Permanent Damage

Wed, April 30th, 2008 at 4:36pm PDT | Updated: April 30th, 2008 at 4:37pm

Comic Books
Steven Grant, Columnist

I've got no major bone to pick with comics this week, but a few little things deserve some comment.

Got word from Boom! Studios that the TWO GUNS collection has an on-sale date of May 15. So you no longer have any excuse for not picking up a copy. Except one (not that I'm trying to give you an excuse, you'd better pick up a copy; don't make me have to come over there...): that's a soft solid on-sale date. Meaning it's supposed to have gotten here from the printers by then, and supposed to have gotten through Diamond's system by then (I've heard first and second hand from an awful lot of retailers lately who haven't been getting their full orders from Diamond and are getting pretty cranky about it, so what's going on there?) " but you can't be sure until it happens. Most of this is completely beyond the influence of Boom! or any indie publisher, but it remains an important issue that needs to be dealt with sooner than later, even if most indie publishers poo-poo its importance. As I've mentioned before, there was a time when the audience was so hot on specific artists and writers that if the books were late that was, if not cool with them, at least tolerated on the premise that, oh, those extra two or three months Barry Smith put into a job would mean spectacular art as the outcome, and that premise was often fulfilled. There was a time when retailers would increase orders on postponed books, because that would just give the market for them time to grow. What the industry idiotically "learned" from this was that buyers are cool with "soft" release dates. But that was then. I suspect now "soft release dates" cost independent comics a substantial amount of readers and good will. It's widely perceived as unprofessional, dilettantish. Indie publishers continue to downplay its importance because there's not a lot they can do about it, and they point at erratic release schedules on things like ALL-STAR SUPERMAN and call it all business as usual, and at this point it probably is, but business as usual sucks! What the audience has picked up from that attitude is that indie comics can't be trusted. This is probably the single biggest obstacle facing indie comics today. Commercially, anyway. (We'll leave aesthetic questions for another day.)

Speaking of indie comics, Matt Fraction made a few waves recently with an accurate little broadside:

Oni takes ownership and control of numerous rights connected to a property that those other guys don't. Comment-guy might just be a snob or just retarded, but he might actually have accidentally made a point: when Oni, or AiT, or BOOM!, or any of these other publishers take control and ownership from creators, is the "independent" sobriquet wholly accurate? Independent from marvel or DC? Sure, bravo, but they still engage in WFH practices which was, and is, contrary to what the independent press movement was, and is, all about. Parse it any way you like, but a creator-participation deal is not the same thing as being creator-owned.

... which is why it's not creator owned or independent - it's creator participation and ultimately work for hire.

And re: how much money anyone gets: why not go halvsies on a lottery ticket? The money is all hypothetical. That's not the point, to me. It's the control that's the issue; who gets to chart the course for the book? The whole independent press movement was predicated on the creator being in sole control of the book's fate, market forces aside. And those publishers-- who don't want to hook creators up with "their guys" in Hollywood, who don't insist on right of first refusal, who don't care about who gets a cut of the underroos, etc. etc. -- are a dying breed.

Matt's right, of course " so was Gorilla Monsoon, I now realize, when he said even a stopped clock is right twice a day (just ribbin' you, Matt) " and this is pretty much what any creator now faces. Publishers may now be gung-ho for "creator participation" deals, in imitation of what Marvel and DC came up with as an alternative to creator-ownership (at least in their "universes"; both do have more or less genuine creator-ownership deals available under specific circumstances), but the main thrust is to create a sort of serfdom of creative talent, mostly while patting themselves on the back over how progressive they are. Publishers (not all but many) sign up with management companies or production companies who then effectively control exploitation of works rather than the creator. Publishers tend to prefer to be the conduits from rights "exploiters" to rights "owners" rather than putting the two parties together and letting them hash out details; it isn't the talent that benefits, aside from a generally pretty small piece of the check if everything just happens to go just right. Yet very few publishers actually have more chance of exploiting properties any better than individual talent, and in many cases the latter have the edge because they don't come with so much baggage attached. (The main reason, say, Hollywood types prefer intermediaries is that those pesky creators sometimes, oh, start considering the integrity of the source material. But there are plenty of Hollywood types who are concerned about that too, and prefer to cut out the middlemen, if only to keep the budget down, since every middleman amounts to one more salary to pay.) Given that not many indie publishers are really much interested in publishing anymore " for most of them it's more a means to an end " is it any wonder the greatest goal for many indie talents is still to land a gig with Marvel or DC? Or that the audience picks up on that vibe?

What indie companies don't want rights controls these days? Image Comics. Avatar. While Dark Horse has a relatively successful film wing, I believe they still have creator-owned deals available. Anybody else? Now that I think about it, the participation deal offered more often than not by indie publishers is 50% to the publisher and 50% to the creators, which means if there's a writer and an artist they each get 25% of the payoff on their creation, at least until they start paying off the inker etc., and that's only if a management company isn't involved, since management companies often take as much as 25% off the top. Meaning if, say, my and Bobby Fingers' creation JUMP BUNNY gets sold as a movie for $100,000 " which would be worked out not by my agent or lawyer who'd be looking out for my best interests but the publisher's agent or lawyer or manager looking out for his best interests " and a management company is involved, the agent/lawyer and manager take $35,000 between them (actually a little more, but I'm not sure which takes theirs off the top first) meaning publisher and talent split not $100,000 but $65,000. Meaning, in most current scenarios, publisher gets $32,500, writer gets $16,250 and artist would gets $16,250. How is that in talent's best interest? Wouldn't a third each (~$21,667@) be more equitable? Or, rather, since the publisher is effectively operating as the agent for the creator(s) in this scenario, shouldn't the publisher's cut be 10%, with 90% split by creators? But as things stand, by and large the talent remains the peon in the system, the one who gets paid last, unable to follow up on alternatives or better options, while publishers like to talk like they're doing us all a favor. Even work for hire deals (at least at professional companies) come with "participation" these days, so shouldn't publishers pretending to be better than that be offering substantially better creator deals?

I see the reviews of DC's cumulative COUNTDOWN are now up, and in general they aren't good. I'm not sure what anyone was expecting; it's been a long time since any major DC series concluded with anything more than effective return to pre-series status quo, and given what DC has to cope with in terms of licensing, movie deals, etc, I'm not sure anyone should expect anything else. Like Marvel (which has been a lot better in recent years at screwing up the status quo, but now, with SECRET INVASION at least seems to be angling back SQ-ward, but we'll see) DC also has the problem of having virtually everything they publish tied into the same universe, which may seem like a great, grand scheme but is really a massive set of handcuffs; you can't destroy the world in THE FLASH without destroying it in SUPERMAN, no matter how many great Flash storylines it might open up - unless you have that "escape clause" built in that returns everything to "normal." I guess you can bop him over to one of the " how many are left now? 38 or something? " surviving "52" parallel earths, but, as COUNTDOWN demonstrated, those are effectively Mort Weisinger's "imaginary stories." COUNTDOWN was always crippled anyway; its core concept was that this wasn't the "big series" you really needed to read, it was the prologue for the series you really need to read. Like 52, the changes it made were ultimately trivial. Mary Marvel is Eclipso now, I guess. The Trickster is dead. (Isn't there a new Trickster already anyway?) The evil Superboy is apparently dead, along with Monarch and his Elseworlds superarmy. They tried the illusion that all the New Gods died, but they put that escape hatch right in front of our noses so that we'd be reassured on the spot it wouldn't last, and even the apparently stunning "Death Of Darkseid" was exposed as a con job even before the ink was dry by various Grant Morrison Internet interviews touting Darkseid as FINAL CRISIS' killer ap, so what on earth was even the point of COUNTDOWN #2? Then we have a handful of "anomalies," heroes who apparently shouldn't exist, laying down Terran morality on the Monitors, who probably also shouldn't exist, but that's not exactly a concept with dramatic legs, unless they start asking "Who monitors the Monitors' monitors?" and "Who monitors the monitors of the Monitors' monitors?" etc. Don't get me wrong; week to week, overall I thought COUNTDOWN was an enjoyable little slice of comic book nuttiness, even as it laid bare the weaknesses in the whole concept of the DC Universe. (I've always been a sucker for the Browning motion theory of plotting.) But it was ultimately trivial, as too many DC "big events" have turned out to be, and FINAL CRISIS really may be the make-or-break point for the DC Universe. If it doesn't end with some sense of significance, I see a whole lot fewer DCU readers at the end of it than at the beginning.

FINAL CRISIS does have one apparent advantage over other recent DC "big events" though " its premise can be summed up in a few words: Darkseid conquers the Universe. Whether you like them or not, Marvel's recent series have had good sales strength from concepts that can be quickly summed up for new readers. "Superheroes fight each other to determine whether the government will control them or not." "Shape-shifting aliens called Skrulls have infiltrated all walks of Earth life and now they're attacking from within and from without." "The Hulk returns to Earth mad and beats the crap out of everybody." The concepts are simple, the delivery energetic. Marvel really hasn't pushed them as much more than that, with the result that they can build a lot of interest in casual fans, but Marvel's fortunes don't rise and fall on them. The DCU, for better or worse, has hitched all its ponies to one wagon, and doesn't know yet whether that crest it's aiming for is actually a cliff.

Saw a new version of FLASH GORDON from some company the other day, don't know who. Don't know how the story is. I didn't get that far. They must've caught me at a weak moment, because generally I don't care much about this sort of thing, but I was disgusted. No, no prurient content or anything like that (that I noticed), but... I've never even liked FLASH GORDON that much; my father did, but he was there. He grew up reading Alex Raymond's comic strip. Raymond's FLASH GORDON was a watershed moment for the whole damn medium, and I suspect more artists were convinced to try to break into comics in the early '40s by Alex Raymond's work than by anything else. Because it was vivacious, it was filled with barbaric energy, it was beautifully drawn. It was art, in every sense of the word. No one has ever drawn the strip as well since (wait, did Al Williamson have a run?) and King Features Syndicate, which I believe controls the rights, obviously hasn't given a rat's ass about how the strip looks in decades. But Alex Raymond's FLASH GORDON is an enormous chunk of the heritage of this business. And I open the new version to find... cookie-cutter, nondescript Amerimanga art. It's bad enough seeing that schlock all over other comics " yeah, yeah, I know, there is top notch Amerimanga art, but most of it isn't, the same way most Kirby knockoffs aren't worth the paper they're printed on " but to see it on something calling itself FLASH GORDON, that's just insulting. I realize this is probably a tie-in to SciFi Channel's hideous FG revival, but, again, what's the point of either? It isn't Flash Gordon, no matter what it's dressed up as, anymore than sticking a stovepipe hat on my head makes me Abraham Lincoln. (Or Smokey Stover, who I'm convinced was the model for The Cat In The Hat.) This goes way beyond Flash Gordon, though; what's the point of keeping any license alive while dumping everything that made that license worthwhile? Sure, someone decides there's a few more bucks to be squeezed out from it... but it's only bait-and-switch.

Reviews (and aintcha glad you caught me in such a good mood):

From :01 First Second Books:

THE AMAZING REMARKABLE MONSIEUR LEOTARD by Eddie Campbell & Dan Best ($16.95)

Campell's first graphic novel for First Second, THE BLACK DIAMOND DETECTIVE AGENCY, was an iffy proposition; its traditionalist structure and character development always seemed struggling against Campbell's more anarchistic tendencies. MONSIEUR LEOTARD has no such friction weighing it down; it's a first class tour-de-Campbell whimsy involving a young man joining the circus to substitute for his deceased acrobat uncle, who leaves him cryptic parting words that formulate the man's life and the book's structure. Campbell's pacing here is straight out of LITTLE NEMO IN SLUMBERLAND, with the same dream logic. Events erupt and sometime vanish with picaresque fury, as Campbell's heroes, a circus troupe, bounces through fin-de-siecle history, intersecting with the doomed Paris commune, the Titanic the creation of Superman and other events, with a melancholic absurdist glee. As with many Campbell works, you may not quite know what you read when you're done, but you'll know you read something, if you catch my drift. Out in August.

THREE SHADOWS by Cyril Pedrosa ($15.95)

Not bad, with very expressive art. Their pastoral lives upset by the arrival of the titular, uncommunicative "shadows," a father tries to save his young son from them with an epic journey that hurls the pair into the midst of evil and cruelty. This story also has a dreamlike quality, as the "shadows" represent the intrusion of the mystical and dangerous into a plain but benevolent world, but it falls apart a bit toward the end as an unnecessary subplot straight out of SANDMAN pads it out. Otherwise, Pedrosa does a great job, and it goes from eh to captivating very quickly.

From Pantheon Books:

THE RABBI'S CAT 2 by Joann Sfar ($22.95)

A French reprint, this is another picaresque tale " that structure seems to work well for graphic novels " involving, well, a rabbi's cat in inter-war North Africa. I never read the first, so was a big surprised when the rabbi the cat's traveling with at the book's beginning, a panhandling conman journeying with an aged tame lion and a snake, wasn't the rabbi of the title. The cat, by the way, speaks a number of languages, though not everyone understands him. Sfar (the titular rabbi is named for him, the cat modeled on his own cat) is a natural comedian, very much in the tradition of Jewish humor, while the art reminds me of Foolbert Sturgeon (a good thing), and though Sfar has many points to make about racism, religious intolerance and other weighty subjects and contemporaneous historical incidents, he lets the characters and humor control the narrative. Excellent.

From Highway 62 Books:

STRANGEWAYS: MURDER MOON by Matt Maxwell, Luis Guaragña & others($13.95)

A good debut graphic novel by Maxwell (don't know about Guaragña) with a horror western that benefits from Maxwell playing straight with the concept; for the most part he doesn't try to tart it up but writes a straightforward western that simply has a werewolf element. He's helped considerably by Guaragña's art, which in the early chapters has a strong early Wrightson flavor, though the inking gets sparser in later chapters. But there's also an unfortunate disconnect: the Civil War vet hero who drives most of the action never becomes much more than a noble cipher, and plot elements sit out in left field and never quite hook up with the main storyline. Where's the sister the hero has come to the hellhole town to visit? What's the big deal about whatever it is they're mining? Why does the werewolf strangely decide to spare some victims and not others? Ultimately it's little more than a fight between one underdeveloped character (the ex-soldier) and other (werewolf) for stakes that are never quite fleshed out either. It doesn't help that the werewolf's backstory is left for a separate story, a coda at the book's end that becomes so fanciful it plays against the gritty reality anchoring the main story. The basic plot is fine, and Maxwell's got a nice ear for dialogue, but STRANGEWAYS, while good enough to merit a look, is a good argument for editors.

From IDW Publishing:

IGOR MOVIE PREQUEL by Dara Naraghi & Grant Bond; GHOST WHISPERER #3 by Becca & Carrie Smith & Elena Casagrande; SILENT HILL: SINNER'S REWARD #3 by Tom Waltz & Steph Stamm; ROGUE ANGEL#3 by Barbara Barbara Randall Kesel & Renae de Liz; TRANSFORMERS OFFICIAL MOVIE SEQUEL #1 by Chris Mowry, Chris Ryall & Alex Milne; THE MUMMY: THE RISE AND FALL OF XANGO'S AX #1 by Joshua Jacuba & Stephen Mooney; DON PENDLETON'S THE EXECUTIONER #1-2 by Doug Wojtowicz & SL Gallant; DEAD, SHE SAID #1 by Steve Niles & Bernie Wrightson ($3.99@); SPEED RACER: CHRONICLES OF THE RACER by Arie Kaplan, Robby Musso & German Torres.

Is it my imagination or has IDW has become the new Dell Comics? Remember when Dell used to pump out an issue or three of half the shows running on TV, like BURKE'S LAW and THE IRON HORSE? On the plus side, most of this stuff is reasonably good; some books, like THE GHOST WHISPERER, have very fetching artwork, none are overtly bad (except maybe SPEED RACER, which does its best to further puerilize " in the interest of "kid friendliness," I suppose " an already baldly juvenile concept) and only a couple are actively dull. They do, however, blend together amorphously after awhile; there is now clearly an IDW house "style" for writing and production in effect whether they realize it or not, and spread across more than a couple comics at a time it generates a sense of numb blandness. I find myself much more interested in the business concept than the comics. I can understand the philosophy behind THE EXECUTIONER, an original concept now viewed by many as a knockoff of its better-known (in the comics arena) knockoff, The Punisher, but is there some sort of outcry to a GHOST WHISPERER comic I don't know about? Or SILENT HILL? The problem of these comics is that they're not bad enough to be campy fun nor quite good enough to stand out, unless a reader is already looking for them. And original comics get lost in that ocean, not that DEAD, SHE SAID is especially original, depending as it does on a string of private eye clichés that were old decades ago. The story's effectively D.O.A., with the twist that the hero isn't dying, he's already dead. Niles' patter is as enjoyable forever, but while the series touts Wrightson's return to inking, something in the printing blots out much of what's always been interesting about Wrightson's art, though the interesting bits pop up here and there like ghosts haunting the rest of it. Most of these IDW comics aren't likely to be much of a disappointment if all you're looking for is some relatively cheap entertainment. But none are particularly memorable either. They don't stint on the competence, but I seem to remember a day when IDW wanted to be about more than just that.

From Ablaze Media:

PECKERWOOD: 24 MINUTES by Rob Dunlop & Peter Lumby ($14.95)

These guys are apparently determined to get me to like their humor character Tozzer, who stars in this ambitious little graphic novel, a parody of the 24 TV show that sees Tozzer and his obnoxious Gen-Y pals, all out to make their mark on pop culture in some way, cross paths with a transsexual Jack Bauer clone, a clone of Timothy Oliphant's Hitman character, and a terrorist plot to use radioactive candy to trigger war between China and America. Told in "real time" in 24 minutes, with a hell of a lot of fudging. It's... cute. But in most places it's just not funny enough, and in other places the jokes just don't make any sense. While I like the joke of the American and Chinese presidents being hand puppets with the fists of generals stuffed up them, what exactly is the joke of the American president being a fat black rap artist? It's like humor by default, where they couldn't figure out a good joke so they stuck in any old thing. PECKERWOOD frequently works, but when it doesn't it really doesn't.

From TwoMorrows Publishing:

ALTER EGO #76, ed. Roy Thomas ($6.95)

I know I was griping a couple columns back about comics interviews being all about history and little about aesthetics, but some "historical" interviews are still absolutely mandatory reading, like this issue's lengthy Joe Simon interview. To the extent most comics readers know Joe Simon, he's a guy who pops his head up now and then to sue Marvel over Captain America, and to most others he's Jack Kirby's original partner, but the interview demonstrates what a wide, wide influence Joe Simon had on comics in the '40s and '50s, as a writer, artist, editor, publisher and collaborator, complete with hilarious and illuminating anecdotes. (Like who knew that westerns never sold well in comics to speak of? Didn't we all think the western was the runaway comics genre of the '50s?) Usually ALTER EGO interviews are worth reading. This one's indispensible.

From Titan Books:

JEFF HAWKE: OVERLORD by Sydney Jordan & Willie Patterson ($19.95); JAMES BOND OO7: SHARK BAIT by Ian Fleming, Jim Lawrence & others ($19.95)

Collections of British comic strips. JEFF HAWKE, drawn from the science fiction strip in the early '60s and introducing an apparently long-running if somewhat inept master villain named Chalcedon, is terrific. Jordan & Patterson, with tight, dead on writing and beautiful art, delight in creating full-blown alien culture, and while they never play the Hawke character for laughs, there's a strong tongue-in-cheek balance of action and humor in HAWKE that clearly presages later works like 2000 AD and MINISTRY OF SPACE. The James Bond volume, however, comes from near the end of the comic strip's run, and fatigue runs through it, with Bond succeeding less by his wits and skills than by his studly ability to turn any femme fatale he sleeps with, in adventures that keep feeling artificially truncated. (It's also a bit disturbing that the credits run only the talents' last names, aside from the fully credited Fleming.) Don't miss JEFF HAWKE, but missing JAMES BOND is almost de rigueur.

Today's record heat (which shall pass by morning) has turned my office into an oven, so more next week.

Notes from under the floorboards:

As mentioned above, my crime novel/comic from Boom!, TWO GUNS, arrived in trade paperback on May 15th. Theoretically. If you still need the high concept, here's the high concept: Two small time hoods team up to rob a drug bank, but what neither of them knows is that both are really undercover cops, and the bank isn't a drug bank but a CIA money-laundering operation. Hilarity ensues. My other graphic novel, THE SAFEST PLACE, about a war photographer with a strange weakness that doubles as a strength who gets involved in an international search for a kidnapped child and finds himself caught between morality and geopolitics, is due out from Image/12 Gauge... well... soon. Wish I could be more specific. But watch for it.

Anybody want to send me a copy of the INTELLIGENCE DVD set? Said to be a great, if short-lived, Canadian TV show... (The last Canadian TV show anyone recommended to me was REGENESIS, which has its moments but I care so little about the personal stories I find myself regularly ff-ing through them, and they sure like to waste time with them, though they don't really help "flesh out" the characters at all, and all you really need to know about them you get from delightedly watching them cope with plagues, epidemics and a host of other health-related issues. The last Canadian TV show I really thought was great was DA VINCI'S CITY HALL, one of the nastiest examinations of politics in media ever, and that only lasted a season too.)

I notice John McCain, of whom it has not yet been demanded he dispossess the crazy ministers endorsing him, has been on a wonderful campaigning binge his handlers named the "Call To Action" tour, during which he basically says... well... on his watch everything will stay pretty much the same. Period. It's been a series of paradoxical encounters " going to Alabama to praise a white audience for the Civil Rights Movement, visiting Florida to sell aging seniors on sticking with the crappy health insurance they have now " complete with his promise to do eventually figure out solutions to the problems crushing the country now. If he can. While that's arguably more honest than promising solutions he'll never deliver, it's not exactly a "call to action" since he isn't suggesting any... aside from voting for him, of course...

The Supreme Court has okayed requiring government issued identification before voters are allowed to vote, so look for lots of states to push those laws through... Frankly I'm a little ambivalent about this one. I know the arguments that it's going to dissuade voters from voting, but I'm not sure why; it's not like they don't usually already have your name and address. Though I can see unscrupulous poll workers " and there have been more than a few of those popping up lately " using whatever they can to intimidate voters who might oppose their positions. What mostly amuses me is the statement of voter i.d. backers that this measure will "safeguard public confidence in the integrity of elections." Seems to me trustworthy voting machines would go a lot further...

Seems the Republican National Committee has been concocting political ads featuring "opinions" from bogus citizens and posting them on YouTube and similar sites without source attribution. Their argument is that they're not really political ads (because it doesn't cost the RNC money to place them?) so they're not covering by campaign regulations...

Wait, did Boston really initiate a new program where citizens can call the cops to come search their homes for guns? Is it really a surprise that nobody's taking them up on it? Seems to me either you already know the gun is there and don't need the cops to tell you, or you can search your own damn house for guns if you're that interested...

Interestingly, a couple of adults not identified as teachers gagged an unruly first grade girl and strapped her to her chair in a Florida elementary school recently. I'm tempted to say "Forget it, Jake; it's Florida," but so much of this stuff happens in Florida classrooms the past couple years I'm starting to think it's some organized campaign to get voters to back school vouchers...

Another class action lawsuit in the offing: Microsoft has decided to shut down its MS Music service. Here's the problem (and a problem with the whole concept of Digital Rights Management, AKA DRM, as it has generally been conceived) " MS sells music in their .WMA format, which they've widely touted to record companies as a way to sell music digitally without fear of copying, since each file needs an authorization to play. The authorization renews periodically. I used to use .WMA files, until discovering that, even though I owned them completely legally, when it came time to re-authorize them, I'd often be told it wasn't a legitimate file and I should either contact the vendor (and who keeps track of their vendors, unless they only buy from one place all the time) or buy a new, legitimate copy. When every .WMA file I had turned into rubbish by being swapped over to a new computer (replacing the dead old one the tracks were previously on) I threw in the towel and switched to MP3s. With MS's own music service, trounced by Apple and now Amazon, shutting down, guess what? If you bought any music from them " which you theoretically have the rights to play forever - it won't be long before your revalidation period comes up and there won't be any way to revalidate them! Not sure if that applies to .WMAs bought elsewhere; not sure how much of this nonsense MS is shutting down yet. But it seems to me there are a lot of people out there who did buy from MS Music on the promise that it's theirs for good that breach of that promise is probably grounds for a nasty little court case. Unless MS has it covered in their site EULA (which, now that I think of it, is probable, but someone should check) or " not that this would mitigate a court case " this was part of Microsoft's deal with the record companies all along, to force customers to buy new copies of music they already have, since the record companies have been trying to bleed that business model for a long time anyway...

Speaking of Microsoft, apparently they're now giving USB flashdrives to police agencies that enable cops to bypass all security features in Vista-operated PCs. Man, that's about as good an argument for switching to Macintosh as I've ever heard. Or is Steve Jobs more quietly indulging in such behavior? You know if the things exist it's only a matter of time before they get "lost" or illegally duplicated and lots of identity thieves etc. will have them (probably already do) and computer security will be a thing of the past. Whoops, it already is. Thanks, Microsoft! I know, I know, the policeman is my friend...

A good article on the bad side of social networks. I've yet to figure out what the good side of them is, aside from wasting time... Let's face it, when it comes down to it they're just more advertising and giving out your target information for advertising, though a few people successfully advertise themselves...

You may recall I've occasionally groused about companies like Norton, Adobe, etc., whose attitude toward software is akin to college professors who behave like their class is the only one their students take, and load up on required work and reading accordingly; the companies continue to pump out massive bloated programs dedicated to eating up as much of your system resources as possible. Among the offenders has always been Apple's Quicktime, which can't be dodged because so many websites and programs use it. Or, rather, couldn't be dodged; I recently stumbled on the lovely Quicktime Alternative, a sleeky little replacement for that blobware. Installed it a few days ago, and see absolutely no difference in performance, except Quicktime-centric files load quicker and play smoother. (The extra stick of RAM and new videocard I installed don't hurt either, but QTA predates them by a few days.) Other blobware substitutes you should check out if you run Windows: FoxIt Reader for Abode Acrobat Reader and Real Alternative for Real Player. All are worthwhile and all are free.

Watching Richard Kelly's SOUTHLAND TALES, his almost universally reviled follow-up to cult fave DONNY DARKO. Which I loathed and everyone else loved, so it's maybe fitting that I kind of like SOUTHLAND TALES. Kind of. I'm about halfway through the very schizophrenic film; it's both fascinating and boring - at the same time. But it plays like David Cronenberg doing Robert Altman doing Harlan Ellison doing Philip K. Dick, and I suspect the last might be Kelly's biggest influence. If you watch it as a movie, it's... less than good. If you watch it as a visual Philip K. Dick novel it borders on great. Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson is pretty good in it, suborning both his action star persona and Arnold Schwarzenegger, and the rest of the cast, including Miranda Richardson, Jon Lovitz and Jon Larroquette, isn't bad either, with the exception of Wallace Shawn as a cackling momma's boy supervillain. (Once he starts spending significant time on-screen, he turns into something out of an AUSTIN POWERS film.) Can't say it's the best thing I've ever seen, but most films these days make me want to turn off the DVD halfway through. This one I want to see the rest of. So I guess that says something.

Congratulations to Andy French, the first to spot last week's Comics Cover Challenge theme was "box." Andy wishes to point your attention to his more or less bi-weekly comics-themed blog Pullbox. Check it out.

For those who came in late, almost every week I run a Comics Cover Challenge: the covers of seven seemingly unrelated comics (thanks to The Grand Comic Book Database for the covers) from throughout comics history are spread, usually not in any particular order, down the column. But a secret theme " it could be a word, a design element, an artist... anything, really - binds them together, and the first one to e-mail me with the correct solution can promote the website of their choice, subject to my approval. IMPORTANT NEW RULE: PLEASE INCLUDE WITH YOUR GUESS THE WEBSITE YOU'D LIKE TO PROMOTE IF YOU WIN. (You never know; I might just go on a mass linking spree one of these days, if I can ever find the Internet's answer to a water tower.) As in most weeks, I've hidden a special secret clue to the answer somewhere in the column, but if you can't find it don't think twice about it. Good luck.

Available in pdf e-book form at Paper Movies and The Paper Movies Store:

TOTALLY OBVIOUS. Collecting all my "Master Of The Obvious" columns from 1998-2000, with still relevant commentary on comics, culture, creativity and the freelance life, revealing many previously unvoiced secrets behind all those things.<

IMPOLITIC: A JOURNAL OF THE PLAGUE YEARS VOL 1. Collecting my political commentary of the early terror years, from Sept. 2001 through April 2005, revealing the terror behind the War On Terror.

HEAD CASES. A collection of comics scripts from work done c. 1992-1995 for various companies, including an unused script. Annotated.

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.

IMPORTANT PUBLIC NOTICE OF COLUMN POLICY: any email received in response to a piece run in this column is considered a letter of comment available for printing in the column unless the author specifically indicates it is not intended for public consumption. Unless I check with you or the contents of your e-mail make your identity unavoidably obvious, all letters are run anonymously.

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.

The WHISPER NEWSLETTER is now up and running via the Yahoo groups. If you want to subscribe, 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.

TAGS:  independent comics, late comics, countdown to final crisis, secret invasion, final crisis

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