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

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TONY'S ONLINE TIPS
From COMICS BUYER'S GUIDE #1423 (02/23/01)

"A good story is at its best when the line between truth and fiction remains ambiguous."

--Leicester Hemingway

It's 1971 and we're celebrating the 30th anniversary of COMICS BUYER'S GUIDE. As hard to believe as this sometimes seems to us, this newspaper has actually outlasted some of the comic books that inspired its creation all those years ago.

Your beloved columnist wasn't around back then, of course, but I spent several hours going through the Krause back issues library during our last editorial summit, mostly to avoid Clark Blevanier's endless blathering on great vaudeville performers. Like many CBG readers, I wonder when someone will explain to him that this paper is about comic BOOKS and not show business.

At least Blevanier's column is occasionally educational and humorous, unlike, say, Jeeter Ravid's nutty left-wing propaganda. It's beyond me how the guy can get from the Comics Code Authority's welcome vigilance to a bizarre Orwellian future wherein an amateur cartoonist can be prevented by court order from drawing comics in his own house. Thankfully, CBG's editors have been sticking him at the back of the newspaper.

Lest ye think I'm being too harsh on CBG, let me add that I've always thought its variety of features and opinions made the paper that much more interesting. If I want to read about the earliest comics, I can read "Ask Mr. Platinum Age." If I want to read about recent books, there's the "Major Modern" column. And if I want to read insightful commentary on individual comics and larger industry issues, there's this column. Truly, CBG offers something for each and every reader.

CBG has long been recognized as the most important publication in the comics industry, but, looking through those back issues, I got a sense of its proud legacy. What with the war-time shortage of paper--that would be World War II, by the way--publisher Lonnie Bright sometimes had difficulty finding quality paper on which to print his weekly issues. I got a painful splinter from a chunk of wood floating within a 1942 edition of the newspaper.

No stranger to controversy, CBG came under fire during the war years for promoting readers saving their comics instead of donating them to paper drives. Ultimately, Bright's argument that Americans weren't cleaning out the shelves of our public and school libraries for these drives won out. We take the ready availability of almost any old comic book for granted these days and don't--often enough--credit CBG's role in preserving the literature of the graphic story art form.

Not to dwell on the unpleasant, but controversy has never been a stranger to these pages. Who can forget the "Oh, So?" clashes between EC Comics publisher William Gaines and quack psychologist Fredric Wertham, or the angry letters re: Stan Lee claiming for his and Jack Kirby's FANTASTIC FOUR the title of "the world's greatest comics magazine?" Not surprisingly, the subsequent Pulitzer prizes awarded to EC, Lee, and Kirby have largely silenced their critics, and it's amusing to reread those missives today.

Comic book fans have always had long memories, though. Even though it's been seven years since the light-hearted Batman of Bob Kane and Jack Schiff was replaced by the "darker" knight of Julius Schwartz, John Broome, and Carmine Infantino, CBG continues to run the odd letter from some "mired in the past" fan unable to accept any change in his or her favorite characters.

And don't even get me started on the newest comics controversy to hit our pages, the practice of sealing even recent comic books in plastic bags with *permanent* tape and trying to sell them for the most outrageous prices to "collectors" who won't ever take them out of the bags. I mean, if you're not going to read your comic books, you might as well seal them away in blocks of amber. Some people will try anything for a fast buck.

Enough wallowing in the past. Let's talk about yours truly. After all, 1971 is the year when "America's Most Beloved Comic-Book Columnist" will celebrate his 20th birthday. That's right; I'll be a teenager no more. In fact, I expect to move out of my parents' basement by the end of the year.

As an adult, I'm free to travel to comics and science fiction conventions as far away as New York City. I'm definitely going to be at Phil Seuling's Comic Art Convention, July 2 through 5 at the Statler Hilton Hotel. Sure, it's expensive--$3.50 for the regular membership, $18 per day for a hotel room if I can't find other fans to split the cost, and over $50 for my student standby airfare--but this event is the place to be if I'm going to pursue my dreams of someday writing comic books.

While we're talking about conventions, I should also discuss the finer points of fan/pro etiquette. For many fans, the con will be their first exposure to actual writers and artists and editors. The most important thing to realize is that they are coming to this event to learn from YOU. That stuff in their letters columns about our being the real editors isn't just hype; they really mean it and they want you to be vocal about all the things they're doing wrong in their comics.

I'm guessing there will be a lot more comics professionals at the con than fans. The pros don't have much to do when they aren't working. They don't have to do homework. They don't go to Chess Club meetings. They don't have after school jobs to pay for their comics because they get them for free. They don't even go on dates like, ahem, some of us do, because they're either married or old or both. This con is the highlight of their lives.

It's your responsibility as a fan to make sure even the least of these pros doesn't lack for attention. That editor or writer on his way to the washroom would be honored to discuss your ideas for his titles or read your script. Even if you've never gotten around to actually writing your script, they will be able to tell you how good it is just from your telling them about it. Yes, it's an hour or two out of your convention, but, trust me on this, the pros will appreciate your kindness.

It's different with the artists because, as we know, most of them aren't all that good with words. That doesn't mean you should ignore them, though. The highest compliment you can pay them is to ask them to draw something for you. Keep in mind that you'll have to explain in detail what you want them to draw for you and might even have to supply them with reference material on the characters.

I know, I know, you'd think people working in the comics industry would know all these characters by heart, but, shockingly, that's not always the case.

This next bit of etiquette is *very* important. Comics artists make their living drawing comics. They get paid for it. Offering them money for the drawings they do for you at a convention would be about the most insulting thing you could do. This is their only chance to show their appreciation for the 15, 20, and 25 cents you spend on their comics. Don't burst their bubble by handing them a few dollars for the drawings. You'll hurt their feelings.

Getting back to me, this convention will almost certainly mark my ascension into the ranks of professional comicdom. Many of the current writers are in their 40s and 50s, which means they're going to be retiring from comics and moving to the less demanding fields of writing for novels or television. The editors, who make so much money they would never leave comics, know their fat salaries depend on their finding new stars. What with having finished second in the category of "Favorite Fan Writer" in this year's awards--losing by one very questionable vote to Jan StrnadI figure those editors are going to be eager to sign me. I'm ready for them.

The comics industry needs new ideas if it's going to continue to entertain millions of years through the end of the millennium.

I have been doing a great deal of thinking about this from both the creative and the business ends of things.

We have to recognize that characters like Superman and Batman are over 30 years old and are showing their age. Even the younger super-heroes like Spider-Man and Green Lantern of Earth-1 have been around since the early 1960s. We need to shake up the old fogeys AND create daringly new heroes for the comics readers of today and tomorrow.

Maybe we should just cancel all existing comics and start from scratch. Picture the infant Kal-el landing on Earth in the 1950s and being raised, not by simple farmers and shopkeepers, but by the government itself. What a powerful symbol of our country's sacred role as defender and leader of the world he would be.

Maybe Julius Schwartz's mistake with Batman was not making him dark enough. Let's say the murder of Bruce Wayne's parents was so traumatic that, as an adult, he has no purpose other than to fight criminals as Batman. Maybe Robin and his other "allies" are mere tools to that end. If they get crippled, if they get killed, then he replaces them with the next eager recruit.

Wonder Woman probably needs an overhaul or three, but I don't know if she's worth the effort. Female super-heroes don't sell well. Let her hang around the Justice League headquarters and look sexy or, if we must give her a more important role, let her become GL's girlfriend or something. Better yet, ditch her completely and put Zatanna in the Justice League.

Speaking of Green Lantern, when did those editors and writers lose track of the fact he's a test pilot? Those hotshot pilots are always looking for excitement. When he's not saving the world, Hal Jordan should be hitting the bars every night and maybe even going a little wild with his power ring. If he's going to be so boring, then we might as well replace him with an architect or an artist or someone equally dull.

Marvel is in much better shape than DC, but that doesn't mean they can't use new blood as well. Look at Spider-Man. He started out as a high-school student, being picked on by football players and losing himself in his science projects, and those were moving and realistic stories. Now he's in college with a motorcycle and a gorgeous girlfriend. How dumb is that?

Maybe Marvel should just launch a new Spider-Man comic every few years. Let him get his powers as a freshman and lose them when he graduates, maybe even passing them on to some other high-school nebbish. Let's face it; those first couple of years of Spider-Man are so good that they should be retold and updated just as often as possible. I never get tired of them.

I'm planning to create new characters for Marvel, too, heroes taken from the headlines. Comics have largely ignored our soldiers in Vietnam. Oh, sure, every now and then, Captain America or Iron Man take out a few commies, but that's pretty much it. Even worse, when our boys come home, they don't come home to parades honoring them, but to demonstrations protesting their heroic efforts across the globe. That's just not right.

Suppose there was a Vietnam vet who decided not to take it any more. He dons a costume and, using the military skills he got from our government, wages war on the criminals and traitors in our own country. He would make sure the punishment fit their crimes. All I need is a name and I have Marvel's next big hit.

Sure, the super-heroes are the pinnacle of the graphic story art form, but that doesn't mean we should ignore the other kinds of comics published today. Sure, I'LL be too busy to write for them, but there are more than enough lesser talents around to work on the horror, science-fiction, war, western, romance, and various kiddie comics like ARCHIE, CASPER, and DONALD DUCK. In fact, those could be a good training ground for the super-hero writers and artists of the future.

I've also been thinking about the business end of comics and, at the convention, I'll be talking to Carmine Infantino and Martin Goodman about my ideas. They need to realize that comic books will always be here. You have to go to a movie theater to see a movie, but comic books are available at every corner store, drug store, and supermarket. And where else can you get so much entertainment for a quarter or less? Our future is secure.

Rather than waste a lot of time gilding the lily by exploring new formats and venues, DC and Marvel and all those other companies should focus on coming out with more titles, preferably super-hero titles. At only fifteen cents apiece, readers like me can and will buy dozens of them every week. Oh, sure, I'll be turning pro and getting *my* comic books for free pretty soon, but there will always be more readers to take my place.

Like Stan "the Man" Lee, I'm facing forward and looking at a bright tomorrow for comics fans everywhere. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if comic books started becoming big in foreign countries, too. Lord knows those deprived readers in Great Britain, Europe, and Japan could use some entertainment.

(Tony Isabella, "America's Most-Beloved Comic-Book Columnist," wants to hear from you. But, since his folks don't want their home address published, you'll have to write to him care of this paper. Excelsior!)
******

ADDENDUM

Confused? My guess is that you're not the only reader who doesn't quite "get" the above meanderings.

CBG editor Maggie Thompson wanted to do something retro for that worthy publication's 30th anniversary issue. She hit upon the idea of producing the issue as if it had been published back in 1971. So far, so good.

Then, Maggie decided to embellish her idea. Not only would the contributors and editors write our material as if we were writing in 1971, we would be writing for the 30th anniversary of a newspaper that had launched in *1941*.

At least one of the weekly columnistsno names, but it was not yours truly-wanted to forego appearing in CBG #1423 rather than attempt such an installment of his column. I confess that I was more than a little leery of the concept myself. However, as Maggie well knows, I love a challenge and proceeded to write the heck out of it.

One of my professional-and much too generous--friends said my effort made me an equal of Jonathan Swift, which praise will assure my buying him several drinks and maybe even a meal or two when next we meet. Several other readers have e-mailed me with similar praise, which surely proves insanity can be contagious. But, at the end of the day, I had fun writing the above and many of my readers had fun reading it. That works for me.

******

STUFF ABOUT ME

I have my new computer and it's probably more computer than I need. It's not completely set up-no printer or scanner yet-but it's getting there. Woo-hoo!

My health and optimism are both very high. I expect to have all but one of my outstanding projects completed before the end of the month and that one completed by mid-March. After that, I have so many projects I want to do that it's going to be tough choosing between them. Will I make any money off them? Lord, I hope so, but first I need to write them.

Sainted Wife Barb is planning our family vacation. It's not impossible that we'll be on the West Coast around the same time as San Diego's Comic-Con International, but I wouldn't hold your breath waiting to see me at the convention. The main goal is to have fun with my family; if I get to hang with some comics fans and pros here and there, that's a bonus. I'll try to keep you posted on where we'll be and when.

The only convention for which I am definitely booked is Mid-Ohio-Con 2001, November 24 and 25, in Columbus. Once again, I'm in change of the panel programming and, once again, I'm totally open to suggestions. You know where to find me.

Will I be attending any other conventions? That depends on whether I'm *invited* to any other cons and the expense involved in attending them. However, I'm open to such invitations; all you promoters have to do is ask and we'll see if we can make it happen. Fair enough?

The new thrice-weekly TONY'S ONLINE TIPS column will debut at Norman Barth's PERPETUAL COMICS on Friday, March 2. If you want a good seat, you might want to bookmark the site now. You can find it at.

http://www.PerpetualComics.com/


Finally, between now and the end of the month, I'm going to tidy up my clippings/e-mail files to have a more-or-less clean slate for the launch of the new column. Whatever I can't fit in my next columns will appear on the TONY'S TIPS MESSAGE BOARD. It's an enormously fun place to hang, so I hope you'll stop by often and join in our discussions there.

I'll be back next week with more stuff.

Tony Isabella

<< 02/16/2001 | 02/23/2001 | 03/02/2001 >>

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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THE "TONY" SCALE

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.

Tony
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.

TonyTony
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?

TonyTonyTony
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.

TonyTonyTonyTony
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?

TonyTonyTonyTonyTony
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.



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