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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 #1425 (03/09/01)

"Time is the coin of your life. It is the only coin you have, and only you can determine how it will be spent. Be careful lest you let other people spend it for you."

--Carl Sandburg

I received recently a letter from a CBG reader who is serving time in a California prison. His request of me was not unique; he wanted me to mentor him in his quest to become a comic-book writer, to teach him tricks of the trade, to shape his skills, to work with him on the great ideas he had.

This reader's request was not unique and, sadly, neither are his circumstances. I don't know how many CBG subscribers receive their weekly issues in prisons, but I do know that I hear from such readers several times a year. I make no judgment on the rightness or wrongness of their incarcerations, save for expressing my belief that, whether through ill-conceived mandatory sentencing laws or a national temperament weighing more heavily towards vengeance than justice, we are warehousing too many non-violent offenders for too long and not considering the long-term effects of such actions on our national future.

Time is, indeed, the coin of my life, and it pains me that I am not wealthy enough to be able to accommodate all who ask it of me. I do what I can when I can. I answer questions from reporters and teachers. I look at a young artist's work at a convention and offer what advice and encouragement I can. I speak on the comics art form at libraries and schools. I stretch my resources as far as I can while fulfilling family and professional responsibilities. At the end of each day, I note with a sigh that my purse is lighter than I would like.

So, please do not take offense if yours is the request that I cannot fulfill. Nor should you feel embarrassed for having made it of me. I appreciate your spending your coin, minted and temporal, on my writings. I will continue striving to give you your money's worth and then some.

Peter Kuper's SPEECHLESS (Top Shelf; $19.95) is definitely the pick of the week. This large format (9-1/2" by 12-1/2") hardcover is nothing less than a celebration of the many and wondrous forms that comics and illustration in general can take. It's an artistic diary of an amazing and uncompromising talent. It's educational, inspirational, and just plain fun to experience.

My history crosses Kuper's timeline in the early 1970s. I met him and his lifelong friend Seth Tobocman, himself an accomplished artist, as teenagers attending meetings of the Graphic Arts Society I'd founded in my hometown of Cleveland, Ohio. These meetings were held in a West Side recreation center; they lived on the East Side. It was unusual for West and East to meet back then-I have never understood why-but no borders could restrain comics fans seeking others of their ilk. I remember them as bright and energetic teens who eventually took over the Society shortly before I moved to New York to take a job at Marvel Comics.

By the time Kuper moved to New York to pursue his ambitions, I was back in Cleveland. I knew he was inking RICHIE RICH, of all things, and that he was Howard Chaykin's assistant for a couple of years. Chaykin spoke highly of him.

I started seeing Kuper's work here and there, but, slow on the uptake as I can sometimes be, I don't think I realized how good he was until Fantagraphics published NEW YORK, NEW YORK, a collection of his comic strips. After that, it was a given that I would pick up his work whenever I found it. It was always worth the search, especially when the hunt led to me to the revolutionary WORLD WAR 3, one of the most memorable anthologies in the history of comics. Using SPEECHLESS as your guidebook, I predict you'll soon share my appreciation of Kuper's creations and the thrill of hunting them out whenever you can find them.

Having drifted back to SPEECHLESS itself, let me tell you that the book's 112 full-color pages make for a tasty sampler of Kuper's art and philosophy. He is an activist artist; most of his work is drawn from the world around him and his commentaries on the social condition are dramatic and insightful. He's also an adventurous artist; a series of Kuper paintings on discarded windows delighted me for the audacity of their medium and the depth of their images. He can be an amusing artist and he can be an angry artist. I find him endlessly and marvelously challenging.

SPEECHLESS contains complete stories, dozens of illustrations, and the artist's personal reflections on his approach, career, and experiences. Were I of a finicky nature, I might well grouse that some works were printed so small that my eyes hurt from looking at them through a magnifying glass. But, for every bit of art that I couldn't appreciate fully, there were dozens more I found nothing short of exhilarating.

By dint of mature themes, images, and language, SPEECHLESS is not a book I'd suggest to readers under the age of 16. However, I enthusiastically recommend it to all others. In every sense, it is coin exceedingly well spent.

NBM Publishing has been doing a fine job introducing American readers to some of the best European cartoonists and some equally talented American artists, such as Rick Geary, to the rest of the world. There's always a twinge of excitement whenever I receive a review package from them. Conversely, because I've come to expect much from this publisher, it's a little more disappointing than the norm when what's inside said package doesn't quite live up to my expectations.

Two things struck me about the cover to GIPSY: THE GIPSY STAR ($10.95). The first was that "gipsy" is an uncommon spelling of the word, the second that the hero looked an awful lot like Gambit of the X-Men. Inside the tale itself-the book is the first of an ongoing series--"gypsy" is spelled with the more common two "y"s and THE Gypsy looks somewhat more Japanese than Cajun, but I never completely got past those initial impressions.

GIPSY is science fiction of the dystopian-and-not-so-distant-future sort. The northern hemisphere is going through an ice age. The world is in turmoil. Law and order is a rarity. Corporations are the power. Independent rough-and-tumble truckers have become the most important workers of this new age.

Tsagoi, the "gypsy" of the title, is clever, courageous, and not overly concerned with the morality of his actions. He has been putting his kid sister through an expensive boarding school, but, when the money runs out, has her join him until he can make a score of sufficient size to restore her to her protected world. But the run that will do the trick is also a run which powerful forces do not want him to complete.

While I found the relationship between Tsagoi and his sister to be interesting, the rest of GIPSY left me cold. Writer Thierry Smolderen has crafted a readable script, but the story never grabs my attention for more than a scene here and a scene there. Artist Enrico Marini is very talented, his style combining influences from Japanese manga and from his fellow Europeans.

Recognizing my own prejudices, I confess I've never been a fan of dystopian science fiction. I took that into account in reading and reviewing this book, and still came to the conclusion that it wasn't something I could recommend to my readers. It looks good. It has wonderful production values. But it lacks depth, freshness, and the ability to pull the reader into its world.

NBM succeeds somewhat better with WAKE ($9.95) by Jean-David Morvan and Phillippe Buchet, though Buchet's blend of the European and manga artistic styles is far more jarring than in GIPSY. There was something downright unsettling about the nubile young heroine having those impossibly huge "child" eyes as she prances around an alien jungle in a state of undress. My discomfort was not lessened by the sloppy and clearly after-the-fact addition of a black strip across her otherwise uncovered breasts.

WAKE, also an ongoing series, takes us far from Earth. Navee, who was shipwrecked as an infant on a lush, uninhabited alien world and who has survived against all odds, is the heroine of the story. Wake is the huge convoy of ships seeking new civilizations for its masters, dominate beings who can read the minds and manipulate the thoughts of the races they subjugate. Navee is something outside their previous experience; she is neither mind controller or mind-controllable and this will likely be the key conflict between her and the lords of Wake.

While I can't recommend WAKE wholeheartedly, I do think it's worth checking out, shy of shelling out the ten bucks to purchase it sans such prior inspection. In Navee, Morvan and Buchet have a heroine of sufficient charm and interest that I'm in her corner and want to see what happens to her next. Additionally, the aftermath of her first meeting with a being from Wake is intriguing and gross in a good sort of way. This element is what was lacking in GIPSY, something I hadn't seen before.

Were I inclined to flash my digits in judgmental fashion, this week's column would end with SPEECHLESS getting two enthusiastic thumbs up, GIPSY getting a thumbs down, and WAKE getting a "maybe, maybe not" wave of my hand. But, as I am not so inclined, what you get is this

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



No, I'm not talking about Justin, wondrous Webmaster of World Famous Comics, though I wouldn't rule him out for canonization at some future date. I'm talking about St. Isadore of Seville, a 6th century Spanish monk and scholar.

According to wire reports, the Vatican has received a proposal to designate Isadore as the patron saint of the Internet. The monk spoke several languages and was considered the most learned man of his time. He created one of the world's first encyclopedias, a 20-volume set of books which covered math, history, grammar, theology, medicine, birds, road-making, clothes, and more.

San Pedro Regaldo, a 15th century Spanish priest, was also up for the title. He is said to have been able to appear in more than one place at once. If that's true, I think the Vatican should make him the patron saint of parents with more than one child.

However, Isidore is the front runner here and some think the decision could be made quickly. The busy monk is also the patron saint of photographers, motorcyclists, and radiologists. Clearly, he never had kids.



Back when we were talking about the Shape-Shifting Punisher and its dreaded GLORPIX [January 5], I received the following from F. ANDREW TAYLOR, writer/artist of BEER AND ROAMING IN LAS VEGAS. He enjoyed my commentary on said weird toy and thought I would get a kick out of the similar item he had written for CITYLIFE, one of the Vegas alternative weeklies. I did and now I'm sharing it with you

    The Grinch's WHAT grew three sizes?!

    You know you're in trouble when a eight year old girl is giving you that "you're a creepy bad man" look. I was minding my own business, strolling through the store when I chanced to see the new Grinch doll. "Squeeze me and my heart lights up."

    OK, so I squeeze one. Nothing. I squeeze another. Nothing. I pick up a third and start squeezing and probing all its nooks and crannies like a demented Mr. Whipple. I shout "Light, damn you." It was then I discovered the terrible truth. The Grinch's heart only lights up when you squeeze its crotch.

    Yeah, I know, everyone's told me. The same thing happens when your crotch gets squeezed.

    Didn't anyone in marketing foresee this, or is it all part of a subtle and deviate marketing plan? Are they trying to target that great untapped market of toy crotch squeezers?

    I checked out a stuffed Blue, the eponymous star of Blue's Clues, and that seemed fairly harmless. When you press its nose, it talks gibberish, and when you squeeze the paw, it plays a charming rendition of the show's theme song. Then I spotted the sign on the box: "When you take me home, I do more."

    Oh no. It ain't me, babe. That's as far as I fish about in those murky waters.

    It's getting hard to find a stuffed animal that doesn't have an iMac built into its belly. Last year I bought my son a Teletubby that said what sounded like "Faggot, faggot, bite my butt." So I am a tad wary about purchasing the robot dog he's got his eye on this year. I have visions of waking up with it perched on my chest, barking and demanding access to the launching codes.

    There's also a disturbing number of toys out there that are aimed at the thirty-plus crowd. Unless I'm totally out of it and kids are really clamoring for Yellow Submarine action figures. Or Shaft. (That doll is a bad mutha. Shut yo mouth.) Or the X-Men double pack featuring Jean Grey with super cleavage and the melting senator doll. I thought kids were supposed to make their own by popping their Strom Thurmond dolls in the toaster.

    Let's not forget the Crocodile Hunter action figure whose box proudly proclaims "Crickey, I Talk." Unfortunately all he says is, "Isn't she darling?."

    Zurg, one of the villains from TOY STORY 2 has a much wider range, including a wonderful maniacal laugh and the phrase. "When I take over the galaxy, I will be the law."

    Wasn't that one of Dubya's campaign slogans?

    Personally, I'm asking Santa for the Velma (from SCOOBY DOO) doll. I don't know, I just had a thing for her when I was a kid. I've been good this year. I picked up my room and stuff. Plus, I promise not to squeeze her crotch.

    If there's anyone watching.



My "Tony's Tips" column for February 16, reported that NBC had promised never again to air an episode of LAW AND ORDER following demands from Puerto Rican and Hispanic groups. The episode dealt with a fictional homicide set against last year's Puerto Rican Day Parade in Manhattan, and the groups were claiming the episode cast their communities in a bad light.

Tips reader RANDY BARRETT sent me this comment

    I watched the LAW AND ORDER episode and thought the show did a good job in pointing out that only a small percentage of the Puerto Rican community participated in the lawlessness. L&O's modus operandi is often to use a real news story as a starting point and put a fictional spin on it. This episode was no different.

    A few years back, crime writer Patricia Cornwell allegedly had an affair with the wife of a FBI agent. He wound up in a standoff with the police when he kept threatening to kill himself because he had found out about the affair. Last year, L&O aired an episode in which an FBI agent is accused of killing his wife because he found out about her affair with a female mystery writer. It was good episode with a vintage L&O twist ending. While I'm sure she didn't like it very much, Cornwell didn't even raise a ruckus...and she might have had a reason to do so.

My comment that I would be loathe to see most British writers working on CAPTAIN AMERICA continues to bring me deserved brickbats from my readers.

Here's one from ALLEN WRIGHT

    Personal preference is one thing and I can understand why you wouldn't relish a Warren Ellis or Mark Millar-scripted Captain America. But your remarks still cross the line into bigotry, more for nastiness of tone than the ideas behind your remarks.

    I can see British writers getting some details of Cap wrong, just as some issues of ALPHA FLIGHT contained laughable mistakes about Canada. The mistakes were usually forgivable because along with the mistakes were indications the writer was trying to get the details right. I'm not referring to John Byrne, naturally, because he does have a British/Canadian/American background.

    I'm not sure if Warren Ellis, etc. are quite as anti-American in their comics as you say. It seems to me that they are more anti-authoritarian. I can't recall their comics having many nice things to say about British traditions either. But, hey, it's all right to make fun of Brits. Well, I say with a grin, "most" Brits.

    I can't take issue with your disdain for Millar's SILVER AGE: JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA, but that "most Brits" crack crossed the line. I don't think four writers make up the majority of Great Britain/Ireland's population, or even the majority of their comic-book writers.

    Let's see, John Byrne's okay and Alan Moore and Neil Gaiman? How do you feel about artist/writer Alan Davis? If you're okay with his work, the number of acceptable Brit writers is the same as the unacceptable writers. Actually, the acceptable ones would have an advantage as Ennis is Irish. And, surely, you can think of some dark, tradition-mocking American writers who shouldn't work on Cap either.

    And the term "most Brits." What if someone complained about "gay" or "Yank" writers? And then said, well, maybe they only meant "most." Would such a qualification really make the remark seem less offensive?

    You seem like a good guy, and you've got a lot of intelligent things to say, but this time you just annoyed me and I guess I was in a responding mood.

Even "America's Most Beloved Comic-Book Writer and Columnist" needs to be taken out to the woodshed now and then. I apologize for my earlier remark while affirming my position that I would be loathe to see the writers I specifically named mucking about with Captain America.

However, I'll pass on listing all the *other* writers whom I also would hate to see on Cap. Maybe we could move the discussion to the TONY'S TIPS MESSAGE BOARD? This week's "Tips" is already over 3000 words long and I have to write today's "Tony's Online Tips" column for PERPETUAL COMICS.

I'll be back next week with more stuff.

Tony Isabella

<< 03/02/2001 | 03/09/2001 | 03/16/2001 >>

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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