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

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From COMICS BUYER'S GUIDE #1433 (05/04/01)

"Each second we live in a new and unique moment of the universe, a moment that never was before and will never be again. And what do we teach our children in school? We teach them that two and two make four, and that Paris is the capital of France. When will we also teach them what they are? You should say to each of them: Do you know what you are? You are unique. In all the world there is no other child exactly like you. In the millions of years that have passed there has never been a child like you. And look at your body--what a wonder it is! Your legs, your arms, your cunning fingers, the way you move! You may be a Shakespeare, a Michelangelo, a Beethoven. You have the capacity for anything. Yes, you are a marvel."

--Pablo Casals

Spring break comes early in my home town of Medina, Ohio, and spring cleaning follows right behind it. Eddie and Kelly have been cleaning their rooms, the activity consisting more of their finding new places to pile their stuff (books/clothes/games/toys/whatever) than actually putting any of it where it belongs. Meanwhile, their columnist father--that would be me-has been going through computer files in search of items to amuse or intrigue his readers. Leave us get right to it.

When newspaper readers decry comic strips which express some political viewpoint, Garry Trudeau's DOONESBURY is generally their favorite whipping boy. Others look askance at the fundamentalist religious beliefs that appear in Johnny Hart's B.C. and WIZARD OF ID features. Commenting on the "real" world is nothing new for the funnies; notable examples would include L'IL ABNER, LITTLE ORPHAN ANNIE, POGO, and STEVE CANYON.

I'm all for this; I believe comic strips which resonate with what's going on in our lives and happening on the front pages of our newspapers speak to us most strongly. Even so, Jimmy Johnson surprised me and, doubtless, his editors and readers by devoting a month's worth of his ARLO AND JANIS to Cuba or, more precisely and politically, to making a case for better relations between Cuba and the United States of America.

The strips are thoughtfully-presented, well-researched, often hilarious, and sometimes heart-rending. Johnson makes his case on its merits, emotionally at times, but he never does so by attacking the makers or maintainers of the USA's policies towards our island neighbor. Within the confines of the format, it's an even-handed and intelligent advocacy. I applaud Johnson and the editors savvy enough to appreciate that this kind of expression is as much a part of the comic-strip tradition as Snoopy napping on his doghouse roof and Mary Worth dispensing advice to her neighbors.

Speaking of MARY WORTH, that strip's current story features an estranged young couple, she's a state's attorney and he's a radical environmentalist, reuniting to help a delightful old harpy develop her property in an environmentally-conscious manner. We need these kids in Washington!

Even Doctor Rex Morgan is speaking out on the issues of late. He's addressed Congress on health care and started a group to lobby for the rights of patients. His wife June, a new mother and newly-licensed nurse practitioner is doing battle with the living avatar of second-hand smoke.

By and large, newspaper editors loathe the comic strips. They begrudge them the space they occupy, space the papers could, in the estimation of these benighted editors, better utilize. Not so the newspaper's readers; threaten one of their favorite strips and they respond like a lioness protecting her cubs.

Print publishing is not the dominant force it had once been; that's as true for newspapers as it is for our beloved comic books. Yet, despite that sad truth, comic strips remain an important part of the lives of hundreds of millions of readers.

When I look at the strips and the many ways in which they can and do touch our lives, and when I then look at comic books which so infrequently address the concerns and realities of our lives, I can't help but wonder if there is something to be learned from our sequential forefathers.

I don't care if Superman is stronger than Thor or vice versa. I want to know where they stand on the issues.

The column I wrote in the aftermath of the Santee High School shootings [CBG #1429; April 6] received an amazing, overwhelmingly positive response from readers. Several of the e-mails, letters, and postcards are too personal for me to run, but all were read and appreciated. This one is from ARTHUR CADEAUX

    I'm not sure if "beautiful" is actually the correct term here, but it was my first thought after reading your "Tony's Tips" column for April 6. "Beautiful" is used here, as in, "He really nailed it! Beautiful!" And you thought that expression was only limited to sports!

    I find myself in near-complete agreement with your assessment of today's politicians and the sad/terrifying events of which you wrote. I also recall what it's like to be the new kid at a strange school, and be bullied by bigger kids whose main strength is that they outnumber you. While I could never have gone to the lengths that Andy Williams did, even at that age, I had a pretty good sense of right and wrong, thanks in no small part to the comics of the late 1960s and early 1970s, I certainly fantasized about horrible fates befalling my tormentors.

    (What does that say about today's comics? Hmm, I'm showing my age here..and that's a rant for a different day.)

    As the parent of a young son, I'm determined he not go through the hell that I did as an adolescent; I just pray that I'm there for him when he needs me, and that I give him the best guidance that I possibly can.

    I'm getting carried away here. I wanted to say that as much as I enjoy your comics-related columns, I appreciate "real world" columns like this one just as much, if not more. Thanks.

    Moving on to more important topics: Who's stronger, Superman or Thor?

I think I already answered that question this week, I say with a grin. However, if I must be serious, I'll opine that Superman is stronger but that Thor's magic hammer could still take him down. Of course, the obvious next question is: would Superman stay down? Not a chance.

In CBG #1426 [March 26], I ran a list of movies that featured comic books, comic strips, or the creators thereof. Since then, I have managed to track down copies of three of the earliest movies with an eye towards watching and reviewing them here. All I have to do is find that elusive eighth day of the week and butter some popcorn, right?

In the meantime, here's some additions to the list from reader JIM BATTS

    Here are some films with comics creators as characters that weren't on your list

    Michael Crawford is a cartoonist who becomes his own creation in CONDORMAN (1979).

    In SLAMDANCE (1986), Thomas Hulce is a cartoonist involved in a murder mystery.

    How can we forget THE AMBULANCE (1993) starring Eric Roberts as a comic-book artist working for Stan Lee?

    The recent MONKEYBONE should also be included.

    Jack Lemmon has played cartoonists in two different movies. I seem to recall reading he was a friend of Bill Everett, creator of the Sub-Mariner.

    If you wish to include animators, we have John Cusack in ONE CRAZY SUMMER (1987). There were also animators in THE DUCK FACTORY, the 1984 television series.

    If you want a listing of TV shows with cartoonist characters, here's a start for you

    He & She (1967)

    My World and Welcome to It (1969)

    Too Close for Comfort (1980)

    Bob (1992)

    Caroline in the City (1995)

This has clearly become too big a project for one columnist. I'm thinking this calls for a CBG "theme" issue, even if it means bumping Project Editor Brent Frankenhoff's YOUNGBLOOD special off this year's schedule.

Our final letter this week is from PETE CHUKA, which besides flattering me a great deal, raises some questions shared by other readers. He writes

    I have been collecting comics for about 20 years and spent some time managing a comic-book store. That is as close to working in "the business" as I have ever come.

    I have enjoyed your column in CBG for quite some time and know you're a busy guy. I hate to bother you for a personal response, but maybe you could answer my questions in a future column.

    Going through some old promotional posters from my days in the store, I located an original page of comic art I had feared lost. Here's where my first question comes in...

    The piece is the splash of a story penciled by John Byrne, inked by Rudy Nebres, and published in GIANT-SIZE DRACULA #5 (June, 1975). You plotted the story"Dark Asylum"--and it was scripted by David Anthony Kraft.

    I've discussed the page with Byrne and Nebres. Byrne told me that it was his first piece of professional work ever, and that it had sat in the Marvel offices for quite a while before publication. Nebres told me he was still living in the Philippines until late in 1975, but did not recall when he actually inked the story.

    Can you add any more history on the item? I know that you've dedicated a large portion of your life to the comic-book medium; I found it interesting that you were also been directly involved with getting John his first work. Any memories or information that you might have would be extremely helpful.

    One more question. Do you have any plans in the near future to attend any comics shows in the New York area? I'd love to meet you and add your autograph to this page.

    Thanks so much for your time...and for the incalculable amount of time I've spent enjoying your work over the years.

Yes, it's true, I was responsible for Byrne getting his first work at Marvel. Byrne's hard work and talent are responsible for his continuing to get work at Marvel despite my trying to help him. Believe it or not, his samples were not met with universal interest when he first brought them to the office. Me, I was bowled over by them and made no secret of them.

What Byrne showed was a completely penciled 30-page Fantastic Four story wherein Johnny Storm met, wooed, and lost the Crystal of Counter-Earth. It was a terrific story and, though his penciling was a little rough, it was no rougher than some of what Marvel was already publishing. I enthusiastically put forth the notion that we should hire this artist right away, starting with the FF story.

I wasn't alone in my estimation of his abilities, but I also wasn't running the company. To this day, I am amused by the memory of how certain folks who wouldn't give Byrne a chance back then would have killed to work with him just a few years later and, in some cases, did get to work with him.

However, since I was editing some of Marvel's black-and-white magazines, including legendary titles like THE DEADLY HANDS OF KUNG FU and THE HAUNT OF HORROR, I pulled the "Dark Asylum" plot from my desk and assigned it to Byrne to pencil. I usually kept a plot or two on hand for good artists who became unexpectedly available and, since I never wanted to tie up a freelancer writer's time on plots that might not be drawn for months, these plots were generally my own. When the art came in, I'd hand off the actual scripting to a freelancer writer, which is what happened with this story.

The only reason I didn't give Byrne additional assignments was because, shortly after I gave him the "Dark Asylum" gig, I left my staff job to again take up the carefree existence of a freelancer. The finished story ended up in inventory until it was used in that issue of GIANT-SIZE DRACULA.

If you weren't bored to tears by the above, you'll definitely want to check out the forthcoming COMIC BOOK ARTIST #13 (TwoMorrows Publishing). It features, among other related pieces, an interview about my fearful tour of duty with such monstrous Marvel mainstays as Dracula, Ghost Rider, Man-Thing, and, of course, It, the Living Colossus. Jon "the Interrogator" Knutson came up with a whole lot of great questions and I came back with one or two decent answers.

I see David Boreanaz playing me in the movie.

As for your question about New York comics conventions, I have no plans to attend any in the near future. That doesn't mean I'm not interested, but the expense of doing such shows, combined with the time away from my parenting and writing, are definite obstacles to such appearances. For what it's worth, though, I'm always happy to discuss the matter with promoters and, when we can work out the details to our mutual satisfaction, even happier for opportunities to meet my readers.

Thanks for the kind words, Pete, and thanks also to everyone else who filled my mailbox and my e-mailbox with comments on recent columns.

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.



What you have just read is a "director's cut" of the weekly column I write for COMICS BUYER'S GUIDE. On occasion, though this was not the situation here, my editors and I will disagree on the appropriateness of some bon mot or item...and they will edit it from the version of the column which appears in the newspaper.

I don't have a large problem with this, since I always restore this material for the online version.

My general rule of thumb on this is that I'm right and they're wrong. I suspect their opinion would be the reserve of mine. That this *isn't* a huge problem for any of the involved parties is due to our mad love and respect for one another.

In addition to reprinting the CBG columns, I like to add some new material to their online presentation. This way, even if you are a regular reader of CBG, as well you should be, it being a fine publication, there is something new for you to enjoy.

Don't ever believe that crap about the readers being the real editors of anything. You're not. But, more importantly, you *are* the readers...and that means I'm always going to do my best to give you as much value for your time and money as I can.



After the above column appeared in CBG, I received this note from DAVID ANTHONY KRAFT, who wrote the John Byrne story mentioned therein. He writes

    Alas, Tony misremembers. He didn't pull out a "plot" and give John Byrne his first Marvel assignment-he pulled out a *full script* written by me, from a plot idea told to me *verbally* by him. This was not the first time, at least in my experience with then-editor Isabella, he went out of his way to keep a new Marvel writer supplied with scripting work which went into inventory to be used, as he said, when artists (themselves often new) needed work. For the full story, see my editorial back in David Anthony Kraft's COMICS INTERVIEW #71.

    I didn't mention it above--but you're welcome to mention it if you want--that when I first landed in New York City, all, all alone and not knowing a soul, I stayed as a guest at your apartment until I could get a place of my own and while I got established at mighty Marvel. I wonder how many others who were in similar circumstances got such a leg-up from you?

I'd have to revive a few brain cells to recall for sure, but I would estimate a dozen or so. While I appreciate the thanks, I was only doing what had been done for me when I first came to NYC to work for Marvel. That was the nature of the comics industry in those days. We looked out for one another. And, though the comics biz has undoubtedly gotten meaner since then, I'm sure there will always be those comics folks doing the same.

I'll be back next week with more stuff.

Tony Isabella

<< 04/27/2001 | 05/04/2001 | 05/11/2001 >>

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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:

Tony's Online Tips
840 Damon Drive
Medina, OH 44256

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