Well, I might take a train
I might take a plane,
But, if I have to walk,
I'm gonna get there just the same,
I'm goin' to Kansas City,
Kansas City, here I come,
They've got some crazy little women there.
And I'm gonna get me one.
--"Kansas City" by Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller
I took a plane to Kansas City. Mind you, I'm not 100% certain it was the Kansas City of the song. There are two of them, across from one another in different states. I don't know how the locals tell them apart. If Sainted Wife Barbara had allowed me to talk to any of those crazy little women, I would have asked.
Truth be told, I'm not certain I was actually in either Kansas City. I was a guest at Planet Comicon, a delightful event held on March 29 and 30, at the Overland Park International Trade Center in Overland Park, Kansas. Geographically challenged, I don't know how near that is to KC proper. And you wonder why Barb sews a tag with her cell phone number onto my clothes.
Fortunately, Planet Comicon czar Chris Jackson had everything covered. I was met at the airport by John Adams, one of the small-but-mighty army of Jackson friends and family members recruited to keep the event running smoothly at all times.
Image Comics publisher Jim Valentino had arrived a few minutes earlier, so Adams drove us to our hotel and then drove immediately back to the airport to pick up other guests. That almost made me nostalgic for the days when I used to pick up people at Cleveland's Hopkins Airport, drive them to Mansfield for Mid-Ohio-Con, and then head back to the airport for the next batch. Almost.
(You're never gonna hear me complain about Mid-Ohio-Con moving to Columbus several years back. The current venue provides airport shuttle transportation for our guests, allowing me that much more time to assist promoter Roger Price when he's trying to get his con on. In this case, "assist" is most accurately defined as "standing around trying to look busy," but I stand ready to leap into action at an hour's notice.)
Planet Comicon reminded me of Mid-Ohio-Con in many ways. The area where it was held was not dissimilar from Fairhaven Hall, the "barn" at the Richland County Fairgrounds where Price's convention held sway for several years. The Overland Park facility was newer and somewhat larger, but it had that ambiance...and the same chilly breeze that used to blow through Mid-Ohio-Con when the exhibitors were bringing their wares into the show.
There were other ways in which this event compared favorably to Mid-Ohio-Con, the shining standard by which I judge all comics conventions. The fans were enthusiastic and polite and the guests responded in kind. The exhibitors had an enormous variety of comic books and cool stuff for sale and, from what I saw, there were many bargains to be had. Chuck Rozanski was buying comic books by the thousands while his lovely daughter Rowan used a forklift to carry the boxes from the show to the Mile High Comics cargo helicopter. You know, just your typical swell comics convention.
I had a great time at the event, talking with old friends and meeting new ones, signing hundreds of Isabella-written comics, and enjoying the gracious hospitality provided by Jackson and his able crew. I apologize in advance for anyone who gets left out of these convention highlights because of this column's space limitations or my inability to read my hastily-scrawled notes.
I got together with Len Wein and Marv Wolfman, two of my first industry pals, the night before the convention. Also there was the downright spooky Jeff Clem, master of comics trivia. Here's a tip for any fan trivia team that's tired of getting their butts kicked by Mark Waid...I'm talking to you, Chicago...buy a plane ticket for Clem and get him on your team. I don't know my cell phone number; he could rattle off the issue numbers of obscure stories we wrote thirty years ago. Be afraid.
I was in good company during the show itself. The guest area where I was signing included Wein, Wolfman, Steve Englehart, George Perez, and Bongo Comics editor/writer/artist Bill Morrison. I lost track of how many comics I signed--about 300 would be my very rough guess--but the most frequent titles were BLACK LIGHTNING, HAWKMAN, THE CHAMPIONS, and, being as how Dick Ayers was also at the event, ASTONISHING TALES with "It, the Living Colossus." I swear I have signed more copies of that last title than we ever sold during its brief four-issue run.
Speaking of the esteemed Ayers, I brought a copy of KID COLT OUTLAW #122 to show him. Way back in CBG #1530, I wrote about the issue and commented about the Ayers-drawn back-up story. To quote from that column:
In KID COLT #122, the second story was "Robbery At Red Rock" by Lee and artist Dick Ayers. An "owlhoot" stops a buggy and robs its unarmed driver. When the driver tells the hold-up man that he doesn't believe in guns or violence, he is taunted by the thief and forced to dance with bullets fired near his feet. As the criminal rides off, his victim warns him that sooner or later, he'll have to pay for his cruelty.
Within moments, the owlhoot's first payment comes due. He is knocked off his horse by a vicious puma. He manages to shoot the beast, but is badly wounded. Almost unconscious from blood-loss, he rides to a nearby town and drags himself to the doctor's office. Ironically, the doctor is...say it with me...the man he had robbed earlier that day.
Beyond the swell Ayers artwork, there is one interesting thing about this story. In the final panel, it looks like the doctor is holding an invisible gun on his patient-to-be. I'm guessing Ayers did, indeed, draw him with a gun. Stan probably came up with the doctor's aversion to guns and violence when he was scripting from the penciled pages and erased the gun to keep the panel consistent with the earlier dialogue.
Dick confirmed that he had, indeed, drawn a gun in that final panel and that it had been removed in production. Here's where it gets really funny...
I had incorrectly assumed this story had been created in the usual plot/pencils/script manner which was a mainstay at Marvel in those days and ever since. It wasn't.
Stan had written a full script for this story. He established the doctor's aversion to guns on the second page, but had evidently forgotten about it by the time he wrote the fifth and final page. Fortunately, someone caught the error before the issue went to the printer. Another secret behind the comics revealed.
In that same column, I questioned the identification of Ayers as inker on the issue's Jack Kirby cover. Dick wasn't sure one way or the other, but he's promised to check his voluminous records and let me know. I sure am milking one old comic book for a whole lot of column inches, aren't I?
Meeting my readers and fellow comics fans is always one of the best things about attending conventions. Just as it was especially spiffy to put a face to fans with whom you'd exchanged letters back in the day, it's the same with fans you know from comics chat rooms and message boards.
Dave Potts drove seven hours to spend a day at Planet Comicon. The last time I saw Dave, he interviewed me for a cable wrestling show. This time, he asked me to draw in his sketchbook. Clearly, these are cries for help.
I also had the great pleasure of meeting and chatting with CBG reader Michael Roehrman, mailing list pal Mark Stratton, and, from a chat room I used to visit, the charming "Troia." Hey, don't you be giving me that look; it was a *comics* chat room!
Aaron Williams of NODWICK and PS 238 renown thanked me for my CBG reviews of his work. Many issues ago--Jeff Clem could probably tell you the exact issue number--I mentioned that I thought PS 238, a strip about a school for super-powered kids, had the stuff to be a very funny television series. Williams told me that the property has, indeed, aroused some Hollywood interest, though it's too soon in the process to be opening bottles of champagne. He's a talented comics creator, so I'm keeping my fingers crossed for him. Except for when I'm typing or driving or picking up objects or...geez, it was just a figure of speech, okay? Give me a break.
(Good luck, Aaron.)
I got to spend some time with buddies Mike Worley, Rick Stasi, and Rob Davis. After penciling sensational issues of QUANTUM LEAP, STAR TREK, and Paul Storrie's ROBYN OF SHERWOOD, Rob has been sadly absent from print comics. However, he has been drawing two online strips with writers Jack Curtin and Ron Fortier.
For political humor that swings a mite to the left, check out the Curtin and Davis "Dubya Chronicles" at:
I love them both, but, if you prefer comics sans politics, you should definitely visit the ADVENTURE STRIPS site, which features weekly serials by Mike W. Barr, Rick Burchett, Steve Bryant, Paul Daly, Gary Kato, Christopher Mills, Don Secrease, Ted Slampyak, and other talented creators. Although this is a subscription website, the current day's strips are always available free of charge...and the fee for complete access to all fourteen strips and their "back issues" is an extremely reasonable $2.95 per month. You pay less than that for one issue of most comic books.
Getting back to Planet Comicon, my biggest thrill and my most embarrassing moment were one and the same. One of the con's guests was Dr. Edgar Mitchell, who, with fellow Apollo 14 astronaut Alan Shepherd, walked on the Moon. Only twelve men have ever walked on the Moon and one of them was right in front of me.
I don't awe easily. I have met many of comicdom's greats and have been privileged to call many of them "friend." I've hung out with movie stars and musicians. I have helped incredibly beautiful actress and models with their costume changes. Maybe I've drooled once or twice, but only rarely have I been so awed that I actually became tongue-tied.
So there I was, talking with Dr. Mitchell, asking questions, stumbling over my words as he graciously signed his book--THE WAY OF THE EXPLORER--for my son Eddie, and what do I do?
I come THIS close to walking away from the man's table without paying for the book!
There must be a special circle of Hell reserved for anyone who would even accidentally stiff an astronaut. Fortunately, Mitchell reminded me to fork over the cash and chuckled reassuringly at my obvious mortification. I even think the red had faded from my face by the time we shared a ride back to the airport at the end of the convention.
I had a great time at Planet Comicon and recommend the show to one and all. I also came away from the show with the usual pile of neat things to review. Come back next week and I'll tell you all about them.
The Tony Isabella Farewell Tour continues with a stop at the Mighty Mini-Con on Saturday, May 10, at Herkimer Community College in Herkimer, New York. For details, go to:
The above column first appeared in COMICS BUYER'S GUIDE #1537 [May 2, 2003], which shipped April 14. The cover story was on Free Comic Book Day [May 3] with a topper article on Bill Willingham's FABLES series from DC/Vertigo.
My FCBD experience consisted of attending the Big Apple Comic Convention in New York City. I thought the show had really solid attendance, but one of the folks working on it told me they thought their numbers were down a bit...partly because so many area comics fans were instead going to their friendly neighborhood comics shops to score those free books.
I should be receiving a package of the free comics within the next few days. My plan is to read them all and do an overview of which worked and which didn't. The purpose of the giveaways was to attract new regular customers to comics, so I'm definitely going to be emphasizing how accessible they were to those presumably brand-new readers. When the overview is finished, it will probably run in COMICS BUYER'S GUIDE first and then here.
IN THE NEWS
I'm not a fan of Ohio senator George Voinovich, who I mostly remember for, as mayor of Cleveland, pretty much handing over the city to robber barons, and, as Ohio governor, doing the same on a state-wide basis. I was pleased to see Voinovich standing firm on reducing Faux-President Bush's latest tax cuts, but, at the end of the day, it's still more GOP welfare-for-the-rich.
What has amused me in all this is the letters which the local newspapers have been running on the situation. Most are supportive of Voinovich, who is a very popular Ohio politician. Other writers feel that denying Bush anything is tantamount to treason. The most amusing one to date has vilified Voinovich on the basis that he's not as experienced or as intelligent as Bush.
I don't like Voinovich...I can't say that enough...but a quick look at respective records shows the senator has far more hands-on financial and government experience than the selected one. Dubya got by on the family fortune, the generosity of family friends, and a Congress/press willing to overlook irregularities for which they would have crucified Bill Clinton. Fact is, as much as I dislike Voinovich, I think he would be a much better President than Bush on every count...and that's as left-handed a compliment as any I have ever given.
In magazine news...
Wal-Mart has halted sales of MAXIM, STUFF, and FHM, wanna-be PLAYBOYs which feature a blend of scantily-clad starlets and bawdy humor. The standards of the magazines haven't changed, but, in the past, various Christian groups have protested the chain's selling various magazines, and Wal-Mart does not wish to offend customers of that persuasion.
Approximately once a week, I post a handful of new TONY POLLS questions at:
However, this go-round, the results and my comments appear at this website. I'm just so darn inconsistent.
Our previous batch of questions concerned possible "conflicts of interest" in comics journalism.
Do you believe it is a conflict of interest to write comic books for a major publisher and also edit a publication (online or print) about comic books?
Yes, definitely.....28 votes (21.54%)
Yes, but it's a minor concern.....14 (10.77%)
No, not at all.....18 (13.85%)
No, if potential bias is made known.....69 (53.08%)
Do you believe it is a conflict of interest to write comic books for a major publisher and also review comic books from that and other comics publishers?
Yes, definitely.....31 votes (24.60%)
Yes, but it's a minor concern.....12 (9.52%)
No, not at all.....14 (11.11%)
No, if potential bias is made known.....69 (54.76%)
Do you believe it is a conflict of interest to write comic books for a major publisher and also write a column about comic books or the comics industry?
Yes, definitely.....11 votes (9.02%)
Yes, but it's a minor concern.....6 (4.92%)
No, not at all.....37 (30.33%)
No, if potential bias is made known.....68 (55.74%)
Do you believe it is a conflict of interest to hold a staff job with a comics publisher and also review and write comic books from other publishers or the comics industry?
Yes, definitely.....34 votes (28.10%)
Yes, but it's a minor concern.....15 (12.40%)
No, not at all.....12 (9.92%)
No, if potential bias is made known.....59 (48.76%)
I wasn't surprised that, in almost every case, the voters felt revealing bias was the deciding factor. I was surprised that more voters had a problem with the staff job than the editor's job. I'm thinking I should have added the word "current" to "comic books" in that first question.
The idea of the editor of a comics publication or website that deals with current comics also writing comic books for a publisher whose offerings he or she covers leaves an extremely bad taste in my mouth. It doesn't matter how much personal regard or respect I have for the editor; I just think it's wrong.
I don't have any problem with columnists or reviewers writing comic books as long as they make any potential bias known to their readers. Many years ago, it disturbed me greatly when a reviewer wrote a glowing column about a comic book without mentioning that he was the co-editor of the comic book. But, in general, I figure a freelancer is a freelancer is a freelancer.
That staff job question is the one that concerns me directly, as a few of you figured out. I've been asked to take a non-writing job with a comics publisher. I think a lot of the company and the people involved with the company. And I have listened to those who tell me that my personal integrity is such that no one would think it a conflict of interest for me to accept the job.
I was all set to accept the job when the scenario described in the first question happened. When I consider my queasy response to the news, I find myself unable to pick up the phone and either take or turn down the job...which isn't at all fair to those who offered it to me. Fortunately, I have several hours of driving to and from the Mighty Mini-Con in which to make up my mind.
The current TONY POLLS questions ask for your reaction to five comics offered by five publishers in the latest PREVIEWS catalog. These are the comic books said publishers put at the front of their respective PREVIEWS sections.
The questions will remain active until sometime next Tuesday, so try to visit the TONY POLLS page before then. And, as always, I love getting poll questions suggestions from readers, be they fan or pro. You know how to reach me.
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: