"Two cheers for Democracy: one because it admits variety and two because it permits criticism."
- E.M. Forster (1879-1970), English novelist
Reader Joe Dombi took exception to recent comments of mine and expressed his disagreement in this publication's "Oh, So?" column [CBG #1579; February 20]. Identifying himself as a fellow resident of my beloved Medina, Ohio, Dombi felt I had done a disservice to comics shops within a 50-mile drive of our city when I wrote that the shops didn't offer sufficient variety to warrant more than the occasional visit. He disagreed.
Variety, like many things, is in the eye of the beholder. I'm delighted Dombi has such a high regard for these shops. Good for him and good for them. However, as is not uncommon for someone who is writing an opinion/reviews column, I have my own opinion and it isn't the same as Dombi's.
Dombi can take some solace from knowing his letter inspired me to embark on what will be a months-long quest to determine what is, indeed, important to me in a comics shop and how the establishments in my general vicinity meet or fail to meet my personal standards. As always, I make no claims to speak for everyone.
For example, Dombi mentioned three shops that are on the same street and all within two miles of one another. I'm familiar with these shops - they are actually within 1.2 miles of one another - and used to visit them regularly, though not recently. At the time of my last visits, two of these shops fell below what I consider a respectable level of attractiveness, cleanliness, and utility of display. Still, in all fairness, it has been quite some time since those visits, so let's mark this category "undecided" until I check out these stores again.
Before I hit the road, I'm going to put together that list of what I look for in a comics shop. I suspect my concept of variety differs greatly from Dombi's. A store which didn't carry ALTER EGO or the other TwoMorrows publications wouldn't score any points with me. A store whose back issue bins consisted mainly of comics from the past decade would hold little appeal. A store whose new comics stock rarely strayed from Diamond's "Top 100" list wouldn't get my return business.
On the positive side, courteous and knowledgeable service is always a winner with me. I wouldn't expect every comics shop clerk to know who Herbie Popnecker is, but, given a brief description of the comic book named for the character, I would expect the clerk to be able to direct me to comics of similar style or vintage, or, at the least, not respond to my query with disdain and disinterest. Furthermore, the clerk would get major props from me if he or she then showed me a terrific comic I hadn't sampled/seen prior to our conversation. The basic rule here: Know what you have and know how to learn about what you don't have.
Once I've compiled my list of what to look for in a comic-book shop, I'll hit the road. Dombi mentioned five shops in his letter and I'll contact him to make sure he's thinking of the same five I know. A quick online jaunt to Diamond's Comic Shop Locator Service [http://csls.diamondcomics.com] brought me a list of four shops, at least one of which might not be on Dombi's list. I'll be visiting all these stores and any others I discover on my own.
Two quick caveats.
Don't expect me to name these stores. I'm not looking to hurl bouquets or bricks. My intent is to contribute to the discussions of what makes a good comics shop and perhaps offer tips which will help stores in these challenging times.
Don't expect me to rate these stores as if I were one of their regular customers. This column has generally taken a "new reader" approach in reviewing comic books; I plan to stay that course in reviewing comics shops...though I will certainly take note of store policies vis-a-vis advance and special orders.
With thanks to reader Dombi for launching this quest, let me now turn my attention to this week's reviews...
THE BRISTOL BOARD JUNGLE (NBM; $11.95) is an introduction to "Comics 101" wrapped within a story of the class's professors and students. The nature of this collaborative graphic novel makes it nigh-impossible to determine who did what on it, but the creators include course teachers Bob Pendarvis and Mark Kneece, and several of their students. The setting is the renowned Savannah College of Art and Design.
JUNGLE incorporates quite a bit of solid information on comics creation in the telling of its story. It attempts to educate as it entertains and definitely succeeds in the former.
What doesn't succeed as well are JUNGLE's soap-opera elements. There are some interesting characters in the cast, but they aren't given enough screen-time to make their stories interesting as well. The longest of these sub-plots revolves around one of the teachers, a socially awkward man-child, and a clerk who has an inexplicable crush on him. He comes off as more than a little creepy and we're never given convincing reasons why she's attracted to him. It's a fanboy fantasy, damaging to the work as a whole in that it "steals" pages from potentially more intriguing relationships.
Despite weak plotting and pacing, the dialogue is believably good throughout JUNGLE. The art isn't nearly as consistent, but it frequently impresses. Kudos to all hands for keeping all of the characters recognizable from chapter to chapter.
In the category of personal annoyances, I have to express my dismay that the action-adventure fan among the students is depicted as an absolute moron. Such elitism does no service to comics art. Speaking as someone who enjoys a wide variety of genres and styles, I don't believe that's a fair or honest message.
THE BRISTOL BOARD JUNGLE is a tough call. I love the concept and some of its execution. On my scale of zero to five, it ends up in the middle: two-and-a-half Tonys.
DESPERATE TIMES #0 (Image; $3.50) kicks off a second Image run for the multi-talented Chris Eliopoulos and his mostly human cast of characters. I like a lot of things about this issue, including its horizontal format that serves its newspaper-strip-style comics well. Other things I like:
Eliopoulos draws figures with an animated, even rubbery, look to them. It strikes me as more European than American, which is an observation, not a reason for my liking it. My reason for liking his style is, ah, um, that I like it?
Eliopoulos involves new and old readers in the comic from the get-go. The cast is shown on the inside front cover. This launch issue also features a chatty editorial, a good letters column, and a few pages of sketches.
The gags and ongoing storylines are fun. I could do without the sloth - Frank Cho's wonderful LIBERTY MEADOWS excepted, I'm so weary of comic-strip animals who act like people, live with people, and talk, that I could gleefully deep-fry the lot - but the rest of the material works for me.
Counting covers, DESPERATE TIMES #0 gives you 30 pages of new material for your three-and-a-half bucks. That earns it three-and-a-half Tonys.
Stuart Moore's GIANT ROBOT WARRIORS (AiT/Planet Lar; $12.95) is a contemporary satire which unfortunately suffered aging pains between conception and publication. Written shortly after the 9-11 terrorist attacks on American soil, Moore's graphic novel posits a world where the weapons of mass destruction are giant robots. As he states in his afterword, this graphic novel script was written at a pivotal time in history when "it seemed we had the power and the will to do great things, and the support and good will of the world." Well, we all know how that turned out.
I won't fault Moore's book for being an optimistic look at the near-future as seen from the vantage point of the recent-past. One of the things I like best about GRW is that its cast includes good people working with good intentions on projects of dubious legality and morality. Those shades of grey make them and their situations interesting. But Moore's dating this story at "October, 2002" ties it too closely to tragic events and the suspect aftermath of those events, even as he takes some clever, sharp jabs at presidents, the press, and power structures.
Artist Ryan Kelly is certainly energetic in his visual telling of Moore's tale. His work would have benefitted from less frenzied page designs and more breathing room within the panels, but it was fun stuff from start to finish.
GIANT ROBOT WARRIORS is another tough call. I look at what it is and consider what it could have been. On that basis, I'm giving it three-and-a-half Tonys.
LIBERTY MEADOWS #35 (Image; $2.95) is the same old same old. Of course, when you're talking LIBERTY MEADOWS, "same old same old" translates to "this issue is a laugh-out-loud hilarious, slightly naughty, and delectably sexy comic book."
Creator Frank Cho brings the fun to every issue. His cast of characters, human and animal alike, come to life in a way equaled by few of his contemporaries. His dialogue and sense of timing are masterful. His art is...oh, heck, just look up "gorgeous" in your thesaurus and take it from there. I love this comic.
LIBERTY MEADOWS #35 gets the full five Tonys.
My reactions to THE MARC SILVESTRI SKETCHBOOK (Image; $2.99) were immediate and three-fold.
3. Nothing in the four-page preview of the coming STRYKEFORCE #1 made me want to read that comic book.
I'm obviously not the intended audience for THE MARC SILVESTRI SKETCHBOOK, but, this being my column and all, I still get to rate it. If I surreptitiously rest my thumb on the scale, I can give it a disappointing two Tonys.
REX MUNDI #8 (Image; $2.95) caught my interest. On the Image website, I found a concise explanation of the series: "...a quest for the Holy Grail told as a murder mystery, a tale of sin, murder and redemption in an alternate-history Europe where magic is real and the Catholic Church never lost its grip on power."
Creators Eric J (artist) and Arvid Nelson (writer) are weaving a dense story here. This issue begins with a two-page synopsis of the previous seven issues. I got the feeling this issue was meant to be a "bring the readers up to speed" chapter. Not much happens here, but it does establish the characters and the overall mood of the series. It wasn't enough to win me over, but it was enough to convince me the series is best read in larger chunks. Fortunately, there's a trade paperback - REX MUNDI: THE GUARDIAN OF THE TEMPLE - reprinting issues #0-6 of the title. When I come across this trade I'll give REX MUNDI another look.
What I saw in this issue looked promising. The writing is a bit sparse sometimes, but it's usually good. The art is amazing in many places, but, on other occasions, the human figures are stiff and the backgrounds seem like backdrops. The editorial presence is terrific. Besides the afore-mentioned synopsis of previous issues at the front of the issue, there's a clever faux-newspaper section on the other end. It makes for a nice package.
REX MUNDI #8 rates a respectable three Tonys. I wouldn't be surprised to see the trade receive a higher score.
Speaking of going back for seconds, I want to briefly revisit my review of JLA: ZATANNA'S SEARCH (DC; $12.95) in CBG #1579. The additions don't change the four-and-a-half Tonys I gave this trade there, but they do address points I made there.
The late Bob Kane's contract gave him sole art credit on the Batman story reprinted in ZATANNA'S SEARCH and prohibits DC Comics from formally crediting his ghosts on that and other tales. While this upsets me from the standpoints of fairness and accuracy, I'm not going to fault the publisher for honoring a contract. It's up to comics fans and historians to set the record straight in these instances, much as has been done with regard to writer Bill Finger, now informally recognized as Batman's co-creator.
I criticized the lack of an interview with Julius Schwartz, original editor of the tales reprinted in this collection. Because my conversations with Julie in recent years almost never involved comics history or the industry, I didn't realize his memory of his editorial days wasn't as keen as it once was.
The editors of SEARCH did their best to spur his recollection, but he was unable to tell them anything about Zatanna's "retconned" appearance in the Batman story or, another example, why the dutiful daughter's search brought her into contact with the Elongated Man in DETECTIVE COMICS, but not the Flash, whose title was also edited by Schwartz. Such questions are likely fated to remain unanswered, but not for a lack of effort on the part of the editors.
JLA: ZATANNA'S SEARCH remains a fun collection of some classic Silver Age stories. I recommend it highly.
The above column first appeared in COMICS BUYER'S GUIDE #1581 [March 5, 2004], which shipped on February 16. The cover reported the passing of DC Comics editor Julius Schwartz and ran the first paragraphs of a eulogy written by Harlan Ellison. The eulogy was continued inside the issue.
This column generated a number of reader responses. In fact, after an alarming silence, the e-mail and physical mail on my CBG and online columns is definitely on the rise. I can't run them all in my "Tony's Mailbox" feature, but I do read them and I'll use as many of them in TOT as I can without crowding out the usual "news, views, and reviews" you love and/or hate.
However, I would like to get your counsel on a missive-related matter of some concern to me. A while back, in a CBG column which was posted here on February 7, I listed my reviewing guidelines, which included this statement:
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. While learning of an error of fact might cause me to rethink a review, I wouldn't be writing this column if I weren't confident in my picks and my pans.
I don't intend to change my policy about responding personally to such letters, but, as I have this online forum which allows me to write columns as long as I think you can stand, I'm considering amending that guideline.
My questions to you:
Should I start running such letters from creators, if only to allow them to have their say before my readers?
Should I give them the last word, or should I then respond to their comments in my online columns?
There are too many things to write about for me to want to get involved in any extended back-and-forth about old business, but I wonder if a little back-and-forth exchange here and there wouldn't be entertaining and informative all around.
While I await your guidance on this matter, I'll consider the printing of such letters and my responses to them on a case-by-case basis. Look for the letters on my March TOTs to start running here in a day or three.
Comics fan KEITH HANSELMAN, whose wife JENNIFER gave birth to Ohio's first sextuplets, made the "Perspectives" page of the March 8th issue of NEWSWEEK:
"It was like a popcorn pooper," Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio resident Keith Hanselman, on his wife, Jennifer, giving birth by Caesarean section to six babies within one minute
While the super six infants - two of them are named for Green Lantern and Wolverine - are listed as being in critical condition, that's a typical designation for babies born as prematurely as they were. The newspaper accounts I've read indicate that they are all doing very well, as are their proud parents.
IN THE NEWSPAPER
The letter itself isn't important. It ran in a recent edition of the Akron Beacon-Journal and it was complaining about the paper running a news story - on the front page - about a same-sex couple attempting to get a marriage license in nearby Stark County. The article seemed evenhanded to me, neither decrying nor supporting the couple, but the letter-writer seemed to take its appearance as supportive of the paper's homosexual agenda. Still, as I said, the letter itself isn't important.
The reader concluded his letter by stating that he found the news story disgusting and so did everyone he knows. That's where I started laughing.
EVERYONE HE KNOWS? This statement is incredible. Did he go to every one of the thousands of people he must know and ask them if they found the story disgusting? Did they all, indeed, find it as disgusting as he did? Maybe he lives in a hut far removed from civilization and the only person he knows is the carrier who brings him his disgusting newspaper every morning.
I take a great deal of comfort from the possibility that this letter-writer is, indeed, some sort of wilderness-dwelling hermit. I don't think he's ready for civilization.
Everyone I know agrees with me.
You might have noticed that there's been a new TOT every day since the beginning of the month. For the most part, that's what you can expect from here on in.
There will be the occasional TOT-free day. For example, with webmaster Justin heading for Florida and MegaCon, he won't be here to post the March 7th and 8th editions of this column. I'm still going to write those columns, but they won't be posted until after his return. Assuming all goes well with his flight back, we will have three new columns for you on the 9th.
Yes, we're crazy. Why even try to deny it?
The current plan is for me to do long columns on Tuesdays and Thursdays, a CBG reprint-plus on Saturdays, and shorter columns on the remaining days of the week.
Our goals are two-fold. We want to be here with something new for you every day of the week...and we want to attract advertisers and sponsors to my website.
It should be noted we won't accept every advertiser or sponsor who wants to be part of TONY'S ONLINE TIPS. If I don't think your product or service is worthwhile, if I have doubts about how well you serve your customers, all the money in the world won't buy you space on my website.
On the other hand, if your product or service is something I believe is exceptionally worthwhile, especially if it's something I myself enjoy or use, I'll even throw in my personal endorsement sans any additional charge.
There won't be any product placement or stealth ads presented on my website. Any advertisement will be clearly labeled as such. My personal endorsement, if included in my column proper, will also include the information that the producer of the product or service is a paid advertiser or sponsor of this site. In short, there will be nothing up our sleeves but our arms.
Can I pull this off and maintain the integrity I feel is vital to TONY'S ONLINE TIPS? I think so, but, as always, my readers will be the final judge of that.
If you wish to advertise on or sponsor my website, drop me an e-mail and we'll talk. Justin and I will do our best to answer any inquiries quickly and completely.
Hey, readers, still with me? Good...because I have some other news for you.
Look for the return of the TONY POLLS next week, hopefully by Wednesday. I'm fine-tuning the first batch of questions even as we speak and I think you'll find them X-citing.
Thanks for spending a part of your weekend with me. I'll be back on Tuesday with more stuff.
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: