"I am not bound to win, but I am bound to be true. I am not bound to succeed, but I am bound to live by the light that I have. I must stand with anybody that stands right, stand with him while he is right, and part with him when he goes wrong."
Joe Kubert's YOSSEL: APRIL 19, 1943 (ibooks; $24.95) is the best graphic novel of the year. I realize we're still two months and change away from the end of the year, but, as I sit here at my keyboard, unable to tear my thoughts from the haunting images and overwhelming events of this intensely personal story, I honestly can't imagine this incredible work NOT being the best graphic novel of the year.
YOSSEL is "a" story of Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, the courageous last stand against Nazi barbarism taken by the Jewish residents of that prison within a city. Published in this 60th anniversary year of the Uprising, it is a timeless tale of enduring human spirit in the face of agonizing inhumanity. In its unflinching examination of the evil men do, it reminds us why we must stand with those who oppose such evil, often with their very lives.
The title hero of YOSSEL is a fifteen-year-old boy living in Nazi-occupied Poland. The Nazis take his home and force his family to relocate to the Warsaw ghetto, a world of overcrowded tenements and cruel depravation. Yet, as awful as this world is, it's merely a way station on the road to the greater hell of the concentration camps. As more Jews arrive, the Nazis start shipping others out to their intended final destinations.
Yossel is a talented artist and it is this gift which spares him when his family is sent to the camps. His drawings have amused the soldiers who rule Warsaw and they protect him as they would a favored pet. He shares the information he quietly learns from the soldiers (and the extra food they gave him) with his fellows, until there is no choice but to oppose their captors openly.
Kubert's medium for the telling of this story is rough pencil art. These are the drawings Yossel sees in his head, unfinished, awaiting the opportunity to commit them to paper. The bold choice adds a nightmarish quality to the stark reality of the horrors of this story, a quality reinforced by the first-person captions which accompany them. The reader gets to know Yossel, to know his dreams and his despair and his soul.
The boldness of Kubert's approach becomes more profound with the realization that Yossel IS Kubert who, save for the persistence of his family, might not have lived to become one of the comics world's most respected creators. In early 1926, while Kubert was still in his mother's womb, his family made their first attempt to leave Poland for America and were turned away due to his mother's pregnancy. Two months after his birth, they tried again and were allowed to travel to what would become their new home.
Watching Yossel draw the super-heroes and caveman and cowboys and dinosaurs which Kubert would bring to readers during his long career in comics, knowing the distance between these fantastic and heroic images and the soul-numbing life of the ghetto and monstrous reality of the camps, sent a shiver through my own soul. Though I have only met him a few times, I envisioned the enormous hole in my world Kubert's absence would have created.
No amiable bear of a man who struck me as a fit receptacle for the sheer artistry and power of his work. No Hawkman. No Tor. No Rock. No Enemy Ace. No generations of writers and artists taking inspiration from his comics as I have. No sons following in his artistic footsteps. No Kubert school. No graduates learning from the masters and going on to create masterful works of their own. No FAX FROM SARAJEVO. Sixty years and a reality away, this sense of loss makes YOSSEL almost too much to bear.
YOSSEL is eloquent proof of how compelling comic books can be. It ranks with the very best the art form has produced and deserves a place in every library--not just comics library-EVERY library, personal or public, worth the name. It is as unforgettable a story as any I have ever read...
...and, if YOSSEL makes you think about the other Joe Kuberts, all the other men and women who could have shared their gifts with us had they not been brutally murdered, that's all the better.
We need to think about that more often.
ibooks was called "America's fastest growing small publisher" by PUBLISHERS WEEKLY, one of those quotes which doesn't necessarily mean anything to readers like you and I. Let's face it; the main reason we care about the commercial success of the books and comics we read is because, if they sell well, there will be more of them for us to enjoy. Growth isn't a big issue for me...despite all of those e-mail offers I receive.
If a publisher wants to impress me, sending me a catalog like the one which came with YOSSEL will do the trick. Covering ibooks releases from February through May of 2004, the catalog had several books I wanted as soon as I saw their listings.
In December, look for a "digitally remastered" collection of TERMINATOR: THE BURNING EARTH ($17.95) by seriously underrated Ron Fortier and legend-to-be Alex Ross. In January, AMELIA RULES! WHAT MAKES YOU HAPPY ($14.95) reprints issues #5-10 of Jimmy Gownley's wonderful comic-book series. February brings THE OFFICIAL FORENSIC FILES CASEBOOK ($15.95) by the editors of Court TV, just the ticket for us fans of CSI and police procedurals in general.
March is a blockbuster month for ibooks. For me, there's THE SCIENCE OF SUPERMAN ($14.95) by Mark Wolverton and a new edition of WILD CARDS 2: ACES HIGH ($7.99), the shared universe series edited by George R. R, Martin. For my son Eddie, there's THE IDES OF MAD ($9.95), the reissue of the classic MAD paperback, and MARAUDER MAN ($14.95) by Kenneth T. Brown, "the story of the medium bomber that made D-Day possible."
April brings I, ROBOT: THE ILLUSTRATED SCREENPLAY ($14.95) by Harlan Ellison and Isaac Asimov, a book which has been out of print for a decade; BLOODLINES ($14.95), a definitely cool-looking crime graphic novel by Varanda and Ange; and WEIRD HEROES VOL. 1 ($6.99), a long out-of-print anthology of adventure hero stories by beloved writers like Philip Jose Farmer, Archie Goodwin, and Ron Goulart. Some good reading there.
May is equally intriguing. THE ORC'S TREASURE ($9.99) is an original manga book by Kevin J. Anderson and the unique Alex Nino. FOG (14.95) is a private detective graphic novel by Tardi and Leo Malet. STRACZYNSKI UNPLUGGED ($11.95) is a collection of stories by J. Michael Straczynski, creator of BABYLON 5 and current writer of AMAZING SPIDER-MAN. Then there's GHOSTBUSTERS by Sholly Fisch ($11.95), the first original novel based on one of the best comedy-horror films of all time.
The above are just the ibooks releases which interest me. If you visit the company's website, you'll find additional suspense, mystery, history, horror, and science fiction titles already in print or coming soon. With many ties to comics and comics industry creators, ibooks is definitely worth watching.
Moving on to the TONY'S TIPS mailbox, we have this e-mail from reader ROB STAEGER:
I wrote the mystery note in this week's CBG, about returning to the place where I had bought comics as a kid (The Paper Peddler in Avalon, New Jersey) when I was at the beach during the summer. It was a strange feeling, being there all grown up and not seeing many comics I wanted to buy. As a regular of my neighborhood comic shop, I get almost anything I want already. My trip to the Paper Peddler was more nostalgia then a serious comic-buying trip. But I sure remember the comics I bought there. I nearly got hit by a car walking home reading the ALL-STAR SQUADRON/INFINITY INC. team-up way back when.
I like your idea of beach newsstands loading up on done-in-one issues from the landlocked comics shops. It's a great idea for a partnership. I hope someone reads your column and decides to give it a try.
Also from my e-mailbox, I heard from KIRK KUSHIN, responding to my report on the STAR TREK EXPERIENCE attraction at the Hilton Hotel in Las Vegas and my comments on the X-MEN EVOLUTION animated series. He wrote:
Your time travel riff on the Star Trek Ride was truly funny! Good stuff! I will probably hit the ride again when I hit town for the upcoming comics conventions - just so I can chuckle at your comments in person.
I'm a major fan of X-MEN EVOLUTION and I thought your comments on "Impact" were very interesting. I missed that episode, but one of the things I enjoy about the show is how it presents the X-Men mythos to my kids (all under 10). There is no way I would let my children near the current issues of UNCANNY X-MEN. My nine-year-old daughter has asked to read it, but I always tell her no. "It's not appropriate," I say, and she gives me a shrug and goes back to her Archies, and age-appropriate DCs.
I think the producers have always done an excellent job with the show and I was surprised to hear about the events of Mystique's "demise." While it won't cause me to change my opinion about the series, it does makes me wonder what they were thinking. My kids are very much into the characters and events and I would hate for this to send the wrong message. At least now, I will be prepared to discuss that episode when we see it. I can just hear my "why is it not right to push a petrified metamorph off a cliff?" conversation with them.
Please don't let your critique be the only words your readers hear about this otherwise excellent show. People need to support (and enjoy) this quality presentation of Marvel's flagship title. I am always baffled why Marvel doesn't give more support to a long- running cartoon about one of its franchises which also happened to be one of the more popular films of the summer! Marvel said it all when they canceled the comic book based on EVOLUTION. I saw the numbers and they were indeed low, but what a great entry point into the Marvel Universe for young readers!. It's quite clear from the direction of the regular X-Men books and the overall Marvel sales strategies that the company is chasing the ever-dwindling market of mature comic-book fans.
Don't you think a marketing department worth its salt would have include a subscription form in the MILLIONS of X-MEN EVOLUTION Burger King Toys that were purchased a few years back? Even a small percentage of return would have catapulted the Evolution title high up the sales chart, right next to those few Marvel titles which can even get close to the 100,000 sales mark!
I guess I'm sounding like a Grumpy Old Comic Book Fan! All I ask is that you pass onto your readers who are also long-time X-Men fans that EVOLUTION is a place where great stories are being told! The DVDs of the entire first season just hit the market. They are sold as four singles or a collector's four pack. People need to do themselves a favor and shell out the ten dollars--the equivalent of three or four comics--and enjoy the series themselves or give it as a Christmas present! The show has a great message, is loads of fun, and gives a lot of screen time to Kitty Pryde!
You're right, Kirk. I should have made it clear that I, too, am a fan of X-MEN EVOLUTION. It's got enough continuity to please the hardcore Marvel Universe readers, terrific characterizations, and a generally good message. A recent story featuring the return of Storm's cousin Spyke hit all of those high notes and was a great example of how good the series can be.
Keep those e-mails, letters, and review copies coming my way, my loyal legions of TONY'S TIPS! readers. They keep me honest and this column in business.
The above column first appeared in COMICS BUYER'S GUIDE #1563 [October 31, 2003], which shipped October 13. The cover story was Nathan Melby's "Drawing on Your Nightmares," a compact round-up of horror comics coming out from various publishers. The second lead reported that Marvel's stock was approaching $30 per share.
The CBG questions of the week asked the newspaper's readers to name the most frightening comic book they ever read and to reveal why it scared them. I can't say that any comic book I read ever scared me, but, as a youngster, I do recall having an uneasy dream after seeing a cover depicting humans being turned into robots on an assembly line of some sort.
I couldn't tell you for sure what comic it was, but, based on my memory of the cover art, I'm fairly certain it was a DC Comics sci-fi book of the late 1950s or early 1960s...and not one edited by Julius Schwartz or featuring Mark Merlin. That narrows it down to three: HOUSE OF MYSTERY, MY GREATEST ADVENTURE, or TALES OF THE UNEXPECTED. Any guesses out there?
If you do know what comic this was, please drop me an e-mail. I'd like down to track down a copy to see if the story itself is as scary as it was in my imagination.
I've been getting more e-mail than usual lately, and, believe it or not, not all of it has been about Black Lightning, of whom we shall speak no more this column. Let's see how many of those notes I can run in this weekend's column, starting with this one from my pal MARK DOOLEY:
I've been reading comics since I was about three years old, and it stuck with me all through the 60's when I was buying Batman, the occasional Superman, and the Marvel heroes who were on TV at the time. I really wasn't a serious collector. If I had been, a lot of the books I managed to hang onto would be in a lot better shape than they are now.
My actual collecting years began in 1971, and oddly enough with the Batman book you recently mentioned in TONY'S TIPS, the one with the Frank Robbins take on the Beatles. I still have it with me and, despite constant reading, it's still in one piece. It had been four years since the last Batman book I had bought and I had no idea of the changes that had been made between 1969-1971. To see that stark, somber cover, and then to discover the great art of Irv Novick and Dick Giordano...and the return to the relentless, obsessed Batman of which I had been only vaguely aware was like a catharsis! I would become...A COMIC COLLECTOR!
Yes, I would become a magnet for loathing. Yes, there would be no women in my life...at least for a while. Yes, I would be the object of derision, hatred, and the punching bag for every jock who knew of my hobby. But I had my funnies and I would meet those who shared my love for comics, striking up friendships which exist to this day.
Eventually, I even stopped being a virgin. But that's a tale for another day...
Hey, hey...let's save THAT story for my new X-rated website. I mean, considering how most readers ignore the "Tip the Tipster" link on this page, webmaster Justin and I have to figure out some way to pay the bills around here.
The nude photos of me will only cost $9.99 a month. It'll be $39.99 a month if you never want to see me naked.
Two weeks ago in this space, I wrote about the comic book that made me a collector. Reader NEIL MADLE sent along his comments on the same subject:
Excellent column, as always. By some remarkable synchronicity, AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #9 was the first super-hero story I ever read. But whereas you saw it in 1964, I caught it in 1973, thanks to the excellent UK weekly reprint titles that you had a major hand in producing, as I recall.
Looking back on those reprints, for 5p a week, we could get our hands on Spidey and Thor in SPIDER-MAN COMICS WEEKLY, and the Hulk, Fantastic Four, and Daredevil in THE MIGHTY WORLD OF MARVEL. Those issues have become quite collectable...mainly for nostalgic UK collectors, I guess, although there are some classic Starlin covers on early issues which could interest US collectors. It's likely that many of the British creators currently populating, even dominating, the US field started with these weeklies. Influential or what?
My general view of comics executives, and, indeed, executives in all walks of life, echoes that of scriptwriter William Goldman's adage, "Nobody knows anything." According to Goldman, nobody in Hollywood has the faintest idea what's going to work or what's not. Hollywood executives stick their fingers in the air and hope the wind blows the right way. If it works, they get started on sequels. It's safe to say that whoever thought up the idea of reprinting classic Marvel titles on cheap paper stock and pumping them out to UK kiddies each week was a sales and marketing genius who put a lie to Goldman's adage. Any idea who actually came up with the concept? Roy Thomas? Stan Lee? Some guy named Isabella?
All I know for certain is that is wasn't me. I started work on THE MIGHTY WORLD OF MARVEL after the first issues had already been sent to our UK partners. In fact, TMWOM wasn't even the first British weekly to reprint the Marvel super-heroes. There were two other titles, which I believe were called FANTASTIC and TERRIFIC, which featured the characters.
I was definitely the de facto editor of the SPIDER-MAN COMICS WEEKLY when it launched. I remember being horrified when I first received the Spider-Man mask which was free with the first issue. The cheap paper mask had no air holes whatsoever and I immediately pictured thousands of British youngsters being found asphyxiated on the streets of England. The only thing that saved those kids was that the masks were SO cheaply made that, unless you had a head the size of a baseball, you couldn't get the mask on without destroying it. We were *this* close to losing Neil Gaiman.
Working on those British weeklies had its ups and downs. On one hand, I was getting paid to read some of my favorite old comics and share them with readers across an ocean. I learned much about design, editing, and story structure in the process.
On the other, it was often maddening dealing with what seemed like monthly changes in printers and printing schedules, as well as the frustration which came with the demanding deadlines and limited resources. When the time came for me to move out of the weeklies, I was more than ready to do so.
Still, in retrospect, I'm pleased with the work I did on those weeklies...and with the knowledge that they were very important to the British readers of the day.
My only regret is that I never got the chance to write a new weekly serial for those titles or for any of the homegrown British weeklies. I always wanted to try my hand at that.
Thanks for writing and also for spending part of your weekend with me. I'll be back next weekend with another CBG reprint...and the usual side serving of new material.
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: