TONY'S ONLINE TIPS for Saturday, September 13, 2003
From COMICS BUYER'S GUIDE #1555:
"As long as the day lasts, let's give it all we've got." --David O. McKay
This is the second of my "Comic-Con International Trilogy" of columns. I am your father, Luke.
Although later events would dictate that San Diego's Comic-Con would be the penultimate stop on the "Official 2003 Tony Isabella Farewell Tour," I didn't know that during the show itself. What I did know was that the event was every bit as enormous as my friends had been telling me. What really brought that realization home was leaving the Convention Center en route to my Thursday night dinner and having to wait in line through several traffic lights before I could cross the street to the historic Gaslamp Quarter.
Inside the center itself, in the midst of comicdom's carnival, the huge display/retail area, the wide aisles in that area, and the panels and programs on the center's upper floor, had spread out the crowd and subliminally dulled my recognition of how many folks were actually at the convention. Outside, part of the multitude who had just exited the show, there were no such blinds. I knew right then that I was sharing the weekend with more kindred souls than, in all likelihood, I would ever share a weekend with again. It would have been a paralyzing revelation if the throng hadn't carried me across the street when the light changed.
I have described this more-than-half serious farewell tour of mine as a journey of self-discovery. Along the way, my encounters with fans and pros alike have made me look at and question how and what I want to do what I do, and what I hope to do in comics.
The previous day's panel on comics reviewing, coupled with the many comics and books pressed into my hands during the convention, led me to a decision on what I will be reviewing in future editions of this column and my online columns. It's a decision best summed up like this:
No more free rides.
Though I keep trying to squeeze more hours out of the day, my woefully underdeveloped common sense tells me I will never be able to keep up with all the review items sent to me each month. I'm a big believer in not proclaiming "never" in most situations, but, in columns to come, as a matter of simple fairness and in recognition of someone--be it a creator, editor, fan, publicist, or publisher--making the effort to put a book/comic/magazine/whatever before my eyes, I plan to review "only" those items which I have been sent for that purpose.
Unfortunately, this eliminates at least one major publisher of comic books from my reviewing pool, and a number of self-publishers and smaller outfits as well, but, even writing several columns each week, I can't read and review everything already being sent to me. The "advantage" will go to those companies and individuals who make the effort to get my attention.
One more "reviewing" note. Attending Comic-Con re-enforced my resolve to read and review more comics and comics-related items in the future. Meeting so many creators who are giving their all to tell their stories is an invigorating experience. Their enthusiasm was downright infectious.
My second panel of the weekend took place on Saturday morning. "Spiritual Themes in Comics" was hosted by the Christian Comic Arts Society. To quote the program guide:
Is there a heaven in the Marvel Universe? Why are there "Jesus freaks" in Astro City? Join writers Tony Isabella, Kurt Busiek, and [moderator] Buzz Dixon as they discuss the creative challenges of developing the spiritual side of characters, of moving beyond stereotypes, and of the industry's changing attitudes toward the inclusion of religion and spirituality in "mainstream" comics.
Dixon did a terrific job preparing questions for the panel and keeping it moving. My contribution--once I got through explaining once again that the Christ-like "friend" in my Ghost Rider stories of the 1970s only became a "demon in disguise" when a particularly arrogant editor took it upon himself to rewrite my final issue of the title--echoed the personal sense of fairness which informs much of my work.
Religion and spirituality are major parts of the lives of many readers. That alone is reason enough to reflect and represent them in our comics, characters, and stories. If you need another, you need only consider the impact religion has had throughout history and recognize the potential for great stories which exists within this area of the human experience.
However, it's "fairness" which remains the core issue for me. Men and women read comics. Gays and straights read comics. People of all races and nationalities, people of all political and social philosophies, people of all income levels read them. People of all faiths and no faith read them. And all of those readers should be represented in our comics.
The audience was enthusiastic and gracious at all times, which was indicative of each of the three panels I did during Comic-Con. Several times during the rest of the con, I would run into fans who had more questions on things discussed at the panel. I hope they enjoyed the conversations as much as I did.
Comic-Con had something for everyone. It had amazing displays promoting comics publishers, entertainment companies, collectibles manufacturers and more. It had more comics professionals than any other convention in the world. It had movie and television actors by the dozens. It had enough sellers of comics and books to empty the money bin of a Scrooge McDuck. And it had so much programming that, were it available on DVD or video, you could easily spend the rest of the year watching it.
Think I'm kidding? Here's what else was going on at the same time as the "Spiritual Themes" panel:
Warner Brothers brought in Halle Berry to present a first look at her film GOTHIKA and also showed footage of from other upcoming movies. Marvel hosted a Q&A with editor-in-chief Joe Quesada and other creative talents. Other events concerned Wendy and Richard Pini's ELFQUEST; the various incarnations of Snake Plissken; a more scholarly look at Jack Kirby's work than is the norm; a DC Comics talent search; a nostalgic discussion of Gold Key and Dell Comics; stories from the animation trenches; tips on how to sell your comic strip; and comic-book law. And that's not counting the three rooms presenting episodes of anime series, the indy film festival, or the showing of the 1984 movie CLOAK AND DAGGER. All going on at once. All going on in addition to the comics creators and celebrities who were signing autographs throughout the convention center.
If I'd thought about this during the convention, my head would have surely exploded.
Things I learned about myself during Comic-Con:
I have come to believe Japanese school-girl uniforms on anyone who isn't actually a Japanese school girl are just plain creepy. I mourn the passing of my innocence.
I am more like my parents that I realize. My admittedly knee-jerk reaction to some of the more revealing floor costumes at the con was that they were inappropriate in light of the young children attending the show. I didn't think this was the right time/place for such garb. I was wrong.
Comic-Con is comicdom's carnival, our very own Mardi Gras. I shouldn't expect it to be kid-friendly in every aspect, as much as I might personally prefer that. It's the responsibility of parents to decide what is and isn't proper for their own kids and to act in accordances with their decisions.
On the other hand, I reserve the right to remain contemptuous of those grinning, drooling louts who had their photos taken with the scantily-clad booth babes while their kids waited and squirmed uncomfortably.
My parents would be proud of me for this.
I learned that there are readers, and even a publisher or two, who would like to see new Tony Isabella comic books. What pleased me greatly was that many of these folks were those I would not have expected to be fond of my work, folks who saw qualities in my work beyond the obvious and in spite of its appearing from "mainstream" publishers. I make no plans or promises as I proceed on my journey of self-discovery, but I will say that these kind souls have given me much to contemplate.
My final gig of the show was the "Spotlight on Larry Lieber" panel hosted by Mark Evanier. Knowing my affection for Larry and the respect I had for his work, Mark asked me to co-host the panel. I leaped at the chance, knocking over a couple faux-Japanese school girls in the process.
Larry is one of the nicest and most conscientious creators in comics. During my early days at Marvel, he was always as friendly and as helpful as anyone could have asked. It was obvious how hard he worked on everything he did, from his scripting of a great many important Marvel Universe stories in the early 1960s...to his more personal work on RAWHIDE KID...to the covers and stories he did for other Marvel mags. His unwavering commitment to giving readers the best work he could was an inspiration to me then and remains so to this day. It was an honor to share the stage with him and, with Mark and the rest of the audience, express my admiration for all he has contributed to comics.
Further, it was a sheer delight to see Larry come alive as he answered questions. I confess that, recalling how quiet Larry was during our time together at Marvel, I had figured Mark and I would have to ask him a lot of questions to fill the hour-and-a-half for which the panel was scheduled. I figured wrong.
We would ask Larry a question and he would be off and running. His responses were instructive and thoughtful. My respect for him, already considerable, grew even greater with his discussions of art and craft, and how hard he worked to develop and expand the skills that made his work come alive for me.
Larry Lieber is one of the true "white hats" in the comic-book business. I feel very fortunate that I had the opportunity to meet him and work with him at the start of my career.
Sadly, my travel plans necessitated my leaving for Los Angeles shortly after this panel. But I couldn't have asked for a better note on which to end my Comic-Con weekend.
My overall impressions of Comic-Con International?
The convention crew did an astonishing job putting on the most amazing show I have ever attended. I get dizzy when I consider all they had to do to pull it off. I feel pride at their achievement in showing off our industry to the world. And I get all warm-and-fuzzy when I recall the real sense of community which was alive in that castle of a convention center from the Wednesday night preview to the good-byes as I made my exit.
I would be remiss if I didn't also mention the security folks working for the convention center. Maybe it was my sunny demeanor, but they were unfailingly helpful and pleasant every single time I encountered them. They took their jobs as seriously as we take our appreciation for the comics art form. Kudos to them.
Finally, there was those wonderful fans. My favorite comics convention is Mid-Ohio-Con, which has always had a neighborly feel to it. Despite their vaster numbers, the fans who attended Comic-Con were as genuine and polite as those "back home." Even without everything else Comic-Con International had to offer, just meeting and talking with these fans would have my trip worthwhile. Thanks for making me so welcome.
I know what you're thinking. I said "Comic-Con International Trilogy" at the start of this column and, here I am, at the end of the middle chapter and I'm already walking out the doors of the San Diego Convention Center. What was I thinking?
You'll have to come back next week to find out.
The above column first appeared in COMICS BUYER'S GUIDE #1555 [September 5, 2003], which shipped August 18. The cover story was "Wizard World Visits Windy City" while the secondary lead briefly reported on various accolades given to AMERICAN SPLENDOR, the movie based on the life and comics of Harvey Pekar.
AMERICAN SPLENDOR is currently playing at a theater in nearby Montrose. Sainted Wife Barbara and I hope to see it this weekend. Her interest in the movie stems from her job as manager of the Home Infusion department for Kaiser Permanente in Cleveland. She works with several of the folks who provided treatment services for Pekar during his bouts with cancer.
Two more Pekar items. First, HARVEY PEKAR'S OFFICIAL BLOB is now online at:
The site also contains frequent blog postings by Joyce Brabner (Harvey's wife) and Danielle (the teenager for whom they've become guardians). I recommend it highly.
Second, at the website, you'll find links to purchase American Splendor books and other items. One of the coolest of the later is the HARVEY PEKAR BOBBLEHEAD doll, which sells for $14.95. I bought two of them, one for myself and one as a early birthday present for CBG editor Maggie Thompson.
I haven't seen my "Harvey" in days. Barb took it to work last week and it's been making the rounds of Kaiser ever since. I have this vision of the doll being sent from person to person via inter-office mail. Somewhere along the line, I bet someone tries to bill the real Pekar for a visit because a doctor will have looked at this bobble-headed knickknack.
Just kidding, Barb.
Comics and comics-related stuff continues to receive some nice mentions in ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY. I spotted four such items in the magazine's double-sized September 12 edition, starting with a photo of a dozen STAR WARS stormtroopers marching down an Atlanta street to celebrate the arrival of DRAGON*CON. On seeing this shot, I was torn between exclaiming "How cool!" or muttering "geeks" under my breath. I am in conflict with my inner fan.
EW followed this with a "First Look" at Michael Chabon's THE AMAZING ADVENTURES OF THE ESCAPIST, an 80-page comic book based on the super-hero created by the title stars of the author's Pulitzer-winning novel, THE AMAZING ADVENTURES OF KAVALIER & CLAY. Look for this Dark Horse title in December.
In writing about movie sequels, EW's Lisa Schwarzbaum gave mad props to a film based on a comic book: "The unexpected zip of X2: X-MEN UNITED has allowed me to rewatch the gawkier original with more affection for the whole super-heroic enterprise."
Finally, in its "DVD & Video" section, EW ran this item under the "Team-up of the Week" heading:
More than a comic book, less than a cartoon - this fall, five of CrossGen's titles will jump to DVD, complete with voice acting and extras. Each disc will hold six to seven issues and go for under $10.
Congrats to Dark Horse, Marvel, and CrossGen on getting good ink for themselves and comics in general.
CAPA-ALPHA, founded something like four decades ago by Jerry Bails, was the first comics "apa", which stands for "Amateur Press Association." In the days before the Internet, there were hundreds of apas devoted to every conceivable subject. As a teenager and as an adult, I have belonged to a handful of them, including a couple of stints in K-a (the abbreviation for CAPA-Alpha). I'm presently on the K-a waitlist and contributing the very occasional apazine to the monthly mailings.
The deal with apazines is this: each member prints up x number of copies of his or her zine and sends it to a central mailer, who then bundles up all the zines and ships them out to the membership of the apa. The CM (another abbreviation) also collects dues, pays the postage bills, and maintains the membership roster. In K-a and most apas, members have to contribute a certain number of pages in a given time-period *and* stay current on their dues to remain in the apa and receiving the mailings.
My apazines are boring. I don't dress them up with artwork or fancy design work. I rarely write any articles or columns for them because - duh - I write a whole lot of articles and columns as part of my freelance writing and my apazines are supposed to be a break from that. My zines consists mostly of mailing comments to other members on their zines.
However, from time to time, those MCs (another abbreviation) have enough meat to them that I think they might be of interest to my online readers. So, also from time to time, I'm going to throw some of them into these weekend columns. Just by way of giving you more for the generous PayPal donations only one or two of you ever make, you cheap bastards.
Here are a couple of quick shots from my zines:
THE FORRY ACKERMAN COLLECTION.
Back in the late 1980s, there were some discussions between Ackerman and a Cleveland group formed to honor Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster. Though I was part of the group...and that's a whole other unhappy tale...I wasn't part of the discussions. Anyway, the idea put forth was that Forry would sell his treasures to the group's planned Siegel and Shuster Museum of Comics and Science Fiction and be put on a salary as a museum consultant. It was complete bull on both sides. Even back then, it was known many of Forry's treasures were in sad shape. But, to balance things out, those Clevelanders negotiating with him were lying con men.
Shortly before I was pressed into service as the Cleveland group's interim president, Forry ended the talks. I was happy about that since the money to buy his collection and hire him was non-existent. Had he not ended the talks, I'd have done so on taking office. Whatever Forry's faults/sins, he didn't deserve to be scammed by a couple of Midwestern flim-flam men.
DC COMICS LETTERS COLUMNS NO MORE.
Your comments on DC's discontinuing their letters pages led me to further awareness that today's editors don't have the same goals or standards as yesterday's editors. Sales are so pathetically low I don't even know if they are even a factor in determining who is and isn't a good editor. I think it's all perception, as in, "This editor signed the next big thing (or the last big thing before the last big thing goes cold)" and "This editor might have something we can sell to Hollywood" and even "This editor will do whatever he's told to do and not rock the boat."
If DC's comics have letters pages, then someone at DC has to read the letters to prepare the letters pages. If they don't have letters pages, the editors can ignore readers comments completely. The claim readers can have their say on the message boards is just as deceitful as those "free speech" zones set up to keep protestors from ruining faux-President Bush's photo opportunities.
The "IW" in those reprint comics of the late 1950s and early 1960s stands for Irving Waldman. He acquired printing plates from defunct publishers...apparently with little or no thought as to who might actually own the rights to the stories. That's how he came to publish two Spirit comics. Anyway, he would publish comics with brand-new covers by New York artists like Ross Andru (inked by Mike Esposito), Joe Simon, and Sol Brodsky. I never saw the IW books on a newsstand, so I assume they were published strictly to be sold in the discount stores. Whatever his dubious rights to the material he published, Waldman must have treated those artists fairly well. He enticed Sol Brodsky away from Marvel to launch Skywald Comics in the early 1970s and, though the company didn't last long, it did last long enough to publish work by artists and writers like Andru, Esposito, Syd Shores, Tom Sutton, Len Wein, Robert Kanigher, Gary Friedrich, Dick Ayers, and others whose names escape me at present. Waldman must have had some leftover printing plates from IW Comics because his color comic books usually featured one new story and several reprints.
What's that? You say you're not getting enough Tony in your web-surfing diet? I can fix that.
The TONY ISABELLA MESSAGE BOARD is online 24/7...and guess who posts there far more often than he should? You can join the talk on this moderated forum by going to:
This month, I was honored to be the subject of two interviews now available online. If you're a fan of GHOST RIDER, I answered questions about my two years writing the title at the GHOST RIDER: VENGEANCE UNBOUND website:
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: