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Reviews and commentary by Tony Isabella
"America's Most Beloved Comic-Book Writer & Columnist"

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From COMICS BUYER'S GUIDE #1421 (02/09/01)

"Far away there in the sunshine are my highest aspirations. I may not reach them, but I can look up and see their beauty, believe in them, and try to follow where they lead."

--Louisa May Alcott

CBG is celebrating the tenth anniversary of Jeff Smith's BONE this week, so, naturally, I'm writing about everything except that most worthy comics creation. However, before proceeding to other matters, I'd like to extend congratulations to my pal Jeff and the whole Cartoon Books crew for their well-deserved success and thanks for the comics-reading joy they've given me. Bone and friends have earned a honored place in comics history and I've no doubt they'll continue to do so well into this new millennium.

Outside comic-book fandom, the creators of sequential wonders are rarely honored for their works. Indeed, they and their readers are often the subject of contemptuous jibes.

As I wrote in CBG #1417 [January 12], THE PLAIN DEALER SUNDAY MAGAZINE for December 17 ran an item about a Cleveland lady whose one date with Superman co-creator and artist Joe Shuster resulted in a pretty spiffy souvenir of the encounter. The item was written by Christopher Evans.

Eileen Ernest, nee Follman, spoke of Shuster in unflattering terms, but kept a Superman drawing allegedly drawn for her by the artist. She had thought to give the art to her children someday, but they apparently didn't want it. The item reported that she was planning to sell it and give them the money. That, she figures, they would want.

I included the item in my column and--shame on me--didn't give it another thought until, reading THE PLAIN DEALER SUNDAY MAGAZINE for January 7, I found a letter from HARLAN ELLISON addressing the disparaging comments made about Superman artist and co-creator Joe Shuster in the item I mentioned in the above column. With Harlan's kind permission, here is his letter

    What a nasty, mean-spirited and cranky piece of business is this! One cannot know if it was the smarmy, smartass attitude of the columnist who put this item together, or the actual attitude of this latter-day Miss Havisham, but it is rife with acrimony from headline to caption, and everything in between.

    "Date from Dullsville," "Shuster spent the evening droning on," "swore never to go out on a date with a comic book illustrator again," "short, skinny, nearsighted," "more Clark Kent than Casanova," "It was a nothing date," "I never saw him again," "give it to my kids/they didn't want it," "Who doesn't want money," "he was showing off, he probably did it for other girls, too." Migawd,

    could there be any greater number of slights, derisions and calumnies in so short a space?

    And this crone still seems not to have even the faintest awareness, the vaguest scintilla of a glimmering, that for one moment in her (most likely) uneventful existence, she touched Posterity, that she shared a moment with someone Who Really Did Matter and who altered society's awareness of Art and itself.

    Even now, more than six decades later, this poor creature of mean recollections cannot understand that "something happened to her," no matter how dull and eventless it might have seemed to a naive 15-year-old schoolgirl.

    For a moment, when this item was sent to me, I thought I might attempt to purchase the drawing. What a swell treasure it would be!

    But then I had a moment of reflection, and knew that it would be infamous to contribute actual momentary gain to this unpleasant vendor of history. Someone will, I'm sure, or already has, bought it. But she won't batten even a penny's worth from one who continues to revere the souls and achievements of genuine opposed to the groundlings who make a buck off their memories.

I told Harlan I wanted to run this letter because he'd shamed me and I wanted to thank him for that. I have become so inured to the oft-mean-spirited nature of newspapers and the media in general it never occurred to me to get angry at this shameful treatment of one of the comicdom's most important and revered creators. I'll do better next time.

I don't know if anyone has bought the drawing, but, as I did in my earlier column, I caution any prospective buyer to verify its authenticity. For one thing, there were other comic-book artists who drew Superman and lived in the vicinity in the 1940s, working with Jerry Siegel and Shuster from their studio on East 105th and Euclid Avenue in Cleveland. Ernest's 60-year-old memories might not be completely accurate.

Faulty "Superman" memories arise frequently in Cleveland. It sometimes seems to me that everyone who ever met Siegel and Shuster in their youth is convinced THEY were the models for Clark Kent or Lois Lane or other characters...with the unsurprising exception of Lex Luthor. Go figure.

If the PD reports further on this item, or if Harlan's letter generates any interesting responses, I'll bring you the details in future columns. Keep watching the skies.

Of late, I have embraced "comics for grown-ups" as a fitting nomenclature for "adult" or "mature" comics, my decision shaped by comments from my readers. That was partially the subject of this note from LARRY HAYES

    I'm responding to your request in CBG #140 for suggestions as to what language can be put on comics and trade paperbacks that would correctly guide the potential reader as to whether or not the material is age appropriate. Keeping in mind that I think brevity and simplicity are key in this matter for a qualifying statement to be effective, here are two suggestions

    "Not suggested for the very young due to concepts and not contents."

    "Suggested for readers age (insert age) and above because of mature concepts and not contents."

    I think this would clearly differentiate between a book with sci-fi type time paradox plotlines and one where the crewmates were having graphic sexual encounters, for example. Ironically, the "mature readers" label as it stands today is slapped on some of the most immature material I've ever seen.

    On another matter, I vote you keep reviewing new material as well as discussing some politics in your CBG columns. Your writings about freedom of speech and your library were the most interesting things in the issues in which they ran.

    Talking about older comics is getting a bit shopworn at CBG, especially since we now get more "Ask Mr. Silver Age" and "Captain Comics." I enjoy both of those features, but I think they make your own reviews of newer (especially indy) material all the more necessary.

I'm going to be reviewing more new comics in columns to come, but I'm still conflicted about writing too much about politics here when it's my CBG editors who end up getting those (mercifully few) nasty letters from those who disagree not only with my views, but, apparently, even my expressing my views. I don't entirely disagree with the correspondents who prefer I write exclusively about comic books; I can read the title of this magazine, too. However, when the complaints are of the "I don't like Tony's politics" variety, well, cry me a river...and then go out and express your own views

with the same (or greater) craft and passion with which I believe I express mine. That is the very essence of the freedom proclaimed and protected by the First Amendment.

I am working on some special material on freedom of expression as it relates to comics and other entertainment media, though I'm not yet far enough along to project when and where this material will appear. In the meantime, you and your fellow CBG readers are welcome to visit my TONY'S ONLINE TIPS website and participate in the lively and mannered discussions to be found on the TOT message board. You can find me at.

On the matter of what to call "comics for grown-ups," I also heard from SHAWN DAWSON

    You asked "what we should call comics for grownups." This issue came up in CBG back when Don Thompson was doing "Comics in Your Future" listings. He used to put "Adult" under listings for titles labeled for mature readers. He and others were never happy with this and, after a reader suggestion, I believe, he changed the label to "Not For Children," which seemed to make everyone happy. That label made sense to me and I wondered why it was not used more often on appropriate mainstream publications.

    Obviously, the label isn't perfect for all uses. I don't think changing "Adult Book Store" to "Not For Children Book Store" will please anyone. But it still remains my recommendation for an appropriate term.

Although I currently prefer "comics for grown-ups," it occurs to me that term could also have a negative connotation. Would some potential readers take it to mean that comic books not labeled thus were suitable only for children? And, given the inconsistency with which movie and television ratings are applied, not to mention the inconsistency with which the Comics Code Authority reviewers seem to apply that code, is it even possible to come up with labels that won't confuse what they seek to clarify?

Ultimately, though I believe labels are helpful, especially to those of us who are raising children, it's still up to the customer to make hopefully informed decisions about what he buys and accept the responsibility for those decisions. As a wise man once wrote, with great power...

This week's next-to-last words go to comics writer BEAU SMITH, who writes

    Hey, amigo. For years I've read CBG and your column, every week. There is always something I enjoy. The point is, I know you want me to keep reading your column. Who wouldn't? As someone that supports and reads your column, I feel I have some what of a right to request what I would like to read. Here's mine

    I'd love for you to write some articles about your days with Marvel. What it was like back in the day.

    Right now all we read is about the downside of what's going on in comics...who is getting fired and who on. I'm a long-time fan. When you were at Marvel and doing your time in New York City, I used to read F.O.O.M magazine and the letters columns and the Bullpen pages, anything to learn what was going on at Marvel. You were there. You're bound to have interesting stories for us to read, some for the historical importance and some just for the fun of it. Why keep them all to yourself, you selfish bastard? Spread the wealth! Don't make me mug ya for it. That's my request, and thanks for the time you gave me in the late 1970s when I was trying to break into comics.

Gosh, Beau, moved as I am by such heartfelt appreciation, I must remind me you that you still owe $3.99 a minute for the last phone call you made to me in 1976. I find that cash, checks, money orders, expensive jewelry, and so on, really do help jog my memory when it comes to those halcyon days of my youth. Or, in the case of some co-workers, they help me forget about some of what happened back then. You pays your money, you gets your choice.

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.



Regular readers of this website will have experienced a touch of deja vu from this week's opening item. That's because it first appeared here on January 12.

What happened? Well, the day I posted Harlan's letter and my comments on it, I mentioned it to CBG editor Maggie Thompson. She requested I also include it in the next column I wrote for her, not caring, in this instance, that it would have appeared previously online. I was happy to accommodate her.

Two weeks after Harlan's letter ran in THE PLAIN DEALER SUNDAY MAGAZINE, the magazine ran a short letter from a reader applauding his letter. This reader also suggested Ernest donate the Superman drawing to a museum.

Not surprisingly, Ernest's husband wrote a very angry letter to Harlan and, one would presume, copied the PD on it. I received an e-mail from a reader who took issue with Harlan's letter and my comments on same

    If writing in such a way about someone who can't defend themselves is a bad thing, why, then, does the esteemed Mr. Ellison go on to call the woman names of his own? His various remarks were hardly unbiased phrases and name-calling because one feels insulted doesn't help fix the popular opinion of comic fans as over- sensitive geeks.

    I didn't feel Ernest's comments were shameful. I thought they were simply realistic. We love comics, but not everyone has to. And if she did find the date "dull" and "droning," well, who among us hasn't met someone so caught up in their loves that they didn't realize that the person they're talking to doesn't share their affections?

I also heard from another reader

    But shouldn't it be the editors of CBG who get the letters who don't like you or other columnists using their forums to shill for Democratic policies or politicians? After all, the editor gets to decide who gets in CBG and who doesn't and since all the columnists who express opinions of a political nature appear to be left of center it seems to me reasonable to ask why there isn't any balance.

    Oh, sure, you can write to "Oh, So?" but since you can be edited, zinged with a "last word" reply or ignored all together that's hardly a level playing field. In any case, I can't remember a single person who said you have no right to an opinion, just that CBG should not feel obligated to give you a soapbox to do it from since, as you grudgingly admit, the title is COMICS BUYER'S GUIDE not MOTHER JONES.

    Personally, I think it's a great idea to refer people to your website and those who want to read what you think about Dick Cheney can and those who don't put a lot of stock in what you have to say about him aren't paying for the privilege in CBG. Same goes for any publication of your political viewpoints you might want to release. More power to you as far as I'm concerned and let the market decide if you have a future in political commentary.

    What I'd like to see in "Tony's Tips" would be more stories of what it was actually like to work at Marvel in the early 70s. I'm wondering if there was an official policy to "dumb down" the comics as I noticed around that time Marvel started putting word balloons on the covers, replaced those great impressionistic Kirby covers of the 60s with silly slugfest covers on their reprints in the 70s and changed titles like MARVEL COLLECTOR'S ITEM CLASSICS to the more juvenile MARVEL'S GREATEST COMICS.

    PS: Harlan giving lectures on civility in print? Isn't he the guy in the Comics Journal of years back who gleefully referred to Don Heck as "the worst artist in comics?" Twilight Zone time, fer shure.

The above writer caught me on what I admit was a very bad day, so my response to him was less than tempered. I wrote

    I suspect your definition of "left of center" is basically "doesn't agree with me," so I'm not going to waste my time or yours debating it with you. I suspect a reading of my online columns and postings on my message board would give you a more complete picture of my views, but I leave it up to you to explore those options or not. But here's a helpful suggestion

    Ask yourself what Jesus would do. I doubt he'd have tried to make "liberal" a dirty word. I doubt he'd discriminate against gays. I doubt he'd be handing over billions in tax cuts to the rich. And I doubt he'd accuse columnists of "shilling" when they express opinions. And so on and so on. From where I sit, I'm the one on the side of the angels.

    I seem to recall you've had a letter or two printed in CBG. Probably more. But, judging from the above, you seem to think it's your right to have every letter you send to CBG printed...or to have your views printed without response.

    Personally, I'm amazed at some of the letters CBG does print. For example, I would never have printed the hate-speech of the reader who referred to gays as sodomites and who went ballistic when Mark Evanier wrote about a Broadway AIDS benefit.

    As for my "grudging" admittance, there was nothing "grudging" about it. For every letter like yours, we receive a half-dozen who WANT me to address the issues of the day. It's been my own choice to focus mainly on comics.

    Over the years, I have received requests to reprint my columns from priests and ministers, librarians and teachers, and others. They obviously see a value in my work that escapes you.

    Re: your comments on the so-called "dumbing down" of Marvel Comics in the 1970s. Gotta love that conservative paranoia. Yes, that's right, we got together and decided to make our comic books really dumb. I hate to burst your bubble, but there were not a lot of official policies at the Marvel offices back then. Those came in with Jim Shooter.

    Our goal was to create entertaining and interesting comic books which would sell well enough to pay Marvel's bills and our own. If we added balloons on the covers or changed the name of a comic, it was because we thought these would sell more comics. I designed and wrote covers from time to time and, very often, had the copy in mind before the cover was drawn.

    And since I seem to be making it a habit to disagree with you, I thought MARVEL COLLECTOR'S ITEM CLASSICS was a clunky title and preferred MARVEL'S GREATEST COMICS. I don't consider it any more juvenile than when a recording artist releases his or her "greatest hits" collection.

    As for writing more about my time at Marvel, keep watching the various TwoMorrows publications. Jon Knutson has been conducting the world's longest Tony Isabella interview. A good chunk of it will appear in COMIC BOOK ARTIST and other TwoMorrows mags before the end of the year.

    Finally, concerning Harlan's unfortunate comments on Don Heck, you insist on forgetting how many times Harlan has explained the genesis of the comment and apologized--in print and in personal correspondence with the late artist--for making it. You seem to have a very selective memory.

Yeah, I was probably way too hard on the guy, but everyone has bad days. To add some perspective to my ire, let me mention that, to a tiny group of CBG readers, it's "leftist propaganda" whenever Peter David or I write about or in support of the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund. Heavy sigh.

I'll anticipate your next question. I haven't identified the readers whose comments appear above because I wasn't entirely sure their e-mails were meant for publication. I'm currently working on a loaner computer and am having some small trouble accessing all my files. I opted to err on the side of caution.



It was the final straw, but it didn't break the camel's back. In fact, it seems to have signaled the end of a pretty rough period in said camel's life, the camel being yours truly.

I've been dealing with some fairly serious health problems for the past ten weeks or so. The original course of treatment wasn't working and my conditions were aggravated when my children brought a particularly nasty flu bug home from school. The final straw was dropped a few days ago when my computer crashed.

My computer isn't walking away from this particular crash and things were looking pretty bleak. However, I discovered a whiz of a computer guy living around the block from me and he was working in my office within an hour of my calling him. He was able to save most of my important files and transfer them to a loaner computer.

He's presently building me a new system which I can't afford, but which I also can't not afford, if you know what I mean. I should have it in about a week.

Having reached the last straw threshold, I took some time off just to rest and reevaluate this and that. A fortunate coincidence was that the second course of treatment for my most serious ailment was proving to be effective. In fact, even though I am the poster child for side effects, I was handling this new medication better than I had any right to expect. For the first time in a long time, I can honestly say I'm feeling great!

The other bit of personal news I have for you is that Norman Barth and I have decided to postpone the launch of my new thrice-weekly TONY'S ONLINE TIPS column until Friday, March 2. This delay will insure that there will be no delays once the column launches. But, if you want to set your bookmarks early, the URL for Norman's PERPETUAL COMICS website and online store is

I'm working on another surprise for the readers of this weekly column-including WORLD FAMOUS COMICS webmaster Justin-but I'll be telling you about that next week. See you then.

Tony Isabella

<< 02/02/2001 | 02/09/2001 | 02/16/2001 >>

Discuss this column with me at my Message Board. Also, read Heroes and Villains: Real and Imagined and view my Amazon Wish List.

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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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