Permanent Damage

Wed, January 21st, 2009 at 9:27pm PST

Comic Books
Steven Grant, Columnist

I see Diamond has changed its rules again. Game over for the direct sales market.

Of course, anyone with half their wits should have seen this coming about the time Diamond shut down their competition and became the effective sole distributor to the sole real market remaining for comic books in America. You may not have heard the story, but here's the short version: by the early '90s, there were two major comics distributors in America, Diamond and Capital, and a handful of smaller ones. Among the smaller was a mid-Atlantic operation called Heroes World. Someone at Marvel decided the company's next step toward total world domination was to seize control of their own distribution. The operating theory at Marvel since the glory days of Jim Shooter had been that people only went into comics shops to buy Marvels, so all the other sales were by-products of Marvel sales and dealers really only ordered them because they were promoted in the same catalogs as Marvels. Since retailers only really wanted Marvels anyway, if Marvel could somehow cut off the publishers riding its coattails, it could completely rule the direct market. So Marvel bought Heroes World, changed it to Marvel Distribution (or whatever it was called) and "went exclusive." Meaning they'd put out their own catalog, retailers would spend all their money ordering from that without reminders there were other comics to budget for, and all would be right with the world. Marvel's world, anyway.

There were a couple flies in the ointment, but the big one was that nobody at either Marvel or Heroes World seemed to have any idea of how to run national distribution. It quickly became a mess, and self-distribution was a contributory factor to Marvel's late '90s sales free fall and the company's bankruptcy. Marvel eventually junked the whole idea and signed with Diamond, because by then Diamond was the only direct distributor left.

See, once Marvel announced "exclusive distribution," all the other comics publishers cleverly decided that "exclusive distribution" was the new "superhero universe," and they had to have it. Or, rather, they were afraid to not have it, for fear of being shut out. The fear wasn't exactly baseless. Marvel was not incorrect in believing the vast majority of comics shops couldn't care less what they carried as long as they could get their Marvels, Marvel distribution was effectively a closed shop, and since Marvel had been the major income stream for the other distributors, including Diamond, odds were reasonably good the competition in comics distribution would be thinning out quite a bit. The general bet was that Diamond, with ~60% of the market, stood the best chance at surviving (Capital had ~40%), and were the safest to sign exclusives with. Thus rendering the thinning a self-fulfilling prophecy. Exclusives made it impossible for Capital and other companies to get much product, since the best selling companies (besides Marvel) were locked into Diamond, and retailers could afford to sympathy support Capital even if they were inclined to. As with most things comics related, readers didn't care whence or how the comics came to their shops, they only cared that they were on the racks.

And Diamond became the last distributor standing.

Diamond has always challenged claims that it's a monopoly, though it has been for a decade now. I'd always thought that was kind of dangerous, since they'd showed inclinations in the late '80s and early '90s to influence content, though this generally doesn't seem to have been a problem. But there are two contradictory forces at work here. As a business it theoretically has the right to make itself profitable by any means not prohibited by law. Logically in Diamond's business model, this would mean push Marvel (and, to some extent, DC) and let the other publishers go hang, since Marvel has always been the prime profit generator of the Direct Market and the distributors who feed it. Losing Marvel in the '90s was what prompted Diamond to push exclusive distribution deals, to ensure they didn't erode their profit base by losing the remaining publishers to exclusives with other distributors. Having Marvel means they really don't need many other comics, and sales have generally vindicated that belief. For the past several years Diamond has regularly complained that it takes excessive manpower (for the profit involved) to stock and distribute most smaller publishers. If you go strictly by Diamond's profit and loss statements, their current move of raising the minimum order for titles stocked is righteous and logical. It means, effectively, they only need carry a couple hundred titles instead of a few thousand, since there aren't that many comics that meet the threshold. Meaning the number of employees required can be drastically cut, streamlining expenses.

But they're a monopoly. (Diamond's recurring argument that they can't be a monopoly because other distributors exist conveniently overlooks the breadth and depth of their reach, and the ordering habits of retailers who don't want to be bothered with multiple catalogs and order sheets, and the inability of other distributors to last long in competition with Diamond.) This puts a certain moral burden on them to facilitate distribution of all comics, because their policies decide what gets distributed, and what gets distributed decides who in the business survives. Diamond's business model is built around the Marvel/DC business model, but not all publishers operate on that model. Some publishers can make enviable profits on very small print runs. Some have businesses built on reorders, not orders. (Diamond has never been comfortable with the reorder process, and their calculations rarely take reorders into consideration.) Raising order limits – meaning where you only needed 1000 people ordering your comic before, you now need at least $2500 worth of orders or you're Diamond toast – effectively punishes publishers for innovative business models. The upshot for the comics market is a new anti-competitive atmosphere that mostly helps the publisher least in need of it: Marvel.

It wasn't hard to see this coming, but I doubt many besides smaller publishers cared. The larger sub-Marvel publishers will likely continue to see all their product distributed regardless of orders. (That was pretty much the result the last time Diamond raised limits.) Sub-sub-Marvel publishers, at least the ones who don't cut new deals with Diamond, will be squeezed out and left with nowhere to turn, at least for a traditional comics publishing operation. But there may be no further point to a traditional comics publishing operation, unless you're Marvel. The move effectively cements the direct market as Marvel's property, as the vast majority of comics shop owners will undoubtedly be thrilled they no longer have to deal with the time/resource-consuming bulk of the comics trade, if they ever did. Certainly new publishers will have a much more difficult time gaining entrance to the market, since Diamond's move makes base-building extremely difficult and few comics arrive with a full-blown reader base. (That brings up a good question: is there any grace period for new publications? Say, 10 months?) Any publishers entering the field with an eye on the direct market had better concoct one hell of a promotional scheme if they want to live to see tomorrow. Which further enhances Marvel's dominance, not that anything is likely to crack that dominance unless sales tank again, because it seems to be exactly the way Marvel, Diamond, many comics shop owners and many readers want it. And those who don't? What good are monopolies if you can't piss on them what want you to do things differently, anyway?

So that's it. Game over on the current model. This is what it is, Diamond and Marvel, until one or the other collapses or some publisher already in the system finds the juice to supplant the House of Ideas – it's not like some smaller company never worked within an existing distribution chain, under onerous terms that drastically favored the #1 publisher, and unseated that publisher with more appealing material better suited to the times; that's Marvel's story in a nutshell – or until outside forces send the setup pear-shaped. Because Diamond is a functional monopoly in an industry whose inner workings nobody else much cares about.

That doesn't mean game over for comics, though. It's just likely to exacerbate already ongoing alternate developments in comics, specifically making both webcomics and full blown graphic novels (rather than collections pieced together from comics runs; if there aren't any runs, there can't be any collections) more appealing revenue streams to more people, with their own distribution apart from Diamond. It means, for anyone trying to make a new mark on the business, basically surrendering the traditional comic to Marvel and DC and trying something new, like Viz successfully did a few years ago. Unless someone with business acumen and a love for the medium manages to put together another distribution system to make up for the shortfalls of the current one, the way Phil Seuling and others built the direct market on the rotting corpse of newsstand distribution, but even if that happened, the near future isn't likely to be in the timeframe. At any rate, no one has the right to be surprised when Diamond deduces they haven't lost much by the move and ups the limit more six months down the road. For smaller publishers the message is clear: find yourself another ballpark or get out of the game.


I guess Dirk Deppey's throwaway term "superhero decadence" is now a meme, courtesy of the Bill Willingham blowout of last week, sending first a froth of rage through at least a portion of superhero fandom, and now a bout of jumping to Bill's defense by others, notably Chuck Dixon, who notes that "ambiguity is the new hip" for comics. Beyond having no idea what that's supposed to mean, new, Chuck? Where've you been for the past 30 some odd years?

Beyond that, I'm not even sure what "superhero decadence" means. Everyone's been using the phrase like we all already know what it means. But what does it mean?

Decadence by and large gets a bad rap. It's traditional to cite the "decadence" of Rome as causing that civilization's fall, but that wasn't the case. Rome was at its most decadent – orgies and purgatoriums, tossing unwanted babies on garbage heaps, trumping up excuses to invade Gaul to steal the gold there, that sort of thing – at the height of its power. It only went into decline and fell after an inflexible moralism, courtesy of Christianity, and the increasingly stratified society it produced, became the law of the land. Not that it wasn't always pretty stratified, once it hit any semblance of power; if you were rich you could indulge pretty much any vice, but if you were poor you were fairly likely to be murdered in the streets or sold into slavery to pay off your debts. A welfare society it wasn't. Not that the Romans ever viewed themselves as decadent, in the glory days. They only saw the decadence of other cultures: Persia, Egypt, Greece, Carthage. Rome itself was the very font of manly, martial virtues. (It didn't stop Persia, so vile it tolerated multiculturalism and its men wore makeup, from kicking Rome's ass on the battlefield, but hey.)

Manly virtue and moral certitude have always blurred together in western civilization. Decadence sums up the unmanly virtues, the feminine. The word itself suggests "decay," but what passes for decadent rarely has anything to do with decay per se, except, perhaps, moral decay, and when moral certitude is a goal any slip from certainty is a downward slide. But unless you claim an absolute moral authority – e.g. that the Ten Commandments and The Bible are the received word of God – any "certitude" is pretty much like everything else: a man-made construct. There are only two possible arguments for accepting something like The Ten Commandments: God or logic. There are plenty of good reasons to accept at least some of the Commandments as guidelines for a workable society – don't kill, don't steal, don't bear fall witness, etc. – but the problem with logic is that it lacks certitude. Logical arguments can always be reopened and reargued. Ceding authority to God or the national leader or the council of elders or whoever is a much safer bet where rigidity over time – the absence of ambiguity – is the desired result.

In theory flexibility is the price you pay, but Moral Authority has rarely demonstrated any reluctance to be morally flexible when there's something to be gained or protected. Demonization of an enemy (AKA translating them into a socially apocalyptic threat only treatable by situational suspension of the normal moral code) and "divine dispensation" are the main have-your-cake-and-eat-it-too tricks trotted out to bypass "the rules" while keeping them generally in force. (So you can kill "the enemy" but you can't kill your next door neighbor. Unless you can prove he was the enemy.)

But if Moral Authority is flexible when it wants to be, we're automatically back to moral ambiguity anyway. Societies can go different ways with it – turning a blind eye is the common socially acceptable approach – but in any case eventually you develop a block of citizens who figure out that maybe moral authority doesn't live up to their own press after all. (Sometimes it's kind of comical. The Vatican last week issued its list of the five greatest sins, and it turns out the second worst sin possible is trying to assassinate the Pope.) Turns out in practice straying from moral certitude isn't always decadence at all; it's also a way things progress.

So what's all this got to do with superheroes?

Not much, save that superheroes were traditionally presented as bastions of moral certitude, at least in terms of socially acceptable behavior. Not originally; in their early years, neither Superman nor Batman had a problem with watching their wicked opponents go to untimely deaths, if not helping them along. The price of popularity was the first great retcon, where superheroes abandoned their vigilante roots. Superman not only never killed but had never killed, Batman not only didn't use guns but had never used guns, etc. Early superheroes were populists, upholding popular notions of morality: the manipulative demagogue, the conniving profiteering crooked businessman, the predatory mobster, etc., regardless of their protection by the law (we tend to forget now that it was something of a precept in the '30s that "the law" was bought and paid for, especially in big cities, so it wasn't the most morally unambiguous of times) could be brought low by the superhero. The common touch and ability to get results had a lot to do with the explosive popularity of the superhero. It wasn't until they became a sensation that superheroes largely became agents of the law – some, like Batman, even became duly deputized – and public service ads for its authority. But the shift wasn't a moral decision. It was a marketing decision. Publishers decided the very popularity of superheroes required that shift, to ward off parental disapproval as kids flocked to comics.

There's been a discussion over at The Permanent Damage Message Board about whether the superhero is essentially conservative or liberal in nature. Prior to the shift, the superhero was a radical notion, anarchic in nature. After the shift, it was conservative in nature, often reflecting frustration with the law and how it hamstrung efforts to bring villains to justice. How many times in the Golden Age was some pretext concocted for some superhero to be outlawed, so they'd have to jump through hoops to perform their sacred duties of justice without breaking the law? (The hamstringing of law enforcement by bunches of silly rules "favoring" the guilty by presuming innocence first and requiring evidence of wrongdoing has been a favorite rallying point of "law and order" conservatives for decades.)

No wonder World War II was so big a deal for superhero comics they still try to evoke it. It was not only the heyday of moral certitude in comics, it was the time of special dispensation when superheroes could have their cake and eat it too, when Nazis and Japanese (and occasionally Italians) were the demon enemy so foul they could be killed or sent to their deaths with impunity, just like the good old days, without gutting superheroes' new authorized moral authority. Mobsters, street punks and supervillains might still have been off-limits to the full shebang, though they too frequently ended up snared by their own deathtraps or terror of capture, but Nazis could be unambiguously dealt with, at home or abroad. For superheroes it was the best of both worlds, the advertisement for the sanctity of the status quo and the unfettered wish fulfillment.

It doesn't strike me as odd at all that the superhero hit steep decline once the war was over. Junkies go on to stronger hits, not weaker. Post-war superhero stories were a steep nosedive into the tepid, and they never really dug themselves out of that until Lee & Kirby came along almost two decades later. They were tepid because that's what publishers boxed themselves into, and while there might have been ways out of that in '48 or '49, most publishers weren't interested because there seemed no more market for superhero comics, since westerns and horror and crime and even romance comics were far less tepid than superhero comics, and pulling in audiences where superheroes weren't anymore, and if there's one thing '40s publishers knew it was how to follow the money. There wasn't really any further point to superheroes until the Comics Code forced the rest of the business back to tepid, at which point characters like The Flash taking rides around the moon on giant boomerangs and things like that came to look less tepid by comparison.

But here's the thing about the early Silver Age: they knew they were producing tepid. It's what they figured the market wanted, which is a roundabout way of saying it's what the publishers – DC specifically – wanted the market to be.

There's not much to be said about the moral authority of Silver Age heroes. Few of them seem to have deeply held beliefs; you get the idea they're all politically ambiguous aside from a general belief in progress, morally complacent, socially Lutheran. Middle class professional men who dressed like ad executives, and (with the possible exception of Hal Jordan) dedicated monogamists where sex entered their lives at all; you got the idea they cheerfully paid their taxes on time every year. There are no moral dilemmas, any moral choices are pre-made for them. Any story with a pretense to moral complexity – that was off-limits at DC for close to 20 more years – degenerates into a puzzle story about how to trick your way out of hard choices.

That's what anyone wants to revert to?

So what constitutes superhero decadence? The fall from that into a mode of self-doubt and self-examination? That's basically the legacy Marvel provides. If DC superheroes lived in the sunshine, Marvel superheroes lived in a perpetual dusk of growing ambivalence. Happy endings abound in '60s DC books, probably the purest example of superhero comics in existence: superhero comics without the influence of outside forces. '60s Marvel superhero comics are heavily dosed with tropes from romance comics, Madison Avenue advertising, Mad magazine and pro wrestling. And even though in their way Stan's heroes are as tied to the superhero tradition as any of DC's Silver Age heroes, ambiguity is let in the back door, with heroes regularly questioning their goals, their motives, their right or duty to be heroes. You never saw that at DC. Barry Allen gets hit by chemicals and lightning, Ray Palmer learns to shrink to 6 inches and beyond, and wham! They're in costume, using their powers for "the common good," with little if any discussion of what constitutes "the common good." (Really, would the first impulse of a physicist who can actually shrink to the size of sub-atomic particles and thwart the Heisenberg principle by witnessing up close both a particle's nature and its path at the same time be to go fight gadget-laden bank robbers?)

The problem is that once you bring in the concept of self-examination (as Socrates said, the unexamined life is not worth living) ambiguity is there. For Marvel, it certainly wasn't. Sales took off, and, as I mentioned last week, for comics publishers the bottom line is almost always the bottom line. If ambiguity has become an increasingly if erratically prominent component of comics stories over the years, it's because audiences have found it more interesting than unambiguousness. Once you introduce the concept that the nature of things should be questioned, questions are what you get.

I don't know that you can link ambiguity and decadence. As I said, decadence suggests some decay, a fall from grace. Ambiguity just means you're no longer taking someone else's word for it. But by some interpretations that's what the biggest fall from grace, the story of the Garden Of Eden, is all about. So I dunno. Maybe ambiguity and decadence are connected. It's ambiguous.

But maybe decadence is the wrong term. Degeneracy, maybe. I can understand that, the appeal of wanting to reverse it. Used to be you knew where superheroes stood. The good guys were the good guys and the bad guys were the bad guys. I acknowledge my own role in breaking that down – that whole PUNISHER MINI-SERIES thing – but unlike Bill I don't disavow the misadventures of my youth. I don't even consider them misadventures. When I did THE PUNISHER MINI-SERIES I considered it a necessity. I considered it a necessity when I first pitched it ten years before that. I saw comics slipping further and further away from widespread cultural shifts. We're part of the culture, we should be part of the general cultural dialog. By the time the mini-series came out he was hardly the first "hero" to blur the line between hero and villain – in my version he's a clinical psychopath, a creature of brute logic completely severed from his own emotions, which was how I could imagine him functioning successfully – but it was what opened the floodgates.

What few people got from the mini-series is that The Punisher is a failure throughout. His attempt to push a conclusion to his war on the underworld only underscores the futility of that war. He's confronted with the innocent collateral damage of his actions. His allies betray his cause to further their own. He achieves, really, nothing but continued survival, and that's the story's point. It's the best, ultimately, that he can aspire to – and, yet, his war is the only thing that keeps him going, so he keeps going. That's not exactly the stuff heroes are made of, but I couldn't have care less whether anyone considered him a hero. It was just a story of a certain kind of man in a certain situation, and what comes of his actions.

Much of what followed, though, wanted it both ways. That's the continued lure of the superhero: the aura of moral certitude. Ambiguity in terms of using stories to work through tough questions and paradoxes has never really been the problem, and in fact when that's been done well the results have played well to audiences. And the problem has never really been telling which were good guys and which were bad guys.

The problem has been the desire of talent, editors and publishers alike for their good guys to unrepentantly behave like bad guys – let's face it, ultraviolence sells – and still have audiences accept them as unambiguously good guys. No questions need apply.

This is not a sophisticated use of the medium. In its way it's already a reversion to the unambiguous Silver Age superhero, just replacing kneejerk "traditional values" with kneejerk sadism in the name of traditional values, and the "let's all wink and look the other way" ethos behind it is as much a drag on superhero comics as the self-complacent '50s autohero ever was, and these days certainly moreso 'cause there ain't a lot of the latter around anymore except in nostalgia-ridden fanboy fever dreams. Which is fine – obviously there's an audience out there perfectly willing to wink and look the other way, and interesting possibilities be damned, and it really doesn't matter to me if anyone wants to publish it – but let's stop pretending it's anything else, okay?

What's silliest about the whole debate is how it has morphed into a "political" issue. In Bill's latest Big Hollywood column he cites various Internet responses claiming "50s era family values are inextricably linked with, or actually caused, segregation, paranoia, nuclear proliferation, and the rest." Kind of depends on what '50s values you're talking about, Bill. I wouldn't necessarily say inextricably linked, but "family values" is a loaded term that, especially in conjunction with the '50s, does connote certain things: a Christian background; a "nuclear" family with a husband, wife, at least two kids and a dog where the man is the dominant, obeyed authority figure; general deference to authority; an emphasis on not rocking the school-career-family boat. Statistically, the nuclear family was never a very real segment of American society, but '50s TV – not just OZZIE AND HARRIET but FATHER KNOWS BEST, LEAVE IT TO BEAVER, THE DANNY THOMAS SHOW and numerous other shows – enforced the image as the American reality, the major reason the notion is so remembered and nostalgicized today. The fact remains that the '50s image of family values was built on and in willful ignorance of the negative aspects of American society in the '50s: spousal and child abuse, xenophobia and political paranoia where even Catholics were widely viewed as possible agents of the Vatican (Kennedy's election in 1960 was as much a shock for the times as Obama's election was in 2008), homophobia, often overt racism, often enforced social conformity, widespread distrust of science (at least until Sputnik sent the country into a science frenzy), the increasingly prominent notion in government that citizens were the property of the government (hence things like the CIA testing drugs and bioweapons on unsuspecting American citizens), etc. A causal link? Not really. But we can't ignore that the former was used as a social cover for the latter.

But Bill's response to his critics – which is fairly mild and decently argued – isn't half as much fun as the on-page responses to the article. They're worth a look for sheer entertainment value: the mythologizing of a general "Left" that has constructed a Manichean worldview, and knows nothing but a rote script apparently dictated for them by secret masters. The rising hysteria of it all gets pretty funny.

The fact remains that there has never been any real Golden Age, or we'd probably still be living in it because no one would want to change. Every era has its good aspects and bad. Ultimately, this isn't a political discussion. It's an argument on how to make superhero comics more, how shall we say?, useful to readers, and it's useful to us that varying opinions of how to accomplish that exist. If they're given a fair chance to duke it out in the marketplace, which is a big if. You can propagandize whatever you want however you want, but the next frontier of the superhero, if there is one, will only be discovered via reader reaction. But now that the phrase is in currency, whatever Dirk originally meant by it, expect anything genuinely new and interesting to be denounced as decadent.


Notes from under the floorboards:

Not much going on in comics lately, since everyone's doing the "spending January catching up with everything left over from Christmas vacation" thing.

The RIAA's been catching it lately. In one case, with a big judgment for the RIAA that's being retried because the judge gave the jury instructions based on information provided by the RIAA that he later determined to be faulty and whose inclusion certainly swayed the verdict, the defendant's counsel petitioned for proceedings to be televised. The RIAA strenuously objected, only to have the judge rule against them, asking why they'd want to keep the trial obscured when their stated objective has been to educate the public about the issues involved. The RIAA provided no answer but has appealed the decision, apparently without basis in law. We'll see. More recently, a judge in another case rejected the RIAA's operative formula that every illegal download equals a lost sale, at least temporarily invalidating the argument where criminal cases are involved, though civil suits remain unaffected...

Great: Heartland, which has close to monopolized credit/debit card payment processing for a quarter millions businesses on behalf of Mastercard and Visa, somehow had such good security that the data for possibly a hundred million credit cards got stolen by malware buried on their systems. The company is now explaining in great depth why it really isn't any problem at all, but was kind enough to wait until the whole country was watching Obama's inauguration to release the story. Another reason to ditch those credit cards, if you still have any...

If you haven't been paying attention and you've got a recent model Seagate Barracuda hard drive on your computer (or some Maxtor models, since Seagate owns them too) you might want to take some emergency measures. Some 30% of them are estimated to be failing – Seagate has offered data recovery for anyone affected – and the firmware they issued to fix the problem is reportedly turning drives into doorstops. Who says the future is in technology?

Speaking of technology, apparently you can now use your iPod to program an M110 sniper rifle...

Weirdly, on his way out of office, The Ghost may now be better remembered not for what he did (declared Inauguration Day a "national emergency"; nothing sinister, it was only to justify federal money for additional security) but for what he didn't do: pardon Scooter Libby. Or Michael Milken. Or Ted Stevens. I'm willing to give him the benefit of the doubt and assume he's finally showing some good sense, and not just indifference or him throwing the finger at a Republican establishment that ultimately abandoned him. (He did pardon former Border Patrol officers Ignacio Ramos and Jose Campean, who were convicted of trying to cover up their shooting of a Mexican drug smuggler in Texas; you may recall their trial and conviction stirred up howls of protest.)

Meanwhile, since Congress ridiculously limited anyone's ability to oversee or investigate the activities of the office of the Vice President under Cheney's reign there, Federal judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly has ruled that The Dick himself can determine what will be done with his records, as long as no evidence arises to prove that he hasn't kept them safe and intact. At the moment, it doesn't look like they're headed for the National Archives, like the other records of... can it really be true?!!... the outgoing administration...

Ever get the feeling some things were just out of control? Some Pennsylvania high school girls were arrested for voluntarily sending naked photos of themselves to the cell phones of a select group of boys in their school. (The boys were also arrested for possessing child porn.) Odds are pretty good they'll all be marked as "sex offenders" now, at least by Pennsylvania law. But, really, isn't this a matter for their parents to handle?

Congratulations to Jacob Schulz, the first to spot last week's Comics Cover Challenge theme was "elements of the periodic table." (Cobalt; neon; lead; hydrogen; copper; gold; krypton.) Jacob wishes to point your attention to THE RACK, a "totally awesome" webstrip about a comic book shop. Be there or be square.

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:  diamond comics distributors, superhero decadence

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