Permanent Damage

Fri, December 26th, 2008 at 11:28am PST

Comic Books
Steven Grant, Columnist

Judging from the mail, some people get annoyed that I bring money into the discussion as much as I do. (Many publishers, I know, really get annoyed, since it's the last thing many want talent concerned with.) Apparently there are still circles where any talk of filthy lucre betrays "true art" and all of that namby pamby quasi-aristocratic crap. It's significant that most who make that argument would never dream of volunteering their life's work.

Of course, much has been made over the years of differentiating between "art" and "commercial art," and somehow that's spilled over into comics, where it's virtually all commercial art and always has been, depending on how you define the term. (I'd go so far as to suggest it really isn't "art" at all, the same way it isn't "literature," though it incorporates both those aspects. It's a different beast altogether, which has always been the virtue and the problem of the medium; terms made for other media and disciplines just don't fit very well, but describing comics adequately requires a new vocabulary and glossary that we'd have to largely make up, and maybe we should. It's an art, sure – glassblowing is an art – but art? I'm not so sure, and, when it comes down to it, what does it bloody matter?) Virtually all comics are done to order, in some manner, if nothing else than to fit available space or format predetermined to be "commercially viable," even if a publisher isn't standing overhead dictating specific content. The split between "art" and "commercial art" has always been something of a mirage itself; certainly the fine art world is a fairly cutthroat place full of fads, "advisors" and moneychangers as well.

But that's typical of the binary nature of our thinking: if something isn't specifically one thing, it must be whatever we've defined as that thing's diametric opposite. You're with Jesus or you're with Satan, other shades or persuasions not accepted. Things are rarely that simple.

So it seems there's a fairly common line of thinking in the comics world, though not among professionals, that if you're concerned with money you must be in it for the money. To some extent that's true of all of us, and even wannabes who's expressed to my face the view that inspiration and vision, not cash, should be our driving forces wanted publication by pro comics publishers in order to get paid for their work, the laughable difference being if the work predates the desire to get paid for it, the work is somehow by nature more artistic. Fact is that from the reader's perspective, usually, none of that is remotely important. It only matters whether they like the work. Which leads to another popular binary: the reader that likes my work must be perceptive and intelligent, the reader that dislikes my work must be vulgar and thick. It'd be nice if it really worked like that, but in most instances that more a case of blaming the victims.

On the other hand, popularity in itself means nothing either. Except a paycheck. Which leads us back to money.

The general theory seems to be that if you're concerned with money you must be in comics to get rich. People occasionally do get rich creating comics. People occasionally win the lottery. But many more people don't, regardless of talent, and anyone entering comics to make a monetary fortune is pretty much a flaming idiot. In quite a few cases, talent seems to almost be an impediment to making any real money, which tells you something about the comics market. Partly because there's little in the way of a shared critical language across comics, and way too much emphasis on the pop honor of finding "the next big thing" (or, conversely, to vilify it), there isn't even really a consensus of what constitutes "talent." Though everyone from the most critical of critics to the most accepting of rubes believes that those whose work they like are talented.

Publishers meanwhile generally measure "talent" in the old fashioned way, by how much perceived value – sales value – a talent (as I use the word, just another term for a creative hand on a comic) brings to the company. There are levels: the unspectacular pro who can produce an average selling book on schedule might be considered almost as valuable, though considerably more replaceable, than the erratic superstar whose books sell fabulously but whose output is sporadic, though these days the market is harsher to both.

It's rare in any case that pros don't do their best, whatever that means in the moment. Their best might just not be especially good, that particular day or week or lifetime. Inspiration and vision are terms much more impressive to people with little experience of them. They sound good, don't they? But while you can hypothesize the artistic credibility of a comics pro by what they leave on the page (though that's often far from an exact science, given how things can be altered at any number of stages of production that might have nothing to do with the generating talent) there's no way to accurately judge creative intent. Crap can be generated through the purest of intentions, genius via what amounts to accident. Some kinds of love, as Lou Reed once wrote, are mistaken for vision.

But this is why money is important to talent, and why talent should bring pay into their calculations: money is a measure of worth. Publishers like money; publishers who don't make money either get out of the business or are hobbyists, in which case they're getting "paid" in something other than cash, and most likely have either a prosperous job or a working spouse. But creating comics is a time-consuming gig; doing it in your after hours pretty much means you have nothing else in your life. Most people, artistic or not, don't live like that, and it's unfair to impose that standard on a particular class of people for little more reason than serving a cultural stereotype. The only reason to not want talent to have money is because you don't want to see the current system, which tends to keep money and talent in distinct spheres (though hardly as badly as it used to), change.

I'm not going to say money is freedom, but money can be freedom. In comics, it's the difference between a talent having to take an outside job to keep going, or an artist drawing two books a month, or a writer churning out monthly comic after monthly comic instead of writing a graphic novel. To advocate creative freedom, you have to advocate more money for talent because money creates that option. People don't operate in vacuums, and even great talents have to deal with the real world as well. Since patronage systems are no longer in vogue, we're stuck, at least for now, with the system we have.

There are two kinds of creative freedom: the kind poverty generates, where you really have nothing to lose except a lot of time without any promise of improving your lot, and the kind money generates, where you can increasingly control your own options. Believe me, the second kind is better.

Unfortunately, there have been an awful lot of publishers who don't see it that way, and who have taken advantage of the nature of comics pros. Because here's the thing: we really aren't "artists" in the broad sense. We're performers, hopefully more along the lines of gifted acrobats than trained seals. We don't create to create, we create to be read, to be seen. Doesn't necessarily means everyone plays to the crowd, though a number do and it's easy enough to slip into the habit, but no one creates works to be shoved in a drawer either. Comics talent wants to be published, and more than a few, especially newcomers, are so eager to be published they're willing to surrender all control with no guarantees of anything in return. I've known more than a few new talents who gave away the farm to promises of "complete creative control" only to find their decisions overridden, their work modified without their knowledge or consent, their creations abruptly turned over to other hands. They can't even get a lawyer to assert their rights for them, assuming they still have any. Know why? Because they have no money.

The bottom line is that in publisher-talent relations, money is sincerity. It doesn't have to be a lot of money. By this point the play-without-pay model should've been shunned right out of the business (unless there's a really good deal that makes up for it) because the general trend of the last decade has been less creator creative control of material. There's no real reason why publishers shouldn't basically surrender creative control to talent, within negotiated boundaries, because they certainly aren't likely to make less money under the creator-control system but it might ultimately cost them less money, since such a system would theoretically trim staffing requirements. Not that there aren't publishers where creator control is the standard, but those are understandably tough markets to crack. But rather than "play-without-pay" publishers being pressured out of the business, the likelihood is much stronger that "play-for-pay" publishers will swing toward the "play-without-pay" model. If talent demonstrates they're willing to go that way, why wouldn't publishers take advantage of it, especially in this economic climate? A system where all the publisher "risk" is on the back end is a godsend in a market where few books sell well enough to generate royalties and, once again, the blame can be kicked back onto the victims.

Though hopefully publishers will be smart enough to see that "play-without-pay" houses historically tend not to last long. Then again, neither do most comics publishers.

A little present from the '50. When horror was king, every publisher was getting into it, and stories got pretty crazy. A lot weren't so much horror stories as thinly disguised adventure stories with monsters, with spurious story logic allowing traditional heroism to win out despite the setting. (This was the formula adopted for the late '50s Lee-Kirby "monster books" that precursored the Marvel Age, which were probably its apotheosis.) This didn't prevent them from occasionally winding up with good artwork, including this Joe Kubert gem from St. John Publishing, "Death's Pool," when Kubert was just coming into his own stylistically:

A few acknowledgements for 2008:

No one, no matter how misanthropic or voluntarily housebound, ever really achieves anything alone, and I'm a case in point. I've had a weird but pretty good year. Not that there's been time to work on everything I'd like, but various people out there have pulled for me in their ways, and deserve a round of acknowledgement and thanks:

Steve Gerber, James Hudnall, Gilbert Hernandez & Bill Willingham, for being the local lunch clatch/support group. That's pretty much over now – Gerber's dead, Hudnall's moved out of town and Willingham's working his way out – but it was great while it lasted.

Bob Schreck, Brandon Montclare, Phil Winslade, Karen Berger & Paul Levitz at Vertigo for their generous support of one of my craziest ideas ever.

Scott & Frank Bieser, for realizing and publishing my iconoclastic ODYSSEY rethink.

Ross Richie, Andy Cosby & the rest of the Boom! staff, plus Mat Santaluoco, Rafael Albuquerque & Kristian Donaldson for all their hard work on TWO GUNS.

Victor Riches, for bringing me aboard, and Tom Mandrake, 12-Gauge's Keven Gardner, and Image's Erik Larsen and Eric Stephenson for helping realize THE SAFEST PLACE.

Justin Gabrie and Tom Brevoort at Marvel for bringing me in on their year end WHAT IF run, Gustavo Vasquez for drawing it, and to whatever mysterious parties at Marvel select what gets reprinted in their trade paperback and hardcover collections for dusting off lots of my old stuff. (It's a double edged sword from my perspective, but I love the royalties.)

Joe Gentile at Moonstone for constantly thinking of me.

Arcana's Sean O'Reilly, Avatar's William Christenson and Dynamite's Nick Barrucci, for their ideas, offers and continued interest, even if time and other factor's didn't quite work out this year.

Shane Riches & Rick Alexander, for their unwavering support, encouragement and friendship while keeping me informed and looking out for my interests in Hollywood, and Marc Platt for having faith in TWO GUNS as a feature film. And all the other producers who've been in touch this year; maybe next year.

Eric Reynolds, Michael Dean & Gary Groth at THE COMICS JOURNAL & Fantagraphics, for keeping me supplied with books, conversation & opportunities.

Jonah Weiland, owner of Comic Book Resources, for his continuing support of this column and generosity after all these years.

Then there are family and friends who aren't in the business but who carry me despite periods of no money, no patience or no time; those who should be on the list who I've stupidly forgotten in the moment, who also have my thanks and apologies; colleagues whose friendship I still appreciate but haven't been in contact with this year, or not much; and all my readers, whether you agree with me or not. (It's not requisite.) I realize this is all a bit corny and sentimental, but what better time of year for it? Every once in awhile even I feel the need to acknowledge that, whatever this is, we're not in it alone. So thanks.

Seasonal TV roundup:

Interesting to see THE MENTALIST (CBS, 9P Tuesdays) jump to #1 a few weeks ago. It's not my favorite American TV show – now that THE WIRE and THE SHIELD are history, that's probably LIFE (NBC), which continues to struggle along at 9P Wednesdays – but I watch it consistently. The stories aren't anything special for American cop shows – except for the gimmicks, you wouldn't find much different on, oh, COLD CASE or NUMB3RS - but its stars Simon Baker and Robin Tunney who really spark the entertainment factor; like LIFE's detective turned ex-con turned avenging detective Charley Crews (Damian Lewis), Baker's show "psychic" turned crimebuster Patrick Jane seems to live in a chaotic interstice between good humor and bitter madness where social mores hold almost no sway. Like Hugh Laurie's Greg House, he is the show and, fortunately, Baker's got the con man charm to pull it off.

But, otherwise, I wouldn't say American network TV is a bleak landscape, just a limp one. I watched this fall's run of HEROES, which toward the end just had the aura of desperately sweeping up; the last episode was a spasm of character assassination, literally. A lot of questions were left unanswered – was Daddy Petrelli's apparently erratic use of his powers due to precognitive visions or writer inattention? Is Hiro still powerless? Whatever happened to Peter's Sylar-like new compulsion to kill for powers? Didn't Daddy Petrelli steal immortal guy's abilities, so how could even a shot to the head kill him? – but I suspect the desire to clean house, especially since they're facing a revived 24 with a HOUSE lead-in come January, took precedence over story logic. (Not that the show's ever been renowned for that anyway.) The final clip was supposed to be the ultimate tease, but for those of us who've read a lot of comics it was only a reminder of how much they obsessively nick from X-MEN. Which some might find an enticement, but I never did care for the Sentinels.

What else was on? I'm trying to think. AMAZING RACE 13 (CBS) was a good run, oddly skipping Europe for the first time ever. The now deceased MY OWN WORST ENEMY (NBC) lived up to its title with a muddled uberplot unfortunately weighing down Christian Slater, who deserves another shot at a series. HOUSE (Fox) I was ready to dump altogether though it got better as the season progressed, though the sooner they dump the soap opera subplots and get House and Cutty back to friendly adversaries instead of potential lovers the better. FRINGE (Fox, 9P Tuesdays) turned out to be a surprise, sort of THE X-FILES done right and, so far, without aliens, slowly illuminating and deepening its mysteries at the same time but with (at least so far) as least the suggestion there's a coherent answer at the end of it, while all the characters have stayed interesting. THE OFFICE (NBC, 9P Thursdays) remains amusing but has passed the point of surprise. SMALLVILLE (CW, 8PM Thursdays) was a mess, scrambling for plotlines and villains with the (probably temporary) loss of Lex Luthor (though characters wouldn't shut up about him), but the last couple of episodes jacked it back toward form; they really have to do something about Clark being dumber than dirt, though. But SUPERNATURAL (CW, 9P Thursdays) finally clicked this season, with the demon-busting Winchester Brothers getting caught full up in a HELLBLAZERish war between angels and devils on the brink of the Apocalypse, with lots of clever twists. BATMAN: THE BRAVE AND THE BOLD debuted on Cartoon Network (8P Fridays), dumping the Dark Knight personification for an unabashed modernized '50s Batman take, with him mentoring DC guest stars like Blue Beetle and Plastic Man (maybe the best characterization of Aquaman in years too) – and it's pretty good, if your tastes run to rock 'em sock 'em with life lessons for the younger crowd! Over on HBO, ENTOURAGE made a comeback, only to wind up, however triumphantly, in the same precarious place; Vinnie Chase is only interesting when he's struggling to achieve his dreams, not when he has achieved them. From season's end, they have only two places to go: Vinnie uses his new opportunity to regain his credibility, at least among Hollywood's movers and shakers, or he doesn't. Either way, the final episode this year would seem a good place to end the series, though I know that's not on HBO's agenda.

And that's about it for American TV at the moment. The value of various MMA shows depends mightily on who's in the ring (despite UFC head Dana White's constant attempts to put himself over as a star in his own right, which he kind of blew in ULTIMATE FIGHTER this season by constantly letting a psycho hillbilly troublemaker slide despite being the diametric opposite of everything White has always claimed a professional UFC fighter is; between White and the fighter, I've never seen two people quite so determined to undermine any claims they might ever have had to credibility) and pro wrestling's... well, the WWE is the WWE and their product has become generally dull despite some really good performers (up-and-comer John Morrison is the wrestler to watch in 2009) and TNA (Spike, 9P Thursdays) has disintegrated into total unwatchable nightmare, with great performers like Mick Foley and The Motor City Machine Guns being ridiculously undermined by the most incoherent, illogical, pathetic angles, storylines and booking imaginable, and I'm talking about incoherent, illogical and pathetic by pro wrestling standards.

So worth their entertainment weight, so far, barring things like MAD MEN that won't be back for awhile: LIFE; THE MENTALIST; FRINGE; SUPERNATURAL; BATMAN: THE BRAVE AND THE BOLD.

But the Brits had a better season, and we'll get to that next week.

The last holiday songs, traditional:

Traditional for me, I mean, not your grandmother. If I were to make an Xmas season disk, this would be it.

Dwight Yoakam, "Santa Claus Is Back In Town." The suggestive old blues number ("Hang up your stocking, turn out the light. Santa Claus is coming down your chimney tonight") has never sounded sleazier, with a country-Vegas arrangement and a hillbilly twang. Pivotal in my appreciation of holiday music.

Allan Sherman, "The Twelve Gifts Of Christmas." The first holiday song that ever stuck with me, when I was eleven or so. Sherman rattles through a list of kitsch presents for a holiday already terminally commercialized back in 1964, from "a chromium combination nail scissors and cigarette lighter" to "a statue of a naked lady with a clock where her stomach ought to be", culminating in the ultimate expression of the season: "On the 12th day of Christmas, although it may seem strange, on the 12th day of Christmas I'm going to exchange..." When people jabber about the true meaning of Christmas, this is the song I trot out.

Billy Fury, "My Christmas Prayer." England's first great rocker with a ballad of lost love and holiday loneliness.

Chuck Berry, "Run Rudolph Run." Why it's called that when the lyrics all go "run, run, Rudolph" I never figured out but Berry's song is the only one to capture the spirit of what must be the most frantic night of Santa's year. There are better versions – Chuck was never the best interpreter of his own material – but he's already been robbed enough, so his version is the sentimental favorite.

Dean Martin, "The Christmas Blues." Another paean to being unloved in the dead of winter. "May all your days be merry, your season filled with cheer, but until January I'll just go and disappear." Dino's smooth syrup croon somehow manages to capture the song's emotional ennui perfectly.

Ed "Kookie" Byrnes, "Yulesville." The plastic beatnik's almost bafflingly faux-hip slanged-up rendition of "The Night Before Christmas." Endlessly amusing. "Have a cool yule, man. Later, like dig?"

Fountains Of Wayne, "I Want An Alien For Christmas." Oh, like you don't?

Greg Lake, "I Believe In Father Christmas." A ballad of good wishes dashed and childhood fantasies crushed, and a good argument that no matter how awful a musician's overall output he can still turn out a good song once in awhile.

Honky Tonk Confidential, "Christmas Prison." Never mind that wussy "you better watch out, you better not cry" stuff. Down at Christmas prison, where all the elves wear .44s, is where you'll spend your yule, if you think that being bad is good or hip or cool. As long as we try to scare kids into behaving, we may as well go all the way.

Loudon Wainwright III, "Suddenly It's Christmas." The classic observation of a holiday season grown insanely cancerous. It's a little out of date, though, since Wainwright observes stores start selling Christmas the instant Halloween is done, and we're about back to Labor Day now, but it still fits.

Idlechatter, "Alternate Cover." Joe Quesada's band expressing the ultimate disappointment for the comics fan at Christmas, with a spiritual visit from Elvis. If this isn't a classic, it should be. Does Idlechatter still pump out Christmas songs?

James White, "Christmas With Satan." The maestro of No Wave and his backup singers with a rousing, cacophonous cup of holiday cheer for those who swing the other way. Jesus saves, but Satan throws better parties.

Little Charlie & The Nightcats, "It's Christmas Time Again." Swing your way to personal poverty with Little Charlie: "They got you singin' 'bout jingle bells, but it's really 'bout sell, sell, sell; c'mon, deck those halls, baby get down to the shoppin' malls..."

Merle Haggard, "If We Make It Through December." The truest portrayal of the holiday season for way too many people, and maybe more pertinent this year than ever before.

Michael Nyman, "Christmas." A triumphant, minimalist-experimental instrumental take on Handel via Moog, jarring but celebratory.

Neko Case, "Christmas Card From A Hooker In Minneapolis." One of Tom Waits' darkest, best songs, with equal parts hope and self-delusion, perfectly and painfully sung by Case.

The Kinks, "Father Christmas." Myths are nice and all, but reality always catches up with them eventually. Somehow Ray Davies manages to sound bitter and cool with it in the same breath.

Kristy MacColl & The Pogues, "Fairytale Of New York." Neither MacColl nor Pogues frontman Shane MacGowan ever sounded better than on this classic romantic ballad of Christmas in America, full of hope, trampled promise, despair and, ultimately, hope.

T-Bone Burnett, "God Rest Ye, Merry Gentlemen." A straight rendition of the second most dour Christmas song ever, performed perfectly. (What'd you expect? It's T-Bone!)

White Lightnin', "Christmas In Vegas." A rousing rockabilly paean to the home town; even I make sentimental choices sometimes.

And that's it: this year's traditional holiday top 20. I'd run some New Year's songs next week, but I can only think of two. Anyone know of more?

Notes from under the floorboards:

First off, happy holidays, whichever holiday you're celebrating (or not) this season.

Funny thing happened yesterday. I have a few different email accounts that serve various functions, like personal mail, business mail, junk mail and column mail. (For instance, I only use the junk mail address when responding to things online, so the inevitable flood of rubbish all ends up in one easy to dump account.) Earlier this year I switched to using two different mail clients, Thunderbird and its cousin Spicebird, to further separate the accounts, to access personal and business mail quicker. All went fine until last night, when I clicked on the Comic Book Resources folder, which listed four unopened emails – and nothing was there. Nothing. Not the unopened mail, not the last eight months of mail. Nothing. The subfolders were still there, my sent mail was there. But nothing in the main folder. Translation: if you sent anything in the last few days, I no longer have it. If it's something you were waiting on a response to, I can no longer respond. If you sent me a holiday greeting at the column address, thanks, but I no longer know who you are. Sorry about that.

An interesting email header from the Consumer Electronics Show, which runs in Las Vegas again Jan. 8-11: CONTENT TAKES CENTER STAGE AT THE 2009 CES. Uh-huh. Of course I'll be there again to find out for myself.

I just realized THE SPIRIT opens this week after, what's it been, years of buildup? Good luck, Frank!

VHS has reportedly lost its last distributor – that's media and machines both - so it's videotape no more. Standalone VHS machines stopped being generally available awhile back, being incorporated into joint DVD players/VHS recorders, and now... VHS aficionados, good luck. Meanwhile, proponents of the floundering Blu-Ray format are now declaring 2009 "The Year Of Blu-Ray" (I think it'll be something like the third "year of Blu-Ray") and are apparently predicting that the millions and millions of people dying to see THE DARK KNIGHT in the absolutely best viewing experience known to man will drive sales of Blu-Ray players into the stratosphere. (If it happens, I suspect declining prices on players might also have something to do with it.)

Just saw THE DARK KNIGHT again, on DVD. It's still a flawed, nightmarish masterwork, and Heath Ledger still deserves a posthumous Oscar for his Joker; it's the first time the character's senselessness ever made sense. The only real problem with the film is that it's so in love with The Joker that it sacrifices Batman long before he has the opportunity to sacrifice himself; the real hero of the film is Capt. Gordon, the everyman struggling to make sense of incomprehensibility that Batman is too familiar with to even acknowledge. The Joker's bedside chat with Harvey Dent is still a great scene, demonstrating that while order is better than chaos, chaos is sexier; in THE DARK KNIGHT, The Joker is seductive, while Batman is just butch.

Meanwhile, I also see THE DARK KNIGHT isn't getting a Chinese release, though presumably bootleg DVDs have flooded the country already. Something about "cultural sensitivities," which I take to mean they don't like the idea of a filthy rich Chinese drug dealer/mobster as one villain among many. Oh well.

For those few still playing the stock market, more proof that nobody knows jack, no matter how expert they claim to be: financial website Your Money Watch has reportedly tracked blustery TV finance guru Jim Cramer's recommendations for three years, and discovered, statistically, that his picks perform worse than the average. Will that be enough to yank the irascible bearded loudmouth from his comfy and presumably profitable TV gigs? Probably not. So how about the Marvel-loving Motley Fool?

Anyone see the Fox News interview with VP Dick Cheney where he cites 9/11 as the "highest" moment of his vice presidency? Huh?

Apparently realizing it's a waste of everyone's time (not to mention increasingly risking sanctions from judges for suspect methods) the Record Industry Association of America has decided (or is at least threatening) to abandon their M.O. of suing suspected Internet music pirates, and have put forth a replacement plan to have ISPs become their cops and rat out customers uploading music to the Internet. At their own expense, of course, even though the plan means ISPs must monitor every single upload of anything to their systems, effectively destroying any concept of customer right of privacy, not to mention demanding expense and time consumption that ISPs currently don't incur. Needless to say, the RIAA, which can apparently spend gobs on lawyers and lobbyists, is loathe to underwrite any ISP costs, perhaps because recent studies indicate that fewer than 11% of Internet users pirate music, and the amount the RIAA is likely to recoup from this scheme would be considerably less than the cost of implementing it (though the RIAA's whole raison d'etre is that the vast majority of the Internet is ripping them off left and right, to the tune of billions lost). So why not make everyone else pay for it?

Speaking of record companies, interesting little fight between YouTube and Warner Music, which flexed its muscles by demanding YouTube withdraw any posted videos of Warner acts. YouTube flexed its own muscles – and removed them, demonstrating to Warners (and perhaps other record companies) that removal only hurts the record companies and the acts. It makes sense; music videos are really nothing more than ads for the acts and albums anyway. The tough stance on "copyright infringement" simply knocked out one of the better ways currently available for their products to get more widely known.

Congratulations to Jon Weisblatt, the first to spot last week's Comics Cover Challenge theme was "green," even if he did come by it kind of accidentally. (For those who wonder how "green" fits, in order: lantern; Justin Green; lama; Green Hornet; arrow; Green Beret; giant. All either include green or fit with green.) Jon wishes to point your attention to the quite fitting website of his client, The Green Grid, a consortium of companies working to measure and maximize the efficiency of data centers. 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. As in most weeks, there's a secret clue cleverly hidden somewhere in the column. Just don't get distracted by unrelated material. 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:  comics publishing, the dark knight

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