Permanent Damage

Wed, October 7th, 2009 at 2:58pm PDT

Comic Books
Steven Grant, Columnist
4

As described last week, my basic tastes in comics art were formed by '60s superhero comics. Not that there weren't other traditions around, but they never made much impact on me. I read lots of different things, sporadically. (Everything was sporadic then, due to the vagaries of cashflow – like every other kid in the early '60s, I had none – and distribution.) There were newspaper strips, but the heyday of the comic strip was already over by then, so everything was anemic humor strips - PRISCILLA'S POP and MARMADUKE - or "human interest" adventures like MARY WORTH or REX MORGAN MD while the adventure strips that popped up had also gone smotheringly domestic. Even Milton Caniff's STEVE CANYON was little more than talk, squashed into ever-shrinking panels that demanded increasingly simplistic design and content. That was the world of the comic strip when I was a kid: homogenous and safe. Still, I read them all, what I could. The strips that attracted me most, FLASH GORDON and DICK TRACY and THE PHANTOM, were all in Milwaukee or Chicago papers, and those were hard to come by.

Harvey Kurtzman was continuing the satirical tradition he started with MAD, but I didn't see it. We never thought of MAD as having anything to do with comics, aside from checking out "Spy Vs. Spy" every month at the grocery store; I knew nothing of its original comics form until the mid-'60s, and by then the magazine's humor was sluggish and standardized, far less piercing and funny than GET SMART!. I don't recall ever seeing Kurtzman's HELP! on a newsstand, and by the time I saw "Little Annie Fanny," it was not what I found most interesting in PLAYBOY.

But I read whatever comics I could get, and quickly formed opinions. I saw CLASSICS ILLUSTRATED early on, and thought they looked grubby and dull. Equally dull were Dell Comics; I'd just missed their heyday, and found only sleepy Disney, Warners and Hanna-Barbara funny animal comics left, along with nondescript, ugly adventure comics. (Though I had friends who loved MAGNUS, ROBOT FIGHTER, to this day the concept and Russ Manning's art leave me cold.) Gold Key taking over all the properties a couple years later didn't help anything. I read Archies, Harveys, romance comics, those crappy pseudo-horror comics American pumped out, much of Marvel and DC's non-superhero output. Charltons we didn't get, though most outlying towns in Southern Wisconsin did, but they were too hard to come by to experiment with; when I did find them, it was the Steve Ditko stuff I seized on. Warren magazines and Tower comics likewise weren't distributed in Madison, though for some reason Towers showed up in one Woolworth's. In content, Tower's books, primarily THUNDER AGENTS, trod a fine line between the DC and Marvel approaches, a "third way" that may have kept them from widely catching on (though being found only in Woolworth's was likely a factor too) and also suggests why subsequent revivals have also failed miserably, since they all adopted a Marvelized approach that gutted what slight originality the concept had. But the art mostly fit into what were then the Marvel or DC traditions (except on such things as Manny Stallman's last crazy fling, "Raven") and had little effect on my art tastes except to reinforce them. The only thing I couldn't muster interest in was war comics, though I tolerated SGT. FURY for awhile, and came back to them late, when DC's ENEMY ACE corresponded to a fleeting obsession with biplanes. Being from the German perspective, ENEMY ACE took a dim view of war, also fitting my mood at the time (and now); I was always impressed by DC's later "Make War No More" war stories, though I suspected they badly overestimated liberal enthusiasm for war comics.

My tastes in content were a different matter.

I can't remember when my tastes didn't run toward the weird, for the middle American 1950s-gray culture I grew up in. Little things tipped in early to draw me out of it: a book on Greek mythology my mother had won in school and kept, a volume of King Arthur tales someone had sent me as a present, an Ivan Sanderson book about the abominable snowman and its worldwide cousins I ran across in the library. I suspect I benefitted most from being in grade school when the first astronaut flew, briefly, into space. This was a brief window where the government was telling us (and by "us" I mean boys) to dream, to grow up to be scientists and astronauts, to imagine not what fit nicely into social acceptability but whatever possibilities we could imagine, even if it were all being driven by the anti-commie fixation that configured the '50. And not only to imagine. It was our duty, our civic duty, to also make what we could imagine real, so everyone could benefit. It didn't last long; within a couple years, warm bodies were needed on the ground in Vietnam, so the emphasis fell off imagination and back onto fitting in and doing your duty to God and your country, etc. etc. but by then the damage was done. I was soaking up science fiction stories, TV, movies.

And, embryonically, politics. It's hard to explain what a constant presence The Bomb was then. It's a cliché now. But that was our lives, in early grade school, whatever sunny pronouncements they made about our futures shadowed by air raid drills where we learned to scramble under our desks or out to our lockers for protection. The local air raid siren was mounted at the top of a telephone pole on school grounds and doubled as a tornado warning siren; the methods we were taught for surviving tornados were only marginally more effective than the preferred methods for surviving The Bomb. They didn't even really explain what The Bomb was, only that the Russians had it (and we did too, but we would never use it) and the Russians placed no value on human life! Later, the Chinese also got it and the Chinese placed no value on human life! Now no one even mentions China's a nuclear power anymore. The air raid signal tested once a month into the '70s before they stopped, but by then no one paid attention, except to get annoyed.

But politics kept seeping in. The President Kennedy assassination, of course, which now prompts many to say "so what, why the big deal," but it was a game changer in 1963, a pivotal event in many lives, in exactly the same way many alive today feel 9/11 was in theirs. It was a huge slap at the myth that we're "safe," and, like 9/11, generated a huge industry of proving just how unsafe we really are. I don't remember ever hearing much about the Civil Rights movement as a kid, not until later, but I was vaguely aware of the Birchers, of George Lincoln Rockwell. (Look him up.) I'm not sure why. But they lived in a science fiction world of alternative histories and hidden structures for which our "official" reality was nothing but a soporific mask. Science fiction was my main reference for such ideas, and we live in such a science fiction world today, where many, maybe most, Americans are likewise convinced of covert puppetmasters behind the façade of democracy, communing with the spirit, if not the specific content, of the John Birch Society. Add in all the cultural upheavals of the '60s, from pot to color TV to pop art and "alternative lifestyles," and by the end of the '60s, I was mainly looking to fiction for ways to make it all make some sort of sense.

Experimental fiction, experimental theater, science fiction, especially the new wave science fiction that overlapped experimental fiction, all these did a relatively good job.

Comic books? Uh-uh. They were always enjoyable, but even Marvel Comics stayed rooted in the WWII-Cold War 40s-50s mentality. TV shows featured more current material than Marvel Comics in 1968, and Marvel was waaaaaay ahead of DC, BROTHER POWER THE GEEK notwithstanding. You just didn't look to comics for content. Stories had amusement value in the moment, art was the long term point of interest. Then, suddenly, there was the Harvey Kurtzman legacy again, erupting out of nowhere, and changing everything.

By the late '60s, Gil Kane, John Buscema, Gene Colan and others may have been taking their art in different directions, but it all still came out of basically the same tradition and, insofar as publishers were concerned, remained more or less interchangeable. (Gil Kane's Hulk and Jack Kirby's are easily recognizable as the same character, despite different approaches.)

Not of that tradition:


Underground comics didn't come as a complete shock. Mostly through ads in Marvel comics, I'd already come across comics fanzines, and Wally Wood's WITZEND. Nestled in the pages of the latter, amid work by Wood, Steve Ditko, Al Williamson and Frank Frazetta was Spiegleman's quirky "Art Spiegleman Department," a host of meticulously drawn comic strips with largely non-sequitur humor that simply didn't look or read like anything else at the time. Had I known to, and been able to, read HELP! or college papers of the day, I'd've found Crumb and Shelton and Foolbert Sturgeon and other impending underground cartoonists, more or less following in Kurtzman's footsteps. (In the same way they've tried to install him as the "father" of the graphic novel, Eisner's fans have often tried to claim him as a predecessor and "godfather" of the undergrounds, mostly due to his eleventh hour appearance in SNARF and involvement in the Kitchen Sink reprints of SPIRIT strips, but Kurtzman was the true godfather of the undergrounds, giving the first wide exposure to many of the movement's founding fathers, if you discount greeting cards.) The other main exposure of Shelton and a handful of others was through CAR-TOON and similar Ed 'Big Daddy' Roth-inspired magazines feeding California car culture. Those I had access to, but it never occurred to me to look.

For me, the real shock was fan artist George Metzger, who rapidly jumped from work for the superhero comics fanzine STAR-STUDDED COMICS

to experimental work in the more highbrow fanzine FANTASY ILLUSTRATED

to underground comics like the mystical postapocalyptic science fantasy MOONDOG

in pretty short order. At first glance (and, in his early work, often at a second) Metzger's art is crude, messy; it's difficult for the eye to follow. It's also hard to imagine him, certainly as his work was in 1968, ever drawing for Marvel or DC.

But he commits, in ways few comics artists did then or do anymore. It's not enough for him to simply draw, to put lines on paper delineating characters and scenes. It's not a matter of stagecraft, it's two-dimensional art as a tactile experience. It's just lines on paper, but you can more than see whatever world Metzger draws, you can taste and smell the air in it, your mind can caress the textures. It's art as worldview, in Metzger's case an almost completely original and unique worldview, but there it is too in Kirby and Kurtzman, in Eisner, in Gil Kane and Gene Colan and Steve Ditko, in Frank Frazetta and John Severin, in Robert Crumb and Gilbert Shelton and S. Clay Wilson, and many other comics artists, yet nowhere near enough.

That's what I meant by sensual last week. People confuse sensual with sexy, and confuse sexy with physique. While there's no reason good comics can't, or shouldn't, trip those switches, all the drawings of double-D cups in the world can't make art sensual. We often speak of "realistic" comics art – there has long been a constant tension, even animosity, between fans of "realistic" comics art and "symbolist" comics art, without much discussion of what those terms really mean in the context of comics - but how realistic your figure work is or how visually concrete your mise-en-scene misses the point; the "realism" that counts in comics isn't representation of the real world but the palpability, in the mind's eye, and nose, and on the mind's tongue and fingertips, of the world represented in the art.

Bear in mind, I'm not holding George Metzger up as an unsung genius or a missing link in comics history. While there may still be gold to be mined from his work, his career can't be considered much more than a footnote. But though I didn't realize it until well after the fact that he was one of my Rubicons, representing a completely different way of looking at comics.

It's something underground comix, for a time, specialized in. They had another advantage: they were connected to the world in ways "straight" comics hadn't been for a long, long time, and once you got past the differences in style (straight comics were all about how well artist sublimated their styles to company requirements; undergrounds were all about how personally artists could express themselves) it wasn't difficult to see how even standard elements like anatomy were frequently just as good in undergrounds as in straights and sometimes better, spared from the exaggerated demands of straight comics. These days, way too many write off undergrounds as a passing hippie fad, but that's a bad misreading of their history. If nothing else, they ripped the chains off the business and triggered comics as we now know them.

More on that next week.

Mail:

"Great review of the progressions of comic artwork in the 60s.  I picked up a lot of these books, DCs mostly, a bit after the fact and always hoped to find Kane or Infantino either inking themselves or getting Murphy Anderson.  Joe Giella always left me cold - compared to Murphy Anderson he made figures look like statues instead of moving. 

The artist I came to appreciate the most is probably Alex Toth.  Some of his early work (I can't remember the books, a DC team up?  Eclipso?) seemed an odd contrast to the cool dynamics of Neal Adams, the modern look from Jim Steranko or even the clean lines of Curt Swan.  Then I read a Black Canary story he did in Adventure Comics and it all came into focus at once - the use of blacks seemed brilliant and the mood of the story was really engaging! 

And maybe because I liked Neal Adams, it took me a long time to appreciate Jack Kirby.  I thought a lot of his work was bizarre, but once he landed at DC, the art on his 4th world books worked for me, even if the dialog was not so good. 

It seems like a lot of this progression, which continued into the 70s became lost by the mid-to-late 70s.  Aside from some great work by Marshall Rogers, Michael Golden, Paul Gulacy, Howard Chaykin and Michael Kaluta there was a lot of mediocre art in the late 70s, early 80s.  Hmmm, I must be forgetting about some people…"

Most likely the Toth story you're thinking of is the Flash-Atom teamup in BRAVE AND THE BOLD #53 - my first exposure to Toth that I recall. Another exemplar of what I was talking about above: completely believable worlds on the page. It takes a bit to wrap your head around the idea, but the comics-related artist closest to Toth may be Frank Frazetta. Not because their work looks in any way similar, but because both ended up mainly concerned with light and how it shapes scenes and moods. Don't see much of that around anymore. Richard Corben, Sean Phillips, John Paul Leon... any others?

"I once heard Kane say his art was a combination of grace and power. I'm with him more than Infantino. And as much as I like Ditko, who's surreal style I dig, I'm with Romita because he humanized Spider-Man. He mentioned to me when I spoke to him once, people didn't remember his technique, they remembered the characters. And that's what comics are all about."

Oh, if only that were true. Much as I like John Romita's art and John personally, I have to go with Ditko on Spider-Man. Here's something I read from Gil decades ago, that also impacted my appreciation of comics art: curves are static and angles are active. Now, Gil was among the most geometric of comics artists – it's visible in his figures, his layouts, his architecture – but Ditko's Spider-Man work was also very angular. The one thing Ditko brought to Spider-Man than John couldn't approach was real movement. John was okay at it, but Ditko was on a whole other level. If there's one way that John Jr. surpassed his dad on AMAZING SPIDER-MAN, it was by synthesizing his dad's approach with Ditko's. And, to some extent, what Gil did on the strip as well. (Plus Ditko's Spider-Man was pretty humanized already; when was the last time you saw a superhero dodge a fight and suffer public accusations of cowardice because he had to pick up medicine for his aunt?)

"Regarding one's taste in art, I have two words for you: Potter Stewart.

That's my take on it.

I remember being fascinated by mid-70's Byrne, early 80's Perez, and blown away by Bolland's DC work. On the other hand, Carmine's stuff at the time would literally make me shudder. Michael Golden creeped the heck out of me with the way he would draw eyes but never fails to impress as an adult. Anything inked by Old Guard vets like Colletta or Abel watered down the pencils to death while guys like Brett Breeding and Gene Day were reason enough for me to plunk the U-Totem cashier an additional fifty cents for the sheer pleasure of it all. To this very day, Kirby and Ditko remain iconic enigmas. John Buscema and Gene Colan are akin to forces of nature. And for the record, if raised in the 60's, I would have been a Gil Kane guy with a side of Russ Heath and a sprinkle or two of Kubert."

Who's Potter Stewart?

Gil Kane with a side of Russ Heath? Ever see the material they produced when teamed up at Dell in the late '50s, with Gil penciling and Russ inking? Mostly westerns, beautiful stuff. The collaboration didn't last long, though; no idea why. As for Michael, man, somebody ought to write a book about his impact on comics someday...

"Hope the lost tooth continues not to hurt. I am writing this while wearing a Halter monitor "attached" to my chest while hanging out (the monitor, not I) in a purse-like thingy. (I'm told it's the latest rage in Paris.) Tomorrow brings a procedure known as a stress echocardiogram, which along with the monitor were made possible due to repeated protestations from my cardiologist, whose own wishes were being continuously thwarted by my insurance provider until the small matter of my family history turned up. Kinda hard to deny a guy coverage when your grandfather died from heart disease, your father had a quadruple bypass heart surgery a couple of years back, and your uncle, just two freaking weeks ago. Not much of a case for the guys with the company emblem that looks like the "breaking wheel" (Google it up) of times past. 

As it stands right now, health care reform as per Max Baucus and company's designs brings back not-too-fond memories of Reagan's "trickle-down" economy. We're still feeling the sting from that particular needle.

I actually like a certain character you created for Marvel in the 70's. Crossfire? Still around to this day. And as villain, I can guarantee you he would make a great spokesperson for a certain company if only his colors were switched from red to blue."

Yeah, he can team up with The Blue Shield. The tooth is fine, off all the medicine as of yesterday and barely any sensation in the area at all, though I'll stay clear of it while eating for awhile. But wait a minute! You have a family history of heart disease and you still managed to get health insurance? I thought insurance companies considered that a "pre-existing condition" these days. But sorry to hear about your current circumstances; please accept our best wishes for the best possible and speediest outcome. Health care reform? Baucus is proposing more along the lines of health care deform now, isn't he? Things are looking really grim when Harry Reid is our last best hope...

"Thank you so much for putting the spotlight on the health insurance bill requiring individuals to purchase the very product the much "loathed and hated" insurance companies sell. If this thing passes, lets hope that the Supreme Court weighs in to say whether a program like this constitutional (like a Social Security or Medicare program) or it is in fact compelling citizens to purchase a specific product by decree.

 

I love how the supporters compare it to car insurance. Sure, it is a federal law that all drivers have auto insurance but the auto insurance laws are up to each state to dictate. Plus, if you choose not to drive on a government road you don't need to purchase car insurance."

Car insurance? Heh. It'd be like car insurance if every auto manufacturer teamed up to put out one model of car and arbitrarily decided this customer doesn't need a clutch and it's an extravagance for that customer to have a car with brakes or a transmission. Last week, my other senator, the now scandal-ridden Republican John Ensign (blackmail, bribery, an affair with a married woman while paying off her husband with special deals, attachment to a religious cult that praises Hitler, preaches its followers are destined to rule and tells its Congressional flock how to vote, etc.) revealed their real problem with "the public option" during a speech last week: it would be too popular! It would steal too many customers away from private health insurance. So that's their argument, that the public option must be stopped because American citizens would like it. Just in case you wondered where lawmakers' bread was buttered...

"I worked in banking for two years and left a pretty bad taste in my mouth, so I guess sharing what I learned feels like some kind of penance. Anyway, the $10,000 alert you mentioned this week (actually $10,000.01 and above) is very real, but only when it comes to cash. If you deposit or withdraw that much in one business day (of if you use that much cash to make any kind of certified check), the teller doing your transaction must file a "Currency Transaction Report." The bank already has all the information on the CTR (Name, SSN, DL #, address, occupation), but a lot of it isn't available to the teller easily, which is why he or she may ask you questions. The CTR is digitally sent to the IRS, and the purpose is to create a log of large amounts of cash moving around to help prevent you from cheating on your taxes or laundering money. Bank employees are told they are not allowed to tell customers what the limit is (although it's fairly easy to figure out)--whether that's a legal requirement or bank policy I was never clear on. Also, while bank employees may insist that they have to fill out the CTR, they really don't, although avoiding it will raise a lot of questions directed at the teller and manager that overrode the requirement. It may also flag the customer, although I doubt it. Frequently a less detailed form is also filled out for cash transactions above $3000, but the information is readily available to the teller, so chances are you won't even know it's being filled out. In any event, if the customer got mad about being asked a bunch of questions, I'd just tell them it was a Patriot Act thing (I don't know for sure if this is true or not), which worked 90 percent of the time since both the banks I worked at were in Oklahoma (where every single county went to McCain).

 

One of the best things about your columns is your attempts to rip up the notions that people are conveniently masking behind an offical sounding word or phrase--obviously this week it was "work for hire". I remember another time you wrote about the misuse of "mythology" as a way of talking about superheroes. I could write a few thousand words on the "misuse" of "deconstruct"--the way people use it in the culinary world is different from the way people use it when talking about Alan Moore is very different from what Derrida was talking about--but anyway, your column on Final Crisis and mythology has popped back into my head about once a month for one reason or another. I thought I'd throw some questions your way:

 

At one point you say, "Mythology – it's important to differentiate between its nature and its artifacts; the stories are the artifacts – is a civilization's environment. It's a means by which members of that civilization make sense of the world and the times they exists in. (Religion, on the other hand, is an attempt to form a personal relationship with the world, or the powers perceived to control it. Mythology has no such requirements.)" It's the implications of the statement in parenthesis that I continue to think about. Do you think people have religious, personal relationships with their comics? Is it this religiosity that makes them so irritable about questions of continuity, character presentation, which Batman artist is the best ever? Do superheroes invite this kind of relationship, and if so, what does a good relationship with the world inspired (?) by superheroes look like? Or is your response to this line of questioning taken care of when you say, 'superheroes are not good vehicles for addressing our times.'?"

I don't know that I'd say people have religious relationships with their comics, but there's often a lot of ego tied up with what we like and don't like; we all like to believe our own judgment is trustworthy and correct. So the relationships are personal, yes, and contradiction of opinions is a good way to rankle most people, especially if you can argue your contrarian position better than they can argue their supportive position, and as has long been demonstrated in psychological circles, an irrational belief becomes stronger when presented with logical arguments contradicting it. Not that your assessment of the best Batman artist is necessarily an irrational belief, but the same general principle applies.

With superheroes, it's like this: I wouldn't say they can't be good vehicles for addressing the times, but they aren't. Much as they've been played with over their decades, conceptually they're still tied to their WWII era origins and an underlying philosophy mired in the simplistic: us vs. Hitler or whatever Hitler surrogate we plop in, us vs. crime, us vs. them. They serve a function - the gratification of a socially-disreputable desire for physical conflict outside of approved channels, and recognition of that, conscious or otherwise, is why most superhero comics punctuate the "heroes'" behavior with social justification, as a thin veil for what's really going on – but that function makes them congenitally inappropriate for discussion of an increasingly complex world. Top that off with some 35 years of slow withdrawal from real world concerns into their own sealed environments combined with a market whose only input comes from itself – a virtually unbroken feedback loop – and you've got a hermetic genre not only ill-equipped to comment on life as we know it but often openly hostile to such commentary. When it does burble out, it doesn't last long; the conclusions Marvel's extended 'Patriot Act' critique, Civil War, came to weren't philosophical but plot-related, and Civil War ultimately evaporated into the comics-centric Skrull Invasion, which toyed with addressing religious extremism but really only generated plot points. Even the most progressive superhero comics work being done today is aggressively hermetic. Superhero comics today basically stretch between two poles, Geoff Johns and Grant Morrison. Johns' work is almost uniformly hermetic, and almost entirely about superhero comics (I'm not saying they're bad – I think Geoff understands his material and audience and operates quite effectively within that milieu – just that that's their defining characteristic) while Morrison's is equally hermetic, but hermetic on a number of levels.

Notes from under the floorboards:

Only ten days left until the Alternative Press Expo in San Francisco. If you look, I'll be signing ODYSSEUS THE REBEL at the Big Head Press table in booth 513. I'll be watching for you.

Funny story, if by funny you mean embarrassing as hell. A year or so ago, the new owners of CAPTAIN ACTION, a popular action figure from the '60s who had a brief life in comics c. '69, asked if I'd take over writing a new CAPTAIN ACTION comic (published through Moonstone Books) from the departing Marv Wolfman. Fondly remembering Gil Kane's run as both artist and writer on the original CAPTAIN ACTION series, I said sure, and produced a script they liked. I mean, that they really liked. Only problem was, wires had somehow crossed, and Marv had already written that issue, but what I'd produced was different enough that nobody quite realized it until the art was well underway. Most people, they would've just groaned and grumbled and held their heads (I know I did) but the Captain Action guys, they went a whole different direction, and coming out this week is CAPTAIN ACTION #3.5; as they say, forget about alternate covers, this is a whole alternate issue. Ask for it by name.

Warren on Gil. It's a joy to behold.

By the way, The Grand Comics Database, the source of all our challenge covers and home to information on thousands of comics from all over the world, recently changed servers and formats to bring more information to your fingertips more quickly. Nice job. They're talking further improvements now, including amplified search capabilities. If I can make a suggestion, much as I appreciate fuzzy searches, I'd rather see a cross-search function, where you can type in, say, Brubaker and DETECTIVE COMICS as the two search terms and receive a list of only those issues of DETECTIVE COMICS Ed worked on. But today the pits, tomorrow the wrinkles and all that...

If you thought spying on your neighbors for authorities died with the fall of the Iron Curtain or the end of the Ghost's administration, guess again. Yes, you too can be a junior Red Squad operative...

I'm already way over copy limit and deadline, and not much happened this week anyway, so it's a truncated notes section this week. Better luck next time.

Congratulations to Nick Ribman, the first to spot last week's Comics Cover Challenge theme was "bodies of water." Nick wishes to point your attention to an obscure but effective search tool he ran across called... uh... Google? Oooookaaaaay...

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, a secret clue is cleverly hidden somewhere in this column. I know you're hot for more, but that's all you get. Good luck.

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.

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