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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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TONY'S ONLINE TIPS
From COMICS BUYER'S GUIDE #1449 (08/24/01)

"Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has."
--Margaret Mead

On Monday, July 30, 2001, at precisely 10:37 am, I conducted an experiment in telepathic communication. Using only the power of my mind, I asked my loyal readers from around the world to suggest topics they'd like me to write about this week, and then opened my mind to receive their requests.

It didn't work.

Maybe I'm being unfair here. Maybe many of you *did* want me to write about what I was going to have for lunch that afternoon, or about how dumb I thought the ending to PLANET OF THE APES was, or whether my kids were ever going to clean their rooms and keep them clean for the six months to which they agreed in order to get me to buy them a puppy.

On the off chance that was, indeed, the case

I had a nutritional energy drink for lunch and washed it down with a large Frosty from Wendy's. I needed some comfort food after seeing PLANET OF THE APES the day before.

If I were a theater owner, I would stop the projector a couple of minutes before the end of PLANET OF THE APES and give audiences a chance to leave before they see the dumb part. There's no way I can write about how *wrong* the so-called surprise ending is without giving it away, so I won't even try. After you've seen the movie, we can talk.

I don't figure I'll have to start stockpiling Puppy Chow any time in the near future. I won't have to buy my kids a puppy until they have their own children and maybe not even then. Heaven knows I spend so much time picking up after them that my room hasn't been cleaned in three years. The same may hold true for them.

On the far more likely chance that you weren't telepathically requesting the above subjects, I'll fall back on the less evolved but more certain technique of reading your e-mails and letters and responding to them. Sometimes the old ways...

******

Protecting one's intellectual property on the Internet can be an exhausting chore. Even beyond the possibility of financial loss when your works are appropriated illegally, there can be additional anguish when those works are appropriated and used in a manner you find repugnant. One of my readers sent me an e-mail detailing what appears to be such an instance

    I always enjoy your column in the CBG and am glad to read your work online as well. I'm sorry to intrude on you with this e-mail, but the circumstances I'm writing about are disturbing. I don't know if you're a fan of the books of Robert Heinlein, but, given Harlan Ellison's current crusade against internet literary piracy, which has been covered extensively in CBG, I thought this situation should also be addressed and stopped.

    A model friend of mine runs a website of her photos and such, and uses the Heinlein quote about redheads being evolved from cats on her start page, the connection being she is a very attractive redhead. Recently she was told she should remove the quote because Heinlein was a fascist and a racist anti-Semite. As proof, she was given the URL of another website.

    It was the website of some skinhead punk using excerpts from Heinlein's STARSHIP TROOPERS to justify his own hateful opinions on race. He didn't just use quotes on his website, but huge sections of the novel, claiming Heinlein had to camouflage his opinions on Jews and other races to get his work published. Now, unless *I'm* living in some alternate world, I think that this is a whole lot of hogwash.

    Can anything be done to stop this deceitful piracy? This guy is obviously using copyrighted material without permission. Can't he be stopped from doing so?


I'd like to think so. I visited the website and it is every bit as vile as my reader indicated. That makes yet another reason I support Ellison's efforts in the area of online protection for writers. Despite the natterings of naysayers, this has never been just about the money.

What can authors do about this? That's one of the things we may see resolved by the courts in the near future. Recent rulings have confirmed that authors retain the rights to online publication of their works unless they specifically sell those rights. But, as with similar legal actions, it will likely be up to the writers to enforce the protection of their work and seek redress for the theft of same. Would that we had a few more Ellisons.

What can fans of those authors do about this? Simply put, let the authors know when you spot any illegal use of their work on the Web. Send them as much information on the piracy as you can; they or their publishers will take it from there.

Be aware that there are fair usage laws that do allow limited quoting of even copyrighted works. If you're creating a website, you'd do well to familiarize yourself with these laws, but not to take them as a license to steal. Far better to show the creators whose works you wish to quote the basic courtesy and respect to ask their permission to do so. I know I am more likely to grant such permission when I have the chance to determine the form in which my material will be used.

The Internet is a wonderful resource for writers and readers. Those who use it to steal diminish it for all of us.

******

Several weeks ago, I ran half an e-mail from ALEX LEHMANN, in which he took me to task for my overuse of "said" as an adjective. Since the other half was on an entirely different subject, I have saved it until now

    I find your boycott of BLADE to lack logic. Presumably, you are upset because the creators did not receive credit or royalties from the financial success of the film. I agree that this seems ungrateful if not illegal.

    However, if this is a moral principle, shouldn't you apply it to all creative work in the field, not just that which has had recent financial success? If you truly stand on moral ground, then why don't you boycott *all* continuing use of comic-book characters created by those who do not receive royalties for their creations?

    I imagine that you'd be left with very little to read.


This question comes up from time to time and I answer it from time to time. My answer can involve a lengthy history of how often publishers have cheated comic-book creators throughout the history of the industry; have failed to live up to their agreements, verbal and written, with creators; and have, through such actions, harmed not merely these creators but also the comics industry and, indeed, the long-term interests of the publishers themselves. I consider my frequent objections to such treatment as being firmly grounded in principles both moral and legal, but, mercifully, I'm going to spare you the extended history lesson this week.

Though my indignation at the mistreatment of comics creators is nigh-boundless, as a practical matter, I can't speak out against each and every instance of a creator failing to receive his proper due. There are neither enough hours in my day or pages in this fine newspaper for me to address each and every case and, so I must draw the following line in the sand of my anger.

I support wronged comic-book creators when those creators have the courage to seek redress for these wrongs in some manner. When Dan DeCarlo sought decent compensation for his co-creation of Josie and the Pussycats and teen-age witch Sabrina, I was in his corner and will remain there until Archie Comics does right by him. When Jack Kirby fought to get his original artwork returned from Marvel, without signing an onerous agreement crafted especially for him, I cheered him privately and publically. When Marv Wolfman filed suit to secure his rights in Blade, I made the decision not to purchase, read, review, or view any Blade product until such time as Wolfman was satisfied with his end of the stake. The courage of a creator is what determines my support.

I don't question the "when" of a creator deciding to fight for his fair share. It's true that the Blade film enjoyed considerable cinematic success; it's also true that Wolfman's quest for justice predated the release of the Blade movie and that publishers tend to be a tad more generous/reasonable/whatever when there is more money in the pot.

If a creator is willing to fight for his rights, I will stand with him. I don't care if his creation is Superman or Super Green Beret. I don't care if his creation is being played by Tom Cruise or gathering dust in a comics shop bargain box. What determines my support, or my "boycott," as reader Lehmann incorrectly describes it, is the courage of the creator and, of course, the righteousness of his cause.

The legal "righteousness" of those causes is evolving even as we speak. Questions are being asked as to what truly constitutes a work-for-hire, as to what rights publishers are actually buying, and so forth. The courts will decide these questions, but only if the questions are brought before them. Thus my support for those who dare to raise these questions.

Lehmann conjures a world in which, because of my convictions in this area, I will be left with very little to read. He is quite mistaken. There are thousands of comic books published every year whose creators own the properties or receive just compensation for their work on same. I can read those.

I would be saddened if I could no longer read new comic books featuring the characters with whom I grew up. But, as many of them are the selfsame heroes who taught me a man must always do what is right no matter the personal cost, I know that they, at least, will understand my position on this issue.

******

I wrote about Marvel's burgeoning trade paperback program in CBG #1438 [June 8], which garnered this response from my friend and reader Jon Knutson

    I have long wondered why Marvel hasn't published more trade paperbacks reprinting their non-super-hero material. I think a TPB reprinting the best of Marvel westerns might do well in bookstores, especially with perhaps a painted cover by Alex Ross? Of course, they should avoid giving it the kind of name which might turn off potential readers. MIGHTY MARVEL WESTERN would be wrong; something like MIGHTY MARVEL CHRONICLES would be better.

    I've also long thought Marvel should do an annual collection of horror reprints, culled from their black-and-white mags as well as their color comics, scheduled to be in the stores just prior to Halloween. Perhaps they should market two horror anthologies, one aimed at the pre-teens, one for older readers.

    A nice collection of science fiction tales might also be worth a try, as would one featuring non-Conan sword-and-sorcery stories from the comics and the magazines. Whatever Marvel hasn't tried reprinting in a mass market edition paperback in the past 20 years or so is what they should be looking at now.


Based on my own experience editing two magazine-size reprint anthologies of horror stories by name authors, which were adapted into comics by some of the industry's best writers and artists, I think this could be a particularly successful genre for the Marvel trade paperback editors to explore. And, though it would take more than a little searching through old comics and magazines, there are many other horror, science fiction, war, and western stories which would likely find a receptive audience among mainstream bookstore customers *and* the traditional comics readers.

My ongoing suggestion to Marvel is that they pull out all the stops with such collections, aiming them squarely at those readers who haven't picked up a comic book in years...if ever. Place the stories in context by including text material about the writers and artists who created them, and about the historical and sociological background of the tales themselves. Such attention to detail would also make the collections more likely to be purchased by libraries, which would, in turn, cultivate customers for future collections of similar material.

Fans and pros alike get carried away with the vast potential of the comics we love. Getting mainstream readers caught up in our excitement won't be easy, but it's definitely worth whatever effort it requires. Those readers, young and old, are the future of the comics art form and industry.

******

This is where you would normally find new material prepared especially for our WORLD FAMOUS COMICS readers, but, this being the last week of summer vacation for my kids, I'm having fun with them and leaving you to your own devices. I will, however, be back next Friday with more stuff. See you then.

Tony Isabella

<< 08/17/2001 | 08/24/2001 | 08/31/2001 >>

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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