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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 #1465 (01/08/02)

"But Gray had his own remarkable talent and a passion for the material from the very start. He was always learning and experimenting. Hey, who'd have thought he could go serve in Korea and come back a better artist? But he did."

-Al Williamson, GRAY MORROW VISIONARY

The world of fantasy and science fiction lost one of its most accomplished advocates with the recent passing of Gray Morrow, but, along with Morrow's remarkable body of work and our own cherished memories of how we were enriched and excited by it, we also have a fitting, heartfelt tribute to the artist in the just-published GRAY MORROW VISIONARY (Insight Studios Group; $29.95).

Editors Mark Wheatley and Allan Gross have created a handsome overview of Morrow's life and career. Dynamic and dramatic images and scenes, most of them in color, leap forward from every page of the hardcover volume. Through the introduction from Al Williamson, a longtime friend of Morrow's, from Gross' biography of Morrow and commentary on his work, in quotes from other friends and admirers of the man and artist, we get a glimpse at how amazing and varied Morrow's talents were, and how dedicated he was to making the most of them and then some.

VISIONARY features paintings galore: covers for various books and magazines, and posters for movies. In some cases, Morrow kept at the paintings even after they were published, unable to resist the urge to improve upon them. In my foolish youth, I once thought I would buy every book and magazine with a Morrow cover painting. However, he was as prolific as he was good; I couldn't keep up with him. Little did I know, until I read this book, that Morrow could complete a full painting in a day or two.

Other Morrow endeavors are touched upon in VISIONARY as well. We get comic strips, cover roughs, black-and-white illustrations, fan commissions, preliminary designs for various projects, and a fully-painted Buck Rogers comics story. My only quibble with this selection is that there are no pages from the stories he drew for CREEPY and EERIE in the 1960s; his artwork is some of the best ever published in those legendary magazines.

I have no warm personal memories of Morrow to share with you. He did some work for Marvel in the 1970s and we met once or twice either there or at one of the New York conventions. I remember him as friendly and appreciative of my admiration for his work. I have a vague recollection he introduced me to Vincente Alcazar, a fine artist who subsequently drew one of my stories.

What I do have are warm memories of Morrow's works, from his CREEPY/EERIE stories, countless other comics and illustrations and paintings, and all the way up to THE BODY, the online comic strip he'd been drawing in recent years. What I hope is that GRAY MORROW VISIONARY is the first of many such volumes dedicated to one of the true legends of fantasy art. He will be missed.

******

When I'm working on a big project, such as preparing the panel program for Mid-Ohio-Con, I generally read "small" stories during my work breaks. This year's welcome distractions were found within EXPO 2000 ($6.95) and EXPO 2001 ($7.95), two meaty trade paperbacks produced by the Expo to benefit the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund.

Between them, they offer over 700 pages of alternative comics by dozens of creators, interviews with a number of those cartoonists, and articles on the international comics scene.

The Expo is an annual, much revered gathering of independent creators and publishers, though this year's event was canceled in the wake of the September 11 tragedies. Like its anthologies, the show's profits benefit the CBLDF. Like the Expo, these anthologies showcase a enormous range of comics work.

The quality and tone of this material varies greatly. Some of it will almost certainly not suit the individual reader's tastes. However, there are so many creators and stories represented herein that I am reasonable confident most readers will get their money's worth and then some. In the worst case scenario, the reader will have, at least, contributed to a worthwhile cause, an organization which exists to defend the comic art form's freedom of expression from those who would curtail it.

For me, the highlights of EXPO 2000 included "Ice Cream Man" by Seth; "King Horse" by Alex Robinson; "Min-Min's Confession" by Leland Myrick and Mark Dos Santos; and "Trondheim in America" by Lewis Trondheim. In EXPO 2001, I particularly enjoyed "Song of the Stick" by James Kochalka; "The Big To Do" by Dean Haspiel; "Stagger Lee on American Bandstand" by Derek McCulloch and Rik Livingston; "Abstract Thought Is a Warm Puppy" by Art Spiegelman; "Kissing Chaos" by Arthur Dela Cruz; and "The Millionaires" by Thomas Ott.

Another perk of reading these anthologies was the opportunity to be introduced to so many cartoonists, some of them from distant lands, and, in the process, to learn a smidgin about the comics culture in their countries.

For more information on the Expo and the contributors to these anthologies, go to the Expo website at:

http://www.spxpo.com


For more on the CBLDF, go to its website at:

http://www.cbldf.org


******

The computer and the Internet have changed the comics industry as much as they have the rest of the world. Creators communicate with their collaborators and editors as much or even more by e-mail than they do by phone or in person. Writers send their scripts to editors and artists by e-mail. Lettering and coloring are done on computer and can be transmitted electronically. In fact, finished books can be sent to printers in like fashion. I don't pretend to understand it, I'm still a caveman when it comes to the wonders of computer and telecommunications science, but it's there and it has become a part of our comics community.

In recent years, some pioneering artists and editors have been experimenting with a new system for getting penciled comics pages inked without sending the actual pages to the inker. Allowing for me explaining this system in terms I can almost understand, here's how it works:

The penciler scans his work and e-mails it to the inker. The inker prints the pencils on to the same sort of board on which he would normally be working. With the right combination of board and ink, the results are the same as if the penciler and inker worked in the traditional method. The biggest concern would be to insure that the transmitted pencils were as complete and of the same high quality as the originals.

There are lots of advantages to this. The publisher saves the cost and the time of shipping the pages over and over again, from a penciler to the editorial office to an inker and then back to the office. Because these pages are never actually at the publisher's offices, the publisher doesn't need to store them or return them to the artists after publication.

There are creative and technical advantages to this system as well, but it'll take someone who knows more about art and computers than I do to explain them. Feel free to consider this a desperate cry for enlightenment in this area.

The original art market would undergo some intriguing changes as a result of this system, if for no other reason that there would be two sets of originals for every comic book produced using this method. A comics fan would be able to buy original artwork pages which fully reflected the style of the penciler. Other collectors might seek to acquire both the pencils and the inks, affording them the opportunity to study both disciplines.

Some comic books have already been produced, at least in part, using this system. Marvel Comics is reportedly experimenting with it even as we speak and I can't imagine their competitors would be far behind. I'm not seeing a downside here.

As I cannot stress strongly enough, someone of a more artistic and technological inclination than I could explain the benefits and the techniques of this system far better than I. What I can do is convey my excitement at both the creative possibilities it offers, and the monetary savings to publishers valiantly battling back from the industry-wide crash of the 1990s. I applaud all those involved in this effort.

******

Let us dip into my e-mailbox for a trio of letters on recent "Tips" columns. We'll start with this from JOHN CRAMER:

I would be very interested in reading more on the Mego super- hero figures.

I have great memories of those toys, and I had many of them, including the Planet of the Apes figures and the Bat Cave set. I also remember the dreaded day I came home from school to find my mother had been house-cleaning in preparation for a garage sale and my Mego toys were among her victims.

Years later, shortly after the first Batman movie came out, I was at a toy show in Dayton, Ohio, where I saw the Batman and Robin figures again. The Batman was the original version, which I had owned, with a removable mask; as I recall, later Batman figures had the mask as part of the head. When I saw they were going for $130 each, I recalled with mixed feelings that my figures had been sold for the princely sum of 25 cents each.

I was very interested to read about the Falcon doll. I owned that and the POTA figures, but had no recollection about Falcon's hands being any different than other figures. Of course, even if I had, at 7 or 8 years old, I doubt I would have thought anything about it. I'd love to read the anecdotes your readers might have to tell about these toys.

I am a long-time reader of CBG and always enjoy reading your column. Keep up the great work!

I also heard from JENNIFER HACHIGIAN, a longtime fan who has been reading my columns online:

I just started catching up on your columns for this year and stumbled over the April 6, 2001 column. I figure you're doing fine (it's the world that seems to be on the rocks), but I still thought I should write something.

CBG influenced me through high school and college. I started reading it right around the time the infamous "Name Withheld" letter sparked so many thoughtful and/or emotional letters, columns and cartoons in the paper. What I picked up in CBG back then stays with me to this day. Peter David's "But I Digress" column had me laughing and (more often than not) thinking; it also seared into my mind the importance of good writing and storytelling--characters, plot, arcs, themes, the works--and how writers should read as much as possible.

Your column also stressed the value of thought, writing, and storytelling, but I remember you most for teaching me a thing or two about heroism. About how if it is within the power of a person to help others, that person should do so. You also pointed out that "expediency is not heroism," separating the wheat (true heroes) from the chaff (mere power fantasies and eye candy). Thank you for sharing your thoughts and yourself in "Tony's Tips!" I continue to read your columns whenever I get the chance.

Finally, we have this "made-my-day" note from BILL WOOLFOLK, the author of countless comic-book stories, novels, and television scripts:

Thank you for your kind review of my BLACKHAWK stories in the current CBG. David Siegel sent me a copy and directed me to your comments and all I can say is that praise from someone who writes as well as you do is praise indeed. As you probably know--you comic-book historians are incredible--I also wrote some best-selling novels and was the story editor/chief writer for a famous-in-its-time TV series called THE DEFENDERS, but I don't think I ever enjoyed writing anything as much as I did comics.

You and the other comics historians are helping to preserve an artifact of cultural history that will probably outlast many other forms of literary endeavor and for all I know outlast the pyramids. I'm grateful for your sending me back on a brief excursion into the Golden Age of my youthful career.

I want to thank all of the above for their kind words. More often than not, it's good to be me.

I'm working on something special for the next several weeks of this column.

Come back next week and we'll all see if I actually managed to get it together.

******

ADDENDUM

I'm back from a delightful winter vacation spent at home with my kids. Since the absence of columns during this vacation has put me behind my usual schedule of posting my CBG writings three weeks after they appear in print, I'm going to catch up by bringing you three installments of "Tony's Tips" this week. Look for the extra columns on Thursday and on Saturday. After that, the CBG reprints (plus new material) will post every Saturday.

If you read my TONY'S ONLINE TIPS columns at Norman Barth's PERPETUAL COMICS site-and I can't imagine why you wouldn't-you'll find brand-new columns there every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. This means that, for this week, you're getting a daily dose of me, something which hasn't happened in well over a year. Is that too much Tony for you? Let me know.

It seemed a shame to bring you columns Monday through Saturday this week and leave poor old Sunday with nothing to entertain you, so keep watching this space. If all goes according to plan, Justin (the wondrous wizard of this website) and I will be launching a new WORLD FAMOUS COMICS feature on January 13.

I've a few more in-house notes before we move on to something else. First, my computer hard drive went bad on me just before the holidays. Although my tech guy was able to recover a great deal of material, any e-mails sent to this column are missing and presumed lost forever. If there's something you absolutely must share with me and your fellow readers, you'll need to send it again.

Second, there have been some recurring problems with the back issues archives. Rest assured Justin is on the case and hopes to have them corrected shortly.

One more thing. The server which forwards e-mails sent to my "tony@wfcomics.com" address to my "home" address hasn't been doing that over the weekend. Justin is also on that case, so it may be fixed by the time you read this.

If your e-mails are still bouncing back to you, you can either post your message on my message board...keep them clean...or write me at: tonyisa@ohio.net. Don't get too attached to that address; I'm only keeping it until I switch to the new digital service being provided by my local cable company. With a little luck, that could happen before the end of January.

******

CORRECTION

When CBG ran the above column, my editors added headlines to each item. Unfortunately, they erred when it came to the entry on transmitting penciled pages by calling it "inking electronically." The two are completely different concepts and one reader sent me an excellent e-mail detailing this. Naturally, that e-mail was among the material lost when my hard drive died.

Going by memory, "inking electronically" is when the penciled artwork is scanned and then manipulated on the computer to darken lines for reproduction. It's not "inked" in the traditional sense of the term; it gives the illusion of inking. That description may be more simple than accurate, but you can't expect much from a guy who can't draw a straight line, much less figure out how to make it do tricks on a computer. If you have a better explanation of the process, and I don't see how you couldn't, I would be delighted to include it in a future column.

One guy who has used the electronic transmission of penciled pages to great effect is David Campiti of Glass House Graphics. He sent me a wonderful e-mail detailing how his Brazilian clients have used it to bail out various editors and publishers. That's another e-mail that has died the death, though Campiti says he'll give it another go in the near future. In the meantime, enjoy this photo of BANZAI GIRL writer/co-artist/model JINKY CORONADO, posing with a really lame Shrek imposter at Mid-Ohio-Con 2001:

Jinky Coronado


Coronado and her creation are being represented by Glass House Graphics and I'll tell you more about both her and Banzai Girl in the next exciting installment of this column. In other words, I'll be back on Thursday with more stuff.

Tony Isabella

<< 12/21/2001 | 01/08/2002 | 01/10/2002 >>

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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