On February 19, a man wielding a gun interrupted another man stapling posters for a rock show to a telephone pole on Capitol Hill. The armed man complained that his posters were being covered up. He yelled at the postering man, ripped several layers of posters from the pole, and then, after the victim called 911, he left.

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The war between Seattle's two main postering companies has been an established element of local lore ever since a scrappy upstart, Poster Midget, emerged two years ago to compete with the old standby, Poster Giant. Poster Midget calls itself "the little people's postering company," and has accused Poster Giant of destroying posters and retaliating against people who complain about its tactics. The appearance of an actual gun—capable of dispensing bullets, not staples—raised questions of whether the war has moved from trash talk to actual violence.

Here's the twist: The victim of this unrealized attack (by a man whose name is still unknown) was none other than Doug Cox, the president and founder of Poster Giant. Matt Moroni, who runs Poster Midget, has publicly accused Cox of violating postering ethics.

"Poster Giant has a very bad reputation of ripping down everyone's posters and putting up its own stuff," Moroni says. However, he adds that even though he's been threatened by Poster Giant staffers in the past ("They just vibed me. And they're bigger rocker guys."), no one at Poster Midget would have sunk to the level of threatening violence in retaliation.

"We're too broke to own a gun. No way!" he says. "That's not a very manly thing to do."

For his part, Cox admits he and his staff occasionally cover over posters for events that haven't happened yet, but he denies covering entire poles with one poster or using intimidation to protect his product. He says the realm of poster advertising is an unregulated free-for-all, just as it should be.

It's hard to choose sides in this debate. According to Marcus Wilson, a promoter who puts up his own posters, both companies take advantage of the lack of rules. "Everybody has become really ruthless about it," he says.

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Ironically, the value of the utility pole as advertising real estate may be on the decline, or at least in question. Moroni says he always tells his clients they can't rely on posters alone, and that MySpace and other internet marketing venues are a necessity.

editor@thestranger.com