TONY'S ONLINE TIPS From COMICS BUYER'S GUIDE #1442 (07/06/01)
"Most modern calendars mar the sweet simplicity of our lives by reminding us that each day that passes is the anniversary of some perfectly uninteresting event."
Were you to ask if this week's column is the 500th installment of "Tony's Tips," I would have to ask you to define "500" before I could answer. By my official numbering, this column is, indeed, the big five-oh-oh. However, over the years I've written a couple "Tips" columns for the CBG annuals. There have also been instances where my CBG editors split one column into two, or cobbled together a column from bits they'd cut from other columns for space reasons.
If we want to further complicate the numbering, we could include my 1000-plus online columns. If you look up "wretched excess" in the dictionary, you will find my picture.
The one thing that is certain is that I didn't get so much as an anniversary card from any of you. My Sainted Wife Barb is too busy getting ready for our Florida vacation. My kids are too busy playing baseball and laughing at their father's suggestions they do something educational this summer. None of those people listed on page four have picked up the phone and said "Way to go, Tipster!" or "Thanks for all the hard work!" Although, I should note, I did receive a pleasant note offering generous discounts for renewing my CBG subscription.
Thus denied even the smallest recognition of my dedication to this newspaper, the only course open to me is to live for revenge on all of you who have thus scorned me. For starters, I'm going to waste precious column inches reprinting the very first installment of "Tony's Tips" from 1991
Now it can be told!
I never liked the name of the comic-book store I owned and operated for eleven years. Cosmic Comics. It always sounded like the name of a head shop to me. If you're too young to recall what head shops were, then you should immediately drop your copy of CBG, make for the nearest library, and check out THE SIXTIES: "HUH?" by Sunflower Freedomstar (Nonexistent Press, 1989). I'll wait.
Mark Stueve was the original owner of Cosmic Comics. At the age of 26, Mark looked exactly like the 40-Year-Old Hippie. Which is yet another reference most of you won't understand. When did you all get so young? When did I get older? How many of you actually went looking for that book?
Mark Stueve and Cosmic Comics fit together. I kept the name because it had a good reputation and because anything with my name in it would have sounded like an Italian restaurant. But I never liked the name. If I were opening a store today, I'd call it Todd McFarlane. Age corrupts.
I recently visited a new comic shop called "The Comic Crypt" in Medina, Ohio. Nice place. The name, or some variation, is not uncommon for comic-book stores. Maybe it's because this store was on the second floor of its building, a location not usually associated with crypts, but I began to wonder just why this name graces so many shops.
We're talking burial vaults here. Dead bodies. Decomposing dead bodies. Jack Kamen decomposing dead bodies clawing out from the tomb to wreck vengeance on the unfaithful spouses who murdered them. Are we talking a pleasant shopping experience or what?
Would you go to PIZZA MAUSOLEUM? How about BURGER GRAVEYARD? Let's take Mom to the HOUSE OF DEATH FAMILY RESTAURANT! Is there a better way to thank you for the many things she gave us?
All of which brings us to this week's pick hits on account of the editors want me to write short columns for them. Peter David is allowed to go on and on because he's saving up for a last name. Bob Ingersoll is allowed to write at length because the only sure way to shut up a lawyer involves Patriot missiles. But because I live to please my editors...
BATMAN: TO STALK A SPECTER by Simon Hawke (Warner Books; $4.95). One of the best prose comic books I've ever read. Hawke gives us a Batman who is equal parts human being and legend. His Alfred is nothing short of superb.
But the absolute best scene in the novel involves a courageous cab driver. It was real sense of wonder stuff. Made me feel like a kid again. I've got this minor quibble with the climatic battle between Batman and his title foe, the super-assassin Spectre, but it's barely worth mentioning. Come on, you didn't want to see a big ugly SPOILER WARNING in my column anyway. Buy the book already.
THE BOOKS OF MAGIC: BOOK TWO by Neil Gaiman and Scott Hampton (DC Comics; $3.95). A verbal and visual delight. Comics dialogue with zing in it is a true rarity these days. Gaiman had me openly smiling at some of the speeches herein. Wonderful and insightful bits for John Constantine, Tim Hunter, Deadman, the Spectre, and Zatanna. Hampton? He holds his own with this witty script. He's got panels and portraits in this comic that deserve to be framed. Great stuff.
KING KONG #1 by Donald Simpson (Monster Comics; $2.50). This is a timeless classic. Simpson does it justice. His adaptation of the original story by Edgar Wallace and Merian C. Cooper reads well and looks terrific. You can hear the characters as you read the comic. You can look at the art and think "EC." It's that good. This is the first of six issues...and waiting for those next five is gonna be tough.
That's a wrap, kids. Let's kill the lights and go for lunch. There's a burrito special at TACO TOMB...
Looking over the preceding, I realize some references therein might well be incomprehensible to the 2001 reader. Let me see if I can shed some light on them.
Comic-book stores: Once they roamed the United States in vast numbers and, from their bounty, comics fans and professionals alike were able to enjoy good and full lives. However, they were hunted down and ruthlessly slaughtered in the name of profit and sport by billionaire peddlers of cosmetics and junk bonds. These stores are still around, in reduced numbers, and all of them are exactly like the one in THE SIMPSONS.
Head shops: These were stores where hippies sold everything one could need to commit drug-related offenses back when that was considered hilarious. Except the actual drugs. That's their story and they're sticking to it.
Libraries: These were buildings where they used to store books and loan them out to people. If this concept fascinates you, go to the building from where you borrow CDs and videos, and also log on to the Internet, and ask the attendants about it. If you can gain their trust, they may give you entrance into the secret rooms where they keep these books.
Todd McFarlane: I'm sorry, but I came up completely empty when I tried to recall this one. I think he used to draw comic books or something.
Crypts and death in general: Were MUCH funnier when I was 40 than they are now that I'm closing in on 50.
Medina: Is where I live in Ohio. Though The Comic Crypt went out of business within months of its opening, another comics shop showed up a couple years later. It's called HEROES GUILD, which I tell you not so much to give them a plug, but to see if they have been reading these columns or just flipping past me on their way to read Peter David's column.
Peter David: Is truly a fine human being and terrific writer. Although I should point out that he didn't send me a card either, I'm gonna let it go because I so enjoyed watching his "Soul Mates" episode of BABYLON 5 the other day. It was a marvelous script that managed to be incredibly funny and intensely gripping. You should look for it when next it airs on the Sci-Fi Channel.
Bob Ingersoll: Is co-author of such brilliant books as CAPTAIN AMERICA: LIBERTY'S TORCH and STAR TREK: ALL OF ME. He is a lawyer, but has so many other faults that his friends tend to overlook that particular one.
Patriot missiles: These were used by the good guys to blow up the bad guys and anyone else who happened to be hanging around the bad guys. Your parents were right to warn you about those rotten friends of yours.
The Books of Magic: This review was cut from my first column on account of the policy at the time that reviews of periodical comics were the domain of the late Don Thompson, who was, in point of fact, one of the best reviewers in the history of comic books. Don was the best there was at what he did. Eventually, the restriction was removed.
Don was an important mentor to me. He shaped the columnist I became. Which is probably a terrible thing to say about the guy, but what can you expect from a vengeful writer?
King Kong: This review was likewise cut from the first column, which, as a result, now took up less space than the weekly "I Love Holly Simpson" classified. Speaking of which, I haven't seen that ad for several weeks.
Holly? Is everything okay, kiddo?
Monster Comics: It was a short-lived imprint of Fantagraphics Books. It was named after publisher Gary Groth. No, I am making with the humor again. Everyone knows that it was EROS COMICS that was named after Gary.
If you have any other questions, go ask Captain Comics. I'm going to Disney World.
My memory of the whole "no one but Don can review comic books" thing differs somewhat from Maggie Thompson's memory of same, but I have chosen to defer to her version. This proves I don't always have to beat my editors into submission, that sometimes I am more than willing to settle for a draw.
This issue of CBG also featured a letter from Bill Rosemann of Marvel Comics. Rosemann took considerable exception to my earlier column on Marvel's "mature readers" line, clearly missed the self-deprecating humor of my "Ward Cleaver" bit, decided I just didn't "get it," and concluded that, because I didn't "get it," he was now certain Marvel was on the right track. Over a dozen fans and pros e-mailed me wondering if I were going to respond.
Well, I kind of sort of responded in my column for CBG #1445, which posts here on August 3, but not really. I mean, what would be the point?
Rosemann is Marvel's Marketing Communications Manager. He is also, seemingly, a proponent of the company's "in your face" style of publicity. When he says that I don't "get it," I might counter with, "I get it, you just can't sell it to me," and it won't settle a blessed thing. I might point out that I have more experience in the comics field, but he could just as easily counter by pointing out that I haven't been on the front lines recently. Neither one of us is dealing with absolute truth here; we're expressing points of view. The main difference between our points of view is that he is a salaried advocate of Marvel Comics while little old me is the comics columnist equivalent of a rogue demon hunter, beholden to no one publication or publisher.
Nah, I fully expect that Marvel will keep thinking they have to get in our faces to get our attention and I know darn well that I'll keep commenting on those Marvel-related things which interest me in my own loveable style. That's the way of things and, for my part, I will just continue to strive to keep it from ever getting personal. I met Rosemann once and liked him. I have spoken to Joe Quesada two or three times and I like him. I suspect if I ever met Bill Jemas that I would like him, too.
Come on. Admit it. You CAN feel the love.
SPEAKING OF DON SIMPSON
Here's a recent e-mail I got from the creator/writer/artist of MEGATON MAN and many other fine comic books
I was interested to read in COMIC BOOK NATION by Bradford W. Wright (John Hopkins Univ. Press) that you are one of only a few prominent black writers in the comics field! Have you ever worn your hair like Al Sharpton?
As a matter of fact, for a few days back in the 1970s, I was the victim of an amateur home perm that left me with an Afro twice as large as my head. The only way I could get rid of this "do" was by having my hysterically laughing barber cut my hair so short that I could have passed for a somewhat shorter, plumper, and less buff Doc Savage. I still carry the emotional baggage from those weeks of disco-inspired humiliation. In any case, that's as close as I have ever come to the Sharpton look.
Two quick notes. You can check out Don Simpson's very spiffy Megaton Man website at
I discussed/reviewed Wright's COMIC BOOK NATION in my "Tony's Tips" column for CBG #1443. The column will be posted on this fine website site next Friday.
FAN MAIL FROM MY FRIEND JON
After the above column ran in CBG, I did get several e-mails of congratulations, including this one from JON "The Interrogator" KNUTSON
I don't want to take up too much of your valuable time while you're still getting ready to go to Disney World (a place my wife Barbara and I would love to go to ourselves some day), but I did want to offer my slightly belated congratulations on reaching your 500th column or so in the CBG. It's a definite milestone, and one that I hope they trumpet on the cover.
500 columns. I don't have concrete memory of the first column of yours I read in CBG, but I do recall enjoying it from the first time I saw it. We have definitely got to do a few more questions about this in the "World's Longest Tony Isabella Interview, if not in the version being printed in the TwoMorrows mags, then perhaps in the more complete printed version we're going to have to talk about sometime in the near future.
Again, congrats on your 500th and I'm looking forward to the next 500. Wouldja believe the next 250? Or 100? Or however many you end up writing before you get tired of it all, or preferably, too busy with other, higher-paying, assignments to keep doing a weekly column and a thrice-weekly online column?
Sadly, there was no mention of the "Tips" milestone on CBG's cover that issue. The cover story was on Dan Spiegle, who surely deserves all the acclaim comics fandom can bestow upon him, while the side headlines concerned Comic-Con International (an important story), Chris Oarr moving to CrossGen Comics (likewise an important story), and something about Comics Guarantee Corporation (two out of three ain't bad).
But I thank you for the congratulations and share with you my hope that, no matter how many high-paying assignments come my way, I'll be able to find or make the time to share my thoughts on the comics we love and the world around us with all the readers who've been so very kind to me over the years.
Since I would be hard-pressed to get more sappy than that this week, let's call it a column. I'll be back here next Friday with my comments on COMIC BOOK NATION and more.
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.
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