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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 #1453 (09/21/01)

"I come from a state that raises corn and cotton and cockleburs and Democrats, and frothy eloquence neither convinces nor satisfies me. I am from Missouri. You have got to show me."
-Missouri's U.S. Congressman Willard Duncan Vandiver, who served in the United States House of Representatives from 1897 to 1903.

Although Missouri's sobriquet of "The Show-Me State" is but an unofficial slogan, it is in common use throughout Missouri and even appears on state license plates. It even has something to do with this column, but, in typical Isabella manner, it will take me a while to get around to the point.

My trip to WizardWorld 2001 was about as last-minute as it could be without my having to sleep in the car fellow columnist Bob Ingersoll and I rented for our drive to Chicago. It came about as a result of a check I received from the government and Sainted Wife Barb's thinking I would enjoy a few days mingling with my friends. That's her story and she's sticking to it.

Ho-ho, the rightest-winged of you are exclaiming. Tony got to go WizardWorld because he got a rebate check. Well, actually, my trip did have something to do with that, but, before I explain, I insist you stop thinking of this particular $600 as a rebate. It's not; it's an advance on the tax refund we'll be receiving after we file our 2001 taxes. We didn't get anything extra here and neither did you, save additional proof that politicians and the media which covers them rarely tell the whole story.

My original intention was to donate the $600 to the Democratic Party, which I like slightly better than the other ones. I changed my mind after Sherrod Brown, my local Democratic Congressman, voted in favor of the "flag protection" amendment recently passed by the House of Representatives. How could I, in good conscience, reward such a disservice to one of our core freedoms?

I love our United States flag, not for its physical form, but for the freedoms and ideals it represents. I salute it proudly and get a tingle in my soul when I see it wave in the breeze. It pains me when I see an American flag burning or, as is the more frequent scenario, in a tattered condition. But, what the flag stands for is more important than the flag itself, and, if we truly believe in what it stands for, we must support the right of others to rend it, set fire to it, even stomp on it in protest. This recognition that the flag is so much more than mere cloth, that it can not, in any meaningful sense, be destroyed, is what makes it a powerful symbol to our nation and to the world. That power, that purpose, would be diminished if we "protect" it from our constitutionally-guaranteed freedom of expression.

Slowing working my way back to being on topic, I e-mailed my representative and told him he had just cost his party 600 bucks. Then I decided to use the money go to WizardWorld.

I applied for and received professional admission to the show while Ingersoll booked the room and rented the car. We toyed with flying to Chicago, but the most reasonable fares we could find had us leaving Illinois before we would actually arrive there...with an 18-hour layover in Bishkek. My command of Kyrgyzx being somewhat less than masterful, we opted for the open road.

The drive was pleasant and wholly uneventful. We stopped only to ingest food-like substances, purchase "Powerball" tickets, and inch along the Dan Ryan Expressway for a long time, long enough for Bob to calculate and contemplate how much of our winnings it would cost to build a private highway to the convention. By the time we pulled off the Dan Ryan, Bishkek was looking a lot better.

Several months later, we finally checked into the Doubletree, which is a nice hotel with an energy conservation policy consisting of replacing the light bulbs in our room with fireflies. For this, the hotel charges a $3 per night "energy fee." We might well have objected to this when we paid out bill, but, after three nights of walking into walls in the stygian darkness of our room, we were too groggy to complain.

Ha-ha, I'm just kidding and I'm not saying that simply because the hotel attorneys know where I live. As convention lodgings go, the Doubletree was well above the average with a good restaurant, great room service, and a relaxing little bar. Unfortunately, we didn't discover this until after we'd had a downright dreadful meal at another of the convention hotels.

Bob and I hadn't run into any of our friends when we collected our convention badges, so just the two of us walked over to another hotel for dinner. The menu was limited, but the description of the veal Marsala looked good: thin slices of tender veal prepared with mushrooms and Marsala wine. I've made it myself and lived to tell of it, thus establishing that cooking this dish is not the culinary equivalent of brain surgery. Even at twenty bucks, it seemed to be a reasonable bet for a tasty meal and, yes, this is where it goes horribly awry.

These were not thin slices of tender veal. They were swollen and soggy slabs of some obscene mutant meat, the foul molecules of which were held togetherby ropes of fat. I had maybe four bites of it, which I'm still digesting over a week later, before telling our server that I was extremely disappointed with my meal. He was aghast and swiftly withdrew to the kitchen to confer with the cook about this situation.

I could have gotten an entire column out of this meal if, for example, an enraged cook had erupted from his kitchen waving around a cleaver. But, alas, of the cook, I saw nothing. Instead, our server returned to our table with a piece of frozen-in-plastic meat for me to gaze upon in awe as he solemnly intoned that it had come from...the stockyard.

Say it with me. "And your point is..."

In any case, I know enough about stockyards in general to know that all grades of meat can be purchased there, that conditions and inspections of same are not always what they should be, and that, on occasion, stockyard workers have given more of themselves to the job than is healthy for either them or for those who end up dining on the results of human mishap. I was every bit as impressed as I would have been had he said the meat had come from the Springfield Quik-E-Mart.

The alleged origin of the veal didn't alter the fact that the hotel had served me an inedible meal, though the manager seemed to think it was rather churlish of me not to change my mind and clean my plate. He did offer me a free dessert, but, by then, I didn't even trust the restaurant to pour water correctly. I declined the offer, paid my bill, and walked away as the crushed manager slowly entreated

"But, sir, our raspberry mint strudel with almond peach sauce, it comes from the stockyard!"

Those of you who know me for the ever-effervescent bundle of happiness and joy I am will be delighted to know my mood brightened soon after leaving the restaurant. For, in the lobby of the hotel, Bob and I greeted and were greeted by our good friends Terri Boyle, Dan Mishkin, Alex Simmons, Paul Storrie, and Billy Tucci. I hadn't seen Paul in several months and hadn't seen the others in well over a year. It was a reminder, nay, an epiphany of why I really come to conventions.

You can sense it, can't you? Tony is zeroing in on the point of this week's column. Even I'm relived.

In recent years, Roger Price's Mid-Ohio-Con and his fledgling Big Easy Comic-Con have been the only such events I have attended. My experiences at these shows have been wonderful, the best I have ever had at any conventions, but I'm also more a part of them than I am of the other events I have attended. I assist Roger, prepare and supervise the panel programming, and work with the professional guests. I enjoy these shows immensely, but they are not a typical convention experience for me.

In the past, I've been an invited guest at other conventions, doing my part on panels and sitting behind a signing table. I've been brought to shows by publishers and done much the same. I've come to shows to look for work and meet with prospective employers. I have even set up at shows as an exhibitor, selling old comics and comics-related items.

WizardWorld 2001 was the first comics convention I attended in decades where I had absolutely no agenda. I wasn't scheduled to appear on any panels. I wasn't committed to booth time anywhere. I didn't have a table in Artists Alley or the exhibitor area. And I wasn't looking for work.

Excited by the possibilities of my situation, I had downloaded all 11 pages of the convention's programming schedule. My plan was to go to three or four events each day with an eye towards finding out what was going on in the industry and maybe gathering material for future columns. But, as I studied the list of events, a truth made itself known to me

I didn't give a rodent's behind about the vast majority of the panels and events scheduled.

Let me explain. I do care about comic books and the comic art form. I've devoted my life to them and I have few if any regrets about having taken that path. But, what I don't care about is the overblown hype which accompanies so many of the announcements and the press releases we get from publishers and editors and creators and promotions people. There comes a point when I want to flipping scream at the top of my lungs

"Enough already! Stop TELLING me how good these comic books are! SHOW me how good these comic books are!"

You know as well as I do which companies have carried the hype to absurd levels, which companies seemingly live for the attention such promotional efforts get from the press, fan and professional, almost as if the actual production of their comics was incidental to the process. The oversell has become a deafening roar, even on the occasions when the comics manage to live up to the hype which precedes them. It bores me.

I looked over the programming schedule and, being as generous as I could, computed that approximately 65% of them were basically promotional presentations. Even several "Wizard School" programs on how to create comics were advertisements for various publishers and, in one case, for the laughably mediocre talents hosting them. Was this really why I had driven to Chicago?

No, it wasn't. Though before I go into why I did come to the convention, having gotten your attention by getting in your faces, I should clarify the above.

I haven't missed the past three decades in comics history. I recognize that the industry has gone from a mainstream market to a speciality market. In the former, publishers relied on the appeal of their packaging and the entertainment value of their comics at the point of sale. In the latter, those same qualities are still vital, but the publishers now direct them at customers--specialty shop retailers and their customers-before the point of sale. They must pre-sell their periodical efforts.

Operating in this much smaller pond, the publishers devote as much and even more attention to the promotion of their products as they do to the creation of them. They believe this is necessary. Maybe they are correct in that belief. Maybe it's only folks like me who have started to tune them out.

I realize there are fans and readers who absolutely thrive on each and every report of Character A getting bumped off in Series B, or getting a new power in Special Issue C, or getting the reboot for Relaunch D, but I'm not one of them. I realize that are also fans and readers who can't tear their eyes away from their computer screen when Website E reports that Writer F or Artist G are moving over to Title H, even though F and G will likely stay with H for no more than a year before moving on to Project I. Heck, even I will admit to getting a tad giggly at the thought of an ongoing Zatanna title or over Stan Lee and Joe Kubert teaming up to introduce a new version of Batman. But, infrequent exceptions aside, this kind of news doesn't excite me.

My point bears repeating. Publishers: I don't want to be TOLD that your comic books are really good. What I want is to READ your really good comic books. The oversell makes you look desperate, as if you don't have faith in your comics and those who create them. That's a shame because, for all my carping about how you sell your comics, I also believe there are dozens upon dozens of exceptional creators working in our industry and that those creators are making some of the best comics in our history. Their works deserve to be promoted with dignity and respect.

Now we know what Tony didn't do at WizardWorld. So, you ask, why did he brave the Dan Ryan Expressway to be there? The answer was given above, though you were hopefully too busy chuckling over my veal story to notice it.

I came to WizardWorld to see my friends. I'll tell you about them next week.



I wrote the above on August 28, two weeks before the day which changed our world. I made some changes from my original manuscript for its appearance here and restored some material which had been edited from that manuscript by my CBG editors. For the most part, I chose to keep the column as originally written because, at some point, we have to stop second-guessing ourselves and let the world see us and our work as accurately as possible.

Knowing how difficult it was for me to focus on anything other than my family and the terrible events of the previous week, I was astonished that a CBG reader found the enthusiasm and time to send me this e-mail

I enjoyed the first three paragraphs of your article "Working One's Way to WizardWorld" very much. It took me that long to realize you had no real intention of talking about the convention. Instead you were simply jumping on the soapbox to whine to the reader about taxes, food preparation, and comics panel discussions. Everything after the first three paragraphs was garbage.

Your headline would be considered fraud in most courts of law. What the HECK was the point of the stupid ramblings?. If you were trying to be funny, please stop. The article had all the humor of an farm equipment demonstration.

Listen, I don't think I am asking too much here. For your next article, I just want two things: for the headline to remotely match the story and for you to have some obvious point.

Here, I will even help out!

Headline options

"Whining about stupid junk stupid Stuff that has nothing to do with WizardWorld"

"Everything uninteresting about my trip to WizardWorld"

"Nothing about working one's way to WizardWorld"

Subject options for your NEXT article

"Things that happened during my trip to WizardWorld"

"Why comic conventions are important to the business"

"Hot young creators I met at WizardWorld"

One last thing

Try being a little bit positive. I don't subscribe to CBG, a fine publication, to read your "life sucks" comments.

My first reaction to this snide note was to delete and forget about it. My second was to borrow a tactic from a friend of mine and e-mail a concerned note alerting the reader that some miscreant was signing his name to moronic letters. My third reaction, which was the one I actually acted on, was to send him this

To whom it may concern...

I don't write the headlines.

"Working one's way to WizardWorld" doesn't translate to "What I did at WizardWorld". The headline was an accurate representation of the column's contents. I was writing about, pay close attention here, working my way to Wizard World.

I'm sorry you didn't like the column. Many did. Fortunately, columns, especially my columns, are much like a bus. Okay, a slow bus. There'll be another one in a week.

Have a nice day.

Fortunately, most of the e-mail I receive is more nurturing than that one. This one is from TYLER BISHOP

I've been reading your columns for years in CBG and online. Thank you for the countless hours of pleasure I've received from your thoughtful, funny, and fiercely independent ruminations.

After reading your online columns for the past week, I thought maybe you needed a laugh. I came across the following at THE ONION website. Since you've been on both sides of the editorial pen, I hope you find this amusing.

That I did, Tyler, and, just to spread the fun around a bit, here's the URL for your fellow readers

The concluding chapters of my WizardWorld trilogy appeared in CBG #1454 and #1456; those columns will post here over the couple weeks. Issue #1455 featured the column which ran on the Perpetual Comics website on September 12, so we'll be skipping over that one and running something else that week.

I'm nearly finished preparing the 1995 and 1998 columns to be posted in a special HEROES AND VILLAINS: REAL AND IMAGINED section here at World Famous Comics. When the section is up and running, we'll post the appropriate announcements on the message boards and elsewhere on the Internet.

I'm almost done here, but, before we wrap things up for this week, I want to thank Norman Barth (of Perpetual Comics), Justin (of World Famous Comics), and Maggie Thompson and Brent Frankenhoff (of CBG) for their patience and understanding with a writer who has been blowing his deadlines ever so slightly. At times like these, I wanted to choose my words as carefully as possible; I am grateful they afforded me that opportunity.

One last bit of business. I belong to the DC History mailing list, whose members frequently include shots of classic and not-so-classic comic-book covers with their posts. These images all end up in my download file and, try as I might, I can never bear to let them go. While scrolling through them earlier this week, I found this: the cover of Fantagraphics' AMAZING HEROES #161 from March of 1989, drawn by Stephen DeStefano and featuring characters created by him and writer Bob Rozakis for their short-lived but excellent HERO HOTLINE book for DC Comics. The minute I saw it again, I knew I had to share with you here.

Amazing Heros #161

God bless all the peoples of the world. Hug those you love as often as you can. I'll be back next week.

Tony Isabella

<< 09/14/2001 | 09/21/2001 | 09/28/2001 >>

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.

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