"Imagination will often carry us to worlds that never were. But without it we go nowhere."
After all these years, after writing so many columns for this paper I've lost count of them, I still get a charge out of opening the mailbox at Casa Isabella and finding a new COMICS BUYER'S GUIDE waiting for me there. I won't say I drop everything to read each new issue--deadlines and parenting wait for no man--but they do go right to the top of the reading pile.
Full disclosure interlude. Okay, I do immediately check out this column as soon as I receive CBG. I like to see what changes, if any, Maggie and the editorial crew have made to my scintillating commentary, the better to mock them at some later date. But that's usually just a quick skim. After all, I already know what I said about this, that, and the other thing.
Fuller disclosure. Okay, yeah, I also skim "Oh, So?" to see if anyone mentioned me. I plead guilty to ego in the first degree and throw myself on the mercy of the court.
CBG #1536, the most recent issue I've received as I write this column, introduced two new features which delighted me. The first was Stephen C. George's "Media Watchdog," which covers mainstream press on the comics industry. I welcome George to this motley crew of columnists. I'd also like to suggest that he and we make it our personal crusade to bedevil every mainstream editor and journalist who spells "Spider-Man" incorrectly.
It's "Spider"...hyphen...capital "M"..."an." It's on all the comic books, movie posters, toys, and videos. Why can't the fourth estate start getting it right?
But I digress/rant.
The other addition was the "CBG Reader Question of the Week," which, for the week of CBG #1536, was "Who's the most under-rated comics artist working today?"
This question isn't the one I would have asked. Because even "the most under-rated comics artist working today" isn't nearly as "under-rated" as any of the many solid professionals who, up to a few years ago, were working regularly in the industry.
With but two stops on the official Tony Isabella Farewell Tour completed, one ugly fact which has made itself known to me over and over is that there are a lot of dependable artists and writers who can tell their stories in a clear, compelling manner, and who have rarely, if ever, missed deadlines, who aren't working often or at all. They have been passed over for creators who haven't mastered basic artistic, literary, and practical skills...and whose dismal sales are half (and less) than the sales these forgotten craftsmen routinely begat for the same publishers.
Prickly sort that I am, and as much as I look forward to your answers to the question which was asked, I'd much rather read your opinions on the casting off of comics veterans...and which of these artists (or writers) you would most like to see doing comics again. Consider this a CBG reader request.
Speaking of my farewell tour, I came home from Kansas City's terrific Planet Comicon with a small-but-choice pile of things to review. Among them were the first three issues of Kerry Callen's HALO AND SPROCKET (Slave Labor Graphics; $2.95). Halo is an angel, Sprocket is a robot, and they live with Katie, a young woman with a generous heart and a zest for life.
From "Half Wits," the first story in the first issue of this title, Callen put me in mind of the legendary Frank Doyle, arguably the wittiest writer ever to put Archie, Jughead, Veronica, and the rest of the Riverdale gang through their paces. Like Doyle, Callen takes a fairly simple premise, in this case, the age-old "half-full or half-empty" quandary, and, line by line, panel by panel, builds it into the masterful telling of a joke, complete with a punchline, or, more properly, a punch-panel. I laughed out loud at the end of this and other stories.
Callen works his literary slight-of-hand in tales ranging from two to twelve pages. His artwork is simple, but expressive and to the point. The stories are all complete unto themselves, but there is a hint of what one reader called an "uber-story" to the series. That "bigger story" concept thrills me very little, there being no discernable shortage of sprawling comics "epics" available in our friendly neighborhood comic-book stores. Still, these three issues have earned Callen the benefit of the doubt.
I enjoyed HALO AND SPROCKET #1-3 more the second time I read them. On our scale of zero to five, that kind of staying power and undeniable quality earns them the full five Tonys.
You don't have to be a Silver Age afficionado to get chuckles a'plenty from RADIOACTIVE MAN #106 (Bongo Comics; $2.50), but, for those of us who are, it's like having a secret laugh track playing alongside the first. For this issue, the Bongo crew has created a nigh-flawless facsimile of the Gold Key comics published by Western in the early 1960s...from the painting with tasteful come-on copy on the front cover to the same painting, sans logo or other type, presented as a "pin-up" on the back cover. I say "nigh-flawless" only because I recall that the original Gold Key back covers often had a tiny bit of type designating them as pin-ups. Hey, you swim with us Silver Age sharks, you gotta expect we're gonna nibble at your ankles now and then.
RADIOACTIVE MAN #106 came out late last year, but it slipped under my radar...or, more likely, into my son Eddie's bedroom when Bongo originally send me a review copy...until editor Bill Morrison gave me another copy to read on my flight home from Planet Comicon. If the issue's cover had me smiling--and it did--I laughed out loud when I read the inside front cover: a "fact" page about learning to live with nuclear war. Those old Gold Key comics were a wealth of such important knowledge.
Batton Lash's script for the two-part "The Hallucinations That Weren't Real"/"Isle of the Irregular Dinosaurs" hit those Gold Key notes perfectly while retaining the good goofy fun of Radioactive Man in general. I don't recall my son ever reading one of my Gold Key comics, but he could enjoy the story on that level even without appreciating the many nods to the past. Indeed, for his generation, there were nods to JURASSIC PARK, one of his favorite movies, and various SIMPSONS characters. The late, great Dan DeCarlo provided layouts for this pseudo blast from the past.
Between the story chapters, we get a three-page "Bongo Comics Club News" and a single-page letters column. The former is tepid filler which fails to evoke that Silver Age ambiance. I didn't get a Gold Key buzz off the letters column either, but the letters from Gold Key and Simpsons characters were pretty funny.
RADIOACTIVE MAN #106 delivered excellent bang-for-the-bucks. It gets four Tonys.
I chatted with Jason Arnett at Planet Comicon and he gave me a review copy of THE STONE MAN (Ajasont Press; $3), a 24-page story written and drawn by Arnett, and published in a 7" x 8-1/2" format. Ron Fontes inked the second half of the tale.
Arnett's story has some real meat on its bones. Fifteen years after his divorce, a man takes stock of his past as he prepares to meet with his daughter, the only child of that marriage. It's not so much about telling the whole truth as it is accepting that there is a truth which drove the acts of yesteryear, and then moving on to the future.
Arnett has been told that he should write more and draw less, advice with which I concur. He's worth watching and, if you'd like to order this comic and learn what else he's working on, head over to his website at:
THE STONE MAN is a mite rough around the edges, but still of interest. It picks up two Tonys.
Ivan A. Martin produces his monthly THWIP! zine for the Marvel Zombie Society apa (amateur press association) and for the general audience. He handed me THWIP! #84 (April; $2.50) at Planet Comicon and it made for fun reading on my flight home.
THWIP! was an impressive little zine: forty 5-1/2" by 8-1/2" pages, chock full of mostly Marvel-centric articles and features. Inside the Rich Koslowski cover of Jim Tamphear of "The 3 Geeks," there were reviews of new and classic Spider-Man comics, reviews of other comics, a report from MegaCon 2003, an interview with George Perez, the script to last year's silent issue of Black Panther, a Spider-Man mini-biography, and an assortment of readers comments, game pages, and other odds and ends. I'm in awe of Martin's doing this month in and month out.
However, I must take issue with a portion of the Spidey mini-bio which credits Jack Kirby with the plot for the first Spider-Man story. Yeah, I know there remains a faction of fandom which would deny Stan Lee credit for any of the Marvel Comics super-heroes who made their debuts in the early 1960s, but any serious examination of the Spider-Man origin from AMAZING FANTASY #15 weighs heavily in favor of Lee (from the story standpoint) and artist Steve Ditko (from the visual standpoint). Kirby may have been the artist first assigned to the feature, but there's precious little, if anything, of his style in the published work. Kirby's contributions to the comics industry are immense, arguable as great or greater than any other creator who ever worked in the industry. There's no need to pad his already phenomenal resume.
I think THWIP! will please fans of Marvel's super-heroes. You can get a copy of Martin's zine for $2.50, or, if you live in the United States, Mexico, or Canada, get a 12-issue subscription for $24. Send your check or money order to:
Ivan A. Martin
4054 - 70th Street
Urbandale, IA 50322-2616
THWIP! #84 earns three Tonys. For more on the Marvel Zombie Society, visit its website at:
Remember Holly Simpson, the lovely lady for whom CBG reader Bill Beechler expressed his love in dozens of CBG classified ads? She and husband Beechler became parents a few months back with the arrival of triplets Anne Elizabeth, Julia Ellen, and Rosalind Jean. The girls are about two months old as you read this and doing well, as are their mother and father.
Despite my disappointment that they didn't name their lovely children Blossom, Bubbles, and Buttercup, I join the CBG staff in sending our congratulations to Holly and Bill, and our best wishes for their trio of treasures.
In the words of Donald Duck, as written for him by the forever beloved Carl Barks...
"Ah, we parents, what rich rewards we reap!"
The above column first appeared in COMICS BUYER'S GUIDE #1538 [May 8, 2003], which shipped April 21. The cover story announced the publication of BABY BOOMER COMICS, a collection of columns and other material by CBG columnist Craig "Mr. Silver Age" Shutt. The book's subtitle is "The Wild, Wacky, Wonderful Comic Books of the 1960s." Since Shutt's "Ask Mr. Silver Age" is one of my favorite columns in CBG or, for that matter, any other comics magazine, I'm looking forward to this volume.
Within mere moments of the announcement, of course, I started hearing from readers asking when my own CBG contributions would be collected in book form. The short answer is: not any time soon and probably not from Krause Publications.
Some background: months before a selection of Peter David's CBG columns were collected in BUT I DIGRESS, various CBG folks and myself began discussing collecting the best of both my columns and my Everett True cartoons. Those first talks led nowhere because I wanted to...more or less...edit the book myself.
The talks began again after BUT I DIGRESS was published, but again went nowhere. Seeing the hideous design of David's book made me all the more determined to edit any collection of my work myself and to work with a designer of my choosing.
CBG and its related publications look a lot better today than they did back then, but I still can't see myself publishing a book via Krause Publications...unless the deal came with a large enough budget to make the book look good and I had editorial control over the contents. Neither is a likely scenario.
I fully understand Krause Publications' reluctance to grant me the carte blanche I would need in order to devote my energy to such a mammoth undertaking. I don't have the name recognition of Peter David and my contributions don't fit into as neat a niche as Craig Shutt's. But, if I'm going to wade through the well over one thousand cartoons and columns I've written for CBG, write new material to put them in their proper context, and pour my heart and soul into the book, it has to be the book I want it to be.
That said, as a fairly firm believer in "never say never," I remain open to discussing a TONY'S TIPS collection with Krause or any other interested publisher. I just don't figure on holding my breath waiting for those offers to materialize.
Two more quick items for this section.
I goofed on the RADIOACTIVE MAN credits. Batton Lash did the layouts for his script and Mike DeCarlo did the finished art. You can expect a more formal correction in an upcoming Tips.
John Wells, the writer of the Spider-Man piece in THWIP!, took issue with my taking issue with his comments on the creation of the legendary character. His e-mail and my response to his e-mail will also appear in an upcoming Tips.
Convention-wise, I am now at the halfway point of my official TONY ISABELLA FAREWELL TOUR. Although it's been exhausting, it's also been a delight meeting and yakking with old and new friends. There are four more stops on the tour:
Although a few people have expressed disbelief at the notion, I really was planning on largely leaving the comics industry at the end of the tour. However, stuff happens and sometimes you have to make adjustments to accommodate it.
Within weeks of my announcing the farewell tour, I was offered a non-editorial/non-writing job with a comics publisher. The first thought that came to mind once I got past being immensely pleased that folks I respected wanted to hire me was that, unless I stopped writing my columns, taking the job would be a conflict of interest. For months, I've tried to convince myself that it wasn't really a conflict of interest. I can't do it.
When Marvel announced that it had signed John Jackson Miller, the editorial director of COMICS BUYER'S GUIDE, to write a comics series for them, I got a sick feeling in my gut. I think Miller is a good and honorable guy who has taken reasonable steps to minimize the conflict of interest, but nothing he does can change the fact that it is, indeed, a conflict of interest. Reportedly, one comics company has already dropped its CBG advertising in direct response to the inherent conflict of interest.
After my reaction to the Marvel/Miller news, I started getting the same sick feeling in my gut whenever I thought about taking the position offered to me. Ultimately, I have no choice but to heed that gut feeling that the only way to accept the gig is to drop my columns...and I enjoy writing these columns too much for me to do that at this time.
Besides attending conventions, my original farewell tour plans included my submitting a dozen proposals to comics publishers over the course of this year. I saw it as a last concerted effort to do some comics I would enjoy writing and you would enjoy reading, even though I realized most of the proposals would go unread by those to whom they were submitted. Unfortunately, more stuff happened and that plan has been temporarily put on hold.
What stuff? Some of it is personal, involving commitments I made to family and friends. Some of it is professional. I hope to have my desk cleared of the later before I leave for Comic Con International in San Diego. There are also other odds and ends which have come between me and my proposals plan. God willing, I'll be able to get back on track with it before summer's end.
Beyond that? Well, I have a basement and several other rooms filled with comics, books, and records which would look much better somewhere other than my house. The plan is to organize them, sell them, and build my family one heck of a rec room. I kiddingly tell people that, when the farewell tour is over, I intend to become an eBay Power Seller.
If CBG wants to renew my contract for 2004, I will definitely consider it. Ditto the online columns I write for Norman Barth's Perpetual Comics website. But I think it's too early to sit down and talk about either of those things.
What I want to write in comics has changed considerably over the past few years. So much that there may be even less of a place for me in the comics industry than there has been. That, also, is something I needn't worry about this minute. If I have stories to tell...and I do...I'll find some way of telling them.
Moving to a close...
You'll find some new TONY POLLS questions waiting for you at the usual place:
This go-round, we're asking you to pick your favorite comics publisher and rate your level of interest in the reunion of X-Men legends John Byrne and Chris Claremont on a JLA story arc. These questions will be coming down on Tuesday, so be sure to cast your votes as soon as possible.
I'll be back next weekend with more stuff. Thanks for hanging out with me today.
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: