"There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle."
--Albert Einstein (1879-1955)
Two months ago, I asked CBG readers to answer three questions, though, in typical long-winded fashion, it took me three paragraphs to ask them...
Why do you read reviews? Do you read them mostly to help you find comics you might enjoy reading? Or to help you avoid comics you wouldn't enjoy? Or just to gauge your reactions to the comics you've read against those of others?
Besides reviews, what would you like me to write about in this column? Comics collecting? Comics history? Comics promotion and retailing? My old "war" stories?
Do you have a "Holy Grail" of comic-book collecting, that one issue you'll never rest until you possess, that one artist you want a sketch or a page of original artwork from, that one knick-knack you want for your shelf?
The answers to the middle question could be summed up thus: you want me to write about EVERYTHING! Each choice I mentioned was greeted enthusiastically by most respondents, and many of them went on to suggest other topics as well. You've given me a lot to think about, including how best to shove all the other writers out of CBG and rename the paper TONY! TONY! TONY!
There was a tad more variety to your other answers, so let's dip into the mailbox and share those with one another. First up is ALLEN J. SCHULER:
I read reviews to guide me in selecting comics that might be worth my time and, in particular, my money. There is a wealth of exceptional material to be found in today's market, perhaps more so than at any other time in comics history. Through reviews I've found, among others, The Age of Bronze, Stray Bullets, Leave It To Chance, Crusades, Bone, and Hawkman. However, Theodore Sturgeon's law still obtains; there's a lot of dreck, too.
Who knows what I've avoided by reading or not reading reviews of a title? For the most, critics don't review the real drivel. Beating up on worthless and inept comics is too easy and, in some cases, cruel. If no one reviews a book, there's probably a reason. If I overlook a truly good book, eventually it will generate buzz and a trade paperback. I can pick up on it there.
Do I have a "Holy Grail" of comic-book collecting? Alas, no. I no longer burn with a gem-like flame to own any old book. I was lured back into the world of comics by Neil Gaiman's Sandman. The first issue I bought off the stands was #50. I had the notion that I'd buy my way back to the first issue so that I'd eventually own them all. You know, like in the old days. Pre-trade paperback days. I made it to #24. The first ones proved too expensive for my taste, and before I had to make any hard decisions between desire and debt, the collections caught up to issues I'd purchased. Scratch desire.
Though I don't have a comics "grail" per se, I have adopted an odd collecting habit. Once upon a time, I decided I wanted to own an actual Golden Age comic, not a reprint, but the whole enchilada, smell, texture, bad printing, and all. I bought a cheap reading copy of a 1948 Airboy, which is about as close to the Golden Age as I'll get. Since then, I've purchased an early Tomahawk, a late Mr. District Attorney, and a mid-run Challengers of the Unknown issue. I don't collect any of these titles, have no desire to, but they are issues indicative of their era and genre. A cheap, complete, readable odd-ball issue of any comic representing its time may be something I would purchase.
PAUL IACONO writes:
I don't regularly visit a comic shop, so reviews are my only real link to the latest projects. I use them to seek out the items I might be interested in.
From JERRY KING:
I purchased my very first comic book in 1964 when I was but a tyke. That book changed my life forever. It was Marvel Tales #1 and I can still remember the day. Today I have about 25,000 books and probably 20,000 of them are Marvel. When you talk about being in comics for a long time, I can relate.
I would have to say my "Holy Grail" would be a Marvel comic because that's what I collect most. And it would probably be more than one or two books.
How about Pussycat #1 or Strange Tales Annual #1? How about Groovy #1? Our Love Story #5? I've been lucky enough to find each of these. I'm still searching for the Esquire Magazine Spider-Man Giveaway, Millie the Model Annual #1 and Chili Special #1. I'd say these comprise the rarest of the rare, the "Holy Grails," if you will, of the Marvel Universe.
Are there more like these out there? Probably. I would love to see other Marvel fans write in with their own lists of special Marvel treasures.
DAVID KELL had this to say:
I read reviews to help find comics I might enjoy, to help me avoid ones I wouldn't, and to compare to my enjoyment with that of others...in that order!
A realistic "Holy Grail" would be a piece of original art. I'd love a Superman page by Curt Swan and Murphy Anderson...or Neal Adams. A page of Adam Strange by Carmine Infantino and Anderson would also be nifty.
Unrealistic? I'd love to have complete runs of both Superman and Action Comics. I would also like someplace to store it these collections properly.
From LEE "Budgie" BARNETT:
Why do I read reviews? Often, it's simply because I enjoy reading the way certain people write. I read your reviews mainly for the same reason I read the rest of your columns. I like the way you write. Whether it's a comic book, a retelling of a "war story" or a review.
I'm afraid I don't have any "Holy Grails" of collecting that aren't incredibly selfserving. I've been mentioned in a couple of comic-book stories and I'd love the original art to those pages, but I've never really done anything about it other than put out the occasional feeler. If you have either the first issue or the trade paperback of Blaze of Glory, the Ostrander/Manco work from a couple of years back, take a look at the final page of the first issue and you'll know why I want the original.
Brian Ahern stuck me in a Bumpkin Buzz strip a long time ago. The strip commented how it was always a British journalist working for American news organizations who got sent to the War Zone. He had a reporter named Budgie reporting from the Big Bang sequence in Zero Hour.
If any of my own comics writing sees print, yes, I'd like one page from each story. That would be so very cool.
I heard from RALPH LAGANA:
I read reviews largely to learn about comics I might normally ignore. I consider myself a Marvel collector for the most part, and am inclined toward seeking out Marvel titles before working my way toward the products of other companies or individuals. Reviews of Lucifer and the too-brief Orion led me to them. Heart of Empire, Age of Bronze, and Promethea have found their way into my home and memory because of the superior reviews they had received. All were titles I may well have not paid much attention to when scouring the comics racks, particularly when seeing their hefty cover prices. It is also because of reviews that I am saving money toward purchasing Eagle: The Making of an AsianAmerican President.
I'm looking at the grades/scores given to various comic titles in CBG and more or less ignoring those receiving low marks. I don't have limitless funds to purchase comics and find that as my little ones get older I have less time for reading. Seeing a low grade for a title often results in my ignoring the review.
One exception to this was Alias, which got a very apprehensive review prior to its release. Reading about its depiction of Luke Cage was offputting, but I wanted to judge for myself. Did I like its use of Cage? Christmas, no! But Alias remains an agreeable read and finds its way to my home each month.
I would enjoy reading more reviews of comics and even books in your columns. I know the paper is titled Comics Buyer's Guide, but, as many CBG columnists and editors have noted, many of your readers are generally well read. I love reading in general and wouldn't be the least upset by reviews of science or fantasy fiction in these pages. It makes perfect sense to dabble in such reviews as so many comic-book writers make use of literature beyond comics for their research and inspiration.
We'll be continuing this discussion next week, but, before we call it a column, I'll throw my two cents in on some of what's been mentioned above. I can't let you folks do ALL the work.
From time to time, reviewers proclaim they won't be wasting their time, and that of the readers, by writing about comic books that, to put it charitably, aren't good. I don't subscribe to that notion. If a reviewer aspires to be more than a cheerleader, he best serves his readers, the art form, and the comics industry, by examining the good and bad, and discussing where, in his view, they went right or wrong.
No one's reviews should be taken as carved in stone. Critics have their quirks, their personal likes and dislikes. However, if you read any reviewer on a regular basis, and he is doing the job properly, you'll recognize those quirks and factor them into your decision on whether to buy a particular comic. From your view, the review you give with your doubtless hard-earned cash outweighs all others. Use this great power wisely.
I know reader Iacona's situation all too well. There isn't a comics shop within 20 miles of my home and, when there were, none of them ever carried the variety which would have made me more than an occasional customer. Even receiving as many review copies as I do, I rely on PREVIEWS and my fellow critics to keep me reasonably informed on comics I might enjoy.
Quick digression question. Is there anyone outside of Marvel Comics who thinks their current PREVIEWS solicitation policy of big pictures and next-to-no information is a good idea? Marvel never sends me review copies, so my exposure to their titles comes solely from issues I buy or borrow. I'm not moved by the pin-up artwork in their solicitations; as a result, my ordering of their comics, save for those I've been buying all along, has faded to virtual non-existence. They lose.
Finally, on the subject of Marvel rarities of the past, let me add MONSTERS TO LAUGH WITH, MONSTERS UNLIMITED, and MONSTER MADNESS to the mix. Written by Stan Lee, these magazines combined big and beautiful black-and-white stills from classic monster movies with humorous word balloons. Oh, sure, the gags were sometimes pretty corny, but they still bought many smiles to this reader.
Besides, MONSTER MADNESS, the final version of the magazine, was extremely important to my own comics career. And, if you catch me at just the right moment during my TONY ISABELLA FAREWELL TOUR, I might even tell you the story.
Heh, heh, heh. As Stan himself taught me, ALWAYS leave them wanting more.
The above column first appeared in COMICS BUYER'S GUIDE #1525 [February 7, 2003], which shipped January 20. The cover story was about pre-1900 comic strips. Yes, it WAS the slowest news week in the history of comics.
In the "names we haven't heard in ages" category, the February 24 edition of NEWSWEEK quotes Mark Nevelow, the original editor of DC's Piranha Press imprint, in an article about the return of the corset to women's fashions. It's not as much as a stretch from the comics biz as you might imagine; Nevelow reportedly met DC's then-publisher Jenette Kahn while he was working as a designer. Here's the pertinent part of Peg Tyre's article:
...fans claim that a well-fitted corset top isn't any more uncomfortable than a pair of stilettos - and some wear both. And owning one can provide a respite from the tyranny of rigid dieting and rigorous workouts. "Why spend hours in pursuit of a physical ideal that is, for most women, unobtainable?" says Mark Nevelow, whose company THE OTHER WOMAN has designed garments for opera stars, S&M enthusiasts and, more recently, fashion divas. "Go out for the evening in a corset, look fabulous, then come home and have a doughnut."
Opera stars, S&M enthusiasts, fashion divas. Yep, that sounds like the comics industry in a nutshell.
In the same issue, David Ansen gives a less-than-favorable review to DAREDEVIL. Of the movie, he writes: "Torn between moody grandiosity and cartoonish mayhem, DAREDEVIL tries to have it both ways, and succeeds at neither."
Finally, NEWSWEEK reports this amusing factoid: On the United Kingdom's recent Census form, 390,000 Britons gave their religion as "Jedi."
At last report, Prime Minister Tony Blair was trying to decide between "Sith Lord" and "Lapdog."
WANTED! MORE READERS LIKE...
...my pal JON KNUTSON, who sent me this e-mail and photo four months ago. He writes:
The attached photo is of my debut as the Frankenstein Monster at a friend's haunted house. He's been running the Halloween event for twenty years...and this is the first year the Monster hasn't been an inanimate object! Note that I was smart enough not to say, "dummy." That's too easy a straight line.
I got lots of compliments on my makeup job, although me being my own worst critic, I see all kinds of places for improvement! I think next year, I'll start a few months earlier, and really do it up right...get the plaster mold of my head and build it up entirely from scratch so it'll be an exact fit.
I started with a partial headpiece which I bought online and discovered wasn't wide enough for my head, so I did all kinds of extending on it, as well as adding the hair. The top piece came from an officially-licensed Universal costume, but I didn't care for it. Unfortunately, it's about impossible to find a men's suit jacket in an appropriate color in something close to the right size at a thrift store or garage sale! Guess tall guys like me tend to wear clothes until they're ready to be thrown away! I may have a jacket custommade for me next year...or perhaps do the sheepskin vest version of the costume instead.
I had a great time playing the Monster, as well as just being involved in something like this. I've been wanting to be part of a haunted house for at least 25 years, if not longer! And given some of the cool stuff I found on clearance right after Halloween, I'll be even more involved next year, I'm sure!
Even playing the Monster, I still did my duty as a comics fan. Along with candy, I also brought a hundred or so comics to hand out to the kids after they'd gone through it. I'll have to bring a lot more comics next year!
One of the neat things about this was that we didn't charge admission for it, but we were collecting donations of cash and food for BASH - Bikers Against Statewide Hunger. The friend who does this every year has been involved with BASH for quite some time and we managed to do pretty good contribution-wise!
Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know running a letter about Halloween in March is kind of strange, but I couldn't bear to go even one more week without sharing this with you.
I'm always interested in items and photos of comics fans doing good things in their communities, so feel free to send anything of that nature my way.
WHERE IN THE WORLD IS TONY ISABELLA?
If you're reading this on Saturday, March 1, I'm enjoying the second day of MEGACON in Florida. The convention continues today and tomorrow, so, if you're at the convention, don't be shy about introducing yourself to me.
MEGACON is the first stop on my TONY ISABELLA FAREWELL TOUR. While I'd never be so foolish as to say "never," it's likely the shows I attend this year will be the last cons I'll be attending as a guest. So, please, take advantage of this crazy tour to say "hi" to me, ask me whatever questions you might have, and have me sign the comics and things I've written. You may not get another chance after this year.
The other half of this FAREWELL TOUR is the dozen proposals I will be pitching to various publishers. These proposals represent what I think will be some of my best and most exciting works ever. Most of them are original concepts, a few are new looks at some old favorites, but I'm having a ball developing them.
Do I expect they will sell? Heck, I don't even expect most of them will be READ. By and large, the industry has made its lack of interest in older creators very clear. But, y'know, I'm not doing this for THEM. I'm doing it for me and for those readers who have continually asked for new Tony comics. With the usual caveat about my never saying "never," I don't expect to be writing comic books after this year. But I will have given it one heck of a try before I turn my attention to other things.
One last thing to be addressed here:
I got a vicious and, of course, anonymous e-mail from someone purporting to be an employee of one of the major comics publishers. The person was absolutely livid about my farewell tour, accusing me of trying to get work out of sympathy, of bad-mouthing the comics industry, and, worst of all, of refusing to just go away quietly. I think it was about as total a misunderstanding of what this tour is all about as humanly possible.
To repeat: this tour is all about ME and not THEM. It's about my fans and friends and readers.
I don't expect to make any "deals," though, obviously, I would be delighted if that happened.
I don't expect to change the industry's unfortunate habit of discarding creators who still have something to say, though, again, I'd be pleased if that happened.
And I definitely don't expect (or want) to get assignments out of some misguided sympathy for my advanced years. I have stories to write and things to say. Should I find an editor or publisher who thinks so, too, that would be fabulous. If I don't, I'll find my challenges elsewhere.
I do very much expect to have a good time during this farewell tour, both at the cons and in the writing. And you're all welcome to join in my fun...especially if you're wearing one of my official TONY ISABELLA FAREWELL TOUR T-SHIRTS, which are currently available in a variety of styles at:
Hey, now, don't be giving me that look! You're getting these spiffy columns for free. You shouldn't begrudge me the occasional plug here and there. Sheesh!
The next stop on my tour will be Kansas City's Planet Comicon 2003, Saturday and Sunday, March 29 and 30, at the Overland Park International Trade Center. For more information, visit the show's website at:
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.
Please send material you would like me to review to: