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for Saturday, September 27, 2003


"I may have said the same thing before, but my explanation, I am sure, will always be different."

--Oscar Wilde

"Middle age is not the beginning of the end, but the end of the beginning."

-Evan Esar

I have a lovely stack of items to be reviewed sitting not six inches from my keyboard, but I don't think I'll be reviewing them this week. My muse is driving me - Can you hear the crack of the whip and the tuneful anthem that is the theme from RAWHIDE? - along a different path.

Two hours ago, I watched as my son Eddie walked out the front door to join his friends. He was heading for his first day of high school. One of his friends, who has been home-schooled as long as we've known him, was heading for his first day in our public school system. It's a big day for both of them.

A few minutes later, my daughter Kelly and one of her friends left for their first day of middle school. Before she left, Kelly edged up to me in our kitchen, half to hug me goodbye and half to see if she'd gotten taller than me overnight. I'm thinking she'll make it by the end of the year. As I kid Sainted Wife Barbara, I married her for height.

A neighbor, having watched me see them off, asked me if I felt old watching my children embark on these new journeys. The honest truth was "old" was the furthest thing from what I was feeling. I was excited by the new possibilities before them. I recognized the sensation because, most of the time, it's how I feel as I journey into each new day.

This is where I'll warn you that this is, indeed, another one of those "me, me, me" columns, though I hope it will also have some small application to our mutual interests in comics and the comics field. If it doesn't, send me a stern e-mail or letter expressing your displeasure and I will doubtless send you a comic book or some other token of remorse. I'm like that.


Possibilities. They're what I think of when I see the inroads comics are making in mainstream bookstores. They're what I think of whenever I hear about a new creator-owned project or a new movie based on some favorite comics character. They're not what I think of when this gargantuan company or that announces they have signed the current flavors of the month to produce 6-12 issues of a title that has been around for decades, though I reserve the right to get excited at some later date if those flavors actually manage to do something cool without violating the works of the original creators of these titles.

Possibilities. Although it wasn't love at first press release for me, it's what I soon came to think of when I consider CrossGen, the Florida-based publisher who seemed to be looking at comics and comics creation in an interesting new/old way. Now it might not be a way of doing things which would work for me - Mark Alessi, that unreasonable despot of a CEO, would probably have an absurd problem with my working in my pajamas - but I saw the company as offering an interesting opportunity for those creators who were comfortable with its modus operandi.

Let's look at CrossGen's origins. It was an apparently well-funded company employing a good number of talented creators, paying them well, and trying something different. How could I not see it as a good thing?

Have things changed in the past three years? Yes, they have. CrossGen has adapted to include creators who didn't fit precisely into their original program. The company has tried new formats for its comics, not all of them successful, but all of them ideas worth the attempt. I think these are all good things.

On the downside, CrossGen clearly has some financial, labor, and public relations hurdles before it. I'm not going to get into a blow-by-blow on these matters - that's been covered elsewhere in excruciating detail and I'm sure no one at the company is in such denial that they haven't realized that these matters could/should have been handled better - but the hopefully temporary crisis opens the door to another subject I want to address.

Within hours of news of CrossGen's problems, and, of course, those of the freelancers who hadn't been paid for their contracted-for and completed work, the online comics community suddenly became a veritable auto-da-fe of shrill electronic pundits demanding the heads of the guilty. One website - sadly, the website of a friend of mine - even threw up a Fox News-style graphic reading: CROSSGEN DEATHWATCH.

And, I ask, to what purpose?

Yes, certainly the freelancers had every right to make their situations known to the industry. Professional is as professional does. They did the work and they should get their money. When a company finds itself in the embarrassing position of not being able to pay its freelancers, it needs to get real creative real fast and make good on its obligations or, at the very least, make darn sure that all affected parties are kept absolutely up to speed on what the heck is going on. Realization of this simple truth would have spared CrossGen the backlash from its original mishandled responses to its troubles.

What disturbed me as much as the prospect of freelancers not getting their rightful due - brother, have I ever been there - was the palatable bloodlust with which the fans and some pros greeted the CrossGen news. We have an outfit which many would consider a pretty interesting experiment and it was if they couldn't wait for it to fail. Just as they couldn't wait for the Hulk movie to fail. Just as they couldn't wait for the Spider-Man movie to fail because that stupid director gave Peter Parker natural web-shooters instead of artificial ones.

Oh, wait, the angry mob ended up liking the Spidey movie quite a bit. What were the odds of that?

It's so secret that I think a great many comics executives and editors are, well, idiots. They wouldn't know good writing or good art if we tied them up in chairs and beat them about their pointy little heads with it, which, I must stress, does not mean that we shouldn't try this sometime.

However, if every time I pick up one of their comic books, the uppermost thought in my pointy little head was that this was going to be awful, I would be the idiot for picking them up time and time again. I would be the idiot for going to their movies. I would be the idiot for giving them the benefit of the doubt. Despite some evidence to the contrary, I'm not an idiot.

I want CrossGen to get out of this jam, make nice with all of those freelancers, and resume the job of trying to make good comics for us to read. I want those comic books to be good. I want the next comic-book movie to be good. I even want those flavors of the month to surprise me and do wonderful things with the titles which have been entrusted to them. I don't want a blessed one of these creators, editors, movie-makers, or publishers to fail. What would I gain from that? What would any comics fan or professional gain from that?

I'm not saying we shouldn't report the comics news fully and seek redress for those creators or readers which have been wronged. I'm not saying we shouldn't express our opinions, even the harshest opinions, of the comics we read.

I'm just saying that we shouldn't be so eager for comic books or comics-inspired movies to suck. I'm just saying we shouldn't be so rhapsodic in contemplation of any company or creator going down in flames. If they do, we lose.

On some level, we all lose.


Possibilities. The cover story of CBG #1551 [August 8, 2003] reported that Dark Horse Comics was seeking new creators, looking for talent waiting to be discovered, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. Just once, I'd like to see a story about a comics publisher seeking "old" creators with fresh ideas and proven ability.

I'll spare you the litany of "old" creators whose abilities and imaginations are as keen as ever...and who can't get editors or publishers to return their calls. I'll even spare you the litany of excuses/reasons these editors and publishers will give for why this is the case.

I'm just considering the possibilities.

And, perhaps, the missed opportunities.


The 2003 OFFICIAL TONY ISABELLA FAREWELL TOUR will reach its perhaps glorious, perhaps inglorious, conclusion at Mid-Ohio-Con on Saturday and Sunday, November 29-30, at the spiffy Hilton Columbus at the even spiffier Easton Town Center. Although I didn't make it to as many conventions this year as I had originally planned, I had a blast at the ones I did attend.

Whenever I mention the farewell tour, I get e-mails asking me what the heck it means. One of our opening quote comes closest to the mark for me. It's the end of the beginning.

I truly don't expect to appear as a guest at any conventions, comics or otherwise, in 2004 and beyond. I won't say I will never appear at another show - gotta keep those possibilities alive - but I've no current plans to do so. Figure on Mid-Ohio-Con to be your last chance to chat with me or get an autograph in person, though I'll still be available via e-mail and snail mail.

If I do conventions in the future, it will because either a promoter or a publisher has paid my expenses to the event. I went WAY over budget with this year's shows and I don't plan to do that again. Now honesty compels me to confess that I'm not certain I'm worth the expense of bringing me to a con. I'm fairly entertaining on panels and I'll happily put in my time at the signing table, but I can't guarantee I'll put lots of butts in the seats. If you want to fill the place, you need to shell out the bucks for someone like Harlan Ellison or Stan Lee. I might even buy a ticket to come and listen to them.

I'm not giving up on the writing. Bob Ingersoll and I have a novel coming out at year's end. It's called STAR TREK: THE CASE OF THE COLONIST'S CORPSE (A SAM COGLEY MYSTERY). If it sells as well as we and our editor hope, it could be the first in a series of Sam Cogley mysteries. The defense may occasionally rest, but Bob and I are willing to go without sleep to bring you as many entertaining books as we can.

I'm also not quitting this column or the ones I write online. If I didn't have you to talk to, Barb would have to listen to all this stuff...and I think the Sainted One puts up with quite enough of my nonsense already.

I'm not even giving up on comics writing. With my convention season largely over and my kids back in school, I have the time to work on new projects. True, many of these will never see the light of a comics shop - I'm not in denial about the editor and publisher preference for the new over the "old" - but I never was one to shy away from a challenge.

The one aspect of comics writing I am kind of sort of giving up on is to work on characters and concepts not of my own creation. I don't wish to be a party to the ongoing disrespect big companies show creators in twisting their characters and concepts to fit the current wisdom or lack thereof.

Now if I'm approached by the actual creators of a character or concept, as opposed to an editor or publisher, to work on any such projects, and I think I have something to say about the characters, I might well be interested.

The same holds true if I'm approached to write a character or concept whose original creators are no longer with us. If I can be respectful to their work, if I can tell my tales in a manner which honors their efforts, yeah, then I might be willing to take a swing at this or that project.

For the most part, sink or swim, I hope to create new comics, even if the proposals and scripts end up in a trunk. Hmm...why do I suddenly imagine Roy Scheider saying:

"I think we're gonna need a bigger trunk!"



The above column, albeit HEAVILY edited, ran in COMICS BUYER'S GUIDE #1557 [September 18, 2003], which shipped September 2. This was definitely one of those "whatever can go wrong" scenarios. Due to some personal situations, I asked for and received an extension on my deadline. My CBG editors were tight on space that week and, having to work with a piece which didn't suggest much in the way of accompanying art choices, made the decision to run it on one page. Unfortunately, this column was over a third longer than they could fit on that solitary page.

I don't think I've even been as unhappy with the presentation of my column as in this issue. I felt my editors made bad choices in the cuts they made, but, to be fair about it, the same personal business which required the deadline extension left them unable to contact me to work out cuts more to my liking.

As is usually (but not always) my nature, I didn't stay angry with them for long. We're working to improve communication to keep this from happening again. Such communication is how professional relationships remain solid and mutually beneficial. It's a policy I believe a number of comic-book creators and publishers could and should take to heart.

Moving right along...

The cover story of CBG #1557 reported that retailers polled by Diamond Comic Distributors had voted overwhelmingly to have another FREE COMIC BOOK DAY in 2004. Since this story appeared, the FCBD retailers have selected July 3, the scheduled opening of SPIDER-MAN 2, as the date for that event.

The secondary cover story informed CBG readers that Six Flags: New England's Superman Ride of Steel roller coaster was designated the Best Steel Coaster in the world by AMUSEMENT TODAY, a monthly trade publication which sponsors the annual Golden Ticket Awards. According to CBG, "the same evaluation had been announced by PARK WORLD MAGAZINE."

Obviously, the situation at CrossGen has taken a turn for the worse since I wrote this column. All I'll add to the above is that I continue to wish the best for the company and its creators, those who remain and those who have left...and to hope that there will be a good resolution for all of the involved parties.

Let's see what else I have for you this weekend.



I avoid (for the most part) mailing lists which are devoted to Jack Kirby and/or Steve Ditko. My avoidance should not be taken as a reflection of the great admiration I have for these creators and their works. I avoid these lists because far too many participants use their esteem for Kirby and Ditko as an excuse to bash Stan Lee and because I am not always smart enough to resist going e-mail to e-mail with these louts. Alas, my social skills are not as refined as I could wish them to be.

However, recently, on one such list, DAVE RAWLINS repeated a comment I had made elsewhere, a comment to the effect that comics lost one of its great humorists when Ditko went objectivist on us. I responded:

Even after Ditko embraced the essentially humorless Randian nonsense, we saw flashes of that humor. But it was rare. Humor often centers around our natural human shortcomings. The Randian philosophy, at least as presented by Ditko in his increasingly artless screeds, vilifies human shortcomings. It's a philosophy that lacks a sense of moderation. The "grey" areas it disdains are often where the humor of our lives is found.

The online conversation went back and forth with some Ditko fans defending his philosophy and yours truly dismissing it pretty thoroughly. I wrote:

We take different things from Ditko's Randian-influenced work. What I saw was that *no one* was happy in his world. Even his "perfect" heroes seemed to live joyless existences. I have no problem with people seeking to be the best they can be. Even encourage it. But seeking perfection struck me as:

a) logically impossible, and,

b) somewhat blasphemous.

Ditko's heroes found no joy in the quest and, as a result, had no joy in their lives. His philosophy was tailor-made for bitter loners with poor social skills.

In my experience, that characterization fits a great many (but not, thank God, all) Randians.

Looking back at what I wrote, I probably should have crafted a distinction between seeking perfection and the presumption that it is attainable if only one adheres to Ditko's "black and white" way of life.

After that, the discussion got down to a point-by-point thing involving aircraft maintenance and other things. I figured it was time to make my exit when I was called hypocritical for "dismissing many of Rand's tenets out of hand."

My final comments:

I like heroes to be human. If there were like the robotic "Mr. A", they wouldn't be interesting.

Indeed, Ditko's best heroic work was on Spider-Man, a hero who could and did fail, a hero who sometimes made bad decisions, a hero who sometimes put his own interests first. It was Peter's ability to recognize his mistakes and try to correct them that made him the hero. It was sheer dumb luck that gave him powers, but it's how he used them that made him the hero.

One can extract a helpful tenet or two from most philosophies, which flies in the face of the Ditko/Rand "black is black and white is white" mantra.

I prefer a bit of compassion to their absolutism.

I have since gone into "deep lurk mode" on that mailing list because the Stan-bashing got even nastier and more absurd than it had been...and because I kept getting "hailed" by a guy who's been booted off my message board twice and with whom I have absolutely no interest in further communication.

I did stay active long enough to answer a question about the couple of times I worked with Ditko, though "worked with" isn't all that accurate a description. I never had any personal contact with Ditko on these occasions. Here's my response:

I wrote two stories which Ditko drew for 1990's Spider-Man annuals, one starring Ant-Man, the other Captain Universe. Ditko was slated to draw the stories before I received the assignments to write them. When editor Jim Salicrup asked me to write them, he told me that Ditko would be drawing them. I very deliberately took advantage of that.

I did the Ant-Man script in the style of those 5-page stories Stan Lee wrote for Ditko for titles like STRANGE TALES. Indeed, I even asked the letterer to imitate the style used by Artie Simek in those old stories. He didn't do it.

The Captain Universe story was written to encompass things I wanted to see Ditko draw again: cute little kids, Gorgo, and Konga. I wrote page-by-page and panel-by-panel plots for Ditko. He only made one change in the stories, adding a transitional panel to the Ant-Man story. It was a good call on his part.

I then scripted the stories from Ditko's pencils. Because the plots were so tight and Ditko's storytelling was so good, I was able to script each story in a single evening.

One more thing about the Captain Universe story. The child's dialogue is almost all authentic "Eddie." It's how he talked at the time I wrote the story.

I was offered an earlier opportunity to work with Ditko during my brief time as a DC Comics editor. Joe Orlando asked me to read and then script Ditko's SHADE THE CHANGING MAN. I "read" the first issue pencils and declined the gig.

Why? Because I thought Ditko's plotting was a mess and that the book was in need of a more straightforward first issue. I also wasn't interested, back then or now, in just being a scripter. I would have loved to work with Ditko, plotting the stories together and letting his vision be the primary concern, but I wasn't willing to be a script-bot.

I fully support Ditko wanting to do things his way. This was his own creation, after all. But it didn't offer me any creative satisfaction.

While going through the most recent PREVIEWS, I noted that THE COMICS JOURNAL #258 will present a "comprehensive look at the work of enigmatic genius Steve Ditko." That sounds like a must-have for Ditko fans and, despite anything you might think from my comments today, I definitely include myself in that group.



Veteran "Tips" reader STEPHEN PYSKOTY-OLLE e-mailed this note after reading one of my San Diego columns:
In your listing of the other things going on while you were on the "Spiritual Themes in Comics" panel, you didn't mention the one for which I left your panel early: the SMALLVILLE panel, featuring actors Sam Jones III (Pete Ross) and Allison Mack (Chloe Sullivan), as well as producers Al Gough and Mark Millar, writer Jeph Loeb, and your pal Mark Verheiden.

That was the only *big* media event I was interested in. It's always disappointing to see such small turnouts for the panels featuring the old comics pros who might be making their final public appearance before heading off to that great comics shop in the sky. My primary reason for attending the San Diego show is to see the greats (and near-greats) from the Golden Age and hear some entertaining "war stories" from them firsthand.
That's a perfectly valid reason from where I sit. I treasure my time with the writers and artists who inspired me to make comics my career, such as it is. I hope Comic-Con International and other conventions continue to invite them to their events...and let them know how much they are appreciated.

That's all for this weekend. I'll see you at Perpetual Comics and on my message board during the week to come...and I'll be back at this location next weekend. God bless you all.

Tony Isabella

<< 09/20/2003 | 09/27/2003 | 10/04/2003 >>

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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.

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