"I want to remind you that success in life is based on hard slogging. There will be periods when discouragement is great and upsetting, and the antidote for this is calmness and fortitude and a modest yet firm belief in your competence. Be sure that your priorities are in order so that you can proceed in a logical manner, and be ever mindful that nothing will take the place of persistence."
--Publisher and philanthropist Walter Annenberg in a letter to his son.
I come to this week's column with no preconceived notions of what I'm going to write about. You have been warned.
Let's start with a note which has been sitting in my files for over a year. I haven't a clue who sent it to me, but I must have saved it for a reason:
I was at the shore last week and went to the newsstand where I had bought comics at as a kid. The proprietor said comics were selling like hot cakes, but he couldn't get enough of them into his store. He reminisced about the late 1960s, when comic books covered the whole back wall of the store. Now they were in one mostly-empty spinner rack.
He said it was mostly empty due to sales.
The first time, I went in on a Tuesday, and he said his comics would come in on Friday. I stopped back on Saturday, and the rack didn't seem to have anything new. I picked up an issue of JUGHEAD. Done-in-one and summer-y. Archie comics make great beach reading! I just wish there had been other "done-in-one" titles there that I could have picked up.
What I'm seeing here is an opportunity for comics shops near vacation areas to expand their sales during summer. Cut deals with newsstand owners such as the one mentioned above to keep the racks and spinners filled with "done-in-one" comics.
Offer the same discounts and return-ability as they get from their mass market distributors. The comics retailers will be able to make a small profit on new comics they supply - the difference between direct and mass market discounts - and use these venues to move suitable inventory from their back issue bins.
"Suitable" is a key word in this scenario. I'm talking done-in-one stories as squeaky clean as possible.
This little scenario isn't designed to make statements about the maturity of the comics art form. It's a suggestion as to how comics retailers might be able to get a piece of the tourist action in their communities. See you on the beach!
Now that I think about...how come there isn't a comics spinner in Pop's Chocklit Shoppe? We know Archie collects and reads comic books. So does his artist pal Chuck. Even Betty and Veronica have enough interest to make costumes to wear at San Diego's Comic-Con International. The absence of comics at Riverdale's premiere teen hangout is just plain wrong.
I use CBG's handy "Birthdays and Events Schedule" to alert me when it's time to remind my industry friends that they are a year older. It's a "misery loves company" thing.
My e-mailed happy birthday wishes to comics artist Dave Hunt brought this response:
Thanks for the birthday greetings. CBG still has me being born in 1955, but, in fact, I turned 61 this August.
I read your "Middle of the Trilogy" column in CBG #1555 and was pleased to read that there was a panel with Larry Leiber, Mark Evanier, and you. I knew Larry at about the same time you did. I agree that he was the hardest working guy in comics. Also a perfect mensch. He helped me a lot with very straight-forward advice when I was penciling and sometimes inking covers for the British editions of Marvel Comics.
I have one great regret concerning Larry. Back in those days, I was coloring a lot of books. One of my "second-string" accounts was Larry's beloved RAWHIDE KID. I was so busy at that time that my ex-wife ghosted some of my coloring. I handed her the job and didn't check it.
Larry had written a sensitive Civil War era story concerning races where the final panel showed a black man. This man's race was key to the meaning of the story. My esteemed ex-mate obviously didn't bother to read the story and colored him white. It destroyed the story. Marie Severin balled me out for the gaff, but Larry never said a word.
What I really want to say - in public - is that I failed to formally apologize to Larry back then.
Larry, my friend, I'm so sorry.
Tony, could you print this apology, and possibly e-mail it to Larry as well?
Of course. While I'm at it, let me also recommend our Larry's tenure on RAWHIDE KID to one and all.
Every one of his issues features an entertaining, done-in-one adventure of the Kid. Though Marvel's unfortunate re-imagining of the character caused a spike in the title's back-issue prices, you can find good reading copies of later reprints and, occasionally, the originals, for a few dollars a pop. The comics are definitely worth the...no pun intended...hunt.
I don't expect to be disturbed by Saturday morning cartoons, which is why the episode of X-MEN EVOLUTION titled "Impact" caught me off-guard. I can't write about this cartoon, which first aired on August 30, without giving major plot details, so consider the SPOILER WARNINGS activated.
The shape-shifting Mystique has freed super-mutant Apocalypse from his centuries of suspended animation. In doing so, she turned into what appears to be a lifeless stone statue. The plot to free Apocalypse also involved Rogue's being mind-controlled and forced to steal the powers of other mutants to energize Apocalypse on his revival. As you can imagine, Rogue is not happy about having been used by Mystique in this manner.
Professor Xavier and Hank McCoy determine the stoned Mystique shows no signs of life. Rather than keep the "corpse" at Xavier's school, where it might upset Rogue, they send it to those bad boys of the Brotherhood. They neglect to consult Nightcrawler, who is Mystique's son, before doing this.
Quicksilver and friends, who have their own issues with their former leader, proceed to use Mystique in various practical jokes and role-playing scenarios. It may not technically be abuse of a corpse, but it got an ewwww out of me.
Nightcrawler retrieves Mystique from the Brotherhood and tries to enlist Rogue and sorceress Agatha Harkness in restoring his mom to life and mobility. Harkness thinks it's possible using Rogue's powers, but an enraged Rogue instead pushes the statue off a cliff. It shatters on the rocks below.
How did this episode get on the air? If Mystique was actually deceased, the Brotherhood, Rogue, and possibly even the Professor and McCoy, are all guilty of abuse of a corpse. If she was alive, then Rogue is guilty of murder...though a good defense lawyer might be able to get the charge reduced to manslaughter. Either way, it isn't something which can or should be allowed to pass without very serious consequences for all concerned.
Were it my call, knowing how many pre-teens watch the series, I would never have approved this script. Since it wasn't my call, I hope the show addresses the actions of the characters in the near future and does so without soft-peddling either the crimes or the consequences of those crimes.
Deactivate spoiler warnings...but keep your finger near to the button. You'll need it again soon.
Have you seen this zine? All I know, or, to be more accurate, all that I can recall, about WEIRD FAN FICTION #3 is that it was produced in 1976 by a company or group known as the Brooklyn Bums. In 1976, I would have been moving back and forth between New York and Cleveland, though, by the end of the year, I would be back in Ohio for good. However, I did live in Brooklyn at the tail end of 1972 and for most of 1973.
I would love to get a copy of this zine for the Tony Isabella Presidential Library. Failing that, I'd certainly like to know the story behind this bizarre cover...which kind of sort of reminds me of the type of bizarre stuff editor Joe Orlando and writer Michael Fleisher used to come up with for HOUSE OF MYSTERY and DC's other mid-1970s horror comics.
Sometimes you eat the meatball...
I recently read that the STAR TREK EXPERIENCE attraction at the Hilton Hotel in Las Vegas will be unveiling a new BORG INVASION 4D attraction next spring. The new interactive ride will feature a 3D film featuring actors from the STAR TREK: VOYAGER television series and the STAR TREK: FIRST CONTACT movie.
This summer, my son Eddie and I went on the current version of the ride, a fine way to spend an hour or two away from the typical sleaze-and-greed of Vegas.
Before going on the ride proper, we walked through a timeline of the Star Trek universe featuring models and props from various Trek movies and TV series. It had been updated recently enough to include information and scenes from ENTERPRISE. The timeline leads you to the ride itself.
If you're planning to go on this ride before the new version launches in the spring, you may want to skip this item.
From the timeline, visitors are ushered into an elevator where things suddenly go horribly awry. A dastardly faction of Klingons, apparently unhappy with Patrick Stewart getting all the good roles for bald actors, use a temporal transporter beam to whisk riders to the future.
One of the riders is an ancestor of Captain Jean-Luc Picard. By removing this ancestor from his or her proper time, the Klingons have wiped Picard from their own time.
Fortunately, acting Enterprise captain Will Riker and his crew manage to snag the transport beam and bring the riders safely to their ship. If they can return the riders to the past, they will undo the Klingon time-meddling. That's when the shooting and the evasive maneuvers start. If you've ridden Universal's BACK TO THE FUTURE ride, this is the same kind of attraction, just not quite as big in size or scope.
Riker proves why he's second in command by sending the riders off in a shuttle while Enterprise, with its heavy shielding and all, dukes it out with the Klingons. Somehow the shuttle does not get blown to pieces and, via a convenient portal, makes it back to Las Vegas in our own time.
Followed by the Klingon ship.
Followed by the Enterprise.
The Klingons realize this could be the perfect opportunity to put their "system" for winning big at blackjack to use. Within an hour, they lose their money, their phasers, and their ship, and end up working as bellman and waiters up and down the Vegas strip. The future is secure!
What really happens is...the Enterprise blows the Klingon ship to Klingon-kibble. The riders are safely returned to the Hilton with Picard coming on screen to thank them for insuring his life as a genre icon by not being killed by the Klingons.
The ride ends. The elevator takes the guests to the Hilton's spiffy STAR TREK gift shop where they can buy some neat Trek stuff in a range of prices from "not too bad" to "someone must have had a really good day at the blackjack tables."
But was this ending as happy as it seemed?
While the Enterprise was shooting it out with the Klingons in the skies above Vegas, I noticed a marquee heralding a concert by the Doobie Brothers...who were not playing anywhere in Las Vegas at the time.
Then, to my horror, I realized that several newer Vegas hotels were not in evidence as we dodged and swooped over the city. I could only come to one conclusion:
That idiot Riker had brought us too far back in time!
Since then, Eddie and I have tried to keep a low profile and not do any further damage to the timeline. Oh, sure, we made a few bucks betting on the Patriots in Super Bowl XXXVI. And made sure our 57-room mansion in Medina was safeguarded against any flooding. And created SURVIVOR and AMERICAN IDOL for TV. And gave a wee bit of advice to President Gore from time to time. Just little things like that. Totally inconsequential.
What we're really concerned about is that the other people who were on that ride with us won't act as responsibly.
I especially don't trust the bald guy.
The above column first appeared in COMICS BUYER'S GUIDE #1559 [October 3, 2003], which shipped September 15. The cover stories reported on two new comics: WILDGUARD: CASTING CALL from Image and WALT DISNEY'S CHRISTMAS PARADE from Gladstone.
In other news...
The writer of the summer comics shopping letter was long-time Tips reader Rob Staeger. I ran a follow-up letter from him in my column for CBG #1563, which will be posted online in the fullness of time...approximately four weeks from now.
Trying to avoid the editorial differences of the past, I let my editors know which segment of the column they could omit if they were running tight on space. What they ended up omitting, possibly because the artwork didn't reproduce well enough, was the cover to WEIRD FAN FICTION #3. If luck is with us, that cover will be seen in this "reprinting" of the column.
X-MEN EVOLUTION is still must-tape TV for me and I'm managing to watching within a week of doing so. In the latest episode I've seen, Nightcrawler is emerging as Marvel's most saintly super-hero. Even after the events of "Impact," Kurt shows concern for Rogue and tries to help her.
Let's see what else I have for you this weekend.
BODAVIA: THE EVIL EMPIRE
In the 1970s, in various Marvel reprint titles, references to and symbols of various Communist regimes were removed and replaced with references to and symbols of various fictional evil empires. My memory is that such alterations were reserved for only the most over-the-top and bordering-on-racist depictions of "those stinking commies," but I wouldn't bet the farm on it.
When it comes to comics reprints, I'm something of a purist. Save for correcting coloring and spelling errors, I prefer to see these old stories presented in as close to their original form as possible. Anyway, these changes were the subject of a discussion on one of my mailing lists and I was able to offer the list members some behind the scenes information on same:
This type of thing began in the British weeklies I edited for Marvel in the early 1970s. Our UK partners objected to what they called our "Reds under the bed" stories and wanted us to remove any references to Russia and Red China.
I created a new country--Bodavia--for these reprints. It was so large it encompassed citizens who looked European AND Oriental. It was also utterly evil, sworn to destroy our democratic society. The hammer-and-sickle and red star insignias on aircraft and tanks were replaced by a lightning bolt in a circle or sometimes just a lightning bolt. This didn't satisfy our UK partners entirely, but they stopped bitching and moaning when they realized we wouldn't go any further or skip these stories in the reprint cycle.
Personally, even though I thought the commie menace stories were silly, these changers struck me as even sillier. Had this decision been up to me, I would have told the Brits to go pleasure themselves.
The British weeklies I edited were THE MIGHTY WORLD OF MARVEL (starting about a dozen issues into the run) and SPIDER-MAN COMICS WEEKLY (from the beginning). I dimly recall starting work on yet a third title, one which featured the Avengers and Master of Kung Fu, before moving completely into Marvel's color comics and black-and-white magazines. I often wonder what happened to the youthful energy that allowed me to edit three comics weeklies plus four or five magazines...while assisting on the color comics and writing a comic book or three each month.
If you should find it, please return it to me.
ONE COMIC STRIP MUST DIE!
Forgive me. I'm exaggerating for effect. No comic strip is going to die, but one comic strip is going to be booted from the Akron Beacon-Journal to make room for a new strip which may or may not be the new OPUS strip by Berke Breathed. Mike Needs, the ABJ's Public Editor, asked the members of the newspaper's Virtual Readers Network, of which I'm a member, which of five strips they would cut if it were their decision.
The strips were BLONDIE, CATHY, GET FUZZY, HAGAR THE HORRIBLE, and ROSE IS ROSE. Here's my response:
A month or two ago, I would have said CATHY...but then the strip started getting interesting. Why? Because the Cathy/Irving relationship became the story and actually started moving forward. If this trend continues, it'll be good for the strip.
BLONDIE and HAGAR are classics. Not always funny, but funny more often than not.
I used to love ROSE IS ROSE, but it has gotten so cloying and trite I rarely read it. It would be my second choice to drop, but be prepared for outraged complaints from the religious folks. They will say it's another example of the liberal media trampling their rights by removing angels from the comics page. God save us from these people.
I'd pick GET FUZZY, which has never worked for me. I have friends who think it's terrific, but I've seen it before and better in strips like GARFIELD and LIBERTY MEADOWS.
Hmm...a new strip. Well, unless you're running BLOOM COUNTRY reprints, that's out. The new OPUS strip is Sundays only.
Is it NANCY? That's an absolutely charming strip with great artwork by the Gilchrist brothers. I met one of them at a New York City convention and they will be guests at Mid-Ohio-Con in Columbus this November. That strip would be an excellent addition to the Beacon Journal.
POPEYE remains excellent, but ANNIE is crap. Even though it's drawn by an old NYC pal of mine.
THE PHANTOM has improved of late. I have been approached to write this character three times in the past; the money was never good enough. Not surprisingly, the strip has adopted some of the ideas I proposed during these talks.
PEANUTS reprints? I'm already getting those in the Cleveland Plain Dealer and there's too much duplication of strips between the two papers as it is.
Among newer strips, there's 9 CHICKWEED LANE and JANE'S WORLD. I don't expect the latter would be seriously considered on account of its heroine is gay. The former would probably raise flags for its often sexy drawings.
Am I getting warm?
Since I wrote the above, Irving has once more faded into the background of CATHY and we're back to the usual gags about Cathy's weight, the retentiveness of her and her mother, and the sloth of her and her co-workers. Boring.
My original intention for this weekend's column was to share some of the comments from my fellow VRN members...and then give you the results of Mike's informal survey. I'm going hold off on that until next weekend...for three reasons.
One. I have six single-spaced pages of comic strip comments in front of me and it's going to take me a little time to properly reduce them to a workable summary.
Two. This gives you a week to think about Mike's question and figure out how you would have responded.
Three. This column is already well over 3000 words long and I want to leave room for a note from one of my old fandom buddies. Besides, you must have better things to do with your weekend than listen to me go on and on and on.
Think about the comic strips and Mike's question. I'll bring you the results of the survey next weekend.
Shortly after this week's column appeared in CBG, I received this e-mail from JEFF WASSERMAN:
Come on, Tony! Brooklyn Bums Publications, publisher of WEIRD FAN FICTION, was none other than Chuck Spanyay and Co. My copy of issue #3 must be packed away somewhere. My copy of #1 is readily available in my file cabinet, nestled between two other arcane, oddball publications: THE WANDERING FAN and THE WILD ITRALIAN. I wonder who published those?
Perhaps Spanyay has a copy of WFF #3 that he could spare you. The bum!
Okay, now THAT jogs my memory. Was this a Spanyay apazine or a general circulation fanzine? Do you recall if the cover was just a standalone gag...or did it illustrate an interior feature/story? Inquiring me wants to know.
As for those other two zines...
THE WANDERING FAN was my first CAPA-Alpha apazine, named for the column I wrote for various general fanzines. THE WILD ITRALIAN (and, yes, that's how it was spelled) was another apazine, which I believe I did for EXPONENT.
As I recall, EXPONENT quickly gained the deserved reputation of being a no-holds-barred "insult apa." There are elderly members of that apa who still carry the psychological scars from their time there. Good times.
Thanks for spending part of your weekend with me. My thrice-weekly TONY'S ONLINE TIPS column will resume on Monday, October 13, at the Perpetual Comics 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.
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