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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 #1493 (07/13/02)

"I haven't failed, I've found ten thousand ways that don't work."

--Ben Franklin

Speaking of comics and comics stuff, which is what we do best in these pages, it has certainly been an exciting couple of months for our community. SPIDER-MAN has been breaking box-office records on a nigh-weekly basis and has likely broken a few more between the time I'm writing this column and the time you're reading it. The outside world loves the web-slinger as much as we do.

ROAD TO PERDITION, based on the riveting graphic novel by Max Allan Collins and Richard Piers Rayner, will be hitting theaters in July. Directed by Sam Mendez, starring Tom Hanks and Paul Newman, this tale of a mob shooter and his son walking a path of vengeance in the days of Al Capone is already generating definite Oscar buzz. I'm looking forward to seeing it almost as much as I looked forward to seeing SPIDER-MAN.

Sidebar. My son Eddie was so intrigued hearing me talk about ROAD that he asked to read the graphic novel. He loved it so much he wants to read some Collins prose novels this summer, and see the movie. He's 14, the film is rated "R" for violence and language, but I'm leaning towards taking him.

The first trailer for the Ang Lee-directed HULK made its debut with the release of SPIDER-MAN. It's scheduled for a Summer, 2003, release, though the somewhat more modest DAREDEVIL will precede it by a few months. Hardly a week goes by without the announcement of other comic-book creations being green-lighted by studios major and minor. Maybe that big-screen IT, THE LIVING COLOSSUS dream of mine isn't so crazy after all.

On the small screen, the WB's SMALLVILLE scored big with the critics and viewers. Come this fall, BIRDS OF PREY, a tweaking of the DC Comics title starring Black Canary and Oracle, will also be on the WB schedule. TNT's WITCHBLADE, based on the Top Cow comics series, kicked off its second season earlier this month. As with the movies, we can expect to see more comics concepts on television in the coming years.

Closer to home, the industry's FREE COMIC-BOOK DAY was a great success. Retailers report that those first-time visitors to their shops have returned since and not just to browse. More than ever, helpful and knowledgeable staff are vital elements of a successful comics emporium. Comics are getting the attention of the general public; industry workers in all areas need to work hard to keep and strength that interest.

Even before SPIDER-MAN took on all comers, comics conventions and back-issue sales were showing signs of appreciable growth. The industry misfortunes of the 1990s took its toll on the spirits of the fans as well. Both segments of the community are coming out of that, bolstered by some truly excellent work on classic characters, exciting comics outside the super-hero genre, and a dedication to repackaging great comics in more accessible formats. No one comics publisher can claim credit here; we've seen and are seeing amazing and innovative efforts from DC, Marvel, CrossGen, Dark Horse, Viz, Fantagraphics, and too many others to mention.

The comics community has every reason to be optimistic about the future. However, as we look ahead, there will still and always be so much we can learn from the past. One of the most satisfying things about today's successes is that they afford publishers the means and opportunity to explore comics art and history with style, respect, and perception.

Kreigstein B. KRIGSTEIN VOLUME ONE (Fantagraphics; $49.95) does just that by examining the life, works, and creative journeys of one of our shared passion's finest artists. In creating this definite book on Bernard Krigstein, first-time author Greg Sadowski brings the man to life, probes the discipline and imagination which informed even Krigstein's most hurried efforts, gazes unforgivingly on industry practices which stifled his subject's artistic ambitions, and, in doing all this, offers inspiration for the storytellers of today. I can't imagine any comics writer or artist reading this tome and not coming away from it with the desire to take their own endeavors to the next level and beyond.

From the initial paragraph of her foreword, Natalie Krigstein sets the tone for this study of her husband's art:

Some admirers of Bernard Krigstein separate his threefold artistry in comics, illustrations, and painting. But how can one fully understand an artist unless one studies all the aspects of his/her work. An artist's qualities in one field may shed light on or confirm the qualities in another (or may reveal new ones). To me, it seems clear that the figurative paintings (like Ausable River Bathers, 11A, Mendy, and Tolly) are by the man with the heart, mind, and hand that created the comics story "Master Race." The relationship with his landscapes may be less obvious, but those landscapes--whether dramatic or tender, mystical or explosive-are by the same artist with the depth, emotional range, imagination, and control that we see in his finest comics and illustrations.

At the end of her foreword, Krigstein deftly sums up what the reader will soon discover:

This is the story of an artist who struggled throughout his lifetime to find his way by exploring the mysteries of his art; who heard colors like musical chords and experienced light as revelations; who was never content with the achieved, with what he already knew and came easy; for whom a painting was a painting only if it was a discovery.

The foreword, the last thing Natalie wrote before her death, looks at Krigstein and his dedication to his art with knowing eyes. Ironically, a revelation I found equally interesting was that she herself had worked in the comics field. She wrote romance scripts from 1949 to 1955, for Stan Lee, Robert Kanigher, and Joe Simon and Jack Kirby; sadly, she never got the chance to collaborate with her husband on a story and, sadder still, we know next to nothing about her comics writings.

Sadowski's attention to detail and ability to connect the dots in Krigstein's life shine throughout this book. The author brings forth the man in studying the artist. We see Krigstein's passions, not just for artistic excellence, but for his wife, his family, his determination to build a good life for them, and his desire to be recognized for his talent.

Each chapter captures another aspect of Krigstein. Sadowski devotes considerable attention to the artist's fine arts education, his admiration and knowledge of classical drawing. Included herein are numerous examples of Krigstein's illustrations and paintings, art which had previously appeared only in galleries.

Krigstein had entered the comics field to make a little money to leave with his wife before he entered the Army. America was at war, and the artist was as passionate about doing his part in that effort as he was about everything else in his life. Sadowski shows us that passion again and again in this book, whether Krigstein is artist, father, husband, or soldier. Indeed, though Krigstein was mostly assigned to a drafting table during his military service, he did see combat and acquitted himself well enough to win a European Theater of Operations Certificate of Merit.

(An amusing aspect of Krigstein's war service is his "rivalry" with an artistic poseur assigned to his unit. Krigstein could be as hard on others as he was on himself.)

After his discharge, with Natalie pregnant with their son and filled with enthusiasm for the future, Krigstein threw himself into his comics work. He saw comics as an extension of the fine arts to which he was still devoted:

I found that comics was drawing, and it became the only serious field for me at the time. As far as the germinating of ideas and styles goes, my time in comics was the most artistically productive, because of the drawing and composition. I became no longer embarrassed about the so-called limitations, of working in black and white and so forth; I shed all criticism of the form as I worked with it.

Krigstein was ahead of his times, that much is clear from even a cursory reading of his legendary work for EC Comics and the other publishers of the era. Yet, in many ways, he was ahead of today's comics curve as well. Early on, he recognized the importance of a good script, a good story, and that the sequential movement of the story was vital to comics. Those notions by themselves set the bar higher than that to which many artists could hope to aspire. But, he took the philosophy further, demanding of himself that each and every panel be a complete composition unto itself. Looking at his work with an appreciation for this thinking behind it makes that work all the more impressive.

Krigstein

As even the most casual reader must realize by this point, my enthusiasm for B. KRIGSTEIN is pretty darn near boundless. If I'd been reading it in public, I would have made an absolute nuisance of myself repeating this anecdote and that to total strangers, and directing their attention to the classic comics stories reprinted (and re-colored by Marie Severin) in this book.

No comics creator who has ever tried to stretch his abilities beyond the notions of his editors and publishers can fail to relate to Krigstein's frequent frustrations with the commercial and often-imagined limitations of the form. It's a testament to Krigstein's genius that most of those with whom he clashed retained their great respect for him.

A notable exception was the recently-passed Kanigher. In his attention to detail, Sadowski included several less-than-flattering quotes about the editor and writer. In his attention to fairness, he gave Kanigher a chance to respond to the quotes. The sad result is a look at the dark side of the man.

I consider Kanigher one of the finest writers ever to work in comics. If, in his writing, he found ten thousand ways that didn't work, he found many ways that did. And, though I was aware of his less admirable traits, I liked him personally and enjoyed my brief acquaintance with him. While I applaud Sadowski's journalistic and scholarly integrity, it did sadden me to see this dark side so soon after Kanigher's passing. Yet I cannot deny it has its place in an overview of Krigstein's life and work; the artist's defeats were as telling as his victories and often his own doing.

Back to business.

This first of two volumes covers Krigstein's work at Hillman, Atlas, DC, EC, and other publishers. It also studies his parallel development as an illustrator and painter and serves as a biography of the artist and, to a lesser extent, the 1919-1955 world around him. Most fittingly, it presents hundreds of drawings, paintings, and comic-book pages in support of the textual material, including six complete comics stories:

"Black Silver Heart" (DEAD-EYE WESTERN, Vol. 2 No. 4, June, 1951);

"Joseph and His Brethren" (BIBLE TALES FOR YOUNG FOLK #2, October, 1953);

"The Flying Machine" (adapted from the Ray Bradbury story for WEIRD SCIENCE-FANTASY #23, March, 1954);

"The Catacombs" (VAULT OF HORROR #38, August, 1954);

"Master Race" (IMPACT #1, March, 1955); and,

"Magician of Murder Creek" (THE WESTERNER #23, October, 1949), an early but delightful tale.

My love for B. KRIGSTEIN is such that, if I go on about this book much longer, Fantagraphics will be able to get a restraining order against me. I recommend it to one and all, but caution you to keep it sealed until you're ready to sit down with it for a good long time. Once you start reading, you won't want to put it down. It was only through my incredible will power that my children were fed, nurtured, and driven to school and sports activities as I was engrossed in the volume.

When I sat down to review B. KRIGSTEIN, I had a stack of other books and comics to review as well. I quickly dispensed with that notion; it would not have been fair to those other efforts to put them in the critical arena with this masterpiece.

I generally rate the things I review here on a scale of zero to five Tonys. Sadowski's B. KRIGSTEIN defies that scale and earns an unprecedented SIX Tonys.

Tony Tony Tony Tony Tony Tony

******

ADDENDUM

Two things to note before we move on to today's new material. The first is to direct your attention to the absolutely wonderful Bernard Krigstein website located at:

http://www.bkrigstein.com/index.html

You'll find lots of great art and information there, including 22 drawn-by-Krigstein stories from a variety of comics publishers. I plan to visit it daily.

The second is to let you know that we've been playing catch-up here at my little corner of WORLD FAMOUS COMICS. Four new columns have been posted since Wednesday...and you can read them by going to our "back issues" archive and clicking on the appropriate links. With this column, we're back on schedule.

******

HOT BLOOD NEWS

World Famous Comics columnist BOB INGERSOLL has sold a short story to editors Jeff Gelb and Michael Garrett for their paperback anthology, HOT BLOOD XI: FATAL ATTRACTIONS. The book will hit the stores in December or January. The cover is floating around here somewhere and the contents are as follows:

Hot Blooded News "Manhandled" by P. D. Cacek

"Making the Jump" by Bob Ingersoll

"Not a Meat Puppet, a Magic Puppet" by Thea Hutcheson

"Separate Vacations" by Edo Van Belkom

"One to Die For" by Michael Garrett

"Graveyard Shift" by Max Allan Collins and Matthew V. Clemens

"Nude in Magenta" by Debra Gray DeNoux and O'Neil DeNoux

"Switchblade" by Christa Faust

[title deleted] by Jeff Gelb

"Cry of the Loogaroo" by John Edward Ames

"Wrench" by Sephera Giron

"Moist Dreams" by Stanley Wiater

"Share My Strength" by Yvonne Navarro

"Epiphany" by Graham Masterton

"Pickman's Centerfold, Or: The Dunwich Ho" by Nancy Holder

"Saturnalia" by David J. Schow

[title deleted] by Mick Garris

"Where the Black Stars Fall" by Brian Hodge

That I didn't feel comfortable running the titles of two tales should tip you off that this is not a book for kids. But, judging from previous volumes in the series, it is a book for older readers who enjoy erotica with their horror stories. I liked the previous volumes in the HOT BLOOD series enough that I'd be buying this one even if my buddy Bob didn't have a story in it!

******

MAGAZINE WATCH

What's up with TV GUIDE critic Matt Roush's seeming hostility towards comics? In his July 6 column, he pans Showtime's QUEER AS FOLK for thinking it's important-in his estimation, it isn't--and illustrates this by making light of a comic book co-written by one of the characters. In the same column, he trashes the live-action SCOOBY-DOO. While one column certainly isn't concrete evidence of an anti-comics bias, Roush's remarks gave me cause to pause while reading the magazine.

Over in ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY for July 12, Avi Arad, president and CEO of Marvel Studios, rated a two-page profile. The article notes his enthusiasm for and "encyclopedic knowledge" of the Marvel characters. Avid is quoted as saying his gig is "a love story, not a day job," and there's a handy sidebar noting the status of over a dozen planned Marvel movies. Tragically, there is no mention of IT THE LIVING COLOSSUS or ROCKET RACER flicks.

In the same issue, three comics or comics-related movies are reviewed. MEN IN BLACK II picked up a "C+" in a review that never mentioned its comic-book origins, while THE POWERPUFF GIRLS and HEY ARNOLD! THE MOVIE received a "B" and a "B-".

Back to TV GUIDE, the July 13 issue, for a "Worth Repeating" quote from Conan O'Brien of NBC's LATE NIGHT:

"Captain Kirk's chair from the starship Enterprise is being auctioned on eBay, and the bidding starts at $80,000. Which is ridiculous, because for $8000, William Shatner will show up at your house."

******

TONY'S MAILBOX

After reading my CBG review of the Krigstein book, CRAIG SMITH checked in with these comments:

I appreciated your column-length review of Fantagraphics new book on the life and art of Bernard Krigstein. His legend has suffered lately through lack of exposure to new generations of comics fans and maybe this book will turn that around. "Genius" is a word thrown around too lightly when it comes to comics creators but I think Krigstein deserves that title. "Master Race" alone would put him in that category and I can think of few other stories that would deserve (or withstand) the panel-by-panel analysis John Benson gave it in SQUA TRONT #6. Still $50 ain't exactly cheap when it comes to tempting a new reader to check this volume out. I hope a trade paperback version will be available some time in the future.

I have heard nothing about a trade edition of the book, but, in the meantime, I suggest you ask your public library to order a copy. I've made several requests of this nature to my own library and they've come through more often than not. Okay, I have a bit of advantage in that I'm the local comics expert and they figure I know what I'm talking about when I recommend a comics-related book. But you know enough about Krigstein that you should be able to make a good case for your library to order this volume.

******

TONY'S NEWS NOTES

I'm not a fan of the Cleveland Indians, even though they were "my" team as a boy. Even beyond my dislike of the offensive Chief Yahoo symbol, I resent the team's wealthy owners receiving so much public assistance and not delivering like value to the taxpayers. Only a fraction of the good-paying jobs promised when the team was demanding its new stadium ever materialized; Indians games are no longer available on free TV; and, with the departure of several key players, the remaining fans are being told they must accept a non-competitive team for the next three years or more.

The upside of the recent trading of pitcher Bartolo Colon was that, for a short time, the Akron Beacon-Journal actually started giving the Class AA Akron Aeros equal billing with the Indians in its sports section. Okay, that was mostly because the players the Indians organization received in the Colon trade were assigned to the Aeros, but it was nice to see greater recognition given to the team with the best record in professional baseball.

The Beacon-Journal's baseball coverage returned to the status quo with Indians manager Charlie Manuel's firing. More often than not, Aeros news is pushed into the back pages of the sports section where, on occasion, coverage of their games occupies scarcely more space than a typical strip-joint ad. Sigh.

Baseball remains my sport of choice. I love watching my kids play and, even with all the greed and nonsense of the big leagues, I still enjoy kicking back and watching the odd game on TV. But, on the pro level, it is a sport desperately in need of character, leadership, and moderation.

According to STAR TREK: DEEP SPACE NINE, set several centuries in our future, Major League Baseball no longer exists, remembered only in fond memories and holodeck programs. Given the financial woes and inequities of professional baseball today, and as much as I loathe to consider the prospect, Trek's matter-of-fact revelation might have been more prophetic than we realized.

******

IN CONCLUSION

Fingers crossed, we'll be posting new TONY POLLS questions on the morrow. I'll be working on them as soon as I send this column off to World Famous Comics webmaster Justin.

Then, on Monday, TONY'S ONLINE TIPS resumes its thrice-weekly schedule at Norman Barth's PERPETUAL COMICS website. Every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, the universe permitting, you will find a new TOT waiting for you at:

http://www.perpetualcomics.com

Thanks for your heartfelt patience and support as the Isabella Entertainment Empire got back up to speed this summer. Your notes touched me so much that I'm not even going to mention the "Tip The Tipster" link elsewhere on this page.

Oops.

Have a great weekend, my friends, and keep checking my message board for the latest news on all things Tony...and for some of the best and friendliest conversation you'll find online.

Tony Isabella

<< 07/12/2002 | 07/13/2002 | 07/16/2002 >>

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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