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Reviews and commentary by Tony Isabella
"America's Most Beloved Comic-Book Writer & Columnist"

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for Sunday, March 2, 2002


"Criticism is the art of writing about yourself while appearing to be writing about another man's work."


Here's how this works:

I asked you some questions a while back. To jog your memory, they went like this:

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?

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?

I ran some of your responses last week. I'm going to run some more of them this week. Then I'm going to knock off early and read some comic books. I love my job.

First up is KEVIN KANE:
Why do I read reviews? To get tips on series that I am not currently reading but might enjoy. I also like to read others' opinions of series I am currently reading. Sometimes I will look at a bad review as confirmation that I should drop a title, always a difficult decision for a completist.

My "Holy Grails" of comics collecting are DC's Canceled Comics Cavalcade #1 and #2, which apparently printed the final stories of canceled series, stories which never saw publication. These were my absolute favorites as a kid: Secret Society of Super Villains, Freedom Fighters, Firestorm, Kamandi, etc. This was my personal golden age and my ultimate quest.
Though only 35 "official" copies of CANCELED COMICS CAVALCADE #1 (412 pages) and #2 (532 pages) were "printed" via the DC office copy machines, these issues are probably among the most bootlegged comics of all time. According to the OVERSTREET COMIC BOOK PRICE GUIDE, legitimate copies are printed on one side only, have blue covers, and are taped on the spine. Overstreet also reports that the second issue sold in 2001 for $800.

I find it ironic that comics created solely for copyright and trademark reasons have become such hot commodities among the less-than-honest members of our community. Maybe DC should decrease the demand for the illegal copies by offering print-on-demand editions of these collections. Or maybe they could fill the orders in house by sticking some poor intern in an office with a copier and a whole lot of paper.

I also heard from MATT LEVIN:
I read reviews to learn about new stuff I might like. I try to remember reviewers by name, and by who liked what. Reviewers who trashed Batman: The Dark Knight Strikes Again, which I enjoyed a lot, are likely to trash other stuff I might like. Reviewers who even know what Clan Apis is are likely to like other stuff I might like. Anything which gets four floating Tony-heads is something I feel I ought to look into.

I read reviews mostly to find comics I might enjoy, but I get a lot of satisfaction seeing a whole big sidebar on Boneyard, or an "A+" awarded to The League of Extraordinary Gentleman II, which is a sequel even--dare I say it aloud?-better than its predecessor! It kind of vindicates my own judgements...and that is secondarily satisfying. Of course, having found the comic in the first place is the primary satisfaction.

The comparison of favorites is a mainstay of fan involvement. Witness the on-going writing in Andrew Smith's and Craig Shutt's columns about favorite covers, and which issue is the hallmark of an age. Please continue to let us know your choices. I have no "Holy Grail" of comics collecting. I have enough Pogo to want more, but I'd rather buy reprints than the originals. I already have too many comics that are now "too valuable to own." It wasn't my fault; the prices sort of sneaked up on me when I wasn't looking.

I'd like to have more of DC's Tarzan by Joe Kubert, and more issues of Jonah Hex. Someday I may find them. In the meantime, I can sleep at night with what I got...

...except for the new, coming thing. I started Bone with #1, Strangers in Paradise with #3, Bill Messner-Loeb's Journey from its first appearances in the back of Cerebus.

That's why I read reviews. Because a reviewer once suggested I try these and other favorite titles.

LEN writes:
Why do I read reviews? These days, I'm more into the "indy" and non-super-hero comics. Since those creators and publishers can't advertise like the big guys, the reviews help me to consider whether or not I want to invest in a new series...especially since I live on a smaller budget these days.

I can't think of any "must-haves" right now unless it would be Green Lantern/Green Arrow #87. That issue introduced John Stewart and has my first published letter to DC!
You've hit upon one of my own areas of interest. I never kept track of how many letters I had published in the comic books of the 1960s and early 1970s. As a result, I sold or traded away many of those issues. These days, whenever someone points out one of my youthful missives, I add it to my want-list.

Back when my younger brothers were collecting Sgt. Fury, Kid Colt, Rawhide Kid, and Two-Gun Kid, collections I bought from them when they lost interest, I used to help them write letters to those books. Brother Ray had a letter published in KID COLT OUTLAW #122, so I'm currently try to track down two copies of the issue, one for each of us.

JOHN PETTY of Heritage Comics sent this:
I remember when I could and did buy virtually everything that Marvel and DC published. If there were books I passed up, it was because I chose to, not because I couldn't afford them. It was a wonderful time to be into comics, as whole universes were open and accessible. Nowadays, with comics at$2-$3 a pop (and more), I've had to cut back on my comic reading.

What's going on in the Batman and Superman titles? Search me. Who is this new Doom Patrol? I couldn't tell you. I've got a weekly budget for comics now, and I've got to be more choosy about what I buy. Since I also have limited time these days, my reading hours are at a premium. I keep up with the books I have an attachment to, or books by creators I know I'll enjoy, but a lot of stuff falls by the wayside. And let's not even start on "indy" books.

I read reviews, especially those by people I trust, to give me a "heads-up" on good stuff that I may be missing. My comics radar isn't as finely tuned as it once was--maybe it's just that there's too much virtual chum in the waters--so I'm grateful to be alerted to cool stuff I've missed, or, conversely, stuff to avoid.

This is probably the standard answer, but it's mine and I'm sticking to it.

For me, the "Holy Grail" question is easy. When I was nine years old, I picked up Mister Miracle #1 off the newsstand and was instantly hooked. I knew Jack Kirby from his work at Marvel, and I had seen some of his other "Fourth World" comics, but this title really hooked me. In fact, this book had such an impact on me, that, years later, I actually made my living for several years as a magician and escape artist. My biggest regret is that I never met Jack to tell him how much his work meant to me.

So, to answer your question, my "Holy Grail" is the original art to the cover of Mister Miracle #1. I have a nice collection of interior pages from various issues, but that cover is the piece I want more than anything. Ah well, maybe someday...
Finally, we have this note from ROBERT ABBATOMARCO:
I read your reviews to separate the wheat from the chaff. As the father of a four-year old, and with my wife battling health problems, I don't have much free time to devote towards my favorite hobby. Add in the expense of new comics, as well as stories which spread out over multiple titles, and I only want to focus on those complete stories which are the best. I generally use your reviews to create a want-list of books to hunt for, usually in bargain bins at stores and conventions, and/or to make note of trade paperbacks to read. For instance, after your review of Marvel's Deadline, I found all four issues for half-a-buck or less.

I don't have a "Holy Grail" of comics collecting, though, for the longest time, I was looking for a good reading copy of Denny O'Neil's Charlton Premiere #2. Then, one day while looking through the dollar-bin of a local comics store, I found it in a reprinted edition.

I have an extensive want-list, but through perseverance, I've been checking items off of it. Of course, that list does seem to grow the more I read your column and Craig Shutt's "Ask Mr. Silver Age" feature.

Thanks for your columns. Hopefully your "farewell tour" will include the New York City area.
I don't have a NYC show scheduled yet, but I'd love to attend one. I haven't been to the Big Apple since 1988, and haven't been a guest at a convention there since the 1970s. Since my comic-book career started there, it would be fitting to make one last visit, but that depends on a show promoter inviting me and picking up some of the considerable expense of the trip.

At present, there are six confirmed stops on the TONY ISABELLA FAREWELL TOUR with six to be added...
February 28-March 2:
MegaCon (Orlando)

March 29-30:
Planet Comicon 2003 (Kansas City)

May 10:
The Mighty Mini-Con (Herkimer, New York)

July 17-20:
Comic-Con International (San Diego)

September 5-7:
Lone Star Comicon (Houston)

November 29-30:
Mid-Ohio-Con (Columbus)
If you're a convention promoter, especially a promoter willing to offer some support, such as airfare and hotel, for my appearance at your show, now is the time to contact me before those remaining six slots are filled.

If you're one of my readers, I urge you to make every effort to attend one of the above events. While I would never say "never" when it comes to comics, I'm honestly not anticipating my being a guest at any shows beyond 2003. If you want to meet me and/or have me sign any of the things I've written over the past thirty years, these conventions are likely your last chance.

Hey now. Turn those frowns upside now. Whatever happens with the tour and with the various proposals I'm sending to publishers, I'm looking to have fun on this wild ride, meeting friends old and new, talking about comics, and generally celebrating my time in the industry. Wherever my path leads, I'm grateful for the opportunity to have crossed so many of your paths.



The above column first appeared in COMICS BUYER'S GUIDE #1526 [February 14, 2003], which shipped January 27. Since I wrote it, I managed to score two copies of KID COLT OUTLAW #122, and devoted a subsequent column to celebrating it gloriously nostalgic detail. Look for it in CBG #1530, though it will, of course, be reprinted online a few weeks after its print publication.

If you're reading this column on the day it posts, I'm still in Florida and enjoying the final day of MegaCon. I'm scheduled to fly back to Ohio this evening, so I should be back at the keyboard sometime on Monday...assuming I can manage to drag my ancient butt out of bed in the morning. It could go either way.



I don't recall exactly how the conversation got started, but, on Yahoo's SILVER AGE/GOLDEN AGE e-mailing list, I took part in a discussion on comics anthologies which could appeal to non-comics readers. Here are my initial comments:
Because of their enormous libraries of past material, DC and Marvel Comics have the unique ability to put together collections on just about any area of interest. Books that would sell in the mainstream. One example:

Terry Stewart, formerly of Marvel Comics, is now running the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland. DC could gather together past stories with a pop music theme, add some commentary, and publish a book in conjunction with the Hall of Fame. They'd sell x number of copies to comics fans, and x number of copies in the mainstream (book stores and record stores), and x number of copies in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame souvenir shop. And they'd keep selling copies in that last one.
A fellow mailing-lister pooh-poohed my comments. Thinking way too small, he pointed to the lack of success of such 1950s/1960s DC titles as PAT BOONE (5 issues), TEEN BEAT/TEEN BEAM (2 issues), a solitary TEEN TITANS story, and the three issues of SHOWCASE which featured the Maniaks. I responded:
You're gonna judge this idea on the basis of some comics that didn't sell four decades ago?

What about stories like JIMMY OLSEN's "The Red-Haired Beatle of something B.C."...or the Kryptonite Crawl story...or the Batman story inspired by the "Paul Is Dead" stuff...or Pat Boone's guest shot with Superman and Lois Lane...and so on and so on.

Were there any music-oriented stories in the various DC mystery titles? I'm guessing there were.

How about in the Bob Hope and Jerry Lewis titles? How about in the DC teen titles?

DC could easily collect a couple hundred pages of popular music-themed stories from their archives. Tying the book in with the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame would give them an ongoing presence in the museum. They'd have no trouble getting a nice return on the first printing...and they could quite possibly keep the anthology in print just from the ongoing museum sales.
Those of you with way too much time on your hands can have fun by putting together your own themed anthologies. If you do, please send me the results so I can enjoy them...and share them with your fellow Tips readers.



My comments on how Marvel Comics solicits its upcoming titles in PREVIEWS brought this response from DANIEL McMASTERS:
Was your question about Marvel's new solicitation format in PREVIEWS merely rhetorical?

I also don't like the way they withhold information regarding content. But I didn't care for their previous format either, where every single solicitation got the Bullpen Page treatment, complete with hype, buzz, and quotes from Entertainment Weekly. They've gone from too much to not enough. Maybe the pendulum will stop swinging soon and they'll give their customers the simple information they need to order.

Right now, their new books get a significant description, but their monthly title information is as short and shallow as a pitch to a Hollywood producer. It's not very enticing to people reading Previews and ordering for the first time. Everyone else in Previews still gets it right.
The bottom line, for me, at least, is that it takes more than a picture and some credits to get me interested in most comic books from any publisher. I may not be in Marvel's target audience, but I do buy somewhere in the neighborhood of a hundred bucks worth of comics each month, often more. There's a lot of competition for my C-note and, more often that not, I use those PREVIEWS solicitations to decide how I'm going to spend it.



When I write a favorable review of someone's work, I sometimes get a note of thanks. When I write a less-than-favorable review, I rarely hear from the creators. But, occasionally, I do, and, in this case, CSI artist GABRIEL RODRIGUEZ responded with such grace that I had to share it with you:
I have read your comments about my work in CSI #1, and wanted to thank you for your criticisms. I'm certainly going to keep them in mind to upgrade my art in the next issues of this comic. This series is my first professional work in the USA. Thanks again and here's hoping the next issues of the CSI comic lets me offer you and all the readers a work in constant progress.
I'm looking forward to those issues, especially knowing that Rodriguez, who hails from Santiago, Chile, is determined to make each new issue's artwork better than the previous issue's artwork. That kind of dedication does lead to constant improvement and also builds a bond, a trust, if you will, between creators and readers. Thanks for writing, Gabriel.



I'm writing this several days before I leave for Florida and MegaCon. Here in Medina, the temperatures will be below freezing all week. In Orlando, we're talking 70-80 degrees. No wonder my family is giving me those looks.

Next online from me will be a new TONY'S ONLINE TIPS at Norman Barth's PERPETUAL COMICS website. Like this column, that one will have been written before I leave for Florida. You can read it on the morrow at:

There will also be new TOTs on Wednesday and Friday, but I'll be writing those columns from Florida or directly after I return to Medina. Either way, the columns will likely include some notes on MegaCon and my experiences there.

Come Saturday and Sunday, March 8 and 9, I'll be back here at World Famous Comics with the usual mix of CBG columns and brand-new material. I truly am the song that never ends.

Tony Isabella

<< 03/01/2003 | 03/02/2003 | 03/08/2003 >>

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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.

Please send material you would like me to review to:

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Medina, OH 44256

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