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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, November 22, 2003

From COMICS BUYER'S GUIDE #1565:

"Properly, we should read for power. Man reading should be man intensely alive. The book should be a ball of light in one's hand."

--Ezra Pound

When I review comic books and other works here, I rate them on a scale of zero to five Tonys. Besides giving me a chance to paste my smiling disembodied face all over these pages, this caricature is also meant to emphasize the personal nature of my reviews, and, for that matter, those of other critics.

We all champion good writing and good art, but we clearly do not all agree on what is good writing and good art, or even their relative importance to the works we review. As my veteran readers know, I'm more a story guy than an art guy. The next critic over might lean in the opposite direction.

I like the human touch. For me, the most spectacular epic in the world falls short if I don't care about its players. For some, the spectacle and the vastness are the story.

I like all kinds of comics. Some critics only like super-hero or other fantastic adventure comics. Others disdain any works that feature these elements. The best of us try to make our prejudices known within our reviews, the better for readers to judge whether or not they themselves will enjoy what we review.

I was surprised recently when a friend of mine told me that he didn't consider "three Tonys" to be a positive rating, this despite my common prefacing of that very rating with phases like "perfectly respectable." He believed the rating to represent 3/5 of a perfect score, or only 60% of a possible 100%...and he considered that to be a failing grade. I didn't see it that way, but I do appreciate his viewpoint.

I don't write reviews for creators or their publishers, though many have written thanking me for reviews of their works, favorable or not. I write them for my readers and I think this rating system is clear within the context of my reviews.

However, since I don't want even one reader to misunderstand what those lovable floating heads stand for, I have prepared this handy guide to my ratings. I just hope all these extra Tony heads don't put too serious a dent in CBG's budget.

ZERO TONYS: Burn your money before buying a comic that gets this rating. It doesn't necessarily mean that there is absolutely nothing of value here, but whatever value it might possess shrinks into insignificance before its overall awfulness.

No Tonys

ONE TONY: Buy something else. I found some element within the item that wasn't completely dreadful, but it wasn't within a parsec of being enough for me to recommend it when there are dozens upon dozens of better comics available.

Tony

TWO TONYS: This is your judgment call. I found some things of value, but not enough to recommend the item. Hopefully, my review gives you enough information to decide whether or not you want to take a chance on this item.

Tony Tony

THREE TONYS: Like I said earlier, this rating denotes a comic I find "perfectly respectable." Yes, there are better comic books out there, but I wouldn't regret buying this one. Again, based on the details in the review, you should be able to determine if this item would be of interest to you.

Tony Tony Tony

FOUR TONYS: I absolutely recommend any comic which earns this rating. Unless you just don't like the genre or subject matter, or the past work of the creators, I believe you will enjoy this item. Check it out.

Tony Tony Tony Tony

FIVE TONYS: Any comic book which gets this rating is among the very best the industry has to offer. From where I sit, your comics reading wouldn't be complete without it, even if said item's genre or subject matter doesn't particularly appeal to you. I strongly urge you to buy this book.

Tony Tony Tony Tony Tony

SIX TONYS: This off-the-chart rarely-given rating is reserved only for a comic or other work I consider required reading, either by virtue of undeniable artistry in story and illustration, or the indispensable information and insights it provides students of the art form. I live for comics and books this good.

Tony Tony Tony Tony Tony Tony

I always try to call them as I see them. Hopefully, the above chart gives you an idea of HOW I see them.

******

Craig Thompson's BLANKETS (Top Shelf; $29.95) is certainly an ambitious work, a nearly 600-page graphic novel of family and first love and also of surviving family and first love. It tells a human story in epic detail, retaining the heart of the story throughout. I'm impressed by Thompson's ability to maintain his emotional focus for hundreds of pages, but mere endurance would be a poor standard on which to judge a work which offers so much more.

Protagonist Craig and his younger brother Phil are raised by loving parents of limited emotional and material means. It seemed the parents clung to their religion and their strict interpretation thereof, rather than feeling any joy, getting any fulfillment, or taking any comfort from it. It blinds them to the needs of their children and the conflicts and dangers they face.

Craig's struggles with his religious beliefs are a key element in BLANKETS. He has difficulty reconciling the calls of his heart and soul with the lessons he is taught, often abandoning that which he loves in a misguided application of those lessons. However, his primary challenge is the universal challenge: finding one's way in a world we must make for ourselves.

Craig meets his first love at a Bible camp, something magical in a mind-numbing, soul-numbing situation. Their subsequent long-distance romance strengthens the magic for him. In their exchanges of countless letters and packages, the teenager sees the sharing of their spirits. When arrangements are made for Craig to visit with her and her family...

Nah. That's all the summary you get from me here. At thirty bucks for BLANKETS, you deserve to discover what happens next on a first-hand basis.

What I will tell you is that Thompson is a great storyteller. He ties the reader to Craig in the earliest pages of this novel and keeps us interested in the kid's life. Without the special effects of adventure fiction, he crafts a genuine page-turner of a comic. I didn't have the opportunity to read BLANKETS in one sitting, but, had family responsibilities not taken precedence, I certainly would have. Once my children were safely nestled in slumber, I returned to the book, didn't put it down until I had finished it, and didn't stop thinking about it for a long while afterwards.

BLANKETS isn't perfect. Reading through a second time, I get the feeling there should be another chapter or two between the end of Craig's visit with his girlfriend and the final chapter of the novel, even though I can see why Thompson might have decided to cut to the chase. Still, this perceived flaw doesn't loom as large in my thoughts as one particular scene.

It's a scene in which a parent discovers something about the parent's child. The look on the parent's face is still haunting me days later. I know what lies behind that look and I wonder what I would feel in that situation.

The greatest strength of BLANKETS is that connection Thompson forges between its characters and its readers. The more I consider the novel, the more I like it...and that's why it picks up five out of five Tonys.

Tony Tony Tony Tony Tony

Kudos are also extended to Top Shelf. Even given the success of Thompson's GOOD-BYE CHUNKY RICE (1999), it was courageous for a small publisher to take on the financial risk of publishing such a weighty tome. If you would like to see what else Top Shelf has to offer, visit their website at:

www.topshelfcomix.com

******

Arlen Schumer's THE SILVER AGE OF COMIC BOOK ART (Collectors Press; $29.95) should not be read at one sitting. A "coffee-table book" examining the impact of several artists on the comics of the 1960s and beyond, it is best savored a chapter at a time. Between chapters, if you're anything like me, you'll have the irresistible urge to grab a pile of comics by Carmine Infantino or Steve Ditko or any of the other featured artists and lose yourself in a joyous world of nostalgic wonderment.

Schumer juggles several roles. He is a comics historian who regularly lectures at museum and universities. He is also half of Dynamic Duo Studios, a firm which often uses comics images in for magazines and advertising campaigns. He's as big a comics fan as any of us.

In THE SILVER AGE OF COMIC BOOK ART, Schumer examines the work of Infantino, Ditko, Jack Kirby, Gil Kane, Joe Kubert, Gene Colan, Steranko, and Neal Adams, splashing their work across bold spreads that attempt to rival in design the grandeur and power the artists achieved in their comics. On occasion, I felt the designs made the copy a bit difficult to read - a few places where the backgrounds behind the words were a tad too dark or where the eye had to pause to decide what block of copy to read next - but I'm notoriously and gleefully picky when it comes to form over content. I probably had an unhappy love affair with a designer in my misspent youth. Think no more of my minor quibble in regards to Schumer's book.

THE SILVER AGE is a book made to be studied intently. Schumer includes the artists' comments on the thinking that went into their artistic decisions, and shares his own insights into their work as well. As much as I already admired the artists showcased herein, my admiration grew with each new discovery of the whys and the hows of their work.

Any fans who read Schumer's book should come away from it with a greater appreciation of the comics art form. Any professionals who read it should come away from it inspired by the possibilities which can be explored in their own work.

THE SILVER AGE OF COMIC BOOK ART deserves the full five Tonys. Not only does it belong in your personal comics libraries - not to mention public and school libraries - but I think it would make one heck of a terrific gift for the comics fans in your lives. If you really love them - oh, Sainted Wife Barbara - spring for the deluxe hardcover edition ($49.95) with its 16 additional pages and silver metal jacket.

Tony Tony Tony Tony Tony

www.collectorspress.com

******

It's with sadness that I report the retirement from the comics industry of Bob "Answer Man" Rozakis. My pal wrote hundreds, maybe even thousands of stories for DC Comics, including the critically-acclaimed SUPERMAN: THE SECRET YEARS mini-series and 'MAZING MAN, the series he created with artist Stephen DeStefano. Additionally, as DC's ace production manager, he was instrumental in bringing new printing and production advances to its vast range of publications, all while establishing a reputation for quality control that has yet to be equaled since his departure.

Since leaving DC, while working full-time as an accountant and part-time as a creative writing teacher, Rozakis, whose knowledge of all things comics had earned him his "Answer Man" title, wrote a weekly trivia columns for the Silver Bullet Comics website and a daily trivia contest for World Famous Comics.

At the end of his "It's Bob Ro, the Answer Man" column for the week of October 25, a reader asked Bob if he liked his job and he responded thus:
Yes, I do - 46 weeks a year as an accountant and six weeks as a writing teacher make for a happy life.

Now that it has been five years since I left DC Comics after more than twenty-five years on staff, I am officially closing the door on my career in the comic book business. No farewell tour like my old pal Tony Isabella, no retirement dinner, no parade. Just time to turn out the lights and go home.

This is my 183rd column for Silver Bullet Comics...three and a half years' worth and somewhere in the neighborhood of 300,000 words. During that time, you've allowed me to share my opinions, tell some stories about life in the comic book business, and, mostly, return to being the Answer Man. It's been a lot of fun. (All of the columns will remain archived and available here for the foreseeable future, by the way.)

Thanks to Jason Brice for inviting me to join the crew here. Thanks to my official unofficial researcher (and pinch-hitting columnist) John Wells for bringing his pile of information along to help me out. Thanks also to my various pals in the biz - Bob Greenberger, Len Wein, Rick Taylor, and Kurt Busiek, to mention a few - and outside it - Bob Buethe, Howard Margolin and Tom Galloway come to mind - for your remarkable memories and able assistance.

Most of all, thanks to all of you who came here each week to peruse my writing. I wish you health, happiness and wisdom... and may we all meet again sometime.

-- Bob Rozakis

"Be always displeased with what you are if you desire to be what you are not. Always add, always walk, always proceed. Neither stand still nor go back nor deviate." - St. Augustine
You can read Bob's archives columns at:

www.silverbulletcomicbooks.com/bobro

Bob's retirement is the comics industry's loss. I hope he'll forgive me if I hope for a happy surprise twist before this story reaches its final panel.

Being far less classy than Bob, I plan on going out as loudly as possible at the final stop of my Official Tony Isabella Farewell Tour, which will be Mid-Ohio-Con, November 29 and 30, at the lovely Hilton Columbus at Easton Town Center in Columbus, Ohio. To check out the fabulous guest list, go to:

www.midohiocon.com

I hope to see you at the convention because it just wouldn't be a party without out you.

******

ADDENDUM

The above column first appeared in COMICS BUYER'S GUIDE #1565 [November 14, 2003], which shipped October 27. The lead story was CROSSGEN GOES AHEAD WITH 2004 PLANS, a story which seems to change every day and not for the best. My good thoughts go out to all of the creators and staff who have suffered as a result of CrossGen's diminished fortunes. I hope they find meaningful work in or out of the comics industry.

******

CBG QUESTION OF THE WEEK

CBG #1565's question of the week was: "What are you thankful for in comic books today?"

I'm thankful that there still are comic books being published today, though I wish that they were priced more competitively and selling better.

I'm thankful that some creators I admire (including some of my friends) are still able to earn a living in comics today, though I wish that could also be said of more creators and more of my comics industry buddies.

I'm thankful for the wide range of comic books available to me and other readers, though, again, I wish the truly special comics were selling better.

I'm thankful for my own readers...and for the many readers who have become friends as well.

If I go on any further, this will sound like a victory speech and, sadly, I haven't won anything recently.

How would you answer this question?

******

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY for November 28 listed the mag's choices for "The 50 Greatest Tearjerkers Of All Time." Only two animated features made the EW list: BAMBI (at #2) and THE IRON GIANT (#37). The top ten were:

1. Terms of Endearment

2. Bambi

3. Sophie's Choice

4. An Affair to Remember

5. It's a Wonderful Life

6. Longtime Companion

7. Brian's Song

8. E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial

9. Ghost

10. Field of Dreams

What movie gets me all misty? It's the closing scene in IT'S ALWAYS FAIR WEATHER, my favorite movie.

Three ex-G.I. Joes, home from World War II, make a solemn vow to meet again at their favorite New York City ten years later. In those years, their lives take surprising and disappointing turns. When they meet again, their unhappiness with their own situations makes for a chilly reunion. But, by the end of the film, they have rediscovered their friendship and set their lives back on the right track. All this and a brawl that could have been choreographed by Jack Kirby. Boy, do I love this picture!

******

TONY'S ONLINE TIPS

For the past few years, in addition to the CBG reprints-plus presented here, I have also been writing all-new columns for Norman Barth's PERPETUAL COMICS. Some crossed signals seem to be resulted in my farewell column not yet being posted at that website, but I didn't want another day to go by without my thanking Norman for his generous support of my efforts.

Here's that farewell column:
Right to the point. This is the last PERPETUAL COMICS edition of TONY'S ONLINE TIPS.

Goodbye, farewell, and amen...

Except that it really isn't GOODBYE. After spending a couple of years benefitting from my host Norman Barth's generosity, I am moving TOT back to its old home at WORLD FAMOUS COMICS.

There are many factors involved in this decision. Norman had never planned to feature content on this website, whose purpose has always been to provide comics fans with a dependable and economical way to get their goodies by mail. I was feeling a bit disconnected from my columns, what with new columns appearing here and my COMICS BUYER'S GUIDE reprints and message board appearing at World Famous. It seemed like the right time to make this move.

It isn't really FAREWELL either. I'll always be grateful to Norman for coming to the financial aid of TOT when I needed it the most. He's a TOT hero for life. Besides, those of my readers who signed up with Perpetual have nothing but great things to say about Norman's service; I expect they will continue to benefit from this first-class operation.

AMEN is always appropriate. Norman stuck with me through the various health problems which necessitated several extended leaves of absence with never a word of complaint. Maybe not exactly the answer to all my prayers, but a Godsend during my road to recovery. I leave Perpetual Comics healthier and more ornery than I was when I came here. Thank you, Norman.

If you've been following me around the Internet for lo, these many years, I hope you'll follow me again to WORLD FAMOUS COMICS. My CBG columns (with new material added) have been running there on weekends during my time here at Perpetual. Commencing on Tuesday, December 2 - and every Tuesday and Thursday after that - they'll be joined by two all-new columns each week. That will be the schedule through the end of 2003.

What will happen in 2004? Let's just say I might have a few more surprises for you. You can find out about them by visiting me regularly at:

http://www.worldfamouscomics.com/tony/

Thanks to all of you who have made TOT part of your Internet journeys. I'll see you tomorrow at the new/old digs.
If you're looking for a dependable online retailer, I'm sure PERPETUAL COMICS will more than meet your needs. You can visit the store's website at:

www.perpetualcomics.com

******

MORE TONY STUFF

Three closing plugs and then I'm out of here.

The first is for MID-OHIO-CON, my very favorite comics and pop culture convention. It's next Saturday and Sunday at the Hilton Columbus at Easton Town Center in Columbus, Ohio. I'll be there on both days and so will over a hundred other guests from the worlds of comics and pop culture. For details, go to:

www.midohiocon.com

The second is for STAR TREK: THE CASE OF THE COLONIST'S CORPSE (A SAM COGLEY MYSTERY) by Bob Ingersoll and yours truly. The novel stars the attorney who defended Captain Kirk when he faced a court-martial during the original Trek's first series. In fact, Kirk and the Enterprise crew barely appear in the book.

CORPSE is scheduled for a January release, which means that it could show up in stores as early as the end of December. If this book does well, there's an excellent chance Bob and I will get to write more Cogley mysteries. We'd like that.

If you would like to order the book online AND support World Famous Comics at the same time, use this link:

http://www.actionismyreward.com/item-0743464974.shtml

The third plug is for the very website you are now enjoying. Elsewhere on this page, you'll find a "Tip the Tipster" link. You can use it to make a donation which will help keep this column up and running. Show up some love.

Thanks for spending a part of your weekend with me. I'll be back next weekend with more stuff.

Tony Isabella

<< 11/15/2003 | 11/22/2003 | 11/29/2003 >>

Discuss this column with me at my Message Board. Also, read Heroes and Villains: Real and Imagined and view my Amazon Wish List.

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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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