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From COMICS BUYER'S GUIDE #1430 (04/13/01)

Darryl: "It's not what's poured into a child, but what is planted that counts."

Guest #1: That's lovely, Darryl! Was that Shakespeare?

Guest #2: Churchill?

Wanda: Aristotle?

Guest #3: Twain?

Guest #4: Voltaire?

Darryl: Chuckie Finster, Rugrats Episode #6,412.


Darryl: What?? It was a good saying!

Wanda: Yeah, well, if you want people to take you seriously, I wouldn't go around quoting cartoon characters.

from BABY BLUES by Rick Kirkman and Jerry Scott

I'm going to go Darryl one step better (or worse?) this week. I'm going to be quoting cartoon CREATORS or, to be more accurate, I'm going to be running letters from several comic-book creators on subjects that have been discussed in recent Tips columns and other weighty topics.

First up is MAX ALLAN COLLINS, commenting on my review of ROAD TO PERDITION in CBG #1424

    The Road to Perdition movie has started shooting in Chicago, so this really seems to be happening. I'm thrilled, obviously, and hope this will jump-start interest in my other work, particularly the Nate Heller novels. A new one, ANGEL IN BLACK, about the Black Dahlia, is just hitting the stores.

    Though I did a one-shot issue of GRIFTER a year or so ago--for the simple reason that they called me and offered me the assignment --I considered Road my comics swan song. I haven't actively sought any work in the field since its publication. I admit to a little bitterness about the lack of attention the graphic novel received when it came out. I considered it may best work in comics, and it received almost no reviews and no nominations. I figured this was the industry's less than subtle way of showing me to the door, and, since other areas of the entertainment industry have shown more interest in my talents, that was fine by me.

    You are virtually the only person in the comics industry to notice Road is about to become a movie. Think about it. It's Tom Hanks, Paul Newman, Jude Law, Jennifer Jason Leigh, and on and on, directed by Sam Mendes (who won best director last year for AMERICAN BEAUTY), produced by the Zanucks, executive-produced by Steven Spielberg (who handpicked the property, reportedly saying, "I don't even have to storyboard it!") and it's based on a comics project...and nobody in comics noticed. I've had exactly one phone call from DC, from my editor on the project. Nothing else. Not a letter or card of congrats from anybody at DC. Zip. Thanks for being the exception.

    I do have one small objection: I don't care for the assertion that Road is "based" on two comics. Obviously, there is an homage factor where LONE WOLF AND CUB is concerned; I acknowledged that with the epigram, and have published a long article about the Lone Wolf movies and the manga from which those movies spring. I'm an unabashed fan of Lone Wolf. But beyond the father-and-son at odds with the shogun/godfather aspect, Road has precious few parallels to Lone Wolf, including the age difference between father and son. This is not about a baby in a cart, but a young man coming into young adulthood. The envelope--the adult offspring looking back on these violent events--has no parallel in Lone Wolf, either.

    Also, the core story--the Looney crime family and the various betrayals and fallings out--is historically based, in the style of the Heller novels.

    Ironically, the Hollywood people are changing "Looney" to "Rooney" because they think the former is too "comic- booky," though it's the gangster's real name, a name that attracted me to the story in the first place.

    So I think it's an overstatement to say Road is "based" on Lone Wolf. One of the chief inspirations, yes, like Flash Gordon and Star Wars. But Road is its own animal.

    Again, I'm so grateful to you for the kind and generous things you had to say about my work and that you alerted the industry (not that anyone gives a flip) about this major movie adapted from a comic.

I agree that it was an overstatement that Road was "based on" Lone Wolf and Cub. What was meant as a hook was also meant to be clarified later in the column, an intention lost because I just got so wrapped up in praising Road. As "swan songs" go, Collins could not have belted out a sweeter tune. However, I trust he'll forgive me if I cling to the hope that we haven't yet seen the last of his comics writing.

On a less optimistic note, I remain baffled as to why DC has not yet scheduled a reprint of ROAD TO PERDITION-the movie opens this Christmas--and why the comics press has dropped the ball on a far more major story than who will be writing the X-Men comics this year. We, of all people, should know better.

For the latest news on the Road to Perdition movie, visit its website at

In CBG #1427, I reviewed recent issues of AVENGERS and, in doing so, questioned the inclusion of the Triune Understanding on the Avengers status board. Since the team's federal liaison is a member of that seemingly legitimate (to the world) organization, as is the Avenger known as Triathlon, I thought those gentlemen might be a tad upset to see the leader of their faith accorded the same status as Attuma and the Taskmaster?

Avengers writer KURT BUSIEK responds

    That was actually an error; artist Alan Davis was supposed to draw Lord Templar, and got mixed up. But we decided to go with it, and we'll see Triathlon's reaction to it soon.

Since its relaunch some three years ago, AVENGERS has staked its claim to being one of the best super-hero comics around. Many readers, myself included, believe this run ranks favorably with the best the title has ever offered. As it has from the first issue of the relaunch, AVENGERS gets my highest recommendation.

ROGER STERN has also written many notable issues of AVENGERS as well as memorable issues of darn near every other classic Marvel title. He writes

    Re: your "Final Thought" from CBG #1426.

    Marvel did a sort of "back to the basics" month back in July of 1997; they called it "Flashback Month." I didn't see all of the comics produced from Marvel then, but the ones I did had the kind of traditional panel grids that you and I grew up on.

    Ah, white space! When I broke into the comics game, back in the Jurassic Period, comics came from the printer with the paper already yellowed for your protection. In those days, you couldn't refer to a character driving a white car without getting letters from readers objecting that the car wasn't white at all, but "actually kind of beige."

    Today, when we finally have paper that is white--and stays that way-all too few artists and colorists are leaving any white space. The result is page after page of over-rendered, over- airbrushed, full-bleed pages that are well named. They certainly make my eyes bleed!

    I've been fortunate in recent years to work with two incredible artists--Bruce Timm on AVENGERS #1-1/2, and Steve Rude on THE INCREDIBLE HULK VS. SUPERMAN--who both drew at the old, pre-1993 proportions, white panel borders and white space all around. Their storytelling was so clean and precise that it made writing those stories a real joy.

    I share your dismay at the ascension of garish computer color in today's comic books. Color is a background element of a comics story; it shouldn't take the center stage and, whenever it does, it distracts from the story and obscures the artwork. The best color artists are the subtle ones.

Legendary comics artist DICK AYERS, after seeing the partial list of movies featuring cartoonists which ran in CBG #1426, wrote to share some information connected to one of the films, the 1964 HOW TO MURDER YOUR WIFE. He wrote

    In the fall of 1949, maybe September, I was making the rounds in New York City trying to get some work in addition to the Jimmy Durante comic I was penciling, inking and lettering...and having no luck. I went in to the Commodore Bar to await the train home from Grand Central.

    A chap standing next to me at the bar noticed my portfolio, asking if I was an artist and telling me he was looking for one. When I showed him Jimmy Durante samples, he said, I was "It."

    He was the director of the SUSPENSE half hour TV show on CBS. He was putting together a show about a comic strip artist plotting to kill his wife and putting it in his strip--a strip similar to Dick Tracy--and his readers catching on to its reality.

    The director (Robert Stevens) commissioned me to do the mock strips which appeared in the show. It was "live" TV and the camera shot over my shoulder as, across a pad on a desk, I scrawled "The Comic Strip Murders..."starring Lili Palmer and Don Briggs and Eva Marie Saint." Years later, this TV show inspired the movie HOW TO MURDER YOUR WIFE!

    Robert Stevens offered me a job as his assistant...and I told him "No thanks," that I wanted to be a comic strip/book artist. But that's another story.

Needless to say, I love this kind of behind-the-scenes stuff. Fans and friends of Ayers-and I'm proud to be both-can catch up with him by visiting his website

Recently, letterer and sometimes writer TOM ORZECHOWSKI and I were taking part in a mailing list discussion re: online piracy of copyrighted works. As such discussions tend to do, the thread then veered off into another direction. He wrote

    Cary Bates once caught me on the value of the story. At a time when he and I were both renting office space at Continuity, he handed me a copy of the then-current issue of ACTION COMICS (#507) and asked me what I thought of it. In the story, Clark Kent is told by Lois Lane and a few others in the office that Pa Kent has been by. None of them express any sense that this is remarkable. Later, when Clark and Pa come face to face, Pa relates to him as if they'd been in frequent touch.

    As Clark surveys Smallville's coroner's office, phone bills, everything he can think of, he finds no sign that Pa Kent had died while Clark was in his late teens. All of his friends, Lana Lang, Pete Ross, take Pa's ongoing life as an ordinary fact.

    Superman is forced to conclude that his memories must be being influenced by Red Kryptonite or something. In the final panel, he embraces Pa and says something warm and fuzzy.

    "What happens next?!", I demanded. Cary smiled and replied, "Give me 40 cents," the cost of the next issue.

I remember this Superman story fondly. Just before or after Bates wrote it, he also wrote a three-issue serial wherein Lex Luthor reformed. I thought these issues were arguably some of his best work. They were emotional and suspenseful, so much so that I was actually disappointed when the status quo was restored at their conclusions.

I've long contended that if DC had retained these monumental changes to the Superman mythos-bringing back Pa Kent and reforming Superman's greatest foe-they would have revitalized the character without the massive and sometimes ill-conceived continuity reboots that followed several years later.

Think of it. From these issues on, the readers would have had to realize that ANYTHING could happen to Superman and his pals. It would have expanded the possibilities for the entire DC pantheon. It is the difference between truly engaging the reader's sense of wonder...and trying to tidy up a fictional universe by shoving the laundry under the bed.

Please send your comments on and review items for this column to: Tony's Tips, P.O. Box 1502, Medina, OH 44258. You can e-mail Tony at.



I receive quite a bit of mail and e-mail from my readers, some of it defying rational explanation. Folks have sent me photos of themselves and their families, which makes me feel all warm inside. Folks have also sent me *nude* photos of themselves, which makes me feel other than warm inside. It's not the nudity that disturbs me so much as the quality thereof. Why don't Allison Janney or Julia Roberts ever send me that kind of photo?

Sometimes I get very personal letters from people whose lives I've touched in some small way with my writing and I cherish those greatly. Sometimes I get lengthy rants which often suggest that I will surely burn in Hell for all eternity and those are kind of fun in a twisted way. Only once have I received a threat worth turning over to the postal authorities and they handled it quite capably, thank you.

There are some disgruntled readers for whom junk mail is their "weapon" of choice. They have signed me up for book clubs, which isn't even annoying since it takes me all of two seconds to refuse such shipments. They have signed me up for political and religious mailings, most of which go into the recycle bin with no real effort on my part.

One soul, taking offense at my support of gay rights, thought it the height of wit to enroll me in an organization of gay senior citizens. I'm not quite sure what he thought this would accomplish, but I'm sure the organization made good use of the membership fee he paid. I hope they weren't too disappoint that he never renewed my membership.

The funniest junk mail I ever received was a catalog for adult incontinence products. It was a clever way for someone to express his opinion of my writings. Granted, it was only funny that FIRST time, but that's why I have a recycle bin.

Drifting back to the positive side of my "celebrity" status, I also receive friendly cards on my birthday and on holidays, gifts for all occasions and none, and all the love and support a writer could ask for. I am blessed.

I am blessed, but I am seldom surprised by the mail and e-mail I receive. However, "seldom" isn't "never"...and the above column brought forth a totally unexpected response from one of my readers. I'm talking two solid, thinly-spaced pages of vitriol directed at the comics writing of Cary Bates.

The reader began by claiming that Bates was "the world's worst comic-book writer bar none" and continued to heap on the venom for the rest of his letter. I can be fairly caustic in reviewing some particularly terrible comic book, and I'll cop to stating my belief that the comics industry is better off for the absence of certain individuals, but, as I live and breathe, I am Little Mary Flipping Sunshine next to this fan.

What amazed me most was that the tirade was ignited by such a brief mention of Bates and his work. What amazed me almost as much was the target of his wrath.

I knew Bates slightly when we were both working for DC Comics in the 1970s. He was a good guy, fun to talk with, hard-working, and, in my estimation, a fine writer. True, not every one of the likely thousand-plus comics stories he wrote was a winner, and some small percentage may have been out-and-out stinkers, but, overall, his body of work was an impressive one and one most of his readers found entertaining.

Bates no longer works in comics, instead devoting his talents to screenwriting. From what I gather, he does not like to discuss his comics career and has declined all requests for interviews on his work. None of which changes my astonishment that anyone could go ballistic over my mentioning his name and work.

I'm not going to run this reader's letter. Whatever points he was attempting to make were lost in the rancor permeating each and every paragraph thereof. His hostility is way out of proportion to the imagined offense; his letter crossed the line between reviewing a person's work and reviewing the person.

Having written well over two thousand columns, I suspect that line is one I may have crossed as well, though, hopefully, only on extremely rare occasion. Receiving a lethal letter like this one reminds me to be alert for similar transgressions in my own work, one more lesson to be learned from my readers.

I receive lots of mail/e-mail from my readers. It takes a lot of time to read it and to respond to even some of it. But there's never been a moment when I didn't appreciate them taking the time to write...or think that reading and responding to it wasn't worth the time and effort to do.

Please keep those cards and letters, electronic or otherwise, coming. Keep sending me whatever you think I need to read or see, especially if your name is Allison Janney or Julia Roberts. Keep making the journey so fulfilling and so much fun...and I will do my best to keep these "travel" reports coming your way.

I'll be back next Friday with more stuff.

Tony Isabella

<< 04/06/2001 | 04/13/2001 | 04/20/2001 >>

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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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Medina, OH 44256

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