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Reviews and commentary by Tony Isabella
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From COMICS BUYER'S GUIDE #1419 (01/26/01)

"So often we look at a calendar of days as merely a symbol of the passage of time. We forget why we are on this earth. We forget that there is a reason for all of the pain and all of the struggle. We forget that we were put on earth to learn something. If everything were perfect in this life, we would never learn anything new. We would not be able to elevate our spirits through the events that happen to us."

--Lynn V. Andrews

It's the day after Christmas as I write this column, though, for those of you reading it, it's two weeks into the first year of the new millennium. How's it going so far?

I'm doing some file-and-pile-cleaning this week and next, the better to dazzle you with cogent commentary once I can see the top of my desk again. If a particular item doesn't interest you, just drop down a paragraph or two and you'll find something different. It's a comics buffet!

AMAZING SPIDER-MAN. The Cleveland Plain Dealer has published Stan Lee's Amazing Spider-Man comic strip (daily and Sunday) since its launch some many years ago. Currently, the Sunday strips are penciled by Alex Saviuk and inked by Joe Sinnott. Their work looks pretty good, even given that most newspapers routinely cram four or five strips onto each page of their Sunday comics sections.

Imagine my delight then when, for some reason, the December 17 Plain Dealer, ran Spider-Man at a noticeably larger size. The web- slinger and his supporting cast looked marvelous. The strip itself seemed bolder and brighter. Sinnott's inking looked every bit as grand as it does in the comic books.

Newspapers editors can doubtless give us many reasons why they run their comic strips in the cramped venues which have become the industry norm. Still, questioning soul that I am, I can't help but wonder if a better presentation of their comics might not attract more subscribers and advertisers to their papers.

ARCHIE DIGESTS. Veteran Tips readers will recall that I often applaud Archie Comics digests as a good entertainment value. For slightly over two bucks, you get 100 pages of wholesome comics fun. The company's "double" digests cost a dollar more and are twice the size of the "single" digests.

Besides being available in better comics shops everywhere, the Archie digests also boast a admirable presence at more traditional newsstands and supermarket check-out lines. It's this "real world" presence that, this particular week, finds me gently chiding Archie Comics for what I see as an ill-advised experiment.

A while back, Batton Lash, he of SUPERNATURAL LAW fame, wrote an amusingly spooky story called "House of Riverdale," which, being longer than the typical Archie tale, wound through three different Archie titles. I liked the story, but didn't care much for readers having to buy three comics to read the entire story.

For its digest reprinting, "House of Riverdale" was likewise spread through three different issues: JUGHEAD WITH ARCHIE DIGEST #162, BETTY AND VERONICA DIGEST #117, and ARCHIE DIGEST #177. You can pull that nonsense on hardcore comics fans because we've become accustomed to such abuse. But, as I see it, it has the potential to wick off the casual reader and keep him or her from becoming an avid devotee. Don't do that again, I say to my friends at Archie Comics, as I wag my admonishing finger at them.

On the other hand, if Archie Comics feels the compulsion to do some experimenting with the digests, I have another suggestion for them, one based on the continuing, growing interest in the Silver Age of Comics and involving the super-hero comics which the company published in the 1960s: The Fly, The Jaguar, the Mighty Crusaders, and Mighty Comics Presents.

In past years, Archie has sprinkled the odd super-hero story within its digest mags. Even today, it's not unusual for a digest to feature brief (one or two pages) origins of said heroes, just to keep them somewhat in the public eye. But, given the page counts of the digests, I think it would make sense to expand the presence of these super-heroes ever so slightly.

If you could find them, even merely good condition copies of the least of the 1960s Archie super-hero titles would set you back three to five bucks apiece. I'd like to see Archie systematically reprint these stories in their digests. Devoting 12 pages to these heroes in the "single" digests and 24 pages in the "double" digests leaves room for plenty of fun with Archie and his pals, but would have the potential of attracting Silver Age and super-hero fans to the digests, especially if the reprints included some informative text on the heroes and on the writers and artists who created their adventures. One has only to look at the success of CBG's own "Ask Mr. Silver Age" feature to recognize the high level of fan interest in this era of comics history.

The Archie/MLJ super-heroes of the 1940s strike me as a little rough for the publisher's current audience and, sadly, the attempts to revive/update the characters in the 1970s and 1980s generally resulted in mediocre-to-awful comic books. But, even the goofiest of Archie's 1960s super-hero material remains amusing and wholesome fun for all ages.

I'd like to see the Archie super-heroes and stories return to delight readers new and old. Digest reprints would be a convenient and cost-effective way to do that.

COMIC BOOK HEAVEN. Since I seem to be wallowing in nostalgia, let me once again recommend Scott Saavedra's COMIC BOOK HEAVEN, 32 pages of nutty goodness published three or four times a year by SLG Publishing at only $1.95 per issue. The most recent edition I read is Volume 2, #3, which came out this past fall.

Saavedra presents delicious tidbits of comics lore, hilarious commentary on the "strangest comic book stories ever told," a wild inventory of wacky comics inventions, and quotes to die for. These two quotes were my favorites.

From an unidentified crime story

"Well, well, a girl burglar, no less! What are you after, the family jewels?"

From House of Mystery #170, as spoken by Robby Reed as Super- Hero Don Juan

"Sockamagee! Is that all girls can think about--love? I was nearly killed and one of the senoritas swiped my magic sword!"

With the caveat that the reader may well succumb to infectious giggling as he enjoys COMIC BOOK HEAVEN, I recommend this magazine to everyone who has a sense of humor and even the smallest interest in the strange and wondrous comics of the past.

WEB OF SPIDER-MAN. In its November 24 edition, Entertainment Weekly ran a brief article on how the Internet was "spinning" with speculation about the Spider-Man movie. Jeff Jensen selected three websites of interest to EW readers.

CASTING CALL: SPIDER-MAN is devoted to discussing the various comics characters and who should play them in the movie. Although many of the major roles have been cast, the website still makes for intriguing reading. It can be found at 51/2818/spiderman.html

Jensen deems DOWN WITH ORGANIC WEBSHOOTERS "maybe the geekiest site ever. The site protests the rumor that the cinematic Spidey will generate his webs naturally. In the comics, of course, Peter Parker developed both his web fluid and the mechanisms by which he spins/sprays it. Opponents of the natural "webbing" scenario have said this diminishes Parker's scientific genius. Since I am known throughout the comics world as a true uniter--not a divider--I put forth the following compromise

The movie Spidey does have the organic webbing, but it's the genius of Parker that comes up with the device which allows him to change its consistency as needed and to direct it where he wants it to go. This allows director Sam Raimi and company to makes Peter's transformation a little more eerie while still establishing our boy as one smart cookie.

This website can be found at

Finally, Jensen recommends SPIDER-MAN HYPE! He calls it "the CNN of Spider-Man's Internet world," featuring James Cameron's now legendary film treatment, rejected character designs by Alex Ross, alleged reviews of the David Koepp screenplay, and lots more. It's located at.

WHAT'S IN A NAME? A while back, I asked my readers to suggest a better name for adult comics than, well, adult comics, which term carries with it the unfortunate connotation of excessive violence, foul language, naked sweaty bodies, and even an occasional senorita swiping some character's magic sword. I'm not necessarily against the above, mind you, but I think works like Alan Moore and Eddie Campbell's FROM HELL and Howard Cruse's STUCK RUBBER BABY deserve a much loftier description.

Dave Van Domelen sent the following

    Here are a few ideas

    "Comics with literary merit." Granted, this involves a value judgement as well, but few kids would be interested in anything with literary merit.

    "Comics that make you think." Although this denigrates comics kids would like, implying none of them make you think.

    "Highbrow Comics."

    "Adult comics you can read in public."

    "Cognointellectual comics."

I also heard from Neil Ottenstein, an honest-to-gosh rocket scientist. He wrote

    How about "intended for educated readers" as a term? Or something along those lines?"

R. Lagana had these contributions

    I had some very quick thoughts on Jim Ottaviani's request for alternates for the phrase 'adult content'. In no particular order, here they are. Anyone is more than welcome to mix and match the phrases as he/she sees fit.

    1. written (created) by adults for adults

    2. adult literature

    3. intellectual content inside

    4. thoughtful content inside

    5. adult prose

    6. mature prose

    7. for thinking readers/ for the thinking reader

    8. for contemplative readers/for the contemplative reader

    That's my two-cents on that subject. Hope it helped.

Jack Feerick wrote

    Turn the standard tag around and label them: Not suggested for immature readers. Easy-peasey.

Finally, from my pal Rex Joyner

    In CBG #1410, you asked for a succinct term to describe non-sexual comics intended for mature readers. Toward the end of your column, you asked your readers to suggest "what we should call comics for grownups."

    Dummy! You just coined exactly the right phrase!

    "Comics for grownups" has exactly the right nuance. It says these books are for adults, but without the sexual connotations of "adult" or "mature." I hope you didn't knock yourself out hitting your forehead with your palm.

Dazzled by my own unwitting brilliance, I'm going to go with "comics for grownups" until someone comes along with a phrase that I like better. However, knowing comics readers as I do, I suspect this is far from the end of the discussion.

Comments on and review items for this column should be sent to: Tony's Tips, P.O. Box 1502, Medina, OH 44258. You can e-mail Tony at.



According to my files, the above Tips was written on December 28 from a still-free United States of America. This online version is being written a day before our nation is occupied by those whose careers have largely consisted of working to limit the freedoms and rights of various Americans. God help us all.



I haven't been obsessive about clipping items of interest from my daily newspapers, but I do have a few tidbits to share with you this week.

The January 4 edition of the Cleveland Plain Dealer reports that Carey McWilliams, a 27-year-old North Dakota State University graduate student, has been granted a permit to carry a concealed weapon. McWilliams is blind.

McWilliams, who says he wants the permit for his protection, completed the background check and passed the shooting test...once he was allowed to get his bearings on the target. Blind since ten, his sight is limited to light perception, which means he can tell the difference between night and day.

I don't question McWilliams' legitimate right to protection. A friend of his pointed out, "We think he can't aim. The fact that someone might have his fingers around Carey's throat doesn't enter our heads." It's a good point.

However, when I read that, after graduation, McWilliams will be working in public relations for the National Rifle Association, then this whole thing begins to look like another cheap stunt by an organization that will never accept reasonable gun control or take responsibility for the harm to which its positions have contributed and will continue to contribute.

On a more amusing note, a year-end summary of bizarre police reports in the Medina Sun for January 4 included this

    A man told police that he received a phone call May 21 and the caller told him that the "God of Thunder" was either going to come after him or kill him.

Sounds like Marvel's getting ready to revamp Thor.

The Akron Beacon-Journal has made some changes to its comics pages. DOONESBURY was moved to the pages from the editorial page; new features JAMES and NON SEQUITUR and JAMES were added; and the PEANUTS reruns were discontinued. To quote Beacon-Journal editor Jan Leach

    NON SEQUITUR is a disjointed look at the nonsense and improbabilities of everyday life. It is written and drawn by Wiley Miller, who has won four Reuben Awards, the most prestigious award in cartooning.

    JAMES is a new comic strip by Mark Tonra that takes a sweet, whimsical look at childhood. Universal Press Syndicate introduced JAMES just last fall. It features the main character, James, who is described as "last to know, first to crack, hard to handle, easy to love."

I've been a fan of NON SEQUITUR for ages, but I prefer it in its strip format as opposed to the panel format the Beacon-Journal is running. As for James, let's just say I'm having a tough time warming up to what, thus far, strikes me as a terrible bland strip.

Maybe it'll grow on me.

PEANUTS fans were not happy about the Beacon Journal dropping the reprints. One unsigned e-mailer wrote

    Charles Schulz was one of the best cartoonists of the past century. It is beyond me why the Beacon Journal would discontinue his worldwide-known cartoon.

Reader Mark Deering wrote

    What difference does it make if they are reruns? How many people do you think can remember a comic from 26 years ago? We seem to be continually losing good things from our society--some big, some maybe not so big, like PEANUTS. It's time to draw a line in the sand! Enough is enough! Bring back Snoopy!!!

By week's end, Leach said she would reconsider the decision to drop PEANUTS. She added that its return--no promise there--would mean the dropping of another strip.

On a more somber note, Donald Neff, the former Akron area Boy Scouts leader and convicted child molesters--the homophobic Scouts don't require background checks of their leaders--admitted that he raped two youths. Last fall, as TOT readers will recall, Neff was arrested for abducting a middle school student.

Neff was sentenced to 15 years in prison without parole in a plea bargain that, at least, spared two boys from having to testify against him in court. Neff is 33 years old. He will be 48 years old--a year younger than my current age--when he is released from prison in 2016.

My twin hopes are that, by that time, the Boy Scouts will have outgrown their hurtful bigotry and accepted homosexuals as scouts and scout leaders, and that they will require background checks on those they entrust with the safety of their young members. Given the conservative nature of the Republican Supreme Court, these will be difficult tasks to achieve.



I don't run many press releases in this column, but this one from TOP SHELF PRODUCTIONS is an important one



    1 January 2001

    Dear Comic Book Retailers,

    In an effort to help improve the financial situation in the comic book industry at large, from this day forward, all graphic novels and comic books published by and solicited under the TOP SHELF PRODUCTIONS banner will be fully returnable to the publisher in exchange for other Top Shelf publications of your choosing.

    How will this work? Order our products through your available distribution channels. Then, any time after 90 days from the date of your purchase, you can choose to return unsold items to us, and we will replace them--free of charge and postpaid--with other titles that you select. The following conditions apply: 1) The books must be in sellable condition, 2) You must pack them well and ship them to us at your expense, 3) The returns must be sent directly to Top Shelf and not our distributors (they're working hard enough for us already), and 4) International retailers will have to cover our shipping costs as well.

    This offer is being made for two simple reasons: 1) So that, honestly, all retailers will stock Top Shelf products, and hopefully be "surprised" by the fact that graphic novels by Alan Moore, Melinda Gebbie, Peter Kuper, Renee French, Craig Thompson, Scott Morse, Dylan Horrocks, Ed Brubaker, James Kochalka, Pete Sickman-Garner, Tom Hart, Steve Lafler, Brian Biggs, Alex Robinson, Dean Haspiel, Scott Mills, and many more, are extremely profitable items, and 2) So that retailers can have the confidence and assurance that Top Shelf books will sell through, one way or another, guaranteed.

    We hope this will be received as great news, and that it will help form a relationship with all retailers well into the future and allow for the most exciting and diverse array of products to be available to comics fans everywhere.

I applaud Top Shelf for this move and direct all interested parties to their website at

I'll be back next week with more stuff.

From Occupied America, I remain...

Tony Isabella

<< 01/19/2001 | 01/26/2001 | 02/02/2001 >>

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Zero Tonys
ZERO: Burn your money before buying any comic receiving this rating. It doesn't *necessarily* mean there's absolutely nothing of value here - though it *could* - but whatever value it might possess shrinks into insignificance before its overall awfulness.

ONE: Buy something else. Maybe I found something which wasn't completely dreadful in the item, but not enough for me to recommend it when there are better comics available. I only want what's best for you, my children.

TWO: Basic judgment call. I found some value, but not enough to recommend it. My review should give you enough info to decide if you want to take a chance on it. Are you feeling lucky today, punk? Well, are you?

THREE: This denotes something I find perfectly respectable. There are better books out there, but I wouldn't regret buying this item. Based on my review, you should be able to determine if it's of interest to you. Let the Force guide you.

FOUR: I recommend anything earning this rating. Unless you don't like the genre, subject matter, or past work of the creators, I believe you'll enjoy this item. Isn't it uncanny how I can look right into your soul that way?

FIVE: Anything getting this rating is among the best comicdom has to offer. You should buy/read this, even if the genre/subject matter doesn't appeal to you. It's for your own good. Me, I live for comics and books this good...but not in a pathetic "Comic-Book Guy" sort of way.

Please send material you would like me to review to:

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840 Damon Drive
Medina, OH 44256

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