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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 Thursday, January 29, 2004

From COMICS BUYER'S GUIDE #1576:

"Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is I don't know which half."

--attributed to John Wanamaker (1838-1922)

This is the third and concluding column in my look at Free Comic Book Day 2003 and the free comic books given out last year. Last time out, I expressed my dismay that FCBD was tied so closely to movie releases and my feeling that, sooner or later, our special day would have to stand on its own. I have some thoughts on that, but I'll get to them - tease, tease - after I've finished reviewing the free comic books of 2003.

******

LEAVE IT TO CHANCE: THE SERIES (Image Comics) fits my view of what a FCBD comic book should be. Chance Falconer is an absolutely wonderful young heroine to whom readers male and female, young and old, can relate. Who among us hasn't reached for that which others have told us is unattainable? In Chance's case, she is denied her rightful place as the next protector of Devil's Echo because she is female...and she's not about to let that injustice stand.

Writer James Robinson and artist Paul Smith deliver a done-in-one story and it's terrific. If a new comics reader is interested in this type of series, and the success of the Harry Potter novels and movies would make that a fair bet, he or she should be eager to read more issues of LEAVE IT TO CHANCE.

Backing up the lead story are full-page ads showing the range of comics published by Image. This was a good idea, which could've been a great idea with just a line of copy describing each of the featured titles. Yes, it's difficult to sum up a series with but a single line, but, when it comes to FCBD, we may only get the one chance to hook a new comics reader.

I'm reviewing these FCBD comic books on the basis of quality and salesmanship. The latter is defined by how well I believe the giveaways will fulfill their mission of attracting new customers to our industry and new readers to the art form. I'm using my usual scale of zero to five Tonys.

LEAVE IT TO CHANCE scores thus...

Quality: Five Tonys.
Tony Tony Tony Tony Tony

Salesmanship: Four Tonys.
Tony Tony Tony Tony

******

METALLIX #1 (Future Comics) does a decent job introducing the potential new readers to the title feature, but fails to deliver a complete and satisfying story of the "living" metal and the team of humans who wield its power. A cliffhanger may not be the best move on the equivalent of a first date.

The short glimpses of PEACEMAKER, FREEMIND, and DEATHMASK are even less satisfying. The brutality of DEATHMASK bothers me, as it did in its original appearance, because it is presented sans truly meaningful context.

You couldn't ask for better, more accomplished creators than those contributing to this comic: Dick Giordano, David Michelinie, Bob Layton, Ron Lim, Pat Broderick, Terry Austin, Mike Leeke, and Bob McLeod. But this sampler doesn't give the new customer enough information on the featured characters or the universe they share. It doesn't sell itself to that new reader.

Quality: Four Tonys.
Tony Tony Tony Tony

Salesmanship: One Tony.
Tony

******

I love James Kochalka's PEANUTBUTTER & JEREMY from Alternative Comics. It's a charming book that makes me smile and occasionally reminds me of the underrated FOX AND THE CROW comic published by DC back in the dawn of time. The adventures of Peanutbutter (a cat) and Jeremy (a crow) are crafted with deceptive simplicity, a little skinny on content for my usual tastes, but delightful nonetheless. I look forward to new issues.

For FCBD, readers were given PEANUTBUTTER & JEREMY #4, which has a 25-page lead by Kochalka and several single-page PB&J strips by other cartoonists. Not all of the one-pages work, but the issue is fun for all ages. It rates high on quality.

Salesmanship is a trickier proposition. If a new reader likes the issue, he may want to check out other Kochalka works. But this free comic won't do anything for the rest of the Alternative Comics roster. Also, I would have liked to have seen some editorial note of welcome and maybe even explanation herein. Theoretically, FCBD is for newcomers to comics. We do them no insult by assuming they know nothing of us or our efforts.

Quality: Five Tonys.
Tony Tony Tony Tony Tony

Salesmanship: Two Tonys.
Tony Tony

******

ROCKET COMICS: IGNITE #1 (Dark Horse Comics) gave new readers three free stories for the price of none. Keith Giffen's "Syn" is a robot enforcer in a distant future where humans are extinct and the surviving machines seek to "know man." Stuart Moore's "Lone" is a post-apocalyptic gunslinger-for-hire. Tom Peyer's "Go Boy 7" is a youngster who has been bonded with sentient nanoplasm and now defends the march of science from those who would halt it. Three science-fiction stories, two of them complete, all of them of some interest. In fact, having reviewed them previously, I found that I liked them better the second time around.

More of an editorial presence would have been good; again, the FCBD concept is to create new comics customers from readers new to the art form or long gone from it. But I think this anthology does a good job introducing its three features.

Quality: Four Tonys.
Tony Tony Tony Tony

Salesmanship: Four Tonys.
Tony Tony Tony Tony

******

Oni Press offered two FCBD issues last year: COURTNEY CRUMRIN & THE NIGHT THINGS (reviewed last column) and SKINWALKER, the first of four issues. I loved COURTNEY and am equally enamored of this one, an unsettling tale of a F.B.I. profiler exploring a mystery in a forgotten corner of the Bureau's beat.

Writers Nunzio DeFlippis and Christina Weir introduced their characters quickly and competently, moved the action from location to location smoothly, and let the scariness of the situation build slowly but surely. Penciler Brian Hurtt and finisher Arthur Dela Cruz held up their end well, though the artwork did suffer from the latter going too heavy on the grey tones. While not a done-in-one story, it was a satisfying opening to the mini-series.

As with the COURTNEY CRUMRIN book, one editor-in-chief Jamie S. Rich takes a page to address potential new readers and there are full-page ads for other Oni titles. Both are good moves, but, as I said above, I think such ads should be aimed more squarely at the hoped-for new customers.

Quality: Four Tonys.
Tony Tony Tony Tony

Salesmanship: Five Tonys.
Tony Tony Tony Tony Tony

******

SLAVE LABOR STORIES is a sampler of that company's comics and creators...and a mixed bunch they are. Not every strip appealed to me, not every strip was well done, but this book certainly offered a lot of choices for a prospective new reader.

Stories about Free Comic Book Day don't usually work for me. Do their creators think self-referential tales are really the best way to hook new readers. However, Ken Knudtsen's "Damn You, Free Comic Book Day" was a funny installment of his MY MONKEY'S NAME IS JENNIFER that worked despite the self-references.

The most successful of the other samples were by Kerry Callen, Jhonen Vasquez, Scott Saavedra, and Ian Carney and Woodrow Phoenix. The samples which were merely excerpts from longer works generally didn't run long enough to interest me.

In the "good idea" category, the book ends with a three-page catalog of Slave Labor publications. Each offering is accompanied by a helpful explanatory paragraph.

Quality: Three Tonys.
Tony Tony Tony

Salesmanship: Five Tonys.
Tony Tony Tony Tony Tony

******

TRANSFORMERS ARMADA #1 (Dreamwave) was a chore for me to read. It was so badly written I wanted to transform myself into someone not obligated to read it from cover to cover. It's "Take that, you fool!" awful.

My biggest fear is that someone who hasn't read comics before or hasn't read comics in years will read THIS comic and come to the conclusion that comics are as stupid as he's heard or, at best, not nearly as intelligent as he remembers. However...

This FCBD offering does many things right. It has a done-in-one story. The art and production values are good. There are ads for other Dreamwave comics and editorial material which should give a potential new customer a fairly good idea of what the company is publishing. They might even like some of the other titles if they can get past the horrible first impression.

Quality: One Tony.
Tony

Salesmanship: Three Tonys.
Tony Tony Tony

******

A reprint of ULTIMATE X-MEN #1 was Marvel's choice for FCBD, and I can't find fault with it. Folks know the X-Men from movies and cartoons, though they could be thrown by the divergent versions of the mutants starring in this book. The writing is good, even if I'm not wild about how Mark Millar portrays some characters. The Adam Kubert/Art Thibert artwork is pretty spiffy as well.

What doesn't work for me is the plethora of ads for non-comics products in this giveaway and the utter lack of any editorial voice in the book. The former drifts from the stated mission of FCBD and the latter misses an opportunity to acquaint readers with the vast Marvel universe of comic-book titles.

I'm hoping that Marvel, under new management in this new year, will stay on topic with its 2004 FCBD entry. I think the company owes the community that much for tying our special day to a Marvel movie for the third year in a row.

Quality: Four Tonys.
Tony Tony Tony Tony

Salesmanship: Two Tonys.
Tony Tony

******

WALT DISNEY'S DONALD DUCK ADVENTURES was the prize pick among the FCBD giveaways. It reprinted "Maharajah Donald" by Carl Barks, a fast-moving and funny story with a new twist around every turn of the page. Ironically, this classic tale was created for one of the free comic books given out by shoe stores in the 1940s and 1950s. How can you go wrong with a free comic that stars such well-known characters as Donald and his nephews and with a great story by one of the best cartoonists in the history of comics. The issue also contains an editorial acquainting readers with other Disney comics coming from Gemstone Publishing, a subscription ad for the titles, and a two-page Donald Duck gag strip. This comic would have been a bargain if we'd paid for it.

Quality: Five Tonys.
Tony Tony Tony Tony Tony

Salesmanship: Five Tonys.
Tony Tony Tony Tony Tony

******

CrossGen did a nice job with their WAY OF THE RAT FREE COMIC BOOK DAY SPECIAL. It reprints the first issue of the Chuck Dixon martial arts series (drawn by Jeff Johnson and Tom Ryder) and loads up on the special features. The story is great fun and the added material makes it clear that Dixon and company were having as much fun as their readers.

CrossGen didn't go light on the promotional material either. Even a new comics reader would quickly realize how big the company was, how many different kinds of comics it published, and how many different avenues it was pursuing. In fact, all that information may have been too intimidating, giving an erroneous impression that the CrossGen books were difficult to get into when, in fact, they were and are very friendly to the new reader.

Speaking as someone who isn't that new reader, I'm saddened to compare the CrossGen seen here with the company's sadly diminished present circumstances. I hope that, somehow, CrossGen can turn it around in this new year.

Quality: Four Tonys.
Tony Tony Tony Tony

Salesmanship: Four Tonys.
Tony Tony Tony Tony

******

So much for the reviews. On to the future.

Free Comic Book Day needs to stand on its own and one way to begin the process is to stop moving it all over the calendar on the whim of Hollywood producers.

Let's pick a day and stick with that day. My choice would be the original release date of ACTION COMICS #1 in recognition of the publication of Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster's Superman and their creation's pivotal role in turning a novelty item into an honest-to-God industry. You don't get to the stunning achievements of the art form we enjoy in 2004 without recognizing how important Siegel, Shuster, and Superman were to comics.

The immediate benefits of holding Free Comic Book Day on the same date every year is that we can include it on the many comics and comics-related calendars published each year. We can get FCBD listed in CHASE'S CALENDAR OF EVENTS and other similar almanacs and tomes. And we won't have to worry about what happens when there is no big comics movie on the Hollywood schedule.

Once we have our date set, we have an entire year to plan our events and publicity. Many fine comics stores brought in creators, hired actors to portray beloved characters, and lobbied their local news media for coverage of their activities. We need to do a whole lot more of that.

As long as we tie FCBD to a movie, our special day will always be a sidebar to another story. Why should we embrace that kind of second-class citizenry?

Free Comic Book Day should be the story.

Once again, I'd like to thank Earthworld Comics of Albany, New York, and the Game Room of Toledo, Ohio, for their kind assistance in the preparation of this three-column series. Kudos also to Tips reader Alan Coil for his help.

This year's Free Comic Book Day will be held on July 3. I'm looking forward to it.

******

ADDENDUM

Cerebus The above column first appeared in COMICS BUYER'S GUIDE #1576 [January 30, 2004], which shipped January 12. The cover story was "Dave Sim For the Record" and reported on the creator's completion of CEREBUS #300. For the record, that represents 27 years of work, 6,000 pages of comics, and "additional thousands of pages of text on topics ranging from Islam to dating." Whatever anyone may think of the oft-controversial Sim and his talent, this achievement does deserve recognition.

The secondary lead reported that the Los Angeles Film Critics Association picked AMERICAN SPLENDOR as the best picture of 2003. The movie is based on Harvey Pekar's autobiographical comics and on OUR CANCER YEAR, co-written by his wife Joyce Brabner. Sadly, save for a nomination for "best adapted screenplay," the Academy Awards have overlooked AMERICAN SPLENDOR.

******

CBG QUESTION OF THE WEEK

This week's question was:

If you could choose to have one super-power, what would it be? Why

So many possibilities.

The cool powers--flying, invulnerability, super-speed, super-strength, and energy/force beams--didn't seem quite right for me. I'd have to spend half my time practicing how to use them without destroying the neighborhood. Besides, no one of these powers would guarantee my triumph over the greatest menace of our time: the Bush Family Evil Empire and its allies.

Some magical powers appealed to me. The natural equivalent of Wonder Woman's magic lasso would be a world-saver if I could use it on the BFEE and allies. How sweet to imagine those villains forced to tell the truth. Even better, I could have the power to heal the darkness in their souls; they would voluntarily confess to their crimes and spend the rest of their lives making amends. However, humans being the imperfect creatures than we are, would I have the wisdom to know when not to use these powers?

So, instead, going the selfish route, the super-power I would most like to have is the power to create an eighth day of the week, accessible only to me. I could catch up on my reading...get ahead on my work...do all those little odds-and-ends there's never enough time to do...finally organize and catalog my vast accumulations of books and comics...and free up more time to spend with my family during those other seven days of the week.

That's my choice. How about you?

******

COURTNEY CRUMRIN

Ted Naifeh kicks off his third Courtney series with COURTNEY CRUMRIN IN THE TWILIGHT KINGDOM #1 (Oni Press; $2.99). I probably should have waited to read it until I had searched my accumulation of stuff for the first two series, but I had enjoyed the FCBD issue so much that I couldn't resist.

To quote the Oni bulletin page:
COURTNEY CRUMRIN IN THE TWILIGHT KINGDOM takes us further into the Night Thing underworld than Ted has ever taken us before. Courtney needs to escort her fellow classmates deep into the realm of magic and mystery in order to save one of their own. It's an adventure with lots of chills and frights, and another good one for a moody winter evening.
Though the above reads like a pitch for an extended adventure, the first issue of this four-issue series reads like a done-in-one story. In its 28 pages, the tale introduces its cast, then sets up a trio of situations--Courtney's parents trying to sell their house in their old neighborhood, Courtney's estrangement from a friend, Courtney's trying to help her friend with a family problem--and brings them to satisfying conclusions. If this is also the set-up for a longer story, I'm even more impressed with Naifeh than I was already. He's bringing his "A" game to this comic.

COURTNEY CRUMRIN IN THE TWILIGHT KINGDOM #1 gets four Tonys. I suspect my opinion of this series will only go up when I finally track down and read those earlier issues.

Tony Tony Tony Tony

******

TONY STUFF

My first TONY'S ONLINE TIPS of this new year announced a trio of monthly challenges. The winner of each challenge would receive a prize package containing not less than $100 worth of comic books and other items. Much to my disappointment, only a handful of you have participated in these challenges.

All is not lost for those of you who have sat on the sidelines while more adventurous readers took up these figurative gauntlets. Though the sands of January are running out quickly, you still have three days left in which to strive for the prizes.

Do you possess the keen insight and inspired vision to suggest that which will CHANGE MY LIFE?

Can you suggest entertainment to ROCK MY WORLD?

Have you the copious free time and misplaced passion to SPREAD THE WORD about this column and all things Tony?

If you do, great glory and goodies could be yours!

You'll find the details of these three challenges in my TONY'S ONLINE TIPS for January 1:

www.worldfamouscomics.com/tony/back20040101.shtml

I'm counting on you.

Thanks for spending part of your day with me. I'll be back on Saturday with an all-new column.

Tony Isabella

<< 01/27/2004 | 01/29/2004 | 02/07/2004 >>

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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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