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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 Tuesday, January 27, 2004

From COMICS BUYER'S GUIDE #1575:

"I like to be in America!
"O.K. by me in America!
"Ev'rything free in America
"For a small fee in America!"


- Stephen Sondheim, "America" (1957)

Free Comic Book Day 2004 will be coming to a comic book store near you on July 3, 2004, the Saturday following the release of SPIDER-MAN 2: ELECTRO BOOGALOO, which isn't the actual title of the sequel but should be.

I can't say I'm wild about FCBD being tied to a Marvel movie for the third year running, but retailers voted for that date over April 3, following the release of HELLBOY, and May 8, which is, of course, NO SOCKS DAY.

No Socks Day is the invention of Thomas and Ruth Roy. If we don't wear socks on that day, we'll help the environment by doing less laundry and feel a little bit freer. The Roys love to create new holidays and have an entire website devoted to what they call "Wellcat Holidays."

www.wellcat.com

Marvel again getting to be the focal point of FCBD is one of three objections I have to the July 3 date.

The second is that, in my admittedly-out-of-date experience as a comics retailer, the Independence Day weekend was never a great sales weekend. Families did family stuff on the day itself...with the preparation for and traveling to and from pretty much eating up the rest of the weekend. I used to go to the Chicago Comicon every Fourth of July weekend because I knew my store would be taking in less money and, therefore, my trusted employees wouldn't be able to steal as much from me.

My third bone of contention is that I'm bone-weary of the fate of the comics industry being tied to Hollywood, that largely evil empire which sees us mostly as cheap pick-ups earnestly calling out from street corners. I love good movies based on comics as much as the next comics reader, but it's futile to court folks who, after they've had their pleasure from us, will maybe leave a few bucks on the night stand. We should be thinking of ways to make FCBD stand and succeed on its own merits.

Do I have suggestions in that area? Perhaps...but I've got to save something for the next column.

In the meantime, let's return to what I started in my previous thrilling TONY'S ONLINE TIPS, reviewing freebies which were given out on Free Comic Book Day 2003.

I'll be rating the comics on two levels: on the basis of their quality, as I do with the not-free comics I review here weekly, and then on how well they introduce themselves to the neophyte reader and entice him or her into coming back for more.

******

From the moment I heard of it, I really wanted to like CHRISTA SHERMOT'S 100% GUARANTEED HOW-TO MANUAL FOR GETTING ANYONE TO READ COMIC BOOKS from Second 2 Some Studios. It struck me as a clever item for our special day...until I read it.

Great galloping gobs of verbiage! I felt as if I were being buried by dialogue balloons. Huge dialogue balloons and plenty of them. I've enjoyed Myatt Murphy's writing in other comics, but I came THIS close to chewing my eyeballs off so that I could escape as he ponderously made his case as to why representatives of four different groups of people should read comics.

Let me stress again that this comic book is a clever idea gone wrong. Each explanation is followed by a "sample" of the kinds of comics the readers will enjoy, but the brief scenes do not deliver a satisfying enough taste to convince the prospective new customer to order an entire meal.

However, I give props to Murphy for finishing this comic with two pages of "If you like...ask your retailer for..." suggestions, such as "If you like ADULT SWIM, ask your retailer for SHONEN JUMP, INU YASHA, COWBOY BEBOP, or LUPIN III." The small type makes these pages a little difficult to read, but the concept is an excellent one. Points to Murphy for his generous plugs for dozens of comics from other publishers. Yet another reason why I wish I could rate this effort higher.

On our scale of zero to five Tonys:

Quality: One Tony
Tony

Salesmanship: One Tony
Tony

******

Oni's COURTNEY CRUMRIN AND THE NIGHT THINGS FREE COMIC BOOK DAY EDITION was one of the best of the bunch. Creator Ted Naifeh delivered a done-in-one story starring a cool young heroine. The tale was good spooky fun with just enough of a dark edge to entice younger and older readers alike. Quibbler that I am, I would have liked a tad more background, but at no time did I feel lost while reading this comic book.

I also give COURTNEY CRUMRIN solid marks in the salesmanship department. If a new reader enjoys this story, he'll likely want more of COURTNEY CRUMRIN. He might also be sufficiently intrigued by the ads for other Oni Press titles (and editor-in-chief Jamie S. Rich's back-cover comments) to check out those titles. This is an excellent model for FCBD comics.

Quality: Four Tonys
Tony Tony Tony Tony

Salesmanship: Five Tonys
Tony Tony Tony Tony Tony

******

Reading my stack of FCBD comics, I've developed strong notions of what they should be. If they can't give new readers a complete story, then they should, at the very least, give them a satisfying chunk of a story. Avatar's FRANK MILLER'S ROBOCOP/STARGATE SG-1 FCBD EDITION fails to do either.

There are three sections to this issue. Steven Grant, who is adapting the original version of Frank Miller's ROBOCOP 2 screenplay in loving detail, kicks things off with a snappy essay on the how and why of the project. Unfortunately, after Grant gets our interest, all we get are covers, a few random story pages, and a pair of pin-up pages. Where's the beef?

The STARGATE SG-1 section is an essay by writer James Anthony Kuhoric (not as snappy as Grant's essay), a cover, and the first three pages of the first ish. If you're a STARGATE fan, you might want to check out the comic book. As someone who has never watched the movie or the show, I wasn't sold on it.

The SPECIES section is an essay by writer John Layman wherein he tries (with some success) to convince readers of the wonderments to be found in a comic based on a pair of "B" monster movies. This is followed by three covers based on actress Natasha Henstridge's breasts. I was not convinced.

This giveaway preaches to the choir. If you liked the movies and already read comics, you might be interested in these comics. Otherwise, it's just a sales catalog with some admittedly excellent artwork and decently written come-ons.

Quality: Three Tonys
Tony Tony Tony

Salesmanship: Two Tonys
Tony Tony

******

KEENSPACE SPOTLIGHT 2003 was one of two books which arrived in comics shops two weeks AFTER Free Comic Book Day. I'm gonna guess this was a "too many cooks" scenario.

Keenspace [www.keenspace.com] offers free webhosting and site automation to independent cartoonists. Open to everyone who wants to create online comics, it's a division of Keenspot Entertainment, which, in addition to hosting these webcomics, "produces a line of print comic books and other multimedia ventures."

This 80-page KEENSPACE SPOTLIGHT presents sample strips from over thirty such cartoonists. On the plus side, I love the idea of amateur cartoonists and aspiring professionals having a welcome and nurturing resource available to them.

On the minus side, none of the strips featured herein were of sufficient quality to get me to seek out more online. There were a few promising artists, but the writing was cliche-ridden. Lots of throwing of wacky characters together because wouldn't it be fun if you had a zombie in your house. Lots of repeating the same art panel after panel. Lots of catch phrases. Heck, one writer lifted a scene from GHOSTBUSTERS so completely that I wondered if we'd be seeing Dan Akyroyd in the next panel.

From a salesmanship standpoint, KEENSPACE SPOTLIGHT confuses the heck out of me. It's a free comic book publicizing comics you can read for free online. It includes ads for a handful of print collections, but it does a terrible job promoting those. Telling me a book is "the complete collection" of someone's classic strip isn't going to excite me when I've never heard of the strip or its creator. In short, this free comic book seems like a poor use of promotional resources.

Quality: One Tony.
Tony

Salesmanship: One Tony.
Tony

******

The other late FCBD arrival was the 48-page KEENSPOT SPOTLIGHT 2003, likewise from Keenspot Entertainment. The difference between keenspace.com and keenspot.com is that everyone is invited to join the former while the latter is an invitation-only group of online cartoonists, currently numbering around 45. This free comic book reflects that difference as well.

KEENSPOT SPOTLIGHT features an 11-page "Krazy Larry" story by Paul Southworth, 31 one-page samples of other strips, and a handful of ads for print comics. "The Perils of Marriage and Flightless Arctic Birds" could've used some tightening, but it was an amusing, albeit somewhat dark, story.

The single-pages generally had better writing and art than the ones in KEENSPACE SPOTLIGHT, but suffered from being tied to Free Comic Book Day. If the idea was to promote the reading of comics, creating non-representative samples of your strips isn't likely to attract new readers to them. Again, it's preaching to the choir, you're giving potential customers a free comic book which basically tells them it's neat to get free comic books.

"Thanks. I'll see you next year."

On the plus side, there were a half-dozen strips whose art or writing were good enough to make me want to check out their online presentations. One of these weeks I'll report back to you on what I found there.

Quality: Two Tonys.
Tony Tony

Salesmanship: Two Tonys.
Tony Tony

******

I hate to be such a nabob of negativity, but LANDIS #0 from A-Bomb, yet another division of Keenspot Entertainment, was another less-than-successful FCBD offering.

Elisa Landis is human-but-immortal, a pawn in a game between gods. On the plus side, the shades-of-HIGHLANDER premise isn't a bad one and the artwork was first-rate. I'd definitely give LANDIS a flip-through at the comics shop.

On the minus side, the pacing of this giveaway was chaotic and the writing downright leaden. From the very first captions, it was a struggle to read this comic, a difficulty compounded by a story that jumped all over the place with little of the smoothness found in the better episodes of the HIGHLANDER television show. Despite my finding Elisa to be an interesting and sympathetic character, as I found many of the HIGHLANDER characters to be, the writing would keep me from shelling out cash for her comic book.

The final five pages of this comic are a preview of THE GOODS, another A-Bomb title. I thought there were intriguing ideas there, but the LANDIS material so underwhelmed me that I'd be hesitant to give THE GOODS a chance.

One more note on LANDIS. It had multiple covers. Each of the three covers is a nice piece of work, but I'm unclear on the point of doing multiple covers of a giveaway.

TV GUIDE has used multiple covers to sell additional copies of issues to collectors. Comics publishers have generally used them to squeeze a few extra bucks from their diminishing audience. What is the attraction be for a potential customer who is, presumably, a reader and not a collector. Riddle me that.

Quality: Two Tonys.

Tony Tony

Salesmanship: Two Tonys.
Tony Tony

I'll conclude this three-part series on Thursday.

******

ADDENDUM

The above column first appeared in COMICS BUYER'S GUIDE #1575 [January 23, 2004], which shipped January 5. The cover story was "Settlement: Marvel To Reimburse Retailers." Let's see how briefly I can summarize this:

Marvel Comics violated its own terms of sale regarding comics that shipped late or with contents different from those described in sales solicitations. San Francisco retailer Brian Hibbs filed a class-action lawsuit against them. Marvel will settle the suit by issuing credits to retailers. This happy resolution is awaiting the approval of the court, which all parties seem confident will be forthcoming.

The CBG "Question of the Week" was:

Which comics conventions will you attend this year?

My answer is:

Mid-Ohio-Con. It's the 25th anniversary of Roger Price's show and I'll be on hand to help him out. Initially, I said I wouldn't be appearing as a guest, but, if my pal needs me to host a panel or two, I'm not going to turn him down. Likewise, I'm reconsidering my decision not to have an Artists Alley table. I may want a base where I can sign books for my readers, and also meet with potential artistic collaborators. We'll see how it shakes out over the next several months.

Mid-Ohio-Con is almost certainly the only convention I'll be attending this year. However, not being a big believer in "never," I won't absolutely rule out other appearances, unlikely though they may seem at present. If there is any change in my plans, I'll let you know here and in the pages of CBG.

******

2000 AD

2000 AD #1367-1370 (Rebellion; $3.75 each) mark the completion of the British comic weekly's "Autumn Offensive." Of course, from my reader's eye view, this past quarter has seemed more like a full retreat. It hasn't been the weekly's finest hour.

Judge Dredd battles alien butchers in "Meatmonger" by writer John Smith and artist Siku. The six-part tale was fun, if slightly padded, but not Dredd at his best.

"Dead Man Walking," a serial about a brutal prison planet that turns its dead into zombies, had some nifty twists in its closing chapter. Kudos to writer James Stevens and artist Boo Cook for the last-inning save.

"Caballistics, Inc" completed its exploration of the pasts of its demon/ghost/monster-busting personnel, but it didn't make any of them more interesting or likeable.

Super-space-agent "Synnamon" found the cure for the nano-virus threatening Earth. The series had serviceable writing by the team of Colin Clayton and Chris Dows...and serviceable art by Laurence Campbell and Lee Townsend, but it didn't have anything that struck me as either new or exciting.

Mutant vampire "Durham Red" is the last hope for the survival of mankind in her current adventure by writer Dan Abnett and artist Mark Harrison. The serial started out weak, picked up steam in the later chapters, and just kind of stopped in mid-story. It will be concluded next year.

The last two issues of the "Autumn Offensive" saw the return of perennial page-fillers "Tales of Telguuth" and "Future Shocks." This trick never works, the proof being that the best scores I can give 2000 AD #1367-1370 are two Tonys each.

Tony Tony

Next up for 2000 AD is the 100-page PROG 2004, an end-of-the-year special traditionally stuffed to the covers with fine stories and art. I'm looking forward to it.

******

PLAYBOY

I continue to receive PLAYBOY. Apparently, I went for one of the renewal notices magazines send months before your subscription is actually expiring. So, since I paid for it, I figured I'd read the January issue. As is my habit, I jotted down key page numbers on the cover as I did so. Here's what I noted:

"Dear Playboy" ran a letter from the 13th person in the world who believed O.J. Simpson was innocent. I had heard of such folks, but figured they were an urban legend.

Say hello to the BINIKI, an undergarment designed to boost a woman's derriere to "J. Lo-esque prominence." Normally, I wouldn't include a link to an item like this, but the model on the opening page of the Biniki Fashions website looks like Ann "Will Rant For Republicans" Coulter's good twin might look. Check out the model and place your biniki orders at:

www.biniki-fashions.com

PLAYBOY turns 50 this year. So do "15 Playmates, Adam Ant, the Breathalyzer, Brown V. Board of Education, Burger King, color TV broadcasts, Elvis Costello, Godzilla, Marvelous Marvin Hagler, Patty Hearst, successful kidney transplants, LORD OF THE FLIES, Tolkein's THE LORD OF THE RINGS, Michael Moore, nuclear submarines, ON THE WATERFRONT, peanut M&M's, Rowdy Roddy Piper, polio vaccinations, Dennis Quaid, Reddi-wip, Condoleezza Rice, "Rock Around the Clock," Jerry Seinfeld, Al Sharpton, Howard Stern, THE TONIGHT SHOW, John Travolta, Trix, Kathleen Turner, Oprah Winfrey, Yanni, and Pia Zadora."

How many of the above could you identify?

PLAYBOY claimed victory in the sexual revolution in a "Playboy Forum" piece by James R. Petersen. I'd hold off on the party until Bush and his fellow bigots are out of office.

Our own Kevin Smith was one of several movie directors asked to shoot an erotic image for PLAYBOY. He cast his lovely wife Jen as Lois Lane and showed her revealing her super-powerful charms to a guy in a Superman costume. Jeepers, Miss Lane!

The issue also ran an article on "50 Products That Changed the World." I can quibble with a lot of the selections, but not their choice for the top spot: the 1984 Apple Macintosh desktop computer. We wouldn't be here without it.

In the category of things I never thought I'd see advertised in PLAYBOY...the new SPAWN ARMAGEDDON video game. Didn't that Todd McFarlane guy used to do comics?

Okay, that should be enough for me to claim that extra year's worth of PLAYBOY as a business expense.

******

TONY STUFF

Justin, the wondrous webmaster of World Famous Comics, and I have been getting hammered all month long. Just one stupid thing after another. Which is why we skipped several columns this month and why we won't be able to make them up as we had hoped. However, we do seem to be back on track now and you should be getting three TOTs a week (Tuesday/Thursday/Saturday) for the foreseeable future. As opposed to the unknown future which probably holds all sorts of unforeseen horrors and still won't have those personal jet packs we were promised. Darn, darn, darn.

If you like what we've been doing here, please use the PayPal links elsewhere on this page to drop a few bucks on us. The end of 2003 saw yours truly getting stiffed by a few clients and some cash would come in a lot handier than the tax write-offs I'll eventually get from those likely uncollectible debts.

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

Tony Isabella

<< 01/24/2004 | 01/27/2004 | 01/29/2004 >>

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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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