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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, April 15, 2004

Today is the birth anniversary of comics creator TOM SUTTON, who was born in 1937 in North Adams, Massachusetts, and who left us far too soon on May 1, 2002. In between those dates, he worked on hundreds of stories for nearly every comics publisher of note from the 1960s through the present day. He especially shone at Charlton Comics where he was often afforded the opportunity to both draw and write his stories.

Finding a Sutton cover to headline today's TOT was easy. You can't flip through a stack of Charltons from the late 1970s without spotting a great Sutton cover, sometimes a painting, sometimes line art, but always breathtaking and eye-popping. The one here is from CREEPY THINGS #1 [July, 1975].

Creepy Things #1

Star Trek I didn't know Sutton well. Most likely, I first saw his work in various issues of Marvel's NOT BRAND ECHH. He and writer Steve Skeates impressed me mightily with "The Superhero" in EERIE, circa 1971. Sutton was also the penciller of DC's first STAR TREK title when Mike W. Barr was writing some of the best Trek comics of all time. After Barr moved on, I wrote a handful of STAR TREK stories, all of them drawn by Sutton.

In retrospect, Sutton and I weren't the best team. He did an outstanding job bringing my plots to life, but I wasn't writing the stories he really wanted to draw. He wanted to do science fiction ala the legendary Wally Wood - sleek throbbing spaceships and sleek throbbing space beauties - and I gave him a horror/monster story, a "message" story, and a western. Had I stayed on STAR TREK a bit longer, I probably would have come up with something he would have liked better.

Star Trek 23

During our brief collaboration, Tom and I spoke on the phone at least once for every one of the four plots I wrote. I think he liked my two-issue sequel to the TV show's "Wolf in the Fold" best and my "message" story the least. Our conversation about the last issue I plotted barely concerned the story at all. I mostly wanted to know how Tom had managed to get into my head so thoroughly that it was downright scary. I'll explain.

In my other identity as a comics retailer, I was having many problems with my landlord's agent. In an arcade full of low-rent shops and businesses that were usually late on their low rent, my comics store was the big draw, the darling of the local media (who came to me whenever they were doing a story that had anything to do with comics or science fiction), and arguably the most successful business in the place.

The agent didn't want us there. A comic-book shop, no matter how clean and well-run, didn't fit his concept of what "his" arcade should be. My subsequent move when my lease expired put me out of business within two years and "his" arcade didn't last much longer after that. But I digress.

In my last Star Trek plot, I created a "foe" to vex James Kirk as no foe had vexed the Enterprise's captain previously, a watchdog sent by the Federation/Starfleet to make Kirk conform to standard procedures. I poured all my frustration with my landlord's agent into the description of this new character...and nearly had a heart attack when I saw Tom's pencils.

Without meeting the man, working just from my description, Tom had draw a virtual photograph of the landlord's agent. I've worked well with many artists, but only rarely has one gotten into my head in such a manner. Wow.

That's my Tom Sutton story and it doesn't begin to do proper honor to the man and the artist. Fortunately, I can direct you to a publication that does...

******

CHARLTON SPOTLIGHT

CHARLTON SPOTLIGHT #3 (Argo Press; $7.95) is about twice the size of a regular issue of the magazine dedicated to "exploring the history of the Charlton Comics group." More than half of the mag's 72 pages are devoted to Tom Sutton, a tribute on which editor and publisher Michael Ambrose has been working for a year-and-a-half. That work is reflected in the quality of both the tribute and the magazine in general.

The Sutton section features an interview with the artist and remembrances by collaborators and pals: Steve Skeates, Nicola Cuti, Bill Pearson, Batton Lash, Jim Amash, Bhob Stewart, Steve Fiorilla, and Stefan Petrucha. It reprints a classic comics story written by Cuti and drawn by Tom Sutton from layouts by Wally Wood, as well as a gallery of Sutton's Charlton covers. The section concludes with an index of Sutton's Charlton work.

In addition to the Tom Sutton material, SPOTLIGHT #3 presents interviews with veteran artists Jose Delbo and Henry Scarpelli; remembrances of Pete Morisi, Jack Keller, and Grass Green; a lively selection of editorial matters, reader letters, news, and reviews; and the second installment of a year-by-year checklist of Charlton comics and comics-related magazines.

I have always found Charlton to be an interesting company, one which often published exceptional work on ridiculously low budgets. If you're as fascinated by Charlton as I am, you'll understand why I give CHARLTON SPOTLIGHT #3 my recommendation and a solid four out of five Tonys. It's a great magazine!

Tony Tony Tony Tony

For more information on this and upcoming issues, be sure to visit the Charlton Spotlight website at:

www.charltonspotlight.com

******

ARCHIE'S MYSTERIES

ARCHIE'S MYSTERIES #34 (Archie; $2.19) is the final issue of the title, at least for the foreseeable future. I've enjoyed the "Teen Scene Investigators" format of the book, a suitable-for-all-ages version of CSI and other forensics-based police dramas. Alas, the sales evidence shows that not enough other readers enjoyed it as much as I did.

In "The Mystery of the Missing Mentors," Archie and the gang are trying to find the forensics investigators who've been teaching them, said investigators having been kidnapped by defendants they were to testify against. The resolution of the search depends more on quick thinking than forensics, but co-writers Paul Castiglia and Barbara Jarvie offer plenty of the latter as the case moves toward the trial and a very realistic conclusion. Between the chapters of the story, we get two pages of crazy crimes, a letters column, and a page on mentors and mentoring. That adds up to 27 pages of story and art, a pretty good bargain in today's comics market.

Kudos are also due to penciller Fernando Ruiz and inker Rich Koslowski, who do a spiffy job depicting the Archie characters and showcasing the forensics as they keep the visual end of the story moving. I bid ARCHIE'S MYSTERIES a fond farewell by awarding this issue four out of five Tonys.

Tony Tony Tony Tony

One more thing. There will be an ARCHIE'S MYSTERIES-type tale in ARCHIE & FRIENDS #85, which will ship in late August and likely hit the stores in early September. It was originally written for this title and rewritten to better fit the ARCHIE & FRIENDS format. I'm looking forward to it.

******

ECLIPSE & VEGA

The best thing I can say about Saul Colt's ECLIPSE & VEGA #3 (SSS Comics; $2.95) is that it is a good-hearted and sincere comic book. I see Colt loves making super-hero comic books, but, sadly, I also see that he doesn't bring anything inspiring or novel to the genre. It is a cold fact of comicdom that loving something doesn't always mean being good at it.

Colt tries. The Greg Horn/Bill Jankowski cover is an amusing homage/throwback to 1960s comics. The designs of his titled stars, Eclipse and Vega, are fairly nice, though their powers don't make a great deal of sense to me. But the 31-page story never engages the reader and what I think was supposed to be a sweet ending with one heroine putting the happiness of the other above her own was, instead, a awful violation of the second heroine's mind and soul. The few plot elements - such as that one - which could've made for a more interesting story were never utilized to good effect. The result: nothing to see here.

ECLIPSE & VEGA #3 picks up one Tony for effort.

Tony

If you would like to check out SSS Comics, visit their website at:

www.ssscomics.com

******

GERRY BOUDREAU

A friend has asked me to learn what I could about 1970s comics writer Gerry Boudreau. She had heard he died several years ago and is trying to confirm the report. Obviously, she would be delighted to find out he's alive and well.

So would I. I remember Gerry from my own time in New York. He wrote comic books for Gold Key - the titles produced from their New York offices - and also for Jim Warren's black-and-white comics magazines. I've a vague memory of him pitching stories to me when I was editing some of Marvel's horror magazines, but I can't recall if he ever made a sale to me or not.

If any TOT readers knew Gerry and can fill me in on his life since the early 1970s, even if it's only to report the sad news of his demise, I'd appreciate it. Thanks.

******

SURFING THE WEB

You can't grab an electronic wave without tripping over a blog or three dozen. Many of them, especially in comicdom, are little more than lackluster twaddle from wannabe writers with delusions of adequacy. Many are excuses for venomous wretches to rail against the injustice of a world which fails to recognize their greatness. Many consist of links to far more interesting places on the Web or, conversely, to other delusional bloggers, a kind of online circle jerk. However, do not doubt for a moment that there are also many blogs worth reading on a regular basis.

I'd like you to meet my pal LEE "Budgie" BARNETT, accountant by day, comic-book writer and fan by night, and all-around good guy at any time of the day or night.

Budgie posts his amiable observations on comics and the world around at BUDGIE'S SQUAWKS:

budgie_uk.livejournal.com

I like Budgie's blog because he has a good outlook at life and he writes about stuff that's fun and stuff that matters. When he talks about being a father to his son Phil, he writes about both. He doesn't write about comics all the time, but, when he does, he usually makes pretty good sense, such as in a recent entry titled "A Bill of Rights For Comics Readers."

He's been a great friend to me and a supporter of my work, and I'm thrilled to be able to return the good will, even if it's only in this small measure.

Off with you now. Go visit with Budgie.

******

TONY STUFF

I spent a very pleasant hour or so on the phone this week with a comic-book creator in need of a pep talk on his latest project. He was thankful for the help I gave him, but I should have thanked him as well. I hadn't used my comics editorial or writing chops in ages and...damn...it felt good to use them again.

Realistically, the major comic companies are not going to be calling me up and asking me to write for them. (I'm blacklisted at one of them.) Whether it's because they incorrectly perceive that my writing would not be of interest to modern readers, or whether it's because I offended their tender sensibilities by speaking out on this or that industry issue, the result is pretty much the same. You won't be seeing Tony Isabella writing the latest issue of BIG IMPORTANT SUPER-HERO COMICS or even MODERATELY SUCCESSFUL LICENSED PROPERTY ADVENTURES.

I shrug my shoulders. Life goes on and, by all of the truly important standards, my life is a very good one. Whether I write a comic book this year, next year, or never.

On the other hand, my now-pepped-up friend did make me aware of an itch I'll need to scratch sooner rather than later. I'm not sure how I'll scratch it, just that I'm open to the possibilities. I guess that's the first step.

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

Tony Isabella

<< 04/14/2004 | 04/15/2004 | 04/16/2004 >>

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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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