINE-DARK SEA: Why The Greeks Matter ($27.50; Nan A. Talese/ Books). Cahill's sort of a pop historian, not that his books aren't well-researched and well-written, but he writes about ancient times in a very breezy, modern style that doesn't wallow in its own breadth of data. Cahill's particular crusade is relating distant history to demonstrate how the world we know was built from it. He started with the seemingly preposterous HOW THE IRISH SAVED CIVILIZATION, which detailed how Irish monasteries fueled Europe's eventual retreat from the Dark Ages by preserving the Roman and Greek past, and wrote two other books in what's now a series – THE GIFT OF THE JEWS: How A Tribe Of Desert Nomads Changed The Way Everyone Thinks And Feels, and a book on the origins and influence of Christianity, DESIRE OF THE EVERLASTING HILLS: The World Before And After Jesus. All of these are worth the read; Cahill's main aim is to get us to see ourselves not as a unique and isolated moment in history, but a culmination of trends, traditions and forces that we barely even still recall. In SAILING THE WINE-DARK SEA, he's mainly literary and art critic, dissecting the extant works of Greek literature to show how Greeks really behaved and thought, and how both modern and primitive many of their attitudes were. (Not that he intended it, but according to Cahill, the development of Greek art, strongly influenced by social changes through Greek history, run intriguingly parallel to the development of comics art over the past 70 years, stuff for some dissertation.) There's a really great interpretation of Homer's works, what they mean and how they differ from each other, he's a great fan of the ancient scatological, he clearly outlines how events in Greek culture triggered various changes in their thinking, literature and art, and he's particularly big on where Greek thought parallels modern thought or might, if more widely know, better inform it, as with in this observation on the Peloponnesian War from the historian Thucydides, who pretty much founded "real" history (as opposed to Herodotus, who didn't bother to distinguish between myth and reality):

    "Practically the whole of the Hellenic world was convulsed, with rical parties in every state – democratic leaders trying to bring in the Athenians, and oligarchs trying to bring in the Spartans... To fit in with the change of events, words, too, had to change their usual meanings. What used to be described as a thoughtless act of aggression was now regarded as the courage one would expect to find in a party member; to think of the future and wait was merely another way of saying one was a coward; any idea of moderation was just an attempt to disguise one's unmanly character; ability to understand a question from all sides meant that one was totally unfitted for action. Fanatical enthusiasm was the mark of a real man, and to plot against an enemy behind his back was perfectly legitimate self defense. Anyone who held violent opinions could always be trusted, and anyone who objected to them became a suspect... As a result... there was a general deterioration fo character throughout the Greek world. The plain way of looking at things, which is so much the mark of a noble character, was regarded as a ridiculous quality and soon ceased to exist. Society became divided into camps in which no man trusted his fellow."

    In the words of William Faulker, the past isn't dead. It isn't even past. History may seem like a dry affair, but not in Cahill's hands. Read the book.


  • A curious but mild political week, dominated by, of all things, the Martha Stewart verdict. I had a discussion with a friend about it earlier today, agreeing with him that, from everything the jurors have revealed, there's no way to say she was railroaded. It's possible (not terribly likely, but let's give her the benefit of the doubt) that she wasn't aware she was committing a crime when selling her stock, but she could hardly have mistaken the intent of her subsequent clumsy lies and attempted cover-up. And she committed one truly unpardonable bit of stupidity when she turned down a plea bargain for a year's probation in exchange for admission of guilt to a misdemeanor, the least of the charges against her. I'm sorry, but when you know you've done the crime and they throw you a great gift like that, you take the deal! It's either hubris or stupidity (not mutually exclusive, of course) to do otherwise. So it's not like Martha deserves much sympathy.

    Where my friend and I parted company was at his contention that the Stewart case has nothing to do with Enron, as put forth by some people bemoaning the government's "persecution" of Stewart while the Enron thieves have gone largely unpunished. Oh, it's true Stewart and Enron have no connections that I'm aware of. But I do see Martha becoming the administration's poster girl for how they've fought corporate corruption and greed, letting real corporate scum like Halliburton and Enron (it now turns out that Halliburton, which has been overcharging the Feds for feeding the troops in Iraq, hasn't been paying the company they subcontracted the service deal to) – the corporate patrons of both political parties – slip off into her shadow. Not to mention the distraction of her case keeping public attention off the next brewing kickback scandal that stands poised to take down the lucrative mutual fund industry. (If you haven't been paying attention, it has come out that many mutual funds managers take kickbacks from companies to invest in their stocks, so the managers are making money regardless of how the stock or the fund does, while fund customers are basically paying for the privilege of getting taken while underwriting the stock price of suspect companies. Watch that not become a campaign issue.)

    Besides the Stewart verdict (and the endless TV news shows trotting out lawyers to handicap the possible sentencing; O.J. Simpson's lawyer figures she's get nine months, Michael Jackson's lawyer said eighteen), the week's other sideshow was the Haiti rebellion, which saw President Aristede follow a defiant refusal to leave office in the face of widening protest with an abrupt flight to Africa that he claimed amounted to being kidnapped by the United States, a claim immediately and vociferously denied by as many administration mouthpieces as possible. Just before his "escape" from office, it became the widespread consensus among Western nations (we may now enter into an obligatory chant of "everyone else thought Saddam had weapons of mass destruction too") that he was now a threat to Haitian democracy (some American newspapers quoted "unnamed U.S. officials" who suggested Aristede was a drug monster ala Noriega) which had put him in office, and he had to go, leaving Pinochet-lover Guy Phillipe (whose forces reputedly had the backing of the current administration) "temporarily" in charge of the country, with help from the Marines. It had been brewing for awhile; Aristede pretty much sealed his own fate by refusing a deal from International Monetary Fund, something third world countries are simply not allowed to do. His removal, by an undemocratic coup, has, apparently, now made Haiti safe for "democracy," which is to say international capital, and it'll be interesting to see how quickly Haiti fades into the background, particularly if Phillipe declines to surrender power anytime soon.

    But we should be grateful to the administration for providing the light comedy for the week, courtesy of the first spurt of Hand Puppet-campaign ads. Theoretically designed to deal an early deathblow to the Kerry campaign, they painted the President as the ultimate patriot and attempted to wave the flag over 9-11 (even as the administration continues to hinder official investigations about who knew what about 9-11 when and why there was a failure to do anything about it), only to come under fire from New York firemen and World Trade Center widows for insensitivity and politicizing the tragedy. Of course, the Hand Puppet's handlers trotted right out to spout high ideals about how the use is totally justified by 9-11's standing as the pivotal moment of our time, and he was president then (which, when you think about it, is a little like Gray Davis running for re-election as California's governor by showing footage of burned cabins because he was governor during the worst California wildfires in memory – not that Al Gore wouldn't have run near exactly the same ad had Antonin Scalia not been on the Supreme Court in November 2000), but it was very amusing to watch what was supposed to be a smashing body blow to the opposition turn into its own little campaign issue. I suspect the principle behind the ad was that it might piss off New Yorkers, but they figure they're going to lose New York anyway, apparently following the basic philosophy they used when condemning lord knows how many New Yorkers and their kids to slow agony by claiming the post 9-11 NYC air was safe when they knew it wasn't, because the good vibes were important for the business community and the wider morale. Interestingly, the ads seem to have had a negative effect; while no polls can be trusted, it's still entertaining to see new polls today giving Kerry a notable edge over the Hand Puppet in supposedly Republican lock states like Texas and Florida. Not that another poll won't appear tomorrow saying exactly the opposite. Not quite so entertaining was the new information that V.P. Dick Cheney, back when he was Secretary Of Defense for Hand Puppet I in 1989, turned a blind eye to Pakistan's secret nuclear program in order to sell the Pakistan government fighter jets in return for helping the Mujahadeen throw the Soviets out of Afghanistan a few years earlier. (Revelation of the nuke program would've killed the billion dollar jet sale.)

    But the week's highlight for political irony was the downing of Attorney General John Ashcraft for severe gallstones. Not that I wish the severe pain of that on anyone, but for a man who has spent the last three years demonstrating severe gall (Right-To-Lifer Ashcroft's current war is on doctors in New York – New York again! – who perform abortions, using the recently passed late abortion law as a wedge to subpoena financial and patient records from the doctors, none of whom have actually been so much as accused of a crime, apparently as a testing ground for a similar national campaign) severe gallstones are a ridiculously appropriate ailment.


  • A few choice online delicacies you might not have heard about:

    If you haven't been visiting the Alex Toth site, you're missing one of the great comics resources on the web. Besides the Page Of The Day, through which you can amass a terrific collection of Toth stories from the '40s-'80s and numerous comics companies in no time (there are now years worth of pages in the archives), there are various essays, art pieces and stories annotated by Toth on the site. Recently, a piece called Thinker Exercise went up, and it's essential for anyone interested in designing comics art. Don't miss it.

    Some more useful software for PC users:

    Antivirus problems are a necessity these days, but it turns out there's no need to spring for a commercial program like Norton or McAfee anymore. I've tried several free antivirus programs over the years, but there've been problems with all of them. They lock up computers, or they never update their definitions (so you're always vulnerable to newer viruses and trojans) or they used up too many resources and slow down system performance. (Not that commercial antivirus programs are free of all these complaints either.) Enter Avast! Antivirus. It's from a Czech company, but I've been using it on two significantly different computers for a couple weeks now, and it's been practically invisible. It has a lot of really nice features. It's an easy install and doesn't take a ton of disk space. It uses negligible system resources. It automatically updates when you go online, and notifies you so you can see what's been changed if you're so inclined. And it's absolutely free, for non-commercial use. You have to re-register every fourteen months, but what the hey. So far I haven't had a bit of trouble with it, and I don't think I've ever said that about anti-virus software before.

    I think I've mentioned this before, but if you want a smaller, more flexible browser alternative to Microsoft Internet Explorer (and I don't count the equally bloated Netscape or the not-quite-ready-for-prime-time Opera or Mozilla), check out MyIE2, which hooks into the underlying web access software Microsoft built into Windows. It runs smaller and tighter, again nowhere near the resource hog IE is, and it has more cool features, like automatically opening a new window when you click to a new page (great for cross-referencing things), and lets you build groups so you can open many webpages with one click, which can save a lot of time. It's also a 711k download instead of the, what is it now, 16 megs?, IE demands. I used MyIE for a long time, and MyIE2 is the improved new version. I've been using it for several months. It's a great little program. You may still need IE on your system – I had it on mine before I switched to MyIE, so I don't know – but you'll never have to use it again.


  • Oddly enough, Avatar honcho William Christensen tells me MY FLESH IS COOL #3 is coming out next Wednesday, only two weeks after #2, so now all those of you who've written saying you can't wait for the conclusion of the mini-series don't have it! I'm not sure what caused a comic to actually come out early, but, hey, nothing like spitting in the face of tradition, right? I've been basking in generally great reviews (the main complaint I've heard is that people would've preferred a longer than three issue series) but I've run out of ways to beg retailers to stock the three issues (all of which are still available). Mind doing that for me this week? I know the new tradition is to wait for the trade paperback, but I'm not sure I'd depend on that with this one. If I'm wrong, you'll be the first to hear about it. (Well... I'll be the first, but you know what I mean...)

    Speaking of MY FLESH IS COOL, turns out there's an interview with me on the subject in the new VAMPIRELLA MAGAZINE #4, along with a slew of other features, including new Vampirella stories by Jeff Parker and by Jimmy Palmiotti, Justin Gray and Gabriel Rearte, and reviews and coverage of horror in every medium conceivable.

    After the last MASTER OF THE OBVIOUS flashback, quite a few people dropped me a line asking when the COLLECTED MOTO would come out. At least at the moment, it probably won't. It was originally planned from AiT/PlanetLar Books, but, as I mentioned sometime in the past, given that it's 225,000+ words and they've decided to get out of the prose book business, it's been returned to me. I've sent out a few feelers to other publishers without much luck, and I haven't had time to seriously shop it around. What I was wondering was: anyone interested in buying an e-book version of it? That'd be pretty easy and relatively inexpensive to put together. If that interests you, drop me a line and let me know.

    Marvel (which, I guess, dropped their "special edition" reprint of SECRET WAR #1 in favor of a standard model about concurrently with my critique of the plan last week, but, since several people asked, no, I believe the two things were coincidental, but if Marvel is making policy decisions based on what's in this column, please, someone, let me know so I can ridiculously abuse my power) sent THE ESSENTIAL PUNISHER VOL. 1 ($14.99), which includes all his pre-regular series appearances, including the mini-series I did with Mike Zeck. The paper could be whiter, the mini-series' painted covers scan badly, and I'm not crazy about black and white, but Mike's line art really looks sharp. At a few hundred pages for $14.99, it's not a bad buy at all.

    You can also hit up your local comics retailer for:

    DAMNED: trade paperback from Cyberosia, art by Mike Zeck and Denis Rodier, coloring by Kurt Goldzung


    Crime. A parolee jumps parole to fulfill a promise to a dead cellmate, and finds himself hunted by mobsters looking for missing money he knows nothing about, in a city where he has no friends.


    MORTAL SOULS: trade paperback from Avatar Press, art by Philip Xavier

    Crime/horror. A police detective tracks and kills a female serial killer, only to gain her gift of seeing her targets for what they really are: the dead, who run the world, and who hate the living.


    BADLANDS: trade paperback from AiT/PlanetLar Books, art by Vince Giarrano

    Crime story, set in 1963 and starring the man who really killed John Kennedy.


    BADLANDS: THE UNPRODUCED SCREENPLAY: text from AiT/PlanetLar

    Screenplay version of BADLANDS, designed to ward off anyone who wants to make a movie of it.


    PUNISHER:CIRCLE OF BLOOD: trade paperback from Marvel Comics, art by Mike Zeck and John Beatty

    Crime. The original mini-series that transformed The Punisher from a minor character into a movie-franchise spawning star. Imprisoned for his killings, the Punisher fights to survive and escape, but the war he declares on organized crime once he's out takes an unexpected turn.


    HATED AND FEARED: Best Of X-MEN UNLIMITED: trade paperback from Marvel Comics collecting a number of short X-Men stories, including two by me: a "Blob" story with art by Sean Phillips, and a "Lockheed The Dragon" story drawn by Paul Smith.


    GREEN LANTERN: TRAITOR: trade paperback from DC Comics, art by Mike Zeck, Gil Kane, Scott Kolins and Klaus Janson

    Superhero action. Three generations of Green Lanterns – the alien Abin Sur in the old west, Hal Jordan joined by the Atom in the Silver Age, and the modern Green Lantern Kyle Raynor – battle an unstoppable cyborg powered by the stars and driven by a religious calling to snuff out all life in the universe.


    FRANK MILLER'S ROBOCOP, monthly comic from Avatar Press, art by Juan Jose Ryp

    Science fiction action. The most faithful adaptation of a screenplay in history. From the version of ROBOCOP 2 that was never filmed, Frank Miller's vision of the decaying future city of Detroit is realized for the first time, as Robocop crosses swords with a demented squadron of military police and a program-altering self-proclaimed moral watchdog, while the real police go on strike and OCP readies an even more powerful Robocop to replace him.

    I encourage the patronage of local comics shops where applicable, but don't forget that if you can't find what you want there, you can always shop the fine online retailers Khepri and Mars Import.


    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.

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