Opus 97:

Opus 97: Nous R Us (August 14). It's about to begin: the sordid but understandable if not excusable deluge of anniversary materials commemorating (is that the right word?) September 11, 2001 (or, as it is now almost universally dubbed, "Nine Eleven"). We need to remember it, of course-it and the Alamo and Pearl Harbor and a host of other instances of man's inhumanity to man, as well as redeeming evidences of humanity wherever we can find them. And Nine Eleven abounds in both. But our remembrances of such things in a society soaked in mass media tends toward excess, and excess breeds a morbid fascination that ill becomes the event nor those of us who still seek, somehow, to grasp its meaning, if any, and to honor its heroes. From the Easton Press in Norwalk, Connecticut, comes a brochure advertising "The Leather-bound, Heirloom Edition" of One Nation: America Remembers September 11, 2001. This tome, we are assured, is "the highest expression of the bookmaker's art." Yes, "art." Not craft but art. "Art" gives it cache. An "heirloom edition." Something for your descendants. Rush right out and get yours; you can scarcely avoid buying one, loving, as you do, your descendants, both born and unborn.

            Daniel Heinninger writes in the Wall Street Journal: "There's a fine line between remembrance and mawkishness, and television makes sure we cross it." After quoting Heinninger, William Falk, editor of the new magazine The Week, goes on: "It's a form of theft, really: September 11, for better and mostly for worse, belongs to all of us. But modern television has the power to transform even that day of madness into ... television." We'll witness an "extravaganza," Falk opines, "hours of tear-filled interviews, endless replays and re-creations of the fatal moments, and 'town hall' discussions of What We Have Learned, with network personalities in starring roles." Falk concludes (and we applaud): "And when the big show is over, will we have any better grasp of what happened? Or will it seem even more unreal?"

            The Week, by the way, is a pretty dandy news magazine. It is in but its second year, I estimate, with an avowed intention of telling us "all we need to know about everything that matters," week by week. It does this by culling from other magazines and newspapers and, I suppose, some tv, the news and then presenting the most significant of these happenings in severely abbreviated form. It is, in short, a sort of "reader's digest" of the news media. That's what Time magazine set out to do, eons ago, when Henry Luce and his fated partner Briton Hadden were young with all the world before them. And then Time acquired a staff of reporters, far flung, and started doing its own news reporting. As yet, The Week merely edits and condenses the news of the week. And presents it in an attractive, inexpensive package-newsprint, not slick, paper, but with color throughout. The principal events of the week are summarized, and then editorials and columnists are quoted on the same news, supplying interpretation from differing points of view. I haven't, yet, been able to detect a bias one way or the other. A good bit of international news, too, gleaned from periodicals in other countries, and the entertainment realms are not overlooked either. But, more to the point in this corner, the cover carries a full-color painted caricature of some newsmaker of the week-by Matt Collins or Fred Harper so far; and inside, a full page of editorial cartoons. Alas, the cartoons are not always very hard-hitting. The editors, like too many editors, opt too often for comedy instead of commentary. But it's a hopeful beginning.

            The Quality Paperback Book Club, a division of Book-of-the-Month Club at Camp Hill, Pennsylvania 17011-9902, is celebrating the 50th anniversary of Mad Comics with a dual offering, a pair of paperback reprints of The Mad Reader (the first such endeavor) and Inside Mad (the second) at the QPB price of $14.99 for the set.

            Patrick McDonnell's Mutts creations, Mooch and Earl, appear on a special series of New Jersey automobile license plates, priced at $50 with 80% of the amount going to an animal population control fund administered by the state's Health Department. Says McDonnell: "I can't believe it," but "it's for a good cause." He and his wife, author Karen O'Connell, have long supported animal causes, and, yes, she's ordered one of the plates.

Stan's Book. Excelsior! The Amazing Life of Stan Lee (Simon and Schuster, $14). The most revealing part of Stan Lee's autobiography is the picture of him by John Romita, Sr., on the book's cover-in particular, the pink-colored shades Lee is depicted as wearing. If ever there were a person who persists in seeing the world through rose-tinted glasses, Stan is the man. His perpetual cheerfulness permeates the book.

            Lee, like all of us, has probably had some down moments, but we have a deuce of a time finding them in this book, which Lee has denominated a "bio-autography" because of the snatches of straight biography sandwiched by author George Mair in between Lee's personal account of aspects of his life. In effect, Mair provides the historical grounding for Lee's otherwise soaring reminiscences about happy achievements.

            Even when, on successive occasions, Lee recounts his discovery that his cousin-by-marriage, Timely/Atlas/Marvel publisher Martin Goodman, is cheating him, the narrative doesn't get nasty. If Lee can't find a silver lining in a cloud, he simply breezes by the incident, giving it a nod and a grimace but moving on, quickly, to the next cheery episode in his life. Although he gets serious when explaining his dejection at realizing (in the early 1950s, I gather) that he's stuck for life in the comic book business, a nearly despised and always disdained cultural backwater that earns no one in it any respect, he quickly shakes free of the doldrums and bubbles on to the next thing.

            Despite Mair's assistance, the book is not good on dates. Lee tells his life story as a succession of events-and then and then and then and then-without specifying when many of these events take place. As a result, Vera Valiant seems to be concurrent with Willie Lumpkin, to cite a couple of the comic strips he was involved in (the latter, with Dan DeCarlo-and there are no stories about his frequent collaboration with DeCarlo either). Moreover, the book is a clear reflection, as it undoubtedly should be, of the dominant fact of Lee's professional life-his rise to fame with the emergence of the Marvel Universe of superheroes with personality quirks. While the emphasis is appropriate, it has apparently resulted the almost complete neglect of Lee's career in humor comics-on My Friend Irma, Miller the Model, etc. Marvel's famed western comics get virtually no attention. And did he do gags for Goodman's other line, Humorama? Couldn't tell it from what's in this tome.

            Nowhere does Lee provide any sense of what his daily routine was like as the chief executive officer and creative dynamo of Marvel. In this, he shares the myopia of Julie Schwartz and Carmine Infantino, to mention two other funnybook moguls who have recently cobbled up memoirs of their professional lives. It's as if these movers and shakers are somehow convinced that no one could conceivably be interested in the behind-the-scenes machinations of the comic book business, so they conjure up only anecdotes and comedic incidents. This misbegotten conviction flies in the face of the obvious: if we weren't interested in the behind-the-scenes insights, why would we buy the books at all?

            Mostly what's here, then, is Stan the personality, the persona he has carefully constructed over the years as the front man for Marvel. Soapbox Stan.

            Consequently, the book is laced with Lee's cliche-ridden cornball argot as he regales us with accounts of the chief events in his life, flitting from one to the next like a busy bee going from blossom to blossom in pursuit of sweet-smelling souvenirs-marveling at each new development like a kid in a candy store and having, withal, an absolutely wonderful time all the while and not pausing very long anywhere en route to ponder the implications of his preoccupations. It's a butterfly biography, colorful and boundlessly in motion.

            After a few pages, we grow accustomed to Lee's relentless astonishment-it just occurs to me, he says; or, come to think of it. Elsewhere (many of them), he "just thought of something." And when he mentions the wife of any of the men he writes about, she is always "so-and-so's lovely wife Bertha/Frieda/Mary/Norma/etc." (There are, in Lee's universe, no "unlovely" wives. Well, that's not surprising: there aren't in my universe either.)

            I suspect Lee is not quite as naive and gullible as he paints himself. When Ike Perlmutter stabs him in the back by offering him a limited-term contract at half his current salary, Lee says his lawyer stepped in and negotiated a revision that seemed to Lee to be "fair." Lee gives the lawyer all the credit, but, seriously now, he, Lee, was the fella who put the lawyer on the case.

            Still, it all rings true, even Lee's account of his being gulled by Peter Paul into forming a personality-based company for the Internet that Paul used to suck up a fortune for himself before scarpering off to South America.

            Despite Lee's posturing as a sort of nitwit comics house pet, the book is deeper than the pond he pretends he's playing in. Because he has been on the comics scene so long and has been, for so much of that time, deeply involved in the production and fabrication of major comic book creations, his autobiography is, almost against his apparent intention, insightful and thought-provoking to an extent that others in this venue are not.

            His description of the birth of the "Marvel Method," for instance, is both candid and revealing. (It also agrees with my take on the matter, which may account for my enthusiastic endorsement of Lee's version.) It was a simple expedient: responsible for writing as many books as he was, he and his artists discovered it was easier to keep on a production schedule if he plotted the stories with the artists, let them visualize the narratives, then, later, added dialogue and captions.

            "As you can imagine," he writes, "it's much easier to write a character's dialogue while looking at a drawing of that character's face and seeing his or her expression than it would be by looking at a blank sheet of paper in a typewriter. Also, by studying the artwork in front of me, I was often able to dream up additional bits of humor, drama, and human interest, things that might not have occurred to me when I originally concocted the plot." As a result, he continues, "I've always felt the Marvel Method strips were true collaborations between artist and writer in the most literal sense."

            Lee has been faulted for not giving adequate credit to the artists he worked with, but in this short passage, he indicates not only the major role that Marvel artists played but the extent to which he relied upon them for inspiration and insight. Most of the "work" of creating comic books by this method was done by the artists. Lee provided only the germ of the plot; the artists fleshed out the idea and brought it to life. Lee then embroidered the result, but the complicated work-visualizing characters and incidents, pacing events, dramatizing action-was done by the artists. And Lee clearly acknowledges this in the foregoing passage.

            Among the criticisms of the book that appeared immediately upon its publication last spring was the contention that Lee's allocation of creative credit for Spider-Man to Steve Ditko was begrudging or condescending. Here's one of the pertinent paragraphs:

            "I've had a long-running, philosophical argument with Steve Ditko over whether I created Spider-Man or 'we' created him. Steve feels that, although the original idea, the original story, and the original description of all the characters were mine, it would never have come to fruition without his illustrations. Well, despite my own opinion of what constitutes a character's 'creation,' my respect for Steve is so great, and his contribution to the strip was so important, that I'm willing to share the credit and call myself the co-creator. In fact, I'm willing to call myself co-creator of all the characters I've dreamed up, thereby sharing a grateful world's plaudits and accolades with the artists who did me so proud."

            Lee's notion is that the "idea" for something-a character, a story, a plot-is primary, and because it comes first, it is the essential act of creation.

            "Steve feels that all I had was an idea," Lee says elsewhere. "Until it was put down on illustration board and given form and shape, it was nothing more than an idea.... I still think the idea is the thing, because an idea can be given to any artist to be brought to life. However, even though I feel [Steve] has confused the 'creation' of a strip with the 'execution,' I'm more than willing to say that Steve co-created the webslinger with me...."

            Lee's seems a legitimate point of view although not necessarily one I share. But if we grant Lee the legitimacy of the notion, then what's to complain of? Tone. Attitude. His "willingness," it seems, struck many as fatuous and insincere.

            But Lee's lingo here, as it is throughout the book, is infected with his cornball persona, that odd concoction of almost equal parts bombast and self-deprecation that he invented and perpetuated for the Soapbox. Compare his crediting Ditko with his description of his "perfect plan" to get himself to the place he had longed for a lifetime to be, Hollywood:

            "Since there were now other people who could handle the comics, and since I was such a loyal and devoted employee, I would volunteer to unselfishly uproot my family and myself and move to Los Angeles to help set up a studio for the company.... By the time I finished relating my impassioned offer, there wasn't a dry eye in the office. Everyone was impressed with my noble, self-sacrificing gesture...."

            The tone, the attitude, of both passages is quite similar. And it's all Lee's guileless persona, that comically transparent egotist and cheery self-satirist, Stan the Man. Take the facts he relates on their own, without the tonal patina, and Lee is, as best he can (given his view of the act of creation), sharing credit with Ditko (and, elsewhere, with Jack Kirby) just as he is revealing the mostly personal motive behind his move to Hollywood.

            Occasionally, Lee and Mair maneuver a straight segment of thoughtful history without corn. Lee's description of the collapse of the comic book market in the mid-1990s seems both concise and accurate, and he supplies a fresh take on Marvel's filing for Chapter Eleven bankruptcy protection.

            Although it's too bad there's so little rehearsal of his career in the fifties when he was in touch with so many of the major workhorses of the medium (I doubt anyone can lay claim to creative involvement with so many), the book as a whole is a good read and a substantial contribution to the history of the medium.

The Con Job. The San Diego Comic-Con is no more. Sandy Eggo, to invoke the nickname that playfully diminishes and thereby makes humanly comprehensible the grossly swollen ostentation of the Comic-Con International, has been utterly overwhelmed by the gargantuan immensity that now fills all five exhibit halls of the San Diego Convention Center. With its recent expansion, the Center is now one of the nation's largest such facilities, and the Comic-Con exhibition was the first to occupy the new vastness. Once the familiarly denominated "dealers' room," the Comic-Con exhibit now stretches so far south from its beginnings at the north end of the building that it has time zones, as Mark Evanier quipped. It is so immense, Batton Lash observed, that if you bought a comic book at one end, by the time you reached the other end, the book would be rare with a value many times its original price. And, he continued, if you went back to the place you bought it, by the time you got there, the second issue would be out.

            That big.

            And the number of people who attended broke previous records. As usual. It's an annual occurrence. Possibly 75,000 attended. We don't know how this number is arrived at. Once, someone said they determined the count by the number of souvenir programs they handed out; but that would inflate the figure because some people ask for and receive more than one. Another time, someone told me that they counted name badges issued. This year, according to Evanier, they ran out of name badges on Sunday, the fourth day. Convention managers tend, usually, to exaggerate. The more people that attend, the better the convention looks to local civic officials who see it entirely in terms of the cash that will be spent in the city's businesses as a result of their proximity to the event. And the more local business income that is projected from a convention, the more bargaining power convention management has. So the impulse is to use the largest number you can conjure up-with some trifling support from actual data of one kind or another.

            However the attendance number is arrived at, the Comic-Con is so massive that it defeats the fundamental purpose of a convention, a "convening" of like-minded souls. As Evanier said, the thing is so prodigious that everyone has a different Comic-Con: the profusion of activities is so varied that no one is likely to have the same experiences as anyone else. For one person, the Con is gaming; for another, watching sf videos; for still another, finding the comic books of his youth. Costume parading, celebrity hunting, goth dressing-all compete for attention. On the exhibit floor, toys, magazines, jewelry, pin-ups (on paper and in the flesh), original art, action figures, books old and new, comics and pulp literature, autographing artists and writers and tv personalities, and teeming multitudes combine in a riot of color and cacophony. Costumes everywhere-Superman and Spider-Man, the Joker in purple, capes and hoods, boots and black leather and silver chains, Klingons and Star Wars warriors and furries galore-a fantasy weekend, tattooed and pierced body parts everywhere you look and half-naked women, models overflowing their bodices if female, bulging their biceps if male. And everyone with a cell phone to his ear. Upstairs in the meeting rooms, movie actors and other Tinseltown types hold forth in some rooms while gamers play in others, and comic book publishers tout their forthcoming titles wherever they can squeeze themselves into the programming.

            In short, it is too much-in both the literal and figurative senses of the expression. Too much. Bodacious, gigantic, a brobdingnagian coagulation of this an' that and everything imaginable in between. Overwhelming. Obscene in its giantism. A feast, a fair, a celebration. A great time. A confused and glorious time. I actually had four conversations with four separate people-coherent, sensible, conversations-a signal achievement in the midst of all that was bubbling over on every side. By the fourth day, you are torn with conflicting emotions-a sense of relief that it will soon be over, and a yearning for it to continue indefinitely.

            But it is too big. Not that it will ever return to a more comfortable dimension. "Progress" moves in only one direction, never backwards. We must learn to live with-and rejoice over-what we have, even if it is more than we can possibly embrace in a mere four days.

            Still, I would hope some things can change. You would think, for instance, that after three decades, the Con management would have figured out how to deal with enormous crowds. One morning, the line seeking admission stretched around the building to the back, then along the waterfront to a nearby tourist shopping area, Seaport Village-a distance, perhaps, of a mile or more. There are better ways to treat paying customers-to collect their money and to admit them and to make sure only paying customers gain admittance-ways that "register" people quickly and eliminate, preclude, the formation of long lines. But, to judge from the most conspicuous of the Con machinations, the chief concerns seem to be security and shuttle buses and revenue. (In the interests of the latter, the Con management ought to figure out how to get the mob into the hall as fast as possible so they can begin spending money at the exhibit booths, which is what the exhibitors expect-the reason they've spent good money of their own to rent the space. Getting the crowd into the hall is a good way to make exhibitors happy enough to come back next year and pay the steadily increasing fee for exhibit space.)

            Most of the actual operation of the Con has been delegated to so-called professionals, a gang of security guards and typists wearing T-shirts with "Elite" emblazoned on them, hired for the occasion. (A suspicious lot. If you have to assert your excellence by embroidering "elite" on your chest, how "elite" are you? The genuinely elite don't have to proclaim their status themselves; we all know it from their accomplishments.) These minions have been trained to do only one thing-their assigned function-so if anyone approaches them with a question or a situation not envisioned by the scope of their specific assignment, they are plunged, forthwith, into complete helplessness and utter uselessness. One of the Elite at the Pro Registration counter didn't know what to do when my registration packet was missing its name badge; she had to ask a supervisor who patrolled the vicinity, who, in turn, asked her supervisor. A security guard at one of the hall entrances had not, as of 10:05 a.m., been instructed to let the mob into the hall, which opened at 10 a.m.; despite the obvious deluge of people pouring in at every other orifice, she continued, vainly as it turned out, to try to stem the mighty tide, hoping, we suppose, for a command via cell phone that would release her (and the crowd she held at bay).

            Such things happen. Snafus. Normal in crowd management situations. But the payroll for the security must look like a bull market killing.

            The shuttle buses, which are plentiful in every direction, also cost a Monte Carlo jackpot. A shuttle system works splendidly if you throw enough money at it to hire a fleet of buses. This shuttle worked splendidly, near as I could tell.

            But some things didn't work well at all.

            Pro Registration, for instance, which was handled differently this year. Instead of mailing name badges in advance, the Con required Pros to stand in line to pick their badges up at a registration counter. Pros have always had to stand in line to complete the "registration process." The object, I was told years ago, is to insure security-only genuine, pre-registered professionals are admitted. And to guarantee that security, the plastic name badge-holders were somehow coded with "this year's" Con information. You were mailed the name badge, but you couldn't get into the Con unless you had the special plastic name-badge holder. What fumbling idiocy. The name badge should be the security insurance. Plastic name-badge holders should be scattered hither and yon for Pros to pick up at will, no waiting in line.

            But this year, as I said, the name badges were not mailed in advance. Some drastic fubar last year, no doubt, brought on this regression to some primitive past practice. So the attending professionals were, once again-as always-standing in line for security purposes. And in my case, since I was in Artists Alley, I had to stand in a second line. In the first, my name badge was deliberately missing, forcing me into a second lineup, presumably something to do with registering my temporary seller's permit number (although no one offered this explanation; apparently no one working there actually knew the reason for the repetitive queuing).

            Pros are not, generally speaking, treated well. They are, in effect, invited guests of the Con. Their presence gives the enterprise a patina of professionalism that it would, presumably, lack without them. Certainly, there would be less reason to attend any of the programmed meetings upstairs were they not platforms for professionals whether of celebrity status or not. But Pros are run through the herd control mazes of the Con regardless.

            One of the more ludicrous of the Con's devices is the alleged "Pros Lounge," a meeting room upstairs set aside for them to relax in. Or so I suppose. Guards at the door (not the Elite Force but volunteers this time) prevent anyone not wearing a Pro badge from entering. Inside, Pros can entertain themselves by sitting at one of a half-dozen round tables and by contemplating empty coffee urns and lemonade dispensers. Just to make sure my first experience of the Pros Lounge was not a fluke, I returned several times over the four days, and I never once saw a coffee urn with coffee in it and only once a lemonade dispenser with any lemonade in it. When I asked one of the guards about the coffee, he professed unalterable ignorance: he couldn't explain why there was no coffee, he said, although he admitted that "we've been waiting for two-and-a-half hours" for some to show up. No one on the premises seemed in charge of the room and its so-called amenities. No one was empowered to order coffee. The replenishment of that refreshment was, apparently, left entirely to the Convention Center caterer. Now, having been in the convention business myself for thirty years, I know the caterer was given orders by someone, and probably in this case, the order was something like the following: Put four gallons of coffee out in the morning and four gallons of lemonade at noon; do not replenish no matter how much people scream at you. Coffee in such facilities is ridiculously expensive, something like $60-75/gallon, plus taxes. With 20 cups to a gallon, that's at least $3.00-4.00/cup. Lemonade is similarly priced. No trifling expense for the Con, as you can see.

            What with the legions of the Elite and the shuttle buses to pay for, the Con could scarcely afford coffee for Pros except in token amounts. No pretzels either, or munchies of any sort. Heaven forfend. But the Con management nonetheless wants to pose as Pro-friendly, so it perpetrates the Pros Lounge, a travesty and a hollow gesture but a gesture nonetheless.

            Despite all these towering expenses, the Con has reportedly been able to salt away a nest egg of several million dollars. Five or six million, in fact, as of a couple years ago; maybe more by now. (The additional 170 exhibit booths made possible by the Convention Center's expansion brought in at least another $204,000 this year, from which the setup cost of each booth, perhaps as much as $75 for pipe-and-drape, must be deducted, leaving a net income of something in the neighborhood of $190,000.) Every business is well advised to build a "reserve fund" that is equal to at least one year's operating expenses as a hedge against unforeseen financial shortfall. If some sort of natural disaster, for instance, prevents a crowd from assembling at the Con, the Con still must pay rent for the Center and a certain portion of the contracted fees for the Elite Force and the shuttle buses. And that, surely, accounts for the multi-million-dollar nest egg in a non-profit enterprise like the Con. But it doesn't explain the chintziness in various corners of the Con.

            Artists Alley, for example, seems a perpetual annoyance to the poobahs of the Con. The function of Artists Alley seems to be to infuse into the erstwhile "Comic-"Con a presence of the  actual craftsmen who produce the artifacts the Con ostensibly celebrates. Those granted a table in Artists Alley pay nothing for the space. But they are expected to be on hand for the duration, offering to do sketches, signing autographs, and selling, perhaps, quantities of original art. As far as I'm concerned personally, Artists Alley has always seemed to fulfil this function admirably. Moreover, there's little formal fuss of the paper-generating variety, and the operation over-all seems smooth and generally free of the bureaucratic obstacles of which gate-keepers are so fond. But there are rumors of dissatisfaction at the higher echelons of the Con management.

            One of the grumbles I heard this year is that too many of the tables in Artists Alley are vacant too much of the time. The artists aren't there. They may be absent because they are making programmed presentations in the meeting rooms upstairs; or, being human, they may sometimes wander off to see some of  the exhibits. (After all, they spent their own money to get to San Diego, so they ought to be able to see some of the Con.) Or they may have asked for space in Artists Alley and then, when the Con arrived, just decided not to show up. Whatever the case, there are usually a few empty tables around the Alley.

            Then one afternoon, along comes this fella with a clipboard who introduced himself as the Squatter Police. His job was to throw squatters out of Artists Alley. It seems that some artists, who did not sign up in advance (or who requested space too late, the tables available for assignment having been exhausted), come into these hallowed precincts and, finding an occasional unoccupied table, set up on those tables, taking space previously allotted to someone who hasn't, yet, shown up. The Squatter Police discover who is a squatter and who is not, and they run the squatters off. To what effect? Well, that leaves the unoccupied tables vacant again because the artists who signed up for them failed to show up. So Artists Alley is again in the situation that prompted the grumbling I mentioned: tables are vacant because the persons assigned to them didn't appear. Why not let the squatters squat? They're harmless enough, surely; and they help fill up Artists Alley. And if the errant artists assigned to these squatted-in spaces should happen to show up sometime later, all they'd have to do is identify themselves (their names and table numbers are printed in the program booklet) to induce the squatters to surrender the space.

            Seems simple enough to me. But then, I'm not privy to the inner workings of the Con. There's probably more to it than meets the eye.

            Revenue, for instance. Some of the satrap echelon, it is rumored, are anxious about the revenue sources of the Con, and when they realize that the huge area of Artists Alley is producing no revenue (horrors!), they apparently seize up with fiscal anxiety. The way in which space is allotted in Artists Alley may change, we were told. The assignment of space may be less generous in future, the space itself less spacious, because every square foot of floor space occupied by a table in Artists Alley is, potentially, a source of revenue from an exhibitor who would happily pay $1,200-1,700 for a 10x10-foot space for a booth if there weren't a couple six-foot tables taking that space. And, goodness knows, with a kitty of only $6-7 million, the Con needs the revenue.

            If the quest for revenue reduces the space for Artists Alley, then one the most vibrant arenas of the Con will suffer. Among the artists in Artists Alley are numerous self-publishing neophytes, whose creative energy often exceeds their talent. Their work is quirky but frequently inspired. And their enthusiasm holds the promise of the future for the artform. It would be a shame to stifle such energy.

            But we can't go back, as I said. It's a multi-million dollar operation nowadays, and the past is well behind us. In many ways, it's too bad. It's too bad we can't bring back Rick Geary's cavorting Toucan as a representative of the Con. When it was a Comic-Con more than a popular culture fest, the comically attired, big-beaked bird was a wonderfully appropriate symbol of the medium and the Con and its nearly tropical venue. But the Con it represented is gone. Instead, we have the new Con and its strangely appropriate symbol-that sterile, sulky eyeball, chosen when the Con became "Comic-Con International," the eye initially representing the "I" in International, I suppose, but now emblematic of the ever-vigilante Elite security guards, who, like Big Brother, are always watching us and our wallets.

            Ahh, but it was a wonderful four days, all my carping notwithstanding. The Comic-Con International may not be the best way to stay 'tooned, but it is a most deliriously energized way.

Make Way for Martha. Surely no one was, really, surprised when we learned that the obscenely salaried executives of corporate America were padding their expense accounts, cooking the books, cheating anyone they could in order to increase their profits, and, generally, behaving like the robber barons of yore (19th century America, to be specific). Surely we all knew that they were up to no good all along, that they intended to make as much money with as little expenditure of resources as they could in as short a time as they could. Surely we knew all that. This is, after all, a capitalist society, and in a capitalist society, capitalists will do whatever they can to make money. That's the way of it in a capitalist society. Nothing against it: capitalism makes use of the most fundamental human trait, greed-acquisitiveness-to power the economy and society itself. It works. Not much else does for long. But because of the greed-and the great power that increased wealth confers-capitalism needs checks and balances. Just as government does.

            The Founding Fathers of the U.S. governmental system (i.e., the writers of the Constitution) realized that any government must be so arranged as to function by taking account of and harnessing human greed and concupiscence. These all too human traits would not disappear in order to insure a more perfect union. By no means. These traits, in fact, would prevail. In government, the Founders realized-as in all human affairs-power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely, so they built checks and balances into the Constitution, separate branches of government with different powers, each one checking on (and, to some extent, frustrating) the others. This ingenious contrivance effectively erected roadblocks on the pathways to power, preventing all the otherwise ensuing absolutes. And capitalism needs roadblocks, too, since it, like government, enlists human endeavor and fosters power. Until the de-regulation frenzy of the recent conservative decades, the roadblock on capitalism was government oversight. But that's now disappeared, and-no surprise-Martha Stewart and all the rest are grabbin' whatever they can, like good capitalists everywhere. Martha, alas, will not escape unscathed. Ken Lay will, and so will most of the others: it's notoriously difficult to convict business executives of crimes that involve accounting practices. Hence the sham of the Bushwah promise to jail corporate offenders: prosecutors aren't likely to be able to prove the alleged offenses. But Martha-she's out there, highly visible, a public figure-a symbol-that Ken Lay and the rest cannot aspire to. She'll be the scapegoat, the patsy, the sacrificial lamb for all corporate miscreants. Too bad. But our sexist society is stacked against her: she's a pushy broad, and she's smug about it, and capitalists truly dislike smug, pushy broads, so the Bush Leaguers will band together against her and crush her like a bug.

            In the face of such comic capering, it's perhaps redundant to say, but I'll say it anyhow-stay 'tooned.

Book Sale. Meanwhile, I acquired, through a carefully orchestrated series of flukes, two extra copies of Krause's Standard Catalogue of Comic Books, a 1,200-plus page monument to the research acumen and dedication of the editors of the Comics Buyer's Guide. Although this tome is richer in historical detail than anything else on the market (circulation figures, for instance, and the publication dates of every issue of most titles so we don't have to guess, by lurching calculation, which month Smash no. 17 appeared), I scarcely have a use for three of them. So herewith, I'm offering two to the first two takers at the astoundingly bargain price of $20, which includes postage (media rate). E-mail me, and the two with the earliest dates will lock onto these gems, which I'll hold for two weeks pending receipt of your check.

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