MegaCon 2003 was held in the enormous Orange County Convention Center. However, when I first entered the place, I didn't have any true comprehension of the facility's size. That's because I came in the back door.
I had spent the day before the convention visiting the offices of Future Comics (as recounted last issue). On Thursday evening, I hitched a ride to Orlando with Mike and Charlotte Savage. Since they, along with an amiable artist named Marco, would be setting up the Future Comics booth, I decided to get an early look at the show before checking in at my hotel.
My initial impression of MegaCon was that it was a bit smaller than Wizard World Chicago, but still impressive. Even at that pre-show stage, I saw good-sized areas set aside for comics creators, gaming, independent publishers, and media guests, as well as a wide assortment of exhibitors and retailers. Fans coming to the event would have a lot to see and a lot of opportunities to spend their money and, as you might glean from my opening quote, there would be no shortage of bargains from the shrewd shopper.
The construction of the CG Entertainment island fascinated me. There were over a dozen hard-working folks putting it together and fork lifts were involved. I'm pretty sure their display was larger than the Marvel Comics offices of the early 1970s. I know it was larger than any apartment I lived in back then.
The highlight of the night was chatting for a few moments with fellow CBG columnist Chuck Rozanski and his lovely daughter Rowena. Chuck was enthusiastic about developments in the industry, but what made my evening was hearing a smiling Rowen accuse Chuck of "being mean" and calling him a "butthead" in the same tone of voice as my daughter Kelly uses in similar situations. It must be a universal language!
My hotel was no more than a 10-minute walk to the convention center. Of course, once I entered the center, I was still a mile or two away from MegaCon itself. I wasn't kidding when I described the place as enormous. Besides MegaCon, the place was hosting an electronics show, a boat show, a cheerleading competition, and, I think, everyone in a tri-state radius whose name starts with a "J." The aggregate population of the center could, at any moment during the weekend, have applied for statehood.
Once I got to MegaCon, saw the show in full bloom, and looked through the program book, I was impressed by how much entertainment was available to fans attending the show. Besides the exhibitors, guests, and retailers, the schedule listed two dozen panels, close to fifty hours of anime, an anime costume contest, an anime dance, and the ACTOR auction. Beth Widera and her crew did an incredible job pulling it all together and, judging from the many smiles I saw over the weekend, their efforts were appreciated.
MegaCon was the first stop on the TONY ISABELLA FAREWELL TOUR, so my plan was always to spend most of the show hanging around my Artist Alley table with my friends and fans, including those I had never met before. Imagine my delight when I realized I was sitting next to Jim Mooney, who I had not seen in easily over two decades. Best known for his work on "Supergirl" and "Tommy Tomorrow" for DC Comics in the 1960s, and his work on "Spider-Man" for Marvel in the 1970s and beyond, Jim was also the artist on my first scripts for GHOST RIDER. It was great chatting with Jim and his sweetheart of a wife, Anne, and I'm looking forward to keeping in touch with them in the future.
Flashback moment: Jim gave me a page of art from one of those Ghost Rider stories we had done together. On the side of the art, there was a short production note in my handwriting. It was a nice reminder of how thrilled I was to be working in comics back then, and how that early excitement is still there, even as I haphazardly work my way out of the industry. Maybe I should start planning my comeback tour.
Full disclosure: Since I announced my farewell tour in these pages, a few comics-related jobs have come my way and are in what I can best describe as the "early talking stages." That wasn't my intention in launching the tour and there's no guarantee they will come to fruition, but it sure makes me glad I never said "never" in previous columns. If I do end up hanging around, I figure I'll do the comeback tour in 2004, followed by the "How Many Times Will You Let Me Get Away With This?" tour in 2005.
Jim Salicrup, one of my first and truest comics industry pals, was also at the con. I've worked with Jim at Marvel and Topps, and would leap at a chance to do so again. He's one of the good guys, which he proved anew by drawing and lettering the title page of THE OFFICIAL TONY ISABELLA FAREWELL TOUR 2003 SKETCH BOOK. Yes, I do like using the word "official." Deal with it.
After decades of signing thousands of comics at various shows I've attended - and I added another couple hundred to that count at MegaCon - I thought it would be neat to have people sign what I saw as the equivalent of a high-school yearbook...sans the photographs of all the kids who didn't "stay cool" and who you didn't remember forever. Anyone who was inclined to do so could draw a sketch in the book or write a little note. I'll have the book with me at all the conventions I'll be attending this year and it's already become a cherished keepsake.
Some artists I've known for years did fully-rendered drawings in the book, others did quick sketches. Some younger fans had to be convinced it was okay for them to draw in the same book as the pros, but their drawings are among my favorites. The book reflects my life in comics, a life in which I've always tried to have fun as both a fan and as a professional.
I don't think anyone manifested the fun of fandom better than "Nurse Melody," hostess of an amazing and hilarious website devoted to DC's Cain the Caretaker and THE HOUSE OF MYSTERY. Melody found me a few weeks ago while trying to locate Len Wein online. In his younger days, Len bore an uncanny resemblance to Cain. These days, he looks like a big Furby who's been left in the sun too long, but we still love him.
Melody still hopes to meet Len at some future convention, but she seemed happy to meet me as well. She really knows her HOUSE OF MYSTERY stuff, but, true seeker that she is, she had many questions about the creators who'd worked on HOM and other DC mystery titles. I enjoyed adding what I could to her store of knowledge. Devotion like hers - just check out her Cain look, which should be somewhere on this page; she wore a similar, but more feminine version of this outfit at the con - should be encouraged. You can visit Melody's website at:
This is where this week's column could easily degenerate into a list of the comics pros who I met for the first time or with whom I renewed old acquaintances. It's taking all my will power not to go there. I cherish their friendship and the too-fleeting moments with them, but there aren't enough pages in this newspaper to begin to do justice to their accomplishments, kindnesses, and remarkable talents. So, sans names, here are a few quick observations and/or reflections on these conversations:
It's not uncommon for creators of my generation and, for that matter, the generation after mine, to talk about the difficulties in getting work in the comics biz. Editors, ever in search of the next "big" thing, have seemingly forgotten anything they might have once known about the basics of comics storytelling and forsworn the application of those basic skills in their titles. They champion style - often ugly style, at that - over substance in both word and visual. By the same token, there was much admiration expressed for publishers who do recognize classic quality when they see it, and, indeed, seek it out for their books. You don't have to be psychic to guess that the name "CrossGen" was frequently raised during such conversations. Good on them.
ACTOR (A Commitment To Our Roots), the non-profit organization founded to provide financial aid to retired comics creators, and, occasionally, to some who don't wish to be retired, was mentioned in appreciative tones. I think ACTOR is terrific, but I also think it only address part of the need in our community. Hearing of an artist whose comics career was absolutely derailed by the malicious lies of an editor, I wish there was an organization to offer legal and other support to him and like victims. Of course, I doubt even those publishers who have been generous to ACTOR and the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund would be so eager to contribute to such a cause. They like the option of loving, leaving, and forgetting freelancers at a whim. Oh, yeah, and "loving" is a euphemism for a word which we would never print in this publication.
If I never write another comic book in my life, I still have a wonderful life: family, friends, purpose, the entire enchilada. But one of the things I want to do during my silly little tour is raise awareness of how poorly comics creators have been treated and continue to be treated. In one venue or another, I expect I'll be returning to this subject in the future.
The occasional "downer" chat aside, warm-and-fuzzy good times were in plentiful supply. It would have been downright impossible, if not rude, for me to dwell on any negatives when a popular artist whose work I love was telling me how much he loved some of my 1970s stories. Is that ever a boost to the old ego!
Then there was the much younger creator who said he couldn't bear the thought of my leaving comics and inquired about my writing a couple issues of a book he created. My notions of what I want to write, and which assignments I could ethically accept, have changed dramatically in recent years, the result of a hard look at my past work and how I may have unthinkingly hurt other creators by taking some assignments. However, being asked by someone who has actually created something - and there aren't many current comics editors or publishers who have done that - to work on his or her creation is as fine a compliment as I could receive.
[Quick answer to the question you're going to ask me anyway. If I write comics, I want to write comics I created...comics which the actual creator - not an editor or publisher - wants me to work on...comics where the original creators are no longer with us and to which the publisher has, in MY mind, a clear moral claim...and comics which were created by editors or publishers who created the titles as part of their contracted duties.
This is more limiting than you might imagine. If Hero A was created by Editor B during his time as a salaried employee, I would have no ethical problem writing A. However, if Hero A's girlfriend was created by Freelance Writer C, I could only write her with C's permission...and I'd feel obligated to cut C a check for a portion of what I make from the assignment. If freelancers want publishers to respect their contributions, maybe we need to start respecting each other's contributions first.
Oh, yes, I'm well aware that this kind of reasoning guarantees bookkeeping and logistical nightmares for me. But that's the cost of doing business the way I want to do it.]
Perhaps the most personally satisfying part of the convention was getting to meet several fans who regularly post on the official TONY ISABELLA MESSAGE BOARD at World Famous Comics. Off the top of my head, these included: Julio Diaz and his family, Chris Galdieri, Raymond Neal, Alex and Beth Ness, Charlene Pyskoty, Steve Pyskoty-Olle, David Serchay, and Scott Tacktill. On Saturday night of the convention, most of us went out to dinner at a terrific salad bar called Sweet Tomatoes. A great time was had by all.
Some of the board posters wore their official farewell tour t-shirts, designed by Julio and featuring the smiling "Tony" head you see here most every week. The caricature itself is drawn by RAIDER creator Thom Zahler.
I think the core essence of these shirts was best captured by my children's reaction to them:
"Your face is on them, Dad. That's creepy!"
I'll be back next week with reviews of the various comic books and magazines given to me at MegaCon. See you then.
The above column first appeared in COMICS BUYER'S GUIDE #1533 [April 4, 2003], which shipped March 17. The cover story for that issue was on DC and Marvel Comics movies coming to the big screen in May, June, and July: X2 (the second X-Men movie), THE HULK, and THE LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMAN. Honesty compels me to note that LEAGUE is only technically a DC movie; the series was created by Alan Moore for Jim Lee's Wildstorm before DC bought the company. Most other DC movie projects are either stone cold dead or heading back to the "shop" for further development. Methinks the company needs to look beyond the Warner Brothers (and sister) if it wants to be competitive on the big screen.
HOT SHEET HILARITY
This seems like a good place to share a pair of chuckles which ran as part of "Jim Mullen's Hot Sheet" in the March 28 edition of ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY:
She may be the next Catwoman. She won the part by sleeping on top of the producer's desk while he was trying to work.
Tobey Maguire's back problems may keep him out of the sequel. It may be an old wives' tale, but they say a piece of the gross can cure that very quickly.
Mullen is one of my favorite writers. He raises the short and snotty quip to an art form.
It's been a while since I've run any items on the struggles of our gay brothers and sisters to achieve equal rights in a country, heck, a world where they are so often denied them. I think their struggle represents as vital a civil rights issue as any currently being discussed, so I was pleased to see this item by Steve Freiss in the March 24 edition of NEWSWEEK:
Though Reform Judaism sanctioned same-sex marriages in 2000, the Conservative movement has not. But that could be changing. Conservative leaders have agreed to revisit a 1992 decision reaffirming their ban on same-sex weddings and the ordination of openly gay or lesbian clergy. The pressure to reconsider the issue has come largely from Conservative rabbinical students, 88 of whom wrote to the Committee on Jewish Law and Standards insisting that the Torah "can offer us a Jewish way of celebrating...loving same-sex relationships." No decision is expected from the committee, a 25-rabbi council, until 2004. But if the pro-gay side gets six votes, rabbis will be allowed to decide for themselves whether to perform same-sex ceremonies and seminaries will be permitted to admit openly gay clerical candidates. Rabbi Elliott Dorff, vice chair of the committee, expects gays and lesbians to become "participants in the full spectrum of Jewish life" soon.
As always, my prayers and best wishes are with those who fight for equal rights for all people.
THOUGHTS ABOUT THE WAR
Readers keep asking me to write about the war in Iraq. But I can't make with the great...or even moderately good...thoughts on demand, especially when the topic under discussion is one as large and volatile as this one. I can't compartmentalize the potential good apart from the potential evil, both of which can and certainly will come from these momentous events. The best I can manage right now is the occasional impressions which pass through my mind and/or keyboard...with the attendant forewarning that most of them aren't and shouldn't be carved in stone. If for no other reason that, in so many ways, the "ball" is still in play.
I'll be feeling my way through this section, which will appear in almost all of my online columns, but, for today, I just want to offer this brief thought:
How can anyone not be happy and thrilled for the Iraqi people who have been freed from the tyranny of Saddam Hussein?
Yes, I have considerable ethical problems with the actions of the Bush administration. I believe they have abused their power. I believe their motives are dishonorable. I don't believe the ends justify the means.
But, yes, I also rejoice for the Iraqi people and pray that, in the end, they will benefit from the regime change that has come upon their land. Of course, I also hope that the American people will look beyond this military victory...which, it should be noted, will not be complete without an independent Iraqi government and a lessening of the fear and hatred with which the USA is viewed by so many...and demand regime change in my country as well.
This column is posting later that usual because of my run-in with a kamikaze squirrel. It's like this:
Casa Isabella has backyard trees and squirrels. We've always gotten along well with the latter, to the point where they seldom scurry away when we leave the house. However, when I walked to the mailbox on Friday afternoon, I must have startled one of our furry friends who did something I have never seen before:
He (or she) darted towards me and through my legs. I lost my balance and fell forward, hitting the sidewalk with first my knees, then the palms of my hands, and, finally, with my chin. I think I may have seen a few cartoon stars at that point.
My injuries are inconsequential. Some bruises and a sore left hand, which, naturally, I keep forgetting not to use. But my five-point landing left me shaky enough to make taking it easy seem like a very good idea. I apologize for the delay.
Some column news. I have to find a spare moment to add up the checks I've received from readers at recent conventions and the few recent PayPal donations to this website, but it looks like you may be closing in on another hundred bucks...which, as per my pledge to you, would earn you an extra edition of this column. I'll have the current tally for you next week.
I'm considering reviving my TONY POLLS on a limited basis: one question per week.
Last time out, "ballot box stuffing" killed my enthusiasm for the polls. This time, I'm hoping riding here on a single question won't be as time-consuming and, when the inevitable Internet creep messes with us, nearly as frustrating.
Your thoughts on this would be appreciated.
THE TONY ISABELLA FAREWELL TOUR continues with May conventions in New York City and New York State. I'll tell you more about each of those shows next week, but, for now, here's the full schedule of my remaining appearances...
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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