Permanent Damage: Issue #159

Wed, September 29th, 2004 at 12:00am PDT

Comic Books
Steven Grant, Columnist

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  • TO ALL FREELANCERS:

    Next week's our next "Coming Attractions" special, and it'll be the last one for awhile. We get a few thousand individual readers per week, so it's your big chance to show them what you've got coming out over the next few months. There are a few simple rules to follow:

    • Include the names of all collaborators, the publisher and price, and a brief, TV GUIDE-ish synopsis of the concept. Remember brevity is the soul of wit, and keep it short. No longwinded press releases.

    • If desired and possible, include a small (around 50K tops) jpg of your book's cover. This isn't absolutely necessary, but my feedback indicates readers react much more strongly to attractions with pictures attached. But it's up to you.

    • This is open to freelancers, self-publishers, mini-comics, graphic novels, whatever. It is not a marketplace for pitching your project to publishers. Please don't send anything that doesn't have a publisher attached.

    Email all this to me by Monday at the latest.

    And that's all...


  • I don't usually go trawling for topics, but last week, over at Newsarama (where, I notice, someone's press release calls their new series "Think FAST AND THE FURIOUS meets FIGHT CLUB... Jeez, they don't even do that "meets" thing anymore in Hollywood, where it's considered death for a pitch these days. In the immortal words of Eugene Ionesco, one must keep up with the times, mustn't one?), writer Patrick Neighly, in honor of Halloween month in his Paper Curtain, who recently wrote the Roaring Twenties vampire graphic novel THE SUPERNATURALISTS and knows a thing or two about what he's saying, wrote that comics aren't really a good medium for horror. This triggered a small torrent of outraged readers dutifully rattling off all the "great" horror comics: TALES FROM THE CRYPT, Junji Ito's UZUMAKI and GYO, WALKING DEAD, 30 DAYS OF NIGHT, KILLING DEMONS, SWAMP THING, HELLBLAZER, and on and on. One person suggested Neighly was "very immature when it comes to appreciating horror."

    Neighly doesn't really make his case. It's more statement than argument.

    But he's right.

    A lot has to do with our definition of "horror" fiction. What does anyone agree on? Is horror fiction "scary"? Is it necessary to be frightened by horror, or is simply being horrific horror? Does "creepy" (the concept, not the magazine) count as horror? What genuinely frightens us?

    Most "horror" movies depend on abrupt movement and quick-cut editing to make us jump in our seats. It's "scary" in the way getting tapped on your knee in the doctor's office is scary; there's no intellectual or emotional involvement in our response, it's just reflex, the natural involuntary response to an unexpected stimulus, the same way we hit the breaks when something at the edge of peripheral vision moves unexpectedly while we're driving. Most horror films aren't even horrific. They depend on cutesy little tricks, and brutality, blood, liberal helpings of gore or the threat of it, and violence. So do most horror comics.

    What out there is genuinely scary? My uncle, who was in the MPs in Europe at the end of WWII, once told me his most horrific moment was walking into concentration camps. The Holocaust, that it could even happen, now that's scary. Frankenstein? Ugly, sure. Scary? At this date?

    Of course, when you're a kid, anything can be scary. You live in a world out of your control, vaguely aware it's not really in your parents' control either. What scared me when I was a kid? I remember a few things. I read an Ivan Sanderson book called ABOMINABLE SNOWMEN, about purportedly real sightings of and evidence for various Yeti/Bigfoot-type creatures around the world. I think I was eight when I read that, and I made sure the curtains in my room were tightly closed for months after that. I read H.G. Wells' THE ISLAND OF DR. MOREAU around the same time, and while the concept of surgically butchering animals into half-intelligent, talking mockeries of men was a creepy idea, the ending scared the hell out of me, not because it was a shock but because Wells spelled out the concept so obviously as to be inevitable, and logical: the castaway hero, having escaped the bloody collapse of Moreau's island kingdom as his animal subjects revert to bestiality, gets back to London only to see in his fellow men the same bestiality lurking just below the surface, waiting for an excuse to violently escape and destroy that society as well. (He had filtered humanity's innate brutality out into the Morlocks in THE TIME MACHINE a year earlier, but, by MOREAU, was obviously taking a more pessimistic view of the species.) The idea that something primordial and lethally violent lurked all around, even in those who seem to be your friend – and that's just how it is! – was a genuinely frightening concept. I vaguely remember some cheesy '50s sci-fi movie with a giant eye controlling a spaceship; that eye creeped me out for weeks. But the odd creepy image doesn't really count as horror, does it? Even then I didn't accept the rest of the film as scary.

    Other movies? Nothing leaps to mind. At a signing, I once ran into Craig Spector and John Skipp, two architects of the "splatterpunk" horror movement that had a brief run in the early '90s, and introduced them to the only novel (aside from DR. MOREAU) that I ever thought was genuinely horrific, James Ellroy's THE BLACK DAHLIA. It's really the great American horror novel, concluding even its first page with something so appalling you don't think events can get more appalling. But they do, every page gets "worse" than the one before right down to the last page of the book. It's not generally considered a "horror" novel, there are no monsters and not the slightest hint of the supernatural in it, but it's claustrophobic, ethically and psychologically twisted almost (but only almost) beyond recognition, and the events, the obsessions, the betrayals are all truly horrific, as Ellroy generates an inescapable world trapped in a pitiless, implacable and irresistible logic that systematically strips away every single element we commonly recognize as "human," leaving nothing by the end but raw nerves, trapped in a situation they can only turn away from. It's the ultimate in situational horror, and I doubt anyone will ever do better, at least in fiction.

    Comics? Comics just aren't scary, usually.

    Alan Moore's SWAMP THING (and let's not dismiss the contributions of Steve Bissette, John Totleben, Shawn McManus, Rick Veitch and the other artists who brilliantly brought the stories to the page) is often cited as a high point of horror comics, but what in it is exactly scary, or even horrific? There's the moment where Swamp Thing abruptly becomes aware of his true, inhuman nature. It's certainly a shocking, vertiginous moment, but scary? Horrific? Not really. The only truly horrific, even scary, moment I remember in Alan's entire SWAMP THING run (which, as it went on, became increasingly satisfied to do little more in the way of horror than to present new, dislocating ideas) is in an issue often dismissed by ST fans as a minor throwaway, where Holland, wandering the swamp, encounters a serial killer. Little happens in the issue – it's mostly the killer's monologue – but there's one moment, purely conceptual, where the killer voices an idea so simple, so logical that it achieves a loathsome inescapability: the idea that killers like Ted Bundy and Henry Lee Lucas, the ones who get all the publicity, are the inept ones, the ones who just aren't good enough to escape discovery and capture.

    But overall... EC Comics? EC's horror stories are rarely more than extended, gruesome jokes. The stories that really approached horror at EC were in their crime and war comics, outlining man's callous inhumanity to man. Marv Wolfman and Gene Colan's influential TOMB OF DRACULA – its influence can be seen in almost every horror comic since – is generally acknowledged as Marvel's greatest horror comic ever, but it's only vaguely a horror comic. It's really an adventure comic whose heroes hunt a monster, who himself is sporadically heroic. Neighly correctly cites the current king of the horror hill, Robert Kirkman's Image title, THE WALKING DEAD, isn't really a horror story but "essentially a survivalist soap opera cloaked in largely superfluous horror elements." WALKING DEAD's Romeroesque zombies, which even George Romero was playing for laughs and social commentary by his second zombie movie DAWN OF THE DEAD, could just as easily be Martians, cannibalistic hillbillies or postnuclear mutants, and the story would play the same. Steve Niles and Ben Templesmith, in 30 DAYS OF NIGHT, has an irresistibly creepy concept that works on our imaginations, but there's little there genuinely scary to anyone who grew up watching vampire movies. In the two 30 DAYS...-involved series out so far, the only truly horrific, scary moment comes in the very last scene of DARK DAYS, undermining our expectations with the irresistible logic of the situation.

    Which isn't to say any of those comics, or other "horror" comics like HELLBLAZER (I mean, come on, when was the last time HELLBLAZER genuinely scared anyone), HELLBOY or DEAD@17 are bad books. They're not. What they are is adventure stories, not horror stories, even though they have monsters in them. Even Junji Ito's comics are unnerving, often repellent, and almost unimaginably peculiar. But that's not the same thing as being scary.

    In comics, we tend to accept the presence of monsters as evidence of horror, but monsters aren't scary anymore. They're cuddly, occasionally in a creepy kind of way, but mostly just cuddly. Again, we've all grown up with monsters. They're affectations to us. Frankenstein, Dracula (and all other vampires), werewolves, ghosts, mummies, zombies, demons... these are all well within our personal and cultural comfort zones (unless you're the sort of humorless hardcore Christian who views Halloween as devil worship, but even there I suspect they're little more than an affrontive annoyance). Even the modern movie monsters – Freddy Krueger, Jason, aliens, predators – let's face it, anything that can appear on a kid's lunchbox isn't genuinely scary, and the job of Hollywood is no longer so much to scare us as to get those faces on lunch boxes. Anything that lures us into our comfort zone isn't horror, because true horror is about the exact opposite of that.

    Here's why horror rarely works in comics:

    There are only two types of horror: visual and conceptual.

    Movies specialize in visual horror. They're the logical home for it, since visual horror requires movement to be effective. Still lifes might be gruesome, but they don't achieve scary. This is why it's especially difficult to pull off visual horror in comics: comics is a sequence of still life drawings. Anything you can stare at for any length of time loses power. Movies move in and out, cutting, shifting, giving glimpses, but the best of them make us use our own imaginations to make the horror worse than it is. Comics don't have that luxury.

    Conceptual horror is at the core of horror fiction: an idea is presented that upends our comfortable notions of the nature of things and subverts them with a logic antithetic to everything we love and cherish. Suddenly we aren't masters of our own ship, we aren't even above decks. (I'm reminded of Rorschach's great line in WATCHMEN, commenting on the Egyptian notion of the afterlife as a boat ride, "Nice idea if you can afford to go first class, with pharaohs. But judging by our departures, most of us travel steerage.") And we never were. This sort of conceptual horror is what Alan pulls of in that one bit from SWAMP THING. It's what Lovecraft, in his best moments (and there were damn few of them), pulls off, as in the ending of "A Shadow Out Of Time."

    Though the flavors they come in are almost infinite, there are really only two ideas in conceptual horror:

    a) there is no God, no direction, nothing but caprice and accident, no future that will be anything other than a rerun of the past, no hope, no exit

    b) there is a God, and it's a sadistic, homicidal maniac for which we are, at best, toys

    I've puttered around with these a bit over the years. WHISPER (Capital/First, 1983-1991) was a horror story of sorts, its heroine mostly treading water in a clandestine world of unfathomable depths, clearly beyond her control. In INTRUDER (TSR-West, 1990), the hero believes he has the power to shift to alternate dimensions, but eventually learns he's creating those dimensions, and the lost wife he thought he found is nothing more than a shallow memory given form. Though no less real than his real wife, the simulacrum can never be real enough for him. Though he has a god's power to create, he also has the awareness that what he creates is nothing more than a construct, and he has no way of discerning between what he creates and what pre-existed him. Unable, finally, to stand being near nothing more than a copy of the woman he loved, he escapes her, into (in one of my favorite lines) "a universe suddenly rotten with possibility." In MORTAL SOULS (Avatar, 2002), a cop discovers the dead rule the world, and hate the living. Hopelessly outnumbered, survival is the best he can achieve, and even that's left tenuous.

    But none of these are really horror comics either. Because they have heroes.

    And that's a huge problem for horror comics. Most horror comics are really adventure comics, because adventure comics have heroes. Heroes are a commercial necessity for most comics, they're the focal point for audience identification. But there are no heroes in real horror comics, only victims. Which is why horror comics traditionally only do well in spurts in this country: we're trained to want stories where the good guys win, not collapse in impotent, destroyed heaps. Junji Ito's comics may not be genuinely scary, but at least Ito knows how to take this stories past the point of no return. In Ito there is no safe harbor, no comfort zone that the reader can return to, no way back. His premises are irreconcilable with the status quo, as well as irresistible, and merciless. It's only in the last moments of DARK DAYS that Steve Niles and Ben Templesmith's 30 DAYS OF NIGHT becomes a real horror story, when only victims remain. No exit. If a story gives you an exit, it's not horror.


  • The art in this week's TWO HEADS TALK is brought to you (and 2004) by the versatile Sam Hart. Thanks, Sam!


    To learn more about Joe Kubert or the Kubert School, visit Joe Kubert's World Of Cartooning on the web.


  • Not much time for reviews this week, but let's do what we can:

    Speaking of THE WALKING DEAD (Image; $2.95@), #7-9 of Robert Kirkman's series (now nicely drawn by my pal Charlie Adlard, whose wash job here nicely shows off his potential, as does his current color work in Marvel's new WARLOCK series) may not quite meet my definition of a horror comic, but it's a good comic nonetheless. It is a survivalist soap opera, and it's fun watching the characters slowly cracking as they desperately strain for some illusion of normalcy under pressure, as human emotions become as dangerous as the inhuman monsters all around them. The way things are going, it's hard to imagine how they could come to anything but a bad end, though...

    Kirkman also does INVINCIBLE (Image; #9-13 $2.95@; trade paperback of #1-8, $12.95), a semi-traditional superhero strip that not only takes a lot of familiar superhero motifs and really turns them on their ear, as well as gives its youthful nominal hero something genuinely terrible to get all angst-ridden about. The book's well-paced and surprising without falling back on shocker gimmicks, the characters are well-written and their emotional states credibly handled, Ryan Ottley's art is open, clean and pretty tasty, and Bill Crabtree's coloring is bright and pretty. All in all, a very appealing package. It might not be a world-shattering concept, but what's not to like?

    From Fantagraphics comes Johnny Ryan's SHOULDN'T YOU BE WORKING? ($5.95), a sketchbook reputedly done while Ryan was at work. Lots of little cartoons, a number of fairly amusing strips, and if you're a Johnny Ryan fan it's probably mana from heaven, but the incessant fratboy vulgarity, with constant racial and gay slurs and references to sex organs, wore me down before too long. And there's not the sense Ryan believes much of what he writes here, just that he's amusing himself for shock value. There seems to be a lot of Robert Crumb influence in his work, but a Crumb sketchbook this ain't. For the already converted only.

    Oy. I give Saul Colt props for ambition, but ECLIPSE AND VEGA SUPER SIZED SPECIAL (SSS Comics; $3.50), like all the other Eclipse and Vega product, just never gets any good. Bimbo superheroines, a running joke (a superhero called Packaging-Man) I just don't get no matter how many times it's repeated, plots that wander all over the place, characters introduced for no particular reason who serve no story function, endless parodies and lame superhero jokes that have been done a thousand times before, and, in this case, a really pretty creepy story ("Fantasy Camp") and not in a horror comics kind of way... Oh, man...

    John Ira Thomas & Jeremy Smith's THE FAIRER SEX: a tale of shades and angels (Candle Light Press; $13.95) starts with a fairly weak concept – a woman vigilante has declared war on men in return for all the abuse heaped on women, and gains support for her cause among abused women – that's played out semi-interestingly. But the book looks like a graphic novel, only to turn out to be the first part of a serial, and what's in it plays out for waaaaaaaaaay too long, effortlessly dragging the story into oblivion. Cops investigate the murders, in a town called Freedom City, haunted by other vigilante types like The Fearsome Shade and The Night Angel (the new female vigilante is dubbed The Madonna), and though Thomas and Smith do adequate enough work, it all becomes very familiar very quickly, with little to distinguish it. Where the story really falls apart is during the Madonna's origin as a scantily-clad teenage gangrape victim; in a book ostensibly about the abuse of women, the sequence (oddly the best drawn in the book, taking on a Steve Rude-ish sharpless the rest of the book lacks) is more unpleasant for its titillation than its content. That the story is continued rather than complete only adds to the disappointment, but this is another example of a potentially decent project that needed a little more thought behind it (and a lot of editing) on several levels.

    Del Rey's new manga series continue with Studio Clamp's TSUBASA Vol. 2 and GUNDAM WING Vol. 2 ($10.95), based on the series currently running on Cartoon Network. Both continue their respective stories – Syaoran and an uneasy, ragtag band from various worlds continue to search across realities for fragments of Princess Sakura's lost memories, and learn much about their own natures doing it in TSUBASA, a science fantasy story, while "normal humans" war against an enhanced breed called Coordinators for dominance of Earth and space in GUNDAM SEED – and both hold up better than their first volumes. Both are marred by little flaws – in TSUBASA the battles, on a parallel Earth almost like ours except for millions of godlike beings that sponsor humans and grant them exotic powers, and the action in those battles is often confusing, while GUNDAM SEED roars along, compressing a long stretch of the anime into a single book, but I still haven't got the slightest idea what they're actually fighting about – but overall they're both very enjoyable reads.


  • A curious email was circulating last week, noting with panic bills in both the Senate (S.89) and House Of Representatives (H.R. 163) designed to reinstate Selective Service, AKA the Draft. They're essentially the same bills (and would be merged in committee, no doubt), requiring every able-bodied man and woman in the United States between 18-26 to serve two-years in the armed forces or a related civilian position, basically without exemption; college-bound students would just have to put off their studies for the duration. In the presented scenario, this is "under-the-radar" legislation that would be signed and put into effect immediately on President Hand Puppet's – y'know what? Respectful as I'd like to be, "President Hand Puppet" is just too cumbersome a phrase; back to just plain "Hand Puppet" – reelection to stock the military full of the warm bodies necessary to promote the administration's militaristic neo-con agenda. The letter makes a number of questionable claims, like citing a supposed deal in place with Canada to prevent draft dodgers from escaping there as in the '60s.

    A couple things. Both bills are certainly real, and include all the above except the Canada deal and the Presidential signing. But both were introduced by Democrats; Charles Rangel introduced the House bill in misguided rage against only the poor serving in the Army, as if there has ever been a draft in this country that rich kids haven't bought their way out of. (Just ask the Hand Puppet, and the guy who edged him into the Texas Air National Guard as a political favor despite failed tests across the board and a vast surplus of more qualified candidates.) So far, the White House, courtesy of Defense Secretary Don Rumsfeld, has dismissed any possibility of a new draft. But he would, wouldn't he? Particularly during an election year. At any rate, these bills are hardly secrets; the question is whether they have any real support in Congress. It's one of those situations where people who don't want their sons, daughters, brothers, sisters, neighbors and friends being turned into cannon fodder (and, let's face it, that's the only reason to have a draft, to guarantee you've got cannon fodder if you need it), they'd better got on the phone to their Congressmen or write letters and express their displeasure with the whole idea, and do it now. (Check the Senate or House websites if you don't know who your Congressmen are.) Despite alleged opposition, it wouldn't be out of character for the Hand Puppet to sign such a bill if passed by Congress, and take advantage of it. (He is the guy who took advantage of a loophole to turn the National Guard into his own private draft, after all. Remember when the National Guard was what you joined to avoid going to war? I'm sure he does, and it's hard to shake the impression that he dragooned the Guard into service in Iraq to punish them for making a mess of his "military record.") On the other hand, since it's Democrats who are being the bills, there's no guarantee that Kerry, if elected, wouldn't also sign the bill. The only way to make sure it's stopped is to stop it before it hits the Oval Office.

    That National Guard thing, though, that's something for John Kerry to pursue the Hand Puppet on. See, the National Guard traditionally has two roles: to defend the country against foreign invaders in the event other branches of the military have been shipped overseas, and to lend a hand and maintain order in the event of domestic emergency. The Hand Puppet decided they were more valuable in Iraq, particularly medical and civil affairs trainees, and basically dumpied them in the midst of a war for which they hadn't been trained (National Guard members do get some combat training, but it's nothing compared to what Army and Marines get) where they mostly get to be target practice while escorting equipment for administration beneficiaries like Halliburton. (Don't know about you, but that's not what I call "supporting the troops," especially while you're limiting their benefits with the other hand.)

    So what does this mean for us? Ask Florida, recently hit by powerful hurricane after powerful hurricane. If ever there was a state in need of disaster relief, Florida is it. But they made the mistake of ensuring the Hand Puppet got the White House, and when it came time for the National Guard to step up and help with evacuations of the aged and poor, as called for by the president's own brother, Gov. Jeb, where were they? Iraq. And disaster relief in Florida has been a bloody disaster because of it.

    But the Hand Puppet's administration has mostly been a disaster domestically, unless you happen to be rich. He still touts "successes" that have been miserable failures. His plan to aid seniors with health care costs resulted in mainly in forbidding Medicare from negotiating prices with drug companies, and driving up Medicare costs, while initiating a ridiculous drug lottery where if you're a senior and you're really lucky you might just qualify to get your drugs more cheaply than normal – but not as cheaply as if you bought them at Costco. His plan to "improve" schools was basically a scheme to fund testing services, twisting education in America to training students solely to pass standardized tests without regard to individual needs or goals, and pulling money from already underfunded schools. You don't have to take my word for it. Ask any teacher. (Except they're all griping troublemakers, I know.) The effect has been so heinous that many school districts are opting to drop out of the program altogether and forego federal funds, because it's simply bad for education. Which I'm sure doesn't bother the administration at all; more money for foreign adventurism. The Hand Puppet has sternly said he plans to reduce the deficit, but how's he going to do that when he's pissing away hundreds of billions of dollars in Iraq, in defiance of established budgets, and constantly asking for more? He swears there'll never been a terrorist attack on America on his watch, as if 9/11 never happened. Though Republicans claim Democrats are the ones who favor "Big Government," it's during the Hand Puppet's regime that the size of government has mushroomed. There's still a war going on in Afghanistan that's never even referred to, because it's a messy little unglamorous war that has produced few results besides a shaky government that wouldn't stay in power two days without us there. (Osama Bin Ladan's name is almost never mentioned by the Administration anymore either.) Unfortunately, I haven't got all day and the list of administration failures goes on and on...

    In fact, this administration's successes have been mainly in public relations. There's certainly plenty of material for Kerry to savage the Hand Puppet over during Thursday night's debate. The question's whether Kerry will rise to the task.


  • And the mail keeps rolling in. First on the topic of stupid publisher tricks:

    "Crossgen is just one example of a recent disaster. We've all seen it before. Even just being at every convention with big elaborate booths and displays is pretty expensive. Any good business model limits the amount of money spent on extracurricular activities. That's why they call it expansion. Because you already exist at a certain size and then you expand, not because you start big. The company I've been watching with curiosity to see if they fall prey to that is Devil's Due. They are doing solid stuff but seem to be expanding maybe a little faster than they know how to."

    Are they? I don't think Devil's Due has really played their hand yet, so it's a bit hard to judge them.


    "I really liked the piece on character logic. It echoes a lot of my thoughts of just how... "off"... characters' logic can seem. "I love you... from afar. I can never tell you my secret. It would put you in too much danger." Of course, some writers don't really think about the long term ramifications of their ideas. Case in point: George Lucas and the debacle that the Star Wars universe has become. A good counterpoint to this, however, was seen in the second-to-last episode of SMALLVILLE last season: Clark agonized over telling Lana his secret while, Pete Ross was beaten badly over his knowledge of it. When Clark found out what had happened to Pete, he opted not to tell Lana.

    I noticed your use of Windows ME. Or "the abortive Windows," as I call it. It was supposed to be a great stepping stone to the next (home) version of Windows. It may have been "a step," but it was a faltering one. Almost everyone I know who used it either retreated to Windows 98 (stability) or upgraded to Windows 2000 and/or XP. Personally, I went the backstep route for a few months and then moved on to Win2K. Teletubbies Windows... sorry, I mean "WinXP" had too many security issues for my liking. And, let's face it: The default background page...? What were they thinking?! The only thing missing from it are the Teletubbies.

    You should give Windows 2000 (or XP - I have a lot of friends who swear by it) a shot. Much more stable. It's backwards compatible with 98/95 and even Me. And both are built on the Windows NT platform - and Windows 2000 also has a strong bent towards security.

    Moving on to Mozilla. I've been using the Mozilla suite (browser/email/Composer) for almost a year, and I couldn't be happier with it. There are still a few sites that don't respond to Mozilla/Netscape in the same way that they do to Internet Explorer, but that gap seems to be narrowing. The popup blocker is a great tool and, as you mentioned, there are not as many security flaws as with IE. I would also recommend Thunderbird (or the email program in the Mozilla suite) for email. Over the past year or two, the number of email security exploits for Outlook and Outlook Express has exploded. For a while, it seemed as though you could not turn on the news or open a web page without being bombarded with a headline warning "New Email Virus Found!" This could change in the future, but for now, I will stick with Mozilla.

    If you are considering changing your email program, you might also take a look at Eudora, from Qualcomm. It is a robust email program and it also lacks the problems that have plagued Outlook/Express.

    On the anti-virus/spyware front, I would recommend AVG Anti-Virus, SpyBot - Search and Destroy, and Ad-Aware. These three should keep your system free of most of the malware out there. And their respective databases are updated regularly, to keep up with the latest virii. As an added measure, you should throw a firewall into the mix, too. Kerio and ZoneAlarm both have free versions, if I am not mistaken.

    You also mentioned The Wire. NPR's Fresh Air had an interview with David Simon and George Pelecanos on Thursday's program; you can listen to it here."

    Thanks. The problem with my system had nothing to do with WinME; my C: drive was disintegrating. I've really had little trouble with ME, and I don't have equipment sophisticated enough to handle Win2K or XP (Pro, of course) yet, so there's no point in considering switching, but thanks for the advice. For web browser, I've been pretty happy with MyIE2/Maxthon, which does all the things Mozilla does and has far better crap blocking features than IE does; Microsoft really ought to buy Maxthon and replace IE with it. Likewise, Outlook has been a decent mail program; I'm in no rush to replace it. And between Tiny Personal Firewall, Avast! Antivirus and Spybot Search and Destroy, nothing unwanted's been able to find its way in.


    "I have to object to your assumption that the existence of security exploits for OS X and Linux means that aren't much safer than Windows in this regard. No OS is entirely secure, but there are fundamental architectural differences between them that make some of them inherently more or less secure than others.

    Windows 1.0-3.1/95/98/ME and Mac OS 1-9 were designed with no security in mind, just some patches added on along the way to stop specific abuses as they became known. These OSes were for "personal" computers, so their architects didn't anticipate that other "people" might be accessing these computers over a network. Security was a complete afterthought, and viruses simply need to take advantage of that.

    The Windows NT/2K/XP line does have security built into it, but in order to include compatibility with Windows 95/98/ME applications (which were designed on the assumption they'd have complete access to the system) Microsoft had to put some rather large holes in that security. The decision to integrate IE and Outlook so tightly with the operating system, and with scripting systems like ActiveX and VB, created even more holes. Viruses attacking these systems only need to take advantage of features deliberately built into the OS. Fortunately Windows is poorly documented, so these features can be hard to use, but it's "security by obscurity", which isn't something you can count on.

    OS X also has some legacy vulnerability when it comes to running old OS 9 apps, but it isolates them better than WinXP does with Win95 apps. For native apps, it's another story. BSD (which is what OS X is based on) and Linux are based on a design that assumed from the beginning it would be A) used by various people, some of whom can be trusted, and some of whom cannot, and B) exposed to the rest of the world on a network. Since the design is more sound, viruses for these systems need to take advantage of outright programming mistakes on the part of the developers. Unfortunately, the source code is available for parts of these systems to find these mistakes, but it's also available for people other than the original developer to fix.

    Yes, when/if Linux and OS X become more widely used by John and Jane Public, they will attract more attention from malicious programmers, and more security problems will develop. But not as many in proportion. Consider how very many servers running Linux and BSD there are already (the majority of mail and web servers), sitting exposed on the internet 24/7/365. They're already a pretty large and juicy target, but their security track record is still superior to that of the population of Windows servers also connected to the internet around the clock. So it isn't just a question of quantity, it's also about quality, and Windows is qualitatively different from the other OSes in terms of security."

    Unfortunately, changing my operating system would also require the fairly expensive replacement of most (all?) of my software, so that's not going to happen. I don't doubt for a second that other OSs are safer than Windows, but my point, which you ultimately agree with, is that malware creators don't have much incentive to go after other OSs: not enough bang for the buck yet. Should other OSs come more into play, new incentives will arise – and then we'll really get to see what previously unsuspected vulnerabilities lie in other operating systems.


    "I've always felt like virus checkers are the bottom-feeders of the computer industry, plugging the gaps (or at least protecting them) in operating systems that the manufacturers can't be bothered with. We're running Norton, simple because we got it for free, but it's, as you say, hardly the most elegant program. I'm a bit reluctant, perhaps foolishly so, to try a freeware antivirus program. It probably makes me the submissive drone that they want me to be, but I somehow trust a virus checker/killer more if it's from a big profit-making corporation. Terrible, I know...

    I don't much like Firefox. Perhaps when it's finished, I'll prefer using it, but for now, I like the plain old vanilla, non-Firefoxed, Mozilla. It has some quirks I don't like (the address bar doesn't automatically search if you don't type a proper address in, for instance - one thing IE has over it), and it does seem a bit slower than IE, particularly with image intensive sites. I switched over from IE though for many reasons, but mainly the tabbed browsing. An absolutely brilliant, yet simple idea. I'm a pretty intensive internet user, and I've lost count of the times when Windows itself has lost integrity and crashed through the use of multiple browser windows. Mozilla seems to be far more robust, and the only upper limit on tabs that I come up against is due to the fact that we've got a dial-up connection here, so if there are too many tabs, nothing comes in! There's a lot to like about the Mozilla projects, but it's the tabs that won me over. :)

    Lost interest in The Amazing Race, sorry to say, and just as it picked up, it seems. Oh well. Did you happen to catch last night's LOST on ABC. Very odd mix of interesting premise and really bad character writing. You get three main characters: one is from the LORD OF THE RINGS movies, so he doesn't have to do anything except hang around and Be Mysterious; a lead female who does nothing except run around and scream; and the annoyingly competent male lead, with chiseled good looks and apparently an expert on medicine (although, of course, he's a doctor who's lost his "faith" after an operating room accident, and looks to be a drinker too) as well as an expert on flying planes (he knows exactly what a transceiver is and what it looks like, knows exactly what altitude and speed the plane was going at before The Mysterious Event, despite being a passenger at the time) and origami (he explains the accident through the use of an intricate model of the plane folded from a palm leaf!). I really hate annoyingly competent male leads. It's a big problem in kids' animation, and seems to have turned up here too. What was billed as an ensemble drama/adventure series has already, in its first episode, decided that the rest of the characters are set-dressing for the lead and his two henchmen. Oh, and there's an obviously villainous oriental man, but all we've seen him do so far is bully his wife and go on about how they shouldn't do anything to help the others. I doubt this'll last longer than a season, but then again, perhaps it's not designed to, because how much mileage can you get from the premise? Still, it is an interesting premise, as there is more going on than just a survival/shipwrecked thing. There's what appears to be a dinosaur on the island too. I'm just waiting for the midget serving drinks."

    Dr. Strange is on the show? Wow... Sounds like GILLIGAN'S ISLAND GOES TO JURASSIC PARK...


    "just thought I'd drop you a quick note regarding Firefox. To the best of my knowledge, the reason Firefox doesn't load as quickly as Internet Explorer is that IE is part of the operating system, where as Firefox is not.

    I've been using Firefox since 0.4 though (and whatever name it had back then!) and I really recommend sticking with it. It's worth checking out the extensions to better tailor the browser to your needs. I sound like an advert..."

    Firefox is interesting, but Maxthon is still better...


    "Thank you for mentioning the idea that this might be planted by the Republicans. I thought I was being more paranoid than usual for thinking the same thing. It seems like such a bad hoax, a very weak straw man.

    Of course I still wonder about the night of the 2000 election. If I remember correctly, Florida had gone for Gore, then a concerned former President (and head of the CIA) left the room to make phone calls. Soon after, the state was no longer Gore's. Maybe it's a coincidence, or maybe I've gotten things in the wrong order. But I would love to have been a fly, or had a bug on that wall."

    I haven't heard too much about the "scandal" in the last week, but the last I heard, someone was doing what the press should have done and backtracing the papers' origins. Last report I got was they came from a National Guard ex named Bill Burkett, who got them from mysterious Houston woman known as "Miss Ramirez," who has since disappeared, but who seems to have gotten the papers from one Roger Stone, a GOP activist who was originally active in the Dirty Tricks dept. of the Nixon White House, and who got booted from the Dole campaign in '96 under dubious circumstances triggered by THE NATIONAL ENQUIRER. And who, um, currently lives in Florida...

    I haven't heard anything about this since the initial report, though. Anyone got anything new on it? Or anything proving it to be bunk?


    About my request that all networks release "preview DVDs" of their new fall shows:

    "NBC did one -- we got ours at Best Buy within the past month. I think it was free with any DVD purchase."

    People buy DVDs?!!


    "My brother and I were exchanging email across the world (me in Scotland, he at home in New Zealand) and he referred to our personal holy relic of comics - the Issue That Made Us Fans. Previously we'd both read a couple of JUSTICE LEAGUE random bits, but then my brother found AVENGERS 226. And it had Thor in it, and he knew a little about Thor, so he took it home, and then he let his little brother read it. Boom - we were in.

    And I just figured out that you wrote that comic.

    I guess if it wasn't that one it woulda been some other one some time. But it was that one. So, cheers for that!"

    Good grief, those things manage to follow me around...

    Uh... glad to be of service...


  • Remember: TOTALLY OBVIOUS, the collected "Master Of The Obvious" essays on comics, creativity and culture, is now available on pdf at the Paper Movies Store. Those of you who've already ordered it, thanks; it's been moving pretty nicely. (If you're thinking of getting it, though, I've learned it's easier to read if you upgrade to Adobe's latest Acrobat Reader, which is free.)

    Speaking of Master Of The Obvious, if you haven't gotten THE COMICS JOURNAL #262 yet, better hurry up. It's got a new editor, new tone, new format, a great interview with Alex Toth and reprints of some terrific rare '50s Toth crime and romance comics (including the first "widescreen" comics) – and the debut of my new column, FUN! FUN! FUN!, alias Son Of Master Of The Obvious. The reason to scarf it up now is the new one comes out in a couple weeks, with another FUN! FUN! FUN!, a long Ed Brubaker interview, a roundtable assessing CEREBUS now that it's finished, rare comics from Golden Age genius George Carlson, and a round-up of the new wave of political comics. Now that's readin'!

    Turns out I'm now semi-famous, thanks to THE PUNISHER, which was the #1 sales and rental DVD in the country last week. I haven't seen the DVD yet, but I was interviewed for the special features section a few months ago, and readers have told me I get substantial face time. (Figured it would end up being about 20 seconds, but they fooled me.) In the immortal words of Keen Eddie, so how do you like me so far?

    Finally, a big Get Well Soon! to my old pal, BATMAN editor Bob Schreck. I know you'll be back on your feet in no time, Bob.


    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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