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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, September 6, 2003

From COMICS BUYER'S GUIDE #1554:

"One cannot have too large a party." --Jane Austen, EMMA

Comic-Con International is a really large party. I knew that well before I walked into the San Diego Convention Center for this year's event. If only because every time I would tell a comicdom friend that I was going to the show, their inevitable response to the news was a breathless:

"You won't believe how big the con has gotten!"

I don't usually find that kind of awestruck enthusiasm outside of e-mail come-ons for enlarging various body parts. In the voices of my friends, I heard excitement and fear in equal measure...and also the unmistakable hint of pride.

Comicdom has every right to be proud of San Diego's Comic-Con International. This was an extraordinary gathering of over 70,000 comics devotees, fans and professionals, from around the world. It was over 400,000 square feet of Exhibit Hall wonderment. It was hundreds of hours of exceptional programming covering an incredibly wide range of comics and comics-related topics. It was so big and so much fun that it defies my ability to provide you with anything resembling a cogent overview of the event.

In lieu of journalistic profundity, I, instead, cast myself in the role of blind man, one of a group of blind men, examining only those parts of the elephant in my immediate reach and attempting to describe the whole from said meager evidence. Here follows brief flashes of memory and reflection...

I got my first look at Comic-Con on Wednesday afternoon, a few hours before the doors opened for the preview night. Since I would be helping out at the Claypool Comics booth, David Seidman had an exhibitor's badge waiting for me and that got me into the Exhibit Hall early. After helping my pal Thom Zahler get his stuff to the booth from which he would be promoting his RAIDER graphic novel, I took a stroll from one end of the Hall to the other.

It was a good stretch of the legs and then some. The common estimate was that it was, at the very least, a half-mile from end to end. Later, I would hear of someone walking up and down all the aisles while wearing an odometer and recording a total traveling distance of seven miles.

That evening, back in my hotel room, I used the convention's handy events guide to break the Hall into grids and note locations of companies and individuals I wanted to see. I figured I could do a grid in each of the times between my panels and booth appearances and see everyone I wanted to see. I was wildly optimistic in this; I didn't see half the folks I wanted to see.

Quick caveat. Any attendance figures you see in this column are estimates, either of my own device or offered to me by others at the convention. This is an aberration on my part and should not be taken as evidence that I've suddenly embraced the philosophy of perception over substance so prevalent in the comics industry and, indeed, most of the world.

Okay, there is one figure I can report with utter confidence. Number of Marvel booths at convention: zero.

I have been told nearly 10,000 fans came through the doors on preview night, which is more paying customers than most conventions get in an entire weekend. Getting around that night was a breeze, but, even during the Saturday heights of attendance, it was rarely difficult to get from place to place. Kudos to the convention crew for the wide aisles. Good planning paid off.

The absolute highlight of preview night for me was when Dave Siegel, the fan who does such a fine job locating the great comics artists and writers of the past and cajoling the con committee into bringing those beloved creators to the show, brought Larry Lieber to the Comics Buyer's Guide booth. Larry was a good friend to me when I was starting out at Marvel in the early 1970s. I learned a lot from him and I enjoyed working with him. But I hadn't seen him in over two decades until that moment.

Memory is not always as accurate a thing as we would like it to be. However, in this case, Larry was every bit as terrific as I had remembered him. Consider that a teaser until I get around to the Larry Lieber spotlight panel I co-hosted with Mark Evanier later in the convention.

My "grid" plan started coming up short the first full day of the convention. I'd be scheduled for an hour at the CBG booth or an hour at the Claypool booth and, inevitably, a conversation with a friend/professional/reader/whatever would keep me there longer. I would make my way through the room and get stopped by someone for another conversation. I'd finish a panel and...you get the idea. At that rate, even if the show was ten days long, I still wouldn't have seen everyone and everything I wanted to see.

This was not an unpleasant turn of events. I got to see many people I would have otherwise missed, even though I regret the ones that "got away" in the hustle and bustle of the biggest carnival in comicdom. Jane Austen would have loved it.

The CBG booth was always a friendly oasis, whether I was "on duty" or not. Although I'd had dinner with Maggie Thompson on the previous night, this was the only place we got a chance to chat the rest of the weekend. It was also where I got to meet CBG publisher Mark Williams and reporter Nathan Melby face-to-face for the first time. They're both swell guys and, for the ladies in the audience, the handsome Nathan is currently unattached.

While I was at the CBG booth, I was most often asked questions about Black Lightning, my other comics writing, Black Lightning, my farewell tour, Black Lightning, my future plans, Black Lightning, and so on. There was a great deal of interest in what I thought of DC Comics' current use of my creation, Black Lightning, for which the amazingly short answer is "I don't care for it," and for which a more thorough answer is one I should probably offer in my online columns, lest I be accused of using this venue improperly.

A columnist isn't guided by precisely the same standards as a reporter, but the best of us are mindful of potential conflicts of interest. It's why I often mention that I know/am friendly with a great many of the creators whose works I review in CBG. While the relationships don't consciously affect my reviews, I believe it's important for you to know they exist.

I don't feel as strongly about writing about my farewell tour here. I can see where my comments on the tour and the philosophies that drive it can have a wider meaning beyond my personal journey. However, shy and retiring fellow that I am, I'll need some urging from my audience and editors before I go down that path yet again. I don't wish to become ensnared in "me, me, me," always a potential pitfall for a columnist who choose to bring something of himself or herself to the work.

One future plan I'll happily share with you is that I'm signed to write this column through 2003, and, assuming, Mark and Maggie want me to remain on board, I fully expect to sign a renewal of the contract. Clearly, I consider the actual definition of "farewell" to be a work in progress.

Claypool Comics publishes three of comicdom's longest-running indy titles: the monthly ELVIRA, MISTRESS OF THE DARK, and the bi-monthly DEADBEATS and SOULSEARCHERS AND COMPANY. What these titles have had in common for their decade of existence is a commitment to character-driven storytelling, even in the oft-raucous ELVIRA. Their creators roster include such fan-favorite writers and artists as Kurt Busiek, Amanda Connor, Peter David, Paul Dini, and others, with the line shaped by editor Richard Howell, himself a dedicated and thoughtful penciler and wordsmith. I enjoy these books and am appreciative of that fact that a reader can follow all of them for just a few bucks per month.

Working the Claypool booth, which I do because Howell is a pal and because David Seidman is both a pal and a promotions department of one, was a nice break from being "Tony Isabella." Yeah, I still answered "Tony" questions--to refuse to do so would be rude--but it was nice to exercise different "muscles" and promote a product that I consider exceptional. It also gave me a chance to hang out with the friends who were signing at the booth during my shifts there. Given the size of the convention, I may not have seen any of them if I hadn't been at the Claypool booth.

One more quick Claypool note. David did something especially nice for all those who signed or worked at the booth. He gave them each a bag filled with drinks, fruit, and snacks. I was impressed. With everything else he had to do to set up the booth and keep it staffed, he made the time to show his appreciation and to do so in a manner that benefitted us during those hectic hours of the show, when even the most conscious of us don't always take the time to take care of ourselves properly. That kind of quiet class has been a characteristic of Claypool from the start and yet another reason why I remain high on the company.

"Comic Reviewer Websites" was the first of the three panels I had agreed to do at the show. Adam Messano of WellredPress was the moderator and my fellow panelists were Augie De Blieck Jr. of Comic Book Resources, fellow CBG columnist Heidi MacDonald (representing The Pulse), Greg McElhatton of iComics, and Adrienne Rappaport of Sequential Tart. The panel was held Thursday, July 17, at 5:30 pm. My memory is that the audience for the panel filled about half of a fairly large meeting room.

Prior to the con, if you had told me the panel would last the full hour-and-a-half we were scheduled for, I would have scoffed. To my delighted surprise, the conversation was lively and the questions from the audience equally so. I think the panelists came away from this discussion with an appreciation for how much readers respect the reviews...even when they think we're full of hooey. There are a lot of comic books competing for their attention and dollars. We give them a leg-up on making tough decisions.

Some panel moments stood out for me. Asked for my philosophy of reviewing, I described myself as coming from the "a little song, a little dance, a little seltzer in your pants school of reviewing." It got a good laugh and was also accurate. I get as big a kick out of entertaining you as I do from informing you about a wonderful comic or from warning you away from a particularly rancid item. Comic books are just too much fun for me to take them or myself too seriously.

A frequent question that came up again at this panel was why should reviewers expend time and effort reviewing bad comics. The answer is that negative reviews provide a baseline for readers to better judge our positive ones. Unstinting praise wouldn't give you the proper perspective, nor would it provide the criticism which could conceivably help a creator improve his work.

As the "grandfather" of online comics reviewers, it gladdens my heart to offer sage advice to youngsters within the community. Augie mentioned he was troubled by the appearance of a banner ad above a column of his in which he'd trashed the very comic being advertised. I think I convinced him to consider the coincidence a badge of honor, proof he wasn't beholden to anything other than his own aesthetic principles.

I do what I can to spread enlightenment.

I wrapped up my first full day of Comic-Con International by dining with members of the "Tony Isabella Message Board" I host at the World Famous Comics website. This was the second gathering of "Tony-boarders," the first one having been held during Florida's MegaCon in February. A third meeting was held at the WizardWorld show in Chicago, though I wasn't in attendance for that one. It is a fine tradition I hope continues, regardless of whether or not I'm present for them.

Of all the things I've accomplished online, the thousands of columns, the thousands of postings in newsgroups and on boards and mailing lists, the "Tony-board" is among my proudest achievements. Somehow, through equal parts dumb luck and hard work, I managed to create a community that represents me at my rarely-achieved best. The posters are friendly, intelligent, polite, and witty. Trolls are not welcome and tend not to hang around (or be allowed to hang around) for long. The posters have become close friends, who often help each other out in ways small and large.

I find it nothing short of miraculous that this message board was started by someone with my sorely lacking diplomatic and social skills. Best of all, there is no doubt in my mind, even if I were to go offline tomorrow, that this message board and the friendships it has generated will continue to thrive. At the end of the day, that feels pretty good.

Since you have me on pride, leave us close this column before we get to the falling part. I'll have more Comic-Con comments for you next time around.

******

ADDENDUM

The above column first appeared in COMICS BUYER'S GUIDE #1554 [August 28, 2003], which shipped on August 11. The lead story in that issue reported on CrossGen introducing its new line of comics-based DVDs at Comic-Con International in San Diego. The secondary lead reported that the United States Supreme Court had "refused to see Jesus Castillo's petition for writ of certiorari concerning his selling material the prosecutor had deemed pornographic." In other words, the Supremes are allow the blatantly unconstitutional action of the Texas courts to stand in this case. It does not bode well for freedom of expression in this nation or, given the prosecutor's misrepresentation of the comics audience, for the art form we know and love. Sigh.

I was asked to comment on this sad turn of events by THE PULSE and this was what I sent them:
So many thoughts come to mind, but the one that keeps pushing aside the others is this:

What did we expect? This country is being driven by the mean- spirited attitudes of the right. They control the government, the media, and the economy. In their world, our rights mean little and they are arrogant in their dismissal of them.

If we want to see an end to this sort of bogus prosecution, if we want to see our individual rights restored, we have to take back our nation from these people.

I support the CBLDF [Comic Book Legal Defense Fund], but we're kidding ourselves if we think they are more than field dressing on a sucking chest wound.
Okay, I'll admit the above was not one of my cheerier moments, but I'm of a "take no prisoners" mind when it comes to removing the GOP from power. The US of their schemes is an America at odds with the best instincts and interests of the American people...and, for that matter, the people of the world.

San Diego Gathering

On the other hand, who can stay grumpy for long while looking at the above photo of the League of Extraordinary Tony Boarders who took me to dinner at the San Diego convention? From left to right: Alex Ness, Barry Keller, Jim Guida, "Hurricane" Heeran, Stephen Pyskoty-Olle, and yours truly. Thanks again, guys.

Tony and John Heebnik

The other photo in the above column is of artist John Heebink and my own expanding self at the Claypool Comics booth. I plan to look at this photo before every meal in the hopes of becoming less of a Tony Isabella by Mid-Ohio-Con.

Let's see what else I can squeeze into this column.

******

MORON OF THE MONTH

I can't believe how many readers wrote me with nominations for the "honor," even excluding those who nominated me. It was a tough call to make, but I do love a challenge.

The runner-up...who will be called upon to fulfill the duties of the winner should he or she prove unable to do so...was a comics fan who, on hearing of the deaths of thousands of French citizens during Europe's devastating heat wave, wondered "out loud" if this was because the French don't bathe often enough. It takes either incredible callousness or incredible stupidity to make a statement like that...and sheer foolhardiness to make it in "ear shot" of me. I was stunned.

These are those folks (okay, just two) who have told me they believe I am being overly harsh with this individual. But, y'know, there is no good way you can spin such a hateful comment. Either the fan expressed a horribly bigoted view...or he was ignorant of the reality of the false stereotype of the French and the severity of the tragedy with which the French people were dealing. If it's the first, he's a bigot who should be shunned. If it's the latter, he should be reviled for his ignorance. How can Americans be good neighbors if we can't be bothered to learn anything about the rest of the world?

If this guy is the runner-up, I hear you ask with breathless anticipation, then who is this month's winner?

That would the Hong Kong fashion outfit which goes by the name of HTTP://WWW.IZZUE.COM and which decided that swastikas and other Nazi symbols would be fabulous images to use in a new clothing line and to decorate its stores.

Here are some choice bits from the Associated Press story that posted in mid-August:
[The company] produced a range of T-shirts and pants with Nazi symbols printed on them. One T-shirt has a portrait of Nazi leader Adolf Hitler standing on a laurel.

Red banners with white swastikas on top of iron crosses hung from the ceilings of some of the firm's 14 stores. The banners also carried a sign that resembled the symbol of the Third Reich: an eagle above a swastika. One branch broadcast Nazi propaganda films on a wall with a projector.

The company's marketing manager, Deborah Cheng, said the Nazi-themed decorations and clothes were not intended to cause an outcry and may be withdrawn. She said the company had received a few complaints from customers.

"We're seriously considering removing the displays. But before we take them off, we have to find a replacement."

Cheng added that the designer wanted the clothes to have a military theme and did not realize that the Nazi symbols would be considered offensive.
At least I can take some small comfort from the knowledge that Americans don't have a monopoly on clueless-ness.

We're less than a week into September as I write this column and I already have a candidate for this month's MOTM. But, please, keep those suggestions coming my way.

They can't shoot us all, can they?

Thanks for stopping by the old website this weekend. I'll be back next Saturday with more stuff.

Tony Isabella

<< 08/30/2003 | 09/06/2003 | 09/13/2003 >>

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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?

TonyTonyTony
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.

TonyTonyTonyTony
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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