Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Lost & Bound

Alan Moore & Melinda Gebbie's Lost Girls is about to see print in an upscale (translation: expensive) three-volume hardcover edition from Top Shelf. And pretty much everything about this book has been botched--so badly so that I have my doubts that I'm going to stock the book at all.

First off, Moore prefaced the solicitation for the book by doing an interview with Publisher's Weekly in which he described the book as pornography. Here's what Moore said: "I didn't want to call this 'erotica' because, for one thing, erotica is material relating to love. What we wanted to talk about was sex, and so I thought that the word 'pornography' was probably blunter and more honest." So there we have it--the author going on record in an official capacity that this book is pornography, knowing that this can create countless problems for retailers who stock the book.

Then there's the tangled conflict of interest involving the publisher, Chris Staros. Staros lives in Cobb County, GA, a community that has in the past tended to pursue pornography cases. Staros is also on the board of directors of the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, a non-profit organization that defends first-amendment cases. Staros has already called on the CBLDF to expend funds on his behalf when a book of his was held up in customs, and I have no doubt that he'll call on the CBLDF again when and if Lost Girls is seized and someone is arrested. That's where the conflict of interest comes in: is it fair for the director of a group like CBLDF to create a "red-flag" project like this, knowing that his fellow board members are extremely unlikely to vote against taking his case? It's almost like fishing for a case, with someone else paying for the bait... (If someone has to be the defendant in this case, though, I'd rather it be the publisher than a retailer who ordered this book thinking it was the latest project by an award-winning author. The retailer might not know what he's getting; Staros knows beyond a shadow of a doubt what he's publishing.)

Then there's Top Shelf's ongoing alienation of retailers by (a) offering the most desirable edition of the book, the signed limited edition, only from themselves and not wholesaling it to retailers who have supported them for years, and (b) offering all editions of the book direct from them before shipping it to retailers. In most fields, this sort of "customer-sniping" would be reprehensible behavior; in comics, it's standard operating procedure for publishers who routinely "poor-mouth" and claim it's the only way they can create revenues and "build buzz."

What a complex series of problems. An overly expensive, badly-illustrated (I've seen Melinda Gebbie's art on the early installments of this, which were originally published in comics form in the 1990's--one thing I can say is that her art is so crude and unappealing that it's difficult to find anyone who'd think it's arousing) work of pornography that, according to those who've seen the book, includes depictions of bestiality and pedophilia. You see, the main characters of the book are Dorothy, Alice, and Wendy--three women who, as young girls, experienced something fantastic and other-worldly. Now they've come together to share their experiences with others who can understand what they've gone through--and apparently, to have a great deal of sex in every imaginable combination... And I gather there are flashbacks to their experiences in Oz and Wonderland and Never-Never-Land, and those flashbacks would, I presume, involve children...

Problems, problems, problems. Problems so sufficiently disturbing, in fact, that I'm unlikely to carry the book at all. The thing is, I'm not sure I would want to...

Sunday, May 28, 2006

Alex Toth Passes

One of the first e-mails I received this morning notified me of the death of comics legend Alex Toth, who passed away at his drawing board yesterday. Toth was 77 years old, but he remained an active commentator on the comics field, producing an amazing flow of meticulously hand-lettered missives, many complete with illustrations. He was one of the few remaining links to the Golden and Silver Age of comics, and was one of the pioneers in the movement from comics to animation.

My first exposure to Toth's work came via his Eclipso stories for DC. Toth's strong, bold, clean-line style was immediately engaging; he seemed to measure the necessity of every line on the page, only using those essential to conveying the mood and the flow of the story. His heroes were square-jawed and intrepid, his villains were malevolent and disturbing, his women were beautiful and graceful. But it was his storytelling that held it all together; every panel flowed across the page, carrying the reader along for the ride.

I missed Toth's work on Brave & Bold #53, an Atom-Flash team-up story, and ended up picking it up a year or so afterwards (got it in a trade from Bobby Ware, a casual friend who was always good for filling in DC gaps, and who probably felt the same about me insofar as "offbrand" titles like Archie, ACG, and Tower were concerned). I didn't know Alex Toth's work sufficiently well to link a name to the story without looking at the credits, but I recognized the style instantly. Even to a young comics reader, Toth was a distinctive talent.

I learned years later that Toth was a vital contributor to the look of Space Angel, a short-lived animated series that enthralled me as a child. Later on, his animation career took him to Hanna-Barbera, where he created the unforgettable look of Space Ghost. Since animation was undoubtedly more financially rewarding than comics work, Toth's career moved more in that direction, and his comics work became more sporadic. His work on DC's Super-Friends was enough to entice me to buy what I otherwise might have dismissed as a "kids' comic," but I lamented the fact that he didn't turn his attention to the growing independent comics market; think of the amazing work he could have done had he, like Will Eisner, produced dozens of graphic novels in the latter years of his life!

Thanks for the wonderful memories, Mr. Toth; my life was better because of what you did!

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Reflections of My Life

Tom Kater, a friend of mine who is also one of the most naturally skilled and clever observers of life who's ever blogged, was recently doing a "significant numbers" thing, in the course of which he wrote:

"11. How old I was two decades ago. I have no recollection of what life was like at that specific age."

I presume he was serious, but I was amazed at the statement. I not only remember vividly an enormity of details of my life when I was 11, but I also remember vividly an enormity of details--even the most seemingly insignificant--of my life from virtually every year since I was 5. I don't mean the occasional memories; I remember trivia like dinner menus, breakfast items, homework assignments, my desk at school, the specific order in which I kept my comic books... and it takes no effort to call up these memories.

I always presumed that everyone remembered his life in such detail, but apparently not.

Proust was right; smells are the most vivid triggers of memories. When I walk at night, the smell of verdant lawns, or the heavy smell of honeysuckle or the ozone-laden smell of wet asphalt after a drizzle--any of them can trigger such an intense flood of memories that I can't believe I'm separated by twenty or thirty or forty or forty-five years from those moments.

I can remember the arrangement of every room in every house I've lived in since I was five years old. I can remember the grocery stores and drug stores and five and dime stores and discount stores of my childhood, before big-box mass marketers wiped them out. I can remember the muggy nights and the smell of Testor's paint and model cement and the grainy texture of Mom's cocoa fudge and I remember fresh apples with salt juxtaposed against the sweetness of the fruit. I can remember not liking foods like pizza and tacos, and then one day trying to figure out why I hadn't liked them to begin with.

When I was eleven, I was in Miss Smith's class at school--West End Elementary. I sat third seat on the first row. We played on the rope swing at recess, which was at 10:35. I had a watch with a brown band and a buckle that occasionally made little red marks on my wrist. My favorite shirt was a blue and white cotton button-up shirt that I would have worn every day if Mom had allowed it. I had to go to bed at 9:30. I watched Bestoink Dooley's Big Movie Shocker on Friday nights on a small black and white television in my room, because that was one of two nights when my parents would let me stay up late.

So many memories. How could it have been forty-one years--almost forty-two--now?

And could Tom really not remember all these details in his life? I hope he was only making with the joke...

End Times

More thoughts on season finales:

•Alias - A well-crafted way to wrap up a season and a series, although it felt a little bit rushed. The great thing is, they've left an opening to bring the series back in some form if they choose to do so, with Jack Bristow and Tom Grace the only real casualties--and I could think of a way to bring back Jack Bristow without violating series continuity.

•Prison Break - Not enough resolution to suit my tastes, but they did deliver what they promised: the prisoners did break out by the end of the season. They didn't get much farther than that, mind you, but they did break out...

•Lost - Some genuine plot development, which has been all too rare in this series--but not as many answers as I'd really like to see. This series has spent way too much time treading water this season; we're now to the point where we should have been midway through the season. If they can't get Lost back on track in the first few episodes next year, this show is destined for ignominious failure a la Twin Peaks...

•Everwood - Okay, I know that the season really doesn't end until May 29th, but I have to say that the penultimate episode paves the way for one of the season's best finales. I hate to see this series end; if anything, it's too good for the lackluster WB/UPN spinoff CW. I really wish that some other network would pick it up and continue the story; these characters are far too compelling to fade away...

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Time of the Season

Another week and several more season-ending episodes of shows that I watch. Here are a few comments, some of which may be more surly than they should be because I just watched Criminal Minds' finale, one of the worst of the bunch. Here we go:

Criminal Minds - Awful in a bad-comic-book way. The villain acts villainous just to try to stump the heroes, who are particularly slow-witted in this season-ender. And even worse, it's only half a story. If you can't build interest in the next season without relying on a shock-for-shock's-sake cliffhanger, just cancel the show and let 'em air another rerun of CSI or Law & Order, okay?

•House - Another "perception is reality" solipsistic episode that didn't really move forward. When I was twelve, this sort of "all in my mind" storytelling might have seemed really clever; now, it's just annoying.

•24 - A superb episode with an incredibly effective twist. Just when you thought that Jack Bauer had at last failed in his mission, he pulls out a victory, whether the world will ever know about it or not. The real surprise was the addition of an extra five minutes that linked season five to unresolved plot strings in season four, and thus paved the way for season six. Too bad we have to wait until January!...

•Medium - Dreary and uninspired, this lackluster take on It's a Wonderful Life would have made Jimmy Stewart grumpy. This show works best when the writer develops a straight-ahead story and then seasons it with some Dubois family life (she has the best kids on television right now). I really like these people!

Saturday, May 20, 2006

On the Cover of the Rolling Stone...

My copy of Rolling Stone #1000 came in last week--I'm one of those lifetime subscribers who paid $99 in the hopes that, over the course of decades, I might actually find enough material in the voluminous pages to give me almost a hundred dollars worth of entertainment.

#1000 has a stunning 3D cover that evokes Sgt. Pepper's Her Satanic Majesty's Request, and (of course) the magazine itself. Within, the magazine is filled with journalistic masturbation designed to give Jann Wenner and his crew a feeling of immense accomplishment. And that's the problem.

Rolling Stone has forgotten that it's a music magazine.

Every issue has a few pages of music coverage, complemented by page after page devoted to film, television, pop culture, and--inevitably--politics. The magazine's political viewpoints are about as diametrically opposed to my own as any magazine's politics could be; I read the magazine bemusedly, amazed that those who idolize, glamorize, and hope to emulate a profligate lifestyle can at the same time so hypocritically espouse a holier-than-thou political viewpoint.

What made Rolling Stone famous, of course, was insightful, investigative, no-holds-barred rock journalism, incisive reviews, and revealing interviews. The first cracks in Rolling Stone's foundation, as far as I was concerned, came with their idolization of Hunter S. Thompson, one of the least talented literary cleebrities of the past third of a century. Thompson was popular with Wenner and crew because he claimed to live the antisocial, self-indulgent, pretentious lifestyle that Rolling Stone idealized. He was a living, breathing cartoon from the very beginning, and Rolling Stone wanted to make him a superstar. They did so while ignoring the fact the he was one of the most talentless writers who ever earned a byline in the magazine.

Once they had made this persona non relevanta a star, the path was chosen; Rolling Stone was a political magazine that covered the media. And ever since then, that's the path they've travelled.

As I said, I still find some pieces on RS worth reading, although most of their music coverage is for crap nowadays. Of course, there's no reason to cancel my subscription; it's not like they're going to refund the remainder of my lifetime sub, so I'll keep getting RS and treating it like junk mail with an occasional interesting article included.

Even so, a thousand issues is an accomplishment; in a time when more and more magazines are having trouble paying their bills, their continued success shows that (a) I'm in the minority, or (b) a lot of people bought these lifetime subs and Wenner is coasting on the demographics and ad sales. I suspect it's the former...

Monday, May 15, 2006

And in the End...

Lots of series are wrapping up--and several have already come to an end. Here are a few thoughts on some of the finales:

Prison Break - What a lightweight ending to a heavyweight series. After oodles of suspense in the penultimate episode, the finale was a "running and jumping" episode with a lot of chase sequences and only a little bit of plot development. Interesting twists regarding the conspiracy and the prison doctor, but that's about it...
Ghost Whisperer - Okay, I predicted what was going to happen in the last three minutes, but that didn't stop it from being the most emotionally powerful wrapup to any series this season. The only downside: this is one series that didn't need a villain, and is weakened by the introduction of one.
Gilmore Girls - A disappointing ending in some regards; a lot of stuff happened, but we wasted a lot of time that could have been devoted to real plot development. Instead, we got way too much throwaway time with the "troubadors," and a rushed ending. And while the series will return next season, it will be without Amy Sherman-Palladino, who is widely credited with giving the show its inimitable style. Can it survive without her? I hope so, but I have my doubts...
•Smallville - I enjoy the series well enough,but I'd like to see a real ending to a season for once. And am I the only one who finds Smallville more entertaining if viewed on Tivo with generous use of fast-forward to get through the monotonous parts? When I get through, it's one of the best half-hour dramas on television...
My Name Is Earl - It was just another episode, but in Earl's case, just another episode still makes it the best comedy on television. However, this forty-minute-episode garbage was galling--if you're going to claim it's a forty-minute episode, don't make it a thirty-five-minute episode with five extra minutes of commercials, okay?...
The Office - An interesting twist in the final few minutes, but this is a one-note comedy... and I'm getting a little bit bored with the note. How many times can you get aggravated at the boorish stupidity of a character before you're ready for something new?

Friday, May 12, 2006

Auto Motives

Well, the decision seems to be made; it appears that we'll be going with the 2006 Acura RL rather than the Lexus or the Infiniti. We test drove all three--the Acura folks were kind enough to loan us the car for the day, so we drove it to the other two dealerships to allow for the most precise comparisons on the same driving route--and the Infiniti was the first to get ruled out. Good car, but the iPod interface is cumbersome, the seat bolsters are too deep in that "bucket seat" way that I find confining, and there were a few little things that didn't feel as comfortable as I'd like. The Lexus... well, who can say? The Lexus dealership had no ES 350's in stock with the Ultra-Luxury Package and the Mark Levinson sound system, so I had no way of testing the car that interested me. Sure, I could drive a basic model, but I hated the idea of paying an extra $11k for features that I couldn't sample at all until I put down a deposit, ordered the car, and was ready to close on the deal.

Susan really liked the way the Acura performed; she said tha she felt comfortable as both a passenger and as a driver as soon as she got into the car. The sound system was rich and crisp, the noise cancellation technology worked quite well, the seating was comfortable (although it doesn't have cooled seats... *sigh*), the real-time traffic was a real plus, and I like Honda/Acura's navigation systems better than anyone else's.

At one point, Susan said, "I like the Acura better, but that's choosing a car for emotional reasons rather than logic." But what better reason to buy a car than that one likes the car? When a car is instantly appealing, that's the car you should get!

Looks like we'll have the Acura by the end of next week (another plus--the estimated wait for the Lexus was 8 to 12 weeks). I'm sure I'll say more about it then...

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Baby You Can Drive My Car

Time to give props to the folks at Ed Voyles Automotive Group, who have demonstrated perhaps the most impressive act of customer service I've ever witnessed or experienced.

A couple of posts ago, I mentioned the problems that have left me dissatisfied with my 2004 Accord. Well, I took the car to Ed Voyles Honda and they checked things out; afterwards, they told me very frankly that anything they did to ameliorate the problem had an equally good chance of exacerbating it. It seems that Honda has cheapened the manufacturing process, replacing meticulously-fitting metal parts with greater-variance plastic parts, and that's where the noise comes from.

So I called Honda's national customer service, and a CS manager named Jeff McCaughin confirmed what the Honda tech at Ed Voyles told me. How bad is it? Well, the customer service manager himself had to buy an Acura because of incorrectable problems with his Honda. If this guy couldn't get his car fixed, there was no chance for me...

I felt like I should at least let Ed Voyles know what was going on. I've bought a total of 16 Honda or Acura cars for me or for family members in the past twenty-nine years, but that relationship seemed to be coming to an unhappy end. Ed Voyles Honda manager Pete Richards wasn't willing to let it end there, though...

Mr. Richards called me back, expressed concern regarding the problem, and then said, "What can I do?" I thought it over for a day, and then asked him to see what he might be able to work out with Ed Voyles Acura for trade-in on an Acura instead.

Within an hour, I had a phone call from Bill Stout, manager of Ed Voyles Acura. He took down the info, did some juggling, and called me back with an amazing offer. Basically, through discounts on the car and generous allowances on the trade-in, I could get a new Acura RL for less than list price--and he'd substract the equivalent of the full value I paid for the 2004 Honda from that price! In effect, his action said, "Bad car? We'll give you your money back if you want to buy this one instead!"

I'm taken aback by the offer, to be honest. I hadn't originally considered an Acura, but now I'm thinking about it very seriously. It doesn't have the rear-view monitor that I liked in the Infiniti and the Lexus, but it does have real-time traffic on the nav system, and it does have a DVD-Audio 5.1 surround sound system. No ventilated seats, alas--that's the feature I most hate to give up--but the deal is so good I have to seriously consider it.

And as if that offer wasn't enough, Mr. Stout went one step further. "Why don't you come by one day this week and take an RL home for a day and see what you think of the car? You can bring it back the next day." Talk about an offer you can't refuse!...

Ed Voyles, I salute you. Pete Richards and Bill Stout are a credit to your business!

Monday, May 08, 2006

The Telltale Part

Robin asked why I was looking at cars, since I have a Honda that I bought just a couple of years ago.

Remember Edgar Allan Poe's "The Telltale Heart"? Remember how the narrator was pushed over the edge by that rheumy, staring eye?

My Honda has a squeak.

"Squeak" isn't precisely fair. It's a buzzing sound, sort of a low-frequency cousin to the sound of someone bouncing a basketball on concrete, in the front passenger door; it can be triggered by (a) hitting a bump with the front right tire, (b) hitting a bump with the left front tire, (c) a bass note played on the stereo system, (d) the movement of the sun, moon, or stars. It's not there all the time, which makes it that much more difficult to fix. Inevitably, if I take the car to the dealership, the noise decides to spend the day relaxing in our garage rather than making the trip with me.

I have considered cutting the Honda into small bits and burying it beneath the floorboards, but we have a basement, so that means I'd have car parts falling on my head when I went downstairs to exercise.

The noise interferes with my enjoyment of the car. I'll admit that I'm now compulsively focused on the noise, but it doesn't matter whether the problem is the car, me, or both--suffice to say that I'm not happy with it.

One more thing. Honda Accord EX car seats are not as comfortable as the seats of the cars I'm considering. A comfortable car seat is important to me. Since I lost 70 pounds between April of 2000 and April of 2001 (and have kept the weight off, calloo callay oh frabjous joy!), I have no butt. More specifically, I have no padding; I have bones 'n' some muscle and some skin, but nothing that makes sitting on a hard surface particularly enjoyable. And somehow, the Honda's seat doesn't work for me. Others have no such complaints; that doesn't help me, though.

And one final thing--no direct iPod input on a 2004 Accord EX V-6 with navigation and XM.

So yes, I'm considering replacing a car with 15,000 miles on it because of a buzzing noise, a firm car seat, and no iPod connector. And it's not a mental disorder if you can afford to cater to it...

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Beep Beep Beep Beep--Yeah!

I've done some more test-driving and car-looking since my debacle of an experience with Marietta Toyota. Looked at a BMW 530 and 730 (great cars, but each of them is a little short on some of the higher-tech features offered in Japanese cars--and the 530 may have the most laughably bad cup-holders in modern automotive history), the Infiniti M35 (a very comfortable car that would be a great car if it had some sort of iPod interface other than a cumbersome set of RCA audio and video plug-ins located in the back of the center console, requiring users to run cables alongside the seat to use those plus as iPod feeds), and the Lexus ES 350 (a top-notch vehicle, but it's brand-new this month, and the two nearest Lexus dealers are both owned by Nalley, a company that arrogantly refuses to discount this model at all, so if I buy it I'll be going to Hennessy Lexus in Duluth or Lexus of South Atlanta, where the salespeople actually act like they'd appreciate your business).

Best feature: the cooled seats on the Infiniti and the Lexus are great, but it's the "personal surround sound" speakers built into the headrests of the Infiniti that really appealed to me.

Weirdest comment: "The leather on Lexus's comfort-seating option is taken from cattle raised in barbed-wire-free pastures to avoid any scarring of the hide before we slaughter them." Somehow kind and cruel at the same time...

Most arrogant comment: "Your first 50,000 miles worth of services are free. After that, BMW service costs a bit more--but it's a BMW, so you expect that."

Strangest salesman: The fellow at Roswell Infiniti who kept calling me Michael. "My name's Cliff," I'd correct him, only to have him call me Michael again a moment or two later. Furthermore, he didn't want to talk about cars. He wanted to know where I lived, what tv shows I watched, and he even asked, "What do you do when you're not driving?" as if I spent the bulk of my time behind the wheel. Ironically, the day I dealt with him was his next-to-the-last-day on the job...

Most warped logic: "Lexus doesn't offer free service because we'd rather offer you the option of paying for service at the service provider of your choice."

Best feature enhancement: Infiniti's backup monitor offers on-screen markings that show exactly where your car is going based on the current direction of the steering wheel--and that's very handy if you've ever tried to interpret a rear-view camera's fisheye lens view into something approaching reality.

Most surprising addition: Lexus's Mark Levinson enhanced audio system includes a cassette deck. An interesting throwback, but one that could come in handy for those of us who still have some books on cassette...

Worst elimination of choice: BMW's decision to force customers who want satellite radio to accept only Sirius. Those of us with XM bias are left out...

Design element I'd most like to do away with: The Chris Bangle-inspired big butt on most cars today. Bangle designed this blocky automotive rear end for BMW, and since then virtually every car manufacturer has imitated it. The problem is, it cuts into rear-window visibility tremendously.

Almost but not quite: Infiniti allows front-seat passengers to watch a DVD on the navigation system monitor, but only when the car is parked. It would be much better to activate that option at all times, but allow for a swivel screen that lets the navscreen point towards the passenger only. (Yeah, I know it's supposed to be a safety feature, but you and I know that (a) there are easy hacks to override this, and (b) people with video iPods are just watching them on the smaller screen at a less desirable and more dangerous angle anyway.)

Halfway there: BMW offers HD radio as an option, but no XM (see above). Infiniti and Lexus support DVD-Audio, but no SACD (yeah, the $3 chip it would take to enable both would put the car entirely out of the price range of most drivers...)

Dream car: It would have Lexus's drive train and engine and comfort seating, Infiniti's sound system with the addition of the Lexus/Mark Levinson cassette deck and iPod connector, BMW's HD radio, Acura's navigation system with real-time traffic updates (I'm not currently looking at Acura's, but their nav system is still the best), BMW's body design (still a bit classier than anyone else's), BMW's first-four-years-for-free service, BMW's adjustable lumbar support, Lexus's interior design and woodwork, and Infiniti's dash and analog clock. If someone makes such a car, I'll sign up for it!

Free Funnybooks!

Today was Free Comic Book Day (for those not in the know, it's an annual event in which publishers and retailers work together to make a variety of comics available at no cost to anyone who walks through the door), and it was quite a success. I had my concerns--unlike previous years, in which FCBD was linked to the release of a major comics film, this FCBD was a solo event, and I wasn't sure how that would work.

There were challenges. For one thing, getting any publicity was much more difficult when there wasn't a film with which we could link the event. As a reporter for the Marietta Daily Journal told me, "The first time you guys did it , it was a big thing. The next couple of times it was linked to big movies, and we played that up. But this year, it's just another industry marketing event. Someone's having Free something-or-other every week of the year, and we don't cover most of them." So we got next to no coverage from the MDJ, although Ed Hall and Don Fernandez at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution gave us some good ink and it paid off quite well.

This year, we did something different: we set up a "How Comics Are Made" exhibit that followed various pages of various comics from script to pencil to ink to color to printed work. Marvel gave us an entire issue of Brian Bendis & Mark Bagley's Ultimate Spider-Man to work with; the Dabel Brothers (Ernst and David made it to the store, while Les minded the fort back at the office) gave us pages from Marshal, Tales of Alvin Maker: Red Prophet, Raymond E. Feist's Magician's Apprentice, and the cover from Anita Blake: Vampire Hunter for our "how-it's-done" presentation; and other creators supplied a variety of informative pages.

We were slated to open at 11 am, but by 10:45, we had people lined up outside, with kids tapping on the door to get us to open up and hook 'em up with free comics. The big rush came between 11am and 1pm, with a few hundred people making their way through the store at that time. Things slowed up to a steady pace from 1pm to 4pm, and then continued sporadically for the rest of the day. Lots of free books were given away, lots more books were sold, and everyone seemed to have a good time.

Mark Bagley was a powerhouse, signing hundreds of comics and doing some amazing sketches for fans of all ages. He did oodles of Spidey and Venom sketches, but the real surprises came when he agreeably tackled such characters as Batman, Flash, Kitty Pryde, Robin, and--biggest surprise of all--Charlie Brown and Snoopy. When he began to venture from Spidey head shots to more unexpected illos, we began scanning the customers' sketches before they left so that we'd have a record of the event. Mark was scheduled to be at the store for three hours, but he stayed for almost five hours before his drawing hand got so tired that he had to call it quits. As always, he was a star attraction, and the interaction with fans was remarkable.

The Dabel Brothers were most generous, offering readers a sample of their new books at no charge, offering insights into comics publishing, and even looking at some customers' artwork. Jay Busbee talked about his new book, The Network and had a great time. David, Ernst, and Jay even collaborated on a sketch for one customer--and when you consider that David and Ernst are not artists, that was pretty generous indeed!

Amy got a birthday sketch of herself as the Black Cat ("I'm gonna have to do a lot of enhancement here," Mark said as he reimagined the lithe, spritely Amy as the rather pulchritudinous Felicia Hardy), while Whitney sweet-talked Mark into re-casting her as the Dark Knight's sidekick, Robin.

Brett put the displays together, and they were superbly done--easy to follow, informative, and interesting. We got several compliments on this, since it offered something that most fans had never before seen.

And thanks to a solid comic book week and FCBD, we're going to have our best week in Dr. No's history. Now, let's just hope that some of the folks who picked up freebies find something that excites them so much that they keep coming back as regular readers!...

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

You Asked for It, You Got It--A Hard Time

A couple of weeks ago, I almost bought a car from Marietta Toyota.

A friend had recommended a Toyota Avalon, saying he found it to be a very comfortable and reliable car for travelling. I have never found our 2004 Honda Accord EX V6 to be comfortable for anything for more than about ten minutes--this is my fourteenth Honda and/or Acura, but they have lost the quality control, fit, and finish that made their autos appealing to me for almost thirty years now--so I checked it out.

The Avalon is indeed a comfortable car, so I made an offer. The salesman's initial offer, based on list price and with a trade-in calculated into the deal, came to $20,200 difference. I countered with $18,000, tax and everything, total difference. This wasn't as bad as it sounded; Jack, the salesman, had calculated my trade-in value on a base model Accord V6 and not the model with navigation (I had looked it up on two different sites to get an idea of value, and he was about $1500 short of what both of them said for a car with less than 15,000 miles on it). I told him to let me know if we had a deal, and I left for a meeting.

Within an hour, Jack (the salesman) called to say we had a deal. Later that afternoon, I drove back to the dealership, ready to close the deal. Jack welcomed me, and said that we were all set; I'd have to pay... $21,685.00.

Yep, that's higher than his initial offer. I was surprised. He said he'd check and find out what was going on; he was confused, too.

Then a surly, foul-mouthed fellow named Jim Greenhaw entered the picture. He's the sales manager, apparently. His first words to me were "You're gonna have to pay more for that car." I told him that I had come back only because he had told Jack that the deal I had offered was approved, and I began walking to the door.

"Wait a minute," he said, raising his hands in a halting motion. "Let's talk." We headed back to Jack's office, where Jim tried the old trick of putting me in a corner in the office with Jim and his chair between me and the door. He then began to tell me how I was trying to take advantage of them, and I was cheating them. I told him again that this was what I was willing to pay, and that apparently there was no further need to talk. At that point, Jim decided that he'd abandon whatever veneer of politeness he had feigned thus far, and became particularly vulgar and abusive in his conversation. Jack was stunned; I was surprised, but not willing to play the game. I stood. Jim tried to keep his chair in between me and the door. I told him that I intended to leave, and he needed to move the chair. He did, but not without a few more crass, rude, vulgar remarks.

I called Toyota to let them know that they had lost a potentially reliable customer. They were concerned, but Marietta Toyota is privately owned and they have limited control over the dealership. They indicated that I might wish to talk to Tom Ravita, the customer relations manager, or to David Strother, Jr., the owner. I left messages for both.

Three days later, Tom called me back, seemed very concerned, and promised to get back to me. The owner, however, couldn't be bothered to return any phone calls at all; apparently he considers this normal business procedure for Marietta Toyota.

Tom's promise turned out to be rather empty; he didn't call. A week later, to see what was going on, I called him. He seemed totally ignorant of our prior conversation until I refreshed his memory. "Oh, didn't Jack call you?" No, he didn't--but Tom assured me he'd call within an hour.

The day passed, and no further phone calls.

Apparently, Marietta Toyota is in business simply to offend people. Remember, if you have any interest in buying a car, that a dealer is going to put on his best face when he's trying to sell you the car; it only goes downhill from there. So if the initial response was this abhorrent, just imagine how their service department, etc., must be.

I'm now looking at an Infiniti M35, a BMW 530i, and a Lexus ES350. I'll let you know if any of them catches my fancy...