"Do what you feel in your heart to be right--for you'll be criticized anyway. You'll be damned if you do, and damned if you don't."
- Eleanor Roosevelt
The not-at-all surprising results are in.
Even casual readers of "Tony's Tips" know I rate comics on a scale of zero to five Tonys, which allows me to plaster those cute little floating Tony-heads all over this column. I asked you - via my online "Tony Polls" page - to vote on whether I should continue this practice or drop the ratings from my reviews.
90% of the voters wanted me to keep the Tonys. 10% wanted me to drop them. One strange person inquired about the possibility of manufacturing plush Tony-heads so my legions of fans would be able to hold me through the night and to that person I say, "It's simply not meant to be, Condoleezza."
This is probably as good a time as any to state or re-state my review policies, such as they are. I think most of them are fairly obvious, but, then again, I'm given to wild assumptions.
You have a better chance of getting your work reviewed here if you send it to me.
I flirted with making that a requirement, but changed my mind in the face of reader disappointment that I would not be covering at least one major publisher.
Sending me your work doesn't guarantee a review.
I can't read and review everything that is sent to me. Doing so wouldn't leave me time to write "Tips" or, for that matter, go to the restroom, though some have expressed their conviction that those are pretty much the same thing.
I don't write reviews for the creators or publishers who send me review copies.
My aim is two-fold: to entertain my readers and inform them of comics and other items they might enjoy or should be warned away from. If the creators or publishers gain benefit from my reviews, that's a bonus for them.
I try to make my possible prejudices known.
I know and like so many people in the comics industry I'd have to build a "my friend" macro if I mentioned this fact every time I review a work by such people. I do this when the relationship is particularly close one, but, if you want to assume I like everyone whose work I review, you'll be right more often than wrong.
I don't respond to letters from creators who take exception to my reviews of their works.
That would be as much a waste of time as, say, their writing to me in the first place. Learning of an error of fact in a review might get me to rethink the review, but I wouldn't be writing this column if I weren't confident in my picks and my pans.
I'm not going to critique your work beyond what I've written in my reviews.
Every now and then, a creator will complain my review didn't contain sufficient details on what I didn't like about his work or explain how he could better his work. That's neither my job nor my inclination. In the past, I've worked as an editor, a consultant, and a teacher, but that's not what I do here.
I don't respond to peer pressure.
Every other reviewer loved your work? Good for you. Doesn't change my review.
I take this column seriously, myself less so.
At the end of the day, I'm one reader - albeit one incredibly charming, handsome, talented reader - expressing his thoughts about whatever I reviewed that day. These reviews ain't no how carved in stone. You are free to make up your own minds about the works and, indeed, I encourage you to do so.
Those are my standard operating philosophies. You can see how they apply to this week's reviews while I go check the springs on my new Tony Isabella bobble-head dolls.
DICK GIORDANO: CHANGING COMICS, ONE DAY AT A TIME by Michael Eury (Two Morrows; $19.95) examines not just a life in comic books, but a life in comic books spent uncommonly well. Giordano has made notable and even vital contributions to comics art and the comics industry, and has done this while adhering to standards of conduct, professional and personal, higher than almost any other executive, editor, or creator I could name.
Eury crafts an astute and authoritative overview of Giordano's life and career. He shows us the events which created the man and how the man created a surprisingly unified approach to his life and his work. It's a downright inspirational book, enlivened by many pages of Giordano art, some of it never seen before; informed by its subject's observations; bolstered by tributes from other comics creators; and made complete by an extensive checklist of Giordano's work. TwoMorrows is to be applauded for this and the other comics biographies it publishes.
DICK GIORDANO: CHANGING COMICS, ONE DAY AT A TIME deserves and receives the full five out of five Tonys.
BLACKSAD (ibooks; $12.95) boasts an enraptured introduction by Steranko as well as cover quotes from Neal Adams, Will Eisner, Joe Kubert, and Stan Lee, all praising the artistry of Juanjo Guarnido while mostly ignoring the contribution of writer Juan Diaz Canales. That's why you need little me to add his recommendation to those of the industry legends.
John Blacksad walks the mean streets of a New York populated by people whose animal natures are not hidden. Eisner calls this "anthropomorphic realism," but I think "representational realism" is more on the mark. You can reveal a patient opportunist by his ever-watching eyes as he waits for his moment...or you can give him the head of a snake. Either does the storytelling job. The latter adds an additional layer to the tale's atmosphere.
It's easy to see why Guarnido's art commands the lion's share of a reader's attention. Once you get past the cover of the feline Blacksad protecting a sultry cat-woman, his drawings carry you so completely in the story that the introductions of other animalistic characters barely give you pause. His expert staging and attention to real-world detail complete the sweet captivity.
In this debut tale, private eye John Blacksad investigates the murder of a former lover, a renowned actress with a roving eye and a hunger for more than fame. It's a case powerful forces prefer no one solve, and its resolution changes the lives of Blacksad and his unexpected ally.
Canales lifts BLACKSAD above mere Hollywood noir through his exemplary characterization. The elements of decisions made and the consequences thereof inform the characters; they add substance to Guarnido's considerable style.
BLACKSAD picks up four out of five Tonys. I'm looking forward to see more of the character in the near future.
I was heading for the door to pick up my daughter from school, knowing I'd be sitting in the parking lot for a half hour or more. I grabbed Neal Shaffer's LAST EXIT BEFORE TOLL (Oni Press; $9.95) because the title and the misty truck stop sign on the cover caught my eye when I decided I'd need something to read. I'm grateful for that sudden impulse.
Charles Pierce is a successful man with a loving family, but, there's a lack of completeness to his life. His car breaks down on a business trip and he's stranded in a rural town without a name. What he finds, what he learns, in a place many would consider the very epitome of nowhere, is the soul of Shaffer's tale.
You won't find a sense of menace or even urgency in LAST EXIT. There is nothing of the supernatural here, though there is a sense of an America that, if it still exists, does so beyond the limits of our group consciousness recollection. Life-altering decisions are made so matter-of-factly that it takes a while for Pierce and the reader to realize they have been made at all. The story flows; it doesn't so much end as come to the point where it makes sense to pull the boat from the river and reflect on the journey.
Shaffer is the star here, shining with great characters and a great ear for dialogue, but penciler Christopher Mitten brings the characters to visual life and frames their conversations in a very real setting. I was also impressed by the digital tones added to the pencils by Dawn Pietrusko; they are effective without drawing much attention to themselves, completely in service of the story. In contrast to the oft-garish and overblown computer coloring that plagues the comics industry, the black-and-white LAST EXIT creates a believable and even poignant reality.
LAST EXIT BEFORE TOLL seems to be a late entry for the various 2003 comics awards, but it's a most worthy one. It earns the full five out of five Tonys.
Aneurin Wright's LEX TALIONIS: A JUNGLE TALE (Image; $5.95) is a lovingly-crafted 48-page comic presented in a horizontal format. It's a truly sensational looking book about gorillas, the evil men do, and the ultimate cost of that evil. I can't imagine any comics fan not being impressed by its design, the storytelling, the art, and the unusual-but-effective coloring. The only things that keeps me from giving it a rave review are that the actual story is both predictable and way too thin for six bucks.
An Al Feldstein or Will Eisner would have told this story in eight pages or less. Joe Orlando, as an editor of HOUSE OF MYSTERY in the late 1960s/early 1970s, would have allowed it to run twelve pages, but would have gotten a Bernie Wrightson or an Alex Toth to draw it. Steranko would have pulled all sorts of cinematic tricks out of his incredible bag of them and gotten a breathtaking twenty pages from the plot. But 48 pages, even 48 horizontal pages of one to six panels each, puts style before substance. That trick never works with me.
Wright is an amazing talent. I can't wait to see what he does next. Sadly, the predictable plot, the thinness of the story, and the excessive price dooms his LEX TALIONIS to a most disappointing two-and-a-half Tonys.
One of the smartest things I ever did was establish my eight-page rule for reviewing comic books. I would give any comic eight pages. If, within those eight pages, it couldn't show me something of value - an intriguing character, a clever bit of dialogue, some fascinating situation - I wouldn't proceed to the ninth page of the comic book. Smart, huh?
One of the dumbest things I have ever done was to ignore that eight-page rule in the recent past. No more...and I have LEGACY OF KAIN: DEFIANCE #1 (Top Cow/Image; $2.99) to thank for this renewed commitment to the eight-page rule.
LEGACY is a prelude to a video game and, apparently, a boring and violent video game at that. In the first six pages, blood is splattered, limbs are removed, and a heart is snacked on while some grinning monster sadistically taunts the human soldiers who try to fight him. Pages seven and eight are a double-page spread wherein 14 captions begin to tell the monster's history. When I saw that double-page spread was followed by four more, my faith in my eight-page rule was restored. Life is too short.
Just for the record, the eight pages I read were badly-written with mediocre artwork and muddy computer coloring. The monster was not interesting, nor were the humans he slaughtered.
Top Cow and Eidos (the game's manufacturer) have some ongoing business relationship, which explains why the former did this comic book. But it doesn't explain why anyone would spend three bucks to own it or even ten minutes to read it in the comic shop.
The issue also contains a five-page preview of CURSED, which is also uninteresting. I'm thinking someone's unsold horror movie script finally found a home. Yawn.
Eight pages or else. It might not be the law, but it surely makes good sense.
The above column first appeared in COMICS BUYER'S GUIDE #1577 [February 6, 2004], which shipped January 20. The cover story was "Private Feedback" and it led into an interior and rare six pages of coverage of some eBay services:
eBay offers dealers the chance not only to run "Private Auctions" - in which the "handles" of the bidders are hidden from view - but also to maintain "Private Feedback." With it, both the identities and the comments of the people giving feedback are unavailable. Private Feedback thus results in buyers having less information about who they're dealing with than in most other eBay transactions - which troubles some.
I was impressed by CBG's coverage of this matter. In case you were wondering, I loathe private auctions and feedback and will not do business with eBay sellers who use them.
Although CBG doesn't keep a permanent online archive of its contents - each issue is available online to subscribers until the next issue is shipped - I hope the newspaper considers making this coverage available to the general public on a permanent and updated basis. It's an important story.
Kudos to all the CBG/Krause Publications staffers who worked on these stories. They did a terrific job.
CBG QUESTION OF THE WEEK
In this issue, CBG asked: What's the best eBay experience you've ever had?
I can't think of any one eBay experience that I would single out as best, but there are things which happen routinely and which delight me every time they do.
1. Getting something extra. Example: I won an auction for an issue of HERBIE. The seller included another issue of HERBIE with my purchase. Free of charge.
2. Items that arrive in better condition than I had expected. I consider myself a strict grader, but there are sellers who make me look positively generous.
3. Sellers who figure out that "tonyisa" is "Tony Isabella", and include nice comments about my work. That little "egoboo" can make my day on occasion.
I enjoy bidding on eBay. My Christmas present to myself was a "shopping spree" of sorts and I ended up with several strange and wonderful old comics. Sometime soon, I hope to write a column or two on these sequential art antiquities.
I also enjoy selling on eBay, though I haven't done that in a couple of years. I hope to resume selling online soon. I'll let you know when my auctions start posting.
If you have your own "best eBay stories," please feel free to share them on my message board. I'd enjoy reading them; I bet the posters who frequent the board would enjoy them, too.
This is more of a public service announcement than an actual review of ALTER EGO #32 (TwoMorrows; $5.95), the current issue of the best comics fanzine being published today. Editor Roy Thomas and comics historians like Dr. Michael J. Vassallo and Jim Amash do an outstanding service to our beloved art form by tracking down and interviewing the unjustly forgotten creators of the past. In this issue, their subjects are Golden Age artists Allen Bellman and Sam Burlockoff, boyhood friends who were recently reunited as a result of these interviews.
Though the interviews fill nigh-half of A/E's 100-plus pages, the magazine contains many other fascinating features: Blake Bell's chat with Green Lantern creator Martin Nodell on his years in the Timely Comics bullpen; former DC/First editor Mike Gold on the 1959 changes at DC which ushered in the Silver Age; Alberto Beccantini and Jim Vadeboncouer Jr. on an unknown-until-now Italian artist who worked on the Fiction House titles of the 1940s; and several other articles and columns to boot.
Whenever a new issue of A/E arrives at my house, it goes right to the top of my reading pile. If this were a review, I would be awarding A/E #32 five Tonys right about now. But, it's not. It's a public service announcement that yet another issue of a comicdom treasure is available at your friendly neighbor comics shop. Don't keep it waiting.
It's a new month and that means it's time to start the second round of my TONY'S ONLINE TIPS challenges. Here's the basic drill, cribbed from an earlier column:
CHANGE MY LIFE
I'm eager to experience new things in this new year. If you have been reading TOT for a while, you probably have a fairly good idea who I am, how I live, what I've done. This first challenge gives you a chance to change all that...if you can make your case in 100 words or less.
Recommend I try something you don't think I've tried before. It can be an activity, a book, a food, a movie, a piece of music, a website, or just about anything you can imagine. Do your best to convince me to try it in 100 words or less.
Every month, the most convincing entry will win its author a prize package of stuff that will have a combined cover price of no less than $100. It could be comic books or books or video tapes or gewgaws or any combination of the above, but, whatever it is, it'll be a box full of fun.
In addition to this physical reward, you'll be bursting with pride when I run your winning entry in TOT. Every other kid on the virtual block will be green with envy.
In addition to the physical reward AND the attendant bragging rights, you'll have the satisfaction of getting me to try something new and then reporting on the experience here. However, I caution you that I won't do that which is illegal, immoral, or physically impossible. You're free to suggest such things and, if you do so in a clever enough manner, you might still win the monthly prize. But don't expect me to run off to Vegas and marry Britney Spears on your say-so. The poor girl has suffered enough.
You must E-MAIL your entry to me at:
Each monthly challenge ends on midnight the last day of each month. The winner will be announced in the next available edition of TONY'S ONLINE TIPS.
The February competition is now open.
ROCK MY WORLD
The second monthly challenge is much like the first. However, instead of asking you to recommend something you believe I haven't yet experienced, this asks you to recommend something which, based on your understanding of my column-expressed pleasures, you think I'll love. Something you think I might have overlooked. Something I haven't gotten around to yet. Something similar to other things I've reviewed favorably here.
The deal is the same as in my first challenge. Make your case in 100 words or less. Send me your entry via e-mail. Every month, I'll print the winning response in TOT and send you a prize package of items worth at least $100. It's your second chance to win fame and fortune. Gives you chills, doesn't it?
My dream is for 2004 to be the prelude for "the Tony Isabella fifteen minutes of global fame," which I have tentatively scheduled for 6:43-6:58 pm on Saturday, January 1, 2005. Most of you should be over your New Year's Eve hangovers by then.
The winners of our monthly "Spread the Word" challenge will be those Tony Isabella fans who have most distinguished themselves in the area of making me famous. In a slow month, maybe they plugged this column or my other work online. In a more competitive month, maybe they took their lottery winnings and agreed to finance 2005's "Official Tony Isabella Comeback Tour." The possibilities are as limitless as their imaginations.
Spread the word.
Make me a star.
Whatever it takes.
Okay, make that whatever it takes that won't land me or you in a courtroom, operating room, jail cell, or morgue.
Go crazy. Just not *too* crazy.
Every month, I'll award yet another $100 prize package to the Isabella-fan who has most distinguished himself or herself in this regard. The winners of this challenge won't necessarily have sent me an e-mail extolling their efforts on my behalf - I'll be keeping an eye on you - but such an e-mail could be the determining factor in selecting the winner.
This February challenge has already begun.
Get to work already.
You want to know about the JANUARY winners, don't you. Hey, do you think I can make such momentous decisions overnight? The choosing of the victors and the awarding of the prizes takes time. I have to weigh each entry carefully, which is to say, I actually have to read them.
I'm just kidding. I have read them and I'm going to announce the winner of the January SPREAD THE WORD challenge in the Tuesday edition of TOT. The suspense is electrifying.
Either that or I spilled Pepsi on the computer again.
Next week, I'll also be running the entries of the finalists in the CHANGE MY LIFE and ROCK MY WORLD challenges. Those winners will be named the following week.
I may have even tried some of the things you suggested and, if I have, I'll be reporting on those as well.
All this plus my usual news, views, and reviews from the world of comics and beyond. Can all this excitement possibly be good for a man of my advanced years?
Okay, now that I've gotten my hype on, let me thank you again for spending part of your weekend with me. I'll be back on Tuesday with the afore-mentioned stuff and more.
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: