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

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TONY'S ONLINE TIPS
for Saturday, August 30, 2003

From COMICS BUYER'S GUIDE #1553:

"Beware pathetic fallacy. Man's confident assumption that his environment is so sympathetic to his moods as to kick in with complimentary props when he requires them bespeaks the kind of arrogance that invites comeuppance."

--Alan Coren, SEEMS LIKE OLD TIMES (1989)

We never saw the second shooter until it was too late.

The Isabella family was in Los Angeles when the "storm of the century" hit our hometown of Medina, Ohio, and surrounding regions. It was bad, incredibly bad.

In nearby Hudson, two people drowned in an underground garage when water rushed in before they could get out. That was the worst tragedy of the event.

A Medina teen was more fortunate. Though he and his dog were swept forty feet into a drainage pipe, he survived. Sadly, his pet didn't make it.

There was damage on virtually every street in Medina. Some of our friends had six feet of water in their basements. One lost a valuable record collection.

In the days following, the city began delivering dumpsters to some streets. Industrial-size dumpsters. Which still weren't big enough to hold the ruined furniture piling up on tree lawns up and down our community.

We lucked out big time. Our laundry room, a problem for some time now, took some water and needed to be dried out; that was as bad as it got for us. For this good luck, I credit the MacGyver-like alterations my neighbor Greg and I made to the outside of the laundry room before I left for San Diego's Comic-Con International. Of course, when I say "Greg and I," I mean Greg came up with ideas and I found junk in my garage that fit those ideas.

Our basement, wherein I store the majority of my accumulation of stuff, comics and otherwise, never got a drop of water. We had replaced its sump pump five years earlier and it worked wonderfully throughout the storms.

My family and I returned from Los Angeles, where we had hooked up after the convention, and Las Vegas, where we spent the last two days of our vacation, to a perfectly dry home. Sainted Wife Barb's Aunt Nora and Uncle Terry had even painted our fence and mailbox while we were gone. We knew we were blessed to have great friends like them and Greg, and also to have been missed by the devastating bullet which had hit other Medina-ites.

We returned home Saturday evening, July 26. We lazed around the house for most of Sunday, July 27, enjoying the familiarity of our home and not having any place special to go. That's when the second shooter took aim.

Sometime between four and five Sunday afternoon, another quick storm rolled in. I checked the laundry room first. There wasn't a drop of water coming in.

Then I checked the basement. Where our sump pump had shorted out and where two inches of water was rolling across the entire two-room expanse of the basement. In a matter of minutes. Before any of us could have removed anything from harm's way.

One stack of boxes had collapsed, the bottom-most box unable to maintain the load in its thoroughly-soaked condition. Each and every box on the floor was also getting soaked.

Hoping the water wouldn't rise any higher--most of my comics and magazine boxes were on pallets--I called out for help and began getting as many boxes off the floor as I could. Many things were happening in a short period of time, so I trust you'll forgive me if I toss them at you as I remember them.

Barb and son Eddie started helping rescue boxes. Mercifully, daughter Kelly was at a birthday party/sleepover and didn't learn about this until she came home on Monday.

Greg rushed over to help.

Barb called Terry and Nora, who jumped in their car and came over with the pump and hose they use to empty their swimming pool every fall.

I drove to Home Depot and bought the two biggest dehumifiers it had, plus a butt-load of buckets, mops, and trash bags. I made the round trip in under twenty minutes.

The rain continued, but slowed considerably. That allowed us to get the borrowed sump pump working.

We spent the next hours removing items for the basement while mopping up the water.

I bought four large Papa John's pizzas for everyone, but could not, if my life depended on it, tell you what they were. I never ate a slice that night. All I remember is the manager asking me if I was about to pass out. I wasn't. Not then.

Our tree lawn was covered from the far corner to our mailbox with unsalvageable boxes and items. By Monday morning, we couldn't have added one more thing to the piles without them falling over into our driveway.

It wasn't until shortly after I returned with the pizza that I passed out.

Maybe it was the stress. Maybe it was walking around barefoot in that cold basement water. Maybe it was God's way of telling me to lay off the carbs.

I told Barb and the others that I was going to lie down for a bit. I stopped off in the bathroom. I threw up. My legs gave out and I slumped to the floor.

I was out maybe fifteen minutes before Eddie called up to ask if I was okay. His voice woke me up.

I had some minor chest pains, but I barely noticed them as I, to put it indelicately, proceeded to expel the entire contents of my digestive system from my body. This continued throughout most of the evening.

In the morning, I swore Tara would rise again.

Not really.

However, in the aftermath, I took stock of what had happened in those first fierce minutes of the storm and what had happened in the hours following those minutes. I'd have to be the biggest fool of all time not to realize I got off easy.

Nothing is more valuable than good friends. And we certainly have some of the best.

My chest pains turned out to be even less of a concern than I had thought. My flu-like nausea dissipated by Tuesday. The only remnant of the evening's adventure was that, somewhere along the line, I pulled some leg/ankle/foot muscles, either by lifting boxes incorrectly or slipping on the slick floor. I'll be limping for a day or five, but that's all.

Yes, I lost several thousand dollars in books and magazines. On the other hand, some of the bottom boxes were filled with years' worth of magazines like ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY and NEWSWEEK, which I always figured I'd donate to some library or school or, failing in that, deposit in a recycle bin. Those unwanted mags saved some of my more-treasured items.

Digression. I mentioned some items I had lost on my online message board. One of my readers, noting that he was selling many books and comics in preparation for a move, offered me anything he was selling gratis. Y'know, stuff is just stuff. Friends like him are priceless. End of digression.

The worst side effect of the flooding was that it forced me to cancel my plans to attend WizardWorld Chicago, which will have been over for several days by the time you read this week's column. I had to allocate that money/time to set things as right as possible here on the home front. My apologies to those of who you hoped to see me there; I had hoped to see you as well.

As I said, I got off pretty darn easy. I even got a refresher course in things I already knew. Maybe this time, the lessons will stick with me, especially if I share them with you.

Never put it off, whatever "it" is.

For months, I'd planned to move everything out of my basement and into a storage facility. I had two such facilities in mind and had already scheduled time to check them out when I got home from vacation.

Pallets. You can never have too many of them.

I had likewise planned to get more pallets for the basement. Just to play it safe. See first lesson.

Never underestimate the power of water.

The damage to those boxes was done in a matter of minutes. Two people died as quickly. If your city has engineers, and most do, ask them to visit your house and property, look them over, and suggest improvements which would minimize damage from nature's fits.

Keep calling them.

Before we left on vacation, we had called and waited patiently for the engineers to look over our house and property. They never came. We weren't squeaky enough to get them to come over just to get us to shut up. Watch me give Mickey Mouse a run for his Disney dollars in the days to come.

Testing, testing, testing.

We'll be getting a new sump pump in a few days from when I'm writing this. I plan on testing that sucker once a week.

Embrace these simple lessons.

Life loves to throw pop quizzes at you. It's just like that.

I'll have a proper Comic-Con International report for you next column. Even though putting it off until then flies in the face of the first lesson I tried to impart above.

Maybe I need a tutor.

******

ADDENDUM

The above column first appeared in COMICS BUYER'S GUIDE #1553 [August 22, 2003], which shipped August 4. The lead story reported on the moviemakers who attended San Diego's Comic-Con International and the tantalizing teasers they shared with the fans who came to their presentations.

The second lead? Hockey player Tony Twist's lawsuit against SPAWN creator Todd McFarlane (over McFarlane's unauthorized use of Twist's name in the Spawn comic) is heading back to court after the Missouri Supreme Court ruled jurors in the case were given faulty instructions. Here's the shorthand:

The original jury awards Twist $24.5. The judge overturns the verdict and the award. The Missouri Supreme Court overturns this overturning, but doesn't reinstate the award. No date has been set for the new trial, but McFarlane would probably do well to settle this matter beforehand. He doesn't do well in court.

******

ADDENDUM, TOO

How am I doing on my post-flood resolutions? "Not as well as I had hoped" is the short answer.

I did find a great storage area, one designed with flooding in mind. I checked with a friend who also rents there and, during the worst of the July floods, the place stayed bone dry. Another plus is that the monthly rent is fairly reasonable.

Unfortunately, my foot injury was worse than I thought when I wrote the above column and that has slowed me down vis-a-vis moving stuff to the storage area. I'm now looking at mid-September before I get everything where I want it to be.

Pallets? I still recommend them and have already gotten more of them for the storage area. I also bought tarps to put under and over the boxes on the pallets.

On the downside, I'm not having luck getting city engineers to look at our property and make recommendations. I can't blame them. My fellow citizens...though not me...voted against the income tax increase our town desperately needed. As a result, every municipal department is hurting for funds and personnel. So...

Sainted Wife Barb has started calling contractors to appraise our situation, make recommendations, and bid on whatever work we decide we need done. Then we'll run their appraisals, et al, past a friend of ours whose roughly in the same business. I'm dreading the possibility of our having to dig up our yard and replace drain pipes and tiles. We did that shortly after buying our house (over eighteen years ago) and it was not fun.

Even before we get any such construction squared away, I hope to start selling stuff from my vast accumulation of stuff on eBay. Keep watching my message board for announcements of these auctions. Your generous bids will be appreciated.

That's the household update. Now let's see what else I have to talk about this weekend.

******

MAGAZINE WATCH

While Americans of a religious bent wrestle with such issues as affording equal rights to gays, the United Kingdom faithful are contending with more basic issues...such as how to resist the dark side of the Force.

From NEWSWEEK for August 25, Dalia Martinez writes:
Talk about a divine intervention: in the U.K. all believers and non-believers may soon enjoy an extra day off work. Parliament recently passed the Employment Equality (Religion or Belief) Regulations Act to protect Britons from religious discriminations in the workplace. As of December, Christians will be assured of Christmas and Easter; Muslims will get at least one day to mark the end of Ramadan, and Hindus will be allowed to celebrate the festival of their choice without fear of getting fired.

It sounds reasonable, but only up to a point, says Ray Silverstein of Browne and Jackson, the firm that has studied the negative impact of the law on Britain's businesses. The law defines religion as "any religion, religious belief or similar philosophical belief" that fits such criteria as having "collective worship." This means the 390,000 Britons who listed "Jedi Knight" as their religion in the 2001 Census might legally claim the release of the next "Star Wars" DVD as a religious holiday. The law may also baffle bosses unfamiliar with obscure beliefs, like the guy in the mailroom who claims he's a Druid and heads for Stonehenge every summer solstice. Employees have an incentive to grant requests; should bosses be unrelenting, employees can petition a tribunal to receive damages. The law asks employees to be reasonable about their claims. But try telling that to a grown man dressed like Boba Fett.
Maybe I should move to England and start my CHURCH OF THE HOLY LIBERAL there. Not only would we sanction same-sex marriages, but we would open our doors to alien races as well.

Let the Wookie wed!

******

TONY'S MAILBOX

Two weeks ago, I wrote this here:

"The cover story [of CBG #1551] announced that Dark Horse Comics was seeking new creators, looking for talent waiting to be discovered, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. You know, just once I'd like to see a story about a comics company looking for old creators with fresh ideas and proven ability."

Reader RUSS MAHERAS responded thus:
My feelings exactly! Perhaps some of the old guys should come up with pen names, disguise their style a bit, submit stuff, and see what happens. It would be funny if they then got hired by one of the goofballs who say their stuff is old-fashioned.
This has probably occurred to most comics creators who aren't getting assignments as frequently as they would like...or getting them at all. Back when Brit writers were becoming all the rage at DC Comics...and I say this without enmity for the many fine British writers who did and do write for the company; it was simply a fact of life at DC...some British friends of mine urged me to "reinvent" myself as a Brit writer and use them as a cover to sell new series and stories to DC. They felt sure I could pull it off and that DC would fall for it. They were probably right.

I never pursued this notion for two reasons, the first being that I am much too much of a wise ass to resist blowing the whistle on any company hiring me under these false pretenses. I couldn't resist claiming credit for my work and, in the process, making them look foolish. It's my nature.

The second reason has to do with a comicdom secret that even I am only willing to divulge up to a point. Namely, that some of the comics written by creators who have no difficulty getting more work than they can handle are written by creators other than those whose names appear on the published works. The creators overcommit themselves and call on others to bail them out of the jams they've contracted themselves into. I know this because I am one of those writers who bailed them out.

Don't bother trying to figure out the who and the what of the above statement. The writers who hired me to ghost for them are as far away from the obvious suspects as you can get; they came to me because they knew I could be trusted to never rat them out and, on an individual basis, they were absolutely correct.

That I have a gift for mimicry was valuable in writing scripts for these writers. I could imitate their styles...not that most of them had what I would consider unique styles...without the editors ever catching wise. I'd do the work...and then go over the scripts to remove anything resembling my own style. Give me ten years and even *I* won't be able to tell you I had anything to do with these comic books. And it's better that way.

I only ghosted a half-dozen or so comics over the two years I did this kind of work. The first job was for an editor who doesn't know how much I despised him for both his lack of editorial acumen and his absolutely inability to recognize talent on his own. All he knew was that this guy was "hot" or "new" or whatever would get the editor points with his bosses.

There was a certain glee in "fooling" that editor and some of the other editors who, unbeknownst to them, published scripts by an old guy whose calls they wouldn't return. But that exuberance was fleeting and the work became...just a job.

I didn't become a writer just because I needed/wanted a job. I became a writer because I had things I wanted to say, even within the context of work-for-hire, and felt I could say them in a manner uniquely my own. I couldn't be a good ghost and still be me...and that sacrifice wasn't worth the oft-generous checks I received from writers who retained my services.

I took myself out of the ghost-writing business.

There isn't a doubt in my mind that over-committed writers are still finding ghost-writers to help them avoid what we used to call the dreaded deadline doom. I can spot the ghosting every now and then, though I'll never point out the who and the what. I figure my knowledge is under the comics version of the seal of confession. I may never have become the priest my mother once wanted me to be, but I adhere to the principle that these arrangements are a matter for a writer, his ghost, and God.

And for a certain wise ass in Ohio.

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

Tony Isabella

<< 08/23/2003 | 08/30/2003 | 09/06/2003 >>

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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THE "TONY" SCALE

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.

Tony
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.

TonyTony
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?

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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.

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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?

TonyTonyTonyTonyTony
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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