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

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for Saturday, July 5, 2003


"The ability to trigger the imagination is a latent force inherent within any image, whether it's a world-shaking picture broadcast on the six o'clock news or a doodle on an Etch-a-Sketch."



Stan Sakai and Matt Groening Good news.

Matt Groening, creator of THE SIMPSONS and publisher of Bongo Comics, was named the "Outstanding Cartoonist of the Year" at the National Cartoonist Society's 57th annual Reuben Awards ceremony. The ceremony took place on Saturday, May 24, at the Palace Hotel in San Francisco.

More good news.

Stan Sakai won the NCS award in the organization's "Comic Book Division" for his work on USAGI YOJIMBO. I was downright thrilled to hear this; Sakai is one of my favorite comics creators and USAGI YOJIMBO is one of my all-time favorite comic books. He's also one of the nicest guys in comics, but, last time I checked, they didn't give out awards for that.

But they should.

It can't be said often enough that Sakai and USAGI YOJIMBO are rarities among contemporary creators and comics. For closing in on two decades, Sakai has singlehandedly written, drawn, and lettered the adventures of his samurai rabbit. One creator, one vision, one remarkable series of comics.

Congratulations to Groening and Sakai on these well-deserved honors. Three cheers and a tiger for them!

Bad news.

Fantagraphics Books, which for 27 years has published some of the world's greatest cartoonists, is backed up against a financial wall and needs your help. Their former and now bankrupt book trade distributor went kaput owning them over seventy grand which they will never see.

Fantagraphics found a new bookstore distributor which has been doing, in their words, "a magnificent job" of providing them access to that market. However, the company's admitted inexperience with with the book trade saw them overprinting their books too heavily last year. They have bills. They have books in their warehouse. They need to turn the latter into money quickly to pay the former. That's where you come in.

Fantagraphics is asking their readers to help them out of this hopefully short-term crisis by ordering their previously-published books directly from them this month.

I could devote this entire column to recommending this or that item. They have a dozen-plus volumes of USAGI YOJIMBO available, Bob Fingerman's extraordinary BEG THE QUESTION graphic novel and B. KRIGSTEIN, Greg Sadowski's definitive biography of perhaps the most groundbreaking comics artist of the 1950s. They have classic works by Al Capp, Daniel Clowes, Robert Crumb, Jules Feiffer, Hal Foster, Geo. Herriman, Los Bros. Hernandez, Joe Sacco, E.C. Segar, and many others. In its 27 years, Fantagraphics has created one of the most important catalogs of comics art, criticism, and scholarship of any publisher in the field.

In that time, Fantagraphics has received bricks and bouquets; they've deserved both. Whether their pundits enlighten or irritate me--and that usually depends on what day of the week it is--I think comics would be poorer for their absence. I ask you to visit their website and place an order today:


Review news.

I bought or received several books at last month's Big Apple Comic Convention. I read them and now I'm going to review them for you. It's the circle of life, but without the singing.

VISUAL STORYTELLING: THE ART AND TECHNIQUE by Tony C. Caputo (Watson-Guptill; $24.95) comes in at 192 pages and that's about 150 pages too long. The back cover copy touts it as "the first book to bring together the secrets of visual storytellers in four different media: animation, comics, interactive games, and live-action film." That it may be, but, if so, it doesn't do it well.

The book gets off to a great start: Harlan Ellison's "With the Eyes of a Demon: Seeing the Fantastic as a Video Image." Ellison's essay is packed with so much basic information it could serve as a Cliff's Notes to writing for the screen, but it's one heck of a lot more entertaining.

My interest level dropped off rapidly after the introduction. Caputo rattles off advice and definitions, but there is no spark to his prose. He takes the exciting world of visual storytelling and absolutely flat-lines it. The majority of the examples he uses to illustrate his comments are ill-suited to the task, coming mainly from mediocre projects with which he was involved. One video game in particular is mentioned so often that its appearance practically constitutes product placement.

The book only picks up when the guest artists take the stage. Jim Steranko contributes the six-page "Steranko Cover Art Gallery: Storytelling in a Single Image," and, as with the Ellison article, it delivers solid information in a manner which excites the reader to the possibilities of the subject. Even better is Steranko's 18-page "Harnessing Mythology: Reflections on Narrative Theory," which closes out the book.

In between the two Steranko essays, Caputo includes a look at Wally Wood's "22 Panels That Always Work." I've seen these panels hanging on the office walls of many comics artists and writers; the page is one of the most useful guides to storytelling ever devised. When writing full scripts, I've used it myself.

VISUAL STORYTELLING is about 25% golden and 75% not. There is some useful stuff in the Caputo pages, but I question if it's worth the effort to dig it out. While the reader could learn enough from Ellison, Steranko, and Wood to justify the price of the book, I'm hesitant to rate or recommend it on that basis.

You'll have to make your own call on VISUAL STORYTELLING, but I strongly suggest you look through the book before you fork over the purchase price.


DRAWING MONSTERS & HEROES FOR FILM & COMICS by Kerry Gammill with J. David Spurlock (Vanguard; $15.95) would be a terrific book to introduce a budding young comics artist to all the myriad ways he could put his talents to use outside the comics industry itself. Back in the day when comics editors and readers liked their heroes to look heroic instead of misshapen, and I'm not convinced that day has truly passed, Gammill was a rising star. Then, he disappeared from comics to put his skills to use in other disciplines and also to fulfill his life-long dream of becoming a designer of Hollywood monsters, which he has done on films like SPECIES II and VIRUS, and on television shows like THE OUTER LIMITS.

Though there are useful tips for young artists to be found in the heavily-illustrated DRAWING, what the book does best is recount Gammill's career and demonstrate the incredible versatility of the classic style he utilizes in his art. It has taken him from comics to toy design to storyboards to animatronics and many other arenas. Of course, knowing where my greatest creative passion lies, you can probably guess that, as I enjoyed the amazing drawings and sketches in this book, I also kept thinking to myself, "Damn, how did comics let this guy get away?"

DRAWING MONSTERS & HEROES FOR FILM & COMICS has a foreword by Emmy-winning effects masters Steve Johnson and an introduction by AIN'T IT COOL's Harry Knowles. On my scale of zero to five Tonys, such merit points being denoted by the disembodied grinning head of your columnist, I give Gammill and Spurlock a perfectly respectable three Tonys. They make lovely paperweights.

Tony Tony Tony


Danny Fingeroth's WRITE NOW! (TwoMorrows Publishing; $5.95 per quarterly issue) cover-declares itself "the magazine about writing for comics, animation, and science-fiction." At a hefty 88 pages, it has the potential to cover that territory well.

Fingeroth was an undistinguished editor and writer for Marvel Comics for many years. To me, he seemed like an odd choice to helm such a magazine. However, by the time I finished reading his first issue, I was rooting for the guy. I like the notion of WRITE NOW! It can be a successful venture and also a meaningful learning tool for novice and even veteran writers.

I say "successful" because, let's face it, everyone who reads comics thinks they could write comics and, even if the urge is deep down inside them and zealously hidden, wants to write comic books. If a reader sees this magazine at his friendly neighborhood comics store, there's a good chance he'll check it out and a decent chance he'll buy it. And why not?

WRITE NOW! #1 had a real nice heft to it. Mark Bagley's cover illustration of Shakespeare and Da Vinci collaborating on a comic book is a scream. Get past the cover and the line-up of interviews is pretty impressive: Brian Michael Bendis, Mark Bagley, Stan Lee, Joe Quesada, Tom DeFalco, and J.M. DeMatteis. Fingeroth conducted all the interviews and wrote an insightful editorial on why comics are not movies. The reader gets a lot of bang for his six bucks, an important consideration in today's market.

WRITE NOW! needs work in several areas. The interviews should focus more on writing and less on the careers of the subjects. The latter can be found elsewhere. In this, the DeFalco interview had the most to offer writers and the DeMatteis one the least.

The initial issue, which is the only one I've read so far, was almost entirely about comics writing. If the cover says "animation and science-fiction," those fields should be addressed and not just in passing. A quick glance at later issues--there have been three to date--indicates some improvement in this area.

I'd like to see fewer and shorter interviews, and more pieces on theory, preparation, and application. Again, my quick glance at later issues shows improvement.

The design of the magazine could be more pleasing to the eye. There is a sameness to the juxtaposition of text and illustration throughout. I'd like to see a page jump out at the readers now and then, if only to remind them how exciting writing for comic books and animation can be.

What works for one writer won't necessarily work for another. But this first issue of WRITE NOW! does offer writers a great many ideas worth examining. I made a few notes myself.

WRITE NOW! #1 is a good start to a magazine I hope will stick around for a long while. I give it three Tonys.

Tony Tony Tony


Briefly noted:

Scott Roberts delivers 48 pages of warm-and-fuzzy fun for all ages in PATTY CAKE AND FRIENDS #8 (Amaze Ink; $4.95). The lead and longest story, "Weasels 4ever," captures the excitement of Patty's devotion to her favorite band while teaching her important lessons about friendship and priorities. The rest of the issue is filled with short stories and strips, including an intriguing look at how Roberts developed his characters over the years. This great comic book picks up the full five Tonys.

Tony Tony Tony Tony Tony


SHI: THE ILLUSTRATED WARRIOR (Crusade Comics) is a seven-issue novelization of writer/artist Bill Tucci's original comic series in which a courageous young woman walked the fine line between justice and vengeance. The covers to these issues are breathtaking. Craig Shaw Gardner does a good job adapting and expanding Tucci's story. The numerous black-and-white illustrations, enlarged from panels of the original comics, don't always benefit from the larger display, but generally convey the mood of the text well. Aside from a few annoying proofreading errors, my only qualm about recommending the series is that, at $2.99 per issue, it adds up to over twenty bucks for a short novel. That seems pricey to me and it's why I can only give Tucci and Gardner three Tonys.

Tony Tony Tony


Jay Faerber and Jamal Igle's VENTURE (Image Comics; $2.95 per issue) throws together two men: teacher Joe Campbell and reporter Reggie Baxter. Campbell is a superhuman who, initially, performs his good deeds in secrets. Baxter is an opportunistic creep who, essentially, blackmails Campbell into adopting a more public role to further Baxter's career. I can relate to Campbell's unhappiness with the situation and have come to loathe Baxter; the creators are doing a good job with the characterization and also with bringing a sense of reality to their stories.

Igle's cover art and his interior pencils are top-of-the-line. The digital inking and coloring of James Brown is less successful. As with many contemporary comics, the computer coloring frequently overwhelms the art and the storytelling. It's the equivalent of a ham actor stealing scenes from his betters.

VENTURE is a solid super-hero series, but it needs to pick up the pace and tell more of a story in each issue. It picks up three out of five Tonys.

Tony Tony Tony

I'll be back on the farewell tour next week with a report of my trip to the Mighty Mini-Con in Herkimer, New York. There will even be a special guest star!

See you then.



The above column first appeared in COMICS BUYER'S GUIDE #1545 [June 27, 2003], which shipped June 9. The cover story announced the September release of MORE FUND COMICS, a 128-page, black-and-white comic book benefitting the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund and featuring more than 50 writers and artists. The line-up includes George Perez, John Romita, Adam Hughes, Mike Oeming, Frank Cho, and others. The book will make its debut at the Baltimore Comic-Con on September 20 and 21. Kudos to all involved.

The issue's secondary cover story reported Bill "Give me Ink" Jemas dropping hints that TROUBLE, the first of the new Epic titles coming from Marvel Comics, would feature teen-age versions of May and Ben Parker...and Richard and Mary Parker. Other hints/rumors have surfaced since then, but I think I've reached the point where Jemas speaking is a cue to stop listening. Maybe I lack the faith Joe Quesada insists we should have in Jemas.

The most sadly humorous item in the paper was a frankly stupid letter from one of the small group of right wingnuts who complain regularly about the liberal slant of CBG's columnists. The object of ire this time around was absolutely hilarious: Stephen George's "Media Watchdog."

George's column keeps an eye on comics mentions in the media and comments on their accuracy and probable benefit or harm to the industry. It's a well-written column and about as apolitical as I can imagine. Yet said letter-writer still managed to take offense at it. Incredible.

Of course, even sadder is that this small group of readers are far more likely to write to and even call CBG with their laughable complaints than those readers who are quite pleased with the paper. Maybe it's time for the rest of us to proclaim our appreciation for the fine work done by CBG's columnists and editors. Why let those bozos have the podium all to themselves?

Needless to say, the opinions expressed above are mine and do not necessarily reflect the views of the CBG staff. Heck, even if my opinions did reflect their views, the folks from Wisconsin are far too mannerly to express themselves as I do here.

Oh, yeah, and while we're on the subject of CBG, let me remind those of you who don't currently subscribe to the newspaper that a one-year subscription is a bargain at $38.95 per year. That price also includes access to the online version of CBG, so what are you waiting for? Just click on the handy link which appears somewhere down the right side of your screen.



This is going to be a busy month for me. Between now and July 15, I need to write a month's worth of columns to cover my two-week trip to Comic-Con International in San Diego...and then going on to Los Angeles and Las Vegas. Sainted Wife Barb and our kids leave a day earlier because they're driving from Vegas to some sightseeing in Arizona, but I'll be getting together with them in Los Angeles after the convention.

What will I be doing at the show?

I'm scheduled to appear on three panels. Adam Messano will be moderating a panel on COMIC REVIEWER WEBSITES. He's the editor-in-chief of, which reviews comics, manga, gaming, and more. That panel is scheduled for Thursday, July 17, from 5:30 to 7:00 pm in Room 8.

Kevin Young and the Christian Comic Arts Society are hosting a discussion on SPIRITUAL THEMES IN COMICS, something in which I've had a keen interest, as witness my work on GHOST RIDER and SATAN'S SIX. Despite this being the year of a farewell tour, I promise not to make any "Last Supper" jokes at this panel, which is scheduled for Saturday, July 19, from 10:30 am to noon in Room 3.

Finally, unless someone else puts in any additional requests between now and the show, I'll be taking second-chair for my buddy Mark Evanier's interview with LARRY LIEBER. I probably won't have anything particularly profound to add to the proceedings, but being on the dias assures me of some quality time with Larry, who was a pleasure to work with during my time in the Marvel Bullpen and whose RAWHIDE KID comics were among my favorite comics of the era. This one is scheduled for Sunday, July 20, from 12:30 to 2:00 pm in Room 8. I'm looking forward to this one most of all.

You can also expect to find me behind the CBG booth for a few hours each day, ready and willing to answer your questions, deface your Isabella-written items with my signature, and mock my editors within an inch of my life. Huge fun is assured.

Nor will I be the only member of the World Famous Comics mob attending Comic-Con. Webmaster JUSTIN will be at the show and even hosting a panel. Here's the skinny:
COMIC BOOK WEB SITES, 2-3:30pm, Room 7A

If you're thinking of starting a website or trying to grow the one you have, here's a chance to pick the brains of those who have created and contributed to successful online comic book destinations. Join our moderator, Justin, creator of the award-winning World Famous Comics Web site, and contributors from popular Web hot spots like Comic Book Resources, Comicon and Sequential Tart in this open forum on starting, running, and growing your Web site. Bring your best questions, because here's a chance to ask the masters... the Webmasters, that is!


Steve Conley,
Heidi MacDonald,'s Pulse
Jonah Weiland,
Lee Atchison,
In addition to Justin and myself, BOB INGERSOLL of "The Law Is A Ass" fame will also be attending the convention. I don't believe he's scheduled to appear on any panels, but, friendly guy that he is, I know he'll be delighted to sign any of the comics and stories he's written, and answer your comics-related legal questions. All you have to do is find him...and how difficult could that be at an intimate little gathering like Comic-Con?

Thanks for spending a part of your weekend with me. I'll be back next Saturday with more stuff.

Tony Isabella

<< 06/28/2003 | 07/05/2003 | 07/12/2003 >>

Discuss this column with me at my Message Board. Also, read Heroes and Villains: Real and Imagined and view my Amazon Wish List.

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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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