Permanent Damage

Wed, December 9th, 2009 at 2:28pm PST

Comic Books
Steven Grant, Columnist
10

Taking a breather from format for the rest of the year; busman's holiday sort of thing as I wipe out various work that's been piling up. So this one's pure self-indulgence:

If I were ever made publisher at Marvel, and I suspect this column alone will obliterate even the remotest trace of that possibility, a pet project would be the reclamation of the gobs of great forgotten material buried in Marvel's past. Mostly from the '50s, but what I'd love to see more than anything is a coffee table book reproducing Gil Kane covers in large and impressive size.

Not just any covers. Certainly Gil, as what amount to a house artist at Marvel in the first half of that decade and producing multitudes of covers despite not actually being on staff, drew many covers that were... well, Marvel covers. I don't know that he ever produced a bad cover, but he had a number of tricks he repeated for speed and convenience (probably necessary to meet the required output; this was when he was still paying off the HIS NAME IS... SAVAGE bills from his brief and disastrous foray into self-publishing, years before the comics world was ready for it) to the point where, mainly from overexposure, they became visual clichés. (It didn't help that his art was almost as much fodder for swipes as Jack Kirby's was, exponentially increasing overexposure.)

But among Gil's covers from the period there were a set of real standouts: the westerns. It probably helped that Gil's tastes always ran more toward westerns and heroic adventure than superheroes anyway, despite his widely being remembered mainly as a superhero artist for his involvement in the midwifing of the "Silver Age" with his co-recreations of Green Lantern and The Atom at DC, and it probably helped that on many of the covers he was allowed to ink his own work. (I've always loved Gil's inks over his own pencils, from the moment I came across them late in his first run on GREEN LANTERN, but I've known quite a few who hated them and, oddly, they all seemed to be editors.) He had already done this a little on his western comics for DC in the '50s –

- and these were often notable for use of three-dimensional design space that even then helped them stand out from the "flat space" look of most comics covers. (Looking back, I realize now that Gil's work over the years strongly influenced my own taste for simultaneous action in single shots, and the sense of life it brings to comics, rather than the more standard mid- or fore-ground action with little more than set designs for background, and especially my taste for the extreme foreground.) (Pretty sure the third cover there is at least partially inked by Russ Heath, but the official listing says Gil, so we'll run with it here, because I always liked it.)

Early on in his '70s western covers stint, aside from props, the covers aren't that different from his superhero and horror covers of the day. They're story-dependent, a glimpse into the book's specific contents, and look as art-designed and busy as many Marvel covers. But somewhere along the line, a funny thing happens. It's like, amid the crush of comics Marvel is suddenly pumping out by '74 or so, no one in editorial really cares what's on the cover of western comics – it's not like they ever sold to speak of, but since they were entirely reprint, aside from (and often including) covers, they were likely mostly profitable regardless - and tells Gil to just do whatever he wants. (No idea if that's what happened; maybe someone from '70s Marvel editorial can fill us in.)

And Gil, in collaboration with Marvel's colorists, generates a great run of covers that are filled with action, tension, drama, beautiful and usually simple design, that just pop with life, and used them to further refine his sense of space and impact in comics art. I know he loved doing them because he told me so, but you can tell just by looking that he loved 'em. He may not have hit it out of the park on every cover, but I'm not sure Gil's work was ever more dramatic or emotional or confident.

I'll never be publisher at Marvel, and Marvel will never produce a coffee table book of Gil Kane western covers of the '70s, so here's a selection of my favorites:







Man, thet thar's comics art.

Notes from under the floorboards:

Haven't mentioned it a lot, but I've been quietly writing the new CAPTAIN ACTION series for awhile now. To my surprise, the first six issue arc – I wrote the final couple or so issues, with Fabian Niceiza and Marv Wolfman preceding me – is being collected in hardcover later this month... I'm four and a half issues into the second arc, by the way. (There's also a LADY ACTION one shot coming out - you can get a free pdf of it here, but that's Tony Lee's baby... for now...)

A couple weeks ago, Golden Age Comic Book Stories did a feature on the house ads DC used to run in their books, promoting other books in the line. By chance, they included the ad that did it for me when I was a kid. Bedridden with some childhood disease, the kind that laid you up for a week, I was reading an ALL STAR WESTERN my dad bought me to keep me amused in convalescence when I came upon this:

I can't put into words the thrill it gave me, or the little thrill I still get from running across it unexpectedly. I'd never even heard of Superman, Batman, The Flash etc., let alone imagined them them all in a single magazine, but just laying it out like that make those characters seem really important, and I couldn't wait to get well and get to the store to buy that comic! I never did - JLA #6 was out by the time I got there – but that was it, I was a lifelong comics fan after that anyway. That's what comics ads are supposed to do, make characters and series seem really important. It seems a long, long time since anyone in the marketing end of comics remembered that...

I've enjoyed watching THE AMAZING RACE (CBS) for many seasons now, but never have felt as personally connected to it as while watching this season's finale last Sunday, when the finish line turned out to be at Wayne Newton's estate around a mile down the road from my house...

You might not have heard but cable TV giant Comcast is trying to buy NBC from NBC-Universal, the media giant that bought the network back before it turned into the little engine that just can't. Speculation is now running wild that this is the first salvo in the death of broadcast network TV... Meanwhile, the FCC is greeting the news by studying cable companies' practice of requiring a cable box to access their whole service, since it allows cable companies to manipulate access to programming and theoretically allow Comcast to give the NBC line of cable channels that they would own preferential placement in the lineup. (Most TVs can receive up to Channel 125 without a cable box.) The other question is why these boxes are still mostly incapable of drawing competing programming from the Internet when most cable companies offer Internet service. Supposedly a new policy ruling will arrive before Xmas...

New terrorism nightmare dept: Seems a Chinese woman had her fingerprints transplated in order to get into Japan. Sounds like a lot of pain and trouble to go to just to pull off some cheap con, but it also turns out to be an easy way to beat biometric scanners if you want to smuggle yourself into some country whose border security is becoming increasingly dependent on such gadgets, say the USA...

The anti-gay marriage push continues to produce its share of wild yuks. A month or so ago it was realized that Texas' 2005 state constitutional amendment banning gay marriage also prohibited the state from recognizing marriage in any form because it was so badly written yet so hastily passed. Now a budding political satirist in California, impressed that Californian voters are so keen to protect traditional marriage, is circulating a petition for a state ballot initiative to ban divorce! It's true, if Californians are so obsessed with protecting the sanctity of marriage, divorce is a much worse threat to marriage as a sacred institution than gay marriage will ever be. So doubtless divorce is doomed in California, once John Marcotte gets the necessary signatures to put the measure on the ballot – unless they're all hypocrites willing to strangle only other people's freedoms...

As the health care reform debate continues, a veteran surgeon describes how we already have socialized medicine in America, we're just letting insurance companies dictate our health care to us. Wait, did I say that here a few months back?

Global warming debate is getting scary, and in all the wrong ways, embodied in the phrase "global warming deniers," with the implication that those who question global warming are somehow akin to those who say the Holocaust never happened, now widely applied to brutally dismiss critics who've been pointing out that various computer models haven't translated to reality and various data doesn't appear to add up. One main proposal for dealing with global warming, Cap-And-Trade, which limits the amount of carbon emissions various countries may put out but these countries can trade carbon credits to one another, feels now like another brokerage scam, especially amid stories that no less than global warming spokesman Al Gore is a player in what will be the primary carbon credit brokerage firm and stands to make a lot of money off the trade. Then there's the so-called Climategate, where hackers broke into – and exposed – emails apparently demonstrating that global warming activists know their data is wrong, amid protests that the emails were cherrypicked for damaging information. (Which doesn't exactly explain away the damaging information, though at least some of it wasn't nearly as damaging as a cursory glance would suggest.) There's something unnerving about the sheer vehemence with which climate activists are pushing their goals, as if they're now rushing to fulfill their agenda before public opinion turns against them. That our society has an effect on our environment (generally negative, if you take the examples of acid rain, radiation pollution, pollution of water tables etc.) is unquestionable. That some global warming predictions have not been fulfilled doesn't invalidate the whole of the issue. There are other environment reasons to moderate CO² emissions. But the political solutions being proposed seem to have more to do with power and money grabs than solving any core problems, and the increasingly vitriolic rhetoric– a widening condemnation of any who don't fall in with the party line, whichever party you mean, as evil bastards who don't deserve to live – has more than a whiff of fascism to it, on both sides.

Probably makes sense but still a bit of sick irony: the feds are holding a workshop on how government agencies can achieve openness and transparency... but the public's not allowed in...

Speaking of irony, while record companies are constantly complaining of copyright infringement costing them – and the poor helpless artists they represent – billions, now it might be true. Numerous musicians, and the estates of dead musicians, claim between $50 mil and $6 billion of unpaid royalties owed by the major record companies comprising the Canadian Recording Industry Association. Here's the thing: the record companies have admitted to the fifty mil – and, due to Canadian copyright law, they haven't gotten permission from copyright holders – the artists – to use the material. They just basically don't feel like paying, or tracking earnings for who's owed what, so they don't. (The article cites some record companies as believing such practices are "an unproductive use of their time.") But they're in there lobbying for "the artists' best interests" anyway. Amusingly, if it gets to court, the damages standards they've customarily applied to illegal download cases may get applied to them. It'll be interesting to watch...

Wow, turns out both men and woman generally believe women are dumber than men when studies indicate little difference at all. Unsurprisingly, most men think they're smarter than they really are...

Congratulations to Tom Fitzpatrick, the first to spot last week's Comics Cover Challenge theme was "door." Tom says he enjoys website A Softer World, where it's anything but soft, and wants you to enjoy it too. Check it out. (He also wants me to do more TV reviews, so maybe a few of those next week.)

Since there are so many covers in this column that a regular challenge would get ridiculously confusing, this week we'll do a different sort of Comics Cover Challenge. It's DIY time, where you create the Challenge, by following a few simple rules (BTW, not following them disqualifies you):

1) Choose a specific theme.

2) Go to The Comics Database and find comics covers, of any genre (but no unshielded nudity or graphic sex, please), that visibly feature your theme. Do not use comics where the only connection to your theme is inside the books and not on the cover. The connection to your theme can be pictorial or verbal. (If, say, your theme is "past," a cover scene set in the Cretaceous or featuring Paste Pot Pete, or with a logo like ECHO OF FUTUREPAST are all valid. A story title inside the book like "Journey To The Past" that isn't specifically mentioned on the cover is not. Puns, like using both sun and son, are fine, as long as both are equally valid solutions.

3) Find seven covers that suit your theme. You may use covers from any era of comics, but each of your seven covers must come from a different comics publisher. In other words, you can only use one DC comic and one Marvel comic etc. in each set of seven covers. For those who are wondering, pre-DC Wildstorm comics are not considered DC comics. DC-era Wildstorm comics are. Sub-imprints for any publisher, like Vertigo for DC or Epic for Marvel, are considered parent publisher output, so you can't, say, use both a DC cover and a Vertigo cover in the same set of seven.

4) Call up the large size for any cover you use and capture it. (Usually right click on the cover, then "save image as.") E-mail your seven covers and a cryptic clue to your theme to Permanent Damage, along with your choice of a website to be linked to if your theme & covers are used.

5) Those whose challenges are chosen will have the website links of their choice (again, let's keep it fairly clean, okay?); so will, as usual, the first to crack those challenges.

6) One challenge per person, please. Multiple entries will all be disqualified.

That's all there is to it. (Harder than it sounds, innit?) 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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